Tangled in Red Tape.
Friday, December 18, 2009
On still shaky legs, we walked up a winding road whose end seemed to be somewhere up in the clouds. Private campsite or council campsite, it didn’t seem to matter. The logic was always the same. Campsites belonged at the top of the mountain, usually the biggest mountain and usually in the most inconvenient place. The website for today’s camp ground had informed us that it was still open, a rarity in an otherwise schedule abiding enclave of campground operators, however as we reached the end of our gravelly torment, the single car that greeted us suggested otherwise. We could see through the window the female attendant, fast asleep on a pile of folded white linen, although, even if we hadn’t seen her, the fitful snorts of her slumber would have told us the same story.
“What do you want?” she demanded more than asked after being woken. For one in the Japanese services industry, her manner was unusually informal and took us by surprise.
“We’re sorry to bother you, but we’re after a campsite for the night.” we asked.
“Well we don’t have any,” she said without emotion. “The season finished yesterday.” Not having the stomach to retreat across what we had just crossed to an earlier campsite, we figured an explanation of our predicament would be enough to twist her heartstrings and allow us to stay the night. After all, we were the only two there and our tent wouldn’t even be noticed once it was up behind the foliage that surround the sites.
“I’m terribly sorry but I can’t do that,” she replied, now much more formal than she had been minutes earlier. “This is a council campground and if I let you stay then I would have to let everyone else stay,” she explained as she waved an arm over the hoard of campers she was imagining stood before us.
“We will be gone by first light,” we pleaded.
“I’m sorry. I can’t let you stay here,” she responded.
“But we have nowhere else to stay,” we pleaded again.
“There is another campsite about 15kms from here. They’re open,” she offered.
“But we’re on foot and it’s already 3 oclock. There is a campsite right here,” we pleaded for a third time. Her official line however, would not crack under our desperate expressions. Ours was a predicament that could only twist the heartstrings of a person with a heart, and as we shouldered our packs in defeat wandered away troubled more by the lack of compassion than by the fact that we were still without a place to stay.
In many ways, Japan’s is still a society that beats to the rhythms of the rules that bind it, and rules, as we were to find out again soon, mean lots of paperwork.
Still smarting from our campsite imbroglio, we woke early from the park we had bunked down in, eager to get as far away from the memory as we could. The kilometers from Niigata City had disappeared quickly in the company of the sea to our right and before we knew it, we had found ourselves approaching one of Niigata’s largest southern cities, Naoetsu. Our unobstructed view of the ocean was soon swallowed up by the urban sprawl that surrounds many of the larger coastal ports, where the sounds of the sea are replaced by the rush and bother of industry and business. Naoetsu was no different. Our plan to stay changed with that first impression and instead, we decided to use our time there purely for the purpose of updating our maps from the local library. A simple job one would think, but then simple never was a word associated with Japanese officialdom.
We needed to make copies of our map route from Toyama to Ishikawa and after finding the appropriate pages went to make the ten or so copies on the library’s ancient copy machine. However before we could get there, we were stopped by the librarian who informed us that we first had to show her the pages we wanted copy, then fill out a form stating those pages before we could proceed to the machine. Little did we know, that with that request, we were about to get our second whipping from red tape in two days.
“I’m sorry, you can’t print these pages,” the librarian informed us when we showed he the maps we needed. “Printing rules state that you can only copy 50% of any one map.”
“You’re joking,” we asked, although we immediately could tell from her unsmiling face that she wasn’t.
After retreating to figure out a possible solution, we found that our route only required us to copy the top half of each map anyway, so we returned having rewritten our request to suit her copy rule.
“I’m sorry, but you can’t print these pages either,” she said as she looked down on us over the rim of her gold plated spectacles.
“Why not? We asking to print only the top 50% of the maps like you told us.”
“Printing rules state also that you can’t make copies of consecutive pages.” It was as if she was quoting the national printing guidelines handbook from somewhere under her librarian’s desk.
“What?! There’s no point in printing these then if that’s the case! We won’t know where we’re going in between!” we explained.
“You should buy the map that you want from a bookstore then,” she countered as we stood shaking our heads once again at the lack of emotion that we were experiencing.
“We haven’t found that map in any shop,” we said as we realized the futility of our words against the unflinching force of officialdom once again.
With half of the maps giving us only half an idea of where we were going from here, we found ourselves walking up yet another mountain to get to yet another campsite that someone had built on its peak. After 300kms, Niigata was finally wearing us out, but it had nothing to do with the distance.
posted by Mick and Miki Tan @ 3:38 AM,