Saturday, 24 January 2015

Busted in Japan

Originally published in November 2008
0 Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? 

After moving back to the small city of H in Japan, I had a period of not meeting or befriending many foreigners. I had little money to blow on nights out and fate didn’t seem to throw me into the path of many fellow ex-patriots. It was about a year before I started making many native English speaking friends. And one of the first new people I met and started hanging out with occasionally was Romeo. He was a chubby brown chap who claimed to be a racial mix of American, Brazilian and Japanese. Orally, he seemed fluent in all three tongues, but it was apparent that English wasn’t his mother language. He worked for a small private English language school for Japanese children. We happened to meet one night in a bar. We started chatting about computers. Immediately he assumed an air of authority about all things binary and offered to show me how to illegally download films and music. The carrot of free entertainment was a strong inducement (along with loneliness) to pursue the friendship. So within a short time of that first meeting I went around to his flat to receive my first lesson in downloading. His flat was remarkably big and immaculately clean. It amazed me how he could spend $800 dollars a month on rent when most other English teachers took smaller apartments for half the price. From the outset I thought something was slightly odd about Romeo. He seemed too perfect. He was a computer whiz, he was a polyglot, he was a great cook, he had a certain charm, he professed to be an expert pedagogue, he knew all about music production, he was once a professional DJ, he had travelled extensively and he was a hit with the ladies. Putting all that aside what got my goat most was his supposedly profound new age philosophy of peace, wisdom and harmony. Whenever we met and I unburdened some of my frustrations on him, instead of sympathizing, he would lecture me on the Tao of Romeo; which just made me feel worse. However, I thought nobody is perfect and a slightly self-righteous friend is better than the tediously wholesome company of the Japanese that inhabited my social sphere. Not long after fixing me up a treat on my computer – expunging viruses, installing cracked Norton protection and getting Shareaza up and pulling files from around the world, Romeo approached me for the first of many subsequent loans. By this time my business was doing well and I felt somewhat beholden to Romeo who had spent hours tweaking my laptop into shape. He claimed it was to tide him over until next pay day. So I loaned him $100. The following month Romeo needed a bit of prompting but sure enough he came round to re-pay the loan. However, within a week he phoned me to ask for another loan. And so it went on for more than two years. Borrowing and paying back more or less on a monthly basis. It wasn’t until near the end of our acquaintance that the balance tipped permanently into the red – paying some of the debt off but never managing to get back to zero.
ganja grows wild on the remote island of Hokkaido in the north of Japan 

As time went on I expanded my circle of friends. I started enjoying my Saturday nights and I felt I had a wealth of true and close friends to rely on. I had also tapped into the underground world of ganja smokers in Japan. And as I got to know more people, the more it became apparent that Romeo was borrowing small chunks of money from nearly everyone I knew. Tongues began to wag when he started acquiring expensive toys: a new 4 wheel drive SUV, a surfboard, expensive sound engineering equipment and a frighteningly big and powerful apple computer. There was also a fancy mobile phone, top of the range camping equipment and a limited edition ipod signed by Bono. Romeo seemed to flaunt his possessions and regarded each and every item as necessary to his well being. One friend told me the story of how he lent Romeo $50 and someone shortly afterwards witnessed him buying designer eau de cologne. Another good friend recounted to me how Romeo borrowed $100 at a nightclub in Tokyo and immediately spent the bill on a bottle of champagne to wash down the pills. The same person told me about how he went surfing with Romeo and slept the night in his SUV and how the next morning $100 was missing from his wallet. Still most people were prepared to give Romeo the benefit of the doubt. He was generally discussed in tones of mirth rather than malice. It was amusing how his outrageous consumerism was at odds with his pose of being superior to the foibles of the masses. His ethos always pronounced in soft tones that forbade snide remarks was a confusing amalgam of yoga, North American mysticism, blatant New Age cliché and the power of surfing to reconnect man with nature. My wife was one of the few who could not see the lighter side of the situation. She was against me lending him money from the very start.
However, warning signs did start flashing; which I chose to play down. I noticed that he failed to keep a girl friend for any long period of time. He had the irritating ability of effortlessly finding a new hottie paramour with whom he soon professed to be in love. Then after a couple of months the relationship would sour because of ‘jealousy’ on her part and he would miraculously mend his broken heart like it was a computer glitch to be overcome with a downloaded patch. On a couple of occasions I went around his flat and found a woman occupying his lounge like a civil rights protestor. He would dismiss the episodes with some obscure reference to jealousy or loneliness. One English woman from the upper classes had a brief fling with Romeo and was so badly treated that she broke off all contact with anyone who knew Romeo and fled to another part of Japan. In the bar where I worked I would overhear people angrily demanding their money back from Romeo. True to form he did some glib reassuring and avoided a public scene. As time went on I continued lending Romeo money but distanced myself from him. I also started moving on small chunks of gear to subsidize my own consumption. Romeo who had claimed to have been a big user in his heady younger days of travelling and DJing had previously denounced the herb and other illegal substances as wicked, yet suddenly he started getting grams on tick. It somehow fitted in with his new surfer lifestyle.
And so the crash came. It was November and he didn’t show up for work after a long weekend at the beach. His boss phoned around his friends but nobody knew where he had gone. It got out that he had taken a part of his wages early. Several people in H started getting twitchy. Where was the man who owed them money? Eventually word circulated that he had been arrested. We all knew he drove around without proper documentation but only I knew he had just begged a lump from me before heading off to the coast. This made me mightily worried. Japanese authorities have a zero tolerance for any drugs and even the smallest quantities can get the owner into a world of shit. The wait for Romeo stretched on for over a month. His landlord had opened his flat and the HP company had re-possessed his mega computer (no doubt some previous Japanese girlfriend had been the guarantor). His boss had sacked him in absentia and people to whom he owed money started coming out the woodwork. Had Romeo done a runner or was he in prison? Nobody could say for certain. Then out of the blue on Christmas Eve I got a call on my mobile phone. It was Romeo. He was back in H and wanted to meet me. I was in possession and my nerves fluttered with fearful scenarios. Nevertheless, I girded my loins and went out to a nearby family restaurant to meet Romeo. When I got there, I saw Romeo chatting to a young Japanese woman. Romeo assured me everything was safe and the young female was a friend. He took little time in insinuating the enormous debt of gratitude I owed him for not revealing my name to the police. I inwardly flinched at the immediate aggressiveness of his approach. He ordered lots of food and beer and consumed heartily as he began telling his tale of being caught at the beach with ganja. I did my best to seem as appreciative and sympathetic as possible, but mostly I was calculating what I needed to do to get out of this nasty predicament. The meal came to a close and I picked up the bill. Romeo seemed keen to persuade the Japanese woman to put him up for the night and I beat a hasty retreat. Ten minutes later he phoned again. He had obviously failed in his lightning seduction and wanted to stay at my place. How could I refuse? We talked for hours over many cans of my beer. He showed me sketches of birds and mythical patterns he had drawn. He told me how the police had caught him parked illegally on the beach and how they had asked to search his person and bags. Instead of going through his bags and pockets they searched his SUV and found a blim of cannabis in his dashboard. It was apparently this breach of standard operating procedure that had allowed his lawyer to get him out on bail. His uncle had put up the bail money of $10,000 and the authorities had released him with his passport. It seemed to me they were inviting him to skip bail and skip the country and thus they would be 10 grand up and free of an undesirable foreigner. After all, less than a gram of weed is a laughable quantity surely even to the bigoted Japanese authorities. Romeo told me how the police had questioned him at length about where he had procured the gear and knew from analysis that it had been manufactured in D prefecture (no wonder it was such a naff smoke). They pulled his friends list from his phone and wanted him to finger the supplier. They said they knew about the illegal goings on at the gaijin bar in H. Romeo related how he got so angry with the grueling and repetitive questioning that he had to be bound to his chair. He claimed to have been the victim of sleep deprivation. He also claimed he had been refused a phone call or legal representation for two or three days before they eventually ended the interrogation and put Romeo in a cell with several other Japanese criminals. Romeo then went on to smugly tell me the story of how he befriended a particularly sadistic and unstable gangster who was on prescribed medication by claiming he had also been on the same medication but had conquered the bouts of violent hysteria with the help of Jesus. One month later when Romeo was finally released the gangster who he had saved from the hell of prescription drug dependence and paranoia wept tears of gratitude.
Marijuana found growing in yard of Abarishi prison in Hokkaido, Japan. According to reports over 300 plants were plucked and the ground treated but still more plants sprouted the following year. See below for Reuters link to the story 

The non-linear narrative kept returning to how Romeo hadn’t betrayed me and how I was responsible for getting him hooked on drugs in the first place. I drank quickly and encouraged Romeo to tell me more. Eventually I bid him good night on Christmas Day. Later that morning my wife fed Romeo and I slipped him $50 dollars before he demanded money. That was the last I saw of him. He left determined to get back his re-possessed SUV and computer and fight the court case and stay in Japan. He cost me $350 all told. That same day my wife and I smoked joint after joint until nothing remained then we went to a nearby river. It was a horrible blustery day. We threw our pipes and other paraphernalia in the river. We pulled up our plants and chucked out the soil. In short we erased all traces of gear from the house. We phoned our friends and they buried or chucked their stashes. A few days later I got a call asking for more cash. I was clean at that point and over the initial shock and so abruptly refused. Several smoker friends also got calls from Romeo demanding money in payment for his silence. Nobody paid anymore. Most of them were still owed money by Romeo. Nobody had any sympathy for him. The last we heard of Romeo was through a friend of a friend in Tokyo who said they met a bloke in a nightclub who needed a place to stay for the night. The Good Samaritan woke up the next day to find his guest gone along with the contents of his wallet. Ben Johnson the playwright famously divided the world into gulls and knaves. It was more than apparent to me and everyone I knew in H that we had been the gulls and Romeo was a knave of the highest order. Only my dear wife had seen his true colours from the outset. And it was no wonder that Romeo wanted to stay in Japan for where else could you find such an unending supply of dupes and pretty girls to take for a ride? Looking back on all that happened with Romeo two things stand out clearly. The first is how alone he was. And the second is how he lacked any conscience or feelings of guilt. He lived alone and always did his own thing. Even when he went camping with others he always contrived to be slightly removed from the camp circle. He always had a girlfriend, but they were normally in distant cities. By the end he was alone in his belief that he had acted correctly. He never expressed any true remorse at the pitiful financial hole he had dug for himself. Indeed he never tightened his belt in any way to try to pay off his debts. Far from it, his extravagance just seemed to increase. He never spoke of how he used women to get money. He absolved himself of all blame by acting like he lived on a higher plane of understanding. Yet the truth was that he borrowed, stole, lied and exploited everyone around him in order to gratify every passing whim and desire.

Two postscripts

1)Antisocial Personality Disorder or APD is diagnosed by the following personality traits:
  • Persistent lying or stealing
  • Difficulties with the law
  • Tendency to violate rights and boundaries of others
  • Substance abuse
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Frequent bouts of depression
  • Inability to tolerate boredom
  • Lack of remorse
  • Superficial charm
  • Impulsiveness
  • Inability to make or keep friends
  • Problems with authority figures
2) Contrary to popular opinion the police in Japan aren’t always such a tolerant and nice bunch of folk. The following is taken from According to court records, on December 9, 2003, UC Valentine, a Nigerian citizen working in Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo, was questioned by plain-clothes police on suspicion of violating laws forbidding the distribution of hand-held billets to passersby. Eventually a scuffle ensued in a narrow alley, where a melee of police and touts wound up with an injured Valentine being pinned to the ground by several police. Plaintiff Valentine claims that he was assaulted while being restrained, by a cop who repeatedly kicked Valentine's leg so hard that it broke below the knee. The police claim that Valentine injured himself, running away and crashing knee-first into an elevated bar sign attached to the alley wall. In any case, Valentine was apprehended and interrogated for ten days, denied hospitalization or adequate medical treatment for the interim. Consequently, his leg injury became so medically traumatized that it required complex hospital operations. To this day Valentine remains physically impaired and in constant pain. In 2005, Valentine sued the NPA for damages and hospital bills totaling 42,937,800 yen in Tokyo District Court, but lost his case on March 29, 2007. Inter alia, the court ruled that not only was a doctor's expert testimony about Plaintiff's crippling injuries merely "a sense, not based on rational grounds", but also that a witness's testimony was inadmissible because he is African. Clearly there is an emerging pattern of differing standards for non-Japanese claimants in Japanese courts.