Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cold Water

Water fountain in Kobe Japan
Water, water everywhere

In my second year in Japan, I went through a period of what we might call "financial carelessness." I had lots I wanted to see and do, and lots of bills needing to be paid, and at an impasse as to how my income should be divided into each. The novelty of taking my bills down to the convenience store to pay in cash had also lost much of its intrigue. I wanted the power company just to yank it out of my account automatically like Softbank did, but I also liked having the option of paying it manually on payday when I had accidentally stretched my finances too thin the month before.

This was how I learned my lesson, courtesy of the Osaka Gas company.

It's no problem to skip a payment once and then pay it with a late fee the following month. They'll send out a little green bill so you'll know you're overdue. Cool. But how about when you have a stress-induced mental meltdown and are sick for weeks, and you let that overdue payment slip into a third month? Then they send you a paper letter. Well.

If I could have actually read the letter I'd likely have been better off. I could read the date, though, and knew "Ah - they're wanting that money, probably by this date. I'd better do that."

On the date specified (yes I should have done it before, long before) I went down to Family Mart and paid out the outstanding balance. Then I went home confident I was getting my act back together.

Japanese kitchen
Thank goodness I had an electric stove
The following day, I had no hot water.

I figured they hadn't received the payment yet. How long did conbini payments take to go through? I was a little embarrassed about doing something that I usually was super-cautious about in Japan. I had heard plenty of stories about foreigners who left the country without settling their bills because it was "too difficult" to deal with the red tape, and their acts had put new arrivals in a poor position. It can be difficult for a foreigner to rent an apartment or get a cell phone or certain types of Internet in Japan, thanks to this sort of bad reputation. I didn't want to be that person. Ashamed, I decided to hope they would turn the gas back on when they received the payment rather than asking for the help of one of my co-workers. I didn't trust myself to get through a phone conversation about it alone.

Of course, I spent the next two months without hot water.

This was not as terrible as it sounds. You may know that many kitchen sinks in Japan don't have a hot water hookup. Mine didn't - I washed all my dishes in cold water, with a dash of the kettle on occasion. The washing machine I own is cold-water only. Finally, it was summer when this happened, so the water in the pipes was lukewarm for my shower, and I went often to onsen and public baths. There was a bit of adventure in the whole thing.

Eventually, though, I had a guest coming, and I had to bite the bullet and ask one of my co-workers to call Osaka Gas for me and straighten this out. You should have seen her face when I told her I hadn't had hot water for two months. Needless to say, the conversation was absolutely mortifying. Learned my lesson on that one!