• 07 . 04 . 06
  • Despite my various recent excursions around the local area, I’ve still somehow found time to do the important things too. Cancelling things is always a pain, but it hits new heights, bordering on excruciating, when trying to do it in Japan. What with gas, electricity, phone, bank transfers and posting stuff, it’s a wonder that […]

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Shou Ga Nai

Despite my various recent excursions around the local area, I’ve still somehow found time to do the important things too. Cancelling things is always a pain, but it hits new heights, bordering on excruciating, when trying to do it in Japan. What with gas, electricity, phone, bank transfers and posting stuff, it’s a wonder that anyone bothers to leave at all. I would certainly be having second thoughts if I had to cancel anything else. The Japanese have an expression, “shou ga nai”, which means roughly “What can you do?”. You hear it about a million times each day. It’s not hard to see why.

First up was Vodafone, which, in an atypical burst of organisation, I attempted to cancel last month. I was giving the month’s notice that I expected to have to give and looked forward to a quick resolution at the local shop. Well, at least the meeting was over quickly. You can’t cancel your Vodafone contract for a future date in Japan, you have to do it on the day you want to stop using your phone. At that time it will take between one and two hours and you have to settle your bill in cash there and then. Shou ga nai. How naive of me to expect that I could pay my final bill by Visa the way I have for the last 2 years. How silly of me to expect that it would be as simple as the 2 minute phonecall I had with Vodafone in England a few years ago to do exactly the same thing. Not only does this mean that I can’t use my phone on the last day I’m here, it also means I have to sit around on my next to last day when I fully intend to be very hung over. Shou ga nai. Minus one Vodafone Japan, no wonder you were just sold to Softbank.

Next up, the bank. Every month on payday some of my salary is automatically sent home to England, partly to pay off loans and mostly so I can’t spend it here. For my final salary though, I’m going to be wanting to take all my money to Oz, so I had to cancel the automatic transfer. It seemed nice and simple. I was given a form to fill out and, with a little help from the staff, managed to complete it. Unfortunately, I’d left my hanko at home, which meant they couldn’t process it. Shou ga nai. You might remember my hanko as a ridiculously easy to forge rubber stamp which wasn’t good enough to retrieve my stolen second hand bike, but which is good enough to authorise me to withdraw all my money from the bank in one go. I offered a thumbprint, but no go, so it was off home to pick up the hanko and back again. Next problem, no bank book. Far from the casual reference to your current balance that it is at home, here you need a bank book to do lots of transactions. Fortunately, you don’t need it to withdraw money, so I hadn’t used it for over 2 years, but you can’t cancel a transfer without it, so it was back home to search for that and when I eventually found it, once more unto the bank I went. Shou ga nai.

Once more, there was a problem. Having updated the bank book, which took an ATM 10 minutes to do (there have been a lot of transactions in 2 years unrecorded), I strode to the counter, confident that all would now be well. The form had been completed in Japanese, which I was rather proud of, but unfortunately, when I’d opened the account, it had all been in English, so the details didn’t match. Shou ga nai. Another copy of the form to fill in. Back to the counter. An explanation that I’d filled in the wrong form – that one was for manual transfers, – this one for automatic transfers. Shou ga nai. Fill in the right form. Back to the counter. We gave you the wrong form, sorry, fill this one in please. A sigh and a small, knowing shake of the head that accepts all that I’ve come to expect of Japanese paperwork. A sad smile for the idiot in me that expected that this could be straightforward. This is the essence of “shou ga nai” right here. Final form filled in. I can remember the bank sort code and my account number without thinking. I can see the kanji for “bank account” and “remitter’s name” on the inside of my eyelids. Return to the counter with weary steps and a pleading expression. The coup de gras. Automatic transfers automatically expire after one year if you don’t put a limit on them. My last transfer was last month. This month no money will be sent. And, with a happy expression, the clerk told me not to worry and that I hadn’t needed to fill in any of these forms. Hours wasted. Shou ga nai.

Cancelling gas and electricity was just as much fun, with the added bonus of being over the telephone and the chance to hear me say “Could you repeat that please” a hundred times. They’re both done though. The good news is that you can order a cancellation for a future date – Vodafone, are you listening? The bad news is you have to settle the costs in cash on the day with the guy who comes to your house to cut you off. No debit cards, no credit cards. Shou ga nai. When I explained that I would be in Australia on the day of the cutoff they advised me to have it cut off the day before. When I explained I needed a shower on the day I was leaving, they said they could see my problem. They couldn’t see an answer though. The solution, leave enough cash to cover the final bill with my neighbour. Couldn’t I just pay by Visa? You know the answer. How much would the final bill be? We don’t know. About How much? We don’t know. Could you guess? If we guess, it might be wrong. I could probably look at the bills I already have to figure it out for myself though. And if I leave too much, or not enough? Well, shou ga nai.

Japan, I salute you.