Saturday, August 4, 2007

Honesty (doesn't?) pay(s)

When I was about 10 years old I would frequently go to my friend Nick's house on the other edge of town. My mom would drive me up and we'd spend the day together. One of the things we never failed to do was make a trip to Circle K, which was a 5 minute walk from his house. We'd scrounge up a few bucks we'd received from our allowance and blow it on candy, chili dogs, Dr. Pepper, and anything else that brought the sugar levels in our bodies to incredible new highs. I'd like to say my life is completely different here in Japan, but 13 years later I find myself doing the exact same thing.

There is a Circle K about a 5 minute walk from my apartment (the company expanded into Japan in 1979 and did extremely well; I've seen more Circle K stores in Japan than I have in the US), which is a blessing because the next closest store of any kind is a good 15-20 minute commute by foot. As I've not yet been able to get my apartment in order, I've been making quite a few trips there for meals. Luckily convenience stores in Japan cater to having more full meals than their US counterparts; decent sandwiches, microwavable meals, a plethora of microwavable ramen and other random odds and end that technically count as a "meal"

I went down Wednesday evening, the day I arrived, to get some sort of food. I grabbed some sandwiches with filings unknown to me, pizza & squid flavored Dorritos, and some other crap that I've never heard of. After going up to the counter, I noticed the cashier wasn't putting all of his money away he was collecting; after taking a customer's cash he'd lay it in front of the register without putting it inside. He rang up my food, stuffed it in a bag, and said arigatougozaimashita (thank you very much). I headed back to my apartment and opened up my bag.

Squid flavored chips? Check.

Sandwiches with wasabi in them? Check

Lemon-flavored soda? Check

1000 yen bill (about 10 bucks)? Chec...what?

I checked my pocket to make sure that I didn't accidentally drop any money in the bag during my exchange; I had the correct amount of cash in my pocket. Then it hit me; the cashier must have accidentally grabbed the money with my food and unknowingly put it in my bag.

I'm not one to take money that doesn't belong to me; it's not a matter of doing what's "right", but when I hold money that's not mine, it's like holding a child that doesn't belong to me: it's not my child and I sure as hell don't want it. I marched back down to the store and waited in line to try and give him back his money. I think my Japanese was clear enough, but he wasn't getting it in the beginning.

Me: "Um, when I opened my bag there was a 1000 yen bill in it?"

Cashier: "I'm sorry?"

Me: "Remember when you had money laying out earlier? I think when you grabbed my food, you also grabbed this bill on accident"

I could see understanding hit him like a ton of bricks. His eys widened, eyebrows furrowed and flushed a bit; the universal "oh shit" expression that transcends language and cultural barriers.

Cashier: "Oh, thank you very much!" (and then other Japanese I didn't pick up)

I know Japan is all about saving face, so I hope I didn't embarrass him too much, but after weighing the pros and cons, being a bit embarrassed is a hell of a lot better than losing your job, or, losing more face in front of your boss when he realizes the drawer is short.

I'm not a believer in karma; I think at the most is that if you do something bad, your subconscious keeps that in mind and you do something later on to ease that guilt and weigh out the bad thing that you did. But karma or no karma, I damned near lost 500 dollars today while going to the bank to turn it into yen.

I was walking to the bank and had the money in a big yellow envelope. Half way down, I hear this old lady faintly say "gomennasai" (I'm sorry... but). She said it once so I figured she was talking to someone else, but after a second time I turned around make sure she was talking to me. She was off of her bike (and yes, the fact that an 80 year old lady is riding a bike is cool in itself) pointing to some papers on the ground. Those papers were five $100 bills that somehow fell out of my envelope. I quickly scooped them up before the wind could have its way with them, thanked her profusely and bowed so deeply I looked like a boomerang.

If you're a believer in karma, the first thing that would come out of your mouth would be "duh"; nonbelievers would state that it's "nothing but a coincidence". Now I usually like to think that we are all in control of our own fate, and to believe that a concept as abstract as karma rules over all of us would run contrary to my belief. But when things like this happen, you have to wonder what forces are at play outside of what we can see.

I really wish I got a picture of the grandma on the bike though.