In pt.1 of “Things That Would Never-Ever Fly In America” I looked at a trio of alcohol related issues. Could America handle all-you-can-drink karaoke booths, legal outdoor drinking, and alcohol vending machines like the Japanese?
After much consideration, I concluded that no, unfortunately, we could not. While fantastic ideas in theory, those things would most likely kill us.
Today we move on to a new topic: theft.
Japan is often billed as the safest country in the world, and rightly so. Though they do have their problems, the statistics do not lie. According to a survey on the safest places in the world by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Asian cities populate two-thirds of the top 15, including nine cities in Japan.
I currently live only 10 minutes away from what is considered the most dangerous place in Osaka (and Osaka is already considered the crime capital of Japan). It’s still miles safer than any other place I’ve ever lived—Canada included. If anything, it’s just a little dirtier than the rest of Osaka, with the odd docile homeless person drinking dollar sake on a park bench.
People definitely do not steal.
To better illustrate my point, here is a story from last Spring, right before I left for Japan.
I have a bad habit of leaving my wallet on the table when I’m out. Though I’ve never lost it, I’ve come close more times than I can count.
One May evening, after leaving Sneaky Dees, one of my favorite resto-bar-music venue in Toronto, I realized I left my wallet. Returning moments later in a panic, I asked all the patrons around my table if they had seen it.
Luckily, perhaps noticing my desperation, the young, neatly dressed couple that had been sitting behind me handed me the wallet. They had been inspecting it, it seemed, while I was out—looking for clues so they could contact me about the wallet. Or at least I thought so.
The girl told me to wait a second, then reached into her purse. Out came the $40 that had been inside.
Now, let’s be clear, I consider this a story of good samaritanism. I’m lucky she was so honest about the money. In Japan however, someone taking bills out of a wallet, even one found on the ground is unthinkable.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have forgotten my computer bag, my camera, and all sorts of other valuables in my bicycle basket and never has anything happened.
"Dorobo Neko," what thieves look like in Japan.
So what else wouldn’t fly in North America?
4. Japanese-style bicycle locks.
In Japan every chari-style bicycle (the most common type of street bike) has a built in lock located below the seat. When you buy a bike it comes with a little key. Take it out and you lock the back tire (a bar pops out, obstructing the spokes). Put the key back in, and the bar retracts into the body of the bike, allowing you move.
This is great for several reasons. It’s fast (only takes about 3 seconds to complete the whole process), you don’t need to find something to lock it to, and best of all, you don’t need to bring around a heavy chain with you.
In America though, thieves would have a field day. They’d simply put the whole thing on the back of a truck and drive away.
Almost everyone has had their bike stolen at some point, or knows someone else who has. It’s happened to me twice. People know not to leave accessories unguarded. But no matter how aware you are, the thieves always seem to be one step ahead.
Japanese-style bike locks would just make it easy for them. No need for lock cutters or any other tools, the bikes are light, a person could just carry them off to dismantle later.
Like shooting fish in barrel.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just bikes that people like stealing in America, it’s everything.
5. Taking your shoes off in the entrance-way of restaurants, gyms, classrooms, etc.
I’ve had my shoes stolen before, it sucked. I was at a basketball tryout. There were more important things to worry about than watching my gym bag. Before I know it, someone had snagged both my basketball and the shoes I came in with.
It isn’t all bad though. I did eventually make that team, (and then go on to star in a basketball commercial for frosted flakes), but at the time, I was crushed to see my fresh new Adidas disappear.
In Japan, people take off their shoes constantly. This is done to avoid bringing in dirt and soiling the floors, but also as a show of good etiquette. This tradition stems from the fact that traditional Japanese homes featured tatami mats that were used to sit on while eating, and to sleep on as well.
While, most Western people I know take their shoes off at the door of homes, the Japanese pay astute attention to differences in space in public places as well; the outside world is clearly delineated from the home or inside space in different ways than America. Thus, taking off the shoes is also a sign of leaving the outside world behind, along with its troubles and worries.
In America, it would be a good way to get your nikes stolen. When I play basketball now in Japan, I never think twice about leaving my shoes unguarded in a cubby at the entrance of the gym. As long as I’m in Japan, my possessions are safe.
In some places though, I could get shot over them.