Here’s a Tip: Don’t Tip in Japan

Tuesday was more of a relaxed day for sightseeing. I didn’t start until around 10:00 a.m. since, once again, I was up until around 4:00 a.m., and fell asleep at some point. I’ve documented the beautiful day and the gorgeous scenery in the pictures below, so allow me to tell you instead about my Denny’s experience in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

It was nearly packed with Tokyoites who were at the trail end of their partying or in-between the end of their evening job and the start time of the trains. There were several people sleeping, heads buried in folded arms, which didn’t seem to phase the food servers. A couple of old-timers were reading their newspapers while drinking their endless supply of coffee or tea. There was a group of what looked like high school students (about six boys and one girl) being very rambunctious in the smoking section (which is two-thirds of the restaurant, btw). And—now, here’s the clincher—two Japanese transvestites, who looked amazingly convincing in their get-ups but whose gender-bending plans were betrayed when they spoke with deep, clearly male voices as they paid their bill. (Yes, I was seated quite near the cashier stand…) And the amazing thing was, I quickly looked around to see if people were reacting to the androgynous pair, and they weren’t. I guess this phenomenon is either widely accepted or purposely ignored. Either way, the duo made for absolute hilarity at 3:00 a.m. in Chuo City (the other name for the Ginza district).

The Denny’s “Grand Menu” is most definitely developed to cater to the local crowd. Whereas only one page featured western-style cuisine (i.e. the obligatory hamburger, club sandwich, and French fries, to name a few), all other pages were replete with variations of ramen, bento, yakitori, and even (gulp!) sushi. Almost everything is offered as a setto (“set,” or what is commonly referred to as “combo” in the U.S.), which comes with miso soup and your choice of koohii (coffee) or koocha (black tea). I always opted for o-cha (Japanese green tea) for its flavor and cultural significance.

My server was a nice young lady whose nametag read “E. TOMONE” so I referred to her as Tomone-san during my conversations with her, which elicited smiles and courteous bows. She didn’t speak much English, so, combined with my broken Japanese, I’m surprised that she got my food order correct. Of course, it does help dramatically by having pictures on the menu that I could point to and simply state “Kore wa hoshiin desu ga.” (“I would like this please.”) I ordered some breaded chicken dish, which came with rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables. When I was finished, I asked Tomone-san for dezaato (“dessert”). She showed me the menu, and I opted for a bowl of green tea ice cream (which, sadly, actually sounded better than it tasted).

Now, I have to note that there is no tipping in Japan, which is an absolute adjustment for me since I am in the service industry. All pricing includes service and tax, and the service industry professionals in Japan would actually refuse to accept a tip. (I know, shocking!) Well, anyway, my Denny’s bill payment escapade proved this ever more so poignantly. My bill was for ¥1200 yen (approx. $9 USD), and I gave the cashier/server lady a ¥1000 yen note plus a ¥500 yen coin. Because the change was only the equivalent of $2.50 USD, I told her “Otsiru wa kekko desu.” (which means “keep the change”) and she all but short-circuited where she stood, with her mouth agape but slightly shyly smiling, a raised cupped right hand holding the three ¥100 yen coins, uttering “Ano…ano…” (“Uhm…uhm…”) while nervously looking at her co-worker on the other side of the counter. I tried my best to assure her, saying “Anata ni, sore wa desu. Saabisu ga, doumo arigatou gozaimashita.” (“That is for you. Thank you very much for your service.”)

This was when her co-worker came to assist her, asking her “Daijobu desu ka?” (“Are you alright?”) She babbled to him in Japanese that I couldn’t catch, but I’m certain it had something to do with me giving her a tip, and her asking him what she should do about it. I noticed nearby customers look up from their papers, or stop their talking, or temporarily awake from their nap, to look in my direction. The co-worker then took the coins, turned to me, bowed, apologized, and said in a strained English that the service charge is included, and that the tip is not necessary. For fear that I would cause a riot, I took the coins, put them in my pocket, again saying thank you, and bolted out the door.

Now, this was not the only exciting thing that happened to me today, but I must dedicate this blog entry to this alone in order to immortalize Japanese service culture. Ja mata ne!

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