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Legacy Transactions in Cashless Society

Tokyo: sunrise over Mt Fuji

The contract sits in front of me, its dense kanji taunting me from the printed page. I stare blankly back and try hard to focus on what is being said. Which is difficult because the solicitor, sitting at the head of the table is speed-reading a 24 page document pausing only to draw breath and respond to the very occasional question from K. With his rapid-fire patter he could be a caller for the daily tuna auction at Tsukiji, but instead here we sit in the estate agent’s office in Sangenjaya.

Everything above the table is calm and collected, but with my seat pushed back I have a view of his feet, that, for the hour-long duration of his recital gently rock to and fro like a golfer trying to get comfortable to make the putt. Eventually the vibra on his phone hums, he apologies to the assembled whips out a Guantanamo-orange clamshell from his suit pocket, cups his hand over his mouth and whispers to the interrupter. Everyone in the room listens intently. Five minutes later the sellers walk in.

When we arrived the highest honour was afforded to us, the buyers, and I’m given the seat furthest away from the door with a view of anyone that enters. Two large red ink pads sit in the middle of the table, and over the course of the meeting our hankos are used more than 20 times to stamp various official documents. You don’t need to conduct a time and motion study to know that when two hankos are required it easier for one person to do both, so I watch as K signs my signature, and later on as her wrist tires, she does likewise. Mental note on the leeway is possible to legally represent someone else’s identity. The sellers both use the same hanko, interchangable identities.

Glasses of iced tea sit on the table – and over the course of the hour the condensation gently recedes like a 21st century glacier. The wet glass outer and paperwork don’t normally mix so it’s a surprising inclusion here in this space, but for all my concern there is never enough condensed to drip onto the table.

Buying the Tokyo apartment has (thus far, touch wood) been a painless experience in direct contrast to the last – which felt like a hundred and one forms to create an identity of sufficient value to be considered worthy to be lent money to. The wolf-pack intensity of some our prior estate agent were lead use cases for disposable identities – phone numbers and email addresses to be trashed when they become too persistent (they became too persistent).

With ten minutes to go K uses both hands to offer the brown envelope to the seller. It contains enough cash to make a capo smile, and a SOX compliance officer weep. But this is Japan and cash is the norm regardless of whether its a deposit for the house, the commission for the solicitor or the estate agent’s fees, in this case its all three. Our agent looks glum but he’s simply a good actor (and according to his blog which K found online he’s also a surfer), so inside he’s probably already spending his commission on a tasty new watch, a trip to the big shore.