When my supervisor came up to my desk and said the police were just outside wanting to talk to me, my heart stopped.
As an Assistant Language Teacher for the City of Usuki, I worked at the Board of Education room in the city offices for a few weeks before the new semester started. As a new employee in Japan, I tried hard to quietly go about my lesson preparations at work and generally remain as invisible as possible, which isn’t always easy to do when you are one of only two foreigners in the building. And as one of the few gaijin in Usuki, I guess I wasn’t hard for the Japanese police to track down, especially considering the mountain of paperwork I recently completed.
Now don't get me wrong; I have the highest regard for the work that police do to keep people safe within their own countries. It is just that in America, the police usually show up when you've done something wrong.
My mind raced, wondering which law I had broken and just how much trouble I had gotten myself into. I could just see myself losing my first “real” job before it got started. I immediately left my seat and followed my supervisor over to the Board of Education meeting cubical. My heart started back up with a vengeance, throwing itself against my rib cage. Having had visited a Japanese prison before, I had no trouble imagining myself on the other side of the glass, and found myself with zero desire to end up there.
The first thing I noticed was the apparent lack of uniform. I quickly decided that it wasn’t important, as my supervisor started chatting with policeman and informed him that I could, in fact, speak Japanese. He introduced himself and I stammered back a reply.
We all sat down, and I opened my smartphone to have my dictionary handy just in case. I guess between that and the apparent look of fear on my face, he though I intended to record the conversation. He turned and asked my supervisor just that, and was assured that I just wanted to make sure I knew exactly what was going on. Mr. Policeman started asking me about how long I had lived in Usuki and if I had settled in.
I was still sweating up a storm, not having any clue where he was going with this. He inquired about my wife, how she was settling in, and how she spent her time. He asked if I felt like I had any friends here. He asked if I had a car, if I had started driving around the city, and if I felt comfortable driving on the “other” side of the road. He expressed concern over how work was going for me, and if I had started teaching yet. He mentioned he had a six-year-old daughter that went to such-and-such an elementary school, and asked if I was a teacher at that specific school.
I guess my supervisor finally realized that I was confused as all get out by the fact that I was not in handcuffs. No, I was sitting here exchanging pleasantries and getting to know a Japanese police officer, nice as you please. I might as well have been meeting a friend of a friend.
He explained that in Usuki, the police took a proactive approach towards foreign residents. Before there was any trouble (if it ever came to that), they wanted to know who I was, how I was getting along, my history with Japan, and in general make sure I wouldn’t go around causing accidents in my newly acquired clunker. They wanted to know who I was, wanted me to feel welcome, and wanted to know if there was anything they could help with.
To be honest, I was slightly stunned. I knew that the people I worked with pulled all the stops to make sure I felt at home here, but a visit from the police just so they could get to know me? It went so far as to exchange phone numbers and receive his business card, with the directions to call him if there was ever something that troubled me or if I needed some help. We made tentative plans to meet up at the Usuki Stone Buddha Fire Festival coming up soon.
As soon as I got home and told my wife all that had transpired at the office, her response was “Aww, that’s so adorable!” (Incidentally, when I told the other English teacher, who wasn’t there at the time, that he might be getting a get-to-know-you visit from the police, his wife said the exact same thing). My feathers may have been slightly ruffled at the fact that she was beside herself with glee over my (initially) gut-wrenching experience. But I couldn't help agreeing that I was beside myself in admiration for their proactive and professional manner.
Fast forward another month, and I am once again sitting at my desk at the Board of Education. Once more, my supervisor came up to my desk and said the police were just outside wanting to talk to me.
This time, my heart rate spiked only slightly. I sincerely hoped that this would be just another chat, and guess what? Same guy, similar questions, just asking if I recently received a guide to driving in Japan that he had promised during our last chat.
I have been impressed on so many levels with the officers in Usuki, and can’t help but wonder if this is just Japanese hospitality at its finest.