Prodigal Commenter Penn re-entered the ethics fray with two anecdotes about ethics and Japanese culture in reaction to the Ethics Alarms quiz, “The Cabbie and the Jewelry.” This was the second COTD to be inspired by that story of the ethical—or pragmatic—cabbie who rescued $100,000 worth of jewelry left in his cab by a careless fare.
Here is Penn’s “Comment of the Day”:
“70s, Tokyo, 2 anecdotes: (1) An American English teacher on his way back from the airport, hungry and exhausted from his flight, stumbles out of his cab in Shinjuku, an area of 1000 restaurants, leaving a carryall behind. Cabbie’s WIFE turns up at his school four days later having found the school address in the bag, apologizing for husband having to work and for having taken so long to find the passenger. Refused to leave a name. Refused to take a tip. Besides his passport, the carryall contained about $5,000 in yen, $300 in US dollars, two bottles of very expensive duty free liquor, 2 boxes of Godiva chocolates, and other valuable gift items.
“(2) Checking accounts were rare. Most of one’s salary either stayed in the bank (from which almost ALL bills could be paid, including your local grocer, bakery, etc. and ATM’s – which hadn’t been “invented” in the US yet – were ubiquitous and free) or you took a “pay packet” full of cash — which the teller had warned me was not a good idea because I “might be tempted to spend too much.” Crossing the street from curb to Shibuya station — a matter of five-minutes navigating 4 bus and 6 automobile traffic lanes without stop signs or lights — the pay packet blew out of my hand in a strong wind midway across. And yen went flying across ten lanes of moving vehicles and pedestrians. Suddenly everything came to a standstill; people stooped in the street to pick up the money while the cars and buses waited patiently and the result was passed over to me. (More than one person scolded me for not understanding what banks were for!) Red-faced, I apologized as humbly as my Japanese would bear. Counting the contents of the packet when I got home, I found that I had half again as much as I started out with.
“Okay — there are drawbacks to living in a highly ethical society (though not so much these days since Americanization has altered many customs to the detriment of safety and security) but there are times when I miss being able to take that sort of behavior for granted.”