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Different strokes for different folks

32 Comments
By E H Fields

Sometimes this stuff just writes itself and things happen that cry out to be shared and don't really need any commentary because the story itself is strong enough to stand on its own, so let me tell you about what happened to me a few weeks back.

It was just another wet Wednesday in January and I was heading home after work. It was 9 p.m. by the time I got to Tokyo station. Dawdling toward my platform, I was pleased to bump into a friend who lived only a couple of stations away from me out in the boondocks. With someone to talk to, the prospect of having to stand for the long journey home seemed less of a chore and the usual temptation to buy a couple of beers and ride the Green Car home disappeared.

It was nice to talk about anything and everything; our conversation peppered with names as diverse as J.W. Fenton, Tomomi Iwakura, Henry Dorsett Case and Hiromi Hayakawa. All in all, nothing remarkable at all, just two people talking on a crowded train full of other people talking, snoring and trying to guess the tune leaking from the headphones of the stranger stood next to them. But that's perhaps because we'd not yet been noticed by a particular drunken salaryman who was strap-hanging only a few meters down the carriage.

Shirt untucked and tie askew, he was swigging from an oversized One Cup and lurching maniacally from side to side, yet somehow managing not to spill a drop. He was muttering a crazed monologue, his voice rising and falling to better emphasize the points he was making while everyone else on the train did their utmost to behave as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening.

Then everything went pear-shaped and for the next few minutes, I thought back fondly to the ignorant bliss that came when first arriving in Japan armed with zero language ability. The soap-box drunk had noticed us and found a topic close to his heart that was going to make people listen to his pearls of wisdom.

"Get back to your own country."

"You're dirty and you stink."

"We don't want you criminals in Japan."

"AIDS-carrying degenerates."

"Animals shouldn't ride the train unaccompanied."

"Foreigners are all so ugly because they're inbred."

His repertoire was huge; with oldies and goldies, it was like the Top 100 ranking shows that Japanese TV is so fond of, a distinctly non-entertaining showcase of ethnophaulisms.

We were doing our best to rise above his barrage of abuse and kept chatting away. There was nothing to be gained by fighting fire with fire. Looking over at the bilious racist, 5' 2'' in his Cuban heels, 120 lbs in a wet overcoat and drunk as a skunk, simply confirmed that violence would only ever be a pyrrhic victory – but after a while, my patience failed, so I asked him to stop, for everyone's sake.

I should have known better. You can't appeal to someone's better nature if they don't have one to begin with. If anything, I was more surprised by the reaction of the silent majority who until my few words had all seemingly been desperately ignoring everything. A middle-aged couple turned round and simultaneously putting fingers to their lips hushed loudly for me to be quiet, while a younger man advised that we should stop talking in English because that was causing the drunken man to be so angry.

Mouths agape at our fellow travelers' reaction, we rode in silence hoping that the man would get off at the next station, but luck was not with us and if anything he was getting louder and louder. Forgetting my friend and me for the time being, he turned his attention to the middle-aged couple and he began to chastise them as representatives of their generation for not having produced enough children. He then moved to the young man who was rounded upon because of the jewelry he was wearing and his shoulder length hair.

Having seen what happened to anyone who caught his attention, people were noticeably sitting lower in their seats, silently focusing on some distant point outside of the train window. Embarrassed by my own silence, all I could do was smile inanely while The Vapors song "Turning Japanese" danced around in my head and I wondered just what this drunken fool would have to say to actually get a rise out of anybody.

Staring blankly out of the train, my eyes inadvertently met those of the girl standing next to me reflected in the window. She lowered her head slightly in a half bow and out of the corner of her mouth, quietly apologized for the man's behavior, telling me that not all Japanese were like him. I smiled quietly to myself, pleased to be reminded of such an obvious truth. But then all hell broke loose.

It seemed that the man was just trying to cause some kind of confrontation as he continued to insult more and more people trying to get a reaction from somebody, anybody. Questioning people's sexuality, insulting their girlfriends, mocking their appearance, calling them stupid -- nobody was safe and no topic taboo as he moved around the train searching for someone to rise to the bait, and that's just what he got, but from perhaps from more people than he had bargained for.

So what did he say to a train full of people that got so many so angry and so quickly? The same people who had until that moment shown such amazing powers of self-restraint -- what button could he have pressed to achieve that? Well, he announced that his walk around the carriage had helped him to realize he was the only real Japanese male on the train and accused everybody else of being something entirely different.

Tensions escalated immediately, voices raised, lapels grabbed and amid much pushing and shoving, a group of people gathered around the fast sobering drunk before bundling him off at the next station to continue their disagreement on the platform.

As the doors of the train closed, I glanced around the carriage looking for hidden TV cameras but couldn't find any and was left believing that what had just happened was not some mad "Candid Camera" stunt and must have been true. Maybe this kind of stuff happens a lot on wet Wednesdays in January.

What did he call them, you might be wondering. Well, he called everybody an insult reserved for people originating from the Korean peninsula.

© Japan Today

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32 Comments
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I have been to Japan five times and 99% of the people were wonderful. I had the unfortunate contact with a gentleman as described. Funny thing happened a police man borded the train and threw him off at the next stop.

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seen similar types several times. drunk and shouty on the train at 2 in the afternoon and had the misfortune once to catch one's attention. changed carriages but he followed and continued yelling abuse because I was with a Japanese girlfriend, that old chestnut that never fails to get the goat of drunken stupid old sods. I got off at the next stop

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The writer did the right thing in not slugging the guy. The cops would have hauled him in and he would have been the guilty one in their eyes. Pleasantly surprising, though, to see a group of Japanese passengers act and drag the guy off the train.

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5'2".. so regardless of the racism or other idiocy he spouted, it was merely a case of little man syndrome. I agree that not smacking him was the right thing to do, but a good old fashioned s##t-eating grin would have really fixed his wagon. Heh heh heh heh heh.

99% percent of the people I've met in Japan were great. I've gotten frowny faces but they were outweighed by everyone else's courtesy.

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The writer did the right thing in not slugging the guy.

Of course he did the right thing. Tolerance means tolerance for everyone, including drunken racists, so long as they don't get violent.

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Weak. It had to go that far before anyone did anything. At not one of the stops did someone ask for one of the attendants outside? Dude would have been out the door before the doors closed.

And I am gonna agree with telecaster, you give that grin and almost all of em clam up.

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Sounds like many of a Friday evening going home. I just stand there with a smile on my face.

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Sounds like fiction...

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Let me try to understand the point of your article. Based on your story, one might conclude that Japanese are silently racist towards gentlemen like yourself and your friend, and openly racist towards those from the Korean peninsula. And short-statured to boot?

Point taken. I suppose it's a commonly articulated one, although usually by drunken non-Japanese.

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Not fiction, there is truth to a story like this. Depends where you are in this country and what the mind set of the individual is. Always an older guy, coming from drinking after work....mad at the world. Chalk it up and keep moving. He didn't say everyone was like this, but they are out there.

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5"2?

Any of his sort near me, they'll get smashed! He'll be spray paint, part of the walls when I finish him.

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TheguyNextdoor - that is because you do not know what to say back.

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ICHYA- I know what to say back, but whats the point. If i say something and the guys swings, its a wrap. There will be 2 hits, (1)ME HITTING HIM (2)HIM HITTING THE FLOOR. yeah...its like that.

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TheguyNextdoor - like to see you do it to the guy at the Chu-hi stand that always punk'n you out. LMAO. Your vocab suck anyway, so you not going to say anything.

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I've often wondered why Japan doesn't have a public intoxication law. If you want to get loaded fine, just don't inconvenience others. It would also bring in a lot of money to the government.

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I salute the writer for his response. I would have made sure I got off at the same stop with this dude and respond to him at some dark corner. Make sure its quite but painful. Some people need not to be let go free.

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medievaltimes: I've often wondered why Japan doesn't have a public intoxication law.

At first, I did too. Then after a few years I began to appreciate this freedom, and related ones too it.

The problem was not the public intoxication. The problem was the man himself. He belongs in a jail cell not because he was drunk, but because he was a clear public disturbance. Most of drink out of doors with no problem at all. And frankly, I would rather have to face these occasional idiots (and they are occasional) then be robbed of my freedom to drink on the train, or go to a park, chu-hi in hand.

Back in the "land of freedom" I did not have this freedom that I do in Japan. I do not like to hear any talk of giving it up.

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anyone who has been in Jpn a while will experience things like this, this one seems to about 5 of those experiences rolled into one but I cud see it happening. And to those who doubt Japanese dislike being called Korean or Chinese try it sometime many get pretty defensive & ticked off. Try next some jerk calls you a gaijin or something, it can be entertaining

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Abuse to foreigners happens in many countries.

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this one seems to about 5 of those experiences rolled into one

Agreed. Artistic license.

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I salute the writer for his response. I would have made sure I got off at the same stop with this dude and respond to him at some dark corner. Make sure its quite but painful. Some people need not to be let go free.

Better yet, grab his hand, raise it up and say "What pervert groper does this hand belong to!"

He sounds like a guy who has trouble satisfying his wife.

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He belongs in a jail cell not because he was drunk, but because he was a clear public disturbance.

Being drunk in public can be a disturbance in itself can it not? I guess its possible they could be one in the same.

Also, isn't there a "disturbing the peace" law? Why don't they fine the dude on that?

Maybe I'm wrong but I thought public intox laws are not aimed at drunk people minding their own business on trains, in parks etc. They are aimed at idiots as in the article (picking fights, public urination, disturbing others, passing out in public, sexual harrassment etc).

I'm all for individual freedoms but one thing I've learned in Japan is if you are drunk you have free reign to do just about anything you want with little to no consequences. I'm not sure that's a good idea for any society.

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Interesting story, but pretty far-fetched.

Drunk obnoxious pseudo-dwarf: no problem. Gaijin trying to defuse situation being shushed for "making problems": but of course.

Spontaneous teamwork amongst Japanese strangers creating an effective and appropriate response?

Oh, come on now.

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It seems we are in a editorial recession right now. -I hope it doesn't last long.

Moderator: We welcome editorial contributions from readers. Would you care to submit a commentary?

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"You're dirty and you stink."

I heard someone say this to a homeless man not too long ago.

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Let me get this straight. If I walk up to the average Japanese person on the train and shout abuse at him/her, using vile words, such as poofta, infertile obaasan, slut, airhead, gaijin-lover, etc, he/she wouldn't bat an eyelid, or at most, would just sink into their seats. But if I say bakachon, he/she will get angry and start getting physical with me. Hmm, I see.

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They are aimed at idiots as in the article (picking fights, public urination, disturbing others, passing out in public, sexual harrassment etc).

All illegal in and of themselves with the exception of passing out, which can be a nuisance but is not a disturbance. I see no need for the redundancy.

Maybe I'm wrong but I thought public intox laws are not aimed at drunk people minding their own business on trains, in parks etc.

As far as I know walking down the street drinking a beer is illegal under public intoxication laws. As is drinking in a public park. (I could be wrong) Yet it is entirely possible to do those while minding your own business, and people do it here, but not where I come from. And they sure don't have beer vending machines!

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difference is the drunks in Japan seldom start physical acts of violence like randomly punching people unlike some other parts of the world which makes it an excuse to start a fight.

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The first paragraph is completely useless.

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Your vocab suck anyway, so you not going to say anything.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

Good on the author for not respnding to provocation - you're always going to be in the wrong in the eyes of the law if you take a swing first. Remember our Aussie friend with the lilac tie?

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I'm with Potsu. Is there any documentation of this?

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-I guess I am on the wrong side of this.

We are in a recession and people are grumpy, drink, and are getting obnoxious even to people they do not know (soft targets). Our protagonist obviously went to far when he started to call people "Korean" ---> I hope this is what you wanted me to say?

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