The money tray
When you come to Japan one of the interesting things you will quickly encounter at shops and in banks is the money tray. It’s a small plastic, sometimes faux-leather tray about 16cm x 10cm, usually rectangular, sometimes round. When you pay or hand over money you do not do it directly from hand-to-hand. You put your money in the tray. Similarly, when change is being given to you, or money handed over it is not put directly into your hand but is politely placed in the tray. Not always, but more often than not. It looks and feels like a very polite formality.
Money is an existential abomination and depravity, but a necessary evil.
Unsurprisingly, when trying to explain these money trays everyone misses an essential point here. We in capitalist liberal democratic societies have convinced ourselves of the virtue of greed and money and totally forgotten its dodgy history. But consider this: money is obscene and it taints us. Money is an existential abomination and depravity, but a necessary evil. Since money is essentially evil it is fitting that we create mechanisms to regulate contact with and exchange of it. So I greatly appreciate these little cash trays at banks and shops as a kind of barrier that somewhat protects us - the customer and the vendor - from excessive taint of money on our souls. I don't mean as a barrier to germs inhabiting the surface of the currency. I mean they serve as an acknowledgment that money is a little dodgy. Their existence in Japan - even if people no longer remember their origin - indicates that awareness of the moral dilemma at least used to be high(er), even if it is currently extinct. Of course the trays have some mundane and vaguely practical function: they help the vendor display change to the customer for confirmation; they help prevent embarrassing spillage onto the floor, etc. But those are only quaint justifications revealing people's ignorance of the spiritual, existential, moral debate associated with money - or even that there ever was a moral debate. Let people know - teach them, remind them - that although money is important it is not THAT important!
Sure, I know what many people will think. They will think that’s the sort of obscenity they would love to have tainting their hands. More please! But I think that reflexive response indicates a tendency to value people and things by their supposed monetary value, which is something I don’t accept. I am talking about the metaphysical value over the monetary value.
But I could be wrong.