Japanese-Only Loan Shark

I’m in a strange battle with a Japanese company right now. Not a legal battle like the one last year, at least not yet. And while I’m afraid the bare facts of the case might make me look like the bad guy, there’s still plenty in our battle that’s just confounding and ridiculous.

The company is what’s called my “guarantor company.” As far as I understand it – by which I mean that this is how it was once explained to me by another gaijin living in Tokyo – a non-Japanese person needs a guarantor in order to rent an apartment in Japan. When I worked at the school through the JET Programme, my guarantor was the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education (I think). But when I scrapped that contract and made a new one that would divorce me from the JET Programme and its realty clutches, I had to pay out to a third-party “guarantor company.” That, or enlist a Japanese person to be my guarantor.

On the surface this seems unjustifiably racist, a mistrust of foreign residents actually built into their rental system. But on the other hand, if and when I clear out my apartment and the giant chunks of wood that have been stripped out of my floor from moving my sofabed around every night, along with the great patches of wall treatment that will be pulled out when I take down my mirror and paintings, are laid bare at my clean-out inspection and I’m summarily fined, I have every intention of skipping out on the payment and leaving the country. Floors shouldn’t be that easy to strip off anyway and why are my walls covered in this weird spackle-resistant fabric in the first place? That’s how I plan to justify it to myself.

Anyway, after paying half a month’s rent off to the racist middleman known as my guarantor company, they became something like my insurance company– they’ll be responsible if I ever try to violate my renter’s contract. Which, last month, I accidentally did.

It was a small but stupid bit of oversight. My rent is due at the end of the month, and somehow working off of the assumption that if I don’t time my payment as close to the end of the month as possible my landlord won’t understand what the payment is for, I usually pay it literally the last day of the month. But on December 20th I went back to NY for the Christmas holidays and, for the first time, forgot to pay my rent before doing this. So this meant that when I finally got back to Tokyo on January 11th and checked my bank account I realized I was 11 days late on rent for the first time.

I figured I would just transfer two months worth of rent to my landlord immediately, but when I got home and checked my mailbox I saw that my guarantor company had already paid the delinquent rent and billed me. I was kind of surprised that they swooped in so quickly – maybe even a little annoyed, like they were making too much of a fuss over this, puffing themselves up with undue importance. But in any event I dashed off to the convenience store and paid the bill.

The next day I got a message from a friend of mine who lives in Nagano (the prefecture to the west of Tokyo) saying that my guarantor called him looking for me. They told him that I skipped out on my rent and changed my phone number and were demanding that he pay them the bill. The next day they called him again, said they didn’t believe him when he tried to explain that I had already paid their bill, nor did they believe that he lived in Nagano but were certain that he lived in this apartment with me and was trying to cover up my theft. He gave me their number to call them back.

Partly out of guilt that this was the reward for my friend agreeing to be my emergency contact, I was already fuming when I dialed them and decided to speak in English in the hopes of discomposing them and gaining the upper hand.

A man answered in Japanese and I rattled off like a bit of a maniac that my friend was being harassed from this number and I needed to put a stop to it. The man hesitated and then haltingly repeated his “hello” in Japanese, as though hoping to thereby start the phone call over again. But again I answered in English, repeating the harassment line, now a little bit calmer but no less annoyed. When I finished he sat in silence for a few moments and then cleared his throat. A few more seconds of silence went by. I asked if anyone was there. Again silence. Again he cleared his throat. More silence. And then he hung up.

I find this to be one of the most incredible cases of irony in Japan. On a level with the cyber security minister who made headlines last month for not knowing what a USB is. I mean this company functions as an insurer for foreign residents living in Japan. A Japanese person doesn’t need a guarantor to rent an apartment, so surely their client base is exclusively foreigners? How can it be that such a company doesn’t have a single employee who speaks English?

And if you’re wondering if this was perhaps just one incompetent receptionist, it wasn’t. I called them back, spoke in Japanese, and the receptionist passed me off to a lady with enormous relief. This lady also met my English outbursts with silence and when I asked in Japanese if no one at the company spoke English she readily confirmed that this was in fact the case, and then went on to berate me about my outdated records and delinquent payment and for some reason giggled every time I repeated that I had already paid the bill to them two days ago. They had even called the school I used to work at looking for me. I can just see the rumors floating around there now. Did you hear that Taryn is broke and homeless now and defaulting on debts? Terrible. But you know I always said she’d come to an end like this.

Today I found yet another bill from them in my mailbox. Or rather this one was an invoice with instructions for making a bank transfer to pay it. The first one had been your standard barcode bill that you can pay at any convenience store. It seems like their strategy for getting their money is to keep changing payment forms. At least for now my friend hasn’t reported any more harassment calls, and they haven’t called me either. Though technically they never called me. So I tore up the invoice and, for reasons that are less clear, also tore up the receipt for the bill I paid, and threw it all away. And now I guess it’s their move. But whatever they do this isn’t a battle they can win, since, eventually, it’ll end in the same way no matter what: my ace-in-the-hole final move of just leaving the country.

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