A 22-year-old man walked into a convenience store in Uruma City, Okinawa Prefecture, on April 13 and purchased a pack of cigarettes with a 10,000 yen bill. Upon receiving the money, the clerk thought its texture felt odd, but because there was a lineup, hurried the transaction along and gave the man his change of 9,510 yen.
It wasn’t until later that the clerk discovered that the bill he had received was not legal tender. Rather, it was the “currency of the afterlife” known as uchikabi. Descended from a common Chinese tradition but unique to Okinawa in Japan, uchikabi is a type of symbolic money burned as an offering to the deceased in various ceremonies such as Obon.
It can take many forms but the standard in Okinawa is a sheet of coarse yellow paper made from straw with coin shapes imprinted on it. Here’s a good example of it in use.
However, in recent years some makers have developed uchikabi that resembles actual money.
These novelty bills are said to make good souvenirs in addition to their ceremonial use. However, as you can imagine, they’re also tempting tools for those brash enough to try to pass them off as real banknotes.
Back to our story; upon discovering they exchanged money that was meant for the world beyond the grave with over 9,000 yen of real-world cash, the clerk immediately called the police who tracked down the suspect. The investigation had also revealed that he was driving without a license at the time and is charged with that as well as fraud. It is unclear whether he had no license or one that was issued in the land of the dead.
The suspect reportedly admitted to the unlicensed driving charge but denies the fraud charge, saying that he was unaware it wasn’t the money of the living when using it. Most online were not buying the story, however.
“Come on. How do you not know it’s fake?”
“Maybe he thinks he’s dead.”
“The driving without a license part makes me suspect he’s not telling the truth.”
“We should make an urban legend out of this in which the guy who spent the money had his life cut short as a result. It ought to stop this from happening again.”
“Let’s not overlook the irony of him buying cigarettes with money of the dead.”
“Do they really need to make uchikabi that looks like real money?”
“I think the makers of the money have some responsibility in this too.”
Ultimately, it’ll be up to the courts to decide whether the suspect intentionally used supernatural money to buy some smokes, or was just too dense to realize his bill felt completely different from real money and had comical phrases and imagery printed all over it.
As for why this funny funeral money even exists, as we’ve seen time and time again people in Japan tend to be surprisingly superstitious about these sorts of things, so the the risk of misuse is presumably low. However, even karma isn’t foolproof.
Source: Ryukyu Shimpo, Hachima Kiko
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