Customer Service and School Dumpster Diving

I know it’s been quite a while since I wrote last but I have a (not so) quick story today since this literally just happened to me and I am still in a bit of disbelief.

So everyone’s heard of Japan’s legendary customer service, how the customer is god and employees will bend over backwards to improve your shopping experience. Everyone shouts “Irasshaimase!” when you enter and thanks you profusely for buying even the smallest thing. So far I’ve found this really helpful at best, and at worst mildly overwhelming, but today just blew me away.

This morning I went to the post office to send a package to a friend in the US. Communicating was a bit of a struggle, and I had a feeling the woman who was helping me didn’t quite know what she was doing, since at one point she told me I could leave and I pointed out that I hadn’t given her an address yet. So it’s no surprise that over the course of the interaction we misunderstood each other several times. She wrapped the fragile gift in a sheet of plastic and was going to send it off when I stopped her and told her I wanted a box. I bought the box, we filled out the forms again, and she had me pay for shipping again. I thought the shipping price went up due to the dimensions of the box, but since it was still under $20 I didn’t really think too much about it. I really wanted to stay and see the package through to the very end of its wrapping and form-filling, but I had to get back to school and decided to leave it to fate.

I got back to school and went about my day. Met with a student for lunch, graded papers, etc. After lunch I gave the junior high students’ practical speaking tests and when I got back to the teachers’ room I was told to go down to the office, someone from the post office wanted to talk to me.

I figured there must be something wrong with my package and someone had called (actually, come to think of it I have no idea how they found my place of work….) but I went downstairs and the woman who had helped me earlier was there. We struggled through another conversation and I understood that she had charged me twice for the same shipping, and wanted to refund the first transaction. I said that sounded great, and she said she needed a receipt.

Normally this would have been fine, since I keep all of my receipts to record them in my budgeting spreadsheet. But I had entered them in as soon as I got back to school, and thrown them away right after. And naturally cleaning time had already happened, so the students collected the garbage. I tried to explain that I no longer had the receipts, and she looked panicked. I told her I didn’t care about the $3 and she said no, she couldn’t go back to work without the receipt, was there any way to find it?

We had a circular conversation in my broken Japanese for a few minutes, with me feeling worse and worse for this poor woman, who apparently could in no way resume her normal day until she returned with a receipt in hand, until I eventually asked one of the Japanese teachers for help. She basically repeated the same things I’d said, and when the woman kept asking if there was any way to find the receipt, we went up to see if by any chance the garbage hadn’t been thrown out. It was raining today and sometimes the boys who are in charge of taking out the garbage get lazy. We found a bag of trash and took a quick look, but didn’t see a receipt.

When we told her it wasn’t there she looked like she was on the verge of tears. We stood awkwardly in silence for a few minutes while she tried to figure out what to do. Eventually she gave me the $3 refund and a pack of tissues (businesses here hand them out as promotional items all the time) and said something about coming back tomorrow. The teacher and I then went upstairs and she suggested we check the garbage again.

We picked through the garbage by hand, piece by piece, until we somehow, miraculously found the receipt. The teacher called the post office and I took it down to the front office so the woman could come by and pick it up later.

The whole exchange has left me utterly confused. This is truly something that would NEVER happen in the US, and my American mind couldn’t find any way to make sense of how much time and effort was spent (on all sides) refunding $3. Japan is a strange and fascinating place.

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