January 21, 2011

Being Human

Sunday morning my father will drive me to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. I will refuse the backscatter scanner, so someone will grope and probe my body through my clothing looking for anything that doesn't belong while I will glow beet red in embarrassment. Then it will be over and I will board a flight to Minneapolis. Hopefully I won't have to leave the secure area to reach the gate where I will take a plane to Japan. Once in awhile I do. This is the first time for me to transfer at Minneapolis so I don't know how that airport is arranged. It might be one of those with separate security for domestic and international, in which case, I will get groped again when I enter the international wing.

My two carry guns, a Ruger P944 in .40 S&W and a Ruger LCP in .380, will be unloaded and locked up in my safe at home. Not only do airlines dislike them, Japan is a liberal progressive paradise where common folk like me are forbidden to own firearms. Last time I checked, there were about 1200 rifles still in civilian hands. Considered "professional hunters", these are men who are on contract with the national government for bears and other wildlife that occasionally wander into mountain villages. Sometimes the wildlife ignores bait, dodges dart guns, and must be taken out by one of these hunters. As each hunter dies, his rifle must be turned into the national police who will destroy it and never issue another permit. The goal is for their citizens to never again own firearms, not even for sporting purposes. The laws are so draconian that the Japanese Olympic team must do all of their firearms training in Guam and arrange for their target rifles and handguns to be shipped from Guam to wherever they compete. The national Olympic team is forbidden to own or manage an armory, any firearms, or even a practice range.

I will spend about a month in Japan. My wife and I will spend some time together after she gets off work, my two sons will see me for dinner on occasion, and I'll spend my days entertaining our cat in a three-bedroom apartment that is smaller than my living room in Ohio. The bedroom where my wife and I will sleep is smaller than either of my bathrooms or even my bedroom closet. With a little luck, a little love, and a whole lot of faith, I will go neither stir-crazy nor claustrophic. I assume I'll be back in Ohio sometime in March. After all, I have to pay the electric bill, the gas bill, and the phone bill, even if I am not here using them. I can pay them online, and I will make every effort to do so while I am there, but somehow it is not the same.

The thing I will miss the most while I am in Japan is the freedom to involve myself in political and economic discussions with everyone from the gas station attendent to the grocery store clerk to my local bartender. In Japan I am not a citizen and my opinions are completely unwanted. It's reasonable, naturally, but it's still a major thorn in my side and one of the reasons I can never be comfortable in the land of the rising sun. I am always and forever, outside of society. Even if I did get a Japanese passport, I would still be considered an outsider. People might call me friend or even ally, but I would never be considered the same as a native-born Japanese. Likewise, anyone who saw me on the street would assume I was a foreigner. Assuming I did go to the trouble to be naturalized, if for some reason a police officer stopped me on the street to ask me a question and demanded my identification, telling him I was Japanese would earn me a stare of incredularity and a trip to the police station while they confirmed it. It's not really "prejudice" in the sense of racial hatred or mistrust. It's more simple than that. No matter what I do or who I know, I can never be anything more than a local oddity. I'm never quite human.

Blacks and Hispanics in the United States will from time to time encounter very ignorant and arrogant people who call them names, deny them service, or just look at them funny. Japan also has ignorant and arrogant people who treat non-Japanese similarly. But by the same token, the Black or Hispanic (or Persian, or Arabian, or Asian, etc.) American is always assumed to be American. Even if you are Hispanic, unless you are adorned with gang tattoos or marching in a protest, noboby assumes you are an illegal immigrant. Every time I hear a Black or Hispanic American complain about "passive racism", I cringe inside. I'm sorry, but no one living in the United States suffers from genuine "passive racism". Not any more, and most certainly not like I experience when I am in Japan. It affects every aspect of daily life, whether it reveals itself as rudeness, greater politeness, disbelief when I speak Japanese, a sign on a local shop, or the nervous glance of a nurse when I walk into a local medical clinic. Ordinary people never quite accept me as being human. At best, I am "a nice guy for a foreigner". I will be in Japan for a month, possibly a month and a half. While I am there at least every other day someone, somewhere will remark on how well I use chopsticks. They don't mean any harm by it. They just cannot believe that a foreigner could master a simple daily skill that befuddles so many of the Japanese people themselves, especially Japanese men.

In Japan I can't own firearms, I am never quite accepted as human, and everything in the country is too small for me. I don't belong and that message gets hammered home every single day. My wife and children don't understand why I am more than happy to live by myself in this quiet house in the middle of corn country. I've tried explaining it to them, but it just never quite registers. In the United States, I'm human. Some people might call me a redneck and others will lambast my Christianity while a few people will call me lazy or useless at the drop of a hat, but no one will treat me as something less than human.