Loose change

Looking around modern Japan, I don’t know why, but invisible rules have grown up everywhere. Lifestyle, human relations, clothing, deportment–each of these is enclosed in a framework. Just as the audience at a wedding stands up, sits down, and points their camera at the MC, so people are bound up in rules. (Nakano Kiyotsugu, quoted in Alex Kerr, “Dogs and Demons: The fall of modern Japan”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0141010002/ref=benhourigan-co20, 307)

At the Citibank branch in Shinsaibashi, Osaka, I just deposited 5168Â¥ in loose change. That’s 8 months worth of living in Japan, plus the contents of a moneybox someone left behind in my old apartment in Gunma-ken. At today’s exchange rate, that’s A$60.37 in individually nigh-worthless pieces of metal, including exactly 1268 individual one-yen pieces. It took maybe 15 minutes for the tellers to count, with the aid of a machine, and at the end of it I had to fill in the amount on a deposit slip I’d already written my name, the date, and my account number on. It was then I made my mistake.

I’d been marking up my copy of _Dogs and Demons_ with a pencil, on the page bearing the quote above. Jung would have been impressed by the “synchronicity”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synchronicity. I used the pencil to write the first digit of the amount. Realizing what I’d done, I carefully wrote over that 5 with the biro on the counter, and continued on to the 1, the 7, and the 0.

I’d heard about having to fill out forms again if you made a mistake and a correction. This is apparently a common thing in Japan, but it’s never happened to me before. I certainly never expected it to happen in a North American bank, with a mistake that was completely invisible. Completely invisible, except that the teller had seen me use a pencil on the 5.

She reached up to get a new deposit slip from a high shelf in the cupboard behind her, gave it to me, and asked: “Can you fill it out again?” No need for explanation, I knew what had just happened. Fortunately, this was just a deposit slip. I can imagine wasting hours rewriting multi-page forms for the sake of a single mistake. It reminds me of how, at 7 or 8, I used to cross out any word I’d written with a malformed letter, fearful that I’d inadvertently write a secret sign that would summon the devil to steal my soul. I kid you not. It’s obsessive behaviour.

“This is insane,” I raged at the teller. The wait for the counting hadn’t worked me up; no, it was 8 months in Japan that had done that.

“What is ‘insine’?” she asked sweetly.

“It’s crazy!” I explained. “Look at this…” And I showed her the carbon paper behind the form. “Fifty-one seventy, clear as day.”

“Yes, it’s clear, but you have to fill out a new form.”


“It’s the rule.”

“That’s crazy.”

“But still you have to do it.”

And so it continued. I told her, “I don’t have to do this in my country,” which surprised her, and–oh, the eloquence!–I told her: “this is the stupidest thing ever.”

And so it is. And so I filled out a new form.

Still not satisfied, the teller asked me: “Could you write the yen sign here, in front of the amount, please.” And I raged again.

“Why don’t you write it then, since I’m incapable of filling out a form correctly? Why don’t you get a machine to do it, or a robot?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t fill it in.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not allowed to.” More rules.

And so I wrote it, and I got my receipt, and I walked away.

I ought to have got some attitude from the teller, but sadly in Japan people won’t even tell you to go fuck yourself.

I hate this country with unholy passion.

Author: Ben Hourigan

Ben Hourigan is a novelist from Melbourne, Australia. His books Kiss Me, Genius Boy and My Generation’s Lament are Amazon category bestsellers, and are available wherever good books are sold online. Ben also works as an editor, copywriter, and self-publishing consultant at his own firm, Hourigan & Co. For news and book release updates, sign up to his email newsletter.