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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Mariko Sakaida


Mariko Sakaida, 33, is a supermarket cashier in Tokyo and the 2003 Best Checker Concours champion, a title she competed for with about 2,000 of the Kanto region's other checkout aces. She won hands-down with polished greetings, flawless scanning, speedy and accurate cashing, and artful packing. She also puts on a winning performance after work with Koto Ward's Fukagawa Tokkuriza Theater, whose six members adapt the most hilarious rakugo (comic storytelling) tales to the stage.

Mariko Sakaida
Mariko Sakaida PHOTO BY JUDIT KAWAGUCHI

Any activity can turn into a "do": the way to master the philosophy of something, such as "the way of the sword" in kendo, "the way of the tea" in sado, and "horsemanship" in kishido, which is very much like Bushido, "the way of the samurai." I practice "cashier-do," "the way of the cash register," and I love every minute of it.

Japanese turn manual labor into an art form and seek perfection in the details. I think the essence of Japanese tradition is that we want to be really good at everything, and we enjoy the process of getting better at something, regardless of what it is. I love being a cashier because I think of it as a chance to gain a deeper understanding of myself and life in general.

Sashimi or eggs on top, that is the question. Heavy on the bottom is not always the rule. It took some time for this to sink in.

People mature by repetition. Rhythm and speed are the keys to growth.

Style is letting others work. Trust the pros and let them do their best.

I always behave like I own the place and everyone is my honored guest and precious customer.

Once a customer looks at a cashier as an individual, the relationship is too close for comfort. The line is fine and must be observed, because a friendly chat might feel like fun once, but the second time the customer might get anxious when they want to ask for a certain service.

Working the cash register is an excellent place for an actress. Many of my customers would be great studies for characters in our plays.

Husbands don't know what their wives are doing. Many mothers buy bento for their children. Yes, our bento is delicious but it's also high in fat content -- just look at me! -- yet mothers have no qualms about feeding it to even toddlers. They spoil their children, literally.

Rich people are slower: They can afford to be.

People quit too soon. I think one must stick with a job for at least three years before even thinking about switching.

When at a new place, forget everything you have ever learned before. I might be a good cashier here, but if I change jobs, I will have to start from zero.

Women have the luxury to quit while men do not. Women are free to complain and when they change jobs or even families, they are rarely blamed. They often pretend to be victims, just so they can take it easy. At the same time men must endure hardship everywhere and still society beats them up.

I am a parasite single, morphing into a parasite wife. I depend on my parents and also on my boyfriend. I have to if I want to continue acting, and I do. I put in four days, 28 hours a week as a cashier and get proper pay for my work, but it is not enough to live on. I give a little to my parents for my room and board and spend the rest on theater-related expenses and food.

One of us had to get serious about life, so my boyfriend did. He is big, fat, strong and kind. He was a comedian in our theater group but quit two years ago because he realized that we could never get married and start a family if both of us kept acting. No kidding! Since then, he has been delivering construction materials to work sites, saving for our wedding. He is so wonderful.

Rakugo displays the silliness and stupidity of humans. Our own troubles look small compared to the problems made fun of on stage.

What recession? We can all eat, shop and feel good. The media keeps telling us that times are hard, but I wonder if that is actually so.

Compliments give me power. A nice compliment goes a long way to making up for tough customers.

Crying is therapeutic and fun. My friend and I laugh and cry together as a way to connect and support each other. It feels great. Japanese enjoy crying.

What makes people happy is different for everyone. Ten people, ten colors, all pretty. No wonder service is so hard.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's "Weekend Japanology" www.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/japanology_e.html


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