Jan 10, 2007

I Am a Retarded Kitten: The Amazing Adventures of Me Paying Rent

Paying rent this month was difficult. Back in the Usa, the system was simple. I would write a check, send it to my landlord, and then he would forget about it for an indeterminate period of time before cashing it. Simple. In the place before that, I just walked up to a door, handed a check to an old lady, who would go "oooh, thank you!" and that was it.
Easy, No?
Here in Nihon, such logical directness in the field of landlord payment is not at all present.
One pays their rent at the bank, where the money (almost always cash) is tranferred to the rent company's account.
So far, the Dude Manager has been helping me pay rent, but this month I was determined to do it alone. I figured it would be good survival practice. So, I got a sheet of common ATM translations, and rode the wimpy bike off the the bank in hopes of being all self reliant and such.
When I got there, most of the bank was closed, I surmised for the new year, and only the ATMs were open. No matter. The fact that I couldn't ask for help would make this even better survival practice.
So, I strode up the machine, stared at the various Japanese pictographs on the touch screen, found out which one meant "transfer," and inserted my card.
Which it then spit out.
I repeated the process.
My card was agaid summarily spit out, along with the machine saying something to me in Japanese. But, I noticed that it said "kudasai" at the end, and there was a little animation of these cartoon bank employees bowing respectfully, so I the impersonal financial contraption was at least rejecting me very politely.
I could be a few days late, I figured.
So, after new year's I told the Dude Manager about it, and he agreed to help me out. I met up with him and his girlfriend (British Girl Factor Two) and explained the situation.
"You're so cute and helpless," said British Girl Factor Two, patting me on the head in a condescending manner, "you're like a little retarded kitten!"
"Fuck you," I said.
"Retarded kitten!" Her boyfriend (my manager) thought this hilarious.
"What bank did you go to?" he asked.
"Chugoku Bank," I said.
"You should go to Mizuho. They have bilingual ATMs."
"But my landlord's account is with Chugoku, and that's where my payment card works."
"It'll work at Mizuho, too," he said.
I was filled with hope and verve, etc., and made my way to Mizuho.
Where it rejected my card.
Ok. I thought. That's fine. I can just imput this manually. So, it asked me what financial institution I wanted to transfer money to, and lo and behold the little touch screen thing has a complete lack of "Chugoku Bank." Apparently Mizuho and Chugoku have this sort of anti-transfer rivalry going on. The upside of this is that after staring at all these buttons and trying to intuit what was going on, I learned the kanji for "bank."
I quite frustrated, and gave the Dude Manager a call.
"So, can we just go to Chugoku," I said, "I just want to pay my rent and get this done."
"It doesn't matter now," he said.
"It's after three o'clock."
"Three o'clock. The bank's closed."
"Wait, what? Banks close at three?"
This took a few moments to sink in. Japan seems to be a coutry full of industrious capitalist types who refer to each other as "honorable tired people" and do lots of overtime whether it's necessary or not. But apparently banks here are different, and are actually run by French socialists.
"We'll just pay it on tuesday. Don't worry, it'll be ok."
"Tuesday, why not monday?"
"Monday's a national holiday."
This also took a few moments to sink in. We'd just had a national holiday- New Year's Day. And before that it was the Emperor's Birthday. But January 8th is yet another national holiday. It's Coming of Age Day and lots of stuff (like the banks that are actually run by French socialists) are closed. I went back to the school, and sort of wondered how long it would take for my landlord to assemble a squad of tatooed goons who would break down my door and reposses my stuff. I also wondered about the ecological impact of all the wooden chopsticks that I'm using, but that's not really relevant to the matter at hand.
It was a sort of unique financial situation to be in. The whole issue was that I had the money, I just couldn't give it to the relevant parties. It was surreal, really. There I was with a big wad of cash in my wallet (because Japan is still very much a cash-based economy) and I couldn't make use of it. It was quite the sensation of monetary vertigo.
So, come tuesday, I made my way to Chugoku bank, and was determined to try this whole thing again. Again, the machine spit out my card. I needed to ask for help. I thought about what I needed to do, swallowed my pride, thought about a few things I could say in Japanese to the staff, and went to the help desk with my tail between my legs. (I don't know about you, but I hate asking service people for help. I feel like I'm 1-annoying them, as they probably have better things to do than help me out and 2-demonstrating my own inability to do a damn thing right. It's an incoherent alchemy of pride and empathy.)
"Hello," said the lady at the desk.
"Konichiwa." I said.
"What can I help you with today?" she said in completely perfect English. I stood there for a beat, and I think that my mouth was open just a millimeter or so too much. She was speaking English. Perfect, pristine English without the trace of an accent, and I'd gotten all bent out of shape about this.
"I'd like to pay my rent," I said.
"Alright, I'll show you." She went to an ATM with me, walked me through the process, and showed me exactly what I needed to do. Apparently, through my poor translation, I'd been asking the machine for the wrong kind of transaction.
"Thank you," I said.
"You're welcome," she said, continuing to use English.
I rode to school, feeling all sheepish and such. Feeling like a retarded kitten.
But, I learned how to use a Japanese ATM. I get more self-reliant everyday. Eventually, I hope to be a full-grown retarded cat.


Joseph said...

In my experience, the US is quite impressive in how often and constantly things are open. Obviously in most of the places I've lived you don't have large, industrial supermarket type places that are going to be open 24/7. But even compared to first world countries, there seem to be far more stores and restaurants that are open basically year-round. I remember a German friend of ours coming to the US, and talking about how wonderful it was that you could decide that you wanted to get Ben & Jerry's at midnight and just go out and get it. Joys of capitalism!

JKB, writing from the Vancouver airport, terminal E96, waiting for our delayed (of course) flight to Portland.

Joseph said...

Heh. So, coincidentally, we had lunch at with my uncle earlier today, and he mentioned that Germany was changing its labor laws related to store hours. Apparently, there is a nationwide law restricting stores (/all/ stores) to only be open between 7AM and 6PM on weekdays, 7AM to 2PM on Saturdays, and closed on Sundays. The new laws move it from 6PM to 8PM.

SonicLlama said...

Here's something weird, though. Almost everything else in Japan is open quite late. All convenince stores are 24 hours, the trains run until midnight, and restaurants and bars are open pretty much all the time. The banks seem to be a weird exception.

Eric said...

When I read the title, I thought I had accidently gone to Syd's blog. It just seems like the kind of analogy that she would make. Who doesn't love a retarded kitten? Remember, stupid babies need the most attention.

Colin said...

A beautiful post. You should submit this to NPR or something.