Tourists: Beware Japan's Golden Amulet

 This little token looks friendly enough, right? A hope for peace? Something religious and bright?

Monday afternoon, my friend and I were walking through Akihabara. At this point, we were standing around on the street about to discuss our plans for the evening. A man dressed as a monk approached us and gave each of us the token you see above, and then gestured for us to write in his little notebook.

First column: Name. Okay, "Ryan". Location: "USA" Wish: "Peace" ... Donation: ... Donation? Really? I left it blank and passed the book to Phil. He ended up giving 1000 yen (about $10).  We were the third and fourth people to write on that page of his book, and the top line showed a 10,000 yen donation (that's $100!).

I tried to give the little "amulet" (which is really just a card with gold-colored foil coating) back, and the guy seemed a bit surprised. He didn't really say anything, but never took the token back. Obviously, both Phil and I have our amulets.

Why didn't I donate? I had read about these "monks" before when researching my trips. I could have refused the token in the first place but I was somewhat curious about where this would go. And I didn't tell Phil to see what he would do - if he had given anything more I would have said something to him.

You see, real monks don't do things like this. They do "beg" though they are usually looking for food, not money. And they don't outright ask, instead traditionally sitting somewhere with a bowl. Money is usually given to the actual temples and shrines by tossing it into a donation box and making a wish.

This man, and the others like him around the world are essentially scammers - while doing a little research for this post I've discovered that they have been seen in New Zealand and Toronto, too. Why did he approach Phil and I? Because we're foreigners in Japan - most likely tourists who wouldn't know better. He was in the most touristy part of Akihabara, though I'm sure he (or his buddies) also goes to Ueno, Shibuya, and Ginza.

He didn't say anything to me for not donating, probably because Phil gave some money. But articles about Toronto and NZ indicate that some of the "monks" become angry or aggressive or even ask for more money when g

Know this: scammers are out there. Even in Japan, a country with the safest reputation in the world, they exist. In Japan and anywhere else in the world, know who you're giving money to and why. I'd venture a guess that 99% of solo-run charity requests are scams. It's pretty easy to find a Red Cross logo and print out your own posters and cards.

So, the next time you're walking the streets and a "monk" approaches you and asks for a donation, or hands you a little card - like the one seen in this post or otherwise - just say no.

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