Lost in Transition

Long Summer Shadows (Photo credit: K. Blaha)


This was a busy week as I geared up for my move across town. I had to close all of my utility accounts and open new ones. And by “I”, I really mean my wonderful staff at work. Moto and Rie took care of everything. I was almost convinced it would be a seamless transition until “we” called the internet provider.

My internet service for seven months has been under the name of the guy I replaced. In Japan it can take several weeks to get a telecom employee to visit your apartment and make the hookup. To avoid this lag, the last teacher kindly kept the service running under his name. Each month a bill would come to apartment with his name on it. I took the bill down to the local convenience store, paid it, and no one was any wiser. Unfortunately turning it off wasn’t so easy.

Because the previous guy had permanently left Japan, the account has to be closed without his authorization. What a headache. Fortunately for me this job had to be done in Japanese, and was thus out of my hands. However I was asked to set up my new account. Naturally I spent hours on the phone throughout the week playing phone tag. I was transferred dozens of times and even talked with a phone operator in India for a few minutes. It was very familiar and it all served to make me feel back at home in the states.

Although the whole process was a massive ordeal, I still found many opportunities to laugh along the way. Mostly I spoke with Japanese operators who were very fluent in English. One day I spent half of my lunch on the phone. Emma sat next to me paying only half attention. At one point she jerked her head up and looked over at me. “I have no doubt about your ability to perform the remote hook-up, but I want verification that the service will be actually be running smoothly when I arrive,” I said to the operator. Emma whispered, “did she comprehend that?” Yes indeed she had. Amazing.

Apart from spending my free time on the phone, I also had to pack up my belongings. Luckily I am living pretty light on possessions these days. I was able to fit everything I owned into my suitcase and three boxes. I was still surprised at how many things I’ve acquired in Japan. And for a moment I really dreaded packing for the final time in Japan.


At 7 AM, Sunday morning, I awoke. I was fearful I would over sleep and miss the movers. So I rolled out of my futon and packed it up. I did some cleaning around the empty apartment and enjoyed a cup of coffee as I waited for the movers. Right on time my doorbell rang at exactly 9 AM. I swear the two men must have been waiting outside my door staring at their watches, ready to push the doorbell just at the stroke of 9. Meanwhile, I was waiting on the other side of the door for the same stroke. They rang the bell and I opened the door.

The lead man began speaking quick Japanese at me. I waved my hand in front of my face, “Nihongo ha dekimasen,” roughly translated, this means “I cannot do Japanese.” It sounds crude, but clearly gets my point across. He smiled back and said, “okay.” The pair of men looked around my entry/kitchen. I had moved everything right by the door. They were impressed. They were even more impressed once we started moving. They had parked their little trucks by the base of the stairs. I grabbed the first bag and handed it to the lead man, “o dozo,” meaning, “here you are.” Within moments we had a system. They came to my open door and I handed them a box. They would take it downstairs, pack it, and return for another item. They never had to take their shoes off and I never put mine on.

By 9:45 we had finished moving and I locked my door for the final time. I hopped into one of the two moving trucks and buckled in. The mover typed my new address into the GPS and put it in drive. I was amazed at how near the new place was, three kilometers by car. Soon we arrived and began to unpack. I made a point of telling the two men my apartment number, “nana go san.” But there I switched to English, “fifth floor. Not seventh. Fifth.” Wildly I flashed numbers and hand gestures to the guys. “Okay, okay desu,” they said back.

Sure enough as I stood by my door I saw the two guys take the elevator to the seventh floor. I ran up the stairs after them. “No, I said fifth floor. Go floor!” “Ohh, go kai!” “Kai,” I realized, meant floor. “Hai, go kai.” I ran down the stairs and met them again. Just as quickly as before, we were back in the swing of things. They handed me boxes and I put them inside. By 10:30 we were done moving. I paid the men, gave them a bow and said thank you.

The first visitor to my apartment was the gas company. Their man had to physically flip the switch to give me hot water. Just like the movers he started to fire off Japanese off. And just as before, I interrupted with “Nihongo ha dekimasen.” I use the word dekimasen to make it clear that I cannot speak, hear or read Japanese. The guy got the message and smiled back. He set to work and I started to unpack.

Much to my dismay, the apartment was not what I was told it would be. It was located on the fifth floor and not the seventh. What’s worse, the apartment was filthy. The old tenant had not cleaned after he left. And it smelled and looked like it. As I would find out later, the real estate company had been very deceptive when demoing the apartment to my manager. I shrugged my shoulders and unpacked. What else could I do?

The rest of the weekend was spent unpacking, cleaning and shopping for various household goods. At times I was overwhelmed and slightly stressed by the new move. Originally when I moved into my first apartment, the old teacher showed me the ropes. Which grocery store was best, which dry cleaners, which convenience store etc. I quickly settled into his old haunts without much thought. Now however I will have to find my own locations. This is by no means the end of the world, but it does add for just a little more stress. I suppose it’s time to break out my running shoes and explore the area on foot.

-Nickels and Dimes-

Japan is a country that likes to nickel and dime consumers. It seems everything has a small or hidden charge. And if it’s not a small underhanded charge it’s a great big one right in your face. Either way, this country can quickly get expensive.

Perhaps the greatest example of an unnecessary charge is the table charge. It is almost expected of restaurants to charge you for merely having a seat at their business. Never mind that you’re going to order food and drinks. They want more of your money. This little charge is never mentioned and you can’t tell if you’re going to get it until after you sit. Very quickly the server will bring to you a small dish of fish or vegetables. It is never more than four or five small bites, but it’s still going to charge ¥500 all the same. I find this practice deceitful, irritating and now acceptable. I’ve been here long enough, and I’ve eaten out so many times that I expect the charge and feel happy when it doesn’t come. In only seven months I’ve given up and deal with the system.

There are dozens of other minor charges through the average week. For example, if I want to see my friend off to the platform and onto their train, I have to buy a ¥150 platform pass. Anytime you begin a new contract, like with the utility companies or a gym, there is an application fee. Most gyms charge ¥5,000 just for you to apply to their facility.

I suppose I wouldn’t have so large a problem with this if the charges were justifiable. As it is, it seems these fees are just out of greed. Because everyone wants a piece of the pie. Really though it isn’t all that horrible. It’s a part of the culture. It’s not enough to send me packing and heading home. Actually, I can only imagine how much they’ll charge me just to leave the country….


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About japanesealex

Alexander lived in Japan from 2010 to 2013. He is now pursuing a career in public service in Honolulu, Hawaii.

2 responses to “Lost in Transition”

  1. Claudia says :

    We need a new tour of the new place. When you have time that is. Love you!

  2. verenaatdickinson says :

    In Hamburg, we have a platform pass too. While I found it irritating and annoying, I figured out why they do it.
    Here, when they try to sift through passengers and find those without a ticket, they sometimes stand in a line between the platforms and the exits. That way, everybody who leaves the platform (i.e. any of the trains getting in there) will have to show their ticket.
    In order for those without a ticket not to be able to say, “but I just picked up somebody,” they need a platform pass. Otherwise, they couldn’t ever catch anybody – and not charge the fine.
    But I do agree that it is slightly annoying 😉

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