For the sake of a few coins at Narita
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: email@example.com.