The city of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, home to the U.S. 7th Fleet, has no problem extracting dollars from the hands of American sailors. What it really wants to do is prize greenbacks from the pockets of Japanese customers.
A private-sector estimate puts that amount at more than ¥1 trillion, in bills and loose change left over from trips overseas.
In 2013, the Yokosuka city office began a campaign offering gifts to Japanese tourists who collect stamps at shops in the area after paying for goods in dollars.
The campaign initially involved some 50 shops, mainly those on the Dobuita-dori shopping street. That’s the strip near the main gate of the military base that is flanked by restaurants and bars with English signs.
The 2015 campaign saw about 90 shops participate. The stores receive payment in dollars and convert it into yen at banks or at currency exchanges across the city.
Three years ago, a knife shop put up a sign that read “U.S. Dollars Here!” But few Japanese use their dollars there: It is foreign tourists who tend to buy Japanese-made kitchen knives with the U.S. currency, a female employee, 64, said.
In October, when the campaign was underway, the city conducted a survey, finding that sales remained level from a year earlier at 48 shops, decreased at nine and increased at 23.
The government prepared a new pamphlet in December to enhance public recognition of shops accepting payment in dollars. It also runs a campaign promotion bus.
“We will expand it by stages,” said a city official in charge.
But some say what is poorly known is the fact that the cash is always accepted there.
“Few people probably know that payment in dollars is accepted all year round instead of during the campaign,” said a 47-year-old restaurant owner.
The municipal government should make the U.S. currency acceptable “not only on the Dobuita-dori street area but also in the rest of the city,” he added.