Cycling is a big part of my life here in Japan, so big in fact that I own two bikes, one I keep at the train station in the town I teach at and the other I keep at home for getting around Sendai.
I generally adhere to the rules of the road, but one recent Wednesday evening, I was riding back from Jusco with my husband when, tired, wet and hungry for the fried nastiness in my bike basket, I did the unthinkable; I cycled over a crossing on a red light. My husband protested at first. "Jesus, are you trying to kill me?" I heard from over my shoulder (it was a pretty big crossing and the roads were busy), but the light had just turned from green, so he followed me across.
We were on our merry way once more, when the next thing we know, a police car is alongside us, lights flashing, sirens screaming and "stop please" blaring out of the megaphone.
"It’s because you don’t have a light, "I said to my husband. We stopped and watched as two police officers, both male -- one in his 30s and the other in his 50s -- got out of the police car. They didn’t introduce themselves, so for the sake of the narrative, let’s call the younger officer Baby-face, and the older officer Ed.
"Konbanwa," said Ed.
"Konbanwa," we sheepishly replied, heads bowed like naughty school kids waiting for a telling off.
"Light was red," he said in English, and pulled a notepad and pen out of his shirt pocket.
We apologized a million times and tried to come across as otherwise law abiding gaijin. Neither officer looked very impressed. Baby-face was shining his torch over our bikes and scowling, Ed was staring at me; maybe he was thinking about how to ask the next question in English.
"Do you understand Japanese?" he asked in Japanese.
"Only a little," I replied, also in Japanese. They exchanged another unimpressed look.
He seems to speak a bit of English, though, I thought, what a relief. This relief was short-lived however, as he proceeded to ask the next load of questions in very fast, very quiet Japanese. Terrific.
He asked to see our gaijin cards. We handed them over. He questioned why there were two addresses written on them, one on the front and one on the back. We explained that we had moved apartments. Baby-face asked where we had been. We told him: shopping at Jusco. Ed seemed suspicious at this.
"It’s very far to Jusco from your apartment," he said, his eyes narrowing (it’s 15 minutes by bike). We were beginning to feel like they had an ulterior motive. Either that or they were messing with us. By now, we had been standing there for about 15 minutes in the drizzling rain, the kind of rain that looks harmless but actually soaks you and makes you hate life. We wanted this whole thing to be over with so we could go home and eat. No such luck. The officers put their notepads away, then muttered something to one another.
"So, you are both English teachers. How much do you make a month? What is your salary?" asked Baby-face. My husband and I looked at each other: What the hell did that have to do with anything? "It’s none of your business, mate," I wanted to shoot back, but we weren’t really in a position to deny them any information. I got the impression that we were expected to answer any questions they felt like asking. So we told them. My husband wrote it down on the back of his hand as we were too stupid (or flustered?) to work out how to say it in Japanese.
"Hmm," was their response to the sum. Again they muttered to one another. Then Ed shone his torch into the basket on the front of my bike, pushed aside the top of the Jusco carrier bag and had a look inside.
"Hm, delicious chocolates," he said. He looked disappointed.
"Uh, yeah," I replied, wondering what he thought he would find. A severed head perhaps.
"Okay, thank you," said Ed. Finally. We thanked them, and apologized some more. We were about to cycle off when Baby-face said: "influenza," and gestured with his hand over his mouth. We nodded and said goodnight, unsure of what he was suggesting. Did he want us to wear masks constantly? And if so, why wasn’t he wearing one? Unless he was suggesting we should wear masks as we may be infected, even though we haven’t been outside of Japan for a year, and we told them so in the interrogation. We were too tired and wet to make a fuss about it at the time, so we rode off home. So ended our first run-in with the Japanese police.
I’m not really sure how I feel about the whole thing. A part of me thinks that they were just doing their jobs and that I’m a complete tool for crossing on a red light in the first place. But then I think about the questions they were asking and wonder if they would have asked them to a Japanese person. As for the influenza comment, well that just confuses me. Whatever they were implying and whatever the reasoning behind some of their questions, I’ll be waiting for the green man in future.© Japan Today