About a month ago, I spent a whole day at Yodobashi Camera to buy electronic equipment for my office. It took almost six hours – plus 90 minutes on the bus – to buy: a new laptop, external monitor, keyboard, and mouse, a printer and a phone (actually two phones, one for the office, one for home, although I realize that at the moment this is the same). A number of assorted cables rounded off my purchases.

seiko alarm clockExcept for the laptop I could take everything home immediately. However, as the printer was rather bulky and together with the other stuff would have overwhelmed me, I agreed to have it delivered the next day – for a very small fee of only 500 YEN. As I had an appointment until 1 pm the next day, I arranged for delivery between 2 and 4 pm.

When I returned home the next day at about 1:30 pm I found, stuck to the door frame, a notice about a failed delivery. Apparently, it had been attempted at 12:17 or thereabouts, and now I was left with an assortment of phone numbers to call and ask for a second try.

I was furious – that was exactly what I wanted to avoid, making phone calls in Japanese. With the proper vocabulary written down on a cheat sheet, and with lots of helpless looks and hand waving gestures, I can more often than not manage to get my point across if the person thus addressed stands opposite me and can watch me struggle and maybe help me along. On the phone however, I am helpless. That’s because I cannot see the other person and repeat what he may not understand (and vice versa), and because, especially if you are phoning a company, they will use very formal Japanese which I can barely understand. In fact, a friend of mine who has been in Japan for five years and speaks very good Japanese agrees that making phone calls is very difficult and even he avoids it if possible.

Anyway, after examining the notice, I found a number on the bottom that promised English service – exactly what I needed! Of course, without internet and phone line, making said call from home was impossible, so I packed my laptop and went to the closest café with free wi-fi. When I entered the number into skype I received, instead of a reassuring ringing sound, a notice that this service was not available via skype. Probably because skype does not send the dial tones that may be needed for automated menus.

That could only mean one thing: Call the driver of the delivery van directly. After my panic had subsided and I had looked up a number of choice words that may or may not be needed, I took to skype again and made that phone call. After I explained that I don’t speak Japanese well – doing that very slowly helps – I tried to tell him that I want my package from Yodobashi delivered again. He did not even care for my explanations though. All he wanted was my name and address and he promised to come by again later. It was surprisingly easy.

I was very proud of myself when he indeed arrived about two hours later and brought my printer. I was too happy to even scold him for being too early the first time. However, a few days later, when I checked all my bills, I realized that the driver had done nothing wrong. Apparently the girl who took my data in the shop got the times wrong: Instead of a delivery time between 2 and 4, she had entered 12 to 14, an understandable mistake. Not that this made it less annoying, but in the future, I will know to double-check.