The 300-yen Man

A shit day at work. Political, Big Brother-type bullshit of the sort that reminds you how big companies have a way of turning adults into blighted, idiot children.

Ikebukuro Station. Chuhai in hand, my third I think. Hacking away at a sobriety that refuses to know when it’s not wanted. My other hand holds a printout of a work-related materials; I can’t believe I voluntarily read this shit off the clock.

bleakHeadbanging slightly as I blare Arch Enemy on my iPod. I turn a corner, head toward my second train.

There’s a tap on my shoulder. Not an “Excuse me” sort of tap, but a tap that says, “Hey there, I know you.” Which adds to the surprise of turning around and realizing I have no idea who the tapper is.

“Excuse me,” the man asks in English, “can I help you find your way?”


Do I look lost? I imagine I look a bit pissed off, but lost? I doubt it.

“I know exactly where I’m going, man,” I reply, gesturing toward the turnstile.


Short silence.

“I am poor,” the man suddenly says. “Can I have 300 yen?”

I look at him a while, take in his crazy haircut and cheap canvas belt. It’s hardly the first time I’ve been hit up for cash; back in the States, I’d been asked for amounts several times in excess of what this guy is after, been given excuses of abusive husbands and stretches of bad luck. Quite possibly utter bullshit, but while I’ve never had to ask complete strangers for money, I can only hope that if it came down to it, somebody out there would help me out. Which makes it hard for me to refuse when I’m the one being asked.

I don’t think I sighed as I put down my drink, fished out my wallet, but I may have. Crazy haircut man bows deeply. He lapses into Japanese and thanks me profusely as I give him three 100 yen coins.

“Where are you from?” he suddenly asks in English.

I tell him. And I tell him which state when he wants to know that as well.

“Oh, so hot!” he replies excitedly. “And your heart is hot, too!”

He’s translating directly from Japanese. I know what he means. I put my headphones back on and begin walking away.

I don’t know what The 300-yen Man needed money for. But at least for the moment, I have a job and I don’t have to hang out at the train station asking strangers for money.

I have my chuhai and my iPod.

A shit day, but it could be worse.


12 Responses

  1. “I can only hope that if it came down to it, somebody out there would help me out”

    You just spun your Karma in the right direction bro!!

    Good for you for “being your brothers keeper”.

    I’m not religious but I believe our acts come back to us …good and bad. You just put a “chip” on the shelf.

    Here’s to hoping you never have to call that “chip” in .:)

  2. I understand your feeling exactly. There are days when I want to scream, but I remind myself that I actually have a job.

  3. Good post man. Never hurts to lend a hand..never know when you’ll need one!

  4. It doesn’t matter what people who ask for money want to do with the money. The only thing that matters is what motivates your to give or not.

    He gave you perspective on your life. You gave him a taste of your humanity. You both won no matter what he buys with the money.

  5. I guess if it happened now I might dig in but back in NY if I dug in every time some “needy” person got at me I’d probably have a shelf ful of chips but a pocket full of air.
    You’ve got a hot heart, JT…

  6. >>I don’t have to hang out at the train station asking strangers for money.

    I dunno, JT. As much as I think your show of compassion was definitely the right and good thing, the 300 yen man still most likely wakes up with free will every morning.

    You did your part, now here’s to that 300 helping get him back on track. What he does with that money actually matters a lot…

  7. I am sure I was approached by the same guy at Shinjuku station a few months back. He approached me as if I was an old acquaintance, which annoyed me more than anything.

    Generally I’m happy to help if I know it will make a tangible difference but don’t really want to shoulder the world’s problems in a piecemeal fashion.

  8. Can I talk to your manager?

    As a consumer, I find the drop in posting frequency highly disturbing. Is this the way to treat your loyal customers?! I am filing an official complaint!

  9. Hmm…been reading your blog for about a month or so (I’m enjoying it, thanks!)–I was looking up Japanese-related blogs before going there about two weeks ago and found it.

    Which brings me to my point: I think we also (gf and I) got hit up by this guy. Unlike you folks, we were very much tourists. But I recall this guy had weird hair (kinda “tall” and curly, almost 50’s-ish?) and started by asking us if we needed help in English. Then he awkwardly segued to asking for 300 yen. Being a former New Yorker, I felt duped. Also, most Japanese who had spontaneously interacted with us up to this point had all been very sincerely helpful or just interested in making some sort of connection…I was feeling like maybe, just maybe, this place wasn’t your typical urban landscape. Alas. But, regardless, I fumbled in my pockets and gave him about 150 yen. He said something nice about us that I didn’t buy in the least, and we dispersed.

    In NYC I would have just ignored him and kept going.

    I’m not sure where this happened exactly, but considering that we were staying in Shinjuku and went in and out of various train stations around there frequently during our visit, it could easily have been there.

    Anyways, that’s all, other than one more relevant item: As soon as the guy spoke to us, I recalled having seen him just a minute before, heading in the opposite direction as us (we must have caught his attention coming out of the station) on the down escalator, his pinky finger aggressively fishing in his nostril for a good catch.

  10. >his pinky finger aggressively fishing in his nostril for a good catch.

    This gave me a good chuckle. Yeah, the Pinky Fishers are a dime a dozen around here.

    I once — and thankfully, only once — ran into a variant of The 300-Yen Man. He spoke fluent English, which was a big help for my non Japanese-speaking friend, and at the end of it he was content to settle not for 300 yen, but to casually pat me on the ass as he was walking off. He was so casual about it that for a second my friend just stood there before going, “Dude … Did he just pat you on the ass?”

  11. I was approached by the 500 yen man in Ueno Station. He was definately nicer than your 300 yen man. I gave him the money because he said he was hungry. He shook my hand and bowed 3 three times. After learning about my mother tongue he even thanked me in German, which was rather weird.

    • A guy led me to the restaurant floor in Shinjuku station – I actually knew the way but was bemused by the approach so I followed him – and then he asked for money. First time ever in Japan, and I lived in Takadanobaba where the day-workers used to sleep. Sounds like the same guy.

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