Friday, May 15, 2009

Priceless Panties

Much is written on the safety in Japan. I've had my bike "stolen" from a train station lot, only to eventually get it back after, as the story from the police goes, it had traveled from station to station, being abandoned each time by it's owner for the day, and picked up by someone else. It was finally recovered in a neighboring prefecture and the serial number traced it back to me. When the police called me to identify the body, I found it with more air in the tires than I had it in, with an oiled chain and a new bell. The seat was lowered to meet the height needs of the culprits, but I won this one and thus was happy with that brush with the law.

On another occasion, I was on a train ride with friends after a day of sight seeing in Tokyo. My friend placed her video camera on the rack above the seats on the train. Still unfamiliar with the trains, the complicated names of each station on the line, and the daunting speed at which the conductor calls the stop, when we scurried to get off at our stop, we leaped on to the platform without the camera. Looking back, I wish the camera was still running to catch our general panic leaping off the train.

By the time we returned to the apartment complex, there was a message on her answering machine from the station master: her camera traveled to the end of the line, arriving safely at its final destination 80 km away. The bike, the camera, well traveled and full of their own stories.

Unfortunately there is a seedy side to these blossoms of hope in a mostly crime-free country. Shitagidorobo. This crime, and the criminal, get their own word in Japanese, literally, "underwear thief." In Japan, you hang your clothes out on a clothesline on the veranda to dry. On any given sunny day, from the country side to the massive condo complexes downtown, properties are lined with futons soaking up the sun.

One nice, innocent day, I popped my clothes out on the line and headed out for the day. I returned to a lopsided view of what was left on my veranda: Only my OSU sweatshirt. Someone stole my underwear! I didn't know where to begin. First, I was shocked, thinking it was a joke. I ask my neighbors in the complex. They were shocked at my inquiry and thought I was the one joking. Shock turns to anger, since one of the items stolen was part of a set that wasn't out that day and now I've got a bra without it's cute pairing. Then feeling mad turns to feeling offended: Hey, what's wrong with Ohio State? Who wouldn't want that sweatshirt? OK, now I've reached the phase that I have been violated and should do something about it, and besides, it's a safety issue if somebody is that close and that interested in me, or at least my unmentionables (which are getting public mention here).

Then came a new kind of shock, anger, and feeling offended.

I hopped right on my bike and darted to the closest to police station. I explain what happened. They pull out a cryptic map that looks as clear to me as something Indiana Jones would use. I am to pinpoint where I live, and cite the veranda in question. I see a green dot on this map and think maybe that represents a park and wonder if I live near a park. I am getting nowhere and with a map - an odd irony. I tell them my address since I have it memorized, so they guide my finger to it so that I can officially "point" to the scene of the crime.

Then came the forms.

Probably standard, I'm to write my address on the top line. However, they explain that the simplified phonic alphabets are unacceptable on official documents so I have to write it in kanji. Unfortunately, my month plus sejour in Japan didn't result in a university level of writing proper names. Another rule, to somehow protect me, is that it has to be written by me in my handwriting. I just want them to stop with the formalities, jump in a cruiser and look for a weirdo roaming around with made in the USA tagged undies. But the frustration grew. They wrote my address on a scrap piece of paper, and I was to copy it as best I could. It was time consuming, and they watched as I butchered every stroke of the way.

We got through the address, and more worst dream came true when I learned my guess was right on the big, blank space in the middle of the paper. "Now sketch the items stolen." And I thought they looked on with curiosity when I wrote my address like a preschooler. I made stick figure quality drawings of roughly 5 undergarments and handed the paper back to them looking down, avoiding eye contact. At this point I didn't want them to look at me and start wondering, "if these were stolen, what is she wearing now?"

Then came the strongest feeling of shock, anger and feeling offended.

I was to value each item. However, unlike an airline losing luggage, they weren't interested in how much it would cost to replace the item, but how much they were worth at the time of the theft? What do you value your own used underwear? A quarter for the material? My mind jumped to the value they would be in a vending machine in the red light district of Tokyo - probably $100 a pair? Maybe more after hours or adjacent to a "love hotel?"

Humiliated, I went through the motions and totaled the value at 125 yen, roughly $1.25. Inside I was screaming with frustration. Yet that noise was soon replaced by the 3 times a day cop on a motor bike that would circle around my veranda and that was the most welcome hum of noise pollution I could ask for. The actual cost loss: $1.25. The value of the surveillance: priceless. My undies have been intact ever since.

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