For the sake of a few coins at Narita

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - DE­NIS O’CON­NOR

ONa trip to Bei­jing for a week, I have to overnight in Tokyo on the way, so need to change some Aus­tralian cur­rency into Ja­panese yen. On the way back, again via Tokyo, I have about four hours at Narita air­port, so I de­cide to use up the re­main­ing Ja­panese money.

The ter­mi­nal is not busy and I take my time brows­ing the du­tyfree shops. I no­tice some bot­tles of sake rice wine that re­mind me of cer­tain ex­pe­ri­ences as a stu­dent. I haven’t seen sake since, which is prob­a­bly not a bad thing con­sid­er­ing its po­tency, but here it is, a truly Ja­panese me­mento, and it does carry some nos­tal­gia.

There is a bot­tle that seems to cost the equiv­a­lent of about $2 more than the Ja­panese notes and coins I have in my pocket. How­ever, you never know what those cop­pers and sil­vers could be worth, so I de­cide to ask the sole as­sis­tant at the counter in case I do have enough. It doesn’t mat­ter too much if I don’t as I have no­ticed there is an­other, cheaper bot­tle for which I def­i­nitely have enough cash.

The sales­woman looks pleas­ant and busi­nesslike. She’s not smil­ing as much as the Ja­panese women I’ve no­ticed at other shops but she seems ap­proach­able. I tell her I will prob­a­bly take the cheaper bot­tle of sake but could she check my change sit­u­a­tion in case I have enough for the more ex­pen­sive one. She frowns and pushes the coins around. Then she walks to an­other desk and pulls out a worn leather hand­bag and re­moves a wal­let.

She comes back, takes my coins and puts them in her wal­let, from which she then takes two notes and places them on the counter with the rest of my money. ‘‘Now you have enough for this one,’’ she says, pick­ing up the more ex­pen­sive bot­tle of sake and reach­ing for a plas­tic bag.

‘‘But that’s your money . . . the cheaper one will do me,’’ I protest.

‘‘No,’’ she replies firmly. She looks me in the eye. ‘‘This bot­tle is much bet­ter; the other . . . not so good.’’

I thank her. She shrugs and heads off to help an­other cus­tomer.

It isn’t much money at all, but as a mem­ory it will al­ways be worth a lot to me. I know I’ll en­joy the sake, too. RANT OR RAVE Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to our Fol­low the Reader col­umn. Pub­lished colum­nists will re­ceive a stylish and prac­ti­cal Cather­ine Manuell fam­ily-sized water­proof toi­letries satchel (sam­ple pat­tern pic­tured); fully lined with a hang­ing loop and handy in­ter­nal pock­ets. Val­ued at $45. More: (03) 9499 9844; cather­ine­manuellde­sign.com. Send your con­tri­bu­tion to: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au.

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