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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Rickshaws and sailing ships

日本と効率

Efficiency is one quality that Japan is taken for granted as possessing. How else is Toyota, for example, world no.1? How?

I took an hour's lunch break today here in Kojimachi, one of Tokyo's CBDs, to do three things: post four letters and a postcard, deposit a sterling check, and have lunch.

I got to the post office at 1.10pm, filled out an EMS form for one of the items, and presented them at the desk at about 1.10. The clerk methodically went through what had to be done with the EMS item. When that was done, he looked at the other three - two in standard sized envelopes, one in a large one - and, seeing that they were addressed to the same country, asked me if I wanted to put the two smaller letters inside the large one. As they were all going to different cities in that country, I said no thanks. He then stamped each with an AIRMAIL stamp, then went away with the postcard for about half a minute to parley with another staff member about it. He came back and stamped it with another stamp that said POSTCARD. In spite of being at a single glance a perfectly standard postcard, he measured it, then weighed it, then franked a stamp for it. The other two items got the same methodical treatment, and I was out of there by 1.25.

I then headed for the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, a two-minute walk away, where I wanted to deposit a check. The woman who stands by the ticket machine that determines the order people will go up to the counter, hearing what I wanted to do, gave me a form to fill out while I waited. I filled the form out, waited five minutes, and was called to a counter. I had been given the wrong form, so had to go back, fill out the correct form, take another number, and wait some more. The wait was about 10 minutes this time. When I got back to the counter I went through the procedure, paid my 5,000 yen for the privilege of having the check processed (I couldn't get it deducted directly from my bank account because I hadn't brought along my wooden personal seal), and was told, on parting, that the check would take up to a month to be processed. Up to a month.

Posting five letters and depositing a check had taken 45 minutes. I had only ten minutes left for lunch, so decided to get takeout and eat it in the office. I ordered a Deliplate from a nearby internationally known café, paid for it while it was being prepared, and then waited - two minutes, five minutes - come on, it's only three little scoops of salad-like stuff and a bagel. At about the six or seven minute mark I checked what was happening - there was some kind of panic happening - they couldn't find any lids for the plastic molded tray they put the bits and pieces in, so, after a fruitless search, were transferring it to separate containers. I was finally handed it at 1.58, and dashed back to the office, a minute late, and had lunch at my desk.

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