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Global Quest For Local LETS
Copyright � James Taris


29. Japan Is Hungry For LETS

Enjoying American coffee in Fukuoka with (left to right)
... Kanki-san, Hirota-san and Kai-san.

And I thought South Africa worked me hard!

As soon as I landed in Fukuoka (Kyushu Island, Western Japan), I was warmly welcomed by Miguel Yasuyuki Hirota (author of Alternative Economy ... http://www3.plala.or.jp/mig/econ-uk.html), and immediately began to experience the generosity and hospitality that Japan is noted for all over the world.

And there were those little things that kept popping up, just so that I didn't forget where I was. Like the taxi doors which would open and close automatically. And the train seats which would swivel around to suit the direction you wanted to view. And the heated toilet seats (it was winter) which had so many controls in the 'arm rests' that it made you think you were in an airplane cockpit. Unfortunately all labels were in Japanese. And it took ages just to work out what you had to press for 'flush'.

But let me get down to my LETS speaking agenda. I had arranged to stay in Japan for 9 days, and my schedule was pretty full. Then as the days came around, more meetings were slotted in, as more interest came in with regard to my visit.

So here's the end result �

DAY 1 - Tuesday, November 26
FUKUOKA - I met with Sachico Kido, who's studying Community Currencies at Fukuoka University, for her masters course. Basically a Q&A session in a coffee shop.

DAY 2 - Wednesday, November 27
FUKUOKA - I was invited to have a traditional Japanese lunch with Yukata Idemitsu, Chairman of IDEX (one of Kyushu Island's top 10 companies), and Motoki Yamazaki, Chief Executive of the Finance Dept, City of Fukuoka. We were joined by 5 other interested parties, who were all keen to see how to introduce a Community Currency into the city of Fukuoka. Another Q&A session.

FUKUOKA - I met with Miguel's LETS group, Yoka Yoka. Ochishi Midori, who owns the premises, was very hospitable, and took us for a quick tour around the city. She is also a member of Yoka Yoka and has set up the shop (mostly recycled goods) for sales in cash or community currency. This was my first opportunity to give my full 'LETS Favours' presentation to a substantial group of LETS members. Tono Shuichi, founder and president of Yoka Yoka sent me an email of appreciation later that night!

DAY 3 - Thursday, November 28
NAKATSU - Travelled alone to Nakatsu where I was met by Iwata-san (my new host and interpreter). On arrival, we went straight to the LETS office of Fuku (pronounced foo-koo and meaning happiness or benefit). Even though I only spoke to a core group of 3 LETS members, Takita Kazuhide, owner of the shop premises, became so motivated that he translated my presentation into Japanese so he could forward it to all of his LETS members. I was later treated to lunch by some of the members � which was paid in part community currency!

BEPPU - Iwata-san wanted me to also meet with a student at APU (Asia Pacific University - which teaches classes in English). This student had chosen to compare LETS Systems with Community Currencies for his university studies. They must work those students even harder than me. I only had a minute with him, and then he was gone.

DAY 4 - Friday, November 29
OITA - This was Iwata-san's hometown. And I met with Takuzo Ohsugi, a researcher for Institute For Hypernetwork Society, at 11am. He was interested in two projects. Firstly, for his work, he wanted to see how he could set up a communications system to enable LETS groups on Kyushu Island, to interact and inter-trade. Then, for his own personal interest, he wanted to set up his own LETS group. Our meeting only went for an hour, but he was so impressed with the information I had to share, that he stayed with us for the rest of the day!

YUFUIN - Yufuin is a small town of 12,000 pop'n, and became famous when a TV crew chose to include them on a documentary featuring LETS groups and Community Currencies in Japan. And the program made a celebrity out of Urata-san, co-founder and co-ordinator of Yufu, and a humble bottle shop owner. It was interesting to see their leaning towards community currencies rather than LETS. This enabled them to recruit several businesses in the town which accepted 5-30% of their purchases in community currencies. A significant amount of time was spent on discussing ways to provide food to LETS members.

BEPPU - Tatsuo Kurita, is a prominent businessman in Beppu. But apart from his many business interests, he's interested in protecting the popular hot spring wells (2,085 in total!) which are a major tourist attraction for the area. His interest is to start his own LETS group in the city, using his Takegawara Club membership (300+) as an initial prospect list. After my presentation, a collection was taken up from the audience to help cover my travel expenses. This is the first time I've been paid cash for a speaking engagement! After the meeting we were treated to another Japanese meal. Gee these guys know how to entertain their guests!

DAY 5 - Saturday, November 29
Spent most of the day on a train bound for my next destination.

DAY 6 - Sunday, November 30
KAGOSHIMA - My hosts, Eiichiro and Akika, had brought me down to speak at the Kagoshima Harvest Festival. This is a yearly event attracting thousands of people. "You'll have 10 minutes to speak," I was told the night before. This was a lot different to the 2+ hours presentations I was used to giving. But I realised it was just a short talk introducing the LETS concept to the locals. So at 11.50am, I got up on the main stage with my interpreter, and spoke to 2,000 people! I'd love to say that they were all paying attention, but that would be a little white lie. However, we did get some interest, and 6 new members joined the other 20 members of Kagoshima LETS.

DAY 7 - Monday, December 1
KAGOSHIMA - On my way to catch the train out of Kagoshima, I was asked to meet a couple of people from the another LETS group. They had 100 members last year and were using 'egg' as their currency. Next year they want to launch the 'green egg', but they need a co-ordinator for their LETS group and can't get the cash for it. "Cash?" I exclaimed. "You don't need cash to pay LETS staff. That's what LETS points are for!" This was quite a revelation for them.

OHMATA - I was very impressed with the premises of Coal LETS. They had handicrafts (made by handicapped people) for sale in the front section, then the rear section was shared comfortably by the admin. Section, computer tutorial desk and a restaurant in the rear section (currently only coffees avail. for points). Hirata Shoko, Coal LETS co-ordinator, was frustrated by the fact that they weren't doing enough trading. She was almost embarrassed when I gave her a couple of suggestions involving Trading Days.

DAY 8 - Tuesday, December 2
Took a daytrip on my own to Nagasaki. Unbelievable experience!

HAGOSAKI - Late that night I met with Prof. Shigeru Imasatu for dinner at his restaurant. Next year he'll be running for Governor, but currently he was responsible for introducing 45 community projects in Hagosaki, and wanted to introduce a LETS group into the area as well. Due to my late arrival, this meeting went until almost midnight!

DAY 9 - Wednesday, December 3
Flew out of Fukuoka on my way back to Melbourne via Shanghai and Hong Kong. But I missed both of my connecting flights! But that's another story.

James Taris

Alternative Economy � (by Miguel Yasuyuki Hirota)
Another study on the alternative economy, proposed by Silvio Gesell, so that we can get rid of both communism and capitalism. Including local money movements in Japan, RGT in Argentina and Community Currencies Interactive. web: http://www3.plala.or.jp/mig/econ-uk.html

This article is taken from the ebook,
Global Quest for Local LETS

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