It was just a matter of time before I got arrested in Japan.
Well, I mean “arrested” is a pretty vague term, don’t you think? I think so. You know, like if you’re stopped for, let’s just say, stealing a bicycle, that’s not really arrested. That’s more like “detained.” Anyway, that’s my story. So maybe I was simply detained. Okay, let’s just agree there are some gray areas.
And my Sunday started so well, too. As always, I was at Starbucks. My days are bookends of mornings in Starbucks and evenings in boozy izakaya. The middle of the day is reserved for naps, and occasionally working. Or my favorite, napping at work. Anyway, it’s important to start the day with a giant coffee, to flush all the previous night’s libations from the old liver as soon as possible. Then somehow evenings always seem to involve some old Japanese geezer pouring me glasses of potato shochu while telling me all about his wife and girlfriend. Why my days are like this, Hey, it’s a mystery. Anyway, it’s good to have a steady routine. Nothing like consistency for one’s constitution.
Writing a Japanese Resume
So I had this enormous black coffee, and I was writing my resume. And actually “writing,” like using a pen. On paper. To write things. Remember the Middle Ages, with monks? Okay, well, me neither, but that’s about how advanced Japan is sometimes. Like you’d think it’d be this great technological country with musical toilets or something, but really there’s only about three people in the entire nation who even know what Wikipedia is, and you have to write your resume in Japanese by hand—work history, essay questions, the whole bit. And if you blow even one stroke of one character, you have to start all over again, from scratch. Somebody ought to introduce the Japanese to the concept of Wite-Out, really. It took me about four hours to finish the first masterpiece page. I brought a dozen copies of the form, which was good because I’d be almost done, and then some miswiring between brain and hand would cause a random pen mark, and boom, I’d have to start all over again. I messed up Japanese. I messed up my own name in English. I even screwed up numbers. Crap, using a pen is seriously hard. Try it sometime. Okay, maybe it’s just me, but anyway the second page went even worse, to the point where I managed to botch all twelve copies, and had to head to 7-Eleven to print off a few more. That’s the awesome thing about Japan–you can copy, print and fax from any 7-Eleven. Plus buy beer there. What a great country.
My Spidey Sense Tingles
So as I left to bike down to the convenience store, that’s when the dragnet closed in.
The amazing thing about me is that I can spot a cop a mile away. People talk about gay-dar, like when you know someone’s gay. I don’t have that. Everyone in this country looks pretty gay to me actually, so whatever. But cop-dar, man, I’ve got that for days. And when I started to unlock my bike, I saw these two guys standing nearby, looking like they were trying not to look at me. They had ordinary jeans and average pullover tops and normal haircuts, and in one second, I was like, Damn, undercover cops again.
The truth is, the Japanese undercover cops stop me on my bike all the time. The first time was when this young guy ran beside me and held up a badge.
“Excuse me!” He said in Japanese. “Can I talk with you about your bicycle for a minute?”
Racism! Knew it. I stopped my bike. “What? A white man can’t have a bicycle?” I snapped. Hey, I know my rights. Well, actually I don’t, but I’m pretty sure it’s okay to ride a bike.
“No,” he said, “you don’t have a registration sticker. We stop anyone without one.” He seemed a little embarrassed.
“Oh. Well. That’s different,” I said. Now I was embarrassed too. “Sorry, I’ll get one.” Probably an attitude adjustment would be in order as well.
But of course, because my default mode is set to Lazy as Eff, I never went to the trouble of getting one. A sticker, that is. A couple of beers and half a bottle of shochu fixed the old attitude right up. So as a consequence, pretty soon I was being stopped by undercover cops on a weekly basis. They’d hold up a badge, I’d say “I know, get a sticker, I know,” and I’d be on my way. I also noticed that they did indeed stop everybody, regardless of race, which restored my faith in humanity, plus reinforced the fact that I’ve descended into paranoia. Anyway, all this being stopped soon imbued me with the superpower of detecting undercover cops at a single glance.
How the Arrest Went Down
So when these two guys approached me in front of Starbucks, I didn’t even wait for them to produce their badges.
“Police, right?” I said.
“You know you need a registration sticker, don’t you?”
“‘I’m on my way to get one right now.”
Two more undercover cops appeared. It was starting to become a scene. I looked up at the coffee shop—it’s a two-story place with all these big windows—and there was a sea of Japanese eyes staring out at me. Jeez, that’s a little embarrassing.
The one cop bent down and read the serial number off the bike frame. They do this. Then they call it in on their radios, to make sure the bike isn’t stolen. This happens a lot.
But then another cop actually got on the ground and put his face right next to the frame and started rubbing it. I was like, What the hell’s he doing? Can we not make a scene in front of the place I buy my coffee every day?
“This serial number’s been altered,” he said. “See this E? It used to be an F.”
“Get the hell out,” I said. I dropped to the sidewalk too, along with another cop. So now there’s three guys on their hands and knees like they’re praying to this bicycle in front of Starbucks. I glanced up and all the customers were pressed to the windows, wide-eyed.
Well, damned if he wasn’t right. “You’ve got some amazing vision,” I said.
One Tin Soldier Rides Away
Then two more undercover cops appeared from out of nowhere. Is everybody in this country a cop? Jeez. They surrounded me and started asking me questions. When did you buy the bike? Do you have the receipt? Can you eat natto? Okay, they didn’t ask that. But freaking just about everything else. And then we all went to the station, with one guy wheeling my bike. Leaving Starbucks surrounded by cops was like when the police lead Billy Jack away. Okay, nobody was holding their fist in the air, but otherwise, pretty much exactly the same.
The Japanese Police Station
The police station was great. It was this big, white building and everyone spoke Japanese to me, which I always enjoy. Why take language classes when you’ve got the police? And we played a lot of fun games, like, Where’d you buy the bike? See if you can find it using this pile of old Japanese maps. And we played, How many Japanese people can you fit in an elevator with a stolen bicycle? Let’s find out. Good times.
I told them I really try hard not to do anything illegal in Japan, since it might mean being exiled to America. And everyone seemed cool with the fact that I’d bought the bike from a second-hand shop without knowing it was stolen. So after fingering the store in question and filling out a bunch of forms in Japanese—including having to do one twice because I screwed up the kanji—they said sayonara and set me free.
It was a bright, crisp day and it felt good to be finally out of the station. Walking back to 7-Eleven took a long time, since walking is just like biking, only way slower. Actually, it’s not great. And I realized I would never see that bike again, which was a little sad. It was like the cops had just shoplifted it from me. Which would have sucked, except for one minor detail I’d overlooked mentioning during my language lesson with the police. See, when I bought the bike, it was 4000 yen, which is like 45 bucks. Stolen bikes are such a good deal. And since I ride a lot, I decided to get another one, just in case the first one broke. So I have a second, identical bike. Same color and everything. Yeah, I know, I really ought to pick up a sticker for it one of these days.