After living here for any decent length of time, it’s easy to grow tired of the seemingly endless slew of blogs either singing Japan’s praises or celebrating its weirdness. But the thing is, there’s a reason so many of them exist. While many of the claims bloggers in Japan make are somewhat exaggerated or simply rehashes of the same experiences foreigners arriving in the country decades earlier had, there are nevertheless times when living in Japan can make you realise that the country is actually quite special.

Just last night, for example, I found myself the recipient of a tiny but powerful gesture that made me feel – after more than eight years of living here – that Japan is pretty damn cool sometimes.

Last night, dear reader, a fast food company gave me 10 yen. That’s about US$0.09.

Picture the scene: it’s a Sunday night, you’ve spent the best part of the day hiding away from the summer heat by playing video games and watching TV in your air-conditioned living room, and it’s only when your stomach starts to growl at around 6:30 pm that you realise there’s nothing in the fridge besides two cloves of garlic, a lonely looking egg and half a jug of water. What do you do?

After weighing up the options (yet another convenience store ready meal, making a trip to the supermarket, or having something delivered), I decided to take advantage of my local MOS Burger‘s delivery service, convincing myself that since all their food is made to order and uses good-quality ingredients, hamburgers for dinner would be fractionally healthier than dialling for a pizza, not to mention require far less effort than going grocery shopping.

Checking out their website, I noticed that there was no online order form. That meant I’d have to call and speak to an actual human being if I wanted food to arrive at my door. There would also be a 200-yen ($2) delivery fee, but after considering that, compared to the likes of sushi or pizza, a couple of burgers and orders of fries probably doesn’t make the store that much money to begin with, that seemed fair.

Thirty minutes later, a guy dressed in green arrived at my door and produced a brown paper bag from his special stay-snug satchel. Using the kind of polite Japanese that always leaves my slang-addled brain fried, he thanked me for my order, handed me my food and then, almost with a hint of embarrassment, informed me of how much it came to.

After paying him and receiving my change, however, the man then took a tiny white paper envelope from his jacket pocket and presented it to me with both hands, as if handing over a business card at a meeting.

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“Thank you for calling us,” he said. “It’s only a small amount, but please accept this towards the cost of the phone call.” He then made a sort of half-bow, excused himself and disappeared back into the night.

Resisting the temptation to immediately tear into my bag of food and get back to being lazy, I inspected the little envelop the delivery guy had given me. Along with a cartoon image of a hamburger doffing his bun like a hat, written on the front was the message “itsumo go riyou arigatou gozaimsu“, which roughly translates as “thank you for your continued patronage”. Inside sat a single 10 yen coin.


Would it actually cover the cost of my phone call? Since I had made it from my mobile phone and my service provider seems intent on bleeding me dry, almost certainly not. Even so, I really couldn’t care less. Coming from a country where asking a fast food restaurant to refund the cost of your call would probably result in being laughed at, this tiny little gesture made my day and served as a great reminder of Japan’s “omotenashi” hospitality.

I have no idea whether this is a one-off and specific to my local branch or whether MOS Burger refunds the cost of local calls in lieu of having an online order form, but receiving that 10 yen – an amount I might think twice about picking up off the street if it looked a bit grubby or I was feeling lazy – reminded me of how much the Japanese value the little things when it comes to customer service.

It’s been eight years, Japan, and yet you continue to surprise me. Your burgers aren’t bad either!