Don’t Make Waves, Stay in Line

Sometimes when I think about the laws and unspoken rules here in Japan, I think of the little ditty Shrek and Donkey hear when they go to Duloc, “Don’t make waves, stay in line, and we’ll get along fine. Duloc is a perfect place.” Now, Japan’s not Singapore or anything, but the laws are strict and the police and justice system have a farther reaching authority than you may be used to.

First, take a second to read this hilarious incident of drug-dog training gone wrong in Narita. Now, funny as that is, I have to feel sorry for the person who has all that weed because they will have a hell of a time if they want to return it. Japan has very strict anti-drug laws: I saw a news story about some famous guy being busted for having 0.2 grams of marijuana. Now, I think everyone whose ever been to a Dave Matthews Concert ingests that much weed without even meaning to, but the way they were talking about this guy you’d think he was peddling heroin to 12 year olds. It’s not only the ganja that you have to beware of, some perfectly legal over the counter medicines in other countries are illegal here because of Japan’s anti-stimulant laws.

Now here are a couple cautionary tales: one of a tourist being found with a pocket knife, and another of a JET accused of shoplifting. While I think both of these people could have benefited from knowing more Japanese and just using a bit more common sense, it shows how severe Japanese police can and will treat you for things that may only be a minor infraction back home. If you’re arrested, you can be held without formal charges for nearly a month. Japan’s justice system is “Guilty until proven innocent”, and really, they’re not interesting in proving you’re innocent, only in getting you to confess.

This also brings up the fact people here are simply more suspicious of “gaijin”, whether or not there’s really any statistics to back that assumption up. Once a cop stopped me on my bike. He claims he saw my bike lock was broken, and it is, but there’s no way he could have been able to tell that from glancing at my bike while I was riding, so I think the real reason he pulled me over was clear. He then proceeded to ask where I got the bike; in other words accusing me of stealing it. I fortunately knew just enough Japanese to explain I got it from the previous JET (and also don’t know enough Japanese to say “If I were to steal a bike, I’d steal a better one than this rust-pile”), and he let me go. The lesson is, yes, you are being watched.

Some other things to remember here in Japanland:

  • Until you get your “gaijin card” (alien registration card), you should carry your passport at all times. Even after you get your card, I recommend carrying your passport when you travel in Japan just to save hassle.
  • In multi-level stores, you need to pay on each floor. Also beware of places where there are several shops on a single floor. Just go to the nearest register after you pick up anything. (If there’s no register, look for a calculator and a woman not paying attention).
  • You are representing your school, your BOE, your country, and all foreigners in general. So, try to behave well. Don’t buy too much booze at the combini, some mom with nothing better to do will call the school and tell on you.
  • Be careful what people send to you because once it gets to Japan, you will be heldĀ  responsible for it’s contents. Here’s a student whose friend sent him some pot cookies to Japan, and now he faces 10 years in Japanese prison.
  • Keep off of the grass, shine your shoes, and wipe your . . . face.