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How to Confuse the Japanese Service Industry

So this weekend I wandered over to Kaminarimon (Gate of Thunder and Lightning), near Asakusa. I was supposed to get together with a classmate at the station. As neither of us had been there in several years and couldn't think of a meeting place, we came up with a 'foolproof' plan: meet at Exit #1.

This plan failed pretty miserably. There are in fact two Asakusa stations, the normal subway station and one belonging to a private line. Needless to say, she arrived at one, and went to Exit #A1, while I went to the normal Exit #1. Never did catch up with her. If I thought about it again, I'd just suggest meeting up next to Kaminarimon. So much for my skill at planning.

The pictures from the trip should be on the site shortly, as well as those from my excursion to Harajuku. In the meantime, a small vignette. One of the entertaining things about Japan is that in almost all social situations, tipping is not required. Indeed, some will find it positively confusing, including those who take your order at coffee shops. (My custom is to tip the remainder of the dollar in change, unless that amount is so small as to be ridiculous.)

But as I was waiting outside of Asakusa Station yesterday, there was a very old lady hunkered down across the alley, surrounded by boxes, vials, bottles, and jars of shoe-polish. Since I'd not seen anywhere to get my shoes shined in Japan thus far, I figured that 500 yen was a steal.

And it was. For the next ten minutes this obaachan fiddled about with my shoes, muttering things that I'm pretty certain no native Japanese speaker would have understood. (I caught, "Ehh. Your feet are bigger than that last guy's.") Afterwards, my shoes looked newly-purchased, the leather cleaned and brushed. I was well impressed. (The only downside was that even at a tourist trap like Kaminarimon, passerby will stare at a gaijin doing something unusual. I'm not sure I like the image presented by a youngish American guy leaning over an aged Japanese woman as she shines his shoes.)

In the end, I really wanted to tip her: this was the single best shoe-shine I'd received on three continents. And for five-hundred yen, it was an absolute bargain. But my single effort at doing so yielded to a daunting, "That's not necessary." Which is a crying shame.

Anyway, pictures to come, if I can get the back-end to function.


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I'd have thought that after Detroit airport, you'd have become wary of trying to meet at public transportation centres.....
I'd have thought that after Detroit airport, you'd have become wary of trying to meet at public transportation centres.....
"I was well impressed" - wow, not sure I remember you using that construction even when you lived in England :-)

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