July 14, 2006

# 105

I'm typing this in the heat of the climate as well as the moment. I foresee the need to alter the content that I am about to write for when I'm a fraction calmer.

HERE is my main issue with "The Japanese Way": individual members within the Japanese society are not geared to question why something is done, and it defies all manner of logic as I see it. If a person is asked to do something, his / her instinct guides that person into the frame of mind required to get the task done. And I don't have a problem with this particular component of the mental vs physical transaction. The person enters an agreement with the understanding that by doing the act, the act itself contributes to the overall balance of Japanese society, which in turn keeps productivity up, dissatisfaction in the utopia shaped by imagination low, and the country, as a whole, steering itself along the monorailed path to success.

MY problem with that is that I'm not Japanese. I am a member of Japanese society, and I have done my best to live (and die) the way of the katana, but I have at least a multitude of facets that constitute the person that I am. These facets differentiate my physical, emotional and spiritual being from that of, say, for sake of argument, a Japanese being who is not me. And one of these facets is the presence of alarm bells, which may or may not be housed in a figurative realm, and which go off occasionally thanks to a defence mechanism that created itself out of personal experience, sheer brilliance in deduction of any set of circumstances requiring next no fuck-all intelligence, and having lived in Australia for the better part of my life; I'm self-trained in sniffing a rat, a dodgy situation and, above all, when truth is twisted to a figure beyond what I'd term acceptible proportions.

TO set the scene of my latest beef with the way of the samurai, let me state for the record that I've never been what you'd call "a fan" of the concept called taxation (aka tax). Yes, I'm not different to anyone else because I pay tax. Actually, I don't pay tax; it gets taken out of my pay each week (or each month as it is over here). This is not because I'm thrilled by the idea of being a conduit for social progress: 'build another hospital and be sure to get "Kaufman" somewhere in its name'; 'my country urgently needs more weapons to defend itself from imaginary enemies, well fuck, why not deduct thrice the amount from what I earn if it will dent the amount you need?' That kind of shit.

SO there we were a week ago, sitting at a table barely rising to our knees, when my boss says via my makeshift interpreter, 'You must pay this,' sliding a piece of blue paper no less than ten centimetres across my way. When asked to explain what that bit of blue paper with the alarm bell figure of 85,000 Yen in extra bold ink was for, he skimmed over the infomation with his bespectacled peepers and said, again via the interpreter, 'Some kind of tax'.

I'M the first to admit that I'll inflate my chest to full capacity whenever I hear someone utter the word "must". I get fucked-off beyond u-turn when that word is joined by other words, primarily the words "you" and "pay".

STANDARD questions followed: when's it due; what time frame are we talking about?; why would tax of any kind, let alone of a kind that you can't explain to me specifically, be that high?; why was this bit of paper sent to you and not directly to me?; what the fuck, man?

WHAT he could tell me, following a more thorough skimming of the small bit of blue paper, was that it was a tax for the prefecture (or state) I live in, that it 'must be paid' within nine days and that he didn't know much more. He suggested running the issue by another employee of the place I work for, a guy with a bigger repertoire in the English version of vocabulary than the lovely, but struggling to stay afloat, translator lady who had begun to evaporate. 'I'll contact him,' he said, 'and he'll contact you.'

JOB'S a good'n, I grinned, quoting a good mate.

SEVERAL silent days into the agreement, as the days till death's door trickled regardless of my imput in the matter, a cold sweat came over me. 'They're going to pay the bill,' thought I, the sweat jumped from my brow.

TODAY, the solution to my problem presented inself in a manner similar to how Gordon Gecko presented himself to Wall Street: seated beside me as I was about to head out for lunch, my boss materialised and pushed the same tiny bit of paper I had first learned to dread a week ago my way. He began talking in his native tongue at the exact moment I began thinking about how I could vacate the bulding and go to lunch without him noticing. I noticed that the paper was marked with an official inkan stamp, which meant that a transaction had occured. I politely asked him to wait as I got someone who could explain the error of his ways to me and maybe even how such a monumental fuck-up had occurred.

'HE paid this tax bill for you,' my fellow English teacher, who spent a few years abroad and who has been my right-hand-gal in all matters involving potential mutiny, confirmed to my utter disgust. 'He said you can pay the money back in a year or two; whichever works best for you.'

I spotted the flaw in the context of this verbal exchange right away. 'Does he accept the terms "not at all?",' I joked to silence. My intention, as opposed to paying the fucking thing, was to get out of the country and wipe my arse with the tax bill at 30,000 feet as a gesture of defiance.

'PARDON?' I enquired as the cold sweats returned.

TWENTY minutes later, once I had expressed my concern at the manner in which my boss had dealth with the situation, where he didn't consult me once or get the English capable co-worker to run my boss' good intentions by me, I was left with that deflated feeling I have come to associate with being a foreign cog in the Japanese mechanism.

I had been violated, left alone in a corner, knowing fully well that the paper pusher had pushed the paper, crossed the Ts and dotted the Is and that I was fucked with a paddle on a dry seabed. Yet the message coming from behind a smile ignorant of having transcended cultural boundaries of right and wrong was more about receiving gratitude for his tireless progress than having his platitudes shoved up his proverbial clacker.

'COULD you please ask him if he found out why I must pay this tax bill?' I enquired.

'HE doesn't know,' came the reply.

'AND yet that essential item of knowledge, lacking in the full and unquestionable assurance that this thing was legitimate, didn't cause him to stop, re-assess the situation and NOT FUCKING PAY THE CUNTING BILL?' I hinted.

THE apologetic bowing which followed, which gave me the impression that this bloke finally understood the point I had been making for nigh on a week, was like viewing part of a movie at the precise moment a giant fuck-off beetle flew into the film reel. As my nostrils seized the day, getting close to altering my physical presence into that of a mightily fucked-off beast with horns and wind instruments that retained their shape during powerfully wielded contact with human bone, I lied by saying that I didn't think he was at fault but that the cunts who sent the bill in the first place ought to have given more information, such as all the fucken things I had asked him to find out for me prior to acting without my approval.

MY boss gave the impression that he was relieved.

BY avoiding to look him directly in the eyes, I gave the impression that he was extremely fortunate to be alive at that precise moment in time. I'm not a violent person my any means, but when my hard-earned money is treated like paper, I see red people.

ANYHOO, I've had enough of this venting as my fingers are getting tired, my mind is in dire need of beer and my body is in dire need of sex. The latter will have to wait, but the former is a given.


Anonymous said...

Wow dude. This is so long.

Mob said...

I can't fathom a society so, what, I guess polite would be the word(?) that they wouldn't question something as basic as why someone wants all of their money....

Kaufman said...

Mob, let me assure you that this curios way is as constant as the earth turning.

I'm not going to let it be the final saga in this otherwise extraordinarily eye-opening time here as it saps the life from within.

Thanks for your comment.

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...


Looks like you and the Radar Boy are sharing common ground being made to feel like Swayze and Maccio; The Outsiders.

And i don't mean in a moody, romantic misunderstood soul kind of way.

More of a 'Don't question our way of undermining you and we won't question your lack of obedience' kind of thing.

Kaufman said...

Nail vs Head.

People around the globe pay through the teeth for the level of therapy required to prevent shit like this from escalating into a bloodbath.

See no evil, fear no retribution. I'm waiting for the invisible wraith powers to arrive.

Twelve days till departure.

silver-zengi said...

Wow. In my view, it seems cool that he would pay it for you...I'm guessing in order to try and help you out. The whole problem is he had no idea wehaty the tax was for and I can totally understand how you would not want to pay that. Ouch!!! Def a delicate situation and I hope it works out.

Kaufman said...

S-Z: What you need to understand is that the act of paying the bill on my behalf wasn't done out of kindness but out of necessity. When I questioned the validity of the bill, whereby I alluded to the absurdity of paying tax which, as it turns out, is for the NEXT FINANCIAL YEAR (ie not because I've lived in the state for the past year, but for the next year, while I'm living in Australia), it threw a spanner into the works. This meant that my boss was left with a blank canvas of how to handle the situation. And that's not something that Japanese people are comfortable with.

Japan is notorious for its love affair with bureaucracy; the system itself is as old as the hills, whereby two chiefs control the roost at the top. They each have two subordinates, who each have two subordinates and so forth. Whenever there's an unexpected snag, where the person in line cannot consult their manual on how to deal with the situation, there aren't alternative avenues to explore in the hope resolving an issue. Everyone has been taught to abide by the (archaic) system, and they do; religiously.

My disappointment doesn't stem from that, as I'm more than aware of the guidelines; my boss stipulated a method of resolving the issue and then deviated from that by making a judgement call that will affect me more than anyone else.

It's like arriving to work to find you have a loan that you never wanted. And that shits me.

Thanks for your thoughts. :)