Maintaining Your Cool In Stressful Situations in Japan

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Often times, one of the most noticeable qualities about Japan from foreign visitors is its high quality customer service. However, from my time spent in Japan I’ve noticed a blemish behind that squeaky clean appearance; once your money goes in, it’s not coming back.

What I mean is that it’s really difficult to get your money back when you grow dissatisfied with a service or feel wronged by whatever. I’m not saying that this is unique to just Japan and that every place in this country is like that. But it does seem like you have to jump through quite a few hoops just to get a few hundred yen back.

To be quite honest, take my generalizations about Japanese companies with a grain of salt, as I’m mostly writing this article in response to a head scratching incident with Peach Airlines that still has me steaming a few weeks after.

However, handling your cool is key if you ever do find yourself in a stressful situation while in Japan. It may not have the desired outcome, but you’ll be glad afterwards that you handled yourself well.

The Incident
A few weeks back I was returning to Hokkaido from a friend’s wedding in Okinawa. I decided to try out Peach Airlines as I was told that they have the cheapest prices. Maybe it was user error, but after purchasing my tickets, I soon realized that they do indeed have the cheapest tickets… if you are traveling directly to Kansai and no where else. If you’re making a connection, you might as well fly directly to your final destination on a different airline as the price will be comparable if not cheaper.

The other thing about it is when booking your travels via online, the site won’t automatically book your connections for you. You have to make two, three, etc separate purchases, which is why it adds up and a bit of a hassle when trying to line your connection times up. Likewise, if you have a normal sized luggage or any in flight food or drink, you’ll be paying for that as well. So again, if you’re doing a quick trip directly to Kansai, Peach is good. Anything outside of that, it’s a terrible airline.

Outside of that I understand that you have to be weary of those pitfalls. It’s not something that made me upset. I just had to be frugal and work within the system. However, upon my return, I had to spend the night in Kansai due to connection times not lining up correctly and this year’s largest typhoon. No big deal; Kansai is a cool place with lots to see.

The next day I wanted to get back a bit early for the sake of being back early and in fear of my flight being canceled due to the typhoon. I got to the airport in time for the earlier flight and was willing to pay a fee to change my flight as long as it wasn’t absurdly outrageous.

To my surprise they told me that it was possible and that it would only cost me an extra 500 yen ($5). “ばちり!” I said. Sign me up. We started to go through the changing process and the clerk asked me where I’d like to sit. I didn’t really care, just as long as I could get on the earlier flight. After all was said and done, I gave him my 500 yen and he started to tell me the details of my flight. All was conducted in Japanese.

At that point, I was a bit confused because he started to tell me the details of my original flight, not the new one. And that’s when it hit me! He thought I wanted to change my seat instead of changing my flight.

After I had explained to the guy that I wanted to change my flight, he told me that they were unable to change the flight. I said, “No problem. Can I get a refund on the 500 yen at least?”

And this is where the shit hit the fan. I was refused the refund. Obviously, I was pretty irritated by this response; I think anyone would be after a misunderstanding.

Initially I thought, oh well and was going to take it on the chin. But then I thought better of it and decided to work the guy into giving me a refund.

This was going no where real fast. After a while, I told him that I’m done talking to him in Japanese and that he needs to either speak to me in English or get someone more competent. He elected for the latter.

He brought someone out and we started to battle it out in English. She was just as staunch in her decision, and again, this was going no where fast. I explained to her that I could careless about 500 yen and I know that I’m not the best Japanese speaker but regardless of skill level, misunderstandings are bound to happen and that the proper course of action would be to return the seat and return the money to the original.

No logical reasoning was going to change the situation; it was set and I was going to lose 500 yen. I was just glad it wasn’t anything more than that. I concluded the argument with, “It’s pointless to push this any further. And for me to take any course of action beyond this would be ridiculous considering the amount of money involved. Therefore, all I can say is that you’ve lost one future customer over 500 yen.”

I was met with a, “申し訳ありません” (I’m / We’re terribly sorry). Gawd, how much I hate that phrase is unbelievable. And that was that.

What I learned
Being a foreigner in Japan (or any country for that matter), you’ll always be met with a certain amount of preconceived ideas or any sort of stereotypes. That’s just the way it is.

I’ll never be seen as a Japanese person no matter how much I learn or how good my Japanese becomes. Which is perfectly fine nor would I want to be seen as a Japanese person because that’s not who I am.

With that being said, if you spend enough time in Japan, you’ll become familiar enough with Japanese culture and the language to the point where you will be able to work it to your advantage while maintaining a foreigner appearance. This in my opinion is the greatest position you can be in.

In my situation, maybe someone who isn’t all that familiar with Japan may just take the loss and walk away, become overly boisterous and cause a scene, or may keep a cool head and try to reason with the clerks. I do believe the latter is the best course of action. With that being said, here are my tips to handling such a situation:

1. Keep a cool head. Don’t get too angry. If you begin shouting and make a scene, you’re just perpetuating stereotypes and you don’t want that.

2. Just because you’re a guest in a foreign country doesn’t mean you have to be docile and absorb any sort of confrontation. You are a paying customer and if you don’t like something, tell someone. You maybe told that it’s not the “Japanese-way” of doing something, but you’re also not Japanese.

3. Express that you’re angry and dissatisfied. Again, try to be cool and calm but also be stern.

4. At anytime you feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to ask if their is someone who speaks English or speaks a higher level of English. Again, you’re the customer; you’re paying; they need to be able to bend to your needs.

5. Understand that these people are following company procedure and that they’re just doing their jobs. They didn’t make the rules; they’re just following them. It can be hard to accept that someone can be so cold, but try to think about everything that’s going on.

6. Don’t be a dick. Understand where the boundaries are and decide if it’s worth it to pursue other courses of action.

More than likely, you won’t be able to get something returned to you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

I’d like to hear from you. If you’ve ever had a stressful situation being in a foreign country, what did you do and how did you handle the situation?

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