Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Penniless in Tokyo

In Pretty Woman, there's a scene where Julia Roberts goes to buy a dress with a couple hundred dollars of cash from Richard Gere, but the shops refuse to cater to her (in her case, because she was dressed like a streetwalker).

She walks back to the hotel and blubbers to the hotel concierge, "I have all this money! [pours fistful of wadded up bills onto his desk] But no dress! [blows nose loudly with his handkerchief]"


Yesterday I discovered that Tokyo, for all its ubiquitous mobile technology and neon signs and 300mph bullet trains, is missing an important service. ATMs that accept American cards. Beijing has them on every other street. Shanghai, ditto. Bangkok. Bangalore. But I walked a dozen Tokyo streets and went into fifteen banks. No luck.

I learned that the Japanese gesture of saying no is to cross your arms in front of your chest in an X shape. Like the Family Feud gesture of "I hope your family strikes out".

Me: [walking up to bank teller] [in English] Do you exchange money?

Teller: [puzzled expression]

Me: [pull out wad of US 20 dollar bills]

Teller: Ah! [happy look of understanding] No. No. [cross arms into X shape]

After 2 hours of trying various banks, we decide to forego the sumo museum that we were planning to visit, and just return to the hotel where we know there is a foreign currency exchange in the lobby.

Mom: How much Japanese money do we have left for our subway back to the hotel?

Me: I have 8 dollars worth in coins.

Mom: US dollars or Japanese yen? (1 USD = 108 yen)

Dad: Of course US! If it's 8 yen, you can dump it on the ground and no one will pick it up.

The 3 of us walk a few blocks to the subway station. Each subway ticket from where we were (Ryogoko, sumo district) to our hotel (Shinjuku, neon city)?

$2.60 US.