Tuesday morning began nice enough. I studied 日本語 (Japanese) and sipped at a delicious black coffee. However a panic over took me when I started dressing for work. My wallet felt a bit thinner and I looked inside to see why. I realized I had lost my Pasmo. (A Pasmo is the credit card like device that is used for the trains in Japan. At the station you place it over the ticket gates where the IC is read and you quickly pass through. My Pasmo is also my commuter pass that allows me to move between work and home for “free.” It’s very convenient.) Sure enough inside my wallet there was no Pasmo. I immediately knew what happened.
The day before I had jogged 22 km. I had taken my Pasmo with, in case I got hurt and needed to take a train home. I had carried the card in my fanny pack and must have lost it when I reached in the bag for my phone. Some somewhere between two cities and up to 11 km from my apartment I had lost my train pass. Bogus.
I arrived at work and told Moto what happened. I asked for his help and he graciously gave me some of his time. What ensued was a headache, a pain and some cultural frustration on my part. I’ll go ahead and condense a two-hour ordeal which now seems humorous.
Because the card itself is actually the property of the train system we decided to visit the station office downstairs to begin with. The man behind the counter was rude, dim-witted and appeared to be generally dissatisfied with his position in life. He was dumbfounded how anyone could lose their Pasmo and suggested we call the police to report it missing. Because he otherwise wasn’t sure where to begin. You may be able to sense my dissatisfaction with this exchange.
We returned upstairs with a new problem. Which city police should we call? I ran through both Sagamihara and Yamato cities. I was almost certain I had dropped it in Yamato so we began there. I asked Moto if we could call the police department and ask if they had my card.
“No,” he told me. “You have to file a lost item report on the internet.”
I was baffled by this. It seemed to me the easiest way to inquire about a lost item was to call someone and ask a quick question. Not so fast my friend! This is Japan. We have to do things by the textbook here. And that means following bureaucratic rules!
To report missing property in Japan you begin by visiting the local police’s website. Naturally this was all in Japanese so Moto was forced to do everything. He filled out a long form, asked me for my email and submitted it. A moment later my phone chimed and I had an email from the Yamato police. My inner desperado was displeased with the “man” having my contact information.
I opened the email and followed the link expecting only to acknowledge my receiving of the mail. Ha! The 10 minute registration that Moto had just completed was only the pre-registration. We now had to file an actual claim using my phone. An already long process was drawn out for 15 more minutes because thumbs were being used to type instead of fingers. Finally though Moto finished and submitted the form.
The next email came and we wisely opened it through the desktop computer. We now had to complete the final paperwork before actually submitting the report to the police. This was all fine and good except we were prompted for a user name & password, neither of which had been assigned to us. So after all the fuss we couldn’t even submit the form.
In the end Moto called the police department and asked about my Pasmo. After a 20 minute call we had our answer; no. So we took the elevator back down to the station. We returned to the station office and were fortunate enough to be greeted by a trainee. The kid knew nothing about the job yet, but was eager to help. After a bunch of paperwork, and a ¥ 1,000 fee we had completed our goal. My lost card would be frozen, so no one could spend the money. I would be reissued a new card, complete with all of the former information. But because of the bureaucracy, I wasn’t able to get my card that day. We returned upstairs two hours after we started. What a headache!
The next morning I revisited the station and picked up my new card. I swiped it at the gates and it worked. I checked the remaining balance and wasn’t short any money. Yes it felt good to have my pass back. And I learned a valuable lesson too, don’t run with your Pasmo!
This whole situation was made more humorous because I had to eat crow. Literally the day before I had been advising Emma on how to properly preload a Pasmo.
“Emma, you’re always scraping by on your Pasmo. I’ve never seen more than ¥ 1,000 of credit on your card. You should copy me. I load ¥ 10,000 on my card once a month. It’s so convenient not needing to worry about reloading all the time.”
In true irony, the convenience of having so much money preloaded on my card made my lost Pasmo a more serious and inconvenient problem. I had to either quickly find my card or suspend it so no one would spend the available balance. Emma had a good-natured laugh at my misfortune . And I learned a lesson. Don’t preach.
I’ve been meaning to tell you all something for weeks now but kept forgetting. I’ve finished studying カタカナ (katakana)! It only took me three weeks and I memorized the 48 characters of カタカナ. Actually I can’t remember all 48, but I can read 90% of the characters now. If I combine my new カタカナ skills with my recently acquired ひらがな (hiragana) skills, I can read 96 Japanese characters and two-thirds of the Japanese writing system. Great!
カタカナ is special because it is used to write foreign words. Very often English words will be written in カタカナ. For example: シーザーサラダ (shiza sarada (caesar salad) or アフリカ afurika (Africa)). Being able to read this alphabet is a huge boost to my Japanese life. It gives me access to a whole new vocabulary which is extremely similar to my own native vocabulary.
I also made a conscious change in my study habits during the past two months studying 日本語. Originally I would study a chapter or grammar point until I mastered it. To heck with that. Now I am setting deadlines and will study hard until then. Upon reaching the deadline I’ll move on despite the progress, or lack thereof, I’ve made. So instead of learning 100% of the material I’m learning maybe 70% of it. Naturally this doesn’t allow me to master the language, but it is enough to let me communicate better and gives me building blocks for the next level. So far this new practice is working. I’ll let you know how I progress.
This was the final weekend before payday. Between paying bills, long-term saving and daily living it had been an expensive month. So I easily made a decision that Congress couldn’t, I would be prudent and keep my books in the black. Basically I was going to stay in.
Just because I was staying in didn’t mean Mari couldn’t come over! I spent the morning of a beautiful Sunday with my windows open and cool music playing. Around noon I met Mari at the station and we visited the grocery store. We picked up a few vegetables and returned to my apartment to make one of my favorite Japanese foods, おこのみやき (okonomiyaki)! If you remember おこのみやき is a very simple Japanese food similar to western pancakes, but chock-full of other ingredients. We loaded our lunch with a hearty portion of veggies and sat down to eat together.
After lunch I wooed my girlfriend with my computer skills as I simultaneously operated her laptop and my own. Earlier in the month we had tried to skype each other, to avoid the high fees of talking of our phones. Her computer had technical issues which I was sure I could fix. It took a long time but eventually I cleaned up her computer and had it running like new. Nerd power!
We took a break from the cooking, computers and my apartment to visit a mom & pop coffee shop on the other side of the river, in Tokyo. Over our hot coffee we made tentative plans to visit Kyoto soon. It’s not a certainty that we’ll go but I’m very excited about the prospect!
We took a train home and revisited the grocery store. We bought more vegetables and a bag of なべ ソース (Nabe sauce, a kind of soup base.) We returned home and made a big pot なべ for dinner. We both had several bowls of the vegetable soup until our tummies were full.
I may have mentioned before how Mari is a vegetarian. And how I was almost a vegetarian before dating her. Well now I am even closer to being a vegetarian. I’ve never eaten meat in front of Mari, both from a lack of desire and out of courtesy. Although we do both eat fish. I still eat white meat on a weekly basis. Red meat I seldom ever eat now unless ordered for me. And it’s amazing how the body reacts to a change in diet. This change is definitely a positive one. I’m happy with it.
Monday I visited my cell phone carrier for the first time in a year. I had a year’s worth of complaints and questions that I could never address because the language barrier. However it’s been near a year since my contract started so I thought it was time to address some of the issues. Through their website I found a branch with English-speaking representatives and I visited them. It took a very long time to be seen but when I did I was very happy with the service I received. The changes the representative made were enhanced by the changes I made back home. I downloaded the new OS (operating system) for my smart phone. All of the changes make it seem like I have a brand new phone. And it makes me a happy camper!
Back at home I looked in my kitchen. I had 11 different kinds of veggies from the weekend with Mari. I soon made myself busy preparing dinner and chopping the food. I didn’t want the food to expire. I made a big pot of みそ (miso soup) for dinner. Mari visited me after she finished work. We ate the dinner together and again felt very satisfied with a belly full of healthy food. After dinner I walked her back to the station with the plan to see her again the coming weekend. We had big plans together!
Disclaimer: I am an ex-smoker. I picked up the nasty habit in college. I smoked throughout school. I quit, unsuccessfully, several times. But as long as I smoked I knew that I didn’t like it. However the grip of nicotine is a powerful one to break. So when I moved to Japan I used the sudden & drastic change in lifestyle as an opportunity to kick the habit. Cold turkey. 51 weeks later and I haven’t smoked a single cigarette. Yes my lungs feel like that of a non-smoker and I’m very happy about it.
Japan is still catching up with the States in terms of smoking. The country, and many of its citizens don’t fully understand or accept the serious health perils that come with smoking. However they are making good progress and smoking is slowly but surely falling out of favor in Japan. For example in my prefecture (the Japanese version of a US state), Kanagawa, smoking in restaurants must be totally sectioned off from non-smoking areas. A law that is very loosely enforced. Tobacco tax has been raised several times in recent years. The higher cost isn’t to increase revenue, it’s to discourage people from buying cigarettes.
However smoking is still widely available to those interested. Cigarette vending machines are everywhere. With a quick swipe of your ID, to verify you are of smoking age, you can buy a fresh pack of smokes for only ¥ 400. Indeed almost every establishment is smoker friendly. If you cannot light up right in your seat then you can migrate to a smoking room. Even in my shopping center there is a smokers’ room down the hall.
A quick aside about this smokers’ room. Last week I saw two potential “Parents of the Month” stopping for smoke breaks. I’m being sarcastic. On Tuesday I saw a dad taking a smoke break in the smokers’ room. He had with him two children clearly younger than 5 years old. They ran around the tiny room while daddy puffed away. Unbelievable. Then on Friday I saw a young mother relaxing in the room to smoke. Outside the entrance of the room was her baby carriage, complete with her newborn. So mom smoked away while the baby sat unsupervised in a busy place. Sheesh. How bad is your habit when you put your children’s’ health & safety at risk?
That said I’m generally tolerant of smokers. Many of my friends in Japan & the States are smokers. They’re adults and it’s a free country so do as you please, I say. Just don’t blow your smoke in my face. I’ve got a lot to accomplish in this lifetime. And I don’t need you to cut it short for me.