I was on my way to the 100 yen shop after class today. It was the one on the East side of Ikebukuro, the one I most frequently visit. So of course I’ve walked down that way many times.
But this time, something happened.
I was almost to the shop when suddenly a man approached me from the side and said in a polite tone, “Excuse me.”
When I turned to look, I was a little nervous and curious about why a young police officer was trying to get my attention. Then I realized what was going on.
He asked if I was a college student. I said yes, and then he asked to see my Alien Registration Card. As I pulled it out of my wallet, I was stuck between feeling offended and wondering how he was going to react when he realized that I wasn’t some suspicious gaijin trying to blow up a shopping center.
He looked at the card, to which he replied, “Oh, an American! Thank you,” and handed me my card, but not before glancing at the back to make sure the city’s seal was on it. I replied ‘hai,’ and went on my way, feeling extremely somewhat embarrassed and annoyed. I wonder if anyone else was watching, waiting to see if the little gaijin would be dragged off to the nearby police box for questioning.
But I thought about it again, trying to see it from the officer’s perspective. Perhaps it was a case of non-verbal miscommunication. Today I was wearing my hat, because I didn’t have time to do my hair. I was trying not to wear it too low, because I knew people might be suspicious.
I was also carrying a black file, which has my schoolwork in it. Normally I keep it in my school bag, but since I was only attending one class today, I decided to hold it in my arms. How many people walk around with a black file in their arms rather than in a bag? I had my (bright) Hello Kitty purse, which was too small for the file.
However, I think another difference between being stopped by a police officer and not being stopped lies within one other detail: My race. In other words, a woman wearing the same hat, grey jacket, pink top and white pants, and carrying the same purse and the same black file, but happened to be noticeably Japanese would probably have been able to walk by without question.
It made me think about racial minorities that are Japanese citizens. As citizens they should be treated as such, but misunderstandings still occur simple because of their appearance. It’s a shame, but I wonder what can be done about it; not just in Japan, but worldwide. It’s no less of a problem back in the United States, either. I can’t blame the officer either; he was just doing his job.