A further understanding of how money talks


Special To The Japan Times

In my previous column on the subject of 金 (kin or kane), alternatively meaning money, gold or metal, I realized that I’d barely scratched the surface of this vast subject. What forms does money take? How is it handled? Or, for that matter, how is it mishandled?

To start the ball rolling, the legal tender circulated by the Bank of Japan is produced at the 造幣局 (zōheikyoku, Japan Mint), located in Osaka’s Kita Ward. The mint produces both 紙幣 (shihei, paper money) and 硬貨 (kōka, literally “hard goods,” but meaning coinage). In daily parlance, however, banknotes are referred to as 札 (satsu, a bill) and coins as 玉 (tama, using the character that originally meant jade or a bead). You will usually precede these words with the denomination, such as 千円札 (senen-satsu, a ¥1,000 note) or 百円玉 (hyakuen-dama, a ¥100 coin).

Payments for goods or services may take the form of 報酬 (hōshu, remuneration) or 給与 (kyūyo, salary), the latter further differentiated by 月給 (gekkyū) or 年俸 (nenpō) depending on whether it’s determined on a monthly or annual basis.

Money can be carried in a 財布 (saifu, wallet or purse), and saved in 金庫 (kinko, a safe — literally “gold storehouse”) or a 貸金庫 (kashikinko, a rented security box in a bank). Smaller amounts such as a housewife’s へそくり (hesokuri, money stashed away for a rainy day) is deposited in a 貯金箱 (chokinbako, piggy bank)

The colorful envelopes in which celebratory gifts of money are inserted at weddings are 熨斗袋 (noshi bukuro). If the gift is something more bulky, such as foodstuffs or household items, a strip of colored paper, called 熨斗紙 (noshigami) is usually attached. “Noshi” refers to a flattened strip of 鮑 (awabi, abalone) that symbolized the spread and continuation of good fortune. But abalone faded from use long ago and wrappings these days mostly tend to be only paper, bearing some calligraphy explaining the occasion for the gift.

Noshi also has a figurative usage. If you want to return an injury or slight with a vengeance, you can say のしを付けて返す (noshi wo tsukete kaesu, the English equivalent of “I’ll pay them back in spades”).

Monetary gifts can be presented for practically any occasion. Divorcees or people injured in accidents may receive 慰謝料 (isharyō, alimony or a solatium). There’s even a custom of giving money to a friend who embarks on a journey, called お餞別 (osenbetsu).

Helping out a hospitalized friend with his or her medical expenses is termed 見舞金 (mimaikin, get-well money), as opposed to 補償金 (hoshōkin, compensation such as an insurance payout).

The envelopes with subdued colors customarily presented at Buddhist funerals to express condolences are お香典 (okōden, literally “incense offering”). A nondenominational term is ご霊前 (goreizen, before the spirit of the departed).

Three popular sayings

• 借りるときの地蔵顔, 返す時の閻魔顔 (Kariru toki no Jizō-gao, kaesu toki no Emma-gao, when borrowing from someone, show a cheerful face, when paying back, show a foreboding expression). It helps to know that Jizo is the placid-faced Bodhisattva who protects children and travelers, whereas Emma is the King of Hades.

• 金銭は他人 (Kinsen wa tanin, in money matters, even relatives should treat each other like strangers).

• 親苦労する、その子楽する、孫乞食する (Oya kurō suru, sono ko raku suru, mago kojiki suru, the parent works hard, the child takes it easy and the grandchild begs). This is quite similar to the English expression, “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.”

A money miscellany

• Those plastic dishes used to return change at banks and shops is a カルトン (karuton), originating from the French carton, a box or case.

• The words 片手 (katate, one hand) and 両手 (ryōte, both hands) are euphemisms for ¥5,000 and ¥10,000 (indicated by showing five and ten fingers, respectively).

• A person hard up for money might describe it in terms of an illness, saying 金欠病にかかっている (kinketsubyō ni kakatteiru, made up of 金 kin, money; 欠 ketsu, from the verb kaku, to be lacking; and byō, disease).

• When money is surreptitiously passed to purchase favors or influence, this is called 賄賂 (wairo, a bribe), which is euphemistically said to be 袖の下を渡す (sode no shita wo watasu, paid under the sleeve).

• When the winner of a sumo bout waves his hand before accepting 懸賞金 (kenshōkin, prize money), it’s called 手刀を切る (tegatana wo kiru, cutting with the hand sword).

• Various criminals engaged in theft include スリ (suri, a pickpocket); 板の間稼ぎ (itanoma kasegi, a bathhouse thief); 詐欺師 (sagishi, a swindler or confidence trickster); and 泥棒 (dorobo, a burglar). Someone who does little work in the office may be called 給与泥棒 (kyūyo dorobo, salary thief).