Last week while in New York, I learned of a stabbing of an 18-year-old Japanese woman in a neighborhood close to where I live in Tsukuba. The news came via an email from Tsukuba International School, where my son attends, warning caution. Violent crime in Japan is far rarer than in the United States, and almost unheard of in Tsukuba, so this incident was jarring for many people. Having left my wife and son in Japan, I felt uneasy with the notion that there was some violent criminal at large in our peaceful neighborhood.
The victim described the attacker to police as a man wearing a mask and speaking “broken Japanese,” implying the man was foreign. There has been a lot ado in Japan in recent years about rising rates of foreigner on Japanese crime, although it seems to me that that vast majority of crime perpetrated in Japan is Japanese on Japanese. The victim’s comments apparently prompted the police to patrol the surrounding area looking for foreign men as possible suspects. In a city like Tsukuba, home to Japan’s premier science university and a thriving international community, it does not take long to find a foreigner on the street.
An American friend of mine and his Japanese wife run a successful English language school in the neighborhood. One of the English teachers from the school on a break crossed the street to buy something at a convenience store when the police stopped him for questioning. The hapless teacher had stepped out without his ID, a transgression for which the police may detain a foreigner in Japan. Bad move on his part. I don’t know exactly what was said, but the police ended up taking him back to the school, presumably to check out his story. And there the police were, in the school, questioning the owners while a patrol car was parked outside, its lights flashing red, causing the students in the school to question all the commotion. Ultimately the police left, but not without likely causing some damage. For the police even to be asking questions of someone, even if he is innocent, raises suspicion in Japan. People can be tainted quickly here. The school caters to both adults and children, and I can imagine some Japanese parents simply not wanting their children to be in a school where the police show up to question people.
Last night, the principal of Tsukuba International School posted a link to a follow-up news article on the incident. Apparently, the woman had lied to the police. Her wounds where in fact self-inflicted. She admitted, “I hate myself, so I stabbed myself.” There was no comment on what motivated her to implicate an imaginary foreign attacker.
I don’t blame this woman. She is clearly psychologically damaged. Nor am I writing this to single out Japanese society for criticism. The Japanese certainly have no monopoly on xenophobia in the world. Rather, an incident like this one reminds me how quickly people seek out validation for their own world view, particularly when highly charged emotions are at stake. If you believe that foreign criminals are invading your society and perpetrating crime against innocent Japanese, the stabbing of a young woman justifies that view and becomes a hasty call to action–in this case unfortunately, the wrong call.
In order to grow, it is important to question your deepest held beliefs and worldview. If they can stand up to your rational questioning, and these beliefs advance your personal peace and prosperity, hold on to them. If they do not, perhaps it is time to let them go and replace them with better ones. In the case of this stabbing incident, a little more rational questioning would have been helpful to the woman, who is a danger to herself, and to the members of the community in Tsukuba.