Men in black suits stand there looking on, occasionally jotting in small, shirt-pocket-sized notebooks with ballpoint pens. Some have lapel pins. There are usually about a half dozen of them. Their affiliations and motivations alike are unclear to me. But they are always there. Always watching.
They are observing ultranationalists, who are broadcasting hate and propaganda ad nauseam over their PA systems, touting Japanese superiority and decrying the presence and influence of foreigners in Japan.
Every Friday, they are at my station with their van, which is in the usual style: emblazoned with slogans, festooned with flags, and topped with loudspeakers that are almost always turned up to staggering volumes.
Every Friday, like clockwork, and people walk by them like this display of weaponized bigotry is the most normal thing in the world. Well of course the bitter old man standing on top of the van is shouting angrily about immigrants. It’s Friday morning—what else would he be doing?
Privately, students and friends have told me how much they dislike the ultranationalists and, as I do, wish they would go away. They are also irritated by their presence and the volume of their messaging. However, even among those who wish they and their speaker trucks would disappear, there are rarely any ideas put forth regarding what could actually be done to address the problem. Instead, it’s just a lot of head-shaking acceptance and acting like nothing can be done.
They are simply and unceremoniously tolerated. Not once have I ever seen them receive any push-back whatsoever.
Last Sunday, a different group from usual was set up in front of the shopping mall, with a man around my age screaming about foreigners through a bullhorn. Hundreds of people streamed past, some looking annoyed, and the handful of black-suited men stood in reliable attendance.
Meanwhile, in the library on the eighth floor of the mall, a place that is usually a quiet and happy refuge, I could still hear him bellowing down below. My desire to look for interesting books evaporated, and when we left to go to the park, we went out a different door and took a route that only made sense in the context of wanting to avoid having to walk past the man again.
This is a regular part of life in Japan, and it is a regular reminder that no matter who you are, no matter how good of a person you sincerely try to be every day, somewhere out there someone hates you simply for existing.
It has been pointed out to me that, as a white American man, I’ve got it a lot easier with these things than people who are much more marginalized and discriminated against in Japan. And while this is absolutely true, it doesn’t exactly make me feel any better about racist assholes being able to deafeningly broadcast hate with impunity. It doesn’t change that I’ve been repeatedly threatened and harassed, either.
It doesn’t change my simply wanting it to be better for everyone.
In 2022, all posts from this project will be released as a podcast. If you like what I’m doing, and want to directly support this project for as little as $3/mo on Patreon, you’ll also get early access to the podcast episodes before the general public. Click here to learn more.
There’s also an experimental sample you can listen to here. I am teaching myself how to do all this from the ground up, and it’s fun. I hope you’ll join me along the way. Additional details about how you can listen will come later this month.