Saturday, April 07, 2007


A foreigner in a strange land

This is the fourth year I've spent spring in Japan and I finally got a good opportunity to do some o-hanami (flower viewing) with friends.

It's simple: stake out a spot within reasonable proximity of some blossoming cherry trees, then get drunk.

Unfortunately, my experience of Japanese culture was somewhat marred by an altercation with some homeless nutter, during which he threatened to bash my head in with a pretty heavy rock.

THE SCENE: a sunny day on the river bank, lots of people sitting out, enjoying the warm weather. The cherry blossom is at it's most beautiful. Homeless guy yells "Grargh!" snatches up a rock, and advances towards Dan, holding said rock above his head.

I handled the situation reasonably well, I took the rock off the guy and told him to calm down. He gave me and Adam a load of verbal, pushed Adam a bit and generally looned. Suddenly, we were the hottest ticket in town; everyone was watching us.

One of the girls in our party phoned the police after the guy threatened us with the rock, so I told the guy that the police were coming and he ought to make himself scarce, but he didn't seem to take this too seriously.

We waited 45 minutes for the police. Forty-five. We could have ordered a pizza and it would have come quicker. I told Junko to phone the police again and tell them the guy had a gun. Or his name was Ichihashi (see below). Or anything, just tell them to get a move on.

In the interim, I made the homeless guy burst into floods of tears when he asked me if I knew some enka singer and I said I'd never heard of him. That made me feel just great: everyone staring at me and the homeless guy howling like a dog under the full moon.

Eventually a comedy duo of policemen came into view, walking up the path at about the same speed as a Japanese girl browsing a department store. The one who talked to us was friendly enough, but didn't exactly radiate competence. He asked what had become of the girl who originally called the police. Junko explained that she'd gone home during the FORTY-FIVE minutes it had taken them to arrive. The guy also asked Junko for her number and she pointed out (pointedly) that she had given her number when she'd made the second phone call to find out where the bloody hell the law was. I was amused by the fact that all Japanese present were reluctant to give the name of their employer.

The guardian of law and order also asked me the usual.

HE: Which country are you from?

ME: England.

HE: England? English people have such wonderful pronunciation, don't they? Now, Americans...

ME: Erm, there are two Americans here as well.

HE: ...Americans are also nice.


I had pretty mixed feelings about the o-hanami incident. Obviously, there's no danger that anyone in attendance will be forgetting our day by the river anytime soon. Plus, it isn't too bad for my swagger value to be able to say that I calmly disarmed a rock-wielding nutcase.

The tardiness of the police worries me though. How can it be that somebody phones in an attempted assault and the law takes 45 minutes to arrive? This more than a week after a teacher was murdered and the prime suspect, Ichihashi (see above), is still at large, having fled from the police barefoot.

The comic banter with the officer cooled my temper a bit, but still...

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