Monday, September 27, 2004

Failure to communicate

Most of the time I have little or no problems with communication, even though I don't speak Japanese. However, there have now been two minor irritations that have left me feeling a little frustrated because I didn't know basic Japanese.

The first incident happened a couple of weeks ago, and it involved buying sushi from the corner vendor that I buy from all the time. Usually an older woman waits on me, but this time she was busy in the back and a man--I'm assuming her husband--waited on me. I had chosen one small package of salmon sushi from the refrigerator case. In bold red letters, I saw what I have now come to recognize as a "sale" sticker saying something about two for one. In this case it was 2 packages for 500 yen. I didn't want to buy 2 packages. Only one. So, I gave a 1000 yen note to the man and he gave me back 250 yen as change. I looked at it and said, "I'm sorry. I'm only buying ONE package, not two, so you owe me 500 yen." He pointed to the "500" that he had rung up on the cash register, even though he had mis-entered the amount, and gestured that I had been given the right change. I picked up the ONE package of sushi and pointed to the bold red Kanji, saying 2 for 1. He resolutely pointed to the cash register where it said 500 yen.

This went back and forth for several attempts. Finally, the older woman happened to look up and saw us through the window to the kitchen area. She came out to assist, and I showed her the 2 for 1 packaging. She knows I always only buy one package. I gestured to show that he had rung up 500 yen instead of 250. She gave the man a withering look, shoved him out of her way, and reached into the till to give me my 250 yen.

Another incident was at the train station where, for some weird reason, the train attendant thought I had tried to cheat the system by not paying my full fare. I had used my pass to travel to a destination beyond what is covered in my pass. However, when I got to my destination, I bought another ticket to cover the remainder that I owed, and used that to pass through the ticket gate. When I returned to the station to reverse my travel, I knew I couldn't use my pass so I went to the window where the ticket agent sold me a one-way ticket. As I attempted to use it to go through the ticket gate, he waved me back over to his window where he showed me the calculator, indicating that I owed him another 150 yen. I said, "I just paid you 150 yen." My reply fell on deaf ears. He hammered at the calculator, as if to demand another 150 yen. I told him, again, that I had already paid for the ticket like 10 seconds ago! You know the expression that all Asians look alike to Americans? Well, I've heard the same thing said about the way Westerners look to Asians, so I figured he had just had an extremely short memory, or could not recognize me again once I left his window the first time.

This disagreement over who had paid what went on for a couple of minutes and then I finally just threw 150 yen at him for another ticket and huffed off, determined not to look back if he decided to call me back yet again. People at work told me that he probably assumed I had tried to cheat the system, even though it was clear when I showed him my pass what I had done. They said next time it happens to just keep walking. They rarely go after people, and especially not Westerners. It might involve too much explaning, and they're terrified of having to try to converse in English.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Just to let u know that u shared some nice and real experiences in Japan.. I am facing the same thing too as I am staying in Japan now..

mmulibra said...

I am feeling the same thing too :-)