A Moai is a group of people who meet regularly to contribute to a common financial fund, this fund provides many benefits to the members and is a unique social and financial institution in Japan.  When a group decides to form a moai, they meet monthly and each give a set amount of money.  Once a year, each member can then withdraw the total amount.  The benefit is that if someone needs the cash sooner than they could have saved on their own, then they can get access to it.

Why Moai?

Credit– Japan is a cash society.  While there are credit cards now, they are not widely used or accepted.  As far as I can tell, checks were never widely used.  It is not uncommon for Japanese people to walk around with several tens of thousands of yen (hundreds of dollars).  While interest rates are low at banks, it is not easy to get personal loans, so moais developed as one safety net.  A group of people each pay a set amount each month, and if something happens, they can take out the cash when needed.  If the need never arises, they can get their cash back after a year, or even let another needy member take it in their place.

Social– A large aspect of the moai is the monthly meeting.  Usually, members don’t just drop off money.  They get together with the other members to socialize.  It provides a reason to meet regularly, and helps tie the members of the community together.  Generally the members will pay an additional cost for the dinner.

Who Moais?

Some moais are among friends, others family.  It’s not uncommon for moais to grow out of other groups, clubs, and organizations.  The moai reinforces and complements the strong social connections between groups in Japan.

More Things Moai

I’ve had the good luck to be invited into two moais spanning three years.  When people hear I’m in a moai (usually my someone will toss out the info when introducing me) it gets a bit of a reaction from the other person.  This is because it takes a level of trust and acceptance to be invited in a moai due to the financial obligations.  Every month, you have to pay your share.  Moais can be as little as 1000en (12dollars) but are usually around 5000en to 10,000en per person per month.

Moais generally last for one year with about twelve members.  This makes the book-keeping easy and convenient.  If each person puts in 1man (10,000en or about $120) a month, then once a year they can get 120,000en.  Sometimes two people will share, or one person will take two slots if there aren’t exactly 12 people.  The amount of money involved will depend on how much people can afford each month. One man seems about right for average working people (and maybe a bit on the high side for teachers).

My first moai was connected to the sumo club.  It was a way to keep everyone in contact throughout the year and also celebrate before and after competitions.  Now I’m in a more diverse group which serves to form new connections and friendships among various schools and organizations.  Every month each person puts in 11,000en.  The extra 1,000 provides food for the meeting and an enjoyable time each month.

Do you have a group of friends you trust?  Consider forming a moai!