4th Quarterly, 2005 No.138


It's My Money!

Kazuko Yoshida

It was the morning of April 20, 1993. I was thinking, "Today, I've got to go to the bank to withdraw money. A pension payment of 35,000 yen should have been remitted to my account. I think I'll withdraw 30,000 yen." Just then my daughter Junko, who lives in the neighborhood, dropped in. That was a stroke of good luck for me becausge, as usual, I needed her to fill out the bank slip. "Junko, I'm going to bank. Could you fill the slip out for me?" I asked. "How much you want to withdraw?" asked Junko. "30,000 yen." "Why do you always ask me in the morning when you know that's when I'm busy?" she complained, but filled it out anyway.

I went to the bank near the railway station with the slip. A young female clerk was on duty at the counter. I handed her the slip and my bankbook. The clerk glanced at the slip and said, "Could you please fill it out again? The blank slips are over there." She pointed to the slips. She explained that she could not accept the slip I had brought in since some of the numbers were blurred.

I panicked. I had never once written my name on any piece of paper to be shown to another person. In my literacy class, I repeatedly practiced writing my name, YOSHIDA KAZUKO, in Chinese characters, but I did not have the confidence to write it on anything as formal as a bank slip. Dismayed I asked her, "I cannot write. Could you please fill it in for me?" but she refused, "No, I can't. You have to write it yourself." Again, I pleaded, "I do not know how to write. My daughter filled in this slip. Can you please write for me?" But she refused to help.

Just as I was about to give up, I noticed another female clerk. I asked her to help, but she responded the same way. I found myself complaining, "If we cannot write our names then are we not even allowed to withdraw our own money?" I left the bank and returned home frustrated and tired.

Later that afternoon I went to my daughter's

house and told her what happened. She immediately telephoned the bank. "Hello," a man answered. I was sitting next to Junko so I could hear what was being said. Junko told the man what had happened, and said angrily, "If somebody cannot write then can they not withdraw their own money?" The man replied, "How much did she want to withdraw?" "That's not the point," Junko said coldly, "Would you write it for her if it was a big amount, but not if it was small? What will you do if somebody with disabled hand comes to your bank?" The man could only repeat the same phrase over and over, "Basically, ...... Basically, ........."

Eventually, Junko said, "Not everybody in the world is literate. I expected that bankers should have learned more about human rights than other people." I began to feel ashamed listening to this conversation and said to my daughter, "Okay, no more, stop it Junko." But she then directed her anger at me, "You have been to literacy class for three years, but you still can't write your name and address? What are you going to do? You will never take it seriously unless you get really stuck!"

Later, I went to a public bath in our Buraku. On my way back home, I dropped by Junko's house. Her husband had arrived home and asked me, "Mother, the bank telephoned us. What happened?" I thought the people from the bank must have also been concerned about me.

I used to just take it for granted that I did not know how to read or write. "That's life!" But now through my attendance at literacy class I am able to read and write some of the basic Japanese characters called hiragana. However, I am determined to study hard to learn how to write my name and address in Chinese characters.

The next morning, with Junko's help, I wrote about the events of the previous day since I did not want to undergo such a bitter experience again. The following day was Thursday, the day for my literacy class. I took my diary to the class and asked my teacher to write my name and address in Chinese characters.

I practiced writing my name and address over and over again. I wrote it with a pencil and sometimes with a ballpoint pen, in small and large characters. I wrote it more times than I can remember. I started practicing as soon as I arrived at literacy class. But it was still difficult for me to smoothly write my address in Chinese characters. It was not often long before I became confused and had to refer back to the example my teacher wrote. I needed to practice more.

My literacy teacher said to me, "I'm sure it is painful, but you should write about your feelings." I repeated this to my daughter and asked her to write for me. I also asked my younger daughter Setsuko to help. The story they wrote for me was much longer than the version I had written in my diary. When I showed it to my teacher, she said, "Use this as an example, and try to rewrite it yourself. I will help you." That was how I started to write this essay.

It was a very exciting moment for me to begin to write this. My teacher repeatedly told me, "Continue writing this essay until you are able to write your name the amount of money you want to withdraw on a bank slip. On the day you can do so, write how you feel and finish there." I strongly desired to achieve that goal.

On the morning of the 2nd of March of the following year, I had to go to the bank to withdraw 100,000 yen for a one-week trip to Shikoku, departing on the 8th of April. I was determined to fill the withdrawal slip out by myself, but I was still anxious. What if I filled it out incorrectly and was again told to fill out another slip? I therefore asked Junko to fill out a slip for me to use just in case mine was not accepted.

It had taken me one year to save up ten thousand yen. I filled in the slip by myself, focusing all of my concentration on writing. I was very worried it would not be accepted and I would not be able to use it to get the money. I went to the bank with the slip, and gingerly presented it with my bankbook to the woman at the counter, "Today, I wrote the slip by myself for the first time. Did I do it correctly?" The woman smiled and replied, "It's fine." I was a little reassured, but knew I would not feel completely relieved until I had the money. I waited at the counter. After a short time, the woman called, "Mrs. Yoshida," and handed me 100,000 yen together with my bankbook.

It was the first time in my life that I had withdrawn money from my bank account using a slip I filled out by myself. I was so exited that I wept for joy.

Junko came to my house the next morning. I exclaimed to her, "Yesterday, I withdrew money with the slip I filled out by myself!" She said to me, "That's wonderful!" She was very pleased. That same day at my literacy class I told everybody, "Yesterday, I withdrew money with the slip I wrote by myself." Everybody in the class congratulated me, "Well done! You won't have any problems anymore."

Now, I can finally finish this essay.

March 31, 1994

(from the 2004 Special Issue to Celebrate the UN Decade for Literacy 2003-2012)

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