The Change Trays of Japan: Object lesson
June 1, 2015 6:04 AM   Subscribe

"I am very curious about those small trays that are used in Japan when settling daily cash transactions. Instead of handing your payment to the clerk, or setting it on the counter by the cash register, here you are generally expected to put your payment into a tray that is presented expressly for the purpose. ... So, what the heck are these trays called? And what is their origin and purpose?"

From the Japan Times's series, What the Heck is That?
posted by MonkeyToes (45 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Previously similar ...

Pretty cool, thanks. :) Had dinner out the other day and realized that while a lot of places use small folded document holder/folio, some use little trays (some with a clip for the credit card/bill/cash, some without).
posted by tilde at 6:23 AM on June 1, 2015


It's a type of kitty, of course. In Japanese, it would be キティ [Kiti].
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:38 AM on June 1, 2015


A koin torei, huh? I wonder what language that term is derived from. Unfortunately, the item similarly used in America has just as prosaic a name - they're sold as guest check presenters. I was hoping that there was a unique word for each of these doohickies.
posted by yhbc at 7:04 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Koreans sometimes go to the opposite extreme. I thought my local dry cleaner was flirting with e when she took my hand in both of hers to give me change. But I've learned other Koreans do the same thing.
posted by texorama at 7:09 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


yhbc: "koin torei" is a transliteration of the English "coin tray."
posted by seiryuu at 7:17 AM on June 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


I love that the writer - Alice Gordenker - phoned up the Bank of Japan to get an answer, and I love the fact that the Bank of Japan earnestly tried to answer her question.

I don't love the fact that Gordenker's piece is written "special to the Japan Times." The paper has laid off or gotten rid of a number of excellent staff writers over the past decade or so. Unavoidable, perhaps, but sad all the same.
posted by Nevin at 7:27 AM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


That whole series of articles is pretty great, but it really makes me want to find one for Canada.

Maybe this belongs in Talk or Ask, but let's play a game here: If you've visited a country and found something very strange or curious about it, name the country and the thing. If you're from said country, explain it and offer up one of your own.
posted by mhoye at 7:31 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


The story I was presented with in Japanese history class a decade or so ago connected the phenomenon to the cast-less merchants.
Before the Meiji Restoration, makers of leatherware and such were mostly of the untouchable (literally non-human) cast, and, according to the lecturer, the trays were a necessary precaution against body contact between client and merchant. Because, if you touched an untouchable the uncleanliness wore off on you, and you'd have to go through expensive and time consuming cleansing rituals.
posted by AxelT at 7:33 AM on June 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


That was an extraordinarily interesting little article; thanks for posting it! (I notice “Genkin kakene nashi” is translated as “Cash sales, no bargaining!,” but doesn't kakene mean 'overcharge' rather than 'bargaining'?)
posted by languagehat at 7:42 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, that was interesting, especially the part about Edo-era Japan working on credit, partially so that filthy lucre did not have to touch their hands. Quite civilized, that, if I can say so without falling into the "Orientalism" trap.

Most of all, talk about any quotidian Japanese "thing" brings back so many memories...
posted by kozad at 7:48 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there are European countries where this sort of coin tray for getting your change is common - but I can't remember which ones.
posted by biffa at 7:53 AM on June 1, 2015


AxelT: "Before the Meiji Restoration, makers of leatherware and such were mostly of the untouchable (literally non-human) cast, and, according to the lecturer, the trays were a necessary precaution against body contact between client and merchant. Because, if you touched an untouchable the uncleanliness wore off on you, and you'd have to go through expensive and time consuming cleansing rituals."

That doesn't sound right. True, people didn't want to touch the untouchables because they were seen as unclean. But that had nothing to do with money: avoiding contact with money was not to prevent contact between client and merchant, it was because money was also seen as unclean. If you were a samurai, you would receive money (if you had to) on top of a folding fan (instead of touching it), even if the person passing you the money was really high up the caste ladder.
posted by Bugbread at 8:12 AM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Come on. I was In Berlin the other day and coin trays are almost as common in Prenzlauer berg as they are in Kichijoji.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:16 AM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


(I notice “Genkin kakene nashi” is translated as “Cash sales, no bargaining!,” but doesn't kakene mean 'overcharge' rather than 'bargaining'?)

Literally, it does mean that, but with the implication that the overcharging is the merchant's opening gambit in the bargaining process. So, made a bit more explicit, "kakene nashi" means "I won't artificially inflate the price at the beginning to give me room to haggle; there will be no haggling, because the first price I tell you is the price I intend to charge."
posted by No-sword at 8:26 AM on June 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


That's a neat article! And now I'm gonna peruse that whole series.

In many older Chinese restaurants here they often give you the check on a rectangular red tray, and that's where you put the money on and also where they give you the change. Credit cards also have the same process. A lot of them also have a small clip to keep the check/credit cards from flying away. I wonder if it's just a general thing worldwide (since Joseph Gurl mentioned Berlin) in countries that are overly polite.
posted by numaner at 8:30 AM on June 1, 2015


I saw these in Paris. And here and there here in San Francisco. I always thought it was a combination of avoiding filthy lucre and filthy hands. There was a study years ago where they purposefully either touched the customer's hand while giving change or not touching the hand. After the transaction it was found that people who were touched could better remember the person who gave them the change.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:41 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


These trays are also ubiquitous in Germany, and patchily distributed throughout much of central Europe.
posted by Svejk at 9:03 AM on June 1, 2015


On the plus side, Japan has pretty awesome customer service.

On the minus side, it's almost like an algorithm, and if the "human operator" has not mastered the algorithm, going to the shops can be kind of like dealing with a malfunctioning robot, especially if there is an issue that needs resolving.
posted by Nevin at 9:17 AM on June 1, 2015


> Koreans sometimes go to the opposite extreme. I thought my local dry cleaner was flirting with e when she took my hand in both of hers to give me change. But I've learned other Koreans do the same thing.

Giving small objects with two hands is very common in Asian cultures, but I haven't heard of taking your hand(s). It's usually for single objects: receipts, cards, microphones, etc; it would be held out to be easily grabbed, often with a slight bow, and it was respectful to assume the same stance when receiving.
posted by halifix at 9:25 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just came in to say what a few others have said: this article is very US-centric, and trays or dishes are common on at least three continents. In many places even if the shopkeeper will accept payment handed to them (and it's fairly usual instead for you to hand your bills across the counter, drop them and they pick them up) they'll still put your change in a dish or tray rather than hand it back.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:29 AM on June 1, 2015


I live in Canada, and it's not uncommon here either, once you start to look for it you'll see it everywhere.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:45 AM on June 1, 2015


I wonder if it's countries which use coins a lot (ie not USA).

We don't have them so much in our corner shops in the UK, but they're ubiquitous in restaurants and pretty common in bars (where your change might end up in a beer puddle otherwise).

I would like it if we had them in corner shops, it would prevent this sort of thing: "Here's your change poured into your outstretched hand, oh I've fumbled and now you're going to have to hunt for the 87p that's fallen into the chocolate display below the counter".
posted by tinkletown at 9:54 AM on June 1, 2015


It can be confusing the other way 'round, too: A Japanese friend of mine was cussed out by a Burger King employee in the US because he put his money on the counter rather than in her hands.
posted by wintersweet at 9:57 AM on June 1, 2015


Not sure of the history, but it makes logistical sense; without the tray, the cashier has to wait for the customer, or vice versa, which is an annoying break in process. With the tray, the customer can just put the money on the tray as soon as possible; the cashier can take the money whenever's convenient, and it's much more efficient and less stress than one person waiting for the other.
posted by suedehead at 10:13 AM on June 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


We don't have them so much in our corner shops in the UK

Funny, because it seems like my first memory of encountering the change dish (other than the kind inset into a counter with a glass barrier such as a ticket office might have) was in a petrol station or corner shop in the UK, and frankly they look like bacteria farms; given a choice I'd rather have my change dropped into my hand then have to grub it out of one of those along with whatever snot residue and genital parasites the previous 80,000 customers wiped there.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:17 AM on June 1, 2015


Huh...I don't even notice when a tray or a folio are presented...it's just a thing. In fact, I notice it more when there is no tray or folio...

I travel a fair amount, mostly in the States, and I didn't even know that this is considered unusual (I live in the Bay Area, CA).
posted by Chuffy at 10:54 AM on June 1, 2015


mhoye: Maybe this belongs in Talk or Ask, but let's play a game here: If you've visited a country and found something very strange or curious about it, name the country and the thing. If you're from said country, explain it and offer up one of your own.

Yay! I love these little quirks of different cultures and I am fascinated by them.

In Italy (maybe just parts of Italy? Certainly in Emilia Romagna) they are strangely fussy about you touching the fruit and vegetables in shops. They have the loose fruit and veg laid out as I'd expect, piled in plastic bins in rows, but as well as the supply of small plastic/paper bags to put your produce in, they also have a supply of disposable plastic gloves which you are supposed to don before handling anything. You can get some pretty funny looks if you fail to don the gloves before grappling with the onions.

Not particularly confusing in terms of where the custom comes from (fairly clearly a hygiene thing), but it does seem like it's more for the sake of appearances than actual hygiene because I suspect that, if you think that there is an unbroken chain of farmhands and warehouse workers between the farm and the shop all wearing clean gloves, you are in for some disappointment.
posted by Dext at 11:00 AM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


As someone noted upthread, they're extremely common here in Germany - I see them at almost every shop I go to. I also have noticed that sometimes the cashier uses it, sometimes they just leave the change on the counter. In Japan cashiers seemed much more consistent with the trays.

It can be confusing the other way 'round, too: A Japanese friend of mine was cussed out by a Burger King employee in the US because he put his money on the counter rather than in her hands.

Wow. I'm American but I would be pretty upset if a cashier yelled at me for that.
posted by photo guy at 11:29 AM on June 1, 2015


I've got to say they're extremely common at pretty much any sit-down restaurants, but not at fast food places or stores. (My experience has been the same throughout the US.)
posted by easily confused at 12:00 PM on June 1, 2015


Yes, coin/bill trays are common in restaurants and whatnot, but one of the true stumbling blocks I encountered when I went to Tokyo was that a) they're used pretty much everywhere, like at the stationery store, and b) you try to hand money to them and they'll just look at you blankly until you put it on the tray. It's a true mediator of retail currency exchange. I always figured it was some kind of hygiene thing, so thanks, OP!
posted by rhizome at 12:07 PM on June 1, 2015


whatever snot residue and genital parasites the previous 80,000 customers wiped there

Ignoring the fabled ass pennies, how many bacteria-laden hands do you think have touched the money that is sitting in your pocket right now?
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:24 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, rhizome is dead on. I'm used to change trays at restaurants. When I attempted to hand my yen to a Starbucks employee and she stared at me and did not put her hand out (and then eventually gestured helpfully to the change tray), I was really thrown, as I was again with the change. I'm used to it at a restaurant where they step away to make change; not so much at the coffeeshop counter.
posted by rednikki at 12:24 PM on June 1, 2015


This series of articles is amazing -- I could read this stuff forever. Thank you!
posted by theredpen at 12:55 PM on June 1, 2015


I was gratified to read the column about chindonya. I've been having a personal post-war Japanese film festival, and I noticed that Naruse especially seems to have a shot of one of these troupes in every movie. Now I know what to call them.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:03 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


It can be confusing the other way 'round, too: A Japanese friend of mine was cussed out by a Burger King employee in the US because he put his money on the counter rather than in her hands.

Maybe the Burger King employee was originally from Korea?
posted by sour cream at 2:12 PM on June 1, 2015


Chuffy: "I travel a fair amount, mostly in the States, and I didn't even know that this is considered unusual (I live in the Bay Area, CA)."

I grew up in the US (mainly Texas), and I don't recall ever seeing them except at restaurants. I've never seen them at convenience stores or electronics stores or office supply stores or hardware stores or pet shops or or or...That would have been pre-1996. So if they're common in the US, either there are regional variations, and they're not used in Texas, or it's something that happened in the last 20 years, or a combination of both.
posted by Bugbread at 3:37 PM on June 1, 2015


Not sure of the history, but it makes logistical sense; without the tray, the cashier has to wait for the customer, or vice versa, which is an annoying break in process.

Yeah, having gotten used to it now I do think its a little easier than the US way where I have to make sure we are both ready to do the handoff.

That said, if I could bring one Japanese restaurant custom to the US, it would be that almost everywhere you pay up front when you want to leave. The amount of time I waste in the US doing the "get waiter's attention, ask for check, wait for check, put credit card in, get waiters attention again, wait..." dance can be more than the actual eating time. Drives me crazy.

And if I could do that AND bring the "summon waiter" buttons from Korea, I would be a very happy person.
posted by thefoxgod at 4:01 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Before I got my ETC machine installed, I was so thankful that the highway toll operators used these trays. Really helped limit the chance of dropping a bunch of coins out the car window.

While I was getting used to counting the coins here (the denominations are different from coins in the USA... and also there's the whole language thing) it was helpful to see cashiers visibly tally my coins on the tray. I still sometimes forget about the tray and try to hand cashiers money. Luckily, I'm out in the country and people are pretty relaxed about that kind of stuff here.

It's interesting to hear they use these coins in other areas around the world. It's something I noticed when I arrived in Japan and thought to myself, "This is great! Why don't more countries do this?"
posted by buriednexttoyou at 4:04 PM on June 1, 2015


thefoxgod, some places in Japan have the waiter summoning button. It's great! Dining out is overall a much better experience in this country. It's still a little awkward feeling for me to yell "SUMIMASEN!" when I want something, but it's so much better than being constantly interrupted by someone asking if you need anything and then disappearing entirely when you actually need them.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 4:07 PM on June 1, 2015


I met up with a MeFite who was visiting Japan who was fairly horrified by the idea that you call out to waiters. His position was that the position of service workers was so low that they had to "meekly" accept that kind of "abuse". When I explained that it's not abuse, that calling out loud to a waiter just isn't even rude in the first place, he modified his position to be that the position of service workers was so low that they had completely internalized the abuse and didn't even realize they were being abused. I just couldn't get it across to him that it really wasn't abusive to call a waiter over.
posted by Bugbread at 4:18 PM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


thefoxgod, some places in Japan have the waiter summoning button.

Yeah, I've seen it there too. In my experience it was more ubiquitous in Korea which is why I associate it with there more, but I could be wrong (not like I've done some exhaustive study or anything).

(You can find them in LA too, but so far I've only seen it in Koreatown).

But yeah -- even without them, its easier in Japan since it's basically OK to yell out for your waiter/waitress, whereas in the US I feel I have to do the "establish eye contact" thing which leads to me feeling like I'm hunting them or something.
posted by thefoxgod at 4:19 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess if you hadn't internalized that "Sumimasen" as a (non-sarcastic) "excuse me" with optional accompanying half-duck half-wave performance of least assertive attempt to call attention to oneself possible, it might not look as polite.
posted by No-sword at 5:09 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


The trays also make it possible to spread out the bills and coins so customers can see at a glance that they’ve been given the correct change. And as one shopkeeper explained it, offering change in a tray feels more polite than simply placing money in a customer’s hand.

I don't get this, most of the time when I get money back it's directly handed to me, commonly with a sort of script like "okay, first the big ones," (cashier shows bills to me often counting them out one by one if I've given them a large bill) "and here's your change and the receipt." I'm the one putting money in the tray, not the cashiers.
posted by dubitable at 3:58 AM on June 2, 2015


Yeah, now that you mention it, I can't recall ever being given change in a tray, I've just paid in a tray.

Which makes me think that it's a convenience thing first and foremost. Paying with a tray means the customer never has to wait on the cashier, they just pay when they want to, providing the greatest convenience for the customer. When change is given, the cashier gives the money directly to the customer whenever the customer is ready, also providing the greatest convenience for the customer.
posted by Bugbread at 4:19 AM on June 2, 2015


I can't help but this that this is probably related to being told that I should never hand money to the itamae when at a sushi place. There were implications of money being dirty (which, given the number of hands it passes through, I can totally understand) and the chef not wanting to get that on his hands. Could this be seen as a half step in this direction (what the person said about not wanting to have contact with the other person's hands)?
posted by Hactar at 6:57 AM on June 2, 2015


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