Man arrested after convenience store clerk mishears him say 'I have SARS'

By SoraNews24

At about one o’clock in the afternoon on March 31, as Japan was just getting warmed up to the possibility of a COVID-19 state of emergency, a man in his late 50s popped into a convenience store in Joyo City, Kyoto Prefecture.

The man was on leave from his job at an ophthalmology clinic where he worked as a technician. He had caught a case of adenoviral keratoconjunctivitis which is a relatively mild but highly contagious viral infection of the eye, very similar to pink eye. Because of his condition, he thought it wise to warn the clerk while paying.

“I have something that is contagious by touching, so please disinfect this,” while handing over his payment. However, the clerk just looked at him strangely, so he repeated more simply, “Put alcohol on this.” Once the purchase was complete he left and went about his day.

Four days later the police paid him a visit and placed him under arrest for “obstruction of business,” a broadly defined crime that involves impeding a business’ ability to function.

On that fateful day in the convenience store, after the man had left, the clerk immediately told her manager that someone had come in saying, “I have SARS.” The manager then called 110 (the police emergency number) and closed the store for over two hours so that it could be completely sterilized.

The man denied the charges, claiming that he’d never said he had SARS at all. On that day his words in Japanese were “Boku (I) sawaru (touch) to (and) utsuru (transmit),” while it is a stretch, it’s not completely implausible that the “sa” in “sawaru” and “tsuru” in “ustsuru” could be misheard as “SARS” (“sahzu” in Japanese) under certain conditions.

An investigation was launched and by May 14, the public prosecutor decided not to file charges because the security camera footage yielded no evidence of him saying “SARS.” However, by this time the incident was reported nationwide, and while most major outlets didn’t print the man’s name, it still managed to get out onto the internet.

He since had to resign from his job and is having difficulty finding new work due to the current economic situation and his newfound notoriety. He told Sankei Shimbun, “My name is still on the internet as ‘the SARS guy’ and it’s devastating. What else can I say, except times are rough now.”

Most people sympathized with the man, but others pointed out that there was lots of blame to go around.

“That’s like the plot of some absurd comedy.”

“That’s a good way to encourage infected people to hide their illnesses.”

“That guy might have a tongue infection too.”

“He should sue for everything he went through.”

“He shouldn’t have gone to a convenience store in his condition in the first place.”

“I can’t really blame the clerk. He never specified his illness and in these circumstances what was she supposed to think?”

“He lost everything, just for doing the right thing. That’s so sad.”

“The police were way out of line here.”

That last sentiment was echoed by the man’s lawyer who told media, “the misunderstanding was unavoidable, but the problem here is the police. He was arrested before the investigation was properly conducted such as through scrutinizing the surveillance camera evidence. They got the procedural order wrong.”

This sparked further discussion on the topic of police misconduct which originated in the U.S. and sent shockwaves throughout the world, including Japan.

“This kind of stuff is going to start an anti-police movement like they have in the USA.”

“If the police had just had a basic conversation with the guy before arresting him, it probably would have been an open and shut case.”

“The people criticizing the police are probably the kind that get an attitude whenever they get questioned on the street.”

“If the police didn’t arrest him and he did end up having SARS then everyone would have piled on them for being lazy. They can’t win.”

This incident happened in March, and social anxiety has only gone up since then. Last April, about 1,300 110 calls regarding COVID-19 concerns were made in Tokyo alone. Even though the initial wave has subsided, fears of returning to all that in a potential second wave is perhaps even more mentally taxing for a lot of people.

It’s important to keep that in mind when interacting with others and to value patience and communication as much as possible, because times are certainly rough, and even a simple trip to a convenience store can turn disastrous over simple misunderstandings.

Sources: Sankei NewsSanspoHachima Kiko

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Kyoto counter-terrorism unit called in after senior citizen “reserves” parking space

-- Lupin III fan arrested for robbing Tokyo convenience store with Walther P38

-- Man in Japan orders female store clerk to prostrate herself over misunderstanding with his change

© SoraNews24

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Why exactly did he "have to resign from his job"? Is his boss really that hard-headed and cold-hearted just because a dope clerk misunderstood. Did he resign on his own? Doctor eyeball didn't nor doesn't have Covid-19.

14 ( +15 / -1 )

Clerk was an idiot. She should have lost her job, little liar just wanted to cause trouble.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

Not Japanese comedy, relationship failure znd medieval justice (where are the damages he should get from convenience store ?)

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Never communicate more than necessary, especially with some airhead store clerk. I can't count the number of times I have told a clerk exactly what I wanted, in one sentence, only to have them ask me 3 singular questions about what I had already stated: You want it hot? What size do you want? For here or to go? In this guy's case, it might be better to remember next time the saying that no good deed goes unpunished.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

“The people criticizing the police are probably the kind that get an attitude whenever they get questioned on the street.”

Yes, those horrible people who believe they have the right to go about their day without being harassed by bored police for no reason at all.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Arrested on the basis of something that doesn't even qualify as hearsay? What kind of police state is this?

7 ( +7 / -0 )

"a simple trip to a convenience store can turn disastrous over simple misunderstandings."

I can't wait for 711, and family mart to get on the uber app!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Keystone Cops.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Why do Japanese phone for the cops every time they don’t understand something?

And why do the cops come when it is obvious that no crime has been committed?

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Can't understand how people can accept living in such a policed society in which you are always guilty before innocent.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Clerk was an idiot!


7 ( +7 / -0 )

The man should sue the HQ of convenience stores for lifetime of wages he would have gotten had he not lost his job. Then sue job for wrongful termination.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

"Why do Japanese phone for the cops every time they don’t understand something?

And why do the cops come when it is obvious that no crime has been committed?"

IMO: Because they have the best support system for them here. The US consulate, and base for VET's will do 0 to protect.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )


They will notify the next of kin, they'll do that much.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

SARS? When are we? 2003?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am almost glad all the workers in my local combini are all foreigners. I don´t expect that kind of paranoid idiocy from them.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

shogun36Today  12:12 am JST

SARS? When are we? 2003?

Remember, Covid-19 is part of the SARS family of viruses. They're genetically related. Back in March, there were people still calling it SARS-2 instead of COVID-19.

Either way, the clerk's an idiot.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The police and the clerk should take responsibilities for job loss for this guy.

He's now sufferring alone for trying to be nice!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

So if I said "I give aid to people in need!" in public, will I get in trouble?

If I said "I had some corona (beer) when I was in NY before, but I didn't like it!" in public, will I be arrested?

people have become so paranoid.

ATM-01 said it best! Its their fault this guy is now in trouble.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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