‘Ecomoney’ refurbishes society

Exchange system seen as savior for community spirit

by Satoshi Toi

“Ecomoney,” Japan’s version of the Local Exchange and Trading System that started on Vancouver Island, Canada, in 1983, is increasingly being promoted to allow participants to offer or receive services in welfare, education and the environment in their communities.

Toshiharu Kato, an advocate of the concept of ecomoney and an official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said volunteer work in the past was usually a “one-way street,” adding that one advantage of the system is that it allows the goodwill of the residents to circulate.

The Japanese system is not as advanced as the original LETS program, which allows participants — in their local areas — to engage in financial and service transactions using the currency.

The goal of the Japanese version of ecomoney is to help local people bond as modern communities struggle to maintain ties.

For this reason, the system is increasingly being touted as a new means of community building.

Eiko Hamaguchi, a 50-year-old nurse in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, receives her local currency, called “ZUKA,” in exchange for gardening at a place called Mefu no Ouchi.

“I come here because I want to get in touch with people,” she said, adding, “I am going to give my ZUKA to old people who live alone and cannot join in a group of other people.”

She said the currency allows even those who are shy to feel at ease when asking others for help.

Takarazuka is a bedroom community outside Osaka with a population of 210,000. The name ZUKA was coined from a shortened name for the popular all-female Takarazuka opera troupe.

The first experiment with ecomoney took place last year in the midst of the city’s reconstruction from the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. The system was limited to services such as volunteer activities, which could not be assessed in monetary terms.

Under the experiment, ZUKA were exchanged between those who asked for and those who offered services, after they were registered as members of the ecomoney system. Regional coordinators acted as go-betweens.

A second experiment has been under way since last June, and membership has more than doubled from last year to 460.

Two major supermarkets in the city have joined the system to improve the environment. They established a points system in which customers who bring their own bags or sacks can accumulate the currency.

Young male baseball players also take part in the system, receiving the currency after cleaning the streets in their communities. They will use it for a baseball study session next month that will feature lectures by Katsuhiro Nakamura, former manager of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team.

Takarazuka Mayor Taiichiro Shoji welcomes the spreading use of ecomoney, saying it is “an effective means for the formation of a society with citizens acting as the leading players.”

The shopping street in front of a railway station in Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, introduced “EGG” ecomoney in February in an attempt to revive the economy.

Shimizu prospered as a shipbuilding city, but the number of customers has dropped to one-fifth of the peak period.

Thirty-one of the 103 members of the shopping street association help each other to keep their shops open and change money.

“Shopkeepers are inclined to stay inside when business is bad,” a proprietor said, adding that he wants to promote the shopping area first with the interchange among store owners.

Moves to introduce ecomoney began spreading quickly last year. More than 100 regions in the country are either circulating ecomoney or are considering adopting the system.

The introduction of nursing care for the elderly last year appeared to have set the stage for the establishment of a nonprofit organization to manage ecomoney.

METI’s Kato said local residents should follow up to monitor the effectiveness of ecomoney in solving community problems in the future and to engage in community-building suitable for their regions.

‘Ecomoney’ refurbishes society

Exchange system seen as savior for community spirit

by Satoshi Toi

“Ecomoney,” Japan’s version of the Local Exchange and Trading System that started on Vancouver Island, Canada, in 1983, is increasingly being promoted to allow participants to offer or receive services in welfare, education and the environment in their communities.

Toshiharu Kato, an advocate of the concept of ecomoney and an official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said volunteer work in the past was usually a “one-way street,” adding that one advantage of the system is that it allows the goodwill of the residents to circulate.

The Japanese system is not as advanced as the original LETS program, which allows participants — in their local areas — to engage in financial and service transactions using the currency.

The goal of the Japanese version of ecomoney is to help local people bond as modern communities struggle to maintain ties.

For this reason, the system is increasingly being touted as a new means of community building.

Eiko Hamaguchi, a 50-year-old nurse in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, receives her local currency, called “ZUKA,” in exchange for gardening at a place called Mefu no Ouchi.

“I come here because I want to get in touch with people,” she said, adding, “I am going to give my ZUKA to old people who live alone and cannot join in a group of other people.”

She said the currency allows even those who are shy to feel at ease when asking others for help.

Takarazuka is a bedroom community outside Osaka with a population of 210,000. The name ZUKA was coined from a shortened name for the popular all-female Takarazuka opera troupe.

The first experiment with ecomoney took place last year in the midst of the city’s reconstruction from the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. The system was limited to services such as volunteer activities, which could not be assessed in monetary terms.

Under the experiment, ZUKA were exchanged between those who asked for and those who offered services, after they were registered as members of the ecomoney system. Regional coordinators acted as go-betweens.

A second experiment has been under way since last June, and membership has more than doubled from last year to 460.

Two major supermarkets in the city have joined the system to improve the environment. They established a points system in which customers who bring their own bags or sacks can accumulate the currency.

Young male baseball players also take part in the system, receiving the currency after cleaning the streets in their communities. They will use it for a baseball study session next month that will feature lectures by Katsuhiro Nakamura, former manager of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team.

Takarazuka Mayor Taiichiro Shoji welcomes the spreading use of ecomoney, saying it is “an effective means for the formation of a society with citizens acting as the leading players.”

The shopping street in front of a railway station in Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, introduced “EGG” ecomoney in February in an attempt to revive the economy.

Shimizu prospered as a shipbuilding city, but the number of customers has dropped to one-fifth of the peak period.

Thirty-one of the 103 members of the shopping street association help each other to keep their shops open and change money.

“Shopkeepers are inclined to stay inside when business is bad,” a proprietor said, adding that he wants to promote the shopping area first with the interchange among store owners.

Moves to introduce ecomoney began spreading quickly last year. More than 100 regions in the country are either circulating ecomoney or are considering adopting the system.

The introduction of nursing care for the elderly last year appeared to have set the stage for the establishment of a nonprofit organization to manage ecomoney.

METI’s Kato said local residents should follow up to monitor the effectiveness of ecomoney in solving community problems in the future and to engage in community-building suitable for their regions.