Friday, February 10, 2012

Disappointed by machines

One of the many wonderful things about the Tokyo metro is the ticket machines' ability to take pretty much any money you want to feed them. If you have a 5000 yen note and you want a 160 yen ticket, no problem. Plus, the machine will give you change in the most convenient way possible: 4 1000 yen bills, and the rest in coins.

To get some perspective on how amazing that is, you have to have dealt with British ticket machines for some time. They're mostly good at swallowing money and then pretending they never saw anything, or not giving you any change, or making strange grinding noises before giving you the wrong ticket. And the most you can put in them is a twenty pound note.

If you ever did get a UK ticket machine to give you change for a hundred pound note, doubtless it would be in pennies. Well, half in pennies, the rest in hapennys that stopped being legal tender some time in the 1980s.
Today I was in Roppongi, and I only had a 10,000 yen bill and six ten yen coins. I strode up to the machine, needing a 160 yen ticket to Shinjuku, put in the coins, fed in the note, and out came my ticket. And 840 yen.
That seemed a rather expensive metro ticket.

As I was mulling this over, a loud buzzer sounded, and a moment later a tiny Japanese lady in a bright blue uniform and hat appeared. She looked at me; she looked at the machine (still buzzing). She spoke at me in Japanese, then vanished through a doorway, just before the buzzing stopped.

I stood there, trying to not look destitute. That was my last money, after all.

Shortly a man came up to me to ask if I needed any help. I denied that I did, although anyone who's paid 9,160 yen for a ticket on the metro probably does. I worried. I began to create elaborate fantasies where the Tokyo Metro had some sinister plan for my 9,000. Would it fund a death ray? A Godzilla farm? A factory making peaked caps and little white gloves?

Then, all of a sudden, the little Japanese lady appeared, and counted nine 1,000 yen bills into my hand. Which was nice, although my faith in Japanese ticket machines is now slightly shaken. I'm not sure if it's a defect when presented with 10,000 yen bills, or just a subtle ruse to keep little ladies in blue uniforms employed in the face of ever-more-efficient automated machinery.


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