Japanese have long been dubbed the "economic animal." Although for most of the post-bubble years, that animal has been a dead horse.

Yet in this digital age, it is not always money per se that motivates the typical Japanese consumer. No, rather than hard cash, most Japanese now go after something even harder: plastic cards.

For this is the age of e-money. Filthy lucre has evolved into clean plastic. It is still money, only more convenient — easier to carry and easier to spend, and thus easier to make disappear from your bank account.