Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Such Nice, Polite People

This afternoon, I was biking to a local grocery store and riding quite slowly down the street. There was an old (Japanese) man, probably in his 60's, walking down the side along the left. To give him a buffer, I pulled further to the right and slowed down even more, but he started pulling fast toward the center. I moved further to the right and slowed down nearly to the point where I'd lose balance if I went any slower. As the man intercepted me, he angrily grumbled something at me and shoved my left arm so hard he nearly knocked me off my bike (and hurt my arm) before charging on.

Before any of you claim this was an accident, I can tell you his behavior made it crystal clear he was intent on intercepting me so he could carry out an act of physical aggression. Before any of you claim I deserved it, let me say that I absolutely was not the only cyclist on the street and I'm not exaggerating about my speed or care. In fact, in retrospect, I should have sped up when the old bastard headed my way so he would have been intimidated by the possibility of a faster speed collision and perhaps not decided to try and knock me over. No, I stupidly put myself in a position where I would be able to stop to protect the pedestrian should he get in front of me.

No, my friends, this was an act of unadulterated gaijin-selective bashing by some prejudiced old asshole. Mind you, I didn't pursue him to see if he was running around shoving other people good and hard, but I think it's a pretty safe bet that he wasn't as there would likely be consequences if he went around doing so to Japanese people.

Gaijins love to talk about what a great place Japan is and how the people are nice, polite, friendly and non-violent, but clearly, you can't say that of all of them. In fact, the fact that they view foreigners as practically a different species who don't have a right to be here increases the chances that bad impulses will be acted on. It's not like they fear the consequences when they know that their word will be taken over that of a foreigner and they can make up anything they like to weasel out of what they did. In the U.S., if someone did this to a person of another nationality, they could be arrested for assault and battery, but in Japan, well, who do you think the police are going to care about?


Alex said...

Don't let a bad apple ruin the whole bushel for you.

Fuji Mama said...

THANK YOU! Life as a foreigner here can be so frustrating sometimes because of those experiences. It's nice to have someone blog about it!

Sherry said...

I'm really sorry to hear that happened to you.

I never know what to say when I hear people who have never been here or have only been here for a week in the "tourist bubble" talking about how polite, considerate, etc. Japanese people are. If I try to point out that there are just as many @ssholes here as anywhere, they all think I am crazy or bitter or something.

Anonymous said...

I once had a crazy oba-chan follow me around in a grocery store. At first I thought I was in this woman's way. Perhaps she was looking at the same curry packages that I was. But when she followed me into the bakery section and was constantly next to me (more like ON me!) and intentionally blocking my way I know the lady was either a crazy, racist, or a crazy racist. My money's on crazy racist. I didn't make eye-contact with her until I left the super-market. When I turned around to see what she looked like, she was giving me the stink-eye!!! So evil! So obviously crazy!!! She didn't break eye-contact until I was out of sight! It was a stare down!!! Scary scary!

Anyway, I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now. It's so refreshing. There are way too many Japan blogs written by inexperienced yet extremely arrogant and whiny young men.
Also you are a wonderful writer. You've got another dedicated reader right here!!!

Shari said...

Alex: He was by far not the only "bad apple" in the bushel. He was just the only one rotten enough to physically assault a woman.

Your wife is Japanese, isn't she? If she were in a Western country and someone walked up to her and growled something nasty then shoved her almost hard enough to knock her over, would your response to her be "don't let a bad apple ruin the whole bushel for you, honey?"

Fuji Mama: Unfortunately, given the plethora of apologists, one is most likely to get attacked or be slurred by people intent on blaming the victim. I think a lot of people don't believe these things or rationalize it somehow to explain away the behavior of the people who do these things. If someone interviewed that old goat and he said he did it because he could tell by my body language that I was a reckless cyclist and he was trying to teach me a lesson, there are a lot of Japanophiles who'd nod their heads and accept that as a reasonable excuse.

That being said, I will always talk about such things as I think it is important to let people know this is no la-la land full of happy, fun, nice people who never commit crimes.

Sherry: I'm pretty much with you on the "tourist bubble" situation. You really can't reason with people who haven't shared your experiences and you'll always find foreigners who, for one reason or another, haven't had as many bad experiences. I've said time and again that being obviously foreign-looking and female will net you the worst experiences in Japan. In fact, I'm sure that cowardly old bastard would never have done what he did to a man for fear that he'd get his face punched in.

anonymous: Thank you very much for your kind words about my blog. It's very appreciated.

I've had one or two of those myself (where people shot me inexplicable hostile looks or followed me while giving me the hairy eyeball). I've also had store clerks attempt to surreptitiously follow me all over a store as if they expected me to steal and had to keep an eye on me.

One shop clerk at a used record shop was extremely overtly hostile to my husband and I after we checked some records for scratches while searching for ones to buy. Keep in mind everyone did this back when records were still being sold and it wasn't incorrect or atypical behavior for customers to pull the record out and check both sides before deciding to purchase it. She yelled at us and then snatched up the records we were going to buy and carefully investigated them as if we must have tried to sneak something out in them while we were looking them over, all the while shooting us absolutely the most hateful and poisonous looks. She grabbed our money and shoved our bag at us at the end with no remorse whatsoever for the horrible way she treated us.

This sort of stuff is something I've gotten used to to some extent, but getting assaulted is a new one for me.

Thanks to all for the comments and the support!

Anonymous said...

You're probably right that most guys like that wouldn't do what he did to other men. If you read the papers and see all of stories about random attacks by middle-aged and old men on women or elderly people, you tend to start thinking that bitter arseholes like him go for the seemingly easy targets.

However, I had a similar experience while walking home one night from work. It was around 10pm and I was walking down a very wide sidewalk in the neighborhood I live in. Long story short, some 50-something guy who was walking on the left side of the sidewalk, and about to pass me, suddenly cut diagonally across the sidewalk toward me. We were the only two people around so I didn't know if he was drunk or what (I doubt it, though, since he had been walking in a fairly straight fashion before that)and I stepped to my right as much as I could to avoid the collision, but he still got his shoulder into me. I braced for the impact hoping it would rock him a little bit, but he was braced for it too, so he just knocked into me and kept walking. I stopped and turned around to see if he would look back at me, but he just kept on walking. I was hot and ready to go for it right there on the sidewalk, but he just kept going.

I'm not a big guy, but I've been told that I'm fairly intimidating by a few of my Japanese friends. I don't try to be, but I can't help it. Anyway, I can't help but think that there are lots of guys out there with inferiority complexes and chips on their shoulders. I just have to remind myself at times like those that the satisfaction of clocking some arsehole isn't worth a visa revocation.

hiro neno said...

I happened to arrived on this site now and I really feel sorry about the disgusting incident, not only because I'm a native Japanese(lives in Akita), but I intrinsically hate that kind of asshole, I want to kick his ass if I could.

In case you want to know how I arrived here: I was googling Bill Maher(my favorite) and arrived "The blog from another dimention" and I found your link there.

badmoodmike said...

Holy crap! What a dick! You should have run him over. There is no excuse for this type of evil, nasty behavior in any society.

He's have gotten himself arrested or killed for pulling that crap here in the states...

tornados28 said...

The same kind of rude behavior happens here in the U.S., especially similar to your record example where retail clerks are very often rude a-holes.

Yes, in Japan it is a problem that some Japanese are biased againsed foreigners. Of course there are many racists here in the U.S. also even in this most multi-cultural country on Earth. I tend to believe that racists in the U.S. tend to be more of the extreme hate or violent type while in Japan most racists tend to be not so much hatred or violent but just have the attitude that foreigners are different and can never understand Japanese culture.

The old bastard sounds to be the more extreme hateful type of course.

Of course I probably don't know too much about this from my tourist bubble perspective :) (I have spent the equivalent of several months living in a small Tochigi town with my in-laws so I have a little experience but not the years experience that you have).

gaijinalways said...

Ouch is right. I always get these people that seem to veer into me constantly, but they (Japanese people) seem to do it to mostly everyone so I must assume it's a 'cultural space' problem here.

[Quote]"Your wife is Japanese, isn't she? If she were in a Western country and someone walked up to her and growled something nasty then shoved her almost hard enough to knock her over, would your response to her be "don't let a bad apple ruin the whole bushel for you, honey?""[/Quote]

Actually, my Japanese wife got bumped here in Japan by another Japanese. Unfortunately, I didn't see it happen, even though I was there. This guy was jockeying to be served first and insisted on being waited on before us at the counter. Slightly in his defense, he was waiting earlier than us, but the line had actually split, so that he was waiting for another cashier at the video store. the clerk apologized to us as the guy in question seemed like a maniac. (the said store has since changed the service line there so that peopl wait in the same line for all cashiers).

My wife told me about being bumped after we left the store and said maniac was long gone. Pity, I could have shown him what an American maniac looks like, but then maybe I wouldn't be able to use that video store anymore!

Helen said...

Horrible old guy. I try to tell my husband that things like this happen to us foreigners all the time, but I'm not sure he believes me.

I've had lots of the same kinds of experiences that anonymous has had. People following me, checking to see if I'm stealing something, but I don't think I've been so overtly pushed.

I'm sorry that this happened. I hope you weren't too shaken up and that your arm recovers soon.

Anonymous said...

That doesn't sound like a very nice experience. I'm wondering if it's possible that you swerved to the right, which is what we in the U.S. do, but don't the Japanese drive on the other side of the road, so swerving left is more "normal." At any rate, the guy certainly over reacted. Glad you are okay.

Kanagawa G said...

It wasn't a bad apple, it was assault. Maybe I'm too vocal, but I would have given him quite an earful (of course I'm the guy who tells pushy sararimen to wait in line and embarases young people out of the priority seats so my pregnant wife can sit down).

Just because you're a foreigner doesn't mean that you have to put up with random attacks. You are not a "guest" as many apologists will argue. You are a tax-paying resident contributing to society and should be treated as such.

Shari said...

billywest: Wow, your story really is telling. I wonder how many people have those sorts of experiences and write them off as "accidents" because the circumstances allow for it.

I've had people intentionally bump into me or hit me with baskets in stores (you can tell when they do it and are looking at you and have ample space that it's intentional but meant to look unintentional), but nothing I could hang my hat on so clearly as your experience and my most recent one.

Thanks for sharing your experience. In a strange way, it makes me feel better than I'm not the only one.

hiro neno: Hi there and thanks for making your first comment! I've been here a long time and this was probably the worst experience I've had. I know this fellow is not representative of all Japanese people and most people are pretty nice, but, it's somewhat frustrating because I feel I have no power in these cases. In the U.S., what happened could be considered a hate crime (a crime against someone based on race or ethnicity) and has very serious consequences. In Japan, foreigners really have no rights to protect themselves in reality.

If I had decided to push him back, I know I'd probably be the one to get arrested even if he hurt me first because the Japanese police would accept his word and not mine.

Mike: The main problem is, and my husband and I discussed this at length, is that fighting back would certainly have only hurt me as the Japanese police tend to view the Japanese person's viewpoint as the reliable one. I've read these sorts of stories before where a foreigner has been hit or provoked first and responded physically. In the end, t results in traumatic jail time and a big cash layout for the foreigner.

tornados28: The main difference is that, in the U.S., what happened would be a crime, and people wouldn't so blithely do it in front of (literally) a dozen or more witnesses. I didn't mention it in my post but plenty of people saw what he did, but they were all Japanese and he could be confident they wouldn't speak on my behalf but just try to pretend it didn't happen.

gaijinalways: I'd like to clarify that my experience was not a bump like your wives (not that you said it was but just to differentiate).

I didn't get "bumped", I was shoved, hard, and with deliberate intent to harm. A bump does not happen by raising ones hands, grasping another person's arm and pushing from ones shoulders as hard as possible. A bump can appear to be an accident. This was no accident.

Of course, your wife's experience was no accident either but it was conducted in such a way as to appear as though it might be one. It doesn't surprise me that another Japanese man did this as I've seen Japanese men hit women before in public - twice on trains, I've seen a man strike a woman. I've also been told stories by students about men who aggressively behave toward them and never apologize in collisions on bikes or in the streets.

Honestly, I can see why many Japanese women favor Western husbands and talk about "ladies first" thinking being prevalent there. They don't mean men open the doors for them. They mean men don't cut them off rudely and stomp through first.

Helen: Your husband used to be a cop, didn't he? It doesn't surprise me at all that he doesn't believe these things don't happen.

BTW, it was me who had the experience in the record shop and got followed. I think the long comment may have confused you about who said it (you can't see the name at the top since it's over a screen long).

My arm is okay, though, honestly, if he'd have toppled me from my bike, I'd have been in serious trouble because of a problem with my spine. I can be badly hurt if I fall from my bike and this was one of my husband's main concerns. My main concern is running across this asshole again. I can tell you I had issues sleeping last night obsessing over what I'd do if our paths crossed again. I can't fight back. I can't get help from anyone. I either have to try to run or take it and I have a really problem with just taking it.

1tess: You may want to read what I wrote again. I did not "swerve" at any time. I was on the left. He was walking in the opposite direction on the left. I moved to center to avoid hitting him (he was on the wrong side). He moved to the center to intercept me. I moved to the right to avoid hitting him. This was all gradual as I bike slowly for safety's sake. He forced me to the right as he intercepted me and then pushed me hard and yelled at me.

He didn't "overreact". He willfully attacked me. I would have been on the left if he hadn't been walking on his right. He was the one violating traffic flow, not me. I had no recourse but to either hit him or move to the right.

However, in no way would any breach of unspoken pedestrian traffic flow justify what he did. No one has the right to assault a stranger. Not even a police officer, who has the right to fine me or arrest me for a traffic violation, has the right to touch me in that manner.

KanagawaG: I was too shocked to react in any way (and actually trying hard to keep my balance as I had nearly stopped by the time he got to me and didn't expect to be pushed).

I'm not sure what I would have done if I'd had my wits about me, but now my main feeling is that I'll have to approach every foray outside my house into the neighborhood with a defensive eye. I'm not happy about it, but this really caught me off guard and I figure that old coot must live around here.

Of course, I don't feel like a "guest" in this country. Guests get treated better than this. I feel like an unwelcome invader. :-p

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to comment and read!

Shari said...

A P.S., mainly directed at tornados28, one thing to keep in mind is that being with a Japanese person (or being Asian-looking) is a prophylactic for these sorts of incidents. Overt acts of prejudice are much less likely to happen in the presence of a Japanese companion as people won't act out against you so blithely in front of another Japanese person who might confront them for their behavior. This is opposed to being Japanese strangers who just don't want to get involved and will look the other way when bad things happen.

zeddy said...

I skimmed through the comments so am not sure if someone has already mentioned this but I think the guy is a mental case. Im not defending what he did however I am wondering how many loose screws this guy had that might have contributed to this case and similar experiences others have wrtten about. How many of these people need treatment but are nto getting any or may not get any before its too late?

Just in the news is the sentencing of a man who, a couple of years ago, grabbed a knife in an Ito Yokado and randomly stabbed and killed a baby. Recently there was a teenage boy in Shinagawa who walked down the street randomly stabbing people. Lets hope that the mentally disturbed people we encounter get help before they do somethign worse than the already bad ramming into people.

Alex said...

I've been exposed to bad people everywhere I've ever lived, and it's much easier to remember bad experiences than good ones (We're human, after all! We love drama!), and I do know that blogging is a great outlet for stress, but just remember to keep a positive attitude on life! For every 1 asshole, there are 5 considerate people out there. (This is not scientifically confirmed)

By the way, my wife isn't Japanese, she's Korean. She's just a fluent Japanese speaker. Our experiences' as foreigners in Japan are vastly different, I'm sure you can imagine.

If someone physically assaulted my wife in my presence, I wouldn't stand idly by, whether it was Japan, Korea, or the States. But I would hope she didn't consider it a common trait of the country's citizens.

Postscript, I've had a similar experience on the subway in Tokyo, and in my case as well it was an old man. Probably some sort of deep-seeded hatred from an era six decades past.

Shari said...

zeddy: I don't know if he was truly mentally ill as I'd define it. It's impossible to know, but he didn't have any of the indicators for someone who was dangerous enough to be institutionalized aside from possibly being a danger to others based on his behavior.

Since I used to work in a halfway house for seriously mentally ill people, I have some experience with them. However, I can say I wasn't in a position to judge his mental state given the circumstances.

Alex: I never said all Japanese people were bad. I just said not all of them were good.

I'm not looking for drama. Honestly, I just want people to leave me alone and treat me with the same level of indifference they treat every other stranger with. I guess I live in the wrong place for that though.

Thanks for the comments!

tornados28 said...

Yes, in the U.S. it would be considered a crime but the same thing happens here in the U.S. anyways and I witnessed it a few days ago on the Los Angeles subway.

The train was really crowded and one lady was standing in front of the door because there was really no room elsewhere. A younger women instead of saying "excuse me, I need to exit" just shoved the lady purposely out of the way. Technically this could be an assualt as well. This type of rude behavior I see in the U.S. all the time.

badmoodmike said...

Yes, I remember in one of your previous postings about the dangers of retaliation for a gaijin. It is a shame, really, that people have to be like that to begin with. Like alex said, probably issues stemming from many years back.

gaijinalways said...

Actually, the way my wife described it, it was more she was shoved aside (and a reason the clerk apologized about it, though he conceded he was concerned the man in question would become violent if he wasn't served first). I definately agree with you too, it is more likely to happen to foreigner IMO, but just wanted to point out that sometimes it doesn't matter who you are.

Also in your case, the old man obviously didn't gain anything by doing it beyond showing you he didn't like you (or your type of person since he obviously doesn't know you personally). Don't worry, just hang in there and maybe 'mace' him next time (maybe not, ha, ha).

Anonymous said...

First: Thank you for talking about this.
Second - Now for my rant:
I am so tired of the mixed messages sent by the non-native community in Japan. He hit you, but YOU must have provoked him...! No, sometimes, in ALL countries, there are just racist, bigoted people who target someone they think will not retaliate against them. Often, but not always, they target non-Japanese women, or smaller men.

These assholes are just bad people, but as Japanese culture has a habit of not talking about almost ANYTHING, the pressure builds, and their problem/issues go un-resolved until they act on their urges... and attack the foreigner!

Also, 2 more things:
1) There are far too many apologists for these Japanese assholes. Just stop. Most Japanese people are nice? I have not personally met all 130 million of them (yet), but most I know are fairly decent. Still, a racist with an attitude is hard to ignore. YOU(fill in your name / race / nationality / gender) probably did not bring this on yourself. Embrace the local culture wherever you are, but don't excuse intolerance - THAT is intolerable!

2. ALL conversations about racism, bigotry, descrimation or crime in Japan quickly leed to a comparison with the U.S.A. "It's worse in the U.S." Japan (and resident apologists) cannot handle criticism without deflecting the severity with a comparison, i.e. "it's worse somewhere else." This does NOTHING to solve the problem at hand, which is, for example, I do not live in New York, so crime there has no affect on my daily life, but racist attitudes in Japan DO affect me.

Japan, and the Japanese education system, do not encourage talking, debating, discussion, thus the exercise of discussing a negative encounter with a Japanese person will embarrass the Japanese person, and often make them defensive.

Good luck with your blog. Keep up the good work - the veil definitely needs to be lifted!!

Shari said...

Anonymous: Thanks for the kind, supportive and well-argued comment. I appreciate it.

There are many nice Japanese people, but there are also quite a few bad ones as well as a vast sea of indifferent ones.

A lot of the apologists (*cough*Alex*cough*) get their undies in a bundle any time you mention anything negative about Japan as they think we should all focus only on the positive, put on a happy face, and whistle a happy tune. These apologists love nothing more than to argue with you by setting up a straw man argument where they pretend your are painting the entire country with a negative brush if you dare to mention a bad experience or something which is not attractive about the country. If you're not talking through a rose-colored filter, then you're biased in the eyes of an apologist.

Apologists are just the flip-side of bashers. They have just as much of an unbalanced and bigoted view. They just think it's OK to have an unjustly sunny view. Personally, I question why some people work so hard at warping reality in this regard. How happy can they really be here if they can't see that it's not a utopia full of perfect people? They're trying too hard to convince someone and I'm pretty sure it's themselves.

I've always tried to talk about both the positive and the negative as such experiences or thoughts occur to me.

I no longer ride down that street though. I take a circuitous route through back streets to get to my destination.