Sunday, October 19, 2003



No, I'm not going mad at bill-paying time, I just happened to read an article in the US media about how to organize your finances. One of the precepts was to pay your bills as they come in, rather than wait till the end of the month, since that makes it less of an outgo shock, plus it spreads out the work involved in balancing your checkbook.

And then I went Oohh yeeaahh!! Checkbooks!! I remember them!! I remember I used to have a hell of a time balancing my checkbook, way back in the ancient history of my life: what an archaic system that was!! And then I thought: WHAT? Are they still using checkbooks in the US? Isn't that a bit primitive for allegedly the most advanced country in the world, where everything that can be done electronically is done electronically?

Who can explain it? As to that primitive paper-paying way, I haven't used a checkbook in 25 years!! In response to which, I know my checkbook-wielding American friends would say: WHAT? How do you survive in Japan without a checkbook? Do you have to run down to the village square and pay your bills in wads of cash to the headman or something? How horrible!!, in that patronizing way people from allegedly advanced countries have.

Then in that patronizing way expats from said allegedly advanced countries have, I would retort with a little expat-laugh: No, we use nothing so primitive as a checkbook over here in uniquely advanced Japan; it's all done electronically. We simply go once to the bank for each of our creditors and arrange to have the due payment automatically deducted from our account each month. The bill is sent to the bank, and a copy to us, and we never have to make out a check or deal with a creditor. Couldn't be simpler. Never an error, since professional accountants are in charge. Quite an elegant way to deal with a tasteless and often confusing chore, don't you allegedly advanced folks agree? Funny you haven't thought of doing it that way. Electronically, I mean.

Similarly, unlike my account-burdened working friends in America, I have NEVER filled out an income tax form here in Japan; the ENTIRE thing is done by the accountants at whatever company I work for, as it is for all salaried people here. If you as an American were to attempt to commiserate with a Japanese worker over the terrible hassles he or she must have to go through every year in April, when tax time comes around and they have to fill out those stacks of ridiculous tax forms, you would be terribly wrong; they would laugh politely in your face and admit they haven't a clue as to what in the world you are talking about. Income tax forms? What are income tax forms??

Yes, my allegedly advanced western friends, it is true. Each year in April, I and my Japanese friends figuratively twiddle our thumbs with nothing to do at all, taxwise. And no red-eyed hairpulling over check stubs at the end of each month, when 2 plus 2 no longer falls anywhere in the neighborhood of 4. What an advanced country Japan is. Of course in my case, being an American, and America being the rather less advanced country that it is in these regards, I am required each year to fill out my American tax form, to no effect whatsoever. As with all the checkbooks, I guess it's just that undying American penchant for paperwork.

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