Nearing the end of a very long day, the last thing the senior naval officer desired was to lose a valuable piece of government property. Although not a significant threat to national security in the western Pacific, the resultant paperwork alone would ruin anyone’s day, or week for that matter.
The day had begun very early in Yokosuka, mustering a houseful of visitors and one heartsick teenager. The former were due to join the senior officer and his spouse on board the Fleet Flagship for a friends and family day cruise to Tokyo. The latter would be bidding adieu and mata ne to his high school sweetheart as she departed the area for college in the Philippines.
While not without its challenges and a few bumps (in the day, not the sea), the senior officer reached the end of his official day following an expansive reception on the deck of the Flagship. After a brief caffeinated decompression interlude, he climbed out of his white uniform, donned casual attire, then stuffed some spare clothing into an aviator’s helmet bag and packed up his laptop and camera bags. Shortly he crossed the ship’s quarterdeck with “permission to go ashore” to join the aforementioned visitors at a Tokyo hotel.
Although the hour was relatively late, he fortuitously scored a cab shortly after crossing the ship’s brow. Twenty minutes later he paid the driver and alighted from the taxi with a cheerful, “Arigato gozaimasu.” Since tipping doesn’t happen in Japan, those words would be the driver’s only token of the senior officer’s appreciation.
No sooner had the cab pulled away from the hotel than the senior officer realized that his brand new U.S. Government issued Blackberry had disappeared from his belt. Finding no BB remains on the pavement, this incredibly brilliant officer quickly reasoned that said instrument must have detached from his belt at or near the time that he egressed said taxicab, which event he did not notice since he was so encumbered with helmet bag, laptop case, and camera bag.
Being operationally minded the senior officer immediately engaged the hotel concierge. “Sumimasen. Gomen nasai. I hope you can help me. I just left a Blackberry in a cab.”
With an efficiency and alacrity that many USN watch standers could emulate, the nihonjin immediately sprang into action. “Did you get a receipt?” he asked in very cogent English. Fortunately the officer had not already chucked that little piece of paper into a trash can. Public trash cans essentially disappeared in Japan after the 1995 sarin attack. (Yet Tokyo is cleaner than most American cities.)
The concierge accepted the little piece of paper and dialed the cab company. The officer listened intently to the Japanese conversation hoping to catch an encouraging word. It came toward the end: “Yuroshiku”, which means something like “be kind to me.”
On hanging up, the concierge advised that the company dispatcher would contact the cab driver and have him look for the BB. In the meantime, the guest could relax in his room. The concierge would call as soon as he got any news. With a deeper than usual bow and more enthusiastic than usual “arigato gozaimasu” the officer went up to his room and waited. He didn’t wait long.
The following brief conversations occurred about ten minutes apart:
“Thank you for waiting. The cab driver can find your Blackberry and after ten minutes will bring it here. I will call you back.” Then,
“Thank you for waiting. I will bring your Blackberry to you.”
A knock on the door two minutes later produced the precious government property, once again reunited with its chagrined yet grateful caretaker.
Such is the level of customer service you get in Japan. Offering either the concierge or the cab driver any remuneration or gratuity at all would have insulted them.
You don’t pay for courtesy in Japan. The Japanese are honored to render it gratis, and the more difficult the job the higher the honor.