|Blogs > yamcontagion > Sibilance|
I saw one of my friends lose his head the other night.
We were to join some friends at an izakaya off Sentagai, but they were sitting at a table in a private room that was too small to hold us all.
J. stepped up to a greeter and asked in Japanese if our whole group could sit at the open tables in the front instead.
The greeter grinned as if he was having a private joke with himself. "You can’t sit here," he said. "This area is Japanese-only."
"Why does that matter?" J. said. He gets sensitive about these things.
"You don’t know Japanese," the greeter explained. "We can’t serve you here because you can’t read the menu."
“Call the cops!” J said loudly. “Call the cops!”
The greeter looked confused.
“This is discrimination!” J. moved closer to the waiter.
My girl friend and I were embarrassed. Why not just go elsewhere? It was Saturday night and we had our good shoes on, the shoes that hurt. We moved towards the exit and did our best to appear decorous.
J. had backed the greeter into a wall and they were standing head to head. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw the greeter waggling his fingers in front of J.’s face.
I chatted with my friend. She works at a company that sends me freelance jobs sometimes, so I asked her if they thought my work was all right. She answered that things were fine, but she kept looking over in J.’s direction.
J. was slapping at the greeter’s cheeks. Things were getting serious.
My friend was done pretending. She started screaming, “What are you doing? Stop this!”
That was as sure as hell not going to help. I went out into the hall where J.’s pal A.D. had gone to take a call. I figured that being a guy, he might know what to do in a situation like this. I certainly didn’t.
“Hey,” I said. “Looks like J.’s in a fight.”
A.D. looked at me with those slow blue eyes. “Why don’t we just go elsewhere,” he mumbled.
“I know,” I said.
The door to the izakaya opened. Out came a clump of writhing men. There were two men on the greeter and three more on J., trying to pull the two apart.
A.D. and my girl friend and I stood there uncomfortably. I thought I didn't ask for this. I hoped that A.D. might go in and try to help J. out, but instead he kept to himself.
J. broke the greeter’s necklace and started scraping his nails down his forearms. I looked away, but not before thinking that a punch in the face might have been better. I’ve never seen real fighting.
They finally managed to get J. in a headlock and pull him away safely.
The two men were separated, but facing one another. The greeter was shouting at J.
“This is discrimination!” J. said. It was about the only thing he could say.
The door opened again and another waiter came out. He pulled J. over to one end of the corridor and asked what was the matter. The greeter stayed by the izakaya entrance and thanked the men who’d helped pull them apart.
“He wouldn’t let us move to another table.” J. said.
“I think that some other people have already reserved that table,” said the waiter in a conciliatory tone.
“But that’s not what he said. He said we couldn’t sit there because we were foreigners.”
“Is that so? Well, he shouldn’t have said that. The truth is that some other people have reserved the table.”
“Why didn’t he say that from the start?” J. had tears in his eyes.
A third man came out. He said, “I’ve called the police.” He was tall and had an in-charge demeanor. “What happened?” he asked the greeter.
The greeter said, “I tried to explain to him that some other people had the table, but he didn’t understand me.” The two men went off to the side.
The conciliatory waiter put his hand on J.’s shoulder. “He shouldn’t have said what he said about foreigners. But that’s not the reason why he wouldn’t let you sit down.”
“Yeah? Well, it must matter to him. He said that was why we weren’t allowed to sit down.”
“He was just trying to get the point across,” said the waiter.
A.D. asked, “What’s going on?”
I said, “I think the police are coming.” I thought privately that it was probably good that J. and I weren’t dating anymore.
“I know that guy,” A.D. said. “He’s given people here some trouble before.”
“Really?” said my friend C.
“Yeah, he says that to every foreigner.”
I looked over at J. again. “Sabetsu da yo. It’s discrimination,” he said over and over. It was all he had left to say.
I was exasperated with J. I wanted to leave, but I knew I'd feel guilty for not sticking around.
They taught us to stand up for ourselves in America, but that just doesn't go over well here. They don't have laws against this sort of thing in Japan. You've got to make nice with the people in charge.
I'm not condoning it but that's the way it is here and if you are a different sort of person you really should just leave.
Back in the States, J.'s the kind of person who fights for the environment and has ideals. But when he tried to impart those ideals to the Japanese kids he was teaching, he lost his job pretty quick.
Kids were coming back home and telling their parents things they'd learned in school that were different from their parents' teachings. J. was teaching them to put spiders out the window instead of killing them. He was telling them about the environment. It wasn't anything too extreme, but the parents got suspicious.
The head waiter and the greeter came back towards J., just as the police were arriving. The police looked slow and fat, not too different from cops in the States.
The greeter was showing everyone his broken necklace. It was a cheap thing with some charms hanging off it. "I want recompensation," he declared.
The police ordered everyone to the station. "You friends of his? You come too."
We waited outside the station for over thirty minutes while J. was being interrogated. I tried to butter up some of the officers. "He shouldn't have raised his hand at him," I said.
I didn't feel too proud of myself for kissing ass, but I figured it would end things faster. The faster, the better. I smiled at the cops.
The greeter was waiting for his turn in the interrogations. He had his broken necklace in the open palm of his right hand and kept looking at it. He was probably working out exactly how to explain things to the cops.
The policeman said,"Look at those scratches. He'll be out of work for a week."
I doubted that. I wondered how much of a fine J. would have to pay.
"They tried to tell your friend that the seats were reserved, but he just didn't understand. That's why they had to speak to him so strongly."
They never did say anything like that, I thought. I nodded at the policeman politely. I didn't feel like buttering him up anymore.
Everyone was silent, waiting. I looked at the ground. Something had happened there, but I couldn't work out what it was. Something to do with coming here and trying to make a new life, and having things not work out. Moving from job to job and woman to woman, refusing to admit you stick out like a sore thumb. That sort of pressure can't be good for anyone.
It also had something to do with being a man.
J. came out of the station. "That's all," the police said. "You can go."
"Sorry about that, guys," J. said.
"Don't worry about it," I said. "Where are we going now?"
12/6/2005 1:21 pm
I lived in Japan for years (I was even born there) and that sort of discrimination happened a lot. Usually I would merely ignore it and move on, but sometimes something has to be said. You say that in America you were taught to stand up for yourself and that Japan is different. That's true, but America is only that way because people fought to make it so. There are times in American history when various people were forced to bow to authority and mistreatment. You can see this during the period of Jim Crow (separation of the races) in the south. However, things changed because eventually those being mistreated said, "no more". Had they said nothing, like you would have your friend do, then there would have been no progress. Should your friend have responded violently? No, but that doesn't mean he should have sat back and accepted it quietly. You say that you don't condone what was being done, but every time you say nothing that's exactly what you do. You tell everyone there that you agree with it. As for "if you are a different sort of person you really should just leave", there are people in America that say the same thing to people ("Love it or leave it"). It doesn't sound any less ignorant over here.|