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Sunday, Sept. 5, 1999


Ultranationalist groups: aliens with sunglasses

It's another Sunday in Japan as rightwing organizations in black buses the size of semi-trailer trucks roll through the city streets spewing nationalist slogans. These military-style buses are driven by men who are usually described by others as "wearing sunglasses." Japanese people hardly notice when a convoy of buses passes, speakers blasting at volumes too loud to comprehend what's being said. These buses don't go unnoticed by foreigners:

Foreigner No. 1: "What's that noise?"

Foreigner No. 2: "Look, aliens!"

Foreigner No. 1: "What?"

Foreigner No. 2: "They're wearing sunglasses!"

Foreigner No. 1: "I can't hear you."

Foreigner No. 2: "That's because you're holding your hands over your ears!"

If there is evidence that the higher the volume, the more people understand, then I'm going to incorporate this technique into my English teaching. The tricky part would be getting the bus into the classroom.

Although these rightwing organizations are dead against communism, their techniques of parading around in vehicles and assaulting passersby with propaganda and praises of the Emperor indeed remind one of communism. Whenever I see one of those vehicles, which costs millions of yen each, I think, what a waste of a good, mobile karaoke machine.

These buses also have tinted windows. I suppose these windows, along with the sunglasses, allow anonymity. It's like Japanese love hotels where you don't ever have to show your face. You just talk and exchange money with a man who stands behind a screen. Since you don't have to show your face, you can do whatever you want.

This anonymity is unheard of in the United States. In the U.S., if you're going to do something questionable, such as sneak into a hotel with a prostitute or ride around spewing noise pollution, you're going to have to show your face. Unless, of course, you're robbing a supermarket. In that case it's acceptable to wear a stocking over your head.

My most recent encounter with the aliens in sunglasses was when I was in Kyoto on a Sunday. I was in a taxi, one of the best places to be when in Kyoto because the taxi drivers are more like chauffeurs. They wear uniforms with hats and white gloves and they jump out of their taxis to greet you. My taxi driver introduced himself with his full name then proceeded on to my destination, all the while explaining everything about Kyoto in the most polite language. Suddenly, "enka" music descended upon us and we were surrounded by black buses.

" 'Gaisen katsudo.' Ultranationalists," said the taxi driver. One bus pulled ahead of us and started swerving wildly, consuming both lanes.

The taxi driver laughed and said, "Very dangerous!"

"Why are they doing that?" I asked.

"They want attention," he said.

"In the form of irritation?" I asked.

"I don't know which lane he will swerve into next" the taxi driver said, and continued laughing.

"Don't the police do anything?" I asked.

"No," he laughed again.

"Who are they, anyway?"

"Hard to tell which group. Could be the Steel Helmet group, or the Association for Holy Punishment. Or a combination of many groups (ha, ha). Look at the license plates. Himeji, Hiroshima, Okayama, they're from all over (ha, ha). They like the Emperor (ha, ha). They are against foreign influences (ha, ha)."

"Like education?" I asked, slinking further down in the back seat.

"And many other things (ha, ha). They want to return the prewar Imperial education system. They like the 'Kimigayo,' you know, things Japanese (ha, ha)."

"What's that music they're playing now?"

"Oh, that's the Emperor's hymn (ha, ha). Those vehicles use a lot of gas. But when they go to the gas station, they don't pay. Everything is free for them (ha, ha)."

"Really? Why is that?" I asked. "I don't know," he said, and this made him laugh really hard. Then he added, "This is Japanese culture!" I laughed too, his laughter was infectious. "And I suppose they only eat Japanese food, right?" "Ha, ha," we both laughed. When I arrived at my destination we thanked each other profusely and laughed some more.

It was a relief to get back to my island, which is one of the few places in Japan devoid of gaisen katsudo ultranationalist groups. However, my house is old enough to have one element of Emperor worship; A picture of Emperor Showa still hangs in the living room. We kept it up because we thought it was quaint, even though our neighbors thought we were crazy. The neighbors were right.

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com

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