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.


Roppongi is everything I’d been led to believe. Nigerians appear at your side and wax lyrical in a hybrid English/West African/American accent about this awesome bar just down the street, nah just back here, it’ll change your life. Young Japanese women in tight, skimpy dresses flit from bar to bar looking for hot (or not so hot) foreigners to attach themselves to, of which there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, likewise looking for cute Japanese girls to feed their Yellow Fever. When the sun rises, everybody is still going, and they keep going until they fall asleep.

Am I making it sound good? Some sort of Platonic ideal of a nightspot? It isn’t. It’s a meatmarket, a parade of flesh, where the seedy and moralless come to get their kicks. (I shouldn’t be bandying words like moralless about, not from my position, but it feels apt.) Image is everything. The music in the bars is too loud to talk over and, most of the time, too shitty to dance to. Women live off free drinks, bought for them by men who are sure they’ve cottoned on to their lucky ticket for the night. Not necessarily bad people, just… not my people.

I was surprised at how Christchurch it all was. Music too loud to talk over? Check. Music too shitty to dance to? Check. Overpriced drinks? Check x3. The only difference was that people were a bit more approachable – like, where in Christchurch I would stick to people I knew, here I could talk to strangers without them insulting me or leaving immediately. Like I said, though, a voice as mumbly and inflectionless as mine can’t easily be heard over the din, so I ended up resorting to the dancefloor. Truly, it’s perfect if you go out looking for a piece of ass, but I won’t be going back in a hurry. (Disclaimer: I do in fact like good pieces of ass, provided that’s not all they’re advertising.)

I went there with E. (Wish he was still writing – he wrote a far more poetic and vivid description of Roppongi than this, but his site’s long dead.) He lives in the most opulent, comfortable living space I’ve ever occupied – and yes, K, that includes 505. Plus it’s five minutes from Hachiko Crossing. Coming home to my shitty room in my shitty flat has never more difficult. Although it isn’t as bad as it was: turns out I’ve been living here for seven weeks without using the air conditioner placed conveniently above my bed. All this time I’ve been sweating my way through nights in a stinky, humid room, keeping the window shut to keep out bastard insects, when I could’ve been sleeping in blissful comfort. What a prize idiot.

Oh, you want to hear about work? It’s all right. Same old same old. I did mock interviews for the flight attendant class at Yokohama last Tuesday – like, I was the stern executive asking them hard questions such as “Could you spell your name?” and “What do you like to do in your free time?”, for all of which they’d prepared and memorized answers. As they spoke, their eyes flitted back and forth as though they were reading off a page. If they spoke at all, that is – they were nervous as hell. Most of my debrief revolved around telling them to relax in interviews and trust themselves. After all, it worked for me!