Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Getting Directions"

[2013] Back in 1997, it had just become normal for most people to have cell phones, but there were no "smart phones" (computer phones) with satellite navigation aids and detailed maps, so people were still looking for addresses in much the same way as they had for decades.  The following story about getting directions to a company I had an interview at was written after I had had around twelve years experience with getting weird directions to places (which is why I ended up wanting to write about it).  At the time I wrote it, I had no idea how radically navigation in Tokyo was about to change via technology.

Actually, even now, If you're looking for a company, etc. the old way - just with the address, it's still not very easy, due the way address numbers are arranged/assigned in the city, but even if you get lost the old-fashioned way, when you ask for directions, you run into technology soon enough!  I was looking for an address a few months back... walking down a side street looking at the addresses written on the buildings, when I passed two men standing in the street smoking.  I asked them if they knew where the building I was searching for was located, and - ignoring the building name - they asked for the address, which I showed them from a business card I had.  One of them input the address to his cell phone, a map popped up, and he said "It should be that building down there on the left".  I thanked them, and as I walked down the street, I thought "Hmmmm... maybe it's high time I got a computer phone myself..."

[1997] Addresses in Tokyo are difficult to understand even for Japanese, so companies think that foreigners can't possibly find somewhere with just the address.  The result is, instructions just like what I have below here, taken from a fax I recently got:

To: Lyle Saxon
Thank you very much for your calling.

Our company is located in Wakabadai.
It's on Keio Sagamihara Line.

There is a stair after you got out from the ticket gate.
Go down the stair.
You'll find public telephone on your left hand.
Go toward public telephone and turn left.
Go straight.  You'll find "Sanks" (convenience store).
Turn left and go straight.
You'll find big sign HITACHI top of the building on your right hand.
We are in 3F this building.

Dareka Desuyo

Now, my Japanese friends, don't be too angry with me for not correcting the mistakes, as I'm not putting this here to poke fun at the English, but to ask a couple of questions about this method of giving instructions.

The very fact that it's in any kind of English at all would be a real help for someone who just got here and doesn't know any Japanese, but even then, a copy of a detailed map (this was a fax after all), written in whatever language, would be a great help to anyone, whether or not they can read the names on the map.

In my case, I spent some time on the telephone with Ms. Dareka Desuyo (not her real name), speaking in Japanese, so it might even have occurred to her that I didn't need the kind of directions she gave me.  Besides, even someone who doesn't know any Japanese can compare a written character on a paper with what's in front of him/her and see if it matches or not.

But I think you would have to spend some time wandering around lost looking for a "big green building", or a "big sign HITACHI", to appreciate the frustration of getting directions like these....  In the old days, I would unfailingly get lost, and then call someone at the company and we'd have a conversation like this:

CP (company person): "Where are you now?"

Me (looking around): "Ahhhhh, I'm in front of a coffee shop."

CP: "What's it called?".

Me: "I can't read the sign..."

CP: "Can you see the big green building?"

Me: "I can see three big green buildings actually..."

CP: "What else can you see?"

Me: "There's a restaurant across the street with a red and white sign..."

CP: "...............?  Anyway, stay where you are, I'll come and look for you."

And they would always find me without too much trouble, because I was usually in the vicinity of the company, and the only visually different person in the area.  It's funny now to remember how helpless I felt sometimes, as now, when I'm lost, I just keep asking people around me until I find whatever it is I'm looking for.  Also, when I have an address, I can usually find it with the detailed map of Tokyo (sixty-eight pages!) that I always carry.

[2013] Reading this now, I remember the 1980's experiences that I was partly thinking about when I wrote the above in 1997, and it seems like ancient history to me now....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon