Sunday, May 25, 2008


Aside from the occasional junior high school boy randomly stabbing innocent bystanders (are there ever any other kind of 'bystanders'?) at his local train station, or the crazy homeless dude who whacked me in the gut a few years back, Japan, with a population of 130, 000 people, is justifiably known as a remarkably safe country.

For the citizens? Spectacular. For news shows? Eh, not so much.

Case in point:

A month or so ago the lead story on the 6:00 NHK Nightly News -- a national broadcast -- concerned a convenience store clerk who was stabbed to death while working the late-shift in Osaka.

A tragedy, to be sure, but can you imagine an American version of the same incident?

"Good evening. I'm Katie Couric, and this is the CBS Evening News. Our top story: A convenience store clerk was stabbed to death early this morning at a 7-11 in Phoenix, Arizona."


Or how about this:

The other night there was a kind of C.O.P.S style show following a day-in-the-life of a Kanagawa Prefectural Police team. (Kanagawa being the prefecture -- similar to a province or state -- where I live.) The music was pumping and the editing was frenetic, with frequent phrases splattered across the screen to heighten the emotional effect.

And what were the incidents that demanded such a frenzied presentation?

"What in the world could this be?" the title on the screen asked. Because, get this -- there was a a man on a bicycle riding down the highway! You simply can't do that here! And when the police stopped the man and asked for his passort, they discovered that he was Chinese! And he only spoke English! When they tried to ascertain where he was headed, he kept saying, then writing, 'Osawara'! There's no city by that name! Aha! He meant 'Odawara!" That was miles away! What an odd situation!"

So the Chinese man hopped in the police car as they proceeded to exit the highway for a local road where bike-riding was allowed. And a policeman diligently rode the bicycle on the highway and met up with them all later. The Chinese man was sent on his way with a wave and a smile and a friendly musical jingle. Order was restored, and the Force was once again brought back into balance.

I jest at the types of news stories often on display, but I wonder: There actually could be some hard-hitting investigative reporting featured, but I doubt the Japanese media is allowed such access. The Japanese 'yakuza', or 'mafia', have their grimy little fingers in numerous nooks and crannies of political, economic and social life in Japan, but I don't think exposing their daily atrocities would be of benefit to news organizations. (The yakuza don't like kindly on negative exposure. Go figure.)

And just the other day a story on TV reported that a male 'host club' was busted in Kawasaki City; the clientele were all Koreans, and the staff -- young male 'hosts' whose job it is to pour drinks and provide company for lonely housewives -- were shipped back to Korea, given that they didn't have passports. A potentially intriguing story on the nature of illegal immigration could conceivably be undertaken here, given these same elements, but it seemed like a shallow, sensationalistic report. (Not that American TV is that much better, admittedly.)

Ah, well.

In the meantime, I'll relax, bask in Japan's safety, and eagerly scan the TV dial to see if any more bicyclists are found riding up and down roads where they don't belong.