Paperwork. God damned Japanese, paper pushing, bureaucracy at its finest. One hour before I’m due to hop on a bus bound for Nagoya, followed by a train to the airport, I get a call from the Japanese post office. I get the gist of the call. They are calling about a money transfer to the UK I set up two whole days earlier. Meaning the pointlessly pedantic, picky, sodding forms I filled out two days ago have been lingering in the office for some time. As far as I can tell there’s a problem (they wouldn’t be calling otherwise) with the reason I’m sending my money. Having explained it clearly two days prior I ask the guy to call back in ten minutes when he can speak to my boss who will be able to discern the reason for the call far better than I can with my shoddy Japanese.
What turns out to be the problem? Apparently sending money to my account in England is an insufficient explanation for the transfer. So sending my money, to my account needs clarifying. ‘Fine’, I tell my boss, ‘tell him it’s for bills.’ ‘What bills?’ the man on the phone asks. ‘Plane ticket, tell him it’s the plane ticket.’ Apparently that’s enough justification. Just.
The post office in Japan is one of the finest examples of the excessive bureaucracy that allows Japan to maintain a fairly low unemployment rate. Whether this is the prime motivating factor for such excessive paperwork is debatable. Some part is certainly played by the ironic mistrust of modern technology that is all pervasive in Japanese government work.
Prime example in day-to-day life is the continued heavy use of fax machines. While an old man’s business card may have no email address in sight, the fax number will hold pride of place. I have never gotten my head around how a country which watches TV on its mobile phones insists on these ageing contraptions.
Another example was when I went to Nagano City to renew my visa, never mind that the place was fairly bereft of computerization in any form, but the lift with giant Lost in Space vacuum tube technology buttons, as big as a roll of fifty pence coins were a defiant swipe at the modernity that has swept through the rest of life here.
Yet, this ridiculous charade with the post office left me pondering something else aside from the creaking nature of change. If the specific use of my money is in question, must I consider bank transfers from the post office in Japan to have equivalent conditions to the ones my mother once imposed on birthday money? One may not transfer one’s own money outside of the Land of the Rising Sun unless you promise not to spend it all on sweets and strip clubs.
In addition, how much detail would have been too much detail? Bills wasn’t enough, plane ticket was. Yet, what if possessing not one dishonest bone in my body, but plenty of deviant kinky ones I revealed that it was to fund the spiraling costs of an expensively imported, inflatable harem that left my neighbour with a Japanese love pillow looking decidedly well adjusted.
In all likelihood he’d probably have just recommended a trip to Akihabara and that we not bother with the paperwork after all.