JDG on self-appointed Hanami Vigilantes in Osaka harassing NJ


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Hi Blog.  As spring gets underway in the population centers of Japan and people go out partying under the cherry trees, here’s a rather unpleasant development that JDG reports:  anti-gaijin vigilantes, who take it upon themselves to police people they suspect of potential unsavory behavior (in a reportedly less than micro-agressive manner) under rules they purport to know.

This isn’t the first time, of course, Debito.org has heard about anti-NJ vigilanteism in bored power-hungry Japanese ojisan.  There is the officially-sanctioned stuff (“Japan Times: NPA to entrust neighborhood assoc. with more policing powers, spy cameras” Debito.org July 1, 2009), and even the Chounaikai neighborhood associations (historically used to help the prewar Kenpeitai Thought Police increase their snooping abilities). But there are also “citizens’ groups” (see “TV Asahi ‘Super Morning’ rupo re Shibuya Center Gai citizen patrols harassing buskers, NJ“, Debito.org January 10, 2011) and other busybodies interfering with and taking nosey pictures of NJ going about their business in public (ending up as fodder in places like Gaijin Hanzai Magazine). Then there’s the quick mobilization of society whenever NJ are around anyway (as in the Hokkaido G8 Summit of 2008, where “local residents” and “advisors” hundreds of kilometers away were summoned to defend Japan from within (see The Japan Times “SUMMIT WICKED THIS WAY COMES, The G8 Summit gives nothing back, brings out Japan’s bad habits”, April 22, 2008, where “3000 amateur “local residents” and “neighborhood associations” in Ikebukuro and Shinjuku, [were called upon] to “watch for suspicious people” around “stations and important facilities”).

Golly, compared to this, self-appointed hanami police look like nothing. Except when you fall under their dragnet for harassment just for sitting on a blue tarp while foreign. Is this happening to anyone else? Arudou Debito


April 10, 2012

Hi Debito, Hope you are well. Just wanted to share this story with you, maybe some of your readers have had similar experiences.

On Sunday (8th April) I went via Hankyu Kurakuenguchi station to Shukugawa, where along the river bank many people enjoy hanami every year. It is (apparently) a very highly rated location on a national scale.

I have been meny years with Japanese friends, and have never had a problem. However, this was the first year that I went early and alone in order to secure a nice spot. Shukugawa has rules on it’s website (such as no ‘reserving’ of a spot with unattended blue sheets, and you must not enter the roped off areas around the tree roots), which I read in advance.

I arrived at 10.30 am, and immediately I found a nice spot and stopped, then some old guy started hassling me to move on, saying that I wasn’t allowed to stop there. I told him to shut up, and then ignored him (thinking he was just some grumpy old codger), but as I was setting out my sheet and blanket, four more old guys came along to join him, and tried telling me that the place I was in was off limits. I pointed to the Japanese groups set up all around me, and asked ‘What about them?’, but the old guys just ignored my question, and told me that they would call the police if I tried to give them any trouble.

I know I wasn’t breaking any of Shukugawa’s rules, so I just ignored them and waited for the rest of my group to arrive. For the next hour the group of five old guys stood over me, coming over every 5 minutes to ask me if I was going to move on, or asking me if I didn’t think that I was selfish by taking up so much room (one blue sheet), and even taking my photo twice. I told them that it was against the law to take my photo without my permission. I took theirs only after that (see attached photo).

When my NJ and Japanese friends turned up, the old guys took off pretty sharpish.

I realize that this is not an earth-shattering case of discrimination, but I think it is important because:

a) I wasn’t breaking any rules. By taking my photo, the old guys are breaking the law.
b) I don’t like unelected volunteer jobsworths bullying people around.

I want to make sure that other NJ know their rights when confronted by old gits like this. Sincerely, JDG


33 comments on “JDG on self-appointed Hanami Vigilantes in Osaka harassing NJ

  • Just to play devil’s advocate, and to be perfectly clear what happened, did JDG explain to the ojisan that her friends were on their way? If you’re being accused of being selfish and taking up too much space, it seems the obvious thing to say is to explain that you’re not taking it up by yourself, but that you’re saving space for friends. I would assume that s/he said this, but it’s not clear from his/her account.

  • Maxabillion Slartibartfast says:

    Debito, in a case like this would you recommend that the NJ call the police (110?) and report that he is being harrassed?

    These geezers don’t appear to have been deputized by the police, and in any event, the NJ was not breaking any laws. So wouldn’t the police tell the busybodies to leave him alone, or am I being hopelessly naive?

  • mainichi_struggle says:

    JDG, thank you for sharing your experience.
    I doubt that a situation such as yours would have arises had you looked Japanese. If it did the harrassed party could seek the aid of other citizens, contact the police, or feel comfortable leaving their things long enough to go to the koban for arbitration (as the likelihood of a Japanese disturbing another Japanese persons belongings in their absence is close to nonexistent).
    As a ‘foreigner’, had you called the police to arbitrate in the matter they would likely have told you that it is easier for everybody if you just move on and may have treated you as a nuisance. If you left your belongings for any length of time the oji-team would probably not respect your things and they might be gone when you got back. If you sought assistance from surrounding picnickers you would likely be ignored.
    Elder gangs such as the one you encountered generally only pick targets they consider weak. As only a pseudo-citizen you must have been very appetizing indeed. Telling one of them to shut up was probably the worst thing that you could have done to prolong the situation even though I completely understand the impulse to do so. If you had cowered and shown deference they probably would have left you alone as typical bullies will.
    When out and about in Japan it is important to remember to respect authority, respect your elders, and respect the law (well, maybe not the last one).
    Hopefully your example will temporarily discourage these busybodies from harassing other NJ who are just trying to live normal, healthy, respectful lives according to local custom.

  • Bitter Valley says:

    We avoided Yoyogi Park over the weekend because of the drunks and hassles but I do notice selective applications of the rules in Yoyogi Park on several levels. There seems to be one law for Japanese and one law for gaijin. For example there is a cycling track that winds around one area of the park for 1.8 km or so where it specifically excludes walkers and enforces a one-way (counterclockwise) route. There are signs up every 50 meters explicitly forbidding pedestrians and dog walkers and arrows pointing the direction, and every 50 meters or so on the tarmac/surface itself there are signs saying 歩行者禁止! (No pedestrians allowed).

    Yet joggers and joggers with dogs and pedestrians ignore it routinely and there is a sort of live and let live attitude. The cyclists swerve or bell the “illegal” pedestrians including me. Life is too short. But twice now I have been in trouble. One day I was accelarating up the back straight and there were a couple of pensioner jogging two abreast the wrong way and they ignored my bell and I swerved to miss them, just, despite the fact that they had 50 meters, 3 or 4 bell chimes, and 10 seconds to get out of the way. They had clearly decided that it was their jogging path and I was the one who had to stop. As I went past them one of them shouted angrily at me and a third jogger behind them about 20 meters got in my way, berating me in Engrish about safety rider or some other rubbish. I got of my bike and he came at me, and to my shame, I dropped him. One of the funny duddy park rangers was coming up on his security bike (pato-chari) and when I dropped the arrogant twit he wobbled and fell off his bike. I got out of there quickly and did not go back there for a year.

    I did a bad thing dropping the guy, but he was coming on aggressively, bounding up to me as I dismounted my bike clearly hot headed about teaching the gaijin some manners – when in fact both he and the other two were obviously and dangerously in the wrong.

    Last summer, there was a bunch of old fogeys and obasans who were using the bike circuit on their way to the small bird sanctuary. I was jogging along the inner road past them and decided I would do an experiment. They were quite a comical bunch, you know, dressed up in full garb, what must be de rigeur khaki for ornithological oyagi (the only thing they seemed to be missing, some of them, were pith helmets!) and you know, I did my thing…No pedestrians, look at the sign. They completely ignored me! I did not exist. So then I did my busybody thing and actually stopped in front of the leader. He shook his head and waved his arm and went on. A couple of the obasan gave me amused/ interested/ sympathetic/ hostile looks. But that was it. Despite clear and excellent Japanese, I simply did not exist.

    Last fall, after a long break and with a new bike I started doing the circuit again (for fitness, and a break) and was overtaking a guy round a bend and went slap bang into a middle aged woman with a toy dog on a leash. I swerved desperately to avoid the dog and came off. The guy on the bike looked at me and just cycled blithely on (perhaps he would have done that had I been Japanese perhaps he was just an asshole, not a racist asshole) and I got up and the woman was already walking on. THere wasn’t a word of “are you alright” or “sorry to have been in the way” so I said to her, you know “can you read Japanese, there, look, that sign there, look there, it clearly says “NO PEDESTRIANS.” The woman just showed me her back, walked on. It wasn’t a question of her not understanding my Japanese, it was pure selfishness and probably the fact that she did not care because I was a gaijin.

    I followed her as she walked off, raising my voice, which quite quickly turned into shouting at her, pointing to my grazed knee and asking her for her name and address, would she pay for the damage to my mountain bike (if any) the chain was off, the right handlebar grip grazed, and the paint a bit scratched. She turned round and said flat out that if I didn’t leave her alone she would call the police.

    It was clear that I didn’t stand a chance. Middle aged (rich looking woman) with expensive toy dog calls police on increasingly agitated much younger gaijin. I figured she could make up any cock and bull story and the police would have no hesitation in taking her side.

    I don’t have any expectations that if I were to do the same things, I my treatment would be the same. We are to be seen and policed and not heard.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Thanks for posting this Debito.
    This type of incident isn’t a major case (like the deportation deaths at Narita), but does seem a magnitude up from micro-aggression. This is the kind of bullying that you don’t want to take lying down, but readers should be aware that old guys like this are secretly begging for you to escalate it so they can call the police. Don’t let them provoke you.

  • Actually.. I had something similar to this happen to me once when I was in Japan. Was with my wife (fiance at the time) and us and a group of friends went to the local castle to set up a hanami picnic, i’d say there was about 12 or 13 of us if my memory serves me right, a mix of foreigners and japanese friends/girlfriends/wives.

    This one time though, when we got a spot and set everything up.. another group beside us, for lack of a better word, actually started to harass the Japanese people in our group! These were other Japanese people (i’d say late 30s to mid 40’s but what do I know!) giving crap to our J-girlfriends and the few male J-friends that came with us. I guess they figured none of the NJs could understand what was being said, basically spouting out stuff like, why don’t you hang out with your own people, you must love foreigners so much, why don’t you move away to their country.. real childish stuff. Rude but not overly offensive, it just showed us the intelligence of this group of idiots.
    One of my friends in the group who was basically fluent in japanese scolded them for being dummies and country fools and a few other choice phrases. They were pretty shocked that a foreigner actually spoke the language that they shut up pretty quickly and basically were silent for the rest of the afternoon. We still enjoyed ourselves however and didn’t let it ruin the day.

    I hear all the time the amount of stick that the NJ get while over here but I’ve never experienced an incident like that where it’s actually the japanese person that gets the flack b/c they are hanging out with a NJ.

  • JDG
    Sorry to hear about your day being ruined by the ‘silver-haired enforcers’.

    Just to provide some more context, can you tell us:

    1.How big (approx.) was the sheet you had lain down?
    2.How long, in total, were you waiting there by yourself? How long were you there before they old guys showed up to hassle you?
    3.Did the old guys as you any questions? Like what are you doing there, etc.?
    4.Were there any other solitary (Japanese) people doing the same thing as you?

    I wonder if it was a case of they thought you were breaking the spirit of the law, if not the letter of the law, by “reserving” the place for your friends? I wonder if they knew you were there for the hanami?

  • Your explanation at the start seemed alittle hazy and I wouldn’t suggest you be un polite so quick with someone, as soon as you loose your temper you have lost. communicating in a calmer way you might understand their motivation for talking to you maybe ? I’m not sure if it was because you were nj from the story you told but I guess the feeling of being bullied might of upset you.

  • There are several things worth pointing out here.

    First, as JDG points out, this is a relatively minor incident. But, it’s not something to be ignored and the things it points to are very significant.

    The geezers JDG encountered are the end result of the racist and nationalist talk from guys like Hashimoto and Ishihara. These gaijin-hating “vigilantes” are empowered by the rhetoric of nationalist politicians. It may seem benign to, say, force all teachers in Osaka to stand and sing the Kimigayo, but it reinforces one of the central pillars of Japanese propaganda and self-aggrandizement, namely, that the Japanese are unique and special. And, that belief naturally and inevitably entails an unspoken but instinctively realized corollary: that all other races are somehow inferior. They are two sides of the same coin. And, since NJ are different and inferior, they are fair game. Hence, incidents like the one detailed here.

    Sadly, I’ve heard of and seen incidents like this several times in Japan. And, just as a thought exercise, let’s imagine what would have happened if JDG did what these guys were crying out to have done to them. What would have happened if JDG lost his temper and got face to face with one of these geezers and really started shouting one of them down. Then, imagine what would happen if they made any sort of contact, like a chest bump. Twenty guesses as to who would get done for assault and who whose story the police would believe (even if one of the geezers did the bumping).

    Another thing worth pointing out is the sheer cowardliness involved here, on so many people’s part. You can be damn sure that about one hundred Japanese folks sat by watching the whole thing and didn’t rise to defend JDG. Okay, fair enough. But, how about these five geezers? Five on one, hassling a guy on their territory, surrounded by their people, with probably a gang of like-minded fools ready to get their backs just a phone call away.

    But, the real cowards are the guys like Ishihara, who blame NJ for all crimes in Japan. Let’s face it: the majority of crime in Japan is committed by organized Japanese crime groups. The ones with all the tats. Do you think that Ishihara would have the balls in a million years to accuse them of any wrongdoing and call them out on their crimes? No, let’s always pick on the weak ones. That’s the definition of cowardliness.

    Finally, I should point out that in a case like this, the best thing is always to go on the defensive. Japanese language ability is a huge plus here. Never, ever, strike a person unless it’s in self-defense. That’s the first rule. The second rule is to stay cool. If I were JDG, I would have simply asked for all their names. They would have refused to give them, of course, but it’s important to take this step. Then, I would have taken out my keitai and called the police and spoken clearly in front of the men so they could hear. I would report my location and say I was being harassed and asked them to send officers right away. Taking pictures of the men, of course, would be a very good idea. Once the police arrived, I’d get the name of the responding officer and the name of his station and I’d demand to fill out a complaint detailing the harassment and I’d insist the officer get the men’s names.

    All that said, and I know I’ll get flamed and criticized for this, there are times when being polite doesn’t work in Japan. As has been noted on this site by other posters, Japan is all about power relations (why do you think Ishihara can criticize NJ but doesn’t dare criticize organized crime groups etc?). In some cases, as long as you know you can keep from escalating to a physical confrontation (in which case an NJ will almost always be judged to be the guilty party, no matter what happens), it doesn’t hurt to “get big in someone’s face.” Don’t bother using Japanese. Use English or whatever language you’re most comfortable swearing in. And just stand up, face to face with the guy, and let fly. Keep your hands at your sides. Keep a reasonable distance between the two of you. But let fly. Being the cowards they are, they will almost always flee. The rule is this: the guy who can really handle himself doesn’t go around starting shit with people. The guy who starts shit with you is usually one who can’t handle himself. But, as I say, never get into a fistfight in Japan. They will bust the NJ no matter what.

  • Maxabillion Slartibartfast says:

    @Bitter Valley, I’ve had two cases involving traffic-related altercations with bicyclists where cops showed up… and supported MY SIDE of the story. In each case, it was a Japanese bicyclist who was responsible for the problem through reckless riding. In each case, the cops sized up the situation, determined that the Japanese bicyclist was to blame, and responded appropriately.

    In one case, they simply warned the bicyclist that he had to stop at red lights.

    In the other case, a bicyclist didn’t like how I passed him in my car. He stopped his bike perpendicularly in front of me at a red light, banged on my car window, and actually broke off one of my windshield wipers. Then he threw his bike down in front of my car and decided to pretend I had run him over. The cops took us both to the nearest police station, heard our stories, determined the bicyclist was being a complete jerk, and made him agree in writing to pay for the repair to my windshield wiper. He did, too! It felt so satisfying to get a fair shake in Japan.

    So don’t give up on the cops. But, if you bring them into a situation involving you and a Japanese person, you MUST ALWAYS BE CALM, POLITE, FAIR, AND RESPECTFUL. To EVERYONE — not just the cops, but also the person you’ve got a beef with.

    Cops are really good at detecting liars, jerks, and a-holes. They’re also really appreciative of people who make their jobs easier for them by staying cool and collected. If you can stay level-headed while the Japanese person is raging and yelling, you’re halfway there.

  • Bitter Valley says:

    @Maxabillion Slartibartfast

    Yes, I agree; I have had multiple instances of the police treating me very fairly and actually taking my side against flat out lies by the Japanese or multiple Japanese protagonists on several very important occasions; yes and I agree that staying calm and non-confrontational is the best policy. I also do think there are many instances of decent honest police here who are not predisposed to prejudge foreigners because they are foreigners and so on.

    In fact, yes, many police here do seem to do their jobs. Many don’t; I’ve had my share of more disappointing incidents (when I used to work in Roppongi 15 years ago, I must have been stopped 30+ times with the “is this your bike” “let’s see your gaijin card” routine. But that was a long time ago.

    But that wasn’t my point. There was informal rule applying at work in my experiences where clearly in one instance it was fine for Japanese people to not obey the rules but for the foreigner (me) it was a case of put up and shut up with the fact that you are in the wrong even though you are right.

    In the case of the joggers and the pedestrian, who could have caused me an injury (but luckily didn’t) because of her selfishness and stupidity, it seemed pretty clear that as a gaijin, different rules applied to me in those instances.

    This is when people say “if you don’t like it, get out, if you can’t put and shut up, why not leave” I must disagree. I think we should all abide by the same rules, Japanese or NJ.

  • Max = best advice I’ve seen so far. I don’t see these old guys in the OP’s story as innocent by any means, but the aggressive reaction you started with didn’t set the vibe well.

  • Well, I am not surprised: Osaka Castle has banned NJ and Js alike from partying….one thing though, is in Osaka, answering the old goats in Osaka dialect will make them BACK OFF: trust me on that. No need to be aggressive, that puts you where they want. The almighty is having an Osaka native along with you to tell them to get lost. In any case, anywhere people are fueled up on booze, reacting in anger will put YOU in the difficult situation; as long as I’ve lived in Osaka, I can say that people here will match you word for word, but will back off if it’s done a bit lightheartedly. No need to be wimpy, but no need to get aggro…..

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Hello Debito,
    Thanks again for posting my mail, I do appreciate hearing the feedback from others.
    If you don’t mind, I’d like to address some of the queries raised above, and give a little up-date too.

    I’m going to try to respond to queries in the order they posted here, sorry if I miss anyone out.

    Travis #1; Play Devils Advocate? No problem. Do it all the time myself. My blanket size is 183cm X 147cm. You tell me, is that excessive for one person? In total there were six of us. Luckily friends brought an extra blanket. When the old guy’s gang mates turned up and asked me what I thought I was doing, I just told them that I was waiting for my friends. Please bear in mind; these old gits had no identification of any kind. To me they are just nosey busy-bodies. I don’t see why I should explain all my ‘ins and outs’ to them, after all, who the hell are they to ask? It’s my day off, and Mother taught me never to talk to strange men.

    Max #2; I understand your point of view. In any rational society calling the police would have seemed a sensible option, I agree. But this is Japan, and I have seen too many situations where the J-cops would rather the problem go away, regardless of who is in the right. Anyway, it wasn’t just my hanami party, but my friends too! I didn’t want to ruin it for them by calling the cops, and then my friends have to walk straight into the middle of that (great day out, huh?). Therefore, whilst mightily pissed at the old gits, my plan was to stay calm, and resist. Let them call the police if they are in the right! They didn’t. Says it all really, doesn’t it?

    Mainichi_struggle #3; I agree with your point of view. Especially the part about the ostrich-like behavior of the surrounding Japanese groups (but I don’t want to be too hard on them, they just wanted to be left alone too, I guess). However, please look at the photo I posted. Whilst the gang of 5 was deciding their next move, 3 Japanese guys (who I later found out were university students), were busy putting out three blue sheets next to my position, right in front of the gang of 5 (you can see it on the left of the pic, and one of the students in black). Despite the huge size of the three sheet area that the 3 students were ‘reserving’ for their own party, the gang of 5 said not one word to them. Wonder why?

    Bitter Valley #4; I agree with the ‘seen and policed, but not heard’. I think that when Japanese people say ‘Japanese people are very polite’ that they are really overcompensating for something that they know not to be true. This is just like the samurai classic ‘Hagekure’, constantly banging on about samurais loyalty to their lord, in an age where such loyalties were actually very fickle.

    Peter #6; Please don’t think that I am showing off. I did my undergrad degree in Japanese, and my research Phd. in Japanese at a Japanese University. I have ikkyu (for what it’s worth). I have been in restaurants with my J-spouse and had the salarymen at the next table snigger amongst themselves that my spouse must be Korean, because she’s with a gaijin, so she clearly can’t get a Japanese man. I used to take peole to task at times like this, but have found out (like the old gits in the park) that there seems to be a type of trouble-maker who will refuse to understand your Japanese no matter how well you speak it, and will in fact then attack your language abilities in an attempt to humiliate you even further. Back home this kind of behavior is rare, because the police would understand that any attack I might make would be under provocation, but assholes in Japan don’t even consider for one second that the law might go against them, because it so rarely does.

    TJ #7; Thanks, but they didn’t really ruin my day, and I was determined that the incident wouldn’t be the defining moment of the party for my friends. Let me answer your questions.
    1: Blanket was 183cm x 147cm. It is an LL Bean waterproof blanket/picnic sheet type.
    2: I was waiting for just close to one hour and 5 mins by myself. The first old guy was on me with the ‘Dameyo!’ literally as soon as I first put my bag down. I never saw him coming. He must have seen me well before.
    3: They told me many times to move on, go home, said that I couldn’t stop there, but didn’t really ask me any questions, other than rhetorical ones, such as ‘Don’t you think your selfish?’, ‘Your friends aren’t coming are they?’, ‘Why won’t you go home already?’. It was school yard bully stuff.
    4: There were many hundreds of people along the river bank. I actually pointed out two peole withing 10 meters of my position doing exactly the same thing as me, and said to the old guys ‘What about them? Are you going to go and talk to them too?’, but the gang of 5 just acted like I hadn’t actually spoken. The ‘selective deafness’ coming on, maybe.

    Apple #8; You seem to be such a tolerant person. My hat is off to you, but take care that you are not taken for a door-mat. I promise that although my tone was terse, I never raised my voice or made any threatening gestures. To be honest, I have lived in NY and London, and I think that telling a nosey old busy-body to ‘shut up’ is a very tame response indeed! Back home, the very least that they could have expected was a ‘F*ck you grand-dad!’, and at worst, being shot and robbed. I was very polite by that standard.

    El Nino #9; I agree with pretty much 100% of your post. Like I replied to Max (#2), I was betting that they were bluffing, and was waiting for them to call the police. They didn’t cause they are no-bodies with chips on their shoulders. But, had I gone off like many a younger man may have, I am sure that I would have been the one behind bars regardless.

    Sorry that was such a long reply, but wanted to clarify many of the queries.

    As an update, my other half called the Shukugawa ward office today and was told that only regular police and uniformed city officials were on patrol on the day in question, although some local volunteers were helping out with things like taking photos for visitors (you know the type, you give them your camera, and they take a photo of you and your girl under the sakura for you), BUT all official volunteers were wearing identifying plasticised armbands, and/or plastic ‘bibs’ (waistcoats). I actually saw one of these guys on the day. He was really friendly and took my photo.

  • Peter: “…I’ve never experienced an incident like that where it’s actually the japanese person that gets the flack b/c they are hanging out with a NJ.”

    I’ve experienced that. I took a Taxi with a real estate agent from a train station to see a property in a small town in Chiba. The Taxi driver berated her the entire trip for bringing a foreigner to mess up such a nice and quiet town.

    She was embarrassed, I had a ball thanking him for the pleasant and quick service, then he was ’embarrassed’.

  • Thanks Jim Di Griz,

    That gives me a better picture. I think you did no wrong. And if they were actually telling you to “go home”, then they were indeed assholes.

  • @ Bitter Valley, those who say “if you cant put up and shut up, leave”-well, yes thats why Flyjin threw in the towel!

    At best, these oyaji harassers feel the need to explain the rules to “newbies”, that means any gaijin. At worst it is just the old getting onto the young again.Or the powerless. And foreigners “have no rights”-back in the 90s it was common to hear some Japanese who did not like what their foreign employee/boyfriend/girlfriend/teacher etc was doing to “threaten to inform immigration”, as if all Japanese citizens have a kind of “divine right” to decide whether or not the gaijin is good enough to stay in Japan. This could extend to anything they did not like, their dating choices, looking for a new job, giving less than 6 months notice resignation, anything. Just bullying and blackmail, plain and simple.

    This ties in with the recent home invasion by immigration in Shinagawa recently. Debito writes “April 22, 2008, where “3000 amateur “local residents” and “neighborhood associations” in Ikebukuro and Shinjuku, [were called upon] to “watch for suspicious people” around “stations and important facilities”).”

    What this meant in reality in Shingawa was there was an oyaji with too much time on his hands at EVERY CORNER near the same gaijin house in Shinagawa that was targetted by immigration. Why? Because it is a conspicuous, “soft” target.

    It really felt that we were under constant surveillance like China or North Korea, or the “Anti English Spectrum” harrassers in S. Korea, so I left. Some of the neighbourhoods are seriously paranoid, to the point of harrassing residents through their incessant “checking”. The local oyaji even followed my girlfriend to my place when I was out, and then rang the doorbell to check something, and added she was “sugoi kirei”. Very, very creepy. I told her to NEVER answer the door in Tokyo, EVER- the recent conclusion we reached on the “home invasion” thread.

    It is sad, and it is weird. In their zeal for “safety Japan”, they have actually made it a worse place to live. No wonder it is rapidly becoming a nation of shut-ins- trying to do anything outside was just too costly, too mendokusai, or required a “mental preparation” for any kind of confrontation that might arise from you being out while foreign.

  • Michael Smith says:

    i think that this idea of not calling the police because they would naturally defend the side of the Japanese needs to be addressed. I have had various encounters with the police involving incidents with myself and Japanese. Some not my fault, and some due to silly drunkeness on my part.(i have since remedied my behavoir). I have to say on each occassion the police have been more than fair and, looking back, in one case they actually defended my actions to a complaining Japanese when i was clearly in the wrong. The police have enough experience of dealing with the Japanese public to know that there are good people as well as bad people and they do not have the luxury of being able to look at all other Japanese through rose tinted glasses. Im not saying that all police are perfect and fair but just like in other countries they deal with many different kinds of people on a daily basis and this has to influence the way they view japanese society. Complaining and interfering ojisans are most likely a daily annoyance for most Japanese police. By the sounds of things Im sure they would have helped out the foreigner in this case.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Flyjin #18

    All fair points, you raise.
    I want to agree with you about this phrase; ‘required a “mental preparation” for any kind of confrontation that might arise from you being out while foreign.’, especially.
    Some people (on other sites) have suggested that had I only explained myself in Japanese, this incident would have resolved itself as a simple ‘misunderstanding’, and therefore criticize (what they perceive to be) a lack of Japanese language proficiency as the cause of the problem.

  • I second Michael Smith above. I venture that its the demographic of Ishihara mould ojisans who take it upon themselves to disciple gaijin or anyone else who is doing something, however minor, that they do not like, that are the *main source* of micro aggression in Japan, and contributing to the pre and post 3/11 paranoia and just general annoyance in daily living that had been growing in Tokyo.

    Its sexist, its prejudiced, and its a twisted form of Confucianism to suit males of a certain age who think it is their “right” to tell everyone else what to do. Underneath this, its disappointingly simple; they are jealous of the young, of the foreign, of the free, of women, of anyone having more fun than them. Maybe they feel overworked, or maybe they are- as with many rightists-underemployed.

    Sure, there is an element of “culture” in this confucian respect cliche, i.e. “Japan’s unique culture” trumping all change and criticism, but this is but one interpretation, one representation, one myth of what it means to be Japanese by a certain demographic (male, older, conservative). I cannot prove this, but I am sure it rings true with other readers here, from their personal experience.

    (OK, occasionally you might get a young buck zealously invading your home to see your gaijin card, and an older, wiser ojisan being more cautious and conciliatory in tone if not in agenda, but I think this is the exception that proves the rule).

  • the next time this happens i recommend that you video and record all there actions and document it all on a recorder to protect yourself from this harassment and abuse in the future.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Jim #22

    I see where you are coming from with the video and sound recording, but not quite sure where I would stand legally with that. I know that I was pushing my luck with the crafty phone cam shot (they tried to keep their backs turned when they saw me waving the phone in their direction). I don’t want to really break the law and thus ‘prove them right’ about ‘bad gaijin’.

    @Flyjin #21
    You are right about the link between age and more narrow and conservative views in Japan. The ‘Nishinomiya’ study (conducted not far from Shukugawa, actually) showed something called ‘maturation effect’. I wish I could remember the names of the people who wrote the paper, I quoted it in regards to some other research when I was still a student back home (if anybody else knows the authors names, please chip in).
    Anyway, the researchers interviewed a group of Japanese Uni students, and then tracked them down after 20 years, and gave them the same survey again (this was published late ’90s, early 2000s, so we are not talking about the wartime generation, but kids that grew up in the 70s). The general gist of it was that Japanese males viewed everything ‘Japanese’ as being old, and uncool. E.g; choosing a western style bath or house over traditional Japanese style, or bed over futon, jeans over kimono (you get the picture), and talked a lot about how Japan should ‘modernize’. On the other hand, the young ladies were interested about learning about traditional Japanese culture (sado, flower arranging, kyudo, that sort of thing).
    When they were young, the males derided traditional Japanese culture, whilst the young ladies were interested in learning about it.
    However, 20 years later, whilst the women were generally balancing modern life with hobbies that included traditional Japanese activities, the men had overwhelming decided that traditional Japanese culture was special, and needed ‘protection’ for future generations, but at the same time, were not willing to offer that ‘protection’ through learning any Japanese traditional skills, nor giving up the western creature comforts of domestic life.

    At the time I reflected that this was yet another social role women were being burdened with; protector of Japanese culture.
    However, I have since come to think that Japanese women are perhaps more confidant in their identities as ‘Japanese’ having (generally) held ongoing interests in traditional J-culture throughout their lives, and maybe even be accomplished (to a reasonable level) in some Japanese skill. Whereas (on the other hand), the men get old, lose their identities as cool young lads about town (as it were), to be replaced with the identities of ‘husband’, ‘father’, or ‘XXXX company worker’. I thought that this was a factor in their resentful search for their ‘inner Japanese’.

    Now though, I am thinking that after retirement, and losing the status as ‘in-group’ authority figure at the workplace, many Oyaji are desperately driven to the most basic (and obvious) identity; that of ‘us’ and ‘them’. After all, what else have most of them got

    — Not to mention the sense of entitlement and the trappings of “learning the system and using it to your advantage” (thereby becoming a proponent of, not to mention becoming co-opted by, the status quo) that will naturally occur with age.

  • JDG: “I used to take peole to task at times like this, but have found out (like the old gits in the park) that there seems to be a type of trouble-maker who will refuse to understand your Japanese no matter how well you speak it, and will in fact then attack your language abilities in an attempt to humiliate you even further. Back home this kind of behavior is rare, because the police would understand that any attack I might make would be under provocation, but assholes in Japan don’t even consider for one second that the law might go against them, because it so rarely does.”

    Wow. Great comment. I always thought that those Japanese who didn’t ‘understand’ NJ’s Nihongo was because they simply couldn’t grasp that NJs can speak Japanese. But that comment about humiliation makes a lot of sense, and I never thought of that before (shows how naive I was). Also your point about their freedom to provocate based on the reactions (or not) by the police. Both topics would make great threads on their own.

  • Jim Di Griz says:


    Thank you for helping me to open this discussion. It is always valuable to hear about others experiences.

    @Don #24
    Just my opinion Don, but I think that it is (sometimes at least) a valid assessment. After all, there are a*s-holes in every country.
    On balance, the ‘fact’ that Japan is a (less than alleged) ‘safe country’ is a good thing. I don’t have to worry about my kids walking to school like I would do back home. However, it is so safe that I wonder if a lot of a*s-holes in Japan don’t understand how dangerous it is to wind-up an NJ (for example, insulting my wife). And having done the insulting, to ‘kick a man when he’s down’ as it were, by trying to humiliate him further by picking apart his Japanese mistakes when he tells them that enough is enough. I am not advocating violence (except for self-defense), but the ‘safety Japan’ that means that my kids can walk to school by themselves also (almost) guarantees that my kids will never (as I did at elementary school) get a punch in the face from another kid for shooting their mouths off. As a result, I think that a lot of Japanese ‘tough-guys’ have never learned the physical risk of bullying someone, and J-victims don’t learn how to stand up to bullys.
    Going back to a comment I made earlier on this thread, I think that this also links back to the fact that Japanese people often talk about ‘how polite Japanese are’. I think that this is another myth. I think that Japanese people are a lot ruder to strangers in everyday situations, and ruder to shop and restaurant staff, that people back home. I think a lot of this rudeness comes from the feeling that there will never be any repercussions. On the whole, there are no repercussions, but when a Japanese guy can’t take it any more, he really snaps, I think. Hence the mass stabbings in Akihabara, and the Mitsubishi plant serial ‘hit and runner’. Just an idea…

  • @ JDG. Its all there, under the surface. Stay here long enough and you will see horrific abuse and rudeness to staff by, more often than not, older people who think they are entitled to something special. And the rest of Asia has got wise to this and sometimes does not want to bother catering to Japanese customers who do not pay as well as they used to but who want special treatment.

    The example flashing into my mind now is at the JR ticket office of Shinagawa station, the Ojisan (again) was incredibly rude to the staff there, it was so surreal it is hard to describe his body language, he kind of stiffened and drew himself up to his full height as if he was a king. All this because he had to repeat himself once, which he did in a really sarcastic way.”Tanaka, TA-NA-KA. WAKATTA KA? Etc”

    From Obatalians pushing into trains with nary a “sumimasen” (if you do not verbally say “sorry” for body checking however accidental in some western countries you might get a fist in your face)to nasty ojisans snarling at each other for minor infractions, I have seen countless examples which disprove this politeness myth.

    The Japanese are formal, not polite. There is a difference. Formality is a way of keeping a distance.Of keeping up appearances, the bare minimum, to maintain harmony and not have to take on any new obligation.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Flyjin #26

    Inspired comment! I could never put my finger on it, but you have! It’s formality, not politeness. That makes so much sense of my observations.

  • japanese people are usually polite, but politeness goes into situations where a mutually understood conversational/behavioral template has been decicded, re:formality.

    outside the template it’s easy to witness rudeness on a daily basis. that is to say, the rudeness that is evident to someone who isn’t japanese. i’m not saying that it’s japanese rudeness to someone who isn’t japanese (e.g. micro-aggression), but rather as for myself, a NJ who has lived in Japan for a number of years, i’m someone who knows where the formalism ends (usually), but my mindset isn’t limited to where formal template parameters begin and end. with that in mind, as a NJ the rudeness that i see may not be interpreted as rudeness by most japanese. the rudeness that i perceive may not be perceived in any manner at all by most japanese who witness the same event.

    take bicycle behavior for example. on a bicycle it’s totally reasonable to weave through a crowd and swing at high speeds around corners without slowing down while texting and listening to music. this is not only a total disregard for others but also a daily health hazard. i wonder if someone who ran through the streets acting in an equally dangerous manner would be equally disregarded. as bicycle-formalism is not an established template, the interpretation of bicycle behavior is non-existent. or so it seems. if someone disagrees then i would appreciate some reasons as bicycles are a daily struggle for me.

    or how about the many who try and cross the street as an ambulance or fire-truck is blaring its sirens and flashing its lights on its way to an emergency situation? i’ve seen a lot of people who just casually stroll across the street in this situation, which slows down the emergency vehicle. once i heard a japanese guy try and get others to stop crossing the street by shouting something along the lines of, “hey everyone! stop and let the vehicle go past!”, and i heard someone say, “he’s scary!”

    where i’m from there is a very clear process of dos and donts with bicycles and emergency vehicles that i have a very formal way of dealing with them. when these demands are not met by the people around me, the rudeness alarm goes off, but more often than not i’m the only one listening.

    another facet of perceived politeness is that in more cases than not japanese people tend to be quieter than western people. this quietness may lead some to believe that it is politeness when in fact it’s an absence of noise.

    this idea of being polite reaches into the ball park of “being a good person”. as someone who has worked in customer service in north america, it’s easy to see people change within moments. a customer can be a totally civil and nice person to their friend or cohort, and then become a terrible person when dealing with service staff.
    so while we are focusing on our perceived ideas of how japanese people may be rude in japan, it’s possible that when we are in our own home countries japanese people may see from a japanese perspective similarly rude behavior that japanese people pick up on but the locals wouldn’t ever bother to think about.

    … but those cyclists make me want to get on a horse and go on a reform crusade.

    — If you really want to cook your noodle, consider how many Japanese tourists indulge in behaviors overseas that they’d never deign to indulge in while in Japan (旅の恥はかき捨て and all that). Of course, that’s true of all tourists, but once “The Eye” (see my book IN APPROPRIATE) found in Japanese society is off, people go nutzo and push boundaries.

  • Regarding tourists and tourism, I’ve seen people all over the place from all over the place engage in bizarre and strange behavior. Westerners laugh, point and have a jolly good time in the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Park. Asians walk through the town in a large group with video recorders glued to their faces. The tourist within the parameters of tourism is a bizarre figure. When “The Eye” is turned off and weird behavior follows is not a specifically Japanese phenomenon.
    And yes, this really cooks my noodle.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Debito and Matty-B

    Meiwaku cyclists need a bloody good slap! They are so shitsukoi with the bell ringing! What the bloody hell makes them think that their journey is so much more important than mine, that I should have to dive out of the way all the time? If they are in such a hurry, shouldn’t they ride on the road (oh, wait, Japanese drivers are pretty dangerous; never look before maneuvering), so cyclists become self appointed emperors of the sidewalk. Personally, I am trying to encourage them to return to the roads by never moving no matter how much they ring their bell, and if approaching from head-on, give a little soccer player dummy to the left and/or the right to cause them to slow down and wobble to the brink of falling off. All with a serious face, and a ‘sumimasen’.
    As for ‘the eye’, tell me about it. I see NJ do stupid sh*t here that they would get a bloody good hiding for, but I think that the Japanese are so conditioned to think that NJ are ‘strange/goofy/dangerous’ that this kind of behavior is expected, and serves only to confirm the idiotic image they have been taught.
    However, my Japanese friends got up to all manner of stupid stuff when they studied abroad all because ‘this isn’t real! It’s not Japan!’. Nice way to respect other cultures, knobs.

    — Somebody took their “rant” pill this morning.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    @ Jim Di Griz

    A little formula I worked out over a decade ago for dealing with annoying bell-ringing ojisan cyclists on a pedestrian strip:

    Your bike bell < my 70kg frame

    I guess that makes me a self-appointed vigilante. (And notice how we are not allowed to protect Japanese law? – but I'll save that for another post)

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Hi Debito et al,

    I just wanted to offer a kind of update on this situation.

    For my last hanami in Japan, my wife and I attended a party at Shukugawa last weekend (as we have done for about the last 8 years).
    I was loathe to go, given lasts years events, but since others would be going ahead of us to find a space, and I would be arriving with my wife to join an all Japanese group, I was encouraged to be more positive and view last years events as a ‘blip’.

    In all, despite the good company, it was a depressing experience.

    The grumpy old men of last year were absent, as were the day-glo vest wearing local volunteers, to be replaced by a more visible uniformed private security presence than last year, who made a special effort to request that the Japanese members of our group explain to me ‘the rules’ of hanami at Shukugawa at some length, ignoring me when I said they didn’t have to talk ‘about me’, they could try talking ‘to me’, since I speak Japanese. I am sure that my friends enjoyed being humiliated in front of the other people enjoying o-hanami on my behalf.

    These ‘new rules’ (in addition to the pre-existing condition that BBQ’s are not permitted in the park) consist of only one; no night-time cherry blossom viewing. Indeed, there are maybe a hundred signs in the park erected for the occasion to the same effect.

    This is, I thought, a terrible shame. My wife and I have often enjoyed a quiet bento under the cherry blossoms at Shukugawa after work, but alas, no more, even if we should remain in Japan.

    I noticed with a sinking feeling that more areas of the park than ever had been roped off from the general public, and that there were uniformed security making sure that people knew the ‘correct route’ around the park (that is to say, up and down the riverside). Perhaps these developments had been widely known before the weekend, since the normally very popular location had only about a third of the party-goers that I had seen in previous years, and the ‘matsuri’ atmosphere was no-where to be seen. The food stalls that normally served food all through the day and the evening were totally absent (why bother if there is no evening business? Better to try a different location).

    My wife and friends are of the opinion that the people who own the expensive houses facing the river and park have probably pushed for these new developments so that they are not disturbed by noise for the o-hanami weekend every year. I think that it’s rather selfish and short-sighted to buy a house in such a location, and then seek to limit others legal enjoyment of the sakura. If any party-goers are excessively disruptive at a late time of the evening, surely Japan has enough laws to deal with that?

    I commented to to my Japanese friends who all agreed that ‘it’s difficult’, and they were ‘bimyou’ about whether it was right or wrong.

    In that moment I knew that I am making the right decision to take off. It seems that the majority of Japanese have little understanding of civil liberties, nor interest in protecting them. I shudder to think where Abe will be able to lead them.

  • Jim di Griz says:


    I have been informed that Shukugawa’s resident O-yaji have decided that all those people having FUN at one of Japan’s best O-hanami spots is disturbing the supposed ‘wa’ too much, and that this year all hanami at Shukugawa have been banned!

    Can anyone authenticate this news?
    What would be the legal basis for banning people from having a picnic in the park?


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