Observations of Japan. March 2019

Every trip I make to Japan I start to see new things that I hadn’t really thought about before. For example, the level of politeness. I always knew that Japanese have a sense of courtesy to others that is at a higher level to other Asian countries. But the extent to which they use politeness can make life less easy when it comes to practicalities. For example, it’s quite hard to express strong disappointment or to say something negative here. (I know that it’s not common to complain about bad food or service). For example, I noticed when I was in the Izakaya that they added a 500 yen cover charge to my order. And because I had drunk alcohol, I think they added another tax. This was on top of the 8% service charge that I had already been charged. So the final bill was a good 1,000 yen dearer than I had expected. Of course, I really wasn’t happy about these stealth charges, but at the time it was easier to pay the total amount, rather than argue about it. Is this why there are so many extra charges in restaurants, because no one wants to speak up and complain? The fact is there are many restaurants which don’t engage in stealth charges, but you won’t know this until you receive the bill. Whilst Izakayas are no doubt the worst offenders, I have found myself paying well above the odds in many places. For example, at a maid cafe, where I expected to spend 500 on a coffee but was charged more than 1000. The dreaded cover charge, again. The frustrating thing is the money they charge like this does not have a possible reason for being there except as a way to wring as much money out of the customer as possible.

Again, when I was checking in to my hotel, I found that I could not get the wi-fi working. This could have been a really simple problem, but it was exacerbated by the fact that the receptionist was completely unwilling to acknowledge the fact that I was unhappy about the situation. In fact, when I attempted to talk with the manager, she attempted to deflect this by telling me that she didn’t understand English. I’m beginning to wonder if anyone actually says what they think when there is a problem?

Then when I was waiting for my JR rail pass, it was at least an hour’s week to get it printed. And by the time I had joined a separate queue to enquire about a booking, I was told, rather incoherently, that a tree had fallen on the line and there were no trains. This was actually sorted out and I was eventually able to take a later train that got me to my destination at the exact time I needed to, after waiting uncertainly for two hours. Another point is the issue of reserving a seat for a train journey. Of course, there is nothing wrong with sitting on an assigned seat, but if half of the seats are usually empty, is there really a need for having allocated seating? Especially when people board and get off the train at different times anyway, so the whole idea of having reserved seats seems a bit pointless.

The other funny thing that I’ve seen happen is bill sharing. Actually I don’t really mind this one, but it’s interesting to see that even on occasions where it might be sensible for one person to pay the bill, it’s still split evenly based on who ordered what.

All this is to say that I really do love Japan a lot, I really do. But there are times when it can be difficult to understand the reason why things have to be the way they are.

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