I had been driving for a few hours from Kyoto, and just before entering my village, I pulled into the last connivence store on the boundary of civilization to grab a small snack and a drink. It was late. In the parking lot was a half-mangled car, with flat tires that had been driven down through to the metal and hubs that had been badly bent out of shape. The car’s one remaining headlight hung crookedly and shined onto the wall of the connivence store, indicating that whatever the hell had happened had just happened recently.
There was a drunk man inside of the store staring pretty intently at the rice ball selection, and through listening to the chatter of others in the store it became apparent that this guy had driven his car into a wall and just kept on going until he got to the connivence store.
Drunk driving carries some heavy punishments in Japan. The country has a zero tolerance policy, and if you are caught drinking and driving you will loose your licence, your job, and probably even face some jail time.
A cop arrived a few moments later and stormed into the store. “WHERE IS THE DRIVER. COME OUTSIDE!”
It seemed like he had probably been planning how he would storm into the store for some time during his drive here, and really, this was the only intimidating part of the whole ordeal. Around 8 more police arrived on the scene, and their handling of the incident was a real learning experience for me.
The police were shocking civil in their procedures, and the driver, although it seemed like he realized what the full repercussions of his actions would be, seemed rather non plussed about the whole thing. He didn’t seem unpredictable or dangerous, so they let him walk around uncuffed, go into his car to the drivers seat to fish out his licence, and let him seat himself in the police car that eventually drove him away.
He had made a mistake, but he still had the rights and treatment of a civil human being.
In America, this is not the case. If you make a big mistake and commit a crime, you are not trusted as a human. You are an animal, and you are hunted and brought to the ground. Lights are flashing, guns are pointed, cold metal is brought to your skin. The individual is brought into a state of shock and panic and is reduced to a frightened and unpredictable animal that the police expect him to be.
You are bad, and you have been found out. Get on the ground. There is no turning back, and you are fucked.
The Japanese take crimes very seriously, but they never make the individual feel like they are without rights and they are never treated in any sub-human manner. There is always a civility and respect in human interactions, no matter who is being dealt with.
What underlines any experience of being caught doing something wrong in Japan, from the level of the schoolground to the streets of the big cities, is an acknowledgement that the wrong-doer has done wrong, and a strong disapproval that seems to say “you know better than to have behaved like this.” The wrong-doer seems to acknowledge that this is so. It is with this method of policing that Japan has one of the lowest levels of crime in the world.
There is never an expression that someone is irreversibly fucked and that they are “bad guys” in a sense that they are different from the rest of society. This is a language and temperment used against enemies, and why would you ever want one of your own people to feel like they are hopelessly doomed? Shape up and behave as you should, brother. You know better.
This system just seems infinitely more healthy than the ones adopted by the policing forces in America. My view is that the methods and philosophy by which police do their policing can be viewed as a sort of top-down programming that influences the individual pieces (police officers) that play the game of societal order, and that this programming is mutable. If changed, the pieces of the game (both the police and the civilians of society) will change in kind. As human beings, we should all be working towards bringing out the best in one another, and if we see each other move astray, to reach out a hand and point each other to the right way. I have yet to meet an individual who sincerely believes that this is what we are doing with our current system in America. Our current system of marking individuals as hopeless , different, and fit only for the human junk shops that we call jails is contrary to the golden principles of every culture and every religion I have ever encountered, including those of America. It seems that we all want a change, but we continue with our old inefficient ways of doing things because we take ourselves and our country as an old dog that can’t learn any new tricks. We and are county are fully-capable of building a system that better-promotes happiness, however, and change is always possible. We just have to be willing to let go of old ways of thoughts and beliefs in impossibilites in hopes of reaching higher potentials that soar beyond what we have yet to see. We cannot use our previous heights as markers for the impossibilities of the future.
Living within another culture has shown me that humans are compatible with more than one societal drumbeat, and that some work better than others. Perhaps the most important thing I have realized in this life is that the power is within our hands to set our own drumbeats, and that we can and should be striving towards creating the most wholesome society and individuals that this universe is capable experiencing.