By Sarah Somerset
The pandemic has set in during my annual sojourn to Australia. It’s not that you cannot exit Australia, but rather that if you leave you may not be able to secure a seat on a plane to return. And if you do manage to secure a seat, you will have to spend two weeks in a medihotel under armed guard.
Reluctantly, I decide to terminate my lease and empty my house in Wakayama, Japan. Bella, an Australian student who is stranded there, is saving to pay for an exorbitant airfare home. I engage her to pack up my house and terminate utility payments for gas, electricity and internet. Bella diligently packs my belongings into boxes and sends them to Australia via sea mail. Because of the pandemic airmail is temporarily suspended, but soon the boxes she has carefully packaged and sent by sea mail arrive intact.
Bella has negotiated with the gas and electricity companies to terminate the contracts, but the DIIK phone company proves intractable. I call them repeatedly from Australia but they do not provide a way for me to extricate myself.
“Hello, I need to cancel my contract,” I enquire politely.
“You need to come into a store,” comes the gruff response.
“I am stranded in Australia because of the pandemic. I can’t come into the store.”
“Well, we can’t do it over the phone!”
“I can’t believe it! Aren’t you a phone company?” I exclaim in an uncharacteristically loud voice.
Finally, I send an email to my Japanese landlord. She calls them and they tell her that if I post my router back to them then the contract will be terminated. Bella dutifully takes my router to a convenience store and posts it back. I am thankful to Bella that I could terminate all of my utilities contracts and empty my house from the other side of the planet. More than anything, I am relieved to have terminated my contract with DIIK.
A month later, I am doing Japanese internet banking and there are still automatic debits from DIIK. I send a message to Bella and ask her to make enquiries for me. Bella visits their shop, where she is humiliated. She explains,
“They made me remove my mask. Then they said they had no appointments until next month. The meeting next month would be to see if I could terminate your contract on your behalf. They couldn’t even guarantee that they would let me do it for you. The meeting would just be to see whether this was possible. They kept trying to usher me out saying it was nearly closing time, but it was an hour before.”
I’m sorry that I put Bella into such a difficult position and I cannot not ask any more of her. Then I remember what a colleague had said to me over ten years ago when I had difficulties presenting my case to a bureaucrat.
“Take a Japanese man along with you,” he had offered.
I had never considered that I needed a male advocate in business negotiations, but I heed his advice. I ask a male Japanese, Yusuke, to assist me. I have worked with Yusuke at the university for fourteen years. He readily agrees to help, and immediately contacts the DIIK phone company. They advise him that he can act as my proxy and supply him with a form to fill out. DIIK tells him that I must return it to them by post rather than electronically. I am puzzled because even government institutions accept scanned electronic documents. Because of the pandemic I worry that any letter will be sent by sea mail and take two months to arrive.
Yusuke emails me a scanned form and a sample of how to fill it in, and I fill it in on a tablet. My boyfriend enlarges it for me but I fumble because I am not used to writing kanji characters on a screen. He is also Australian and speaks Japanese, so he takes the pen from me and copies the kanji characters in his steadier hand. Even so, he is rusty, and they look like they were written by a junior primary school student.
Now all I need is my inkan personal seal stamped on the document.
“Do you have your inkan with you in Australia?” Yusuke messages me.
“I do not keep my inkan here. It’s in my office in Japan. The office staff retrieve it when necessary.”
I exchange repeated emails with the office to organise for Yusuke to obtain my inkan so he can stamp the document before he takes it to the phone shop.
I send the completed scanned form to Yusuke.
“I will ask my son to copy it just as you have written it, and then I’ll put your inkan on it,” he promises.
Then I realise that it would have been hard for Yusuke to copy kanji characters written in a foreigner’s hand, and he has delegated the job to his son.
Yusuke visits the DIIK shop on my behalf and delivers the proxy form. He calls me from Japan.
“Apparently the DIIK shop only deal with mobile phones. In order to stop your internet you need to call customer service.”
“OK. Tell me the number.”
“I tried that number before. Numbers that begin with 0120 cannot be accessed from overseas.”
“OK. I’ll call the number for you myself.”
Yusuke calls customer service and is put on hold. He texts me periodically to tell me he is waiting for his turn. A few hours later he can speak to a real person.
“They told me that you have to notify the service provider, not DIIK.”
“Well I did return the router to the service provider a couple of months ago.”
“Did you terminate the contract? Just because you returned the router it doesn’t mean that you have terminated the contract. I will ring the provider for you and find out.”
Yusuke rings the service provider for me and is put on hold. Several hours later he texts me.
“I finally got through. Your contract has been terminated. Automatic deductions still appear for a little while after you terminate the contract. They should stop soon. If they keep making deductions let me know and I will deal with it.”
Meanwhile my boyfriend chides me, “If you want to cancel your phone contract with Telstra here in Australia, you can do it over the phone in about five minutes.”
It has taken me well over five weeks to accomplish this, but only with the help of Bella and Yusuke.
(This story was first published in The Writers’ and Readers’ Journal)