To me, paying in cash is a thing of the past. It’s wildly inconvenient, and rarely necessary in the US in the first place. However, in less developed countries, I think most Americans would expect to pay in cash because of the less robust financial infrastructure. Developing countries often experience technological leapfrogging, where instead of slowly implementing new technology as it becomes available, a country will put off installing that technology and then when it finally is in place, is the most up-to-date version of that tech.

A good example of this leapfrogging is cell phone technology in developing portions of Asia. Placing landlines all across China is time consuming and more financially burdensome than in somewhere like the US, so while Americans were using landlines, many Chinese folks didn’t have access to this type of communication tech. But, when the Chinese finally did start to get phones, they entirely skipped landlines and went straight to newer models of cell phones. Even though this tech leapfrogging has been viewed mostly in developing countries, I’d argue that it’s still happening on a lower level in developed countries.

Returning to my annoyance with paying in cash, I was in Tokyo last week and was shocked at how many restaurants and shops only accept cash. I’ve never visited more ATMs in my life. Given that Tokyo is seen as a tech hub, it felt odd that there was such an issue with adapting more current point-of-sales systems. In many of these shops, while there isn’t any machine that can accept credit cards, there are bulky cash-only vending machines used to order. They don’t actually make any food though, they just eat your money and spit out a receipt that you then take to the waiter. Inefficient, I know. I suspect these refrigerator-sized machines were designed by someone in the 80’s that was hoping that they’d be the future of fast-casual.

In contrast to these outdated machines, more recently established places in Tokyo have ultra-modern point-of-sales systems that use iPads, and sometimes even code scanning systems that I’ve never seen in the US. A clothing store I visited didn’t even have a checkout area and required you to download an app and purchase items online to be delivered later.

Japan is a country plagued by both the inconveniently old and the inconveniently new. While technological leapfrogging is caused in other countries by a financial or structural inability to implement, in Japan it seems to be caused by an attitude of resistance to the modern. In a society that’s been around for thousands of years, it’s easier to understand the resistance to change here than in somewhere like the states. While in the US this tech leapfrogging might be seen as inconvenient, we often sacrifice tradition for efficiency, which comes with its own set of problems. Sure, having to carry cash isn’t ideal for me, but maybe there’s something to be learned from having these face-to-face interactions with people rather than just ordering everything online.