I just finished reading “Straightjacket Society: An Insider’s Irreverent View of Bureaucratic Japan” by Masao Miyamoto, M.D. This best-selling book (when it was released in the 90’s) is an easy read and gives a good look into the inner workings of Japanese society. This amusing except is not taken from the book but written by Dr. Miyamoto. This scenario has happened to me at least once and I can only dream that one day my Japanese will be proficient enough to have a conversation as hilarious as Dr. Miyamoto and his waiter.

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The following incident took place at the Akasaka Prince Hotel. It was around 6 p.m. and I was waiting to meet a friend. He had asked me to wait for him at the bar on the top floor. Since I arrived early I sat at the counter. A waiter came and asked what I would like to drink. I noticed an open bottle of white wine in an ice-bucket behind the counter, and the following was our dialogue:

“I would like to have a glass of white wine.”
“I’m sorry but we can’t offer you white wine. ”
“Why can’t I have a glass of white wine?”
“It’s not on the drink list.”
“But I see an open bottle of white wine right over there.”
“I will bring you a wine list and you can choose a bottle from there.”
“But I only want a glass of wine.”
“I’m afraid you will have to order a bottle.”
“But all I want is a glass of wine.”
“. . .” (Silence)
“Why can’t I have a glass from the bottle which is already open?”
“I’m sorry, I will have to talk to my superior.”

After waiting for a couple of minutes, the waiter came back with a man in a tuxedo.
“Sir, I’m sorry but we do not offer wine by the glass in this bar.”
“If that’s the case, why is there an open bottle of white wine over there?”
He goes to the bartender, who whispers into his ear, then returns to me.
“That wine is used to make cocktails.”
“What kind of cocktails?”
“The cocktail is called Kir. We mix it with Cassis liqueur, sir.”
“I see. Okay, then give me a Kir without the Cassis.”

The floor manager thought about it for a second, with a slightly perplexed look on his face. “I’m sorry but we cannot do that.” “Why not?” His look of perplexity increased. “I will have to speak to the assistant manager of the hotel. Please excuse us.”

I waited for about five minutes, and a gray-haired man came. His first comment was, “We are trying to accommodate your request as much as possible, but up until now nobody has made this kind of request.” “Well, you should be happy that I’m setting a precedent for you. Charge me for the price of the cocktail, but just give me a glass of wine.” “You see, we’re happy to accommodate you with anything from the drink menu, but I regret to inform you that we don’t offer anything not on the menu. It’s our policy.”

“You just told me that your job is to accommodate guests’ requests as much as possible.” “Yes, sir.” “I don’t think I’m requesting anything outrageous. All I want is a glass of white wine, and there is an open bottle right in front of us. I don’t understand your inflexibility.”

“. . .” (Silence)
“You run a first-class hotel.”
“Thank you sir.”
“I believe that the first thing you learn in hotel management course is to try to accommodate guests’ needs.”
“You’re absolutely right sir.”
“So don’t you think that granting my request would be staying within the principle of good hotel management?”
“That is correct, sir.”
“So if I’m correct, why can’t you offer me a glass of white wine?”

The assistant manager, with a strained smile on his face, replied, “Okay, we will offer you a glass of white wine, but please understand that it will be only for today.”

I finally got what I wanted, but it took more than 15 minutes. This is just one example, but this kind of rigid behavior is rampant in Japanese society.  The problem lies with the bureaucrats, the architects of Japan, Inc., since they are not aware of their illness and they continue to educate, or to be more fashionable, to “mind control” the people. Once people are in a group setting, they become disciples of Japan, Inc. In the case of the incident at the Akasaka Prince Hotel, the assistant manager’s job, instead of accommodating customers’ needs, is to keep customers within the bounds of the existing rules and regulations.

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