When I first came to Japan about 10 years ago, I had a lot of time on my hands and took to learning the local tongue using a book titled “Japanese for Busy People 1 .”
The first two Chinese characters it taught after the numbers and days of the week were 会 and 社, or kaisha (company), a clear forewarning of the importance society places on an institution that many of the hoi polloi have to been seen to prioritize over family, friends and other pursuits.
The glossy exterior of this incorporated mentality is most evident at the nation's retail outlets, especially at chain supermarkets and convenience stores.
I've been picking up bottles of water and snacks from the same chain store in Otemachi every morning for the past three years. The same young woman has been working there the entire time. Yet, every time we seem to do battle.
With a big smile, she insists on putting my Kit-Kat into a plastic bag. With the same growl, I insist that I do not require her putting my fun-sized treat into a receptacle I will promptly dispose of.
Victory in our daily skirmish hinges on a number of factors. If I've had a good night's sleep, I can get in a pre-emptive strike by requesting a bag-free purchase even before I've put my munchies on the counter. She admits defeat by giving me one more regimented "Arigatou gozaimasu" (Thank you very much) than permitted in the AM-PM service manual
The big events, however, are when we are both on our game and unwilling to submit any ground to gain the upper hand. Her favoured tactic is to completely ignore my request and pretend to be swimming in her thoughts. I counter this with a strategic argument (taking the eco-warrior approach) of "I don't need a bag. It's not good for the environment." These contests can continue for a full 10 seconds or so, before she smugly withdraws the bag knowing she's made me earn my lack of plastic.
Having lived in Japan for about 10 years in total, I find that rather than using the greetings taught me in "Japanese for Busy People 1" such as "Konnichiwa" (Hello) or weather-based chit-chat, the words I use the most are "kono mama de ii desu" (It's fine as it is," "fukuro ga iranai" (I don't need a bag) and "kekko desu" (I'm alright, thanks).
I wonder if the publishers of this textbook have ever thought about altering their opening chapter. I would be happy to provide the explanation. But I'd also appreciate it if someone could tell me why everything has to be bagged in the first place.