Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Postal Confusions

Last night, my husband and I were talking about social security benefits and I remembered some postal mishaps we used to experience early in our stay in Japan. Coincidentally, Joseph at Tame Goes Wild also was experiencing a postal snafu so perhaps we're all on a postal wavelength these days.

When it comes to retirement, the situation for my husband and I is pretty murky. Both of us worked for a bit in the U.S. before coming to Japan and paid into the system and I know from experience that people who never worked are entitled to collect certain types of benefits. However, we're not taking getting any benefits for granted and are socking away our own savings for the future. How does this relate to the postal system? Well, we've pondered as of late whether becoming a permanent resident in Japan screws up one's ability to collect social security benefits back home and the fact that we had an experience which demonstrated that someone living in Japan can get American social security checks came to mind.

A long time ago, our local postal carrier seemed to think that anything with a foreign name on it was ours. In fact, there was a time when anything written with roman letters that was to be delivered in our immediate neighborhood ended up in our mailbox. There aren't that many people getting mail in our area written in English, but we were once delivered someone else's "MacConnection" order. (MacConnection is a portion of the mail order place, PCConnection.) This person, who was also an American as we later learned, lived on the same huge "block" as us and we trekked to his place and carried the package to his door. He wasn't home, so we left a note and the parcel outside his door. Later, he sent us a thank you message for doing what we did and noted that the fact that I left the message on Apple logo notepaper was reassuring as he knew we were "good people". Though what he said was nice, I will say that I don't think platform choice has anything to do with how good a person you are.

There were other small incidents where a few things which were addressed to people in the same building that we live in were left in our box and we just put them in the proper box. The only other time I recall when we had to hand deliver a misdelivered piece of mail was when a social security check from the U.S. was left in our box for a Japanese woman who had a Western last name at the end of her Japanese name as indicated on the check. Obviously, I won't give her real name, but I'll say that it was something like "Rie Saito Smith". Keep in mind that, at least in those days, the type of check that was in the envelope was written such that you could see it through the address window. In my work as a program worker in Pennsylvania, my "clients" (the crazy people I had to deal with in the halfway house) received social security disability checks and I knew very well what they looked like anyway. We didn't have to open it (and we didn't) to know it was a social security check.

This woman also lived on the same huge block that we do and we'd seen her name at the front of her building while taking walks together on occasion (this was before my back got too bad for such simple pleasures). We walked to her place and couldn't work out where her mailbox was so we rang the bell to give her the check. My CH tried to explain to her in simple Japanese that we'd gotten the check delivered to us by mistake, but she was very rude and suspicious of us. I can't recall whether she snatched the check from us and slammed the door in our faces, but she definitely treated us like we'd stolen the check from her mailbox and, for no logical reason, then decided to deliver it to her door rather than like we were trying to be good neighbors and do her a favor. The look on her face was an angry one and her attitude toward us was decidedly hostile.

I'm not sure what went through her head that day, but we decided that we would never go out of our way to deliver mail that ended up mistakenly in our box to a Japanese person outside of our apartment building again, and we definitely wouldn't be trying to help her again. I don't know what we would have done if her mail had shown up again because clearly tossing it in a public mailbox may have yielded the same result (it'd end up back in our box), but fortunately, we soon got a better mail carrier who could deliver to addresses properly even if they were written in roman characters.


Helen said...

I've had mail given to me that was for other foreigners too!

When I first came to Tsuruoka I used to receive my mail at work, and one Christmas I found a small box in the company's box. I think the mail carrier didn't bother to read the address as it was totally different from my school's! I turned it over to the manager and she took it to the post office for me.

Interestingly though, my own school's gas bill ended up at another apartment in the same building. It was returned to me opened, but stapled shut, with lots of bows and "Sumimasens". My school's address is 101 and the bill was given to apartment 110 so I guess it was understandable. It had my name on it in Romanji. I don't look too carefully at bills that are delivered to me, and I guess the original receiver didn't either.

Emsk said...

I found that the postman in Japan was perhaps a little too efficient, though in a very good way. I wrote to my friend and posted it from Kyushu to Kansai, which should take no longer than two days. I didn't know her surname, so I simple wrote 'Yuko sama' on the envelope with a cartoon f her wearing a crown and posted it. After a week it hadn't arrived. Yuko even called the post office in Takatsuki, but it didn't turn up. It did, however, come abck to me. It seems that the postman in Japan won't take the risk even though the address and postcode is right and there's pictorial proof of who the addressee is. In the UK friends often don't know their friends' surnames, so I end up posting letters addressed to people like 'Curly Kate' etc. I had to resend it addressed properly.

Frustrating though this was, when a package was returned to me from Italy I appreciated Japan Post's efficiency. Although I had addressed this letter perfectly, learning from the Yuko experience, it came back with a note on it saying that it hadn't been claimed. But Post Italia hadn't even told my friend that they tried to deliver a package! And she's witnessed them just flinging post in the general direction of letter boxes. When she asked them about it they seemed quite proud and scoffed when she told them she was from the UK (where people do things properly, apparently, 'cos we're so uptight, ha ha!).

Amazing that the lady you were trying to help just assumed you'd nicked her letter though.That would've been my one and only time helping her too.

Orchid64 said...

First, thanks to both of you for commenting. :-)

Helen: The thing you mention about the bill got me wondering. I also do not pay attention to the bills much. I just take them out and pay them. It's conceivable that I could just open the envelope, take out someone else's bill, and pay it! I'm going to keep an eye open now for name and address.

Emsk: I think the U.S. and Japanese postal services are both exceptional. In the States, it's rare to lose mail as it's a serious crime to tamper with the mail (or even put things in mailboxes unless you're an authorize carrier).

I think the delivery person back in those days was just being lazy because he felt he could be. I do wonder in retrospect if he ever gave our mail to someone else. As I've mentioned before, we used to run a mail order business (a small one) and one person claimed to have sent us cash and we never got it. He was from South America so I assume it never made it out of his country, but I wonder if it just ended up in someone else's mailbox. The letter purportedly contained $100 in cash. The guy who sent us the money was incensed and threatened to kill us for ripping him off, but we never saw the money.

Anyway, I've heard that a lot of postal services in other developed countries (including the U.K.) have serious issues that Japan (and America) do not. One of my former coworkers worked at a British post office in London during the holiday season and he said that people constantly stole items. The toilets were clogged with the discarded wrapping on packages that people took in there, opened up, stole the contents and tried to flush the evidence.

Emsk said...

How could I forget? I used to be a full-time postwoman. I can safely say, hand on heart, that we always did our best and respected people's post. The trouble is when there's a huge staff turnover when you may well get dishonest people. This puts the whole system in disrepute which is a great shame for the people who've given their careers to the service. Officially in the UK, once a letter is out of your hands and in the possession of the Royal Mail, it belongs to the Queen, so those egits were piching stuff from HM at the sorting office.

I also worked over Christmas for the Royal Mail where I was in the foreign mail department. The trouble with temporary workers is that there's a lot of scope for mis-sorting.

Funnily enough, I nearly got intoa lot of trouble once when I took some post home, simply because I couldn't find the address and was going in to work the next day anyway, so would have asked a more regular postman for advice. It's a long story - which I sholuld post actually, no pun intended - but I did have to prove that my intentions had been honourable.

The funny situation with my friend's letter did prove to me that my post was in good hands in Japan.

Orchid64 said...

Your comment and the fact that there are some people who take their responsibilities very seriously reminded me very much of Michael Palin's book "Hemingway's Chair." If you haven't read it, you might want to give it a try. Michael Palin is an excellent writer of fiction with wit and charm.