Nov 1, 2018
Japan is a country that I enjoy living in for several reasons - one of which is the overall adherence to rules that you tend to find here. For the most part (and I know there are always exceptions) people queue politely, I feel safe walking the streets just about everywhere at any time, and public transport can be timed to the minute. A level of rigidity with certain things is needed for a functional society, and I appreciate that.
There's also the times where rigidity creates a complete inability to think outside the box, or to bend (or break) the rules when necessary.
The pancake incident
This one still makes me laugh several years later, at just how poor an inability to flex here was. A friend was at a Tokyo cafe that had pancakes with various toppings on the menu. He thought that two different varieties sounded good - one with a blueberry sauce and one with a strawberry sauce. He asked the waitstaff in question if he could have the blueberry sauce and the strawberry sauce on his pancakes.
Nope. Not possible.
Now I don't know about where the rest of you are from, and what kind of standards there are at restaurants or cafes back home - but for me, it would have been as simple as asking the waiter or waitress. It may come with a small extra charge (totally normal) but most of the time they'd just do it...the biggest question they'd ask would be "do you want both of the sauces on top of the pancakes, or the sauces on the side?"
To cut a long story short, there was some back and forth until my friend finally said screw it...I'm just going to order two servings of pancakes, one with the blueberry sauce and one with the strawberry sauce. Way more pancakes than one human required, but it got the job done in the end.
The train ticket refund
I'm actually writing this article in something of a "stressed-out fit of rage" mode. My daughter is currently in the hospital - she was having trouble breathing this afternoon, so we took her in and they are assuming she has asthma. I had a work trip I was meant to go on tomorrow and return the next day, and I'd purchased the shinkansen tickets out of my own money, to be reimbursed at the destination.
Naturally, when your kid is sick in the hospital, work is the last thing you're going to be heading to - so my husband tried to go to the train station for me to get a refund on the tickets. They were fine with refunding the shinkansen portion, but between "handling" fees and other JR line travel that I'd pre-purchased tickets for, I ended up being out a pretty significant chunk of change. I get it - it's in their terms and conditions somewhere, I'm sure, that certain tickets are non refundable even before travel. But surely there's room to flex in a multi million dollar company when someone's small child is in the hospital. Human compassion, right? Nope. When my husband explained that the reason for the cancellation was because our toddler is sick and in the hospital overnight, the JR employee said "I understand. Do you want the money or not?" (meaning the refund he was "allowed" to provide, not the full amount).
Back home? You'd call a manager and get their okay. You might refund it all anyway even if it's not in the rules. Heck, you might even ask for some kind of sick note from the hospital if you need proof that the person at the counter telling you their kid is sick isn't actually pulling your leg with a sob story.
Rules are made to be broken - and I venture to say that society won't fall into a screaming heap if you give someone extra pancake sauces or a full refund on unused train tickets.
After spending the last several years in the beating heart of Tokyo, I will be spending the next three in the countryside of Japan. I adore this country and all it has to offer - and I'm always learning more and more about life here as I go along!