Everytime I meet someone, in Japan or anywhere, they always ask me the same question: “Why do you live in Tokyo?”, and everytime I answer “Because I love it”. Usually, what should be the perfect answer because you can’t argue with personal feelings actually triggers another more specific question which I am supposed to answer too. So I create a custom made answer, based on who asked me and how much time I want to spend with this person. The simple answer talks about food, beautiful girls in skirt, tech/geek stuff, beautiful girls in boots, convenience and safety, beautiful girls everywhere… The more elaborate answer is usually more difficult and involves the good and bad of the wa, and the fact that life is difficult here but paradoxically easier too. And sometimes I have a little story to tell. Today, I have a new story:
A couple of weeks ago, I went to Starbucks and bought two very nice Pavina Double Wall Bodum glasses as a birthday present for my friend Nagao. When I opened the box the next day, I discovered it only had one glass in it. Even though I had the receipt and the staff would recognize me, there was no possible way to prove that I didn’t go home, removed one glass from the box, and came back to the shop to have a third one for free. I felt a bit silly that I didn’t check the glasses before I left (at least to make sure that they were not broken). And the perfect impossibility of getting the second glass just puzzled my mind a second, before I gave up and decided to go and buy one more anyway.
Today, I go to buy the second glass, and I think “this is Japan, I might as well try and see”. What do I risk? I didn’t expect anything, and I really didn’t hope I would get a free glass just because I tell them I am a nice guy. But I took the box and the receipt with me anyway. I show it to the staff guy and explain the situation. He goes to explain it to some manager of his, and the manager asks me to wait a minute. I get a free blend of the day while I wait, and eventually the manager comes and gives me a free glass.
The paranoid gaijin explanation goes along the lines of Japanese being so xenophobic and racist that they would prefer to give me a free glass and get rid of me rather than having a screaming white guy break everything in the shop and throw chairs and Christmas mugs at customers.
My view is simpler and more straight forward: service is important in Japan, and who would go on a scam just for getting one free glass once? Anywhere else in the world, I could have cried and/or shouted, the laws of mathematics would have applied and the burden of the proof would have been my responsibility. Not in Japan.
That, and the beautiful girls everywhere.