As of Now, I am in Control Here…


Remember when Alexander Haig said that? He was the Secretary of State for Ronald Reagan. After Reagan was shot, Haig announced to reporters that he was in charge. In his full quote he tries to explain why he was by-passing the Vice-President in the chain of command; however, he actually by-passed the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate as well. He has a very impressive command history, both military and private, so we know he’s a take charge kind of guy. I’m sure he really meant, “I have things under control here, until VP Bush arrives.”; but a slight change in wording sure got a lot of people concerned.

For the ten homes around me: as of now, I am in control here. In Japan we have a responsibility called touban (当番), which my dictionary simply defines as “turn”, as in “my turn”. Each member of my neighborhood takes a two month turn being responsible for the neighborhood. I think the main responsibility is a one year deal, and we are helping share that load. My responsibilities include:

  • Distributing copies of the city and prefecture newsletters (広報津・三重県政だより, Kouhou Tsu and Mie Kensei Dayori) twice a month
  • Collecting the monthly maintenance fee (町内会費, chounaikaihi or chouhi for short) – a whopping 400 yen per household
  • Circulating announcements, as requested by the long-term touban. This is done by attaching announcements to a special clipboard, called kairanban (回覧板) with a sheet including a space for everyone to stamp their name.

Technically, it was my turn at the beginning of October, but I was off on a weekend trip. The next person in the cycle of responsibility decided it would be best if she took the turn. More than just expediency went into the decision. Apparently some of the neighbors had an ongoing debate about my ability to handle the responsibility and the appropriateness of a foreigner doing this. Three people came to me over the last two months asking if it would be OK. They all seemed to be looking for me to give them confidence. Now that I have the responsibility, I want to make sure it goes perfectly.

This morning I went to the post office and got enough coins and bills to make minimal change for any denomination and put them in an envelope. As I am collecting the maintenance fee, I won’t get trapped without change for them. When I submit the collected fees, I plan to reduce it to the smallest amount of bills and coins for convenience.

I realize I got the toughest shift, because most people won’t want to be disturbed much in December and January in Japan. Especially when I have to collect the January maintenance fee during the New Year’s celebrations.


6 Responses to “As of Now, I am in Control Here…”

  1. verbivore Says:

    I think it’s really great they are letting you participate like everyone else. I hope your one neighbor (the one you mentioned who is rather sensitive about cars and loud noises) doesn’t try to sabotage your reign as vice-当番. I am only joking but you never know…

    p.s. I should probably change my name to verbivorette 🙂 Less confusing for everyone.

  2. びっくり Says:

    I failed to mention that last night, after my students left, I moved my car to the front of my house. The neighbor was staring through the blinds at me until I went inside. It was 9:55pm.

    Fortunately, being across the street puts them in san-ban and I am in ni-ban, so they aren’t connected to my responsibility. I like the feudal system of addresses. In America, being on the same street would certainly have tied us together. 🙂

    Your name is not confusing… it is surely some sexist bias deep in my subconscious that caused the misunderstanding. But, I will dig it up and deal with it. Of course, anyone else stumbling up this will find it totally non sequitur.

  3. Sylvia Says:

    Whoah, that’s amazing that they have volunteers and not employees doing that sort of work. I’ll bet it generates a sense of cohesion that we certainly don’t have over here where everything is done for us. Heck, community service is a punishment for wrongdoing here.

  4. kevenker Says:

    It’s sort of like a PUD (planned unit development) but where everybody takes turns participating. In my PUD, all I have to do is send in money. Everything else is optional.

  5. びっくり Says:

    Sylvia – I think it may be punishment here too, but we all get punished. It is true that everyone thanks me profusely for my great effort and apologizes for troubling me so. I will have to remember to reciprocate in February when Hioki-san takes over the responsibility.

    Kev – Yes, indeed it is much more personal. I forgot to mention some of the other responsibilities which are common, but apparently not part of our activities. I will probably post more on that later in the week.

  6. No Excuse « Neo-新びっくりブログ Says:

    […] needs to receive the information swiftly. Although, I did ultimately get a chance to express my power as […]

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