Of any country I’ve ever traveled through or lived in, Japan is by far the safest. A young foreign woman, such as myself at the time, could stumble halfway home at 4am, pass out in someone’s doorway several blocks from her house, and remain completely unbothered until she woke up at sunrise to finish her bike ride home (hey, it only happened once – the doorway thing, that is).
Nagoya, the city where I lived, had no “bad part of town,” virtually no violent crime, and to top it all off, most Japanese men believed foreign women to be aggressive, terrifying she-devils. I literally had a man approach me in a subway one time, throw me a look of sheer horror, scream in my face, and run away through the station, arms flailing. I’m getting off track here, but as you can imagine, chances of rape were virtually zero.
The only frightening thing that exists in Japan – besides those girls that dress up like manga characters (yikes) – is the yakuza. Yes, the yakuza, or the Japanese equivalent of the mob, is responsible for human trafficking, prostitution, drug dealing, extortion, among other enlightening activities.
When I moved to Japan I heard talk of this yakuza, but I wasn’t too worried since I was certain I could avoid the wares they had for sale – cocaine, sex, and young children from various Asian countries. Nope, I wasn’t in the market for a small Filipino child. Therefore I remained unconcerned of a run-in with the yakuza… until one day.
If you read my previous story, you might remember that I got Black Nikka’ed during a night out with Barnabus. But I never told you about the cab ride home.
In tears over the refrigerator incident and completely out of cash (where the hell did it all go?), my friend shoved ¥ 1,000 in my hand and threw me into a cab. It’s still unclear if I lost the ¥ 1,000 or if it was simply not enough to cover the fare, but when I arrived at my apartment building, I had an argument with the cabby that I imagine was a mix of Japanese and other languages I spoke at the time:
Cabby: “The fare is ¥ 1,500.”
Me: “καληνύχτα !”
Cabby: “Right, you owe me ¥ 1,500.
Me: “Aqui vivo, arriba en el piso catorce!”
Cabby: “OK, you must have money in your apartment. I’ll come up with you so you can pay me.”
Me: “Black Nikka wa… chotto…”
I spoke about twenty words of Japanese at the time, but I usually made up for it by mixing in some Greek, Spanish, and Czech, which I’m sure was much appreciated by the locals. Whatever I said, it led my cabby to think I would provide him with the appropriate funds required to pay for his services, and he followed me up to my 14th floor apartment. (This would have admittedly been quite the risky move in any other country, but re-read the first paragraph of this story and re-evaluate.)
The night would have ended without drama at this point if I had just handed over a couple thousand yen that I most certainly had somewhere in my apartment. Instead, upon arrival, I slammed the door in the cabby’s face and ran into my room to hide (I’m not sure from what). Consequently, the cabby pounded incessantly at the front door, which woke up my Australian roommate, Cherene, who in her sing-songy voice offered the most logical of solutions.
“Hey mate, why don’t I just pay the man, eh?” Cherene suggested, sleepy-eyed and tired of hearing the taxi-driver screaming whilst trying to knock down the door at four o’clock in the morning.
“NO! SHHHHH! He’ll hear you!” I responded, maintaining crouching position behind my bedroom door, peeking out at my Aussie.
“Seriously, mate, this is silly. I’ll just give him a few thousand yen!”
“SHHH!” I mimed. “We don’t have any money!” I was certain I was going to win this one.
“Yeah, mate, I do have money. Let me just…”
And then, the pounding stopped.
I jumped around, arms flailing, doing a silent dance of victory. Cherene rolled her eyes and shuffled back to bed.
Waking up with a throbbing headache the next morning, I couldn’t remember a goddam thing. I immediately sought out my cell phone for answers. Where was that damn thing? I grabbed my purse. Fuck. Purse was empty. Not just ‘empty’ as in ‘containing no cell phones,’ but literally completely empty. FUUUUCCKK! Where was all my stuff? I forced myself upright, throbbing pain in my head fighting every movement. I slid open my rice-paper door to find Cherene eating lunch on the couch, watching Roswell on TV. (We only had one English television channel, featuring Roswell and Allie McBeal. I’ve seen every episode of both).
“Oh, look who’s still alive!” Cherene said, chuckling.
“Where’s all my stuff?”
“What stuff, mate?”
“Like, my wallet, my phone, you know, stuff?” I answered, rubbing my temples.
“Don’t know, love, you wouldn’t exactly let me help ya out last night!”
“I’m going to go check the elevator.”
I opened the front door.
Hey! There was my lipstick! Right by my front door. Lucky recover there. And… wait a minute! A couple of feet behind the lipstick was my passport. And… what’s that? A few feet behind my passport were my sunglasses… and then a pile of change… and my cell phone… and then, right by the elevator, creating a complete path from elevator to front door, was my wallet. I snatched it anxiously, busting it open to see what was left, only to find all of its contents completely intact.
And this brings me back to my conversation with Barnabus:
“What the hell happened last night?!” he asked, panicked.
“You knocked over a refrigerator.”
“How was I near a refrigerator?”
“I’m not sure. It’s second-hand information.”
“Jesus Christ, no more Black Nikka.”
“How did you get home?”
I told Barnabus the whole story of the taxi driver.
“You know that most of the cabs in Japan are tied to the yakuza,” he said.
“No, I’m serious. Well, that’s what one of my Japanese friends told me anyways.”
That cab driver may have left my wallet and the rest of my belongings unscathed – It’s against Japanese decorum to steal – but I wish that taxi driver knew that fate still stepped in to punish me for my free ride. For the next two years of my life in Japan, every single time I stepped outside of my apartment door, I was convinced that the yakuza would be waiting for me to retaliate for my unpaid cab fare.