To recover from our long day out in Tokyo, we decided to walk around the my school near Kawasaki station. Our first stop was my usual internet cafe. The guys had never been into a manga / internet cafe before, and were impressed by the setup and the free drinks. If they could read Japanese we would have likely spent the day reading comics. Everyone made sure to send email to friends and family back home. Remember young travelers: always make sure your parents know you are safe and healthy, especially when it is your first time to be on the other side of the planet.
After catching up on email, we went to the big Yodobashi Camera near Kawasaki station. As we walked in, we passed a security guard who casually made a comment into the radio on his shoulder. He then proceeded to follow us around the store to keep an eye on us. Apparently when five young gaijins walk into an electronics store, they are up to no good.
Being five white guys who live in Canada, none of us had ever been followed around a store by a security guard before. I think the guys would have been more upset about it if they weren’t distracted by the huge selection of cool electronics in every direction. We literally examined EVERYTHING in the whole store, from TVs to video games to musical instruments. Generally the consumer electronics you can buy in Japan are at least several months ahead of what you can buy in Canada.
While walking around Yodobashi camera, you can’t escape the horrible store theme song, which is the famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic” aka “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”, but with lyrics about the store and what they sell. This also happens to be the same tune that Delta Upsilon Manitoba borrowed and turned into a song called “I Don’t Want to be a Phi Delt”. Phi Delta Theta was the second largest fraternity in Winnipeg, and were sworn rivals of Delta Upsilon. As we walked around, the guys started singing the modified lyrics. I won’t post the lyrics here, but there are verses about Phi Delts not being very fun, insinuations of what happens at a Phi Delt initiation, and derisive comments about Phi Delts’ skill with the opposite sex. I was happy that most of the people around us couldn’t understand English.
We likely spent almost two hours exploring Yodobashi camera, with our personal security guard casually following us around at a distance, but trying not to be too obvious about it. At one point we all turned and waved at him, which actually got him to crack a smile. We paid for our purchases and left allowing the security guard to return to his post and wait for the next batch of suspicious looking foreigners to follow around.
(2014 Update) Looking back, I have mixed feelings about the whole experience. I understand that theft is a big problem for stores, and they should be able to take reasonable precautions to protect their assets. Also, our personal security guard was never in our face, he was always a reasonable distance away, casually walking nearby. In my three years of living in Japan, this was the first time that I was ever followed around a store. I think I would feel a bit better if I knew that he followed us because we were a group of young males and not because we were a group of foreigners, but I will never know the true motive for sure.
There is racism in Japan, just like in every country. Being a white guy in Canada, I have never obviously been “profiled” before. It is an unusual experience to say the least. My friends and I simply ignored it because we were all short term visitors in the country and wanted to enjoy our vacation. However, if I was living in Japan full time I would not enjoy this kind of experience at all.
I wish I had some kind of clever way to end this post, maybe something with an uplifting message of peace, unity and brotherhood for the people of the world. Unfortunately I don’t, this whole topic is way more than a simple travel blog can handle.
Be good to each other.