5 & 6 – Service with a gleam and a song / Otherworldly Safe
When I first moved to Japan I lived in Musashi Urawa out in Saitama. It’s about 20 minutes from Tokyo on the notorious Saikyo Line. The Ekimae (the area around the station) has a handful of of shops and restaurants…and as is the norm at virtually every station I’ve been to in and around Tokyo, there’s a Macdonald’s and a Starbuck’s. Can’t say I was the biggest fan of either back in NY, but I love both here. The Japanese Macdonald’s is different than the Macdonald’s back home. And, the familiarity of Starbuck’s is like finding water on Mars.
Until you go inside, that is.
First, you’re struck by the cleanliness. There’s a gleam to everything. And there’s at least 1 or 2 staff people cleaning at all times, tweaking the clean, like they do in Macdonald’s commercials but you never see it in real life.
There are two registers open with two pretty college girls, looking handpicked for counter appeal, taking orders, and three others in the prep area waiting diligently like very disciplined, well postured and well-paid maids in a castle somewhere. Very “Remains of the day” looking…only extremely cheery and Japanese.
You check out the menu…most of the usual suspects are there: all kinds of Lattes and Chai and whatnot. You peruse it trying not to be distracted by the patient, smiling, gorgeous co-ed standing before you. Then, you place your order: “Yeah, let me get uh grande Iced Caramel Macchiato please.” Then you remember you’re speaking English…Being in Starbuck’s just doesn’t feel like Japan. You get ready to repeat your order in your broken Japanese when the staff smiles and repeats your order. Then she sings it to the preparers, who are suddenly called into action, as they sing the order in response, and in unison…with prepubescent mickey mouse voices. It’s the cutest thing you’ve ever heard…and kind of sexy, in my opinion. They are the happiest staff people you’ve ever seen. You actually believe they are happy to serve you. You’ve never felt that about the staff anywhere that didn’t stand to make a sweet commission off of your purchase. You don’t know it yet but it’s a routine you’re going to be enjoying on a daily basis, with the same consistent cheer, at Starbuck’s and the vast majority of the businesses you patronize, for the next five years.
Welcome to Japan…
Then you take your order to a seat. Most of them are full. You see an empty seat near the door. Bollocks, there’s a computer and a cell phone on the table, and a purse on the chair. You immediately look for the owner…they must be close. That’s a lot of value sitting there by its lonesome. But, there is no one not seated anywhere near it besides you. You look around for another unoccupied table. You spot one in the back. It’s free. It’s next to the bathroom. You plant yourself and sip your delicious drink. A couple of minutes later a girl emerges from the restroom and strolls to the table where you’d seen the PC, phone and purse, sits, and resumes doing her homework or whatever.
You think to yourself, Man, if she had done that in NY there’s a very good chance she would have come back to an empty table. A very, VERY good chance. Then you wonder how true that is. You’ve actually never seen anyone so stupid before and of course you’ve never left your belongings behind while you so much as looked out the window, let alone went to the bathroom. It’s simply unthinkable, anti-common sense. It almost warrants being robbed. You imagine that if you went to the police station in NY after being robbed and explained that “…when I came back from the bathroom a few minutes later, all of my stuff was gone,” they would laugh and say, “if it wasn’t for dickheads like you, there wouldn’t be any thievery in this world, would there?”
You don’t it know then, but three years later you’ll be the one going to the bathroom leaving your belongings behind because you would have been living in a country where what you grew up to believe is common sense isn’t common sense, it’s nonsense, it’s virtually unthinkable, and this kind of thinking eventually rubs off on you. So much that you’re almost afraid to go home for if you do then you will need to re-install that old paranoid software, also known as survival instincts, that it took all of three years to un-install.
And you realize that you actually hated having to drag your computer to the toilet with you…not because it’s a pain in the ass, but because it indicated that no one in your vicinity could be trusted…that you lived in a trust-free environment your entire life and accepted it as the way of the world.
Well, not in this world.
Welcome to japan…