Today, something mildly interesting happened to me.
I rode the train to my classroom in Miyazu about 45mins. away from my house. Its the nicest train ride that I take all month and I look forward to it. The classes in Miyazu are another story. This week, I have another handful of classes added to my schedule and one of the new classes was this evening so the Japanese teacher was there to make sure the kids were okay with me.
Upon entering the classroom, Akane-sensei tells me that a police officer will probably come to the classroom to talk to me today, alarm bells start going off in my head. I am a relatively law abiding citizen but the hairs on the back of my neck tend to stand up when I have to talk to cops. I respect them for the job that they do, but I like to respect them from a distance. I think it is the mafia hitman in me from a past life; cops make me uneasy.
Anywho, she tells me a cop is going to come by and examine my identification and ask me some questions. I ask her if I am in trouble or if this is just a routine thing and her answer was somewhat vague. Evidently, the police department has contacted my company and requested to see me and my company told them when I would be in the classroom. Alarm bells continue blaring in my skull.
After about twenty minutes, two men in dress clothes show up at the classroom door. These were not beat cops, these were detectives. There was an old detective and a young detective, as if summoned to excorsise a foreign demon from their land. Alarm bells getting louder.
As with my past experience with cops in Japan, these two guys were very straight forward and very polite. I immediately knew that the sole purpose the younger detective was being dragged along was to act as a translator. Older cops in my area very seldom speak much English and the younger ones learned it in school. Right off the bat, I was asked for my passport and I obligingly gave them my Alien Resident Card, the identification card required of all foreigners who stay in Japan for an extended length of time. The older cop immediately starts copying all of the information down. The younger one tells me that I am not in any trouble but the police department was conducting face to face investigations of all foreign peoples in Miyazu. When I asked him how many interviews they had to conduct he said about 100. I was surprised the number was that high because Miyazu is kind of in the boonies but he reminded me that it was also one of the bigger ports in that area of Japan. Miyazu is nestled between the mountains and the Sea of Japan or the Yellow Sea depending on which side of it you reside. Koreans despise the fact that the Japanese claim ownership of the body of water and its a sore topic.
As the older officer was talking to the Japanese teacher about me, the younger officer was also asking me questions, how much Japanese do a speak, how long have I been here for, how long am I going to stay, where am I from in the United States, remarks about potatoes, what school did I go to, impressed that my degree is in Japanese history and education, where else do I teach, what town do I live in, what is my phone number, happy that I tell him in Japanese that I can never remember the number, happy that I could say my number to him in Japanese, and so on and so forth. After a few more minutes, the older officer was satisfied that I am not a terrorist and that I was being friendly and cooperative. He was happy that when he told me thank you that I responded with a very polite Japanese response that I memorized because it always impresses women and older Japanese people. With several bows to and from the older officer and the younger officer offering me a handshake, and then more bows to and from everyone, they were off. Like my first encounter with a Japanese police officer, they simply wanted to make sure I belonged there.
After they left, I remarked to Akane-sensei that most police officers in the United States would never attempt to do what those officers had just done. She seemed somewhat dumbfounded that police in the United States do not normally, racially profile people for fear of being sued and that in general, doing so was generally frowned upon despite in some cases, its a good idea. I have no problem with the Japanese authorities taking interest in me because it at least shows that they care about their borders and who is crossing them. More than that, it shows their willingness to enforce their border policy, something that the United States struggles with. Albeit, its probably a little easier to do when your country is only a tad bigger than California and is surrounded on all sides by water. The bottom line is that most Japanese people see it as their right to know what non-Japanese people are doing in their country. I do not say this with negativity, but I have found that when most people ask where I am from they usually follow up with why am I here. They become interested when people take interest in their country and all that entails.
Another reason for the interviews may be to make a political statement. The Japanese recently "elected" and I use that term rather loosely, a new Prime Minister. His name is Shinzo Abe. I like Abe because he is a tad more traditional than Koizumi was although I really like Koizumi, largely because of the guy's awesome hair and also because of his stance on dealing with Japan's past. Abe was basically appointed to be the new Prime Minister by Koizumi and the Japanese government fell in behind him, though most Japanese do not think Abe has great leadership capabilities and don't see many drastic changes occurring during his tenure. One thing Abe is strongly for is a more militaristic and more secure Japan.
It would come as little surprise to me if Japan began to reform its constitution to allow for a standing military under his leadership. An actual military is something Japan has been without since WWII, its technically illegal for Japan to have a standing army other than a small self-defense force under the current constitution. This will probably start to change soon. While Koizumi was in office, the Japanese government found loopholes in the document to send troops to Iraq and broaden its defense capabilities to include more offensive strategies. Abe will probably continue this movement, especially in light of how North Korea has been acting lately and talkng about testing a nuke. This is something that scares and at the same time, pisses the Japanese off to no end. If there could only be one thing that pushes Japan toward militarism again, it will be North Korea.
Japan is also interested in forming their own version of the CIA. Japan doesn't have much of an intelligence branch to their government and most foreign intelligence that the Japanese government receives is either from the United States or big corporations with businesses overseas that have intelligence gathering personnel. There are rumblings though that Japan could be a potential target for terrorists because it has such a small security and intelligence community. The closest thing that Japan has to a spy agency is a small group of people that investigate the goings on within the Japanese government itself but has little to do with overseas affairs. Its kind of like the American version of a Senate Investigation Committee that looks into corrupt politicians. The odds of Japan forming their own CIA are pretty small however, they don't have the money or the intelligence resources to do so. The amount of money the US spends on intelligence alone is more than Japan spends on its entire military budget. The other issue is the fact that intelligence agents from the US, Britain, and possibly, Israel, would need to come in and train the first class of Japanese spies. This means that all of the other big intelligence agencies in the world would already know all of the inner workings of the Japanese one because they built it. This is something that makes government officials in Japan uncomfortable.
So for now, they put on a stern face and try to posture like they are tough on security. I suspect, this is partly why I was interviewed today. But from where I stand, what they are doing is better than nothing and a country can't be too careful in the world we currently find ourselves in. All in all, my interview wasn't that big of a deal, I just found it and its timing kind of funny.