Saturday, January 23, 2010

Masked


Temple Valley - Say the word "thief" and this is the image that is conjured up in the minds of most Japanese. Unlike the bandits of the American Wild West who concealed three quarters of their face behind a bandana, the furoshiki traditionally worn by Japanese robbers seems a bit more revealing.

Recently there has been a spate of robberies in my neighborhood. Nine just yesterday. A police report provides an account of a witness seeing a foreigner who rang said witness' bell  and then wiped it clean of fingerprints before returning to his car for a quick getaway. Now everyone is on the lookout for anyone who fits the description!

In actuality what the witness saw was perhaps at worst nothing more than "a ring and run." While admittedly that can be generally upsetting, no real serious wrongdoing was committed. The real crime may be that as a general rule, crime in Japan is routinely blamed on foreigners (a catchall word that here can include actual foreign nationals and ethnic minorities born in Japan) who make up a miniscule percentage of the general population (despite volumes of facts and figures which logically suggest otherwise). The current governor of Tokyo is infamous for committing this "crime."

The section of the city where I live is home to a large Latin American population, for the most part the Nikkei descendants of Japanese who emigrated from mostly Okinawa to various countries throughout South America (well before the start of WWII) and have now come full circle, back to Japan to begin new lives. The reception they have been given over the years has been mixed. While welcomed as a source of cheaper manual labor during times of plenty, when times get tough, they are the first to get their walking papers, treated literally as personae non grata (unwelcome persons).

It may be interesting to note that the Latin word persona, meaning "mask," was also used by the ancient Romans to refer to someone with full Roman citizenship. If need be, a Roman could have proved his citizenship by producing the death masks of his ancestors. In Japan the lineage of the Latin American Nikkei community has been largely masked so they will now be seen as foreigners. While people everywhere tend to make generalizations and discriminate against those they think of as outsiders, it's best to remember that at the (Latin) root of it, behind every mask lies a persona, a person, and they're basically the same wherever and no two are exactly alike.



Read more about masks in Japan.


UPDATE:

The gang of robbers has been nabbed, caught in the act, and they were all, every man jack of them, foreigners. They're a melting pot of criminality. Hailing from more than five different countries across the globe, they could be dubbed the "UN Gang." So never mind about what I wrote above.

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