22 September 2017 ~ 4 Comments

My Welcome to Japan

When I first moved to Japan I lived in Musashi Urawa out in Saitama. It’s about 20 minutes from Tokyo on the Saikyo Line. The Ekimae (the area around the station) has a handful of shops and restaurants, and as is the norm at virtually every station I’ve been to in and around Tokyo, there’s a Mcdonald’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 Mcdonald’s was different than the Mcdonald’s back home. The staff actually make an effort to make the burger they present you with look like the one advertised on the menu photos. Does wonders for the appetite.

As does the cleanliness.

Initially, you’re struck by it. There’s a gleam to everything. And there’s at least 1 or 2 staff people tweaking that clean at all times, diligently and pleasurably, like they do in Mcdonald’s commercials but you never see it in real life.

And at Starbuck’s 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 chateau 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 Frappuccinos and whatnot. You peruse it trying not to be distracted by the patient, smiling, gorgeous coed 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, in unison, with prepubescent glee.  It’s the cutest thing you’ve ever heard, sung by 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 extent of your stay.

Welcome to Japan!

Then you take your order to a seat. Most of them are full. You see an empty seat near the door. Damn, 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 near. 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 in it 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.

Like it was the most natural thing in the world.

You think to yourself, Man, if she had done that in back in New York, 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. Maybe you’re being too hard on your hometown folk.  You’ve actually never seen anyone so stupid before, and of course you were never stupid enough to have left your belongings behind while you so much as looked out the window, let alone gone 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 in this manner, and explained that “…when I came back from the bathroom a few minutes later, all of my stuff was gone,” the police would have a hearty laugh before saying, “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 a few 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 (AKA survival instincts) that it took 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!

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4 Responses to “My Welcome to Japan”

  1. J Michael Carter 23 September 2017 at 11:16 am Permalink

    Did you notice John Amos and Anson Williams in the McDonald’s commercial? Amos did a podcast recently where he talked about working at a McD’s and how their business was so slow, that they did bits like that.
    You may have exposed one reason for the difference in service and cleanliness between Japan and the US; the number of employees. I’ve never been at a Starbucks with more than three employees working (granted, I don’t frequent them, but I can look into the window with the best of’em). In the US, there’s usually 2-3 people, and they make the drinks themselves. It’s the same with McD’s; managers get bonuses for keeping labor low, so they cut staff whenever possible. Food into hands is the primary goal; cleanliness and service are secondary.

    • Locohama 23 September 2017 at 1:23 pm Permalink

      I’m sure that’s part of it but the Japanese have a tradition of お客様神様 which basically means “the customer is god!” And they’re serious about it. All personal interests are sublimated to the client’s. And yes I noticed several famous faces in that video though I don’t think John Amos was one if them. Was he in it?

  2. J Michael Carter 24 September 2017 at 10:41 pm Permalink

    Yep, I’m sure. At 15 second in, he comes through the door with a broom and for a second he’s well lit enough to recognize. I wouldn’t know it was him unless I knew to look for him, though. He talked about it on Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast about a year ago; I’m sure he’s talked about it other places, too.
    I’m not surprised that there’s that sort of name for service in Japan, I just didn’t know it. It didn’t take long to get spoiled by it; I went back to the US for a visit after a year and, well, I wasn’t exactly shocked, but in Japan, if you ask someone where something is, they take you to it or they take you to someone who will. In the US, I got “Oh, that’s over there; aisle 2, I think.”

    • Locohama 24 September 2017 at 11:14 pm Permalink

      wow, you’re right it is him! It was kinda blurry so I didn’t see at first glance. But that smile and chin are unmistakable under closer examination.

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