To Witness Violence in Japan

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日本で乱暴を見ること

Sometimes you find yourself stuck between a rock and a yankii.

Casual Night in Osaka

We had just finished dinner after a nice relaxing day at a public bath in Osaka. I was bidding adieu to my girlfriend at the station as she was heading back to Miyagi early, while I stayed for a remaining two nights in Kobe. My friend O and his girlfriend were saying goodbye as well. It had been a fun few days, and who knows when they would see her again?

Crowds of people danced back and forth, undulating. Osaka was full of all kinds, from young schoolboy to the businesswoman to the aging man who gawked at how odd the world had become. It could be hard to hear at times, a constant human buzz.

A woman thrown to the floor.

It’s sudden. A crash into a column. You don’t expect it. Even in the most violent places, you don’t just assume violence. It always shocks.

We stood there watching, unmoving. A young guy, maybe late-twenties, early-thirties, had done it. Black hair, purple shirt. Yankii. Boyfriend? He moved over to her, her body lying against a station column. His awful face full of rage.

My friend tensed up. He seemed ready to do something.

The station police walk in. Two or three of them. They try to calm the man down. The man responds with instant vitriol. “Who the hell do you think you are!?” He shouts. “This is none of your business!!” The police back off slightly before leaving the immediate area. I assume to grab reinforcement.

The man, purple in both face and shirt, strikes the woman across her face.

“They’re just going to leave him? I gotta do something.”

“No, O.”

His girlfriend, my girlfriend, and I both stood opposed. Who knew what weapons he held? The police were good at deescalating violence. My friend, I assumed, not so much.

The station police were right around the corner. They come back, this time with someone a little bit more official looking. The difference between a mall cop and a state trooper. This officer approaches the man. “WHAT THE HELL, ASSHOLE!? WHO THE HELL ARE YOU!? THIS IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!!” This officer backs off too. The cops leave the scene. I assume, again, hopefully, to get more reinforcements.

The asshole is now crying in front of the girl. I assume saying something like, “I didn’t mean it. If they ask you to press charges, don’t. You would really do that to me? You want me to go to jail? Why would you do that to poor ol’ me?” Perhaps he was legitimately regretful of what he did. But to me, all I could see was some poor manipulative bastard who didn’t realize that he was 100% in the wrong.

“We should go. Don’t want to miss the train.” Everyone but O agreed. “They’ve got it handled,” I said, trying to be reassuring.

“What, you really think so? The cops? Where’d they run off to?”

I couldn’t say for sure. I was only hoping. The guy was still in the same spot, with his girlfriend. Maybe he was pleading for her to move so they could get out of there. I have no idea. All I knew was that, in a very public place, they remained.

We left.

Classic Drinks in Kobe

Two nights later O and I are out to drink and eat yakitori at Torikizoku. It was nostalgic. This was the first place I’d eaten at when I’d come to visit years ago. We ordered two large glasses of beer and some cabbage, the latter of which had infinite free refills. Unfortunately, that didn’t apply to the beers.

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Torikizoku isn’t sponsoring this or any content on this site. Still delicious though.

We started talking and the conversation eventually steered back to that violence we witnessed.

“You know,” O said, “I’m actually pretty mad that you guys stopped me back there.” His face had a twinge of pain. “I regret not doing anything.”

“It was dangerous. What if he came out with a knife? Anywho, the police already had it covered?”

“Did they?” He paused. “Every time they went up to him, they were all…” O made a shrugging motion. “Even that second group.” Another shrugging motion.

“I guess I just trust the police. I’ve seen their training. The Japanese police are experts in deescalating the situation.”

We’d been in countless exercises in our school with the police. What to do when a stranger or drunk enters the building. How to handle wild animals. Fire evacuations. They drove the speed limit, which could be infuriating at times. The police I’d known were model citizens, who opposed violence. They did their best to make sure nothing further happened. In my eyes, the American police could learn a lot from them.

“And I don’t trust them. You lived in the countryside, so the police didn’t have much to do there. But here, I’ve seen their incompetence on display. They won’t do anything.”

I conceded. We couldn’t agree on the police thing. And, for all I know, he was right about the police in Osaka. I had assumed that they’d come back and arrested the guy. But I didn’t have any proof.

A plate of yakitori arrived. Spiced. It was delicious. Torikizoku was really good. We asked for another bowl of cabbage, having depleted our second bowl already.

“So, what would you have done?” I asked.

“I’d have gone over and stood by, making sure he didn’t do anything else. You saw! They didn’t stop him from striking her again!”

I couldn’t argue that. In the time that the officers had left, she had been struck again.

“And maybe he’s hurting her right now! We don’t know. You assume he was arrested, but I’m pretty sure that he’s still out there, doing his thing.”

“And what if he pulled out a knife? What if he stabbed you? I’m not convinced he was going to pull a knife on her. But if he saw you and pulled out a knife in the middle of the station, that could have been way worse. I’m not saying it was okay that she was attacked, but at least no bystanders were hurt in any kind of escalation.”

“So if there’s a burning building, and someone screaming for help, you would just stand there?”

“Listen, I’d’ve called the fire department. But I’m not sure I could have done anything. I may have just added to the death toll. My body may have been an impediment to the firemen coming in later.

“We can both agree,” I continued, “That if nobody was there, something should be done. But at least with the station, there were already police on the scene. And chances are, you’d have gotten in the way. They’d probably arrest you for jumping in.”

O took another drink. “See, you always assume the worst. That I’d get in the way. That the guy would have a knife.” He ate a fried nankostu. “And I get it. You probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything. But I’ve had the training. I have a black belt. I’ve taken self-defense and deescalation courses. I’m not saying you should have jumped in, just that you guys should have let me jump in.”

We agreed to disagree. I noted that I’d still be against jumping into a situation that was being handled by authorities, but that he should probably disregard my words next time. I didn’t regret voicing my disapproval after all. As far as I was concerned, the situation was handled and nobody was seriously hurt, the victim excluded. I hoped that she was taken to the hospital for treatment and that the boyfriend was taken to jail, but I really had nothing to go on. Perhaps it was all just wishful thinking.

Meeting Violence with Action

It’s still hard to witness. I question even now whether it was good or not to stop my friend. He was trained, and a lot bigger than the assaulter. I doubt he would have made things better, but I actually don’t know.

But then, it’s much easier to not be involved. More recently in America, society has moved towards the mantra of, “If you’re not publicly opposed to it, you’re part of the problem.” It’s not enough to not perpetuate a problem; you’re supposed to fight it. If someone gets a slur thrown at them in public, you’re not in the right for not doing it. You’re only in the right if you stand up for the person being attacked.

Maybe we shouldn’t have stopped O. Maybe it was important for that victim to know that, as many people just looked onto the violence, someone–a seemingly average person–was there to stand up for her.

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