Even in Japan…

I tend to avoid posting along the same themes two days in a row. And with yesterday’s piece also being a critique on modern Japan, I really did not intend to do so again today. But sometimes life has different plans and yesterday provided an incident that I need to release through the written word. Here we go:

I had just picked my two children up from daycare. My son is four years old, but very tall for his age. He towers over the other children in his age group. My daughter is about to reach four months. The perfect size to be carried on my chest in a sling.

We stepped into the little market on the way home to pick up some avocados. We waited for our turn and when the clerk gave us the signal, we walked over and made our purchase.

The moment our change was handed over, the next customer barged over. He was an older man, but tall and lean. And scowling.

Now, it isn’t that unusual for other customers to come over a little early. Aren’t we all in a bit of a hurry around 7:00pm. But this guy didn’t just come over, he made sure to crowd us. And with this teller being right next to the walk, and with the umbrellas for sale bin behind us, we couldn’t just back out and go. We had to go immediately behind this guy who is very much getting as close to us as possible.

My son is oblivious. He is doing what he always does: pushing the credit card machine buttons while I put the change away. I tell him it’s time to go and give him a little tap to signify we need to leave.

I’m to his right. He could have turned that way and none of this would be worth writing down. Instead, he turns to his left and bumps into the old man who went out of his way to stand uncomfortably close to us.

The old man turns down and snarls harsh words at my child.

I have many flaws. I am by no means perfect. One of those flaws is that at times I see things as simple right or wrong. People choosing to actively do wrong seldom get much sympathy from me. This is compounded when the wrong comes in the form of going after someone weaker. Also, I have a temper. I hide it. I do my best to control it. I hate when it rises. But, taking an action that comes in the realm of threatening my family flares that temper.

As the old man snarls, I stepped forward and roar back at him. I told him to shut his mouth and don’t dare talk to my or anyone’s child like that.

I think this is when he grew quiet and turned away. We go to leave. Before we take the two steps to the door he starts loudly complaining about my son.

My temper and sense of right an wrong, which might be my undoing, cause me to turn around and blast the guy verbally. He then tells me that my son was the cause due to bumping into him.

I tell him if he had waited, not crowded us and generally not been an asshole he wouldn’t have been bumped into.

I leave. The man is done buying his alcohol. I can’t say if he was following us or if it was just timing, but we are now all outside. The voice in my head is telling me that if this old grump comes close to my son or daughter to put him on the ground. Protect the family.

Thank goodness he doesn’t come close. But, instead, not that we are outside, he lets the bigotry fly. He lets us know what he thinks of foreigners in his country and that we should go back to ours.

Later on I realized I should have told him that my children are Japanese and they will outlive him. Instead I just told him that people like him are an embarrassment to Japan and that he should hurry up and die.

That basically continued as we went our separate ways.

One thing I want any readers to take note of: I know that this man’s mindset is not representative of all of Japan. Five minutes before this I was chatting with other parents at our daycare. Five minutes after this we were warmly greeted by the old woman down the block. In my fifteen years in Japan I have had far more positive experiences than negative.

But that doesn’t mean the negative doesn’t exist. I’ve had people refuse to acknowledge my Japanese speaking. Ignore me in stores, show disdain at having to serve me while they work. Treat me rudely for asking a similar question as a Japanese customer they treat politely. I’ve been denied housing. Physically threatened and told to go back to my country. I’ve had glass bottles thrown at me for riding in a car with a Japanese girl.

Don’t get me wrong. If I made a list line this for the positive experiences, it would dwarf the negatives. It would include being sheltered, protected, loved. Guided by strangers, and driven to hospitals by acquaintances that quickly became friends. And, in almost all of those negatives above, although they were the actions of some Japanese people, standing next to me or ready to pick me up again, were even more Japanese people.

This is a complex country. And even here racism and bigotry does indeed exist: but there are also those who stand against it.


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