a The Transit Lounge: Saving Face

Back in the Day: I had a quarter life crisis, headed to Osaka, Japan for the unknown–only to discover that a passport plane ride are not necessarily a ticket to escape. Some Years Later: Settled back in Oz, the man of my dreams ended up in Tokyo for work–which is how a passport and plane ride showed me home is where the heart is. And Now: Well as luck would have it, we are about to embark on Japan Mark 3, with a baby in tow and another on the way...

Friday, May 7

Saving Face


In recent weeks I have been a part of a number of specific instances in Japan where "saving face" has taken precedence (for the Japanese person involved) over common sense, logic and simply being nice.

I will talk about the one example I am able to: SMBC - our bank - losing our ATM card.

Talk about going around in circles. We handed both our bank book and ATM card to the teller after she told us we had to do our transaction with her at the ATM. She got up from her desk, walked around the bank getting the relevant forms (yes to do ATM transactions here you still need to fill out forms!) and 90 seconds later when she returned, it was minus the ATM card.

So I asked her where it was. She looked at me blankly. I asked her again. Blank stare number 2. I explained that I gave her both the bank book and ATM card. She said "Really?" and implied I should check my things and Ben should check his. I implied she should check where she walked, under her desk, under her computer...all the logical places. Instead she starts opening up her drawers and checking them when she never even opened them to begin with. Finally we convince her to re-trace her steps. I then picked up her computer, began checking under her piles of paper and generally started doing what she should have been doing.

This just kept going round and round and round. The bank manager got involved and implied to my husband that he should go home and check for the card because the bank teller was too scared to tell him she had lost it and chose to blame the foreigners. My husband insisted she lost it. The manager looked at him like he was crazy and then said we would have to pay to order a new one. My husband refused to pay for it, seeing as the bank lost it. All this while the teller sat silently not actually ever saying that yes, she was at fault. If she had have said this, then we would not have minded the inconvenience so much. It was just that she let it get to the stage where the manager blamed it on us and was convinced we were the idiots.

Finally my husband convinced them to issue us a new card without us having to pay.

It is these sorts of things that I will not miss about Japan. I come from a working background that would prefer you to own up to your mistakes and start working on a resolution rather than try and hide behind an excuse. And generally, the people you deal with prefer this type also. It is viewed as a strength, not a weakness.

Yet the Japanese not taking responsibility for their actions or roles and instead becoming indignant - to the point of being rude about it - until I/we give them an "out" so that they can save face, absolves them from any wrong doing which I don't necessarily think it always the best business practice.

At least with the bank, I can understand a bit better as to why they responded as they did to losing our card - the majority of time they are dealing with the Japanese community who will reciprocate in the correct Japanese manner. But for those Japanese who operate within an international field/market, I believe they must work on adopting a more liberal approach because in the end, as well all know, it will only work against them.

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