Fureai Kippu has been operating successfully in Japan since 1995. It’s an all-electronic complementary currency which originally began as a system for providing health care for the elderly. The system of Fureai Kippu, or “caring relationship tickets,” allows individuals to earn credits by caring for a local elderly person or anyone in need of care or assistance. The basic unit of account is an hour of service. These Fureai Kippu can be saved for the individual’s own use in the future, or transferred to someone of their choice, typically a parent or family member who lives elsewhere in the country and who needs similar help. Currently, some 374 non-profit organizations in Japan are issuing and participating in exchanging Fureai Kippu across the country through two computerized clearing houses.

A surprising part of the project has been that the elderly tend to prefer the services provided by people paid in Fureai Kippu over those paid in yen. Those surveyed all agreed that to convert this community service to yen would dilute the sense of community and genuine care based on compassion.

In Japan, the number of elderly people aged 65 or over surpassed 30 million for the first time in 2012, accounting for as much as 24 per cent of the population – in contrast to children aged 14 and under which decreased to a record low of 13 per cent (Japan Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry). Japan’s government faces taking strong measures to tackle the consequences of its aging society, with a sharp rise in welfare costs and medical care demands forecast in coming years combined with a drop in workforce and national tax revenues.

Here is an agreement within a community to use something other than national currency as a medium of payment to solve a social problem. Not only does it improve the quality of life of the elderly, it creates a resource flow and is a wonderful solution based on trust, cooperation, and compassion that does not rely on government subsidies or bureaucracy, expensive insurance, or even national currency to function.

Fureai Kippu is here to stay, and the emergence of other similarly promising complementary currencies looks inevitable.

Video narrative by Bernard Lietaer, author of ‘The Future of Money: Beyond Greed and Scarcity’. Lietaer studies monetary systems and promotes the idea that communities can benefit from creating their own local or complementary currency, which circulate parallel with national currencies.