Here in Tsukuba, a flurry of rumors surrounds the murder of a Tsukuba University coed. As many AT readers may already know, the last person she was reportedly seen with was a tall dark-shinned, foreign male. Allegedly, the woman went on a dinner date with the man and subsequently disappeared. Her body was discovered several weeks later in rural Tsukuba. This much is clear. The growing controversy surrounding the investigation is somewhat murkier.
In an effort to solve the murder, the local police have been systematically interviewing two groups: Japanese language teachers and foreigners. Their rationale is simple. If the alleged killer was a foreigner living in Tsukuba, he might have studied Japanese, and could thus be identified by one or more of the teachers. Moreover, as a member of the foreign community in Tsukuba, foreign residents might have also come in contact with him. Given his fairly distinctive features, he should be easily recognizable.
There are, however, some problems. Allegedly, police have singled out a group of foreign business owners for multiple interviews, saying that their establishments appear likely to be haunts for the alleged killer. While most agree that the police have been perfectly civil, what disturbs some is that the line of questioning appears to have strayed from the alleged killer to other members of the foreign community in Tsukuba. Other foreign residents who have been interview report that the police wanted more information about them than about the alleged killer.
These interviews have lead some foreign residents to feel suspicious that there is more going on than just a murder investigation. These sentiments have been inflamed by other rumors that the alleged killer has already been caught, and that the police are covering it up for some unknown reason. Many believe that the police are attempting to assemble a database of sorts about long-term foreign residents in Tsukuba. More believably, others have suggested that the police are attempting to solve another murder; this one of a Filipino woman murdered in March of last year.
If any of these allegations were proved true, they would go far in deepening the contempt that most foreigners have for the local constabulary. Many speak in sarcastic tones about police effectiveness, sighting examples of the inability (or unwillingness) of the police to deal with the foreign community, or ineffective enforcement strategies such as safety driving week. Furthermore, confirmation that the police were collecting information, or covering up an investigation would also support allegations that Japanese police regularly commit human rights violations.
If, however, these allegations prove to be untrue what does it say about foreign residents in Tsukuba, or for that matter foreigners living anywhere in Japan? To what can we attribute our suspicion of the powers that be? Here are some possible explanations.
Naturally as foreigners, we tend toward cultural imperialism. We simply believe that many things in our home countries are superior to their Japanese counterparts. The criminal justice system cannot escape this type of comparison. We view the system and see fault after fault, saying how things at home are so different or so much better.
Another explanation is that, as foreigners, we already feel a heightened sense of being viewed as suspicious characters. Upon entering the country, we are greeted with the sign “Welcome to Japan. Please Obey the Rules." We are then required to submit a finger-print and to carry around proof of who we are and justification for our presence in this country. At any time the police can ask to see that proof. If you make a large purchase, or enter into a contract for service (such as a cellular phone or pay television) you are expected to show that proof and often your passport. It is true that Japanese often have to show identification as well, but no one checks their visas to see how long they intend on staying in Japan.
What about the daily stress that comes with living in Japan? On a day to day basis foreigners experience numerous forms of discrimination. We are stared at, ignored in stores, passed over for jobs, and even teased about being the alleged killer of a college coed; all simply because we are foreign.
I believe that a combination of the aforementioned factors is at the center of foreigner frustration with the police. All of those annoyances float around in our heads and we need a way to vent our stress, so we lash out at the system. Of course, the easy target is the system's ground-level representatives: the police.
I contest that this kind of police bashing is unfair. Unfair to the police, because most of them are just people trying to do their jobs and defend an imperfect system; and generally doing a job that, while needs to be done, they are disliked for doing. Unfair to ourselves because we are selling ourselves short and taking the easy way out. Indeed, it is much easier to bitch about a parking ticket that to make a critical self-analysis or systematic evaluation; however that latter pair is exactly what I am recommending.
This issue of the AT features an article on random gaijin-card checks by David Aldwinkle. People like him, Tony Lazlo (and his Issho mailing list majordomo at ml.gol.ad.jp in the body include subscribe issho-digest) and local crusader Tim Boyle are working hard to evaluate and understand the issues that surround foreign life in Japan. While they can all be critical of the Japanese system, their claims are usually well supported and followed with suggestions for change.
Next time you are feeling frustrated by living in Japan, I suggest that you think carefully about it. You'll probably discover that some of the issues you have are internal ones that you need to solve yourself. However, if you find genuine external reasons for you frustration, you can start to work through to a solution that could benefit all of us, both in the foreign community, and in the native community.
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