You never know what the day will bring—that’s the exciting thing about waking up. So this morning, just as I was heading out for a fresh can of coffee at the corner 7-Eleven, I noticed somebody’d pasted a scary Japanese note to the windshield of my car.
“Contract parking place!!” it said in large, crimson kanji, written with what appeared to be a stubbly red crayon. “Never park here!!” Heh, and they say Japanese people are subtle. Sure they are, until you do something wrong. Anyway, I had to admit I felt a bit of pride in that I could read the terrible note, and also that I finally owned a car in Japan. Yet all things considered, somehow I felt bad. Emotions sure are confusing. I really wished it was night, so I could buy beer, which solves that problem.
Instead, I decided I better get two cans of coffee, since it looked like it was gonna be one of those days. Then I called up my real estate agent, who’s like the Japanese grandmother I never had.
“I, uh, was originally was in space 5,” I said in my softest Japanese. “But I thought you said to use parking space 31 from now on.”
“Oh yes that, that was fine,” she said in her sweet Japanese old lady voice. Then she mumbled a bunch of stuff I didn’t really catch and said, “But we can transfer you to space 29. I just need to get them to move their car to space 8, but I’ll bring over a contract tomorrow.”
Well, five, eight, thirty-one, twenty-nine, who the hell cares. Makes no difference to me. Anything so long as it’s not that dreaded space eleven. I mean, you gotta draw the line somewhere. Just kidding—eleven’s very nice too. But still, the whole thing was on my mind, so I mentioned it to Ako-chan.
“She sure is shuffling people around,” she said. “You have been paying for a space, right?”
“Oh, I’ve definitely been paying. Only maybe I didn’t have a contract? I’m not really sure. But who cares, whatever.”
“I wonder where that money’s been going?” Ako-chan said. “You should ask her.”
“Ah, jeez,” I stammered, “I really don’t like anything confrontational in Japanese. Gotta preserve the wa you know.”
“Wa? What the hell’s wa?” she demanded.
“It means ‘group harmony.’ I thought you were Japanese.”
“I thought you had some balls.”
“Ouch. Okay, when you’re right, you’re right.”
Sorry, that should’ve been “white.” I really gotta work on my wh- pronunciation. Anyway, over the years, I’ve noticed myself putting up with a lot of stuff that I’d never stand for in the U.S. There, Ken Seeroi could actually ask questions, negotiate, and occasionally get stuff done. But in Japan, I always found myself acquiescing. They must know better. It’s their country. I don’t want to offend anybody. After a while, I convinced myself that group harmony, saving face, and avoiding confrontation were “Japanese values.” Why, I’ve no idea. Probably something I read on the net. Damn Wikipedia.
Theft in Japan
This made me reflect on my first eikaiwa job, where my boss, a terrifying Japanese lady from Sapporo, chose the middle of my goodbye party to hand me an envelope full of cash, which was my contract-completion bonus.
My first thought was, I thought Japanese people were supposed to be good at reading situations? And here she was passing me cash just when everybody’s surrounding me, chatting and shaking my hand. And my second thought was, I don’t want to stop the party to count the money, because that’d be rude. Plus, you know, Japanese people, they’re trustworthy and all.
But I did. I excused myself, went into a corner, and counted out 140,000 yen. Only the counting stopped at 120,000.
“It’s 200 dollars short,” I said with some amazement.
“Oh!” said my terrifying boss, “I’ll be right back!” And in an instant, she returned with the missing cash.
“Sorry about that,” she said with a smile.
“No problem,” I said. Don’t want to disturb the group harmony or anything. It’s just a couple hundred bucks, after all.
Japan is a Safety Nation
So one thing I’ve heard over and over, and even said myself, is that Japan’s a very safe country. I mean, not counting my neighbor who killed herself or the guy beaten almost to death by the yakuza. Hey, you can’t account for every fluke.
Anyway, it’s pretty clear you’d be better off walking down a dark street in Japan than you would in, say, the U.S. Although I do know three women here who had their purses snatched by men riding by on scooters. But they were holding their bags rather than strapping them across their bodies like bandoleers, so that’s really their own fault.
All right, maybe it’s more accurate to say that crime in Japan is just different. You’re certainly more likely to get a lost wallet back in Japan. Although actually not my wallet that I lost in Kita-Kyushu. God knows where that thing went. And now that I think about it, I did return two wallets to people in the U.S., although for some reason it failed to make international news. But at least statistically, Japan’s safer. Well, I mean, so the Osaka police department did under-report crimes by, uh, eighty-one thousand incidents, so that might skew things just a bit in Japan’s favor. But still, everyone knows Japan’s a safe country. That’s just common knowledge.
Common Japanese Crimes
Now to be fair, I feel pretty confident in saying that Japan wins in three particular types of crime:
1. Bicycle theft. You don’t have to look too hard to find somebody who’s had a bicycle stolen. Even the lock on my scooter was broken, in an apparently failed attempt. “It’s a hobby,” one Japanese guy told me. “It’s just part of our culture.” So I can respect that. I mean, you gotta preserve the ancient traditions and all.
2. Home break-ins. I dated a lady for several months named, well, I forget what her name was, but anyway she was real nice. She lived with her mother and a five year-old son in a house near the school I taught at. One day while we were out, she asked if we could stop by the hardware store.
“Sure,” I said. “What d‘you need?”
“Lights,” she replied. “For outside our place. Somebody’s been breaking in at night.”
“What the hell!? Did he take anything? Lights? How’d he get in? You’re gonna buy lights? How ‘bout a gun? Did you call the police?” Sometimes I get a bit excited when I hear unexpected information. I probably should get some group counseling or something.
“The police said there’s nothing they can do,” she said.
“Lights?” I repeated. “Lights are your solution?”
“It’s dark at night,” she said.
Well, okay yes, yes it is. And in fact, many people I know, possibly all of them, have similar stories of somebody crawling in through a bathroom window or climbing over a balcony to steal money, jewelry, panties. Which brings us to
3. Sex crimes. Okay, hey, is it really a crime? I mean, what’s a friendly squeeze among friends? Who doesn’t like a little affection? Apparently nobody in Japan, because every single woman I’ve ever met has not one, but countless stories about some guy flashing her, ejaculating on her, groping her breasts, groping her ass…hell, I’ve even had guys standing in front of me rubbing themselves on the train, not to mention what I’ve seen in the men’s room, jeez. For a nation of sexless people, there’s sure a lot of perverts. Eh, probably just a coincidence. So if you were to call those things crime, then Japan’s gonna have to revise its statistics. But let’s not do that, because that’d make Japan stratospherically crime-ridden. It’s better just to say that people are, you know, super friendly. Japanese style.
Research on Crime in Japan
So I decided to do a bit of “research,” which sounds way better than “hanging out in bars talking to random Japanese folks.” Anyway, several weeks ago I found myself having drinks at an izakaya table, so I ventured a simple question:
“Is there crime in Japan?”
And everyone had the same answer: Nope. No way. No crime here.
So that put that question to rest. Whew, problem solved. But then I had a couple more beers, as is my custom, and thought of a slightly different query.
“Ever heard of someone having their car broken into?”
“Oh yeah,” said one girl, “My family went to the beach, and when we came back, our car window was smashed, and my mother’s purse was gone.”
“Ever seen anyone steal anything?”
“Just shoplifting in stores,” said a guy.
“And I was in an elevator when I felt someone lifting my wallet out of my bag,” added another girl.
“Did you see the person’s face?” I asked.
“Yeah, it was an old lady,” she said. “I started yelling, but the elevator door opened and she ran away.
“Those old broads can move pretty fast,” I noted. “What about violent crime?”
“A couple of salarymen were slugging it out on the train platform last week,” ventured another guy.
And suddenly there was a tsunami of stories, with each person chaining off the other, until a picture started to emerge of a nation awash with crimes that nobody’s talking about. It sounded more like Detroit than Japan. Although I’ve never been to Detroit, so I don’t really know what it’s like. Probably very nice, like Japan.
Keep Your Eye on the Ball
So the next morning I went down to the 7-11 and bought two cans of coffee, drank them, then met with my sweet granny real estate agent.
“So I’ve been paying for a spot…” I began.
“Yes, we just need to finish the paperwork…” she said.
“But if I didn’t have a contract, then where was the money…”
“Oh, the funds contract bank frequently routed parking deposit money moving customers transfer everything’s fine,” she said, and stood there smiling.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Sometimes my Japanese isn’t so good. It sounded like you just said random words that don’t actually add up to a sentence.”
So she said it slower. “Banks sometimes parking lot customers utilize temporary monthly fee until companies but it’s no problem.”
“Temporary monthly fee until companies but it’s no problem?” I said.
“No problem at all,” she said, nodding.
“Okay, I think I’m starting to understand,” I said, nodding in unison.
“Good, then I just need your stamp on this document. Then we can put you into space 15.”
“15?” I said. “What about 29?”
“Oh 15 divorced usually tenant 29 boyfriend parking lucky number sign night cats. Or you can have space 11.”
After that, I drove to 7-11, got a third can of coffee, four tall beers, and some scallop-flavored potato chips that were far too salty, and proceeded to come back and mistakenly park in space 11. Then I rode the elevator back to my apartment, drank all five cans, scattered teeny pieces of chips all over my apartment, and remembered what I’d known all along. There’s no crime in Japan, actually no problems at all. The only problems come from asking questions. I really gotta do less of that.