Thursday, October 7, 2010

In Which I Contemplate Stealing Moisturizer, Bikes and an Entire Apartment Building

In New Zealand, if you left your iPod on the bus, you could kiss it, and your Taylor Swift back-catalogue goodbye. The chances of someone both god-fearing and proactive enough to hand it in have to be in the realms of nil - even if someone worthy and gold-souled were to come across it, they would likely halfheartedly glance in a two-metre radius, perhaps waving it in the air whilst coughing in an attention-seeking manner, before putting it back where they found it and replacing their own head phones. Far more likely than this is that it would be on TradeMe within the hour.

Not so here. I am told that Japanese people put so much faith in the worthy nature of their compatriots that they will leave house and car doors unlocked, preferring to relieve themselves of the hassle of the key-hunt at the end of the day (incidentally, why ARE keys so small? It is not convenient, it is DIFFICULT, particularly if you are the proud owner of what I like to call a Life Bag, wherein you secret your ENTIRE LIFE and finding a flat silver thing amongst the lipsticks, hairbrushes, assorted make-up products, numerous drink bottles, wallet, passport, phrase book, any number of novels, diary, bananas, bento, sunglasses, rainy-day hat, surprise-cold-day scarf, bicycle lock, bills (many) etc is Mission, if not Impossible, then certainly Annoying and Time-Consuming). The building in which I live, home to some 50 different apartments, has an unsecured entry, so presumably, should I feel so inclined, I have fifty Japanese fridges and fifty Japanese closets through which to rummage at will. I have not yet put this theory into practice, fearful as I am of a stint in Japanese prison. And knowing my luck, I would open the door of a Yakuza den and find myself in the midst of whatever the most feared gang in Japan do in their spare time (Go Fish and hot chocolate, I suspect, Japan being what it is).

Among the hundreds of bikes left at the train stations on any given day, I have personally observed at least one in six to be totally unsecured, ready for the taking. And though there are men in uniforms dotted throughout the racks, looking po-faced in olive green, I suspect that their function is more to ensure that each bike is positioned perfectly parallel to the next in an aesthetically pleasing manner, rather than to engage in hot pursuit of potential bike thieves. The reason I know this is that they patrol on foot, in tight pants. They would have no chance at running down a dedicated hot-wirer (probably not necessary to steal a bike. Hot pedaller? Anyway). Although I believe there are occasional incidents of bike theft, the perpetrators ('perps', if you watch CSI or are Rupert) are invariably drunk business men, who have accidentally imbibed past the last train, and through a whiskey-brain-haze deduce that a bike ride, zig-zagging and dazed as it might be, will likely be both faster than walking and cheaper than a taxi. And when the destination has been reached (or they pass out and fall head-first over the handle-bars), the bike will be left where it falls, as the intention in taking said vehicle will never be theft, but merely convenience. I have heard tell that this is a legitimate culture in Japan, whereby hundreds of bikes, devoid of any owner save Sapporo city itself, remain at busy train stations, week after week, until some boozed-up business man, takes one to its next destination and next would-be thief. Like chain-mail, but useful. I myself am part of a system much like this one, but it involves umbrellas rather than bikes, and nobody but me knows that they are partaking.

Shop keepers, usually those members of society most vigilant and suspicious of theft, are also of the Japanese civilian mindset, which holds firmly that what's yours is yours, and what's mine is mine. Thus, the chemists here have stands outside the doors of the shop, totally unsupervised, groaning with thousands of yen worth of product. I today observed one woman take a moisturizer in each hand, cross the road to discuss her oily T-zone (conjecture) with her friend, and then return, place one product back on the stand, and proceed inside to pay. It simply boggles the mind that it would not even occur to her to continue casually down the road, stolen skin product clutched in sweaty fist, and save that couple of thousand yen for a celebratory successful-shoplifting Suntory.

This being the case, I daily absentmindedly leave my treasured iPhone on my desk at school, safe in the knowledge that no light-fingered begrudging English student will filch it and publish the naked pictures of me contained therein (lie) on the Internet. If I'm late for the train, I leave my Mama Cherie unsecured (though I would in fact be flattered if someone saw the rusty old woman as worthy of theft). On one memorable occasion I realised at the bottom of the lift that I had forgotten to bring down the truly disgusting bags of trash that had been rotting on my balcony for some weeks, and, jettisoning all cargo in favour of speed, left my entire Life Bag in the lobby as I boarded the lift once more. Of course, it remained when I returned, blue and denimy and unharmed, if slightly grumpy at being so abandoned in favour of five bags of banana skins (the ONLY cheap fruit).

In NZ, my absent-minded (but very attractive) sister once left her expensive cell phone in the back seat of a cab, and gave it up for lost. To her enduring surprise, the cab she took at the end of the night, of the hundreds in Wellington, was the same one in which she had arrived, with said cell phone neatly nestled in the back. In NZ, this is beautiful and fateful coincidence. In Japan, the driver would have tracked her down, apologised for the inconvenience, handed her the cell phone, given her a packet of tissues and offered her tea.

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