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.”
“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.”
“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.