Monday, May 02, 2005


Today I had to go to the bank. Apparently, when I filled out the form at the gym when I was applying for membership, which would also get me a credit card (due to some odd tie-in), I didn't sign my name exactly the same as I did at my bank, where the credit card company sent the form for approval. They are not used to dealing with signatures here. You're supposed to use a hanko, but when I opened my bank account the week I arrived in Japan, I didn't have a hanko, so I've always used my signature. Sometimes this causes trouble, but changing it over would be even more trouble, so I've never bothered.

The letter from the bank arrived when I was at work, a couple of weeks ago, and The Man called the bank for me. He spoke with a woman called Yokota-san, and explained that if my signature had been exactly the same it would probably mean it was forged. Nobody signs EXACTLY the same way every time. She agreed, apologised, and said that it was because that the bank was not used to dealing with this sort of thing, as I was their only customer who used a signature. She said if I came in and asked for her she would sort it all out for me.

The Man was happy when he reported this conversation to me. That was a first for him. Usually when he talks to the bank about anything at all he ends up shouting at them because of their stupidity. He told me it was the first intelligent conversation he'd ever had with a member of the bank staff. He emphasised that when I went in to get this sorted out, I MUST ask for Yokota-san. Then I could be sure the job would be done properly.

Today I finally had a chance to go in. I went directly to a security guard and told him I wanted to speak to Yokota-san. I knew I was supposed to take a number, but figured that maybe he'd get me seen quicker. The bank was very crowded, as the next three days are public holidays.

This tactic did not work. He went around the back of the counter, spoke to somebody, came back, and told me to take a number. He wrote a note on the envelope I had and said that when my number was called I should show the teller the note.

My number was 577. The number up on the display when I took it was 534.

I was determined to be patient. After all, I knew I was going to be taken care of by the most intelligent bank worker at our branch.

Thirty minutes later my patience was wearing thin. I knew this was normal. I was not in a hurry - I had put aside enough time to take all afternoon if necessary. I could see they were very busy. But all the same, impatience was creeping up on me. My limit, I have found, is thirty minutes. When I have to wait more than thirty minutes I start getting mad. It doesn't matter what I tell myself, or how busy they are, or how much time I have. After thirty minutes I start to steam.

The last ten numbers were called very quickly, as the customers with those numbers had obviously got tired of waiting and were no longer there, and suddenly it was my turn. I went to the counter and explained that I needed to see Yokota-san. The woman disappeared into the maze of desks and cabinets behind the counter for a while, came back, and told me to take a seat in the waiting area; Yokota-san would be with me soon. She called the next number.

I sat down. The minutes ticked by, and I felt a sharp pain start to develop behind my eyes. I had now been in the bank for forty-five minutes, and I couldn't stop myself from wanting to know WHY DID I HAVE TO TAKE A NUMBER SO THAT I COULD ASK THE TELLER FOR YOKOTA-SAN WHEN I HAD ALREADY ASKED FOR YOKOTA-SAN? I knew this was a stupid question and I shouldn't ask it as it would only make me mad, but when I tried to calm myself down and stop being irritated at the stupid bank behaving the way it always does (stupidly) the pain behind my eyes only got worse. What did you expect? I asked myself sternly. Did you think that just because they have one intelligent person working there the whole bank would suddenly reform and start behaving logically? Who's being stupid now? Eh?

Finally Yokota-san appeared. Her desk was out of sight from my side of the counter, obviously, because I hadn't seen her before. And I would have known, because SHE WAS ONE OF MY OLD STUDENTS!

The pain behind my eyes vanished the moment she greeted me. I hadn't remembered her name, but I remembered her face perfectly. She was a student at a place where I don't work anymore, a place where the majority of students were ... let's just say they were not very good. She was one of the good ones. She was a DARLING. And she had actually learned something.

She sorted out the problem in record time. I had been asked, in the letter, to bring in identification. I handed over my passport, and she handed it back without looking at it. "No need!" she said. "I know you!" (And that was proof of her good sense and intelligence right there - I've had to 'prove' my identity to bank clerks I have been chatting with for years in that place because whatever form I'm filling in 'requires' it.)

It turned out that the reason my signature had been sent to the bank for verification was that on the form I had forgotten to write my PIN number under my signature. I had signed in three places, and in two of them I had written my PIN number, as requested, but in the third I hadn't.

"But I wrote it here!" I said, pointing. "And there!"

"Yes," she sighed. "They are very... careful."

"If they're so careful, why do they want me to reveal my 'secret' bank PIN number to the people at the gym, the credit card company, and anybody else who happens to see the form?" I asked.

"Yes, it is very strange. Sorry," she said.

"Oh, it's not your fault," I said. "It's the credit card company. And the bank."

I told her that The Man was impressed with her intelligence and good sense. "He told me that you are the first intelligent person he has ever spoken to at this bank," I said. "Usually he comes in and shouts at people."

She lit up with a huge grin. "Metcha ureshii!" she said, and I wasn't sure whether she was happy about the compliment or at the shouting. Both, probably.

I was feeling happy when I left the bank, and that was a first for me. Yokota-san's English was wonderful (our conversation was half in English and half in Japanese, which was fun), and that made me feel like a successful teacher. Plus she is sensible and intelligent, and I'm taking credit for that, too. I taught her to use her good sense and intelligence. There is no other explanation.

And I now have a friend at the bank, which should make my life easier the next time they screw up.

I went to have a coffee after that, to celebrate. Outside the coffee shop there was a bicycle parked with a dog in the basket. The dog was a fluffy white thing with flappy ears, and I petted it, which it seemed to appreciate. Its ears had been dyed bright pink.

That made me happy, too.


melinama said...

It is a good thing, when you have been teaching long enough that you see your students everywhere. I feel much more at home in my town because familiar faces remember me.

Paula said...

What a great story! That hanko thing is weird--how do they know you haven't stolen someone else's hanko? Here, supposedly your sig is compared to others you've made, but mostly peeps are too rushed to do that anyway. Once it happened to me when I was using Mom's credit card...LOL! (Denied.)

Badaunt said...

Melinama: The problem with living in a metropolis of 8 million people or so is that even after all these years it doesn't happen very often!

Paula: The hanko thing is really weird, and I still don't really get it. But they are similarly puzzled about signatures. "What's to stop anyone from copying your signature?" they ask.

The official approved hanko (i.e. the ones certified by City Hall) are hand-made and distinctive, very hard to copy. But of course they can be stolen, and quite frequently are. One woman I used to know had hers stolen BY HER HUSBAND and used to 'sign' a loan guarantee...

Ms Vile File said...

Someone in a bank with common sense!

Such a rarity. Sigh.

Kim said...

Nice story Badaunt. I admire that you live in Japan; I can't conceive such a thing. The culture there is so alien to mine... I've a feeling I'd stand out like a sore thumb...

Kim said...

Nice story Badaunt. I admire that you live in Japan; I can't conceive such a thing. The culture there is so alien to mine... I've a feeling I'd stand out like a sore thumb...

Megan said...

It was definitely all your doing. That girl would be an idiot if it weren't for you. (Or, at least, that's what I tell myself about my students.) I take credit for all of their good traits and blame their parents for the bad ones. ;)