Sunday, April 8, 2018

Disappearing acts

There are little details in my daily life in Japan that make me smile.  Things that are uniquely Japanese.  Things that a Japanese person would never give a thought to, so utterly mundane.

One of these things is the way a cashier will count money when giving change for a transaction involving a large note.  They will bend the bills in one hand, fan them just slightly for you to see and count them with a snap.  I can only compare it to a Las Vegas poker dealer or maybe a magician's card trick.  I think the first time I saw it I half expected some bills to be missing when I put the money in my wallet.  It is efficient, stylish and even graceful.  This compared to the States where a cashier will simply pile the notes up in a stack and hand it to you, requiring you to confirm the correct change.  I have tried to replicate this Japanese money counting technique myself, the cool gesture, the smooth motion.  I couldn't do it.

The ultimate show for these money exchanges is a supermarket.  At a supermarket, after verbally noting the price of each item as they are scanned, the checker will tell you what money you have given her: "Ni-sen en to... hyaku go-ju en."  She will show you what you have given her in a mime-like manner.  The money is slipped into the cash register and the change comes back, which she will then count out for you not once, but twice.  She will look you in the eye, bow and say, "Arigato gozaimasu."  This transaction, this exchange is less than 30 seconds, but the charming formality of it leaves you feeling good, like your business is appreciated, like it was money well spent.

Recently my local supermarket , Matsumoto (マツモト) eliminated this part of the checker's job.  Automated cash registers were installed.  Now, instead of a friendly human being taking your money and giving you your change in a respectful manner an obnoxious and ugly machine does.  It literally asks you for your money in a cheap, tinny voice like an early prototype for a talking doll.  There is a grating digital tone, a sort of badly recorded bell reminding you to take your change and receipt.  There is a flashing blue light telling everyone in the store your transaction is in process.  It is loud, it is annoying, something like the din of a pachinko parlour.

Matsumoto is no Dean & Deluca in SoHo.  If not exactly enjoyable, it was at least convenient, functional and reasonably priced.  Now it is actually an unpleasant experience. Like everything, I suppose I could get used to it.  Or maybe I'll just find another market that still has a semblance of humanity.

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