When talking about alternative money systems, the Fureai Kippu system in Japan is often mentioned as an example of how to deal with the challenge of an ageing society. It provides a ‘caring currency’, which one receives when one supports an older person or someone needing care with their everyday activities. Credits are units of time (hours), which are administrated by a support organization. Participants can redeem their time credits later when they themselves need help. “The fascinatingly simple thing about it: an hour is an hour is an hour- thus a completely inflation-proof money”, according to Margrit Kennedy in an interview. And what is more suitable for a pension than inflation-proof money? Fureai Kippu, which originated in a Japanese context, has also led to discussions in Germany about using such a time bank to save for help in old age.

Fureai Kippu was partly inspired by a Volunteer Labour Bank, a time bank founded by Teruko Mizushima in Osaka in 1973. It was similar to the Time Bank developed by Dr. Edgar Cahn in the USA in the 1980s. Members of the Volunteer Labour Bank swapped services for time credits, a mutual exchange. This time bank took on a pioneering role but most Fureai Kippu Organizations in Japan had other origins. During the 1980s, many self-help organizations developed to help older people and those needing care. Mutual help, however, is of great importance in Japanese culture. A favour should be repaid with a favour. Simply accepting help from volunteers was thus problematic for people in need. This is how ‘paid volunteering’ first took off, which has also been legally recognized. In this case the payment has symbolical character. From these self-help organizations originated many Fureai Kippu systems, which, for several reasons, combined payments in Yen and time currency. Actually, the volunteers themselves wanted to give unpaid help and the people who needed help made greater demands when their helpers were being paid. Fureai Kippu’s solution was simple: their volunteers would be paid in a time currency, which they could themselves later redeem. Additionally, part of their work would be symbolically paid. There are also hybrid forms in which the person needing help pays small amounts per hour, which go wholly or in part to cover the costs of the administrating organization. This also recognizes the fact that the very people who need help often have no opportunity to earn time credits. Currently the commonest Fureia Kippu model is a combination of payments in conventional currency and time currency. Thus it is different from ‘classic’ time banks, which mostly rely completely on reciprocity through time credits. The decline of Fureai Kippu systems in the 2000s can be traced to increased state supported services, which however are also partly declining due to high operating costs. Many of these systems are supported or co-financed by state or quasi-state organizations, for civil society in Japan is expected to play an important part in solving the collective demographic challenges. Even Fureai Kippu could face difficulties if too few healthy people are left to support a large number of needy people because of the demographic changes. On the other hand, some studies show that only 9% of volunteers cite saving time credits for their own old age as their main motivation for helping. The majority take part for altruistic reasons and say they do not intend to redeem their time credits.

Further reading:

Hayashi, M. (2012) ‘Japan’s Fureai Kippu Time-banking in Elderly Care: Origins, Development, Challenges and Impact’ International Journal of Community Currency Research 16 (A) 30-44