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For Westerners, Even a Bank Machine in Japan is Fraught with Adventure

A few weeks ago my sister and I were having my close Japanese friends, Sayuri and Yohei, over for dinner. During the meal the conversation turned to what's it's like for us living in Japan. Jenn and I chuckled. Sayuri and Yohei wanted to know what kinds of things were difficult for us in Japan. So we described all of our funniest tales, each one a result of major communication break-down; it was simply a list of all the crazy adventures we'd had as foreigners. We tried to explain to them that life for us was about basic survival. Even something as simple as going to the bank machine turned out to be an adventure.....

"Why don't you go to Diakichi Kogno Bank? Their machines have English prompts," suggested Yohei through his wife, Sayuri's, translation. Well, Yohei, that's an honest question. You see, the school I was working for in Japan set-up my bank account (because I definitely couldn't do that myself) at the non-English-prompted-bank-machine bank. Why? Well, of course, to make my life harder!

So here's how a visit to the bank machine typically went for me. First things first, you always start with the P.I.N. #. That's an international stipulation from the Geneva Convention, isn't it? To keep life as simple as possible, I used the same number as I use at home. No problem. Next screen and the Japanese pictographic characters that flash up mean absolutely nothing to me. Okay, let's think this through. Cash amount, right, that must come next. I see the symbol for Yen on the screen. That's the only kanji I know so far, so I cross my fingers, hit some figures, add two more 0s (to make the value Yen instead of dollars), and then hit the green button on the screen, or is it the red button? I know that one is CANCEL and one is CONTINUE. As the line-up is growing longer and longer behind me I stop to ponder what I learned in University about archetypal symbols. A lesson on Carl Jung pops into my head. Jung claimed that symbols were universal to all people at all times throughout history. If he's right, then I should be able to figure this out, foreign alphabet aside. If he's right then green should mean Go, but in the land of the rising sun where everything seems to be upside-down to me, my faith in Jung is no longer strong. Had he ever been to Japan? So, time is running out, this is getting embarrassing. Is it red for the rising sun, or is it green for the universal colour for Go? My instincts suddenly click in. Shazam, I hit green. Yah, I made it to the next screen. My transaction wasn't cancelled. I feel so unbelievably proud of myself.

On the next screen the Yen amount I filled in is flashing. I interpret this as, "Gaijin (foreigner), are you sure you did this right?". This time I don't stop to question psychology or anything else I learned in school. Because this is life in Japan, this is the real thing, and they don't teach a course on this in university. Kaboom, I hit the top button. Yah, onto the next screen! I mentally pat myself on the back.

Now, finally the last screen appears. I've almost made it. The pressure's off. Do I want a receipt or not? The transaction won't be cancelled now so I relax a little, but I DO want that receipt. Clickity-click-barba-trick. I hit the top button again. Out comes my money, but no receipt. Sorry. Game Over. Try again next time. Ah, forget it. I don't actually need the receipt. I'd just lose it anyway.

About Kelly Waterbury: From a young age I was intrigued by all things Asian. Through university I searched for a way to see that mysterious continent. So like many other English speakers from around the world, I took my chance with Japan. Still today I get homesick for my quiet little town of Katsutadai. A year and a half of life there has left me many comic tales.

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