Saturday, July 17, 2010

Japanese Honesty

Let's talk about honesty. Not "Does this skirt make my butt look big?" or "Is my hair getting a little thin?" honesty. I'm talking about my grandfather's drive-20-minutes-back-to-the-restaurant-because-they-gave-me-too-much-change honesty. My mother's take-you-back-to-the-store-so-you-can-explain-how-that-candy-got-into-your-pocket honesty. The honesty and pride of Depression-era people I grew up hearing about who'd walk up to a farm and ask to work a day in exchange for a meal. And who'd, more often than not, refuse the meal if it were offered as charity. An honesty which many of my friends in Colorado also have.

And which some did not.

We've all known them, the guy or gal who'll look at the extra $5 in their change and think, "Lucky!": What the hell, we're not playing the lottery here! Give it back!

Well, yesterday I had another humbling example of the almost pathological honesty of most Japanese. I went to the local discount supermarket to get stuff for dinner. But I was hot, so I clipped my 'man-bag' (it's too damned hot to carry a heavy wallet and cellphone in your pocket) on to the cart, as always. I did my shopping and headed home. But as I pulled into the garage, I realized: the bag was still clipped on to the cart (betcha didn't see that one coming...).

Needless to say, but I'll say it anyways, I drove as fast as traffic will allow (there's another idea for a post, driving in Japan), which is about the same speed as my 47-year-old butt can ride a bike, alternately swearing and praying to anyone who'd listen (talk about weird looks from the folks around). I got there, sprinted in to the store (OK, shuffled quickly!), and went to the nearest cashier.

He said, "Oh, the black bag? Follow me!" Took me to the employees' area, and the manager came out and said that someone had turned it in as soon as they saw it. Asked me to take out my wallet and make sure everything was there. Thank Godzilla, it was! You see, I was carrying the cash to pay my family's national insurance, and it isn't small change. If I lost that, I don't think my wife'd even sit in the same room with me for a week, let alone... to me.

I have seen this time and time again - not that I've lost my wallet that often. Ask my students, and they all say that if it was more than $10, they'd take it to the nearest koban (neighborhood police box). And for the $10, they'd turn it in to the store. They'd only consider keeping it, in most cases, if they were on the street, there was nobody in sight, and no shops nearby.

Compare that to my co-worker in Denver, who, when she found a $100 bill lying in the corridor at McNichols Arena, immediately thought, "Nintendo!" Or to the two different times when my wallet was stolen in Safeway in college (you'd think I learn, wouldn't you?).

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing anyone - except myself, maybe, because I wasn't always exactly an angel back in the day. But there are some perks to living in this country.

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