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Japanese Change Trays (japantimes.co.jp)
263 points by lermontov on June 3, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 170 comments

They are also in use in Germany and it never occurred to me that they may not be used all over the world. They are called [Zahl|Wechselgeld][teller|schale] [1] which translates to [paying|change] [plate|bowl]. They can not be found in every shop but probably in the majority. Some people use them, some don't. And it is more common to present the change in them than the payment. The obvious purpose is of course to easily be able to see that the amount is correct while avoiding escaping coins. They also often show ads, nowadays on displays. And nobody moves them around in Germany, they just sit on top of the counter.

[1] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zahlteller

I live in the Netherlands, only a few kilometers from Germany, but I've never seen any. Is it everywhere in Germany, or only certain regions?

The only similar thing I've ever seen is at things like amusement parks or where ferry tickets are sold: the cashier is behind glass and talks to you through a microphone (and you to them). Exchange of tickets and money goes through a rotating tray sort of thing that is below the glass and is moved by the person behind the glass. I find it very impersonal and not a nice way of doing business. Surely we can talk like normal human beings?

Of course that is different from change trays, there is no glass or microphones involved there, but it's the closest thing I can think of.

As an aside, I can see why it might be more common in Germany than in the Netherlands: you guys pay almost always by cash (taking forever when the cashier goes "do you perhaps have 23 cents with that?" to make the change round) whereas here bank card, and especially the quick wireless option is more and more prevalent.

I think it is not a local thing but I never really paid attention. Try gas stations or small lottery or tobacco stores, they tend to have the ones with displays showing the jackpot sum or cigarette ads. On the other hand you usually won't see them say in super markets with cash registers with conveyor belts. But even there is, at least sometimes, a small pit build right into one of the surfaces. Solutions similar to the one in the amusement park are also used at gas stations during the night hours, mainly at gas stations with low customer frequency.

Often they are just not used, though.

Probably contrary to the Japanese custom as described in the article I personally always feel slightly self-conscious when using them (to hand someone the money). It feels distant and maybe a bit impolite to me, though I don’t know how shared that feeling is. (Please note that I’m not claiming that using the tray is somehow inherently impolite or distant. When it comes to etiquette the concept of universal truth is even more problematic than it otherwise already is.)

My usual approach is to hand over the money directly if there is little time and the cashier is already looking at me, expecting the money, and to put it on the tray if the cashier is currently still doing something else and I have a bit of time to properly prepare the money while the cashier is looking elsewhere. (It basically gives me a proper place to put the money when the cashier cannot yet directly take it.) I’m not sure how shared my feeling and my approach on this are among others.

Also, in my experience cashiers differ wildly in how they will use those trays to hand you your change. Some will use them, some just won’t. I never payed any attention as to whether there’s any pattern to that, though. I mean, is the proper use of that tray part of the instructions when starting somewhere? Is it just personal preference?

Yes! This article is an excellent example of how everybody (including Japan) loves to portray Japanese culture as unique and different.

It is unique and different. Germany may have trays but the actual use case and purpose are completely different.

It's not about the tray but how they are used in Japan. Completely different from how they are used in Germany.

Interesting. I studied in Hesse for a semester and don't recall seeing these, at least not extensively.

Used in France too, in a variety of sizes and shapes, from a rubber mat on a counter, to a small plastic bowly thing with a clip (securing the bill, or banknotes) in restaurants (in which case the back and forth protocol for change operates as described in the article).

I always assumed their purpose is to minimize touching of the hands between vendor and customer.

That may of course also play a role especially when handling unpackaged food but then again the money goes through both hands anyway. Most of the time I see people counting the money when they place it there coin by coin. And it makes putting the change back into the wallet easier because you don't end up with a hand full of bills and coins.

It is also a lot easier to swipe a couple of coins out and not drop any compared to the flat table.

We also have them in Spain!

Pretty common in Switzerland as well.

Same in Poland.

Pro tip: if you want to review the correct pronunciation of the word "gai-jin," skip the tray and hand your cash directly to the clerk.

They may call you gaijin, but you get perks for being one. I look completely like Japanese (well, I was born there; but I lived in the States long enough, and I am gaijin by my definition, but it's not by theirs) -- so when I travel to Japan, I'd naturally hand money to clerk, either he/she would either give me this funny looks, or told politely (occasionally frustrated) to place that money on the tray.

So sometimes I get the worst of the both status there...

I'm Asian and I could pass for Japanese if I really wanted to try at it. Also, my wife is Japanese so it isn't a hard leap for anyone in Japan to make when they see us together. This was more of a disadvantage to me than I had realized since Japanese are far more willing to make allowances in social lapses for obvious foreigners than say, a socially awkward Japanese. I find that instead of trying so hard to blend in, it might be easier to simply embrace standing out. So instead of a "konnichiwa", I start out with a confident "Hi!" in a cheery American tone (we all know that one) and proceed in broken Japanese. Even better when they hear me speaking unaccented English with my wife. That way, they know that I'm a clueless tourist and not a socially inept local.

I knew of a couple that went to Japan where the gaijin (her white husband) spoke more Japanese than she did (100% Japanese Canadian). It apparently confused quite a number of people, because they all expect her to start speaking Japanese.

I've experienced the opposite -- if I go to Europe, I look like everyone else, and the most likely outcome when they discover that I don't speak their language is irritation.

Whenever I go to Asia, I'm treated like a novelty if I speak even a few words.

The way I feel it works is, if their perception is that you are not one of them you basically get extra credit for that, but if they don't see you that way, then you basically get your points deducted for each of "mistakes" you make.

This really hurts me sometimes, because I know this and put so much effort try to fit in, but I basically get no praise for that, instead, I get nitpicked for noncompliances.

In a case of some individuals like hotel clerks, that I actually spent some time talking, seeing multiple times a day, they totally understand my situation and didn't give me hard time. (And it was tiny hotel, that didn't really caters to foreigner, so it not that the they were used to it -- funny side story is a few year after that -- perhaps when their son took over the business, they've completely changed to cater to foreigners instead :-) )

Yep. And this has a downside -- expats in Asia tend to complain about "never fitting in" -- but it comes with a bonus dose of forgiveness for all sorts of social problems that the locals have to worry about.

But it's also true that people in the service industry are gruff no matter where you go. It's hard to be pre-school-polite to hundreds of illiterate adults a day.

That's a big generalisation for all of Europe. I look British, if people are really paying attention, or Northern Europe / Germany / etc if not. I'm obviously not local in Southern or Eastern Europe.

I am half-Japanese. I feel your pain of the "worst of both status." nihonjin I am not, in their eyes.

This comment only makes sense if you know what "gaijin" means, it appears to mean roughly "foreigner" (or more literally "outside person").

"alien" more correctly captures the connotation. "gaijin" is very much a derogatory word. "gaikokujin" (person from a different country) is more neutral.

Gaikokujin is indeed the correct word for foreigner.

Gaijin is slang. It's not necessarily used with a derogatory meaning. Also it's important to note that it's mostly used for white people, they'll never call a Chinese or Korean "gaijin" for example.

> Gaijin is slang. It's not necessarily used with a derogatory meaning.

I think this is incredibly important here. People watch movies like Fast and the Furious and think it's always a bad, derogatory word when that isn't the case at all.

As with many words in our own language, context is incredibly important. Take for example, the English word 'foreigner'.

If I see a guy struggling to read a menu at a restaurant, I may say "Oh, he's probably a foreigner. I'm going to go see if he needs help". That's not a negative or derogatory usage. If I say "I wish those dirty foreigners would just go back to their home country", I've now turned the word into a derogatory one.

This is exactly how the word gaijin is handled. It can be used in a derogatory manner, but it's not inherently derogatory. It can be used in a non-derogatory way. It's a shame so many people get their cultural knowledge from Hollywood movies.

> they'll never call a Chinese or Korean "gaijin" for example.

Not true, "gaijin" can be used to refer to any foreigner/non-Japanese. It's just that there are many Chinese and Koreans in Japan, and the countries are neighbors, so it's common to use the more specific words "Chinese" and "Korean" when the nationality is known.

In the same sense that I might say "Eastern European" but a Hungarian would say "Romanian" or "Czech" etc.

Also, though gaijin used to mean "outsider", and that usage is still listed in dictionaires, it's basically obsolete. Nobody (in Japan) calls a Japanese "gaijin".

When I was in Japan in 2000 my host family made it very clear to me after talking to some Koreans that they were not Japanese.

I was called hakujin once, by a very angry man--"iranai, hakujin ga kirai" was the exact greeting. Granted, I was a Mormon missionary knocking on his door to talk spirituality, but out of the thousands of doors I knocked, that one still stands out as pretty spicy. In comparison, gaijin never seemed that bad.

What makes people like you think it's a good idea to go and bother people in their home about your religious beliefs? Many people must find it frightening or just very annoying. Why subject people to that? It doesn't seem nice, let alone Christian.

It strengthens their own beliefs and it also will rarely brings new converts.


> Rachel Underhill, 39, a florist who lives in Peacehaven, East Sussex, was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness before leaving the religion in her twenties


> We weren’t allowed to make friends with anyone “worldly”, which meant anyone who wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness, or do anything outside the religion, which they called “outside the truth”. It was incredibly isolating. We were brainwashed into thinking all worldly people wanted to abuse us, and this was confirmed every time we knocked on doors to try to convert people – you can’t imagine the damage it does to a child being constantly yelled at to go away.

This is why you might see me arguing against mocking religious people - it does nothing to convert them and may just strengthen their beliefs.

Well, that particular former Jehovah's Witness's experience doesn't match my experience with my own religion. In fact I grew up with JW friends, so I'm not sure it's even representative of their religion.

> This is why you might see me arguing against mocking religious people - it does nothing to convert them and may just strengthen their beliefs.

It's a good idea, and the same principle really applies to any person or group, regarding any framework, religious or not. From atheists to zookeepers.

> Why subject people to that?

If Christians truly believe nonbelievers are going to hell, it's the only loving response. The magician (and atheist) Penn has a great story about this [0].

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owZc3Xq8obk

It can only be viewed as a loving response if you think its effective, rather than alienating. If you believe unbelievers are going to hell, and believe (or observe) that that approach to evangelization is alienating, then its more than just rude...

My two cents on this off-topic discussion...

I've never been a part of the goin't'hell group, but in my fairly extensive experience as a young adult in an evangelical religious group, I certainly got the impression that the high touch personal approach was taken as more effective. Most people don't really like doing the door-to-door salesperson routine[0]. But they do it because it seems to work - assuming anyone actually answers the door (which is the real rarity). Or at least is effective enough; conversion rates are, shall we say, low. It doesn't need to be high, though, since the risk and reward is so high (failure means more lost, success is a life).

[0] For introverts it can be extremely stressful - practice is the only thing that seems to make the terror go away for them. If the person at the door preachin' the word looks awkward and is stammering, be kind - they're more afraid of you than you are of them :)

EDIT: slight grammar/clarification. EDIT EDIT: This is off-topic enough I'm going to just truncate part of my comment to gist: https://gist.github.com/anonymous/dead25324e4f74ccc183

> It doesn't need to be high, though, since the risk and reward is so high (failure means more lost, success is a life).

I think the risk:reward is often seen as higher than it should be even given the "going to hell" assumption, because the failure cost of the attempt is seen as capped at zero because alienation is not considered. This might make sense in a context where your particular door-to-door attempt was very likely to be the only exposure to Christianity that the target would ever have, but (since alienation of an unbeliever in that case would have the same effect as not making that particular door-to-door conversion attempt), but somewhat unlikely in the modern world.

Nicely put. This is exactly why there was (is?) quite a lot of effort in finding effective alternatives to the door-to-door method. There's still a lot of people who aren't modern (and the 'no person left behind' policy dictates that you'd continue to do door-to-door to sweep them up), but alternatives are needed.

In terms of moral introspection, I perceive a continuum of information quality from vague suspicion to almost complete certainty. Morally, I would have a very, very difficult time making life-changing affirmative moral arguments to complete strangers without almost complete certainty.

And, I could never, never ascribe almost complete certainty to a piece of information not complying with the vacuum intellect test (i.e. could an intelligent person not exposed to culture reasonably be expected to arrive at a similar conclusion, if given sufficient resources for independent experimentation).

So, quantum mechanics, as weird as it is, could pass the vacuum intellect test. Could I personally see a vacuum intellect reinventing the tenets of Christianity including the concept of hell? That seems completely implausible to me. Sure, one could argue divine intervention (again) -- but that violates the vacuum constraint.

So, question: By what moral thesis does one permit one's self to venture out into the world and attempt to convince other people to redirect their limited resources onto something which is not almost completely certain?

I was never a part of a group that believed in hell (hope that doesn't give me away...), so I can't speak for that.

But, if you relax the rigor and you're willing to settle for what you personally qualify as overwhelming circumstantial evidence, it's not too hard to meet that level of confidence (the Anthropic Principle is very powerful). These people are often True Believers.

It's a whole different mindset, and worth spending the effort to wrap your head around. I'd bet it's a sufficiently different frame of mind that you'll have a hard time relating. It's easy to just gloss it over as a fool's thinking, but it really can be quite complex and deep (after all, without that moral vacuum, there's a lot of core axioms to keep straight). And that's not bad; just be warned that it can be a bit of a memetic virus, but it's certainly not too hard to quarantine. Usually at a very low level there's an assumption made about the way things are, and enough evidence is brought in to make that assumption feel reasonable; that's not science but rather more of a judicial argument. If it feels a bit boot-strappy, you're a bit on track. Typically once the mindset is settled, that rationalizes the initial bootstrap; I think often those who preach worry that many will not be exposed to the needed bootstrap, and feel a moral imperative to help others through that process. And that's how you get the evangelism. (Clearly there's a gross amount of glossing over here :)

And it'll help a lot in pleasantly/tactfully dealing with such individuals. People are just folk, and most are sincere. Just not always as... rigorous as folk like yourself.

I agree. More layers of complexity than short term memory slots is a mandatory property of belief systems -- as more effort will be required to find the contradictions then is likely to be allocated.

And certainly handling such individuals with kid gloves is important to mitigate the intransigence reflex. I only ask because I wish to discover some more effective strategy to aid some of the more zealous individuals to improve their moral consistency. Fear is far more powerful than reason, however.

> If the person at the door preachin' the word looks awkward and is stammering, be kind - they're more afraid of you than you are of them :)

Wait a minute - so they don't like it, I don't like it... so why are we doing this?

It's the theological equivalent of "eat your vegetables". The link to Penn's commentary explains it reasonably well: no one wants to tackle another person, but you'd do it to stop someone from getting hit by a truck. Likewise, if you're sincere in thinking educating others of the theological risks can save their life - like you're not just going through the church-on-sunday motions, personal feelings take a back seat. To them it's too important to let petty things get in the way.

Naturally, this can backfire pretty hard. But that's the cost of taking the faith seriously.

It seems like you're purposely picking a fight. Is this really a line of discussion that belongs here, given the topic?

Oh I'm sorry - is it rude to interrupt someone's day with a question about religious beliefs? I had no idea! (sarcasm)

Hacker News is not the place for this.

Not to comment on the actual benefits (or not) of the process, but the enduring presence of Jehovah's Witnesses (and Mormons) is a sort of natural selection proof that their methods at least work to maintain their population.

This is too off topic.

So is religion on someone's doorstep.

How would he know if he's "bothering" them without asking? Not everyone in the world is reflexively atheist.

Most adults have settled views on religion which they are unlikely to change during their life. A Muslim, Jew, mainstream Christian or a person of any other religious persuasion is just as likely to be totally uninterested in the preachings of a Mormon.

Maybe, but "go away, I hate white people" seems a slight overreaction.

"Outsider" is my favored translation. It's natural for the sentences where it gets used—"outsiders wouldn't understand [this custom]", etc.

I lived in Japan for 20 years. The problem is that gaikokujin is too polite. Only dicks like Arudo Debito want to force everyone to use it, for reasons of political correctness, when in most cases the word gaijin is much more natural, and is not meant offensively. When Japanese people get to know you better they use your nationality as an identifier. Of course, the word gaijin is also used by gaijin to identify themselves.

Hear hear. The worst part is I occasionally see Japanese people self-consciously using "gaikokujin" because they heard somewhere that foreigners will take offense if they say gaijin. It's manufactured and it's damned silly.

Yep, it's simply the informal word for "foreigner". In theory there's a sense of "outsider", and that meaning is listed in the dictionary, but in practice one never hears the word used in reference to a Japanese person who's an outsider in some other context.

Can verify, have done. The clerk looked horrified and shook her head vigorously while pointing at the coin tray.

I've been here 15+ years and never seen or heard of such a thing. Japanese people ignore the change tray all the time, or they don't, without issue.

Agreed. Expect perhaps in banks.

I'd be very surprised if anyone actually said this in front of you, unless you are also being obnoxious in other ways.

This is crazy talk. To a rough approximation Japanese shop clerks are the politest organisms on earth. On top of which, these change trays are a simple nicety, not some kind of social obligation.

Lived in Japan for 8 years and have worked part time in cafes .. The training I got was to leave the money in the tray until you confer the change to the customer. It prevents things like "hang on! I gave you 5000 not 1000!" - the money paid stays in plain sight until the transaction is complete. Shop staff almost never put the money away before you get your change.

I always assumed this was the main reason the trays are used. This, and the fact that either party can easily tip the tray into their hand to gather change, rather than picking up coins one by one or scooping them off the edge of the table.

Whenever Japan comes up people assume some matter of politeness is involved, but a lot of times the explanation is much simpler.

A common analog in the U.S. Is to place the tender across the till dividers until the change is counted out, to prevent just such a scenario.

I believe the penalties for stealing are severe in Japan. So anything that disambiguates who's money is whos is very important.

There is a much older custom that seems so similar it is hard to imagine that it is not related. When passing an item to someone - say a cup to a house guest - one is traditionally never supposed to hand the item directly to the other person - i.e. never directly from hand to hand. Typically this meant placing the item on a tray (お盆) and offering the item on the tray to the person (or at least placing the item in front of the person for them to pick up). You can see examples of this today in, for example, formal Shinto ceremonies a ceremonial square tray is often used (折敷) or frankly at any fancy kaiseki restaurant.

I'm not sure about the origin of the custom, but perhaps the action of taking something out of someone's hand feels too close to taking it forcefully from them - i.e. for the same reason it is considered impolite for two people to hold the same piece of food by chopstick (for example, if passing food between people from chopstick to chopstick).

> I'm not sure about the origin of the custom, but perhaps the action of taking something out of someone's hand feels too close to taking it forcefully from them - i.e. for the same reason it is considered impolite for two people to hold the same piece of food by chopstick (for example, if passing food between people from chopstick to chopstick).

Isn't the chopstick thing related to funeral rituals?


> The relatives pick the bones out of the ashes and transfer them to the urn using large chopsticks or metal picks, two relatives sometimes holding the same bone at the same time with their chopsticks (or, according to some sources, passing the bones from chopsticks to chopsticks). Known as kotsuage (骨揚げ?), this is the only time in Japan when it is proper for two people to hold the same item at the same time with chopsticks. At all other times, holding anything with chopsticks by two people at the same time, or passing an item from chopsticks to chopsticks, will remind all bystanders of the funeral of a close relative and is considered to be a major social faux pas.

Think about the protocol in CS terms...

Hand to hand western style is 1:1 blocking I/O, both the payer and recipient must be simultaneously active at the same moment.

At a restaurant/bar this tray is the worlds smallest FIFO and you put a packet into the packet buffer at your convenience and the service worker clears the buffer at their convenience, and this protocol is considered so polite that even at convenience stores when you're in a line you still use the FIFO buffer and pretend you're both not in a hurry and have plenty of time for proper, measured, unhurried service, even when you don't actually have the time. Its impolite to force a two concurrent processes to deadlock waiting a simple packet buffer transfer, and even if they do, they like to pretend its not happening.

If the trays looked nicer it would have been an obvious conspicuous consumption opportunity. The cheap store has injection molded plastic; we have marble trays; they have antique engraved ebony.

I wonder how or if they handle what CS would call transaction locks, to make sure the other process doesn't grab the buffer to empty it while the filler is still shoveling in small change. Not having been to Japan yet, I'm guessing the tray moves and at least subtly you somehow indicate you're done filling the bucket before the service worker starts emptying it.

I had another model based on traditional innumeracy, if traditionally payers were innumerate you shovel coins onto the bucket until the service worker sees enough and takes away the bucket. I find this model theoretically possible to implement although highly unlikely in practice.

Eh, that's a stretch. You can call the tray asynchronous if you want, but you still have to wait for it to return.

I love to stretch... good for the brain. Its a concurrency design pattern, never, never ever, create an opportunity for complicated deadlocks at the protocol or implementation layer when you can just toss down a boring simple well understood and easy to debug FIFO/buffer. There are times and places where complication is needed in programming, but paying your sushi bill isn't it. Or the meta design pattern of always make it as simple as possible and not a bit too simple.

Even if this is total space cadet time, I like thinking about concurrency issues. (edited to fix horrible phrasing: I like to look at Japanese currency trays thru concurrency tinted sunglasses, just because its fun, even if the Japanese themselves don't like those sunglasses, also its funny to talk about currency and concurrency at the same time)

Question: Is money considered "dirty" in Japan?

In North America, women keep bills and coins in their purses next to used tissues, and studies have shown that men's wallets have an even higher concentration of bacteria than women's purses. We sit on and, on hot days, sweat on our money all day. Let's face it, the stuff is pretty disgusting. However, if somebody hands you a twenty, your first reaction is usually not, "Oh gross, now I need to wash my hands".

In terms of hygiene, it makes sense for waiters to collect currency on trays so they don't have to wash their hands after every bill is settled (assuming it's a different person's job to take the cash off the tray and put it in the till). Could this be the reason the practice started? The connection between disease and microbes would have existed around the time these trays appeared, so it's possible a crusading doctor or someone similar convinced vendors to use these trays.

I'm not sure. One thing I can say from experience though is that bills in Japan are newer and cleaner than they are in the US. My impression is that it would be unthinkable in Japan to write on a bill with a pen or to crumple it up. Also, I'd guess bills that start to get worn are taken out of circulation much earlier.

Compare that to the US where I've seen a supermarket teller draw a line with a pen across a bill after accepting it (why?) or people pulling wadded cash balls out of their pockets to pay for a soda at a convenience store.

I don't know what accounts for the difference but I did like the typically crisp and new bills in Japan.

To answer your question, it was likely a counterfeit detecting pen[0] that only leaves a visible mark on counterfeit notes. I generally only see them used on $100 bills; rarely on anything smaller.

[0]: http://money.howstuffworks.com/question212.htm

Interesting! Thank you for the link.

There are machines at banks used mainly to swap old bills for new ones (新札). It's considered not-so-good form to pay for something with beat up bills, so they get a lot of use.

Also, when giving money - at for example a wedding, - it's a must to have very crisp bills.

In canada you can have five coins in your pocket and still have $10 for lunch, but what strikes me weird is visiting americans' homes and seeing crumpled $1 bills stuck in the couch!

Where I live the smallest bill is $5 and is worth picking up, but to the Americans I know it almost seems like all change and $1 bills are worthless. Very foreign!

I don't treat US change as worthless (except maybe pennies) but I mostly toss it in a bucket at home and very occasionally feed it into a machine at the local grocery store that converts it to an Amazon gift certificate or whatever. $1 bills fit into my wallet just fine so nothing wrong with them although I don't use cash much day-to-day.

I also use the machines to convert coins into Amazon cards. When I get paid I pull out 600 so I have about 20 a day for food and entertainment money. My spare quarters go to laundry. And the rest of the coins are pretty much shoe/boxers/socks money. I only use my debit card to pay Comcast and PGE.

In most cases, the cachier or teller just grabs your money from the tray with their bare hands, and places change on the tray with the same bare hands. In terms of hygiene, it's no different from handling money directly.

Further, these trays are also common in banks, convenience stores and so on. No particular connection to hygiene.

>> Question: Is money considered "dirty" in Japan?

To slightly change the context, but directly answer the wording of your question - Yes, historically, commercial enterprise was always the lowest of the four classes in Japan. Up until the Meiji restoration in the 19th century, trade (hence money) was considered dirty. Echoes of this attitude survive in the culture today.

I was with my friend at a bar in Osaka, and we'd had a few. The waiter came over and set down a circular change tray. I being a little intoxicated assumed he wanted me to use a coaster, so I picked up my glass and set it on it. He was not amused by this and shot me a VERY stern look - and then it clicked. We left soon after, quite embarrassed.

hah, no need to be embarrassed, that was probably the ONLY way you'd learn about the custom.

We'd been in Japan for almost a week at this point, so we'd seen it all over the place and knew full well about the practice. The tray was just usually a rectangle as is the one in the article.

Restaurants in the US use small trays to confer bills and money all the time. What makes this Japan-specific?

These are used everywhere in Japan, not just restaurants. At a convenience store, department store, the museum, train station, etc.

I've never seen them outside of a restaurant in the states.

But what is the point of using a movable tray in a shop or museum and so on, where employee has a cash or cash machine right next to it? And if the tray is just a place to put cash before other person takes it - such trays are used everywhere in the world.

I'm completely guessing here (never been to Japan), but my guess is that these are ubiquitous in Japan.

In the US the trays are common in restaurants, because the transaction is asynchronous. Anywhere else (gas station, grocery store, banks, shops) cash is handed directly.

I'm guessing someone can confirm on how widespread these things are in Japan.

Yes - every shop/restaurant/store/etc I went into used them -from low end to high end. They are ubiquitous in Japan.

It took a minute to get used to it as I'm used to handing money to people in the USA. I found some of the people I exchanged with would hand me the money back, hand-to-hand even though I used a tray.

It doesn't end there - business cards, receipts and numerous other things have a very specific way of being exchanged that were different to me. But all very cool and novel for me. Definitely worth reading up on some of the basic customs if you travel there. There was a high tolerance for foreigners not knowing how to do things the "proper way" but it's always good to at least learn a bit and try.

Yeah, it's common in German shops and take-away places, too.

I like the elevated trays in a lot of the German supermarkets and department stores that have the built-in scoop for holding change. Wish I could find a picture of it.

No that's not what I was thinking of. More of a small elevated shelf next to the customer where the cashier places the receipt and change.

Department stores in the U.S. (At least in Minneapolis) used to ferry payment via baskets on wires from the clerk up to an accounting room where the money was counted, change made, and delivered back to the customer via the same contraption.

I tried to implement a system like this once, with the goal being to reduce the amount of equipment and clutter on the service counter, but ran into issues of trust. I learned very quickly that if you remove the cash from sight of the customer (even by turning around or having a cash register under the counter) you invite potential fraud from the cashier or the customer. The cashier is able to skim, or the customer to claim they gave a different amount if the money disappears, even briefly. I gave up on it and kept the standard "customer-facing register" setup.

Various other places has used pneumatic tube systems.

That's a pretty widespread system. I even saw an antique one in a newsagent in Broken Hill (way outback Australia) a few years ago. They did a little demo for me when I asked what it was, though obviously it was only a curio these days.

Interesting, do you have a source so I could learn more?

Try the Cash Railway Website - http://www.cashrailway.co.uk/index.htm

Source: old timers, talking about Dayton's from 60 years ago.

I've recently encountered a similar system in bars in Africa.

Is it possible that it could be related to change needing to be weighed to be determined legitimate, or simply as a way of measuring the amount? (like paying with gold dust in the Yukon or what have you)

Beyond that I can see it being a result of extreme cultural stratification, as the article touches on - that it would be seen as demeaning for a higher-class person to put money directly into the lower-class person's hand.

It's quite interesting that no one has any clear idea! I love little mysteries like this.

Most books I've read that talk about this custom (and, despite the claims of the article that it's not talked about, in Western literature it's talked about A LOT) attribute it instead to the idea that money is "impure", and handing money directly to another person (whatever the class relation) is a bit improper.

That's a fascinating idea: they may have evolved from a weigh pan. As a protocol it makes sense: bring the customer the weigh pan and then put it straight on the scale. The customer can see you didn't manipulate the pan and both of you can see the result of the weigh.

This same procedure could explain the origin of similar usage in other countries.

Well you hit on a good point, the need to be wary of counterfeit currency. There were disincentives to using gold and silver in daily usage. The golden koban coins (Ryo), as well as silver and brass coins, formed the official Edo period currency. However, the amount of gold used in minting koban declined over time, and there were also regional, unofficially minted koban, so it would have been relatively straightforward to try to create counterfeit koban. In addition, Spanish silver dollars were used unofficially, despite not being the official currency. The actual value of all these coins could fluctuate on a seasonal or even daily basis, and was tied into the price of rice. All of these are reasons to not deal with exchanging metals for daily transactions, hence the prevalence of credit-based transactions.

Weighed as in with a scale? Possibly historically this might have been a concern or a mechanism to check for counterfeits, but currently the change and bills are placed in the same, non-measured, tray. It's just a generic plastic tray, and it varies from shop to shop.

Customs have this odd thing about living on way beyond its practical use.

The article says that during 1600-1870 most businesses operated on credit with semiannual account settlement. I'd think this would make quick-weigh gold-dust transactions pretty uncommon. :)

But it would support the idea that handling money is improper.

Phillipe the Original in downtown Los Angeles has used these as long as I can remember. Phillipe is an old school sandwich place (they claim to have invented the "French dip"), not a Japanese establishment. I wonder now why they're using them: I had mistakenly assumed it was some pre-WWII Western custom that they kept alive for that authentic vintage feel.

if you watch closely (or really, at all...) the person serving you food doesn't touch the money. the tray is to take your payment and change between you and the central cashier.

Crazy enough I went there for the first time last weekend and noted the tray as peculiar. The counter is somewhat high so placing money on it is somewhat awkward. It is much easier to place money on the tray and the tray on the counter for both customer and cashier, and I think that is why it is in common usage there.

Love that place. Nothing like a round at Phillipe's after a 2600 meeting at Union Station ..

This makes me think I should pick one of these up for my daughter to carry around. She can't rotate her hands to a palm-up position, which causes no end of hassle and confusion when getting change from retail transactions.

Wait, what countries don't use these? At least in Canada every restaurant that isn't fast-food is going to give you the receipt and change on a tray or in a leather booklet.

You're right trays are quite common a lot of countries in restaurants or other places where the change is being carried to you.

But at least in my experience they are not very common for giving change in shops.

This was my thought too, but I am also from Canada (west coast) so it is plausible that it is just us and the Japanese? Interesting.

Edit: and Germany, according to the poster below...

How about at the counter of a 7-11?

Funnily enough I was just at a 7-11 in Tokyo about 30 minutes ago, just as you were writing this comment, and before I had read this thread. I happened to notice that such a tray was not in use there, which felt more efficient. Of course 7-11 is mostly a franchise business, so it may the store owner's decision.

Which one? I think it is more likely you just missed it. I've never noticed a convenience store without one, though now I guess I will be looking out for it.

Just north from Suidobashi station, Mita line, North exit. The till nearest the door. It was a male Japanese cashier (unusual at that store) who seemed particularly dynamic. Possibly a management trainee.

When I was in Japan, I would always put the money in the tray, but the cashier would always return directly to my hand. I didn't understand why.

When this has happened to me ( rarely ) I sometimes recall feeling a slight tickle. Such as a palm reader might use to promote trade.

I've found the cashiers will often stroke the bottom of your hand when placing change directly in your palm. Feels very reassuring.

"Instead of handing your payment to the clerk, or setting it on the counter by the cash register, here you are generally expected to put your payment into a tray that is presented expressly for the purpose. The clerk takes it away and returns it with your change."

Either I'm missing something from the context or author is mistaken. Trays and boxes in multiple forms and sizes are used everywhere in restaurants in Europe and ex-USSR countries. In banks and similar facilities people usually hand over cash via some special trays built in the counter because of the glass separating customer and clerk.

In fact I don't remember a single restaurant in 20 or so countries where I could go to the counter pay there directly or leave cash on the counter. In every case when I tried this (I wanted to speed up things) I was told to go and wait for the waiter, who will bring a tray where I will put cash or card (in cases when card terminal in not wireless).

I think you're confusing things a little: we're not talking about restaurants per se here.

I don't know whereabouts in Europe you are, but you have to imagine a store like H&M where you generally place goods on a countertop to purchase them. In Japan, those countertops usually have a nondescript tray also lying on them, and it is considered impolite to hand your payment directly to the cashier--instead, while putting down all of your goods for purchase, you simultaneously put your payment into the tray.

There are of course restaurants where they'll hand you a bill and you bring it up to the counter -- at least in the US. For example, in the Kansas City, Missouri region you'll see this both in the sit-down tex-mex chain-restaurant El Maguey as well as smaller sit-down cafes (the one that's coming to mind is City Diner, which is by the River Market). But that's not quite what we're talking about here.

> “It’s an interesting question,” the curator I spoke to allowed

I wonder if non native English speakers find this expression (or the use of "allowed") confusing.

Was just in Japan and encountered these everywhere. We knew to use them from our research prior to the trip. Initially I was under the impression it was to prevent the spread of germs, but that didn't really line up because the money comes into contact with the cashier's hand regardless if the tray is used or not. I guess it could help reduce the amount of small hand-to-hand contact that is sometimes experienced when you place money in someones hand directly.

It was easier for the cashier to glance at the amount we had placed in the tray and help us count out the correct amount of money for our first few days there while trying to get accustomed to the types of currency.

It also prevents coins being dropped while passed from hand to hand. In a county with coins up to about the $5 equivalent, that's pretty useful.

Just FYI there's been a huge devaluation of the yen/strengthening of the dollar. ¥500=$4.

Also, it's visual in the sense that both parties can easily verify that it is the correct amount and avoids any "…but I thought I gave you five quarters…".

Currently travelling through Japan for the first time. They ask if you have now finished placing the cash that you wish to pay with. This means I have been able to put notes in the tray and then shuffle through my coins attempting to get rid of as many 5Y and 1Y coins as I can. Cash in such a modern technology forward country is still weird. I have already broken my wallet due to the over use of the coin pouch. Prior to coming here it had never been used. New Zealand, where I am from adopted Eftpos over 25 years ago. We are already chip and pin, and pay wave has found its way into most POS areas. Japan is behind here but in a way I find to be very enjoyable.

Any chance you will be in Sendai? Ill buy you a beer :)

The difference between the west and Japan in regard to change trays is that in the west (US, Canada, Europe, etc.) they're often available in a small subset of cash payment scenarios, but in Japan they're always available in every cash payment scenario. Not to mention that even when they are available in the west, they're rarely used, but in Japan they're always used. I've lived in the US, Spain, and Japan for considerable periods of time, and the level to which they're available and customarily used in Japan is what makes them such a noteworthy use case.

In Japan, anytime you hand someone cash in personal life it's rude not to put it in an envelope. Examples includes gifts or paying your Japanese teacher.

The tray avoids passing cash hand to hand. 20 years ago, clerks (or taxi drivers) would be visibly surprised and slightly shocked if you tried to hand them cash. But that's relaxed a lot now. Tourists hand cash to clerks and the reaction is slight if at all. Taxi drivers often exchange cash hand to hand. It's still more polite to use the tray but less strict.

In the bar I used to work in we used to give the change to customers on a tray to prompt the customer to give us a tip. So I always assume that's why they are being used.

Japan though, has almost no tipping culture.

But, every sushi bar has a tip jar? Or only in America

Tipping, in various situations, is definitely a cultural thing which easily changes - even from the US to Europe. Guidebooks almost universally will tell you about what is expected. Different places handle different situations differently as well, such as tipping in a restaurant, to a bellhop, or to a taxi.

Similarly bargaining is diverse as well. You may not think of it, but in the US you bargain back and forth for big ticket items (cars, houses) but not little things. In many east Asian countries it is the opposite, you bargain with street salesmen but not for a motorcycle or car.

I cannot say I ever saw a tip jar at a sushi bar in Japan. Restaurants tend to adopt practices from the country they are in, even when the food is authentic. For example China does not have the concept of separate starters, main courses and desserts, but Chinese restaurants in the west often do.

Only in America.

A few places in Britain have put these jars out, mostly pubs in tourist areas and American codew shops. I've never put anything in them, since the previous container for spare change was a charity collection jar, usually for a local charity.

The charity jars are quite common in pubs, convenience shops and supermarkets.

A few years ago, I was almost forcibly prevented from leaving a Hawaiian burger joint in Nagano by a waitress who was concerned that I'd accidentally left some money on the table. I tried to explain that it was a tip, but they were quite unhappy to let us leave until we'd taken a couple of little candy canes - it was Christmas - from the display in their window...

Tipping is not a thing in Japan, generally. I've read that it can be considered faintly insulting, given the service culture - you're implying the recipient wouldn't have done their job properly unless you gave them extra money.

Not in Japan, you can buy chef a sake or beer if you want though. I am not sure when is it appropriate however

These are common in Turkey and generally used in both sides of a transaction. I saw them in Syria as well (10 years ago). There, it seemed that part of the purpose was to mitigate "accidental" physical contact between men and women. Several women I knew there complained about guys getting fresh (touching their fingers or hands) during transactions. The tray prevented this. In Turkey though, I think it is more for transparency in the transaction.

We have these in Canada, I'm pretty sure I've used these in Pennsylvania and Michigan as well, not sure where these aren't used actually.

Yeah, when I was a kid I remember them being pretty common in restaurant/diner type places. (I suppose more rural type places as well) Now that credit cards are a pretty prevalent payment method, and a lot of the older establishments have gone by the wayside, I don't see them as much. Interesting you should mention Pennsylvania, that's where I'm grew up. I wonder if they weren't as ubiquitous as I had assumed...

And as one shopkeeper explained it, offering change in a tray feels more polite than simply placing money in a customer’s hand.

See also English Victorian change packets:


come on, this is common in EU..Germany etc, too

Where have you seen this? I've lived in Berlin for six years and I have literally never encountered anything like it.

I've seen them everywhere I've visited in Germany. An image search came up with this¹, which says they're called "Zahlteller" (counting plates).

1: http://www.schnitzelbahn.com/homepage/2010/11/25/the-evil-za... (scroll down a bit)

Oh ok. Yes, some places put your change in a tray (which I've seen in the US too), but you still hand money directly to them. It's really not the same thing that's discussed in the article.

right, I guess it's a bit more 'both ways' in Japan, maybe because of the aversion to phyiscal contact and love of politeness....but same thing basically. I recall seeing them in Berlin/DE most often at train station cafes/Bäckerei etc

Yes in EU they are used for coins mostly.

Isn't it common in Restaurants to leave the money in a tray?

Something much more weird I think is the money envelopes. I once took classes by a Japanese lady who, the day before we would pay for the next month, gave us these envelopes the size of a bill and asked us to bring the money in them, said that Japanese never hand money directly, always in envelopes. The next day she took the envelopes and didn't even open them to count the money.

I confirm that it's common in bakeries and many takeout places in Germany and many western european countries.

This is a common practice that started out in Western culture. It was, and still is, considered more polite to receive your bill and put your change on a tray. Go to an extremely expensive restaurant and you'll see. Here in America, we now prefer the billfold instead of the tray for privacy reasons, but the concept is exactly the same.

You probably just didn't notice, because it is totally normal to not use them, but they they are common. I think they see the most use at places like bakeries, where high counters make handing money over directly harder.

Actually I can't even imagine handing cash directly to someone - this kind of seems rude to me. It would be even worse if the note was folded. Doing this also might involve hand contact (which again might make someone uncomfortable). (I'm from Northern Europe).

In Finland we give the cash/receipts straight to the person. Nothing rude about it. I don't remember there ever being any hand contact involved in it. I guess some restaurants might use trays, but not the ones that I ever go to.

I remember these being common in Canada at least as late as the mid-1980s. Usually branded with a credit card logo.

I think I know what youre speaking of, my recollection growing up in the 90s was that the bill at a restaurant would always arrive on a tray, and then any change, mints, customer receipt, change would be returned on the same tray after payment was made.

Now with debit cards (interac, not mastercard) being the norm its standard to get the bill and then have them bring over a wireless debit machine (and has been that way for at least 10+ years)

Unrelated, but interesting custom: Koreans (possibly others of the Asian persuasion) generally will hand you change with both hands (possibly with a small bow), it's considered rude to hand cash with only one hand. No idea why.

Genuinely curious now ... if the trays are meant to avoid hand contact, how do things work in drive-thrus there?

Fairly common to get some level of hand-contact there when passing around money, credit cards or food bags.

Hmm, good question. Part of the answer is that drive-thrus are very rare in Japan. But there's at least one MacDonald's in the city where I live that has a drive-thru, but I've never noticed what they do.

Pizza delivery guys will just pull out your change from a coin purse, though.

Edit: Just remembered that sometimes toll collectors on the highways use them, but not 100% of them, so there's that.

I've only been to Tokyo (not smaller cities) but I've never seen a drive-through there. People take the train and walk, not drive.

It reminds me though, in fast food places they often have you order by kiosk and then take your receipt to exchange for the food. So there's no (other) human involved in the transaction.

My favourite part of this article was the description of an entirely trust-based retail economy that has now - sadly but inevitably - vanished.

I thought money trays were ubiquitous all over the world. Any examples where they are not widely used?

not common in the UK

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