Pickpocket (掏摸)

Progress comes to Osaka: a new teacher at my school has had his pocket picked. Apparently some kid came up to him and started being friendly in English, the old “where you from?” bit, and while the rube teacher talked to him, an accomplice evidently lifted the ¥40,000 that was supposed to do him the next two weeks, i.e., until payday.

Osaka is well-known for its purse-snatchers, who ride through neighbourhoods at dusk on scooters, relieving Office Ladies of their Chanel and Louis Vuitton (NB: warning sign photo pending). I’m sure a few people get their wallets lifted during rush-hour on the trains, but this is the first I’ve heard of anybody blatantly scamming a gaijin in a station (not that gaijin are any better than the average Japanese, but we are so bloody conspicuous that it takes quite a level of brazenness to risk a scene – at worst an arrest, at best a broken nose – if the heist goes wrong). The two-man routine is used at ATMs as well – “Ojisan, sumimasen, did you drop that money?”– and works especially well, they say, on old men, who often end up losing their wallets as well as the wad of bills they’ve just withdrawn. No, it doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens.

Well, welcome to the real world, some readers will think, as though an honest world is somewhat wrong or artificial. Yet Japan, until quite recently, was an amazingly honest society. Granted, the politicians here are so crooked they have to screw their socks on, and this or that major company is always being investigated for fraud or cooking its books (Fujiya chocolate company is presently being reviled for using old milk in its products), but the average person just does not steal: not even here, in Osaka. Yes, umbrellas are fair game during rainy season, and an unlocked bicycle does not last long near a station overnight, but how many times have I left my bag on the train only to have someone turn it in? I once left a new camera in the basket of my bicycle at a busy station on a busy Sunday (I think I had a hangover, which is an explanation if not an excuse): it didn’t occur to me until I’d been on a train for thirty minutes, and had to turn around and go back. When I finally returned, with the intention of futilely reporting the camera missing, I found it still there in the basket, untouched. People have routinely turned in to the Lost and Found bank books, train passes, hats and scarves of mine, and even last Thursday, a woman chased me out of the Nagai subway exit to hand me back the (clean) handkerchief which had fallen out of my coat pocket. This town is crowded, a bit dirty, and often cold to outsiders (Japanese or otherwise), but those little acts of human decency add up. Politicians and petty gangsters are abstracts to the average person, but sparing a thought for others when there’s nothing in it for you increases your worth, don’t tell me otherwise. It’s one of the things that (for all my griping) makes me cut this place so much slack. Signs that such days might no longer be taken for granted are regrettable, and make me sad.

{Addendum, 2010/01/19 – Happily, this pickpocketing seems to have been a one-off event. Haven’t heard of any more instances in three years}

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One Response to Pickpocket (掏摸)

  1. dragonlife says:

    Dear Nagaijin!
    On the whole, Japan is still safe, especially in medium country towns like Shizuoka City. In 31 years I had only one bad experience: 4 years ago, a student stole my wallet from my bag I had left on my desk before going to the cafetaria between two lectures. My fault, I must say. The University gave me back the money stolen (I told the truth: 10,000 yen) without any discussion, helped me call my credit card company and even gave me a lift all the way back home (one hour by car). One of my old private students got her bag snatched. The culprit was actually arrested in another case.
    But apart of that, not much. On the other hand, 5 years ago, I got mugged in my own country and my wife and I were lucky to escape with only minor injuries.
    As you said, I do not count the times people have been nice and servicing to me. It is still a helluva good country to live in!

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