Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Small Adventure #40

This is going to take a bit to set up.
In Japan, department stores often have a food court or grocery store in the basement or first floor, and then things like men's clothes, the women's department, a bookstore, shoes, kitchenware and a video arcade on the other floors. One typical department store chain here in Kagoshima is Daiei. There's one Daiei across the street from Amuplaza.

About 6-9 months ago, Daiei underwent a major remodeling, which included adding 6 self-checkout machines alongside the regular cash registers in the grocery section in the basement. Generally, there are a LOT of people shopping in there and that results in really long lines, even when the store has all of the regular registers manned, and the shopping carts can have 30-40 items each. So, the self-checkout machines are becoming more popular now for people that are only buying a handful of things.

Additionally, Daiei started charging 5 yen (4 cents US) per plastic bag as part of an eco-campaign to reduce plastic waste and encourage customers to bring their own bags (referred to as "my-bags"). So, when you use the self-checkout machine, it asks if you want plastic or are using a "my bag". This will all become relevant soon. Daiei also encourages customers to use their points card, which is kind of a pain if you're busy trying to juggle everything else at the same time...

Ok, the reason I mention all this is that self-checkout is still pretty rare in Kagoshima, and Daiei's grocery department is the only place I've run into it here. Most people that do use it will have problems, so there's one checkout guy that stands near the machines during his entire shift just to assist customers when they need it (which is usually about every 2-3 minutes).

So. On Monday I need to go to Daiei to buy 2 large cartons of soy milk. The Shiroyama store, which is closer to me, has them, but they're 280 yen each plus tax, while they cost 225 yen at Daiei. Since I have a lot of free time on my hands sometimes, I consider walking the extra three blocks up to the train station to be worth the money savings. I get to Daiei, go down to the basement, grab the soy milk, and head for the registers. The regular lines are backed up 2-3 people deep each, all with full shopping carts, so I veer over to the self-checkout machines. Of the 6 machines, one's open. I have my backpack, so I plan to use that as a "my bag".

At the machine I press the start button, pull out the points card from my wallet, put it in the machine, and get an error message. The clerk trots over to tell me that I have to insert the card mag strip up, which works this time. I select "my bag" and I'm then prompted to scan the bar code on the first merchandise item and place it on the left hand tray so the weight tells the machine that I set it in the "my bag". I press the button for next item, scan the second carton of soy milk, then press the button for check-out, and another for cash payment. I slide a 1,000 yen note ($8 USD) and 2 yen coins into the machine and press accept to get 510 yen back in change. The machine tells me to take the coupon it printed up, the receipt, and the my-bag.

It's taken me no more than 2 minutes to get to this point, and there's now 4 more people waiting to use the machines behind me. No one else at the other machines has finished yet. I grab the receipt, coupon, points card and cartons of soy milk, and head over to a table where other people are pulling food from their baskets and putting it in their carry bags. I set my backpack down to put the soy milk cartons inside it. Then I go over to Amupla to visit Kaldi, get some free sample coffee and decide if I'm going to buy a snack before having dinner.

Eventually, I go back out to the main street and head in the direction of Book Off. I couldn't find anything I wanted to eat in Kaldi, and as I'm getting close to a 7-11 I figure I might as well get a cup of hot coffee for 150 yen, and an ice cream bar for another 100 yen. I go to the cashier and reach into my pocket to pay for everything with change. Thing is, I don't have much change in my pocket and I was sure I still had that large 500 yen coin that I could have used. Slowly it dawns on me that I never took my 510 yen change from the self-checkout machine.

It's been close to an hour since I left Daiei, and I'm now half a mile away. I debate going back because the odds that my change had been turned in are very low, and I'm not sure if there's much point adding 10 minutes to my walk returning to Daiei before just turning around and going back home again. On the other hand, my desire to get the soy milk from Daiei came from wanting to save close to 100 yen (including tax) over getting it from Shiroyama, and now I'm out 510 yen after having screwed up. I could write this off as a learning experience and use it to be more careful in grabbing my change from the machines in the future. Then again, this was my chance to test Japan's reputation for honesty, and either way I'd have something to write about for the blog.

In the end, I voted for going back to Daiei. As I go back down the escalator to the basement, I'm fishing the receipt out of my backpack. I reach the clerk near the machines and he doesn't immediately recognize me. I show him the receipt and say "Otsuri ga wasureta" (I forgot my change). He takes a glance at the receipt, immediately brightens up, replies "arimasu, yo" (it's here) and grabs the 510 yen from a small plate sitting on his podium. He returns my change to me without question, and I'm thanking him profusely as I turn to go back outside.

So, yeah, Japan has upheld its reputation for honesty yet one more time.

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