The following is a translation of a short story originally taken from a 2008 book by Haruhiro Kinoshita and posted on a blog called One Minute Impressions. The story struck a chord with tens of thousands of people across Japan as it spread through social networks.
There Was This Cashier
She moved from the countryside to go to a university in Tokyo. She joined many extra-curricular activities but always got turned off quickly . One after another, she jumped from club to club looking for something better.
When it came time for her to find work, she got a job with a manufacturing company, but she couldn’t continue working there. Three months after starting she felt she couldn’t see eye to eye with her boss. It didn’t take long for her to quit.
The next job she got was for a distribution company. She worked there for six months but came to realize the job was different than she had hoped it to be. Shortly after, she quit.
From there she joined up with a company that manages medical statistics and information, but this too didn’t do it for her.
This job just isn’t for me.
As this pattern went on and on her resume became an ever-growing list of companies that failed to live up to what she expected from a job. The longer her resume got the more difficult it became for her to get a job, until finally it was impossible to find an employer willing to take a chance on someone unwilling to commit to any job. However, if she couldn’t work then she couldn’t live.
Her parents suggested she move back in with them, but she couldn’t slink back home like a dog with its tail between its legs.
She signed up with a temp agency, but she couldn’t even get through temporary work. Wherever she went, she would quit if she had the slightest problem. Her record of former employers grew faster with each temporary job she dropped.
One day, she received a new job offer through the temp agency. It was sent to all of the agency’s workers who were a flight-risk like her. The offer was working the checkout at a supermarket.
In these days supermarkets didn’t use bar codes. The cashiers had to type in the prices for all the items by hand. It took a bit of training, but after a week she had already gotten tired of typing into the register.
This is way too easy. I can’t keep doing this.
This time though, when she got that feeling she realized that she had already changed work a lot in her life. She had grown to dislike herself for not having the patience to hold a steady job. She had to continue working here.
Hang in there. This is your last chance.
However, as much as she tried, she couldn’t continue. She made up her mind to resign. Soon after, she received a phone call.
“It’s time for you to come home,” her mother said.
Hearing the warmth in her mother’s invitation through the receiver, she made her choice. She began to pack her belongings to return home. After that she would tell the supermarket she quit.
She had accumulated a lot of things in her long time in Tokyo. While putting her stuff into a cardboard box she found a notebook in the drawer of her desk. It was her diary from when she was a young. She used to always write in it. She remembered looking for it a while ago but thought it was gone for good.
Flipping through the pages she saw written: “I want to become a pianist.” It was her high school dream.
Back then I used to practice every day to become a pianist.
For some reason practicing piano was the one thing she could continue doing. Still, somehow, without her noticing, she had given it up. She compared those days of chasing her dream to her life now, and she became disgusted with herself.
What happened to the me that used to have hopes and dreams?
Her adult diary had become nothing but a long list of discarded employers. Rather than recording her dreams she was carrying a record of her half-hearted attempts and failures. She knew things weren’t going well but she didn’t realize how low she had sunk until then.
Look at me now, I’m running away from a stupid cashier job.
So she closed her diary and went to call her mother. “I’m going to stay here a little longer,” she said choking back the tears. She put aside her resignation and decided to go to work the next day forcing herself to be happy punching boring numbers into that boring register.
Just a few more days will be good enough to know for sure if I want to continue.
Doubt and excuses would sometimes slip into her thoughts.
When I studied piano, I would make mistakes again and again, but I kept at it until my fingers memorized the keys. After enough time, I could play the piano without looking at my hands.
Remembering those days she set a goal for herself.
Alright, I’m going to master that register like I did the Piano.
She studied the button combinations to hit for every item the supermarket sells. She committed the arrangement of the keys on the register to memory. Then she practiced.
After a few days she could type fast. Then she didn’t have to look at the register any more. Her attention began shifting to the customers.
Oh, that customer came yesterday too…
Her hand typed in the price of a dozen eggs by itself.
…only this time she brought her kids.
She could see a lot from her post now. It became her secret pleasure. Her fingers would dance across the register like a professional pianist’s would. As her eyes studied the people she began to notice more and more details about them.
Here’s Ms. Only-Buys-Things-On-Sale.
Well, if it isn’t Mr. Comes-Just-Before-Closing-Time.
Here comes The Honorable Lady Buys-Expensive-Stuff.
One day, ol’ Mrs. Buys-Things-Just-Before-Their-Expiration-Date came to her register, only this time carrying a fresh and expensive fish.
“What’s the special occasion?” she blurted out to the old lady in surprise.
Mrs. Buys-Things replied, “My grandson won an award for his swimming, we’re going to celebrate. It’s a nice fish isn’t it?”
“Yes, congratulations” she said, unaware she was gently smiling to Mrs. Buys-Things. This is when she found the pleasure of communicating with her customers.
After a while she had memorized all the customers’ faces and picked up some of their names. She started to help them with their shopping.
“Hi Mrs. Tanaka, you’re sure you want to buy this chocolate? We have some cheaper stuff over in aisle three today.” she said. “Also, you’d be better off buying chicken rather than fish today.”
And all the customers in her line appreciated it, thanking her as they went to rethink their choices. The more she interacted with the customers the more she enjoyed going to work at the supermarket.
One day, she had a feeling that it was busier than usual, but she kept to her work and enjoyed talking with all the customers who came through.
The manager came over the intercom; “We apologize for the crowds. Could customers please move over to the empty registers?”
A little later the speaker repeated, “Again, we ask you to please move to the empty registers.”
After a third announcement she looked up. As her hand typed in the price of three tomatoes she could see five other cashiers waiting by empty registers but all of the customers had formed a long line to hers only.
The manager rushed onto the floor and said to the customers, “Please, if you would just go to another register, you won’t have to wait.”
“Oh go away,” said Mrs. Ito who only buys milk in glass bottles, “the only reason I come to this supermarket is to chat with this young lady. I don’t want another cashier.”
Upon hearing that, she broke into tears.
Mrs. Ito continued “The other supermarket up the street is cheaper than here, but I come to talk, so if you’d be so kind, I’ll just wait here.”
At this point, she was crying so hard she couldn’t work the register. For the first time, she saw how terrific a job could make her feel.
It wasn’t long before she got promoted to checkout manager.
Now she continues to teach new cashiers the joys that are returned to you by putting care and enjoyment into your work and customers.