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Saturday, Aug. 26, 2006

JAPAN LITE

'Sagi' -- a major interruption of 'wa'


"I was so surprised!" said the policeman, sipping on a Mooey Blue Hawiian at the Moooo! Bar. He's on duty. "I've never been called on my cell phone before for an emergency."

News photo
The island policeman on patrol, because you never know where trouble may occur. AMY CHAVEZ PHOTO

"What happened?" We were all anxious to know what misfortune could have befallen our little island.

"It was a traffic accident!"

"Ehhhh?" we gasped in unison. An accident on our island, which has only one road?

"Yes, someone bumped a car while parking."

We were all relieved it was nothing too serious. Still, the policeman seemed disappointed someone had had the nerve to interrupt the island "wa" with a fender-bender. Was this just a fluke, or the beginning of something bigger?

This is our new policeman, 28 years old, who was assigned to our island in April. Many people who come to the island via "tenkin" are not so happy to be here. It's like getting banished to the countryside to die of boredom.

But the new policeman actually requested to get transferred to our island. I'll never forget when he and his wife got off the ferry with beaming smiles and holding suitcases as if they had just arrived for a honeymoon in Hawaii.

It soon became apparent that they were delighted to be moving to this quiet little island in the Seto Inland Sea. "We love it here," they professed immediately. "We want to stay forever!" We couldn't believe our luck.

I often see the new policeman sitting with his wife on the beach watching the sunset, making the rounds on his bicycle, or even out on the sea kayaking. After all, you never know where trouble will occur. Since he doesn't usually wear a uniform, I refer to him as our undercover policeman.

Although our island enjoys little crime, there is one type that has always plagued us.

It happens when outsiders come to the island to sell their services. I am not talking about the guy who comes once a month in his van and sets up by the port hawking kitchen knives, or the van always parked outside of the bank selling eyeglasses to old folks, or the persistent "mono hoshi" man who sells those metallic poles for hanging laundry and communicating with aliens. Those guys have been bringing their wares to isolated islanders for years.

I'm talking about young, good-looking guys dressed in freshly pressed jumpsuits with official name badges who allegedly hail from a company offering home repair services such as roof tiling. The other day, one such guy appeared in my "genkan."

"Is your husband home?" he inquired.

"No, how can I help you?" I said.

"I'm from XXX Denka, and we're doing house surveys to check for electrical problems," he said. "When will your husband be home?"

"I don't know," I said. "Why?"

"Is your husband a fisherman?"

"No. My husband is not Japanese."

"Oh. Are you Italian?"

"No." By now I was suspicious.

"Oh, well, then," he said, thinking it over. "We'll stop by later, then." Right.

These guys are professional scammers who disguise themselves as real companies. When they come to do the work, they start finding other "major problems" with your house and overcharge you to fix them. If you don't pay, they may resort to extortion.

The best way to find out if someone is legitimate or not is to do what I did the first time I encountered them. I had seen two guys doing roof work around the island for weeks. I had even seen them eating lunch in the local restaurant. I'd say hello to them when I passed. One day, one of them showed up in my genkan asking for a glass of water. This seemed odd, but I gave him some water anyway.

As he stood there sipping it and trying to make conversation, I said, "You're not one of those fake sagi firms, are you? I hope not, because we've had a lot of problems with them lately." The guy suddenly gulped down his water and left.

Gosh, he didn't even leave me time to tell him about our undercover policeman.

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