05 May 2006

A land of strange contrasts....

Even after having lived in Tsuruoka for over a month, some of the culture shocks haven't eased. The economic shocks are much lesser now (the prices here scared me silly initially) but some of the systems still leave me rather dazed.

For all its technological advances, Japan truly marches to the beat of some medieval drummer.

For example, security measures in a small apartment in a nice neighbourhood... the planning is awesome without any wasted space. And when anyone rings the doorbell, that activates a security camera, so I can see who rings, and if its someone who wants donations send them away without opening the door.

The basic washing machine we bought has so many awesome controls (none of which I can operate for the simple reason that it's all in Japanese) and program options.

When we first came here, we were so impressed by the (of all things) loos here. The control panels on them are awesome. The guest house where we stayed for the first ten days had this totally awesome powder-room with a control panel with 31 buttons. I could set the temperature of the potty seat. And if A left it up as usual, I just pressed a button to let it down. I could set the temperature of the water in the bidet, the pressure and the direction too. Then there was the air temperature settings, and air pressure. And the volume settings of the flush!!!!!

Then we come to the paperwork, and that's when the frustration starts.

I get my health insurance card. And naturally its in a bunch of incomprehensible (as yet) squiggles. Hey, I see some numbers.... and they look familiar. Ok.. that's my date of birth. But they got that wrong... the month and day are alright, but the year is way off target. So there we go to AS-san (our hand-holder-in-chief) and point out the error to her. She checks and tells us that it's correct. Huh... uh... actually I was born in 75, and my Insurance card reads 50.

So that's when we get our first jolt. You see, out here they borrow only the day and month from the Gregorian calendar. The year is the year of that era. Era?? Yes, era. The year of what emperor's reign. So I was born in the 50th year of the Showa emperor's reign and Arun in the 46th. Aditi's was born in the 15th year of the current emperor's reign. So her year of birth is Heisei 15. The current year is Heisei 18.

This gets quite confusing when one goes to buy a used car. We saw this car we liked, and under the Japanese symbol for year was the number 8. Brilliant as we were we assumed that it was a 8 year old car. Of course not. The year of manufacture was Heisei 8. We missed that one little character somewhere... so it was back to square one of the great car hunt.

The banks too use some thoroughly antiquated systems. First shock we got when we went to open an account: 'joint account?? Nan desu ka? (what's that?) Sigh.... Checkbook? Nan desu ka? .. and here we gave up, and just said whatever and got on with the procedure.

And here's the kicker, one doesn't use a signature on bank and other financial instruments. One uses a chop, with name carved in Kanji (or katakana in case of foreigners like us)... And God help you if you ever lose the chop. Replacing it is as simple as brain transplant.

And did I mention that ATM's close around sunset, and Credit Cards are not used except at very large stores and hotels?

The worst are the looks I get when I tell anyone I am a vegetarian. Almost a look of utter pity.

Now I know what 'Stranger in a strange land' really means. When in Rome one does as the Romans do.

These Romans are crazy.....

1 comment:

Nikhil said...

... And if A left it up as usual, I just pressed a button to let it down. I could set the temperature of the water in the bidet, the pressure and the direction too. Then there was the air temperature settings, and air pressure. And the volume settings of the flush!!!!!

Then we come to the paperwork, and that's when the frustration starts ...


Maybe you should consider putting a "----------------" between these two paragraphs so that readers know for sure that you are changing subjects. That scared me a little. Quite interesting though!