Monday, January 12 2004

Western Union misses the boat

I recently had a reason to ask a stranger for a favor. There was this Mac game I was interested in that was about to be released in Japan. There are lots of companies who import Japanese console games, a few who import PC games, and even one or two who buy up the rights to make translated versions of hardcore sex “dating sims”. But nobody seems to be interested in the Mac games.

I was able to find it on, and they even support a mostly-English UI for people whose Japanese is less than perfect (or, in my case, barely there). Unfortunately, they won’t ship certain products overseas. Books, music, movies, no problem; computer games and consumer electronics, not a chance.

Given how Silicon Valley works, I figured the odds were good that one of my friends knew someone who was currently in Japan, and I wasn’t disappointed. Zane and I exchanged email, I had the game shipped to his place, and he reshipped the package to my house. Neat, simple, and it took about a week and a half, start to finish.

Except for reimbursing Zane for the shipping costs. I’ve had good luck with Western Union in the past, so I went to their site and sent him the money, and emailed a link to their list of places he could pick it up.

A few days later, he wrote back, telling me that Western Union had apparently contracted with the smallest bank in Japan, which only had branches in the Tokyo area. He’s in Hiroshima, which is, shall we say, “not close”.

He had two basic choices: open an account with the tiny bank by mail and then ask them to mail him a check, which would take about three weeks, or travel to the nearest bank branch, which was roughly equivalent to taking the train from San Diego to San Francisco.

After many days and more than half a dozen toll-free phone calls, I managed to get someone at Western Union to look at a map of Japan, at which point they refunded my money. I then went back to amazon, pulled up Zane’s wishlist, and bought enough stuff to pay him back.

Oh, the game? Mahoromatic Adventure, with the limited-edition scented hand towel (currently hanging on my office wall). :-)