Me and Japan pt 3: Vexation and Vigilantism

…and once I get vexed, well…what can I say? I’m a New Yorker. I have to represent. If you violate personally you should expect some kind of personal repercussion. That’s a simple maxim, and a universal one, I thought. And even if that maxim doesn’t mean a thing in Japan I’m pretty sure Newton applies here…evidence to the contrary, Japan is still on the planet earth, so it ought to be understood that: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Y’all remember Death Wish, right?

I think there were 5 sequels. I’ve only seen parts 1 and 2, but that was enough. Charlie Bronson was violated, and he reacted! I think he overreacted a bit. All of those crooks didn’t have to die. But, they needed to be taught a lesson. I came to Japan to teach English, but, like Charlie, I felt thrust into the role of teaching something else: A little common decency; American style.

I ought to apologize, though. I probably made the lives of a number of foreigners in the Tokyo / Yokohama area a little harder…their experience here a little more intense,…the Japanese a little more afraid of them, especially the black guys. Gomen ne. (Sorry) But, living in Japan had become a daily vexation…if you’ve read some of my other posts (an empty seat, the crush, Shaking Shit Up, etc…) you have an idea of what I’ve been tolerating on a daily basis: Basically, the intolerable.

I thought a little retaliation was in order. At least i thought so in this 2nd phase.

Granted, I was warned. By people, by books, by movies…the word was out: Japanese people are shy (a pleasant little euphemism for xenophobic and/or racist) and not prone to displaying their true emotions. I could have come here and accepted their “shyness” on face value. I actually tried. But, I’d never seen such active and aggressive shyness before. It was fascinating at first. Almost comical. Until, come phase 2, when I lost my sense of humor about it entirely. I mean, sometimes it’s just offensive, and that’s barely tolerably in itself. And, other times…well, it’s taken to a point that no man with a sense of his own humanity can stand, that anyone with feelings can bear. It’s taken overboard.

Innocent or not, it had to be addressed.

I tried to understand it, first. To find some rationale for accepting it aside from this is their country and if I don’t like it I can go back to my own country. That’s certainly a sentiment a certain segment of Americans would spit at foreigners complaining about being abused. So. that one held me in check for a long time…until I paid a big fat tax bill, and then another and another and another…And I graduated my third-year students and found myself in tears, and helped carry a shrine through the streets of Yokohama, and had run into a former student from a few years back on the train and been told (with eyes welling and in pretty damn good English) that I was the best English teacher she’d ever had and thanks to the advise I’d given her she was able to secure her dream job as an English language tour guide in Japan, etc…In other words, I LIVE HERE, TOO.

Yep, the flame of self-righteous indignation was ablaze.

In my effort to understand it, I went into a long period of deep observation and experimentation. The results of which I hadn’t truly finalized until phase 3 (which I’ll discuss in later posts.) They say, don’t drive mad. Well, don’t research mad should be a saying, too. It can really bungle your results something awful. I mean, I should have started my research with a more careful examination of my own issues. But, at the time, I was seeking blame externally, and only incorporated any internal issues that supported the conclusions I wanted to arrive at, the foregone ones.

I asked myself a series of leading questions. For example: Why are Japanese so insensitive to my feelings? Can they be so obtuse as to believe that since I come from a different country and culture that I don’t share the capacity to feel as they do? I thought this, mental pen and pad in hand, while I watched (without making it obvious I was watching…like a Conservationists observing some endangered species’ mating rituals in the wild) an occurrence that takes place about 5-10 times a day: a man on the train shifted to an unnatural angle in order not to have me in his direct line of sight yet still be able to observe me peripherally, like a fish. Another man on the other side of me is stealing glances when he thinks I’m not looking and when I glance up purposely to test his reaction, he, as expected, darts his head away, like a fish when you tap your knuckle against the bowl. I generously chalked this kind of behavior up to their curiosity overwhelming their decorum. They know they shouldn’t be staring, and in their misinformed, stereotype-plagued minds it’s actually dangerous to do so, but they can’t help themselves. Even at the risk of being rude they feel compelled. They would prefer to be natural, to look or not look and feel no ways about it. But, because I’m not Japanese they are placed in this awkward situation. So, I wondered: Do they blame me? But, that would suggest that they weren’t insensitive to my feelings. That they were well aware that I possessed the same feelings as they but somehow this was retaliation. I’d made them uncomfortable by being in their vicinity so they were going to make me uncomfortable by treating me like a spectacle.

Was that the rationale? I didn’t jump to conclusions, though. I’m a piss-poor researcher for sure but I’m not an idiot.

When there’s an empty seat beside me on a crowded train, which occurs quite often, I pretend to read my book (it’s just a prop when I’m in research mode) and watch as well as I can the reaction of people on the train to the seat. Sometimes a man will board and see the seat. Though I avoid looking up at his face, I can tell by the position of his feet that he is facing it. He’s close. He’s huffing and puffing, making guttural Japanese noises I’ve learned indicate annoyance. Annoyance at what, I wonder. At being put into such a position by my mere presence? Annoyed at an empty seat’s shout of, “sit on me you asshole!” exposing the things he’d rather not know about himself, and about his brethren? It yells “you are all cowards at best, racists at worst.” It sighs, “you are so easily manipulated.” It belittles him. The empty seat ridicules them. Hell, I would get angry too if a seat made me feel like shit.

But, this was all projection on my part. I needed confirmation.

My first experiment was performed in order to confirm that they shared my feelings. One of those values embedded in Western culture is “do unto others as you would have done unto you” or something like that. Well, I decided to do some doing unto them. See how they like it. So, for a few months, I pretended to be Japanese. As soon as I began this experiment I knew it was going to be a total failure.

On the first day, I was nervous. I felt…bad. But, hell, they needed a taste of their own medicine, i just didn’t know if i was up to the task of administering it.



Maybe you’ve seen me. I was that black guy on the train not sitting next to a Japanese person. Funny, right? If anything, they were relieved. So, I had to be overly overt. I’d rush to an open seat, get half-way into the seated position, time enough for the person sitting beside it to notice that a Gaijin was about to sit beside them, and then I’d look at the person, and pretend to be shocked to find a scary-ass Japanese person there, donning the best look of fear I could muster. I must have looked like Buckwheat in the haunted house. I probably scared them more than I was pretending to be afraid. Tell me I ain’t going loco. The person looks and visually is so relieved I didn’t sit down that they actually exhale audibly “Phew!”

Have you seen me? I was that black guy on the crowded train surrounded by Japanese people, looking terrified (see picture again)  bouncing from person to person, with a look on my face and a manner in my body language that indicated I believed coming into contact with any of them would expose me to a lethal disease that kills slowly and painfully and for which there is no cure…and receiving the most bizarre looks you can imagine in return. My fear scared them more than my book reading and Tetris playing ever did.

Sometimes I’d strike pay dirt. Like if some guy would bump up against me on the train, I’d turn around and give him a dirty look and then, most conspicuously, pull my wallet out of my back pocket, gesticulating a bit to draw attention (as if that were necessary), repeatedly peeking back at him, with a lot of tooth-sucking and eye-rolling, check its contents, and then place my wallet in my front pocket and give him one last dirty look. You know what pay dirt looks like? He’d wince ever so slightly, like maybe someone stepped on his toe. He wouldn’t even acknowledge me. That’s the most reaction I’ve ever gotten.

Yes, it failed miserably. Yappari, deshou? (As expected, right?)

This vexed me further. How the hell could someone ignore what I’d been doing? Acknowledge me goddammit! I mean, I’d mimicked their most offensive reactions to me as best I could. It was really difficult. I’d never really snubbed people before, not conspicuously anyway. I’ve had precisely zero experience doing this kind of thing. I’ve never even had cause to treat people with seething contempt or malice… And, I’ve never been afraid of a people, per se. A person, sure. But, not a whole race, and of course not any race other than my own. That’s just too absurd a notion for a New Yorker.

I wanted some satisfaction! It was time to take the gloves off.

to be continued…

9 Responses to “Me and Japan pt 3: Vexation and Vigilantism”

  1. 1 Zen
    November 18, 2008 at 7:57 am

    I hate to be continues… now you have two of them going!!

  2. 2 Locohama
    November 18, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Zen, gomen ne.
    Yessum, I’s getting to it. I’s getting to it. (One of my favorite lines from “The Color Purple”) (-:


  3. November 18, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Another excellent one. I think I’m enjoying these so much cause we’ve got some similar thinking! I’ve made plans to return the favor to people so many times, but usually end up too lazy to go through with it in the end.

    What’s funny to me though, being in China and having lived in Japan before, is how you make vices of so many things I saw as virtues there. In China I’m insulted to no end by people attempting to COERCE me to communicate with them in retardo pseudo-English. They take me to my near-exploding with violence limit almost everyday by “complimenting” my Chinese in barely comprehensible English, as if to insinuate my Chinese is so rubbish I couldn’t understand their “compliment” (or veiled insult) unless it’s translated to f—tard English. Meanwhile you write about a salaryman who sees you studying and strikes up a conversation in pure Japanese! That’s the epitome of being respected in my view! “This person is a human being, not mentally damaged, therefore worthly of the respect of being addressed in the language that’d be used to address any other normal human in this country until proven he can’t understand or otherwise.” When I transfered flights in Tokyo earlier this year (didn’t stop there) in the international terminal the employees addressed me in Japanese first even though there was a significant chance I had never been to Japan before in my life and had no intentions of stopping there. I thought “I love this place!!!” I go back to Shanghai and my order in the coffee shop which should take 10 seconds and have .01% chance of being miscommunicated in Chinese takes 2 minutes because the asswipe decides my white skin means he is entitled to a free language lesson and all the 10 mistakes in my order he makes due to it.

  4. 4 Locohama
    November 18, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    What up Just! Yep, I think we got some very similar thinking! Thanks again for the shout…I’d love to read some more about Shanghai! Sounds like just the place to continue my trek to Loco-dom (-+

    “They take me to my near-exploding with violence limit almost everyday by “complimenting” my Chinese in barely comprehensible English, as if to insinuate my Chinese is so rubbish I couldn’t understand their “compliment” (or veiled insult) unless it’s translated to f—tard English.” HILARIOUS!!!


  5. 5 Mikein Korea
    September 29, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Your stories are hilarious but they seem curious to meet because I found Japan to be a refreshing change of pace from KBS(Korean Bullshit). Everything you say about Japan can be applied to Korea after amplifying by a factor of 2 and then throwing on a healthy dose of self-loathing mixed with a near fascist level of pure blood fascination. I have also never met nor spoken to a Black Koreaphile (Hanophile) I don’t think it is possible here because to do so one would have to be oblivious to nearly everything going on around them.

    • September 29, 2009 at 10:36 am

      There’s a whole lot of oblivion here too…trust! Maybe you missed it because you’re used to a more overt style of but JBS is something else. Just this morning I had to talk myself down from a cliff (metaphor) meaning I had to convince myself that it was my best interest not to retaliate to some nonsense. Anyway, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger they say. I can probably lift a Hummer right about now (-:
      Thanks for reading yo

  6. 7 MikeinKorea
    September 29, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    I hope we get a post on the situation soon. You write long form so it may take you a while to craft your thoughts. I’m spending this weekend in Tokyo so I am going to try your human joystick game. I hope there are a lot of open manhole covers in Tokyo.

    • September 29, 2009 at 6:31 pm

      Nah, I’ve just about given up on chronicling the day to day JBS, unless it’s profound or extreme JBS, and usually it isn’t. Just a preponderance of the day to day paper cuts. Sometimes I need to turn the valve and release the steam buildup otherwise Chernobyl / Three Mile island…u get the pic.

  7. 9 kenji
    March 18, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    wow that was epic! This is like the 3rd post i’ve found. I believe I found you throw Michael Hurt’s “Scribblings of the Metropolitician” and I was sooo excited! I wanted to get information about the Japanese perspective as well because halfway through I started thinking, “Well forget Korea,there’s always Japan” but I realize these two share an ironic similarity. Anyway, I’m extremely glad to have found your page and have definitely added you to my favorites. Your writing is refreshing and i’ve become addicted. I guess It’s because i’m a mix of both Hano and Japano- file so I wanted to know as much about both of them. Despite all the negative i’ve heard, it’s blogs like these that give a sense of hope and absolute reality. So i’ve been greatly discouraged by the things i’ve read about both countries, but as I continue to read, I find that there are many positives as well. Again, this is from a black perspective so it just means 10x more to me. Ah, did I mention I was african-american too? Hahaha, and still in highschool, so i’m hoping by the time i’ve read as much as I can about foreign experiences in Asia, i’ll be able to decide on my course of action by the time I graduate. Could you possibly recommend some blogs from the female perspective in Japan? Although it might not make THAT much of a difference, I feel it does have a significance anyway. Keep up the post, i’ll be back for more 🙂

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Please know that this blog is my original writing and may not be reproduced in any way without the expressed written permission of the author (that's me!) Thanks!

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November 2008

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