When I last left off, I had just covered the first day of our trip, spent merrily walking along the quiet streets of Kyoto at night. That night we retired to our ryokan and slept well, as we had a plan to wake up early the next morning and make it over to the Arashiyama area of Kyoto.
I’ll let you click the link above if you want to read more about Arashiyama, but basically it can be thought of as a pretty, nature filled area with mountains, a river, lots of temples (well, it’s Kyoto – everywhere is full of temples), cute little shops and a famous bridge located not too far from the center of Kyoto. You may also remember it from this road trip I took with my good buddy KC a few years ago wherein KC drove so fast she literally made it to Kyoto before the limited express train that started out at the same time. Ah, memories.
While people in Kyoto usually go to Arashiyama via train or bus, we decided to drive since, after all, we had a car. We thought we were being clever by waking up super early in order to arrive by 6:30 AM.
“Surely,” we thought, “we are guaranteed our pick of parking spots!”
Well, as it turns out, we were not the only bright souls with this idea and as we pulled up to the parking areas around Arashiyama station, we were dismayed to find a long line of similarly clever people. Oh Japan. You have a way of redefining the word “crowded.”
Fortunately, through persistence, innocent smiles and possibly a little seductive hair flip and eye lash batting on my end (ahem), we managed to snag one of the last few available parking spots. But was it ever a battle.
Nothing too exciting or dramatic occurred in Arashiyama, which I suppose is appropriate seeing as how we were walking around a pleasant tourist spot and not fighting wild bears in a cage or something. We saw some gorgeous autumn scenery, that famous (and perennially disappointing) bridge, brilliant blue skies and all that. In other words, an average, lovely Autumn day in Kyoto… But what happened after we finished up in Arashiyama, however, was not exactly average…
See, every month on payday I send a couple of hundred dollars home to pay my bills (mainly student loans). Since it takes about a week or so for the money to be successfully transferred, I try to do this as close to payday as possible. The day before we went to Arashiyama (i.e. the first day of our road trip) was my payday, so that meant that I should wire some money home before the weekend (when the banks and post office were shut).
In Japan, the easiest way to wire money abroad is to use the post office (which is also the nation’s largest banking service). Since I send money home every month, I am accustomed to the procedure, and even have all the necessary forms pre-printed and ready to go.
Anyway, we pull up to one of the larger post offices in downtown Kyoto, and while my friend waits outside in the car, I roll inside and walk up to the banking service counter.
“Hello. I’d like to send XXX amount of cash to America, please.” I smile pleasantly as I hand my ID, cash and forms over to the clerk.
“Certainly sir. Have a seat and I’ll call you when we finish.” She takes my stuff and motions me towards the seat.
I should add at this point that while I am intimately familiar with the procedure for wiring cash abroad from the post office, it’s still unusual enough of a procedure that many postal clerks have never done it, so they invariably consult this gigantic binder which spells out the procedure step by step for them. Things have gotten a little easier since I started using the pre-printed official forms (since all they really need to do is check my ID, count the cash, put the form in a machine and press a button) but still, it usually takes about 10 or 15 minutes for them to satisfy themselves that everything is good to go.
Anyway as I sit, I watch the young lady bury her face in the instruction binder, her brow furrowing in confusion. She waves over a man sitting at a desk behind her, and the two of them, faces serious with concentration, carefully study the binder and my form.
After a while, it seems like everything is good to go as they check off each item on my form, cross referencing it to the binder instructions and nodding as they find it filled to their satisfaction. Then they reach the last item – where the form asks (for reason that are beyond me, given that it’s printed in the section immediately above) me to write (by hand) my address and name. I have written my address and name as requested, but something is clearly perturbing them. Hesitantly, the man straightens up and calls me over.
I walk up to the counter. “Yes?”
“Well… we have a small question about your name…”
As he speaks I immediately spot the problem. See, the form calls for you to write your name in like three different places, and in one of them (the area where it is pre-printed) it is written (for some reason) in the order FIRST NAME – LAST NAME – MIDDLE NAME.
In the other areas I had written it in the same order, except for my signature, which naturally I signed FIRST NAME – MIDDLE NAME – LAST NAME.
In the photo identification I had given them, it says my name in the order LAST NAME – FIRST NAME – MIDDLE NAME. (It’s my Japanese driver’s license, so it’s not like I can change that).
In other words, they had before them my name written in three different orders. Now in America, this would not be a problem since we are familiar with the idea of middle names, and more importantly, really just don’t give that much of a damn when it comes to filling out forms. But in Japan, where people don’t have middle names and filling out a form is an activity often undertaken with a certain degree of anal-retentiveness, this was a pretty big discrepancy.
I carefully explain the situation (silently kicking myself for forgetting to mention this ahead of time), producing a couple of other pieces of identification to prove I am who I say I am, and they seem satisfied. Then, as I turn to sit back down, the man clears his throat:
“So ahh… this doesn’t have anything to do with North Korea, does it?”
“….” I am momentarily speechless. “Sorry, umm… what do you mean?”
“Well, this money, ahh, you’re not sending it to North Korea, are you?”
I think about this for a second.
“Well, umm… no, as you can see, it is clearly being wired to my bank account in America, is denominated in US dollars, and I’ve written the purpose is to pay my student loans here on this line, so…”
“Okay. But once you transfer this to America, you won’t transfer it again, correct?”
“Umm, I’m going to pay my student loans with it, but other than that…”
“So this has nothing to do with North Korea or terrorism?” He repeats the initial query.
“No sir, this has nothing to do with North Korea or terrorism.”
“Okay. Sorry, we had to ask, because as you know, these days terrorism and money laundering is a big problem in the world.”
“Yes, of course. I understand.”
I leave out the part about where I’m fairly certain Kim Jong Il’s nuclear program probably isn’t so hard up for cash that they need to solicit poor little me for a paltry $300 dollars.
Anyway, I was out of the post office soon after the results of my impromptu inquisition determined that I wasn’t secretly funneling money to terrorists (assuming that is, that if I was secretly supporting state-sponsored terrorism I would be honest enough to admit it if asked about it by a post office employee).
One final little misadventure befell us later that day. Still chuckling over the post office terrorism incident, we were decided to stop by the electronics store beside Kyoto Station to buy a camera tripod for later that night. The thing is, it was really, really confusing to try and figure out the complicated (and under construction) set of roads surrounding the station complex and we couldn’t for the life of us determine where the entrance to the electronics store parking lot (which was separate from the store itself) was. It didn’t help that its was the evening rush hour (plus all the normal tourist crowds) so the traffic was quite packed.
We finally spied what we thought was the entrance to the parking lot, and we started following it in until suddenly….
… we found ourselves trapped in a one lane road that led directly into a massive pool of white taxis waiting to pick people up in front of the station!
It’s quite difficult to describe exactly, but basically once you emerged out the other side of this one lane road you were stuck in this vast sea of hundreds (literally) of taxes lined up in rows, slowly advancing forward towards the station. Once you entered the pack you were trapped because dozens of taxis were streaming in behind you and you wouldn’t be able to escape or back out – you would have to wait in the massive pack until your turn came (which could take hours) and then you’d have to disappoint some poor weary traveler as you peel off without picking them up. Oh, and you’d have to endure all the jeers and humiliation that would come from being a painfully non-taxi car in the middle of a sea of hundreds of white identical model taxis.
As we realised our error, dozens of taxi drivers around us starting honking and yelling at us to get out of the way, but there was nothing we could do because we were trapped between taxis in a one way path. Of course, everyone around us at the station turned to see what all the ruckus was about and we just wanted to slink in our seats and die from embarrassment… (if you’ve never had about two hundred angry old japanese men in taxis simultaneously honking their horns and yelling at you… let me tell you, it’s an experience…)
Fortunately at the last second, a kindly traffic attendant – a person whose job I had, I must admit, previously looked somewhat down upon as superfluous (usually they just stand around on the side of a taxi stand and wave you to a waiting taxi. Since the taxi doors automatically open in Japan and the taxi drivers will load your luggage in the trunk by themselves, and it is painfully obvious which taxi you are supposed to get on as it’s standing by a taxi stand with its door open, I was never really sure what the point of these “attendants” was.) – suddenly jumped into action and saved the day, waving us to a hidden gate which he opened, magically spilling us back out into the regular flow of traffic on the outside street. Had it not been for this guy, we would have been trapped for hours – talk about a crisis narrowly averted! At any rate, I made up my mind never to dismiss the utility of such parking attendants from now on, because apparently they are there for a very, very important purpose (chiefly bailing out clueless drivers from a humiliating fate).
We did eventually make it to the parking lot more or less unscathed, and after that, back to the ryokan for dinner and sleep. We would need it though, because the next day would soon find me being struggling to avoid being off a balcony to a rocky cliffside death below, and confronted with the charred, contorted remains of a bird crudely impaled on a stick.
Now listening to: “Lange – Out Of The Sky (Kyau & Albert Mix)”