“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…” Matthew 6:19
A tray full of money representing roughly half a million dollars in Japanese cash was nonchalantly placed in front of us like afternoon tea. My colleague and I stared open-mouthed at the mound of money and couldn’t resist taking pictures. We had just purchased a building and of course like everything else in Japan, cash was used to seal the transaction. The seller then proceeded to place his portion of the stack of bills in a paper bag and the bank employee routinely whisked the larger pile back to the bank vault.
We should not have been surprised. After all, cash is routinely used for everything in Japan. All our shopping is done in cash. We pay our rent in cash. Even higher priced items like cars are purchased with cash. Most people routinely carry several ¥10,000 notes (worth roughly $100 each) in their wallets. Although changes are slowly taking place, Japan is basically a cash-driven economy. Cashiers are trained to efficiently return change without mistakes and cash dispensing machines are available everywhere to facilitate this dependency on cash. While Japanese normally adapt quickly to newly emerging trends, they have been slow to wean themselves from using hard currency for daily transactions. In this matter, Japan with its low cashless rate in 2015 of only 18%, stands in marked contrast to neighboring Asian countries like China (60%) and South Korea (89%).
There are many reasons behind this propensity to use cash. Chief among these would be Japan’s antiquated banking system that encourages cash transactions, but also not to be overlooked is the general public distrust in anything other than real currency. The low crime rate in Japan also encourages people to carry around large amounts of money without fear of being robbed. However, the government is trying to change the public’s dependency on cash since it is inefficient and puts Japan at an economic disadvantage compared to other Asian countries. Signs of such changes are increasingly evident as more Japanese are using their smart phones for financial transactions and the use of prepaid cards is becoming much more common.
Jesus taught a lot about money and frequently used it as a topic to drive home important spiritual principles in the form of parables. He never discouraged the usage or accumulation of money, but rather, warned about it capturing our hearts and pushing God out. The things we treasure in this life that Jesus refers to are not limited to just money or material possessions, but include all our resources, such as our time, energy, God-given gifts, expertise and acquired skills. These are not to be hoarded just for our own benefit, but to bless others as God directs. Treasure on earth may last for a lifetime, but treasure in heaven, Jesus taught, lasts for eternity. That is the commodity that should underpin all of life’s transactions.