October 31, 2016


Community Currency 'Bunji' Changing the Way Money is Used

Keywords: Civil Society / Local Issues Money Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.170 (October 2016)

Japan is a convenient society. People can go shopping without speaking at all. There is no need to say a word when purchasing items, not only through the Internet or ubiquitous vending machines scattered throughout towns, but even in supermarkets and convenience stores. Moreover, as globalization progresses, it is no longer unusual for products to be delivered to buyers living on the opposite side of the planet.

Caught in the flow of trends, we often forget that there are people who produce these goods and services and provide them to us, don't we? We sometimes even hear "the customer is king," and "money can buy all things ." Although such a society is convenient, it is probably lacking in something critical if the people in it forget gratitude to providers of goods and services.

An initiative has been introduced using a community currency in Kokubunji, a city in western Tokyo Metropolis, to reform this kind of society, encouraging people to think of those who provide them goods and services. In this newsletter, we introduce the community currency, called the "Bunji," as explained by Tomoaki Kageyama, a leader in this initiative.

Community Currency as a Message Card

Kokubunji, with a population of around 120,000, is located about 30 minutes by train from Shinjuku -- a major urban center of Tokyo. A Tokyo Metropolis commuter town, Kokubunji is also the historic area where the Musashi Kokubunji Temple was founded in the mid Nara period (in the 700s). The city established the Bunji currency in 2012. It originated from "tickets for fun" that had been issued for an event called the Bun Bun Walk, in which people strolled the city to discover its attractiveness.

The Bunji is about the size of a business card, and fits into the card holder of a wallet. One hundred Bunji have an equivalent value of 100 yen (about 99 US cents) and can be used at about 25 shops in the city. Currently, about 10,000 Bunji bills circulate there, used by around 250 people in one way or another. From this perspective, the currency is not particularly prevalent throughout the city, nor can it be said to be used on a large scale. Even so, Kageyama hopes that the currency will spread slowly and steadily rather than at an accelerated pace.

What makes the Bunji unique is its rule requiring users to write a message on it when using it. The back of each bill has ten word balloons for filling in messages.

For example, to purchase a super-deluxe fresh glass of tomato juice worth 850 yen (U.S.$8.42), you can pay with Japanese currency in the amount of 750 yen (U.S.$7.43) and 100 Bunji. When using Bunji, you have to write a short message on the back before presenting them. People who receive Bunji in exchange for a product or service will receive the purchasers' messages together with the money.

On the Bunji, the organizer has printed the following messages:

"'Good job!' for your services provided with care, dedication and consideration to others.
'Thank you' for your hard work to revitalize our city -- the work provided by one person will inspire another person to provide something to someone else and further inspire this cycle of 'good providing' in our community."

This message conveys the essence of the community currency Bunji.

Bunji Making a Full Cycle in the Community

Community currencies have been introduced under many initiatives in Japan, but we often hear that they are difficult to sustain for long. One reason they fade out quickly is that there are no places or ways for shops to spend community currencies they receive from their customers. Even if consumers can purchase products and services in shops in their community using a community currency, the community currency will go nowhere but the shops if there is no place for the shops to use it in turn.

The organizer of the Bunji is now trying to solve this problem through an agriculture-commerce collaborative approach. One such example is how the Bunji is used by Kageyama, who runs a coffee shop named KURUMED COFFEE. He can use Bunji as a part of his payment when purchasing fresh produce from farmers in Kokubunji to prepare food menu items using locally-grown vegetables and fruits. In this way, the shop has a place to use its Bunji.

The farmers who receive Bunji from Kageyama can use them as a way to show their gratitude to volunteers who help with their farm work. The volunteers who receive Bunji from farmers can pay for a cup of coffee or a food item at KURUMED COFFEE, excited at the thought that the vegetables and fruits used there might be from the farm they helped. Then the Bunji received from the volunteers can be used again to purchase vegetables, or given to the coffee shop's staff (Kageyama gives Bunji to his staff as a bonus). As in this example, Bunji are cycled through the community, making a full circle.

Every time Bunji are transferred from one person to another, a new message is added on the back side of the Bunji. "Thank you very much for the tasty tomatoes," "Thank you for helping with our harvest in hot weather," and "Thanks for your coffee and a wonderful time here!" You can imagine how happy you would be just to read such messages written on a community currency bill you received.

Partaking in Work Done by Someone

Kageyama says that writing a message gives us an opportunity to ask ourselves how we have benefited. Through this process, we can turn our thoughts to the people who manufacture the products or provide the services we receive. The Bunji reminds us that in the background of products and services are the people who manufacture those products or provide those services -- an obvious fact, but easy to forget.

Obtaining things without money but with the awareness that we are receiving someone's work encourages us to consider who performed the work and how he or she did it, producing a sense of thankfulness. In particular, since the Bunji is a community currency linking local work done by local shops, farmers and residents, we can easily identify who performed the work, and this facilitates feelings of gratitude.

In this way, the Bunji is not a mere replacement for currency, but a medium for changing our ways of using money and its meaning as a tool.

Community Currency Bunji Changing Ways the Yen is Used

Expanding use of the Bunji in trade will also change ways of using the Japanese yen. In other words, the number of people who are good at acknowledging others' work will increase. Such people can be thankful to others for the juice they drink, the cake they eat or the services they receive. This means that the number of people conscious of receiving others' work and skillful at expressing their appreciation is increasing.

If products or services that we provide are appreciated by others, we tend to want to provide more. In this way, a providing-receiving circle continues. This system works well regardless of whether money is involved or not. In towns with many people who use money while consciously receiving benefits and feeling a sense of gratitude, the number of people who enjoy providing products and services to others increases. Here, the way of using money changes and eventually the economic approach will also change.

The Bunji provides opportunities to practice a different way of using money. By practicing this through a community currency, the number of people who respect the provision of products and services and the benefits they receive from others' work will increase when using the national currency as well. The way of using the national currency will also change, as will the approach to the economy overall. Efforts using the Bunji will continue.

Written by Naoko Niitsu