Bureaucracy Unlimited

The following is a foaf tale, a friend-of-a-friend tale that didn’t happen to me, but rather to a friend’s mother. I am retelling it here because my friend is trustworthy, and because the story is a prime example of Japanese bureaucracy, which expects people not to think, but to do. The story goes as follows:

Franz Kafka, 1923My friend helped his mother move out from a rented apartment she had lived in for some 15 years. The apartment block belonged – or at least was managed – by the local university, and mostly university personnel were living there. The rent was cheap because it was an old building, but even so, the contract stated that when you moved out, you had to refurbish the apartment with new tatami, get the fusuma and shoji repaired if damaged, and give the whole thing a new coat of paint.

For a very special and exceptional reason (I’ll tell you in a moment) my friend’s mother asked to be exempt from the renovation of the apartment. However, the university housing office had none of that and insisted on new tatami. So, my friend took it upon himself to phone half the town’s tatami vendors to find the cheapest one and in the end the price was something around 70.000 YEN. My friend’s mother grudgingly paid, but at least she passed the final inspection and could leave in the knowledge of having made university administration happy a final time.

Now, what do you think was this special and exceptional reason that made my friend’s mother make the request in the first place? Obviously, the whole renovation was meant to give the next tenant a nice and clean place to move into. However, there would be no new tenant in that particular apartment. How they’d know? Well, the whole apartment complex was slated for demolition…

In fact, my friend’s mother was one of the last tenants to move out of the building. And it is very likely that all the other apartments had been renovated as well by their last occupants, just so that the construction workers could enjoy stripping nice and clean apartments of their nice and new tatami.

So far the story. Every time I hear of things like that I am reminded of my own experience with Japanese bureaucracy, especially about all the fun I had with the immigration office so far (and until I get permanent residency, it will not be over…) And then I think of a compatriot of mine and I want to tell these bureaucrats something like: Guys, it’s really nice that you’ve heard of Kafka. But, you  know, he wrote novels and not manuals…

One thought on “Bureaucracy Unlimited

  1. But they could take them out and use them somewhere else, right? Personally, I’d just have them pay a certain amount as compensation for not renovating… much less hassle for everyone and the money can be used for whatever…

    Did they also have to do the repainting and stuff that you mentioned? That would really be superfluous…