The post office trainee, 10 cents, and a towel of gratitude.
My local tiny post office (with only 1 cash register) is a place where I frequent multiple times a week since September. There are always 2-3 young clerks, wearing trainee tags, receiving on-the-job training everyday, helping out with customers, ringing transactions, listening and learning from their "senpai"s (superiors). One time when the young apprentice helped with my parcel posts, she charged them all as printed matters by mistake. As I found out, I returned to the post office where they have to dug out all the packages to triple-check the postage and made adjustments. As Japan's work culture is extremely hierarchical and customer-service focused, I remembered wondering if that trainee had a tough time afterwards.
2 months has since passed, I was at the post office again yesterday, and the same clerk assisted me. This time she no longer wears the trainee tag, instead she was teaching a new trainee on how to complete the transaction. 2 hours later, I was home when my phone rang. It was from the post office. The clerk called me to apologize for giving me the wrong amount of change, she gave me 10 yen less (= USD10 cents). It was 4:55pm and they were closing in 5 mins and tmr would be their holiday. So I said it is no big deal, I can pick up the 10yen when I visit next Monday. She insisted that it is NOT OK and she will deliver the 10yen to my home rightaway. I was thinking maybe they will send the mail delivery guy on the bike. 10 minutes later, this young lady was ringing my door bell. It was 3C outside, she was in her Post Officer uniform (grey dress suit) but without an outer coat. She handed me 10 yen, deeply apologized and gave me the towel of gratitude. (Around year-end, simple white towels are usually given out to business affiliates and customers as gifts). I shoved her packs of candies and she was a bit shocked. I said "I am grateful that everyone at the post office has been helping me so much this year (when COVID-time shipping was such a pain), please bring back the candies. And go quick, it's way too cold to be outside".
In 2020, we have all become like a trainee again. We may be business owners, students, teachers, officer workers, politicians, country leaders, medical workers... From learning to maintain a new lifestyle to developing tools to help solve our problems, we confront challenges, we make stupid mistakes, we tried, we got criticized, we failed, we are on trial again. Shouldn't we give ourselves a pat on the back as we wrap up this complicated year?
While learning to become better, on the way we learn to show gratitude and respect to each other. I am sure this young postal clerk would use this few minutes walking in the cold to return 10 yen to a customer as a reminder to grow and improve. So what's your learning this year?
2020 is a blink of an eye
In the few thousands of kilometers I traveled in the country this year, on the way, I received so much open-mindedness and assistance. The unconditional trust and support is mind-blowing.
In addition to the artisans, there are many many people relentlessly supported from behind the scene: Monta, Nakajima, Noriko, Sayaka, Yumiko, Makiko, Megumi, Takatori family...can't name you all....
And to YOU! Many of you have supported the new Goenne Shop, despite steamboat shipping situation, I have experienced exceptional patience and empathy. To us, this showed your true respect to slow-craft. My heartfelt thanks to all of you.
You are recognizing there are things in life that is worth slowing down and waiting for.
YOU are so connected.
Japan may seems very far, especially when resumption of travel is no where near. However, as a friend of Taketombo and Goenne.com, you are already connected to these artisans. We stay closely in communication with each and every one of our artisan friends. Often times, the dialogues I had with them involves answering:
" What do people think about my craft? "
" Can you tell me comments from people who read my story that you posted?"
Most artisans do not use any English media nor social media. And quite a few use only fax and phone to communicate. In the past months, your comments, inquiries, likes on social media are communicated back to the artisans. They are not seeking approval or positive reinforcements, but are desiring to hear more from the foreign culture which used to be disconnected from them, and curious how they can improve their work. So, keep your insights coming! I am the bridge here!
In 2021, our journey continues. More artisans stories and craft-works are already lined up. More new horizons to be opened. I hope you can stay with me in the next chapter.
We are ready. Are you ready?