Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Is Japan becoming a fascist state?

You would certainly think so, given the attention given in the Japanese English-speaking media (as small as that is, and as localized as it necessarily is) to the fact that visitors to this country, as of a few days ago, must now submit to fingerprinting and photographing upon arrival at the nation's airports. Must stand in line for an extra twenty, thirty, possibly even sixty minutes. Must be faced with the humiliation of being branded a potential terrorist, essentially, each and every time they enter the country, as the new procedure is, ostensibly, being initiated to prevent Japan from ruthless attacks by nefarious criminals.

Where are our human rights? the detractors claim. Is Japan becoming even more xenophobic? (Which is an unsettling claim, given that the country isn't always so hospitable -- legally, at any rate -- to foreigners in the first place. How much more 'Big Brother' can we get here?)

All of which I agree with.

But, sad to say, I find myself shrugging my shoulders. Not all that agitated over the new regulations. Wondering, to a degree, what the hell all the fuss is about.

Maybe if I travelled more frequently in and out of the country, I would recognize the situation as the pain-in-the-ass it undoubtedly is. Maybe if I was an ethnic minority, I would see it as a gross infringement on my rights, an attempt to keep tabs on my whereabouts, an actualization of a permanent, lingering suspicion of all things foreign.

As it is, the way I see it is: Japan doesn't fuck around.

By that I mean, they don't do anything half-assed. (Officially.) When something is done, instigated, legislated, all efforts are made to make it appear to be full-throttle, full speed ahead. (Officially.)

So if the country is trying to prevent terrorist attacks, is trying to regulate precisely who is and who isn't coming through the gates that lead to their cities, then fingerprinting and photographing is certainly a first step.

Is this fair?

I dunno.

Is it right?

I'm not sure.

But I think some of the anxiety, outrage and downright hysteria exhibited by foreign commentators here in Japan stems from something else. Something larger. A sense that our lives are not in our own hands. That there are other forces, larger forces, telling us what to do and where to go. We are little more than marionettes on the strings of an invisible puppeteer, essentially. The fury directed at Japan is, in the end, a rage stemming from our own, pathetic malleability, an unacknowledged acknowledgement that we have very little control over what we do and how we do it. We are individuals refusing to accept our lack of individual autonomy.

Whereas, from the Japanese perspective, I think the viewpoint would be akin to: We are a group-oriented society. Individual needs are secondary to those of the society at large. As a foreigner, you are entering our domain, our society, our world, and we must be sure that you are not doing anybody any harm, or plan on doing anybody any harm. You may be right: our new procedures may be nothing more than a smokescreen, an inefficient, time-consuming way to show our society that we are doing something about the terrorism problem. But if it assuages Japanese fears, if it gives the public the sense that their welfare is being considered, than your momentary discomfort, your individual anxiety, is a worthy sacrifice for the good of the whole.

And the sacrifice being: you have to wait awhile longer while being processed into the country, and you have to submit to your photos and fingerprints each and every time.

Maybe it's because I've been reading books about hyperspace and alternate dimensions and multiple universes existing only millimetres away. Maybe it's because I tend to not worry about something until it's affected me, personally. Maybe it's because the world is large, I am small, and there always has been, and always will be, exterior elements seeking to strangle me into submission. Maybe it's because I've lived in two very, very poor countries that have governments that would make banana republics look like burgeoning democracies. Or maybe it's because of the bomb blast that ripped through the Philippines' government a few weeks back. All of these ideas, incidents, tangents, give me pause, and in that pause, that gap, that space between my intellect and my heart, I find myself wondering: There is more to life to be anxious about than fingerprints and long lines.

This may be politically naive. This may be hopelessly lackadaisacal, on my part, an acquiesence to unfair government restrictions on personal liberty. I get that viewpoint, and shit -- I almost agree with it.

It's just that, the events of the past few years have taught me one basic thing: Life, isn't, fair. Life fucks us around, and does with us what it will, and while it's human, natural, even necessary to define ourselves by the events that control us, it's also essential to choose, when we can, the battles we seek to fight. The wars we want to wage. And after seeing deadly diseases work their way through human flesh, cell by cell, I think: A long line? A couple of fingerprints? An indifferent, bland, docile government deaf and blind to the concerns of taxpayers, domestic and foreign?


I cannot choose to get excited over this. I cannot choose to get perturbed over this. All we have in life are the choices we make, and for all those seeking to practically impale themselves on the riteousness of their own indignation over these new restrictions, I find myself sympathetic, but, essentially, shrugging my shoulders. Go see a Cambodian court in full swing. Count the dead during a Philippines' election campaign. You want to see human rights trampled on, watch those countries in action.

Nobody wants to be fingerprinted, or treated like a thief. And my tune could change in the future, with new tones and varying sharps and flats added to my admittedly ragged score. But I still think that the brevity of life demands a necessary degree of proportion in our responses to its inevitable invasions. Inflating our outrage over this, when life may soon have some yet-to-be-defined that waiting in the wings, makes a subtle mockery of all that is truly gross and undignified about the human experience.