Field Theory by Hadyn Green


Philosophy and the Mobile Phone Shop

"People in this country don't want to be responsible for anything". It was a pretty bold statement, and while not entirely out of context, was still strange coming from the guy selling me a phone.

Kosaka was tall and deeply tanned with his dark hair spiked on top and long at the back, that many of the younger Japanese men wear. He was in his 20s and had learned a lot of his English while in Australia. It must have been a time he remembered fondly because he was happily chatting to us about it and asking if we had visited Sydney (we haven't) or Melbourne (we haven't).

As we were going through the paperwork to get a prepaid phone, he noted my signature before signing his name below. He spun the paper around and pointed to it.

"This is my signature" he said, I thought unnecessarily. "In Japan", he continued, "everybody signs with a stamp". He went on to describe how, when he arrived in Australia, officials at the bank had wondered why his signature looked so different to his other forms of ID. They ushered him in to the manager's office thinking he was a fraudster. He laughed and made a face of comic confusion, "I didn't know much English and didn't know why I was suddenly talking to the manager. But of course my signature looked different, I had never written it down."

Kosaka's story suddenly made sense of a lot of what we had encountered in our few days in Japan. For a nation of robots and talking vending machines and amazing high speed trains; Japan does much of it's work on paper. Official forms are made with triplicate copies, each one stamped. Our rail passes were stamped almost ten times each before being issued to us, including stamps for single numbers and one that said "New Zealand". This was after we handed over our exchange vouchers, filled out in triplicate.

Japan may consume the most stationery of any nation. With nearly every form written on, stamped, and then stapled to another piece of paper, officials tend to wear holsters for quick draws on their equipment. Bang bang bang! Here's your ticket.

This is where Kosaka believed the integrity of his country was at stake.

"Banks don't want to take written signatures. If someone comes in and signs for money and they give it to them, then you might come along later and say 'Hey, why did you give him money? Didn't you check his signature?' The banks don't want to be responsible so they only want you to use stamps so they can say 'Look it's the same'."

Kosaka looked off into the distance briefly, before tapping more of our information into his computer and continuing his train of thought.

"The samurai used stamps, so we should use stamps", his face showed he thought this was the craziest idea ever. "The samurai lived hundreds of years ago too."

He turned and handed us our phone which he had set in English, and gave us a wink. He spun my iPad around to face us; had given us free wifi in certain mobile phone stores. He conspiratorially told us to keep it to ourselves, before grinning and laughing again.

Hadyn would like to thank the awesome folks at the Asia:New Zealand Foundation for helping him get to Japan.

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