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Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

An early afternoon, a group of middle-aged women was enjoying their time at a somewhat fancy Okinawan restaurant. I was watching them blankly, wondering if they had come back from a session at a cultural center. Then, unexpectedly, the ladies held each a 10,000 yen bill in their hands and lived up at once. It doesn’t seem like the check, though. I asked my Okinawan friend who sat beside me. Apparently, this was a scene of the much-talked-about moai.

A moai is a financial mutual aid system very popular in Okinawa. Members meet up regularly to each chip in a certain amount of money, and the whole sum is given to the members in turn. Each moai has its own rules. For example, some choose the taker of the money by tender. In mainland Japan, such cultures are called mujin-kō or tanomoshikō

During the postwar period, the provision of financial systems lagged behind in Okinawa—this seems to be one of the reasons why the moai is so popular here. Building houses, school fees, or even business investments were said to be covered by the moai. It was relied upon at considerably critical moments of one’s life.

Nowadays, about 10,000 to 20,000 yen is collected at each meeting. Moai often serves as an easy and delightful occasion to interact with relatives and friends. It is quite a pleasure to have an extra income of a few tens of thousands of yen once a few months (well, an accumulation over a few months, to be precise.) By the way, I myself take part in a moai of ten members, which let me buy an air conditioner the other day.