I mentioned before that this story best exemplified Japanese politeness for me. Well, until last weekend! Last Saturday our friend from the USA told us a story of his colleague, let's call him John, who recently spent a couple of months in Japan. After first few days in Japan, John was fed up with rice and fish. And, like many Americans, he was unable to live without pizza. Since pizza delivery service is also very well developed in Tokyo area, John picked up a phone and order a large double cheese double pepperoni. The pizza was on his table very quickly. He was really proud of himself and surprised how easy it was to order a pizza in Japan. He noticed of course that the pizza people had apparently some problems with English, since instead of large double cheese double pepperoni he got small broccoli pizza. However, he really enjoyed eating real food and did not even think about complaining. After all, like any American, except maybe for a former president, he also liked broccoli. Soon he ordered a pizza again. And routinely for the next couple of months, twice a week on average, John called the same pizza delivery service and 20 minutes later enjoyed his favored food.
Summer vacation was almost over and John was scheduled to leave for the USA in a few days. He invited his Japanese host, let's call him Mr. Yamada, for a couple of beers to his Japanese apartment. He told Mr. Yamada about his great satisfaction with the pizza delivery service. He also mentioned, by the way, that the first delivery not quite matched his order, but that was not a problem at all. He was leaving in a few days and he would enjoy his large double cheese double pepperoni back in the USA. For Mr. Yamada, on the other hand, it was not such a trivial problem. Pride of the whole Nation was in his hands at that moment. John's complained about messed up pizza order, although it was not really a complain at all, sounded for Mr. Yamada almost like an accusation of unfair trade practices, which only the World Trade Organization could solve. He asked John for the telephone number, which John used to dial to order a pizza, and decided to fully satisfy his American collaborator's desire for a large double cheese double pepperoni or maybe even triple cheese triple pepperoni on the verge of his departure from Japan.
Soon after Mr. Yamada started placing his order, John noticed that something went wrong. Mr. Yamada was begging forgiveness from the guy at the other end of the wire by repetitively bowing at the telephone and saying "sumimasen". After the call was finished Mr. Yamada exploded in laughs. Soon everything was clear for John. The telephone number John used to call to order his pizza was actually somebody's (let's call him Mr. Sato) home telephone number. Mr. Sato could not speak English (and John could not speak Japanese), so from their first telephone conversation at the beginning of John's visit to Japan Mr. Sato only understood one word "pizza" and somehow John's address. Mr. Sato could not leave a pizza-hungry foreigner without help, and certainly explaining the problem was out of question. Mr. Sato chose the only logical solution in his situation. He found a telephone number to a local pizza delivery service and ordered a pizza for John. When John placed the second pizza order few days later, Mr. Sato was a little bit surprised, but he quickly got used to John's phone calls. Their subsequent conversations were very short. Acctually Mr. Sato did not even had to listen to John in order to forward his order. After all John was his only customer. John could order anything, provided it was a small broccoli pizza.
Zygmunt J. Jakubek
September 22, 1996, Wako, Japan.