the Zen of Paperwork
But true adventure is all about setting off into the unknown, and fixers, by definition, are there to cleanly and efficiently excise the unexpected from the itinerary. So I opted not to have one – which was an easy decision to make because in Japan I couldn’t afford out-of-season apples, let alone the luxury of hiring a full-time guide.
Then one day I tried to get permission to spend a week at a Buddhist monastery. They sent me an application. I filled it out in English. They rejected it with a note that it had to be in Japanese. I spent three hours translating my answers with a friend, then another three transferring the kanji characters to the proper spaces on the form. It came back with a note that it had to be in pen, not pencil. Unfortunately, for me to write perfect Japanese using indelible ink is like trying to land a fully-loaded 747 on a remote Vermont runway when all you’ve ever flown before is a hang-glider. It only has a happy ending in Hollywood.
My friend came to the rescue again, and wrote the application for me, in ink. It came back with a note that it had to be written by the producer, who by now they had figured out was not Japanese. I bought tissue paper and traced her kanji characters, then transferred them onto another application and laboriously filled them in. It came back with a note that the address on the envelope had to be written in kanji characters, not English. Luckily they sent my application back, so that was an easy fix.
27 emails, 14 faxes, and several muddled phone calls later, they gave me permission to go and a date. Then, the day before I was supposed to show up, I received a note that they needed more information, that my visit would have to be postponed, and could I please fill out another application because the old one now had the incorrect date on it?
In hindsight, I think they were just teaching me the Zen values of patience and detachment, while saving me the price of a train ticket and a week of staring at the wall.