The Uniform of a Crook
Black is my color. Plain black. It looks good. It’s good for all occasions. It resists dirt. It’s a serious color. Or, not a color at all, you might think. Black boots; black jeans; black denim shirt; black baseball cap; sometimes a black suit; black socks and underwear, even. A color for all seasons, which is a challenge in Japanbecause it is very hot and humid here in the summer. I keep my baseball cap pulled low, to cover my eyes as much as is practical. People avoid me, which could be the intention.
Now, when photographs are taken of me I prefer them to be full-body shots, showing me head-to-toe - usually from a distance just sufficient to help conceal my face a little more. Very slight blurriness is a good, admirable, even artistic thing. I have a few such photographs. Sometimes I show them to Japanese people because I feel proud how I look. It never fails that I occasionally get reactions like this,
It seems that to the Japanese eye my preferred image of myself is their image of a criminal. But how can that be? First, a criminal can be any size, color, nationality, and wearing any fashion at all. In fact, to be successful it behooves criminals to be as unremarkable as possible, not to dress in uniform. And, second, I am a law-abiding, intelligent, friendly, gregarious fellow Oh, sure, I might occasionally boast of moral depravity. But that is only talk, my part in the game of fictionalizing ourselves that we all play at.
I think the Japanese reaction highlights something I have written about before: their love of uniforms as an outward sign of social order and group orientation (belonging). In Japan, even outlaws conform to a uniform that identifies them as outlaws, and everyone is happy. Wearing a uniform is taken as a sign of one’s professionalism. Women department store greeters - whose only job is to smile and bow to arriving customers all day long while calling out in a sing-song voice, “Welcome!” - are serious about their uniforms. Taxi drivers, too. Letter carriers and garbage collectors. Janitors will wear suits from their homes to their work before donning uniform greens, then at the end of the day putting their suits back on for the commute home. Uniforms are an outward sign of identity and an inward sign of belonging. Belonging is very important to Japanese. In this country, school bullying - an increasing problem - is basically the practice of excluding people from the group (sometimes violently and lethally) more than a problem of just sociopathically beating up on weaklings for no good reason.
It is not illegal in Japanto be a criminal. Some might say that that is not true, but I would point out that it is accurate regardless of its veracity. Because when it comes to crime in Japan, it is a worse thing is to be caught, thereby leading to both embarrassment and“trouble,” than to break the law in the first place. Sticking to the fiction contributes to the cultural myths of safety, homogeneity, harmony, etc.
The yakuza, or Japanese mafia, is the best example. The police allow them to go about their business without interference, and they are even enfranchised in the power infrastructure of society. They have offices with signs on them - “Yamaguchi Gang Office” - so the police know where to go to ask questions when crimes involving firearms occur (because the yakuza are the only ones in society who possess firearms). The yakuza fancy themselves patriots, protectors of Japanese cultural traditions, and social benefactors.
Well, I’m not a criminal. I’m not a sociopath. I like black. I don’t like people and photographs getting an overly clear view of me, and black hides everything.