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New Currency Based on Kind Deeds Takes Root

March 5, 1999

Often people ask a small favor of another and feel awkward paying money for it, but would like to be able to offer something in thanks--when an elderly person wants a younger person to go on a quick errand, for example. Ecomoney can provide a comfortable solution in such a situation. It consists of points that can be earned through little favors and volunteer work; these points can then be traded for products and services within a limited region. This new type of currency, expected to help cultivate stronger ties between people in the same community, is beginning to spread in Japan.

How Much for That Good Deed?
Ecomoney circulates very differently from regular money. The system is run by local nonprofit organizations, which first solicit funds from individual and corporate donors looking to contribute to their community. In return, participants are given sums of ecomoney proportional to their donations. They can then ask for assistance from local organizations when needed and pay for services received using ecomoney.

In October 1998 this system was experimentally introduced in Suo Oshima, an island off the coast of Yamaguchi Prefecture at the southwestern tip of Honshu. One young man who helped clean a local beach received 24 eco for his four hours of work. ("Eco" is the unit of ecomoney; one eco amounts to about 10 minutes of light labor.) This youth exchanged five eco for a ticket to a local hot spring facility and saved the rest.

The NPO running Suo Oshima's system also issues one eco for every 100 yen (0.83 U.S. dollars at 120 yen to the dollar) in donations. Ecomoney obtained in this way can then be used to pay for such services as fixing a doorknob (3 eco), watering plants (3 eco), and mowing grass (24 eco). The NPO hopes that one day ecomoney will even be used to shop in local shopping districts.

Stimulating Community Interaction
One of the unique features of ecomoney is that it can only be used in the community where it was issued. It is thus expected to encourage interaction within the community in several ways: Its circulation not only will result in individual acts of kindness and volunteer activities, but should spur interaction among community members, such as between elderly and younger people. Older residents may receive gifts of ecomoney from local donors or from their families, who can thus contribute to local NPOs and help out their relatives at the same time.

The start of the experiment in Suo Oshima touched off a ripple effect that has already reached other parts of Yamaguchi Prefecture. The movement is expected to spread still further, as Supernet Co., a developer of wireless radio systems and the company providing administrative guidance for Suo Oshima's endeavor, hopes to help introduce ecomoney in twelve other communities across Japan in spring 1999.

Money with Warmth
Ecomoney made its appearance, according to some, partly because society is discovering the limits of the capitalistic economy it has built up and has begun searching for a different system. Toshiharu Kato of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, who came up with the name "ecomoney," describes it as "a warm currency that conveys the human potential for kindness." He says that society needs a humane standard that, unlike money as we know it--which evaluates everything in terms of a strictly uniform scale called "price"--reflects people's differing abilities and compassion for others.

One expert on welfare issues who advocates ecomoney predicts that "eventually, new monetary systems like this one will account for a substantial part of Japan's economy." The ecomoney system will not be successful, however, without trust and shared values among its participants and a strong organizational backbone. Concentrating on these factors, promoters hope to see ecomoney take root as the new money of the twenty-first century.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.