Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Just A Friendly Reminder That You Don't Belong But We Are Okay With It

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.


At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Peltzer said...

Rainy day in Ottawa, reading your post and thinking how messed up our world has become. Another school shooting in the US, a few weeks since the one in Montreal and news of China's fears of Korean missle tests. It's said to read "you don't belong" when, really, you are there to help and teach. Although, at one point during the reading, I pictured the two officers as Abott and Costello and things seemed much nicer. Oh, and I placed flowers in your hair. Umm...and you were a hot chick, too. See how much nicer imagination makes the world. :p

So, in other news, the email came yesterday. I have been offered a job with Peppy's. I start in February.

I am still letting this news wash over me and I expect more questions fired in your direction shortly.

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Mogwai said...

Hehe, I had the to cops pictured in my mind as the old priest and young priest from the Excorcist. :)

Its cool that you replied when you did because I was thinking about you a few minutes ago and reasoned you had probably heard back from Peppy by now, Congrats!! I knew you would get the job.

As always, feel free to shoot off as many questions as you like and I will do what I can to answer them.

As for belonging, the Japanese will be nothing but friendly to you. They respect teachers and they like fun people. But no matter how much you party with them and no matter how nice they are, you will always be made to know, you simply are not Japanese and therefore, you do not belong. They will never tell you this to your face or anything, you will just get that vibe every now and then. They will like you well enough but belonging is a different ballgame.

Once you start teaching, kids will ask you what nationality you are. Tell them you are Japanese and see what kind of looks they give you. You will know what I am talking about. :)

At 8:47 PM, Anonymous Peltzer said...

Ok, some Qs:

1) You knew some Japanese before you went down. I, myself, do not know a lick of the language. How much of a hinderance will this be and what would you suggest to be a good starter to get to learning the lingo?

2) How well does PKC prepare you for the travel aspect of things. What I mean is, do they provide you with detailed maps to where you will be teaching for folks like me who can't read the street signs?

3) Somebody told me today that Japan is the "hottest" place in the world right now for a nuke attack. Any truth to this?

4)Do you suggest getting a cell phone or a landline phone when down there? I, really, dislike mobile phones but I know it is the craze down there.

5) Does Peppy's help you set up a bank account and health plan during training?

6) Do they bring you to your teaching city after training or do you take a train there?

7) Did you register with the US Embassy (for me Canadian) when you got there?

8) Any suggestions on a language guide, basic, to carry with me?

That should do for starters.

Thanks dude

At 12:01 AM, Blogger Mogwai said...


1) Knowing the language is going to help you out but its not going to be a huge deal. The one thing I would try to get down before you come is katakana. If you know katakana by the time you get here, it will make grocery shopping and ordering food from menues extremely easy for you. If you don't know it, you will learn it quickly once your here. You could also pick up a book on basic kanji and that may help you out too. The thing with hiragana is that unless you know quite a few kanji, you won't be able to read much no matter how much hiragana you know because the two are usually used together. Knowing hiragana will help you read some of what the kids will write. Katakana should be your top priority though.

2. As for travel, if you are going to a class that you have never been to before, you will have a map. The maps are sometimes squirrely but you can usually figure stuff out without a lot of problems. When I have to go out of town and need a hotel, they will set all of that up for me. The funny part is they also know my favorite hotels now and try to get me in them whenever possible.

3. for the nuke thing, yeah, North Korea is relatively close but what are you going to do. We are probably in no more danger of that than people living in India and Pakistan at the moment. I wouldn't worry a bunch, just remember, duck and cover. :)

4. Get a cell phone. Even if you don't like talking on one, they are nice to have around when you need to get online and check train times on the fly. If there is also a problem with a classroom and you can't get in, a cell will help you there as well. Don't worry about landlines though, sometimes depending on who you go with for internet, you may get one thrown in for free.

5. Peppy will help you with the Healthcare stuff but you can't get a bank account until you have a peice of paper that you can't get until you are moved into your place. Depending on where you are going to be, some banks are more convenient than others. Try to get an SMBC or MUFJ bank account because those two banks are everywhere and most machines will take their cards. Your PS may also be around to help you set up your bank account though I did mine on my own without a lot of problems. You also won't be able to get a phone until you have a bank account most likely.

6. Your PS or a head teacher will move you into your apartment. Most likely, you will get on a train from training and go to where you are going to be and then someone will meet you there and kind of give you a lay of the land. If you are moving into an apartment that was previously occupied by a Peppy teacher, they will leave you a welcome package of sorts that give you maps, good places to go for stuff, etc.

7. Never registered with an embassy. My thought is that if a huge situation occurs, they are going to be busy helping people a lot more needy than me and that I know enough about the area to fend for myself better than some and especially the tourists. Its probably not a bad idea to do but I have never gotten around to it.

8. Lots of people buy the Lonely Planet Phrase book but I never got a language guide because I was afraid that I would become dependant on it and didn't want to have to carry it with me everywhere. Your brain is always up for a workout, memorize as much as you can and then laugh at the tourists when they whip out their books the second they need to ask anyone anything. My phone has a dictionary on it and that has helped me out a few times but beyond that, I only have travel guides, no language ones.

Take care, you will start to get really excited when the date gets closer, enjoy it. Its a fun experience and remember that there will be people around to help you and as long as your friendly, they will be too. You will be fine. Before you leave, I will give you my cell number in case you get in a bind and need answers quick but don't worry. Peppy will have people at the airport to pick you up.

At 8:28 PM, Anonymous dustin said...

To me, it's entirely insane the interview that you had to go through. Either the country's immigration/naturalization board is doing its job or it isn't. A short interview with the local po-po's isn't going to uncover anything a thorough background check won't get at, unless you're a bad actor (I remember Pooh!).

I understand that Japan has basically maintained a single ethnicity throughout its history. In fact, I was taught the definitions of homogeneous and heterogeneous in eighth grade based on the racial diversity of Japan and the US. Granted the Japanese have an advantage in the security front, I imagine they're losing out big in the ideas department. Talking with people from other cultures, and trust me, I get a number of opportunities in Seattle, opens my eyes to ways of thinking I could never have come across on my own. Not all of them are great in my mind, but everyone's point of view gives me insight on how this whole human condition can be so messed up and still proceed forward as it has.

At 10:43 PM, Blogger Mogwai said...

You make a good point.

Japan is a VERY homogeneous society with little quirks all its own. As for the ideas, I am not sure. There are some very narrow minded Japanese people but there are also some very narrow minded Americans, look at our state.

Its not that Japan does not like Westerners because they do, a lot. They copy as much as they can from us. It just boils down to the fact that though they like our clothes, the way we treat women, etc, we are not Japanese.

It goes beyond racism because while I am sure some do, most don't think Japanese people are any more special than anyone else. Japanese people are Japanese people. If you are Japanese, that is who you are, if your not, then your something other than Japanese. They are not mean about it, its simply a club that non-Japanese are not allowed into.

Its hard to explain.


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