Voices | FOREIGN AGENDA

Japan may need some red cards for unruly rugby fans off the pitch

by Julia Dean

Contributing Writer

Japan’s weather warning systems would do well to issue red alerts for the behavioral storms that hit the nation during world sporting events. The Rugby World Cup has seen the country’s most sacred public space — the train — transformed into a circus of human pyramids, broken chords and — the deal breaker on Japanese Twitter — “their dirty feet being where people sit.”

Social etiquette aside, such uncivilized behavior on the part of foreign fans has outraged locals, embarrassed their non-Japanese compatriots living here and fueled the very stereotypes the latter work tirelessly to dispel.

This is not to say that the badly behaved tourist comes solely in the form of a rugby fan, nor that the rugby cohort consists of nothing but hooligans. It’s worth noting that both the Canadian and Namibian teams helped clean up after Typhoon Hagibis hit.

But it’s difficult for an expat to maintain a sense of integrity when 300-plus near silent commuters are wrenched out of their reverie by a fellow citizen on a verbal rampage: This particular rugby fan I encountered in Nirasaki, Yamagata Prefecture, does deserve some credit for taking to Japanese linguistic tradition and adding a “word of confirmation” at the end of each sentence, though his was the most vulgar English term imaginable. Even if most on the train didn’t have the pleasure of understanding what was coming out of his mouth, the volume and tone in and of itself still served to offend.

While this behavior registers off the Richter scale in Japanese terms, it’s no less insulting to those who aren’t Japanese to the extent that I’d wager there’s been a boost in hat and sunglass sales to expats. And that is because it is universally antisocial behavior, not merely a slap in the face to Japan’s social order.

If we are appealing to rules, it is worth noting that the foreign rule-set might actually govern with more vigor than the Japanese, just to substantially less effect. Australia — home to the aforementioned charming man I encountered on the train — ranks as one of the world’s most severe nanny states. It has sought to garner silence on the streets with nightlife lock-out laws, attempted to eliminate the aftermath of a 9 percent Strong Zero by banning the sale of alcohol from anywhere but a heavily licensed liquor store — which is subject to its own long list of regulations — and has attempted to engineer a thinner population by banning misleading junk food advertising. Not one of these things are prohibited by Japanese law and order.

Of course, this is not to say that the Japanese are immune from their own bad behavior, they just tally fewer societal red cards per capita. When you break down the statistics, the nature of infractions for Japanese and non-Japanese in Japan are likely both equally correlated to consumption of alcohol.

It was, after all, the tail-end of a reported “alcohol-fueled night out” that led to a couple of rugby players from the Uruguay team being questioned by police over an assault at a Kumamoto nightclub — and, oh, the sigh of relief when I heard they weren’t part of the Australian team.

While the noise threshold of a salaryman actually outdoes that of the rugby fan, I’ve found that the Japanese scene of the crime is consistently more contained. One Japanese woman I witnessed at Toranomon Station kept her post-nomikai (drinking party) stomach in check until the corridor was deserted. Only then did she allow herself to upend the last few rounds of highball sodas.

If the rules are to be broken, out of sight, out of mind is the way to go.

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