Sunday, May 23, 2010


REQUIREMENT #3


The police in Japan of today aren't nearly as ShowMeYourPapersy as they were back when I first came here in the early seventies and folks in Tokyo used to stare at me in my rareness like folks in China do now to their visitors. Back then the police would stop you on the street or jump out of one of the corner police boxes and with one of those guilt-generating immigration faces ask to see your passport or alien registration, even though world terrorism wasn't yet much of a fad. We foreigners were a threat of some other kind, a threat that's no longer really a matter of papers, but has been reduced to its essence. The fundamental fact of foreignness in this "ethnically homogeneous" society is still here. [Ad before video, but worth the wait]

The other night I got off the train back from work in the big city, went to get my motorbike to head home, and even from a distance could see an ominous yellow tag on the handlebars. Some authority had been here. What had I done now. Untwisting the wire that held the tag in place, I took it off and saw that it contained a list of 9 items, one of which, #3 , had been checked by the observing authority. It was from the police.

A policeman or two had come out here, to this little motor/bicycle parking lot beneath the tracks of this tiny railstation - where at night I often detrain alone - to go from bike to bike and check these 9 items, such as "There is no lock on your vehicle," "You forgot to lock your vehicle," The handlebars of your vehicle are not locked," or (in my case) "The theft insurance on your vehicle has expired." (Bicycle and motorcycle theft insurance is required by law(!) in a country where crime is so rare (relatively speaking) that the police have time to visit little motor/bicycle parking lots beneath the tracks at tiny rail stations to go from bike to bike and observe 9 items regarding your two-wheeled vehicle. This is amazing only to a foreigner, so there is something to this foreignness...

Not that I'm complaining, mind you; it is a privilege truly unimaginable in the West - and just about everywhere else I've ever been - to feel so safe and enjoy such civility-- and by extension, to feel so remiss at having violated requirement #3. I'll get right on it.


5 comments:

Apprentice said...

Oh yeah - I remember. The 登録証 (torokusho). I always felt marginally insulted by having to be photo'd and fingerprinted even though I had a passport and proper visa. My friend Yumi Kim had even more to say about it (KJ #16)

But what I want to say is that I like your perspective on the whole mysterious Japanese being Japanese thing (or foreigners being foreign)- they really do get it !!
Even though that little cross street on Shijo is only 10 feet wide at most and there are no cars in sight, if the don't walk sign says don't walk - well then, don't walk!!

Chrissy said...

U are lucky that it is safe where u live... I know u've been to Santa Barbara- Isla Vista? that was an area where u could leave your door unlocked even Carpinteria....
To Apprentice: I agree if the sign says don't walk, don';t. Here in Cali, people ignore the signs and ASSume that they can just cross regardless if its red or green..No sympathy at all if they get clipped.

Maggie said...

We are heading out into California....into parts of the coastline we have never been. I always feel alien in my own home when we do road trips like this.

steveb said...

The civil civility is among the country's top wonders. It's practically addicting.

It's been more than a decade since I have been randomly asked for my papers (gaijin card) by the police. However, just the other day, when I considered asking for directions at a koban, I paused because I did not have my gaijin card on me and remembered being retained until I wrote out an apology. (I wonder if they have all my apologies on file somewhere.)

R. Brady said...

O yeah, those apologies... I had a few of my own, but I been good lately. I mean uncaught.