Friday, July 16, 2010

Flashback Friday: Yen-less in Japan

I don't have access to my photos from Japan, so just imagine one of me inside Kyoto Eki, the massive train station in Kyoto:


I arrived in Kyoto (with a study abroad group from the BYU) in May 2000, right smack in the middle of Golden Week, a holiday in Japan. All the banks were closed, which meant I couldn't get any money from my planned access point of an ATM (looking back, it seems like the ATMs should have been open even if the banks weren't, but the fact is that I did not have access to money so either they were shut down, or I was too clueless to figure it out. I consider both scenarios to be possible). That first week, before we moved in with our host families, I survived on the Nutri-grain bars and beef jerky I had brought along with me in my suitcase, and the occasional cheap bowl of rice with sauce at a restaurant. They were lean times.

There was one other time I had trouble with money. I lived with a host family in the Nishikyogoku area and took a bus, train, and then walked to class every day in the Fushimi area. I did the reverse on the way home. It cost several dollars each way - maybe as many as six or seven, I can't quite remember. For most of my time in Kyoto, I paid for each leg of transportation as it came. It wasn't until the end that I got a JR pass that was good for lots of trains and buses at once.

When I was paying for it piecemeal, every once in a while I came a little too close to not having enough money to make it. There was one morning on the bus when it was time to get off and I was still scraping together coins from every corner of my backpack to make the fare. I still consider myself very lucky that I managed to find enough.

But the bus had only gotten me as far as the train station. I still had to pay for the train ride to get to class, and I didn't have nearly enough money for a ticket. No matter - there was an ATM right by the train station so I would just withdraw some cash and that was that!

Except the ATM was closed until 10am! Who even does that? What is with these Japanese ATMs? Weird. Class started at 9am so I couldn't really wait, at least not if I wanted to get there in time. What to do...

First I approached authority. I went into the train station to the ticket booth and showed the lady working there how much money I had. I asked if I could, just this once, get a ticket for less. I rode the same train every morning at the same time, so she probably recognized me. But my request was too much for her principles (I don't blame her) and she refused.

Next, I asked someone else in line if they would give me the money. I can't even believe I did this. So shameless. Maybe the fact that I was asking in Japanese distanced me from the social awkwardness. The guy I asked gave me a weird look and just ignored me. That was even more embarrassing than asking in the first place. I didn't try that again, and instead just waited outside the ATM for it to open. When it did, I grabbed my cash and took the first train I could to class.

I never ran out of money again that summer, though there was that time I ended up alone in Tokyo. And it only took me twice to learn my lesson. Well done.


Jeremy Palmer said...

So this is where Magdalena gets her survivor skill genes from?

JosephJ said...

I don't routinely take public transportation, and when I do (these days) I can always get tickets with a credit card.

What I HAVE been worried about before is the tollbooths speckled across New England, before we signed up with EZPass, that is. When we first moved here, not being accustomed to tolls, we always had to remind ourselves "do we have toll money?" Because really, who carries cash anymore these days? There have been many times when we counted through nickels and dimes to get up to the $3 or whatever to travel on a "Civil Engineering Historical Landmark."

Liz Johnson said...

Bridget, if I am ever on The Amazing Race, I want you on my team. Your yen-begging skillz would immensely work to our advantage.

There are all sorts of things that I look back on and think, "I can't believe I did that." But sometimes life just forces you into weird positions, you know? Kudos, man.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Great survivor story.

I was once Austrian shilling-less in Bratislava Slovakia and somehow came up w/ a few to pay my baggage fare on a bus going from Brat to Vienna. Odd that they charged in Austrian money--why would I have Austrian $$ when I hadn't even got there yet? It was after hours so the exchange place was closed so maybe I bummed it off someone==can't remember.

Susanne said...

It always works on the Amazing Race when Americans ask for money. Maybe it's because there are cameras so they know their generosity (or lack of) will be broadcast to all who watch such shows.

Too bad the Japanese were not more generous to a needy foreigner in their land.


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