Japanese have long been dubbed the “economic animal.” Although for most of the post-bubble years, that animal has been a dead horse.
Yet in this digital age, it is not always money per se that motivates the typical Japanese consumer. No, rather than hard cash, most Japanese now go after something even harder: plastic cards.
For this is the age of e-money. Filthy lucre has evolved into clean plastic. It is still money, only more convenient — easier to carry and easier to spend, and thus easier to make disappear from your bank account.
It is the “easier to carry” bit that I am not so sure about. I know that some cards can be applied across various settings and that cell phones — in their pervasive madness — might also serve as e-money devices. And this thus lightens the card load to be hauled.
Yet, I find myself swamped with cards. And not just the e-money variety. Member cards, discount cards, hospital registration cards — my wallet has so many damned cards, it’s like a plastic tumor bulging from my back pocket.
The wallet is so overstuffed that one day, I fear I will flop down on an open seat on the train and won’t be able to rise again due to the weight — that the station guys will have to run get the “jaws of life” to pry my wallet from my backside to allow me to get up.
The upshot is this: No more cards for me. I dread them the way Darth Vader must dread using Wite-Out. I avoid them at all costs.
Although some store clerks are persistent . . .
“Thank you for your purchase! Do you carry our Super-Duper Discount Card?”
The girl smiles at me with googly eyes. In fact, she might be nothing but a bobblehead doll. She has that unsteady look.
“Shall I make you one? It will take but a second.”
The googly eyes blink. The bobbling stops.
“Sir, our Super-Duper Discount Card will allow you to receive 1 percent off any purchase of more than ¥50,000, plus make you eligible for occasional free merchandise, such as tissue packets.”
“No, thank you.”
Now she squints at me.
“Sir, are you aware that our Super-Duper Discount Card is available in three striking colors — pink, rose and carnation? And that it has been unanimously voted the most attractive card in the world by our board of directors?”
“No. But I’ll pass.”
“Sir . . .” I see her nails sink into the counter. I hear them snapping. “Today, and today only, I have been authorized to award every new applicant for our Super-Duper Discount Card a free, all-expenses-paid trip to our sister store across the street.”
“Sounds nice, but no.”
“I meant at the next station.”
“Two stations away.”
“Listen, I don’t want your card.”
At which point I catch from her a sort of tinkling sound, as if something crystal were breaking inside. Her eyes change from tea-bag brown to lab-rat pink.
“Sir, today, and today only, for all new applicants for our Super-Duper Discount Card, my fellow workers and I will form a conga line and dance around the shop while singing Disney tunes.”
“While singing any song you want. Anything but ‘Macarena’. “
Her face twitches.
“Sir, today, and today only, all new applicants for our Super-Duper Discount Card can walk off with any item in the shop, free of charge.”
“I said, no.”
“Including our staff.”
Now it is my turn to blink.
“What? The answer is no.”
She smiles. With her teeth set.
“Sir, today, and today only, for all new applicants for our Super-Duper Discount Card, we will invade and conquer the country of their choice and then rename it in their honor.”
“Can I have my purchase, please?”
“Canada, Australia . . . The Holy See.”
“Give me my purchase now or give me my money back.”
“Oh?” She picks up my purchase. “You mean this beautiful pair of handcrafted bamboo chopsticks?” She raises them before me and snaps them apart. The lab-rat eyes arch.
“Ah, life is unpredictable. Accidents happen. Fortunately, today, and today only, all applicants for our Super-Duper Discount Card receive free replacements for all recently damaged items.”
“You are a damaged item.”
“Will you take pink, rose or carnation?”
“I don’t want the chopsticks. Give me my money back.”
“We only give refunds to those who have Super-Duper Discount Cards.”
I try to storm out, but find the door is jammed.
“Customers can only exit if they have Super-Duper Discount Cards.”
No kidding. So, I join.
“About that country, I would sort of like to see Switzerland renamed Dillonia.”
“Too bad. That offer just expired.”
“No conga line?”
She checks her watch. “Nope. You are 5 seconds too late.”
At which point, I decide I had better get out.
Before that offer expires too.