Thursday, April 17, 2008

Crime in Japan!

Last night someone tried to rob the Hokka Hokka tei in A-town. For those of you not in Japan, Hokka Hokka tei is a popular chain bento shop. Anyway, when my friend Hiromi picked me up for our yoga class last night, she couldn’t wait to tell me the news, because it had happened near her house. The area was crawling with police—it seemed like they’d sent out SWAT teams—so she had wandered around the street watching everything go down and gathering information. Apparently someone had tried to rob the place when it was filled with customers, and everyone working there ran away, leaving just the robber and the customers. The robber tried to open the safe but couldn’t, so he ran away.

“[Did he have a weapon?]” I asked Hiromi.
“[He had a knife, I think. Not a gun.]”
“[A knife? That’s not scary.]”

Hiromi was very amused by my response. When we met with the yoga class of middle-aged women from various nearby towns, they were all marveling at the details of the very frightening attempted robbery, and Hiromi was sure to quote me: “Sore amari kowaikunai.” I explained a little that if I were in the cashier’s position, and the place was filled with customers, it wouldn’t be hard for someone to get the knife away or call the cops. They thought I was really tough, and probably stupid. I didn’t share with them the rest of my thoughts on the matter, because they revealed that as a result of my experience with crime in America, my way of thinking was pretty dark. At Hokka Hokka tei, there’s an entire long counter between the customers and the workers. If someone pulled out a knife and said give me all your money, what if you just said no? What could they do with a counter between you? Throw the knife at you? Are they some kind of deadly, circus-trained knife-throwers? In America, for such a robbery to work, they’d need a hostage to begin with. In that situation (a crowded shop, a counter between you and danger), to be that intimidated by someone with a knife the robber would need to already have it to someone’s throat so they could say, “Give me all your money or I’ll slice this guy’s neck open.”

Colin was driving to Saga City not long after this happened, and when I told him about it he said, “So that’s why there were cops everywhere.” And Saga City is pretty far away from A-town. Colin told me that today his school had a staff meeting about safety concerns in regards to the attempted robbery. They made a really big deal out of it, and announced to the students to return straight home from school, and to take special caution. I wonder if these cautionary school announcements were limited to the Shi-town tri-city area. Several months ago there was actually a murder with a gun in Takeo, a city about half an hour’s drive from here. It was a yakuza hit gone wrong. Apparently, the guy was supposed to whack another yakuza who had been in the hospital recovering from a heart attack, but he had already checked out and the hitman ended up offing an innocent guy who was in the same bed for a bike accident. Of course it’s really sad and kind of scary, especially if you were going into the hospital anytime soon, but the fallout was amazing. All over the prefecture, places nowhere near Takeo, people were freaking the hell out. Some schools were let out early, after-school clubs were canceled, and parents were encouraged pick up their children rather than let them walk home. Did they really think that this gunman was going to come out of hiding just to nab elementary school kids? I was reminded of the kind of incidents that inspired such caution in the school systems back when I was a kid. For a while there was some kind of gang warfare going on in the area around my middle school. It was those drug-runners from Chicago, they said. Someone got shot one night a block away from the school, so the next day it went on lockdown. That meant that we were only permitted to use the front entrance, and the side entrances were guarded during the day by police officers. I can’t really remember, but I think this went on for a week or two. But this didn’t change anything at any of the other schools in the city. There were no announcements to take extra caution or to hurry straight home after school, and certainly no one in the surrounding cities knew anything about it.

When Colin’s grandparents visited Saga about six months ago, they stayed at the Saga City home of a colleague’s widow, a Japanese woman who had traveled all over the world. When we were taking his grandparents to the Shi-town area for the day, and mentioned to the woman that we were making a stop in Kouhoku, she balked at the idea. She exclaimed that Kouhoku was dangerous, that there used to be a mine there that closed down so there are many low class people, and a few years ago there was a murder. Kouhoku is one town over from us, and we stop there often to go to the video store or the Jusco (a big shopping center). Did she actually think that we were in danger of being murdered by out of work miners?

When I was growing up in Iowa, there was a murder in my neighborhood. That place was predominantly rich and white, too. It was drug-related—a dealer and his girlfriend just wanted a dark street where they could shoot this poor crackhead, and 42nd street was nice and dark. They didn’t even live there. I remember my friends and I playing near the spot where the kid was killed. It was under a weeping willow, and there was a big, human-sized bloodstain that just wouldn’t wash away, with rusty-colored bars running off the shoulder of the road. Maybe it was kind of a big deal then, but we knew that those people had little to do with us or our neighborhood, just like whatever out-of-work-miner murder that might have happened in Kouhoku a few years ago is no point of concern when I’m stopping there to rent a DVD.

It all makes me wonder a couple things. First, what’s wrong with me that violent crime is so banal? And second, how do Japanese people manage to travel the world without being paralyzed by fear everywhere they go? Young Japanese women in particular have a fascination with Europe, mainly France and Italy. Western or European restaurants and clubs are supposed to be hip and sophisticated, while Japanese style things are provincial and silly. But all European-style food or drink or club is sent through the Japanese filter, which generally makes it either really strange and cheesy (not literally, though. That would be great, I love cheese) or just a weak imitation. Though it’s far from stylish according to hip, young Japanese kids, I prefer Japanese style pubs, sake and beer. Apparently there’s been a wave of young Japanese women traveling to places like Paris or Rome going through shock upon discovering that it’s not like the romantic nights and gondolas of their imaginations and whatever mini-replication they experienced at Tokyo Disney. Sometimes those places are dirty, or rude, and sometimes there are pickpockets and sometimes people take advantage of you. It’s not like Paris is particularly dangerous, it’s just not Japan.

When I was discussing this with one of my housewife friends, she told me a news story she had heard a few years ago, that I have yet to have confirmed over the internet, so I can’t attest to its validity. She told me that several years ago, six young Japanese women were traveling together in Italy, and they were all abducted by one crazy Italian guy with a sword. According to my friend, he held them hostage in his apartment for days, just him and his sword, and he raped all of them. He had samurai delusions. Eventually they escaped, but when my friend heard the story, she was angry. There were six of them, and just one of him and a sword. Young women are raised to be so naïve, she said. They should have done something. I found myself thinking the same thing, but remembered the first tenet of good feminism, NEVER BLAME THE VICTIM. There’s no denying that Japan is a bit of a follow-the-leader, groupthink kind of place. Maybe they just believe in obeying the guy with the blade. But it’s not like weird issues with obedience is strictly a Japanese problem.

My friend also told me about going to Singapore for a week, and being pick-pocketed twice, both times for just being unaware and having her bag slung behind her. So maybe it is hard for Japanese people to travel and learn to not trust everyone. But it makes me wonder what’s wrong with us? I’m from Iowa, and Iowa is supposed to be safe, but I know to always watch my possessions and not listen to the people on the street who ask you for money or other favors. A lot of these places are developed nations, yet we still can’t trust each other. What’s the deal?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel like it's never blame the victim for being targeted.

3:35 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I hear ya sister. Do you remember I thought it was inappropriate to leave the computer out in our hotel room in Japan before you corrected me. It's still very weird to me to be able to leave your door unlocked and trust that you are safe in Japan. I used to have terrible anxiety at night when I was 5- 11 or so that a murderer would come into our house and kill my family. That was my biggest fear at that age, murderers. I still remember about that guy who was shot, Rolando Ballew. Yeah, it didn't keep us from playing on that street past dark, either, while our parents got plastered at the Bryan's. Weird.

10:34 AM  
Blogger AzzidisRidden said...

That six Japanese girls story sounds a bit urban legend to me. I mean, what are the odds that a crazy Italian guy with delusions of samurai-hood and a giant sword would just happen upon six Japanese women, and keep them together long enough to get them all back to his place without anyone noticing? Also I couldn't find ANYTHING about it online.

But I know that the story about the Japanese exchange student who got mistaken for a home intruder and shot on Halloween night... that one is true, and every Japanese person I know talks about it.

I think that to answer your question about how do Japanese people travel the world without being paralyzed by fear is that the overwhelming majority of them don't. You got warned about going to the town next to yours. Imagine going out of the country. I've been told that I'm going to step on landmines in Cambodia, contract fatal poverty in India, and be shot multiple times when I go home to visit my family in Florida.

Most Japanese international tourism consists of highly regulated all-inclusive tours. You go with a group of Japanese people, the bus takes you to the hotel, to the scenic and historic locations, you get escorted everywhere by a Japanese speaking (often native) tour guide.

For those who don't do that, you mentioned girls who are disappointed by Paris or Venice... Have you heard of Paris syndrome?
It's a condition that ONLY Japanese people get, and it's believed to be caused by an overwhelming disappointment with the reality of Paris as opposed to their imagined vacation.
That involves a whole different discussion of the importance Japanese people might place on the ONE vacation they get in their entire life...

But the thing that's encouraging is that when you meet Japanese people who have traveled, they're more likely to understand the gross exaggeration of the danger level of other countries.

As for what's wrong with you, I'm not sure there is anything wrong. Having a cynical attitude about crime is probably better for two reasons. One: The risk of becoming a victim is so minimal that you're doing yourself a disservice by spending your time trying to avoid it.
Two: If you think about it rationally (like... "If I was ever one of 6 people being abducted by an Italian swordsman, I might try running away.") as opposed to thinking of everything you can do to avoid it (which ultimately, you can't) you're probably better equipped to deal with it if it happens.

I never heard the end of what happened with the Takeo shooting. I didn't know any of that stuff. That's nuts... but if I'm ever in Takeo and injured, I'm still going to the hospital.

3:18 PM  
Blogger GLE said...

Yeah, violence at my high school was an everyday kind of thing it seemed. In grammar school this kid brought a gun to school and was later expelled. But the thing I thought was more scary was the time a girl brought half a deer's leg to school from her father's hunting trip. To me a deer leg was more scary than a gun. What does that tell you?

Robbery with a knife? Yawn. I do wonder how Japanese people travel to New York or Chicago without going into a state of fearful shock. I think it's mainly because when you see Japanese tourists, they're in huge groups with tour guides and set schedules. You don't see too many lone Japanese tourists.

Two weeks ago John and I were sleeping when the doorbell rang at around 10:30pm. We didn't answer, it was probably a random homeless person or a neighbor who was locked out. 2 days later I was talking to one of John's neighbors who frequents the bar and he told me what happened. His doorbell rang too and he went out to find two cops. First thing, check their badges. Then they informed him that there had been an armed robbery in the alley and the perp jumped our back fence and ran through our yard. leaving money and a weapon. They wanted to search the yard for the weapon. Matt and I also discussed how this person could have run through our back doors which are attached to the bedrooms and sometimes left cracked open in the summer (the yard is closed off from the street, this guy had to have been one hell of a fence jumper). We then discussed what we would have done. Matt is a big guy and said there would have been a big braul. I'm not sure what I would have done since John doesn't wake up for anything but I figured the dog's barking would scare him off. When John is out of town and I sleep at his place (before the dog) I would keep his unloaded gun by the bed.

12:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the first TENET...

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for providing such an expose of Gaijin experience! The entries here are breathtaking and honest, and even the 'shortcomings' of Japan make me want to experience this strange and wonderful land for myself.

4:59 AM  
Blogger janamarie said...

crime in japan? don't joke. i learned very quickly that i need to be locking my door ALL of the time here, even during the day when i'm home - which i've never had to do before. it's tough, but i gotta do it, because if i don't, my neighbors/ fellow teachers/ postmen/ people i don't know at all will let themselves in to say hello.

5:32 PM  
Anonymous kyaktuz said...

dude,i live in italy,and that Japanese girls story is one of the most ridicolous bullshit i-ve ever heard.period.
never heard personally anyone suffering Paris syndrome,i actually met many satisfied Japanese there..but i-m pretty sure it-s true.

1:02 AM  
Anonymous B said...

Wow, just stumbled across your blog while doing a Google search. I'm from C.R. and remember the Rolando Ballew murder too. He was a year ahead of me at Wash High School. The guy that killed him, Ed Nassif, was also in the same class as Rolando('88).

Ed grew up right down the street from where he killed Rolando, on 13th Ave at the bottom of the hill, less than 600 feet from 42nd St., so he knew that area very well. I don't think he was living there at the time but some of his family still did. His father was sent to prison for drugs too (had drugs shipped to him hidden in a box). I think that happened a couple years earlier.

My sister and ex-brother in law had a house on 13th and two of my friends families also lived on 13th. I remember the night after it happened we were hanging out in front of my friends house and talking about the murder and we all pretty much guessed that Ed Nassif was involved because of where it happened. Sure enough, we were eventually proven right.

8:49 PM  

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