What the Japanese Taught Me About Defeating Credit Card Debt


This is a guest post from Austin, who lives in Japan where he teaches English and blogs about personal finance. Follow his money journey at Foreigner’s Finances. I aked him to contribute a post here because it seems that not every country in the world has caught on to our debt addiction habit. Perhaps we can learn something from them. Remember that Japan has had literally 0% interest rate for years and yet did not catch on to our real estate boom or credit card boom! They had theirs 30 years ago!

When I moved to Japan in July, I was expecting to experience some differences in how America and Japan handled money.

For the most part, I got them.

Japan is mostly a cash society which meant goodbye efficient credit cards and hello piles of change that never seem to go away. There’s also the bank book – a check register that every person is issued with their bank account that is bloaty and reminiscent of banking in 1992.

On the other hand, there were some positive surprises that I didn’t expect to witness. As an American I’m used to people being bad with their money. We can just never learn how to handle our finances properly as a country.

In Japan, it seems the majority of the population has a little better handle on their money. The Japanese are notoriously more frugal and take on less debt per person compared to other large industrialized countries.

As I spend more time in Japan – up to 6 months now – I’ve noticed some personality traits of the Japanese that could be the reason for their improved money habits.

The more I thought about these 4 habits, I also realized that these traits could apply to someone who is attempting to defeat credit card debt. Let’s dive into these 4 cultural traits of the Japanese, and learn how they could help you better understand, and defeat credit card debt.


The Japanese take time to think and analyze situations instead of reacting immediately like most western countries. If you ask a Japanese person a difficult question, they will sit and silently think for up to ten seconds in order to provide the perfect response. They aren’t afraid of silence like other countries, and this creates analyzed plans of attack for difficult situations.

To defeat credit card debt, you also need a well thought out plan.

You can’t create outrageous and unrealistic plans like, “I’m spending $12 a month for 7 years so I can defeat my debt!” It won’t work because the enthusiasm will wear off and your morale will suffer. Instead, take some time and really analyze your debt situation.

Grab a pen and pencil and run the numbers. How much do you have? Where is it? How much can you afford to pay off every month? Give your debt situation the time it deserves and attack it appropriately so you can do away with it for good.

Hard work

Before arriving in Japan, I had heard that the Japanese workers had more days off than Americans. That may be true, but they work much harder and longer.

The word that describes their work ethic the best is resilient.

The Japanese can suffer poor conditions in work or life, and be fine with it. They can work 13 hours a day and be fine. They can fall asleep on a busy train and sleep soundly. It’s quite amazing. They power through, get the work done, and move on.

This may not fit your working philosophy, but it’s a lesson you can transfer as you try to defeat credit card debt.

Perhaps, a second job will provide you extra income to defeat your debt. Have you been procrastinating asking your boss for that much deserved raise? Are you wasting time by not getting your finances in order, even though you know you have a problem?

Work hard. Pay off debt. Live free. Enjoy life.


Losing face is a no-no in Japan. Often teachers won’t discipline students in front of their peers, instead opting to take them aside in private and scold them so they don’t embarrass the individual.

The Japanese have a respect and pride in the individual.

You also must have pride in yourself to defeat credit card debt. If you wear boots, pull up those boot straps and realize you can defeat debt. People overcome huge piles of debt every day, and they’re situations are no different than yours. Realize you deserve better, and your bank accounts deserve better.

A credit card debt free life is one that will provide pride and open up many parts of your life for the better.


One of my pet peeves is when people go on Facebook and complain about their money situations. No one wants to hear it, and you just look lazy that you’re too busy complaining about your money troubles online, instead of getting a second job or working your butt of to fix your problem.

The Japanese don’t complain – they endure. They cram 125 million people onto an island the size of California. They have horrible weather that is rainy, snowy, and windy for most of the year.

But they make do.

This is the cards they were dealt and they learn to love it.

Every one needs to let out some negative energy every once and a while, but repeated complaints get you no where and only prolong your poor situation.

Instead, do away with the complaints and get to creating a plan to overcome your credit card debt situation.

Your friends will thank you and offer their support when they notice your attitude change.

I expected to learn a lot of things from my time spent in Japan. Analyzing the cultural personality traits of the Japanese and using the lessons to inform people stuck in credit card debt was not one I expected.

Regardless, inspiration is needed and hopefully these 4 characteristics will make you look at your situation in a new light.

Good luck and get to work!

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4 Responses to “What the Japanese Taught Me About Defeating Credit Card Debt”

  1. Eric Says:

    Japan is a great place to visit. :)

  2. Len Penzo Says:

    What a great article! I really enjoyed this post, Jason.

    I agree with all of your points, the two most powerful points I think you made were:

    “Work hard. Pay off debt. Live free. Enjoy life.”

    Absolutely spot on. Working hard and paying off debt is all about personal responsibility. By living a responsible life, living free and enjoying life will naturally follow.

    “A … debt free life is one that will provide pride and open up many parts of your life for the better.”

    Yes! You’ve just described financial freedom.

    Thanks for the insight on Japanese culture.

    All the best,

    Len Penzo dot Com

  3. Bret @ Hope to Prosper Says:

    During the ’80s and ’90s I worked for two Japanese comapines, for a total of about 12 years. I gained a lot of respect for the Japanese in many ways. And, I learned a lot about their culture. I remember when they finally dropped the 6-day work week and the traditional roles of men and women changed.

    One of my buddies was complaining that western influences had ruined their culture and now their wives were no longer submissive. I told him (jokingly) that it was their own fault. They sent their women off to work and now Japanese women would want an equal say. I told him it happened in the U.S. in the ’70s and they were just 20 years behind the times.

  4. Cazz32 Says:

    I was looking for the word “gama or gamma or gamu” meaning to suck it up and stumbled onto this article…excellent! We are spoiled, and should not feel entitled to everything in the whole wide world…and my credit card debt is a huge anchor..and took steps to stop spending what I don’t have..Paying them off! Still haven’t found my word I am looking for!

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