Don’t spend dollars in Japan!

This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. When with a group of friends half of whom are likely to be American the group as a whole seems to be expected to work in dollars. I find this both strange and annoying for several reasons none of which actually have to do with it not being my currency.

Firstly we are people who live in Japan. We work in Japan, pay rent in Japan and spend in Japan. Other currencies simply aren’t relevant to us anymore except when sending money home. It may still be useful to know the up to date exchange rate for the sake of knowing how much you can bring when you go home but day to day it doesn’t really matter.

“Ahhh,” you say “but how will we know if things are cheap or expensive if we don’t convert it at least in our heads.”

Well the fact is that converting amounts generally isn’t the best way to work out value.Firstly exchange rates are always changing so something you buy one day and think is cheap may seem expensive a few weeks later. Has its value changed? Has the amount in yen that you pay changed? Has the proportion of your disposable income that the thing cost changed? The answer to all of these is no and yet many people will change their ideas of what is affordable based on foreign currencies which don’t actually matter while you’re living here.

A better way to understand how much something is worth is to look at how many hours you are working to pay for it. You can use you gross pay as a quick guide or if you want you can work out you hourly net pay. An even better system is to work out your hourly desposable income or total disposable income. Any of these methods give you a much better way to assign values to things you are buying in a new country.

Many Americans when I tell them about this pet peeve will ask what difference it makes. A dollar as about 100 yen so surely saying g dollars when everyone knows what they mean isn’t a real problem. Well I think it is. It’s a bad habit to get into when you are going to need to use yen when speaking to Japanese people. In the same way you should drop romanji for hiragana as soon as possible to get more familiar with the new writing system there is no point in using your old currency when doing so will make your ability to deal with yen slower.

The main argument against using dollars though is that one dollar is not one hundred yen.In the last twelve months the dollar has ranged from ¥99 to ¥118 it’s currently at about ¥114. During the last year it was far more likely that one dollar was 10-15% different from one hundred yen. So when someone says “$100 is far to expensive.” They don’t realise that the ten thousand yen they are talking about is actually about eighty seven dollars.

Even over longer periods like five years the dollar is rarely actually one hundred yen. In the last five years it’s ranged from ¥77 to ¥125 or dollar.during that time it was within 10% of one hundred yen to the dollar less than a third of it. Even when it was within 10% there is a major difference between ninety yen and one hundred and ten yen to the dollar.

This tendancy to use dollars to mean yen is not only a bad habit to get into when adapting to a new culture but it also leads to bad financial decision making which could hurt you. It’s not all difficult to learn a new currency and generally only takes a few weeks when you start to actually use it instead of pretending you are using dollars.


8 thoughts on “Don’t spend dollars in Japan!

  1. I agree especially if you live in Japan you probably have other things to use as reference like a can from a vending machine or the price of gyudon. I think people feel more secure when they do that but when you are immersed in the country you think in yen.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You know, I find the need to put all value into dollars simply because I can’t feel price when addressed in yen. Spending 10000 yen doesn’t have the impact to me as saying spending 100 dollars.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know it feels like that but with the exchange rate constantly shifting it will often be inaccurate. I often think in hours. So if I go for a meal and its ¥4000 then that’s about 2 hours. I also think of percentage of budget. My budget each month after rent and savings mi NVght be about 100k. Every gym here seem to be 10k per month. I’ve never felt that a gym is worth 10% of my total avaliable money. Hence no membership.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really agree on thinking money in time spent as to me it makes a lot more sense than converting it to any other currency. I normally don’t spend a lot of money as I’m constantly saving money (thanks to 7 years of traveling) but I still find myself on occasion converting yen into dollars – though I’m not even American! I believe my brain needs a reference point, which is why it keeps converting stuff at times when I will be spending more money than the usual grocery shop bill.
    But more and more I have found myself looking at prices and thinking just how many minutes of work I had to do for it. It’s amazing how it puts material into perspective.
    Nicely written.


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