MOVING WITH THE PACKS LIKE HYENA-ENA

New article today in The Japan Times: The blame game. It gives a summary of some recent scapegoating of foreigners in Japan, and the picture it paints is one of all-around unpleasantness in a great many aspects of Japanese life. Foreign or half-caste children in schools are unclean and smell bad because their foreign mothers are sending all their money back to their home country! War brides are foreign spies! Too many African kids on a school running team gives them an unfair advantage! If the thousands of foreign workers on Japanese ships had to return home due to turmoil in their country, Japan’s shipping industry would grind to a halt! It’s a pretty angry editorial written with maybe a little bit too much passion, so you’ve got to question how reactionary it is. Especially me, someone who’s only been over here three months. Who am I to comment?

Well actually, just last weekend I had my first experience with police in Japan, and this article pretty accurately reflects my (admittedly tame by comparison) experience. E and I returned to Roppongi (yeah I know, don’t ask) and were still there at about 7:30am dancing when we noticed one of the girls we were with had been gone a while. We went outside and she was crying on the steps, her bag having been ripped from her hands by a group of men. I stayed to comfort her while the others went looking for culprits; about ten minutes later they returned with police. They established pretty quickly that I couldn’t speak Japanese, which I guess gave them confidence to say what they said next.

I can’t say I speak Japanese, but when I listen to people talk I can usually understand enough to make out what they’re saying, especially if it’s clear-cut and unambiguous. The following exchange happened about three times:

Policeman/detective: Who’s this guy?
Girl (through tears): A friend.
Policeman/detective: OK.
*three-second pause*
Policeman/detective: Are you sure?

E said that at the bottom of the stairs, he was experiencing the same thing, though he could understand more than I could. They referred to him as ‘koitsu‘ (this is very informal, possibly rude between strangers, and basically means ‘that guy’), and their tone was particularly suspicious – “what’s he doing here? I reckon he probably did it” etc.

Eventually they understood that we weren’t evildoers, she got into the police car and they went off, and we sleepwalked home swapping our tales of discrimination. It’s not like it was a big deal for me or anything – I was never in any doubt about whether I would be hauled off to jail or not – but it was interesting. And in light of the above article, I’m beginning to feel like it’s symptomatic of a pretty common attitude towards foreigners. Admittedly some of these foreigners are 50-something men with a bad haircut throwing themselves at barely resistant young Japanese women in Roppongi bars (don’t take it personally, guys), but we’re not all bad, not really.

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