goddag yxskaft

When moving to Japan, I was used to almost never using cash. Many stores and other establishments in Sweden do not even accept cash – you need to pay with a credit card or more recently with your mobile phone. In that way, living in Japan feels like living in the days of my adolescence, when cash was king, when I had a little purse with coins and went to the ATM to withdraw money every so often. In Japan I always have emergency cash in my iPhone case since without cash it is hard to do many things. Like giving birth for example.

Our hospital is one of the bigger hospitals for childcare in Tokyo, and as such my presumption was, before going there for the first time, that if we would be able to pay with credit card or invoice somewhere in Japan it would be at this hospital. Imagine my surprise last autumn when we decided to give birth at this hospital and were informed that yes, credit card is ok, but we also need to pay at least 30 ten thousand yen in cash. Oh yes, compared to Sweden giving birth is quite expensive here. And oh yes, that is the way we count in Japan – in hundreds, in thousands and in ten thousands; instead of saying 300 thousand yen, we say 30 ten thousand yen.

japanese coins

Counting like this is mostly a complicating (and quite charming, like many aspects of the Japanese language and way of doing things) method of handling numbers, and counting money this way takes quite some time to get used to (after a few years I am finally getting there). Sometimes however, it can also simplify matters when wanting to convert a price in yen to the Swedish currency. The Swedish krona being weak, it is now possible to roughly translate 1 000 Swedish kronor to 10 000 Japanese yen. And so when I see an ad for a very small apartment that costs 5 880 ten thousand yen, it is like reading that the price is 5 880 thousand Swedish kronor (oh yes, apartments in Tokyo are also expensive).

That was a long aside – back to the cash. So, the hospital informed us that at the time of admission for giving birth, we would have to bring and pay 30 ten thousand yen in cash. During the long winter months I was pondering what could possibly be the reason for this. That they have a coin laundry machine at the hospital I can understand, but the need for all that cash… Enough to say I could not find any good explanation by myself, by talking to my wife or to our acquaintances. Finally, just before the Corona virus rules shut me out of entering the hospital and when my wife and I went to arrange with our admission paperwork, I mustered the courage to ask why they need 30 ten thousand yen in cash, why we cannot pay the whole thing with a credit card. The person at the counter looked up at me and said “because that is the rule”.

Yes I know that is the rule, that is kind of why I asked… In Swedish I would have used the expression “goddag yxskaft” (hello ax shaft) about this kind of circle argument, an expression originating from a folk story about a deaf man, manufacturing ax shafts, whose answers to a bypasser’s questions did not make sense at all. Now my focus of research and rumination this coming week is whether such an expression exists in Japanese as well.

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