The Day I Got Shot in Japan

The Day I Got Shot in Japan

The first shot was like a needle to the sternum, and I was trying to figure out how a bee had stung me in the chest. The next one glanced off my right thumb, and the gravity of the situation quickly dawned on me, since that’s my beer-graspin’ hand. The guy next to me took a hit to the glasses and spiraled backward off the bench with a groan. To be fair, it’s hard to keep your balance when you’ve been drinking since noon.

We were crowded around a picnic table in the shade, in front of the neighborhood civic center, just me and half a dozen ancient Japanese dudes. It was a sleepy, warm afternoon, with a bit of autumn starting to show in the leaves. The old men were there almost every day, everyone about eighty years old, drinking shochu from cardboard packs and telling stories. They’d pour a glass half full of booze, splash in a bit of water, then scoop ice from a communal bucket with their grubby hands. We didn’t have any food after the war, they’d say—-if something fell on the ground you ate it anyway. What that’s got to do with not using ice tongs I’ve never understood, but they say it every time I show up, which is about once a week, and no one’s dead yet, so I guess they’ve got a point.

Old Japanese Men

Every week, we sit around this battered wooden table and they tell stories about the war, of brothers who never returned and mothers who survived. My comprehension of their mumbled Japanese starts at around seventy percent and steadily descends to zero as we get progressively drunker, but nobody seems to notice. On this late summer day we’d been nibbling from a paper plate full of fresh sashimi for a couple hours until I finally said “you know guys, this fish is kinda warm now, maybe we shouldn’t be eating it?” and they were all like, “eh, just douse it with vinegar, it’ll be fine!” That’s when the shooting started. Probably saved us all from a horrible bout of salmonella, in retrospect. Gotta remember to jot that down in my gratefulness diary.

It was slow at first, then the pelting got faster and faster until we were under a rain of BB pellets, hitting people, nearby trees, and bouncing off cups and the ice bucket to go rolling around the picnic table. Once it stopped, we stood up and looked at the apartment building across the street.

“Same thing last week,” said Matsuda-san.

“And the week before that,” said Yamashita-san. “I think it’s coming from the second floor.”

“Motherfucker,” I said, and took off across the street.

Shou Ga Nai

Okay, lemme tell you the difference between Japanese people and American people. Japanese folks will endure almost anything with long sigh and a muttered “shou ga nai—-nothin’ we can do.” Boss chews you out in front of the whole office, eh, shou ga nai. Come home and your wife’s getting hosed in bed by some other dude, shou ga nai. Get pelted by BB’s for several weeks…gosh, what can we do? Uh, how ’bout absolutely butt nothing? Yeah, that’ll probably work. Shou ga nai.

Now, I’m about the most Japanese white guy you’ll ever meet. But once in a while my American upbringing just kicks in. I really gotta eat fewer cheeseburgers to keep it in check, I know. ‘Cause when there’s a problem, an American’s gonna fix that problem.

I marched across the street, dashed up to the second floor, and waited. The old guys stood and watched from the bench. There were six apartments, and like all places in Japan, the curtains were drawn and there were bars on the windows. It seemed like a long time, maybe a minute or two, then came a burst of compressed air—-pffft—-and someone across the street said “Ow, damn!” I walked forward, then stopped because I could hear my footsteps. I took off my shoes and advanced in socks all kung fu to the next apartment. I heard it again—-pffft. That was the place. The window was open a crack.

I reached through the bars, grabbed the windowframe and curtain, and threw them back. Inside was a man of about forty in a grey t-shirt holding a mock sniper rifle and looking, well, crazy. Just those eyes; normal people don’t have those eyes. His room was a mess of clothes, books, CDs, a computer, and stacks of magazines. The Howard Hughes of Japan.

“What the fuck are you doing?” I yelled in Japanese.

“Nothin’,” he replied matter-of-factly.

“Dude, you’re holding a gun!” I said. “You got some sorta problem?”

“Yeah,” he said.

And I was like, Oh. Because I really hadn’t thought through the whole line of questioning. “Well, if you got a problem,” I continued, “why don’t you step outside and we can handle it.”

“Okay,” he said.

At this point, all the old guys across the street started shouting, “Ken! He might have a knife! Watch out for a knife! He’s gonna have a knife!” and I’m like, Jeez guys, shut up! Way to give him some ideas. Like now he’s definitely gonna stop by the kitchen, thanks a lot.

Fighting in Japan

He came outside, thankfully knife-less, and suddenly he was a pretty big dude. He stood eye to eye with me, looking like he was gonna eat me. I was like, man Seeroi, you can’t win a fight with a crazy person, not in socks. They can’t even feel pain. Better come up with something quick.

“You could put somebody’s eye out, you know” I said. “Ever think of that?” That’s it, reason with him. Genius.

“You guys been talking about me,” he said.

“Wha? Say what? Dude, we didn’t even know you existed till you started shooting at us.”

“I hear your voices,” he said, “talking.”

The thing is, this kind of guy, he’s not all that rare in Japan. He just sits alone in his underpants all day with the shades drawn, reading manga, surfing the web, slurping up cup ramen, until he goes batshit crazy. I’m tempted to say it’s actually the norm. And you wonder why the Japanese birthrate is so low.

So we continued our nutty conversation until a squad car showed up and the police took over, at which point I went back to the picnic bench and we all resumed drinking. Gotta love Sundays. Then a small, unmarked white car showed up with two guys dressed as a construction worker and a hospital orderly, trying desperately not to look like two police detectives with crew cuts and perfect postures.

The Japanese Tradition

Of course, the old men did what all Japanese people would do in such a situation: they talked about the shooter as loudly as possible, while he stood in front of his apartment with his head down and the police examining his rifle. “Can you believe that guy? Ken said he has a room full of dirty clothes and magazines! He should be arrested! He’s clearly insane. He needs to be locked up.”

That’s one of the Japanese things I’ve never gotten used to, talking about people in the third person while they’re well within earshot, in a weird sort of public-shaming. This went on for like an hour, because of course the Japanese police take that long for everything, and in the end did exactly what you’d expect, which was nothing. They just gave him back his gun, and advised him not to shoot people.

And that’s Japan. Everything looks calm on the surface. We sit around the table drinking, laughing, telling stories about the war and the time Ken Sensei almost got stabbed to death by the guy across the street. “Ken was like, ‘You got a problem?’ and this dude was like, ‘Yes!’” And somewhere over there, every day, behind a curtain, is a guy waiting and watching, listening, lining us up in his sights. A little like God, if you really think about it. Or the wonderful Wizard of Oz. Well anyway, I guess it’s good that at least somebody’s watching over us, after all.



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40 Comments

  1. Whereas in the US, you would most likely be dead.

  2. Wow, I can’t believe the police didn’t do anything.

    Actually, I can. We had similar weirdo neighbour (this one had a job, but antisocial aggressive dick). After harassing us for years he crossed the line and we called the police on him.

    They came round, told him not to ever speak to us again, and he didn’t.

    Did Sniper Wolf ever do anything again?

  3. Wow glad you are ok. Stay out of trouble you might be sent to jail or worst the US yuck.

  4. Way to start a narration! Very good! But these crazy guys would exist, with or without manga, see, he didn’t say he wanted to be the Pirate King or Shooter King or whatever (… I hope)! But it is interesting how twisted and different these kind of events can be in Japan, like the other guy said, should it be the US, can would probably be writing from the hospital.

  5. I’m dying to know what the problem was!!?? On the off chance it wasn’t completely nonsensical, it would of been some crazy, meandering narrative… damn man, you should of grilled him when you had the chance. Could of been great future book fodder.

    • Having had a brief conversation with the gentleman, I’m of the opinion that the problem was the fact he was off his nut. So although I share your journalistic impulses, I generally try to spend as little time as possible talking to crazy people. It’s often harder than it sounds.

      • Oh for sure he was off his nut and don’t normally engage those types, but since you already had him subdued I would of asked why, even if just to be shot at less in the future.

        Since I live in NYC and can’t really avoid the crazies, you do try to not “engage” those types, but once in… I find the psychology of the matter fascinating.

  6. To some extent, this explains why most Americans like to complain about anything under the sun- because when they do they can usually do something about it, “fix” the situation- internal locus of control. By contrast, most Asians have that external locus of control perception. Maybe because complaining doesn’t usually get them anywhere in their society? Shou ga nai- very interesting. Thanks for making me smile, Ken.

  7. Ken you are a gem. Nothing gives me a bigger rush than seeing a new post from you. Rather sad now that I think of it but let’s not think too hard

    Anyway, idk I kinda feel for this guy. Sometimes I feel I’m about two steps and a pair of pants away from ending up like him because of daily pressures. I guess the trick is to continue to wear your pants in the morning and wear earphones to block out people who are or aren’t talking about you

    • Thanks much for the great comment. And I think everybody pretty much shares that feeling—behind every Dr. Jekyll lurks a Mr. Hyde, crouching behind the shades, waiting to snap.

      The way I see it, the world’s full of wonders both great and horrible, and they seem to exist in almost equal proportion, for some annoying reason. The only thing to do is focus on the good and ignore the bad. Beer helps, sometimes.

  8. That’s one step away from the “Son of Sam” barking dog nonsense. Glad you are safe.

    What’s the mental health system in Japan like? My schizophrenic neighbor would get a 72 hour hospital stay and be let loose into the wild sans any help.

    • I’ve heard it’s not great. But then I’ve heard similar things about the U.S.

      It’s probably different if you’re under a company plan, versus being lumped in with the masses. Public healthcare is designed for pulling teeth and setting broken bones. It’s not good at providing long-term treatment of vaguely-defined symptoms. Hearing voices? Well, nothing a little vacuum cleaner to the ear can’t fix.

  9. Hi Ken
    did you get my reply? I entered about 3 times the bloody captcha codes and boom my writing disappeared again, the kind of magic I don’t like. this site is not very user-friendly sometimes just like Japan with foreigners (-_o) sometimes or maybe I don’t know how to use this site. As long as you got my reply then you know what to do and I can rest in peace and stop bothering you and others with my comments. and If you didn’t get it. Yes, please, can you please delete my comment above too?. Thank you a bunch. one question though I want to ask, were you serious when you wrote the article why you shouldn’t learn Japanese? That article is awesome btw, it made me laugh out loud and is the reason why I got to your site (^-^) actually. I would explain the reason why I want to know your answer to that but I am a bit tired from working too hard so I can’t be bothered explaining. Sorry. Thank you again, Ken

    • Hey again, Chichi,

      Yeah, sorry about that Captcha. I hate it too. The best thing is probably to copy your comment before attempting the Captcha.

      So, to address your question…Yes, I was serious about why you shouldn’t learn Japanese.

      Of course, I’m speaking from an economic perspective. It’s like if you’ve got $200 until the next payday, so instead of food, you decide to go out and buy a Rolex. Now, you may really want the Rolex. You may enjoy having the Rolex. But it’s not the best use of your money.

      Same thing with Japanese. I mean, it’s fun to learn. It’s a neat hobby and a decent party trick. But you’ve got a limited amount of time in your life. So the question is, How much utility will you get out of this language? Will it be more useful than, say, getting a Ph.D or a law degree? Both of which would take less time. Bear in mind, of course, that you can get by just fine in Japan—arguably better—speaking next to no Japanese. There are heaps of foreign people working high-paying jobs in international companies in Japan who speak almost no Japanese. Not to mention the effloads of Japanese folks who’ve studied English for years and have a massive head start on you.

      But okay, I guess I’ve made these points already, so I’ll let it rest. Anyway, I gotta get back to studying Japanese.

      • Hi Ken
        Thank you for your message and sorry for my late reply.
        I was super busy yesterday. Thanks again for deleting my silly comments (^-^). Since you didn’t get my reply because the captcha code things so I just have to say it again. I did say in my reply that if you delete my comments, I will send you chocolate or snack from New Zealand as a thank you note. I am the kind of girls who are true to my words so I will do it. But under $20 please as I’m poor af atm.
        To be honest, not sure what tiny Zealand can offer you in term of food and snacks as Japan is the heaven for those things. As a suggestion though, New Zealand is the only country that threw a black dildo into the face of the finance minister and we are the only country who change the new flag to the same exactly flag in our recent campaign. But these things all costs more than $20 so I don’t have to worry. I am not saying this to dodge the bullet. A promise is a promise so if you need overly sweet chocolate from the land of the long white cloud, just say it and I am happy to send them to you.

        And thank you for your answer to my question of learning Japanese. And yes, thank you to your advice, I am going to focus to doing ballet and music in my spare times rather than trying to learn Japanese. The reason I am asking is I play taiko drum in a Japanese band here in New Zealand. Even though I look the part ( I’m Asian so all the Japanese thought I were Japanese when I auditioned 3 years ago, so I just slided in and they were paying more attention to another Russian girl and another white Kiwi girl ). Little they knew, I speak zero Japanese (those other white girls speak way more Japanese than me). I guess once they knew, it was too late to kick me out I guess and so I to this date I remain the only person who speak zero Japanese in the band. Thought those Japanese girls would be friendlier if I speak Japanese but I guess it isn’t the case. Maybe they are just like that. But because of I did ballet and in some way still do so the level of the unfriendliness of these Japanese girls is nothing compare to ballet girls. So if I cope fine with ballets girls so I will be just fine. The guys and boys are friendly though. But guys are always friendlier I guess everywhere.

        Since this is my last comment, but I will still be following your site, may I suggest something for your blog/site from a girl/woman’s point of view? Can you please do some happy ending stories. Like fall in love, get married and they live happily ever after? I read this blog of this American girl who went to japan to teach English and then she met her soul mate, in china, not Japan. She didn’t enjoy japan for dating scenes. But in China, she fell in love with a rich Chinese doctor and they are getting married and live happily ever after I assume. Females like those kind of stories so if you write more happily ever ending story, I am sure your female audience will really increase. And last suggestion, can you do snapchat ? imagine how more effective it would be if you send us snapchat of the lonely japanese man who nearly shoot you? Marketing I guess. And your story is way cooler than some people I know currently in Sydney that pay $1000 to walk through the fire in the motivational seminar of how to change your life.

        Keep writing
        Thanks again and if you need super sweet chocolate from nz, just let me know.
        Chichi

        • Ah thanks, Chichi. I appreciate the offer of chocolate. Please have some for me.

          I’ll keep in mind what you said about happy endings. Apparently that’s something I need to work on. Good luck with your ballet and taiko!

          Ken

    • The captcha expires after some time, so you better just refresh it before writing it and posting. Or you know, copy-paste your post to not lose it for sure. Something browser extension like Lazarus Form Recovery can also help.

      • Thank you for your suggestion (๑・̑◡・̑๑) regarding the captcha codes but hopefully I don’t ever to use it again (^ν^)

  10. Hey Ken. This article was beautifully written, but left me with a lingering question. Crazy guy presumably sits in his apartment all day and goes crazy. But I thought Japan was all about working yourself to the bone? Where are people finding so much leisure time they go mad? Perhaps he’s a mad genius? Jokes aside, whatever he’s got going on sounds like the life. I don’t know who or what is taking care if his expenses, but I’d like to. Plus you say this type of thing is common? Well color me intrigued.

    • Let me offer a narrative of daily existence shared by many folks in Japan:

      Crazy guy gets up and goes to work. Maybe it’s at an office. Maybe it’s laying road asphalt. Maybe it’s stocking freezer shelves all night long. He silently rides the subway, hustles through a faceless crowd, then silently performs his work. In a week’s time, he might have five minutes of conversation with another human being. It’s also entirely possible he has none.

      At the end of crazy guy’s shift, he comes home and shuts himself up in his apartment. He reads stuff on his cell phone, maybe plays games on his computer, or leafs through a comic book for the tenth time. This goes on for years, possibly decades.

      Yeah, that’s the life all right.

      And perhaps that’s why Japanese folks are so excited when they meet “foreigners”—from a Japanese perspective, they appear a race of bungee-jumping, beer-pong playing, music-video dancing superheroes.

  11. It’s funny. Having read this blog for a while and watched a number of vlogs from Western folks in Japan, there seems to be a fairly consistent pattern. For foreign men, Japan has its share of problems. For women, Japan has such awesome vegan food, cafes ranging from Sailor Moon to turtles, and innumerable cute Pikachu, etc etc etc. Ken….go vegan and embrace your inner Pikachu. You’ll find happiness

  12. Sheesh Ken, maybe it’s time to take up some new hobbies or find new friends…

    Why don’t you go to a sporting event like a baseball game and tell us what that’s like? From my quick Google search baseball is the #1 sport in Japan. Or how about a sumo match? What could be more “Japanese” then a sumo match? I’m guessing alcohol and decent food would be served at either so it shouldn’t be a difficult transition for you.

    How about attending a concert? I can only imagine you in the ‘mosh pit’ at a Baby Metal show. Or how about fitting in with the mass of humanity at a Perfume performance? The ‘music scene’ of Japan would also make for an interesting post.

    I’m positive that either would make for an excellent read for us JR7 readers and hopefully you can take these subjects into consideration.

    • Yeah man, I do that stuff. I just don’t write about it much because it’s, eh, humdrum.

      Like I went to a baseball game. About 98% the same game as in the U.S.—still in a diamond shape, still got beer, still got one dude throwing one ball at one other dude while 20,000 people watching wish desperately they’d chosen to attend a sport that was actually interesting.

      Or sumo. I went there. Two huge sweaty dudes push each other. Then they push each other some more. Then one guy falls down. It’s crazy. The bento box was pretty good and I drank a beer.

      So I guess what I’m looking for is we go play soccer and instead of a ball end up using a square watermelon. That’d probably be worth writing about. Guess I’ll need to stop by the supermarket on my way there.

  13. Seeroi-san

    People have discussed this here previously, and I feel compelled to reiterate: seriously, man, relocate to Finland. With Japanese under your belt, you're halfway at speaking native Finnish. The time invested in this lovely language called Japanese, which I too adore, might discourage you in some way though to embark on the task in question, all which is entirely understandable. However, as per popular demand (based greatly on a somewhat peculiar reputation Finland enjoys in Japan) at the very least, would like to hear about a future travel of Seeroi-sama to Finlandia. Is there any actual justified basis of a connection between Japan and Finland? Look no farther than Twitter…? How about elaborating on this weirdness at some point in time? Apologizing for obscurity in advance in this post generated under alcoholic circumstances.

    Cheers

    • Thanks so much, but ah, I wish you wouldn’t say that. It makes me seriously reassess my life choices.

      I mean, I could do a visit. It sounds like an amazing country. I even like cross-country skiing and vodka. But relocating—starting all over again from scratch after so long in this nation, learning Japanese and all, man—that’s hard to imagine.

      When I moved from the U.S. to Japan, I went from pretty-high-up-the-ladder to almost-bottom, and it took a long damn time to climb back up. Can’t really picture doing that again. I feel like, well, now that I’ve dealt this hand, guess I need to play it out.

      And—do I really need to be obvious?—the moral is: be cautious with your choices, because you’ve got a few, but they’re not unlimited.

      • What’s it like to be pretty-high-up-the-ladder in Japan as a foreigner? If it means that you don’t have more interesting stories to write about like being complimented on your use of chopsticks…you need to get knocked down a few rungs for all of our reading benefit.

        “Be cautious with your choices, because you’ve got a few, but they’re not unlimited.” Yup, that’s going in my quotes book…

        • I guess what I mean is simply I’ve finally gotten a stable job. That’s increasingly hard to do anywhere in the world, but the number of companies in Japan with sketchy contracts and abysmal working conditions isn’t small. So I’m immensely pleased to simply have a safe place to work, for now. Of course, I still don’t get any respect in society, but that’s just a result of, uh, being white.

  14. Well I do not know much about the Japanese psychiatry yet I can say it will most likely not be any great as good mental health care always combines psychiatry (drugs) with psychotherapy (words and alike) and Japan has not tradition of psychotherapy whatsoever (like almost all Asia actually).

  15. “You got some sort of problem?”
    “Yea..”
    “oh..” yea, i woulda just stopped there. lol

    I’ve been in Japan for …almost as long as I had lived in Seattle. and, yea… crazy shit happens every day.
    Nice blog by the way… plenty of interesting posts!

  16. Whoa! Time out!! Wait a minute here!!! Stop the presses!!!!

    Ken, maybe I missed one of your articles but I DO NOT recall you mentioning there are Huntsman spiders in Japan. I just found out about it and yes, I’m a wuss. I might be (that’s a big “might be” as I just stated I’m a wuss) able to cope with giant hornets, BB gun toting nut jobs and other nasty critters (aside from Gaijin Hunters) but I draw the line at spiders the size of small dogs. Don’t you think your readers should be warned of these; the ‘Godzilla’ of spiders? What’s next? Huge ants from the 1954 movie “Them!”? WTF, just watching a YouTube video of a Huntsman spider (those things are quick!) has me swatting my shoe at the screen of my laptop. Geez, I’m not even sure a shoe will kill ’em, more like a flame thrower.

    I used to think Australia was the perfect place for a US expat…until I found out 75% of the creatures there can/want to kill you. I now have nightmares about Koala bears so I can’t imagine coming face to face with a giant man-eating spider.

    Come clean Ken, tell us all about the deadly blood sucking animals and creatures (not including my ex-wife’s lawyer) awaiting our arrival in Japan. I can only imagine these killers are sharpening their fangs awaiting their next gaijin victims…

    • I will tell you that a couple weeks ago, I had a spider the size of a child’s hand inside my apartment. That’s rarely good.

      Just some other random snapshots of Japan…

      I was in a hostel when the girl next to me screamed and jumped up. A giant poisonous centipede had crawled up her leg. A female coworker got gored by a wild boar. An old woman in my neighborhood got bitten by a snake in a field. She beat it to death with a stick, then drove herself to the hospital. Maybe it’s only women this stuff happens to.

      I’m starting to see why Japanese people stay indoors a lot.

  17. Dear Ken: I’m not sure about this, but is it possible you have crossed over the point of no-return concerning your alcohol consumption. I’m dead serious about this. Sorry, whether it’s true or not.
    If you want to quit there is hope.

    Mike
    a former drunk

    • Thanks, I really appreciate the concern.

      Point of no return? That sounds pretty ominous. Probably happened about the time I boarded the first plane for Japan.

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