I’m an American living in the inaka (countryside) of Japan. Life in Japan is full of surprises and unexpected kindnesses. Hearkening back to my first few months in Japan, I want to demonstrate the astronomically high standard of service in Japan.
I had recently finished college and moved to Japan where I started my job in a start-up English school. Having a real job, I needed a place to put my earnings and decided the post office’s bank was for me. The bottom side of my futon wasn’t making me any interest and it was too easy to overspend on frequent trips to every restaurant in town.
I wasn’t prepared.
So many kanji – so much miscommunication. This tiny post office doesn’t get a lot of traffic, its banking department gets even less, and the employees definitely don’t set up a lot of bank accounts for white guys with mediocre Japanese.
The woman helping me spent awhile digging up the necessary forms, explaining items on the application, and practicing English whenever we encountered a word I didn’t know. Unfortunately, most of the words I didn’t know in Japanese were also words she didn’t know in English. (Inexplicably, “Interest rates,” “charitable donations,” “direct deposit from employer,” and “tax identification number” weren’t covered in my university’s Japanese classes.)
I tried filling these papers out correctly (why hadn’t I memorized my address?), and I learned something new: every time you make a mistake, you scratch it out with two straight lines, followed by your signature nearby to prove that it was you who made the alteration. I also learned that once your application has collected enough of these scratches, the employees throw it out, and you restart with a new sheet because we don’t use computers here.
Over an hour passed and the bank’s closing time approached. Shortly before leaving, I learned I didn’t have all the documents necessary to prove I live here. Downtrodden, I gave up and returned home, disappointed that after all that time, I still hadn’t finished the one task I had hoped to accomplish that day.
Then suddenly at 5:15 pm, I heard a knock on the door. Who would visit me at this time? (Or ever, really?) Does this person know English? I looked through my door’s peephole only to be further confused when I beheld the woman who had helped me almost finish my paperwork.
She had found my address on one of my discarded applications and brought me new forms! She had previously given me the wrong ones and to make up for it, she even wrote a list of the documents and information I needed to bring when I tried again the next day. When was the last time your bank hand-delivered you your documents, corrected their own errors, and tried their best to communicate in your native tongue? Japanese service is amazing.