Sunday, April 22, 2007

Those damn Brazilians

In Japan, candidates for political office are subject to all kinds of restrictions on campaigning: apparently forbidden from advertising on television or radio, and prohibited from campaigning of almost any kind up until the last couple weeks of the elections. They're left with two main options: plastering every open surface with posters with the candidates mug and name, and blasting every open frequency with propaganda speeches from huge megaphones mounted on trucks, screeching like terrible birds of prey, descending upon innocents in public spaces, mercilessly slaughtering peace of mind and quiet.

So I go to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee and read a book last week. I like to sit outside on nice days and read, taking breaks to people watch. Often I see people I know - usually students, typically in awe to see me living outside the school grounds - and though it's not terribly exciting, it's a way of getting out of the house and getting some reading done.

But, I'm only there for about 10 minutes when this truck parks down the street and starts blaring its political speech at an intolerable volume. Typically I can ignore background noise when I'm reading, but this not in the background; it's more like someone standing next to you with a bullhorn screaming in your ear.

So I pick up my coffee and book and head down to the other Starbucks. This being a modern city and all, that's only a couple blocks away. I get about 15 pages farther in my book when the speech begins again. I look up and see the same truck. It has now set up shop directly across the street from this Starbucks.

I don't even try to read through it this time; I snarl at the truck a bit, jump to my feet and immediately walk back to the other one, still with my original cup of coffee in hand. I sit down again - back at my original table - and open the book.

I'm still not halfway through my coffee when the truck comes back again, except this time even closer to the first Starbucks than before. Now, I get so angry I actually start listening to what kind of nonsense this guy is yelling into the megaphone. I want to know what is so damn important that they feel it's necessary to hound me all around town.

And then I really get angry.

Because this guy is talking about foreigner crime. Actually, what he's talking about is a case in which a Brazilian from Hamamatsu killed some girl and then ran back to Brazil. Apparently now the government refuses to extradite him. It sounds like a pretty tragic case.


This guy is not talking about this one case alone. He is not leading a crusade on behalf of this girl to bring her killer to justice. He is not even just talking about the problems with the law as it applies to Brazilians. No, he is sitting on the sidewalk talking about foreigner crime. Foreigners, as in all non-Japanese.

He talks about how, though most foreigners are good people, some of them are committing crimes, and then they escape back to their countries to avoid punishment. He exhorts the Japanese people to support a stronger stance on foreigner crime: both to increase penalties and also to educate the foreign population. He informs the Japanese in the area that many foreigners simply don't understand Japanese morals, and it's the job of the Japanese to teach them how to be good citizens.

I am steaming at this point.

In my head, I compose several counter-arguments:

1) Statistics on foreign crime in Japan, though often trotted out in elections to play into public fears of the Other (recently re-elected Tokyo Governor Ishirhara is a prime, prime offender), are rather misleading. Though overal crime rates are somewhat higher for foreign residents, there are mitigating factors. First, to compare "crimes" is misleading, as a majority of the "crimes" committed by foreigners in Japan are actually visa-related, and obviously none of these can be committed by any Japanese person. Second, though crime rates base use the number of legal foreign residents in Japan as the base population, they include crimes committed by any foreign person - even tourists or illegals - for the total amount of crimes committed. Basically, this underestimates the foreign population while overestimating the number of crimes they commit, leading to an artificially inflated number.

2) Why are the actions of one Brazilian used to indict the entire population of non-Japanese in Japan? As an American, invited here by the Japanese government, well-versed in Japanese culture and language, playing a valueable role in the community educating children, why should I be labeled a possible threat? To these very same children, no less. Recently, a young British woman in Japan as an English teacher was murdered by a Japanese man, but I'm quite sure that her parents aren't down on the street corner talking about the grave threat Japanese people pose to us all. An even more pertinent example would be the tragedy at Virgina Tech; only the lunatic fringe of our society use the actions of one disturbed kid to attack all Koreans, all Asians, or all foreigners. Hell, even those people are likely to at least be a little more specific in their racism!

3) For a guy purporting to want to teach Japanese morals, isn't it insanely rude to sit on a street corner and speak in Japanese about the problems with foreigners, addressing just the Japanese citizens as if no one else could understand what you're saying? It's treating all non-Japanese like children who don't need to be part of the conversation that all the grown-ups are having. And if you're going to make wild indictments of these groups, shouldn't you make your accusations directly, rather than in a way you assume they won't understand?

So I think about these things. I stand across from the guy and try to get him to meet my eyes. He does not. I think, if you're going to label me a killer, why don't you fucking look at me directly and say it?

I imagine committing several acts of violent foreigner crime.

But in the end, I walk away, because though all the above points and more would easily flow out with righteous indignation in English, the process of trying to say these things, to think these thoughts in Japanese just tires me, frustrates me. I can't speak out, and I can't stand up for myself. Yet.

I went home and studied Japanese. For next time.

Because I know there will be a next time.


drcaa said...

It's been a long time between blogs. Your fans want more writing about your experiences!

Anonymous said...

I agree with drcaa, we need more posts. But if I remember correctly, those Brazilians could be a delinquent bunch.

Chris said...

Nice post.
Keep up the good work.

Luke said...

Thanks. I wish I had actually had the wherewithal to do something more than just come home and rant about it though.