Friday, August 26, 2011

Counting Money . . . in Japan!

It's the little things that make countries different.

For instance, it used to be that whenever I got one of those customs forms asking me to declare currency in excess of $10,000, I could never imagine a situation in which a regular, law-abiding person would be carrying that much cash. What would it feel like to know you had that much money in your pocket?

Now I can tell you: it's terrifying, even in a place as safe as Japan.

You see, Japan is a cash economy. They don't use credit cards too often, and small restaurants (read: most restaurants) don't even take them. The withdrawal limit at the ATM isn't $500, it's $5000.

And to go along with all that cash, they have some interesting ways of counting it.

This morning, BoingBoing linked to a video showing the different ways people count money in different places throughout the world. East Asia is the first:


Indeed, this is the method I've seen Japanese people use for "normal" amounts. But for huge piles of cash, they use a different, much zanier method.


For the first few seconds, you're completely puzzled as to what they're going to do with that giant fan of money. Maybe wave it around while taunting their enemies? Then it becomes clear that the Japanese have had a lot of practice with this whole counting cash thing.

Of course, when I have to count large stacks of bills (which happens surprisingly often, despite my choice of career), I resort to the much less graceful method of turning a big stack into little stacks of ten - ten being about as high as I can count without getting lost.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Yes, I can drive. IN JAPAN.

This past June, after many trials and many more errors, I was licensed to drive in Japan. I claim no credit for my eventual victory: it rewarded no actual skills besides a stubborn refusal to look facts in the face.

But the day after I got my license, I was on a plane back to the States, so I would have to wait until this past Sunday to finally enjoy the fruits of my labors.

You have to understand, I spent a good portion of my summer daydreaming about all the cool things Nana and I could do now that I could rent a car. I saw us speeding along the back roads of Itoshima for Saturday lunch at an out-of-the-way beach bar, or driving off to some distant mountain ryokan some Saturday night. We could just  . . . Drive, and See Things, and Stop At Things If They Look Neat! Finally, we could stretch our wings a little bit, and get a taste of that other Japan, the one off the rail lines.

So how did I use my first taste of freedom?

I went to Costco, to buy American stuff.

Granted, I don't really consider this a defeat: throughout my ordeal last June, Costco was among the many green lights at the end of my dock. For Nana, it was always been less about me having a driver's license than it was about me having a go-to-Costco-whenever-we-want license. Which is fine with me, because Costco means hot dogs and peanut butter.

Still, I wish my first time driving in Japan--my first time driving on the left!--had been a little more momentous. I did nearly kill us twice, but that had nothing to do with the novelty of driving, and everything to do with the fact that the school van handles like a tank and brakes like a battleship. 

If we hadn't made it, though, at least you could have said we'd died as we'd lived: in search of smoked brats and affordable cheese.