Tag Archives: Yokosuka

Escape From Tokyo

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There was a loud knock outside my capsule, and when I poked my head out I almost headbutted a policeman. He was crouched down in front of where I’d been sleeping, thrusting his Tokyo Police badge in my face. Behind him stood two other men, dressed in suits, arms crossed, stern looks across their faces. It was not the best way to wake up on my final day in Japan.

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Three days had passed since my friends were arrested for assaulting a Nigerian conman, and I’d spent that time exploring Yokosuka and traipsing around Mount Fuji’s suicide forest. As interesting as those places were the fate of the two Aussie backpackers I’d met on my first night in Tokyo was never far from my mind. I’d been reading up on Japanese prisons, and the reality of incarceration is shocking. For starters, simply being arrested leads to a mandatory three-day evaluation period. It doesn’t matter if you’re innocent, if the cops take you in, you won’t be seeing daylight for 72 hours. In reality, however, this three-day period is almost always extended to 23 days, which is how long the police can detain a suspect for without charge. If I hadn’t gone for that burger, and had been taken in when my new-found friends had been arrested, I would have almost certainly been kept in for the full 23 days, even though I’d done nothing wrong.

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The 23 days are supposedly used for investigating the case, and the police must be bloody good at their job, because they have a 99% conviction rate. In Japan, the police can’t be seen to make mistakes, so pretty much everyone who is arrested is found guilty. To achieve this, cruel mental torture is used to attain confessions. Inmates are kept awake for days at a time, screamed at, mentally abused, and shaken like Mount Druitt babies. Basically, any abuse that doesn’t leave physical scars is used. Westerners are only allowed to speak when a translator is around (you guessed it, they’re never around), the menu consists of one handful of plain rice a day, and the sleeping arrangements involve a rug on the floor and some sawdust for a pillow. It would be a horrendous situation to find yourself in.

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While Japanese prisons are almost completely devoid of bashings, shankings, murders and inmate-on-inmate bum sex (that last one might be a negative or a positive, depending on your outlook on life), the conditions are more like a concentration camp than a western prison. No contact with the outside world is allowed, and officials from foreign embassies find it hard to even visit. Through the entire investigation, the prisoner remains guilty until proven innocent (yeah right, like that’s gonna happen!).

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And things don’t get better at the end of the 23 days. After being found guilty, foreigners are sent to an immigration processing centre until all the necessary details have been sorted out and fines paid. This usually takes another four to eight weeks. Before finally being deported, most westerners lose between 15 and 20kg. With the way I’ve been going at touch footy lately, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but I get the feeling that foreign inmates in Japanese prison lose a lot more than a few kilograms. I didn’t know those boys very well, but they seemed like fun-loving, free-spirited dudes. I’m not sure they’ll be the same people when they get out. The Japanese penal system is designed to break people.

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I crawled out of my capsule wearing only my undies, while three cops looked me up and down. Around us, businessmen and hungover travellers stopped and stared at me, perhaps wondering whether they were witnessing my last moments as a free man. My mind raced and spun; I was pretty sure that the police were here to ask about Jimmy and Joey, but I wasn’t certain. Maybe they were here to arrest me for something I’d done while drunk, or had me confused with someone else? After what I’d read, I knew that even if they just wanted to take me to the station, I was in for a bad time and probably wouldn’t be going home that night. The three men spoke in Japanese and then the one in the middle, obviously the interpreter, spoke to me in English.

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After confirming my name and details, they started asking about the events of that evening. While the interpreter was pleasant, and the cops weren’t intimidating, I was under no illusions that it was anything other than an interrogation. They asked the same questions over and over again – which bars did we go to, what were we drinking, who did we meet – and I found it difficult to answer because I barely remembered a thing about the night because I was so smashed. They seemed surprised that I hadn’t been there to witness the fight. Maybe that fact was the only reason they didn’t arrest me on the spot, I don’t know.

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I was doing everything I could to answer their questions, but they kept asking me about Jimmy’s wallet. I told them I knew nothing about it, but it was a topic that kept coming up. After a while, I found out the reason; apparently Jimmy’s wallet had gone missing, and it had been found in my locker at reception. Of course I knew nothing about it, and to this day I’m not sure if they’d made that up to give them a reason to arrest me if they felt like it, or if it had simply been a misunderstanding downstairs. Either way, that could’ve so easily led to me being locked up.

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When they had everything they needed, the cops took a photo of my passport and then took a number of photos of me. They now had the means to prevent me from leaving the country, but I feel that their reasons for photographing me were more sinister. I get the impression that they probably took the photos of me back to Jimmy and Joey and lied about what I’d said, in order to get them to confess. Whatever the story, I was happy when the police left. I spent the rest of the day just killing the hours until my flight back home at midnight. I couldn’t enjoy the day at all, because I was still worried that I might be stopped at customs, and felt bad knowing that those boys were going through hell. Even a visit to the world’s smallest Godzilla barely put a smile on my face. Bloody hell, the real Godzilla is 50m tall and this bastard’s the size of a moderately-sized dwarf.

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I did make it through customs and I did make it home, but the experience gave me plenty to think about. I put myself in a stupid position by getting so drunk in a country with an aggressive police force who rely on WW2-era interrogation methods to abuse foreigners who flout the law. My life as I know it went very close to ending and, while I did nothing wrong, it was my poor decisions that placed me in that position. Being Drunk and Jobless is fantastic, but maybe it’s time for me to stop being Completely Fuckin’ Shitfaced and Jobless when travelling through countries that are looking for excuses to use and abuse me for three or so months. But now, reliving these events has me fanging for a beer. And that, my friends, was my trip to Bali, South Korea and Japan.

Searching for sailors in Yokosuka: Real life Shenmue locations

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Back when I was a young fella, and still had hopes and dreams that hadn’t been beaten into submission, I spent my days wandering the streets of Yokosuka, Japan. I got into fights, rode motorbikes, chased crooked travel agents, and collected toys from capsule machines with my much younger friend Tatsuya Yamamoto. They were dark days, as my father had recently been murdered by a Chinaman and I was struggling with my sexuality, but I made it through it all with the help of my friends Fuku-san and Guizhang, as well as my girlfriend Nozomi.

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I should probably point out that this is all part of the award-winning Dreamcast video game Shenmue, which I played a lot back in 2001. My father is still very much alive and currently renovating Port Macquarie’s Fantasy Glades amusement park, and my sexuality has never been in question. But as a kid I loved living the life of Ryo Hazuki in the midst of a sprawling martial arts quest, so when I visited Japan it was, in part, to visit Yokosuka. Even though it wasn’t really my father who was murdered, I needed to find Iwao Hazuki’s killer – and that meant heading to the seediest streets of Yokosuka in search of sailors.

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A few years ago I visited the locations from Shenmue II, including Aberdeen, Kowloon and Guilin, and loved seeing the similarities and differences between the game world and the real world. Yokosuka is a little over an hour from Tokyo, and the buildings never stop the whole journey. A sea of grey slid past the window until, finally, I rolled into Yokosuka and stepped out into a land that I’d never been to, but which I had spent so much time in. It was pouring rain, but nothing could dampen my spirit as I walked past the harbour that plays such an important role in Shenmue.

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The bulk of the game takes place around Dobuita Street, and it’s only a short stroll from the station. When I got there, it felt incredibly familiar. The game was made 16 years ago and set 14 years before that, but the feel of Dobuita carried through all of that and welcomed me. Yokosuka has long held an American military base, and Dobuita Street is where Japanese and American cultures melt together to create something truly unique. Jacket shops and bars are clustered together to create a place unlike anywhere I’ve been before.

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Any place full of American culture must have huge, heart-wrecking fast food, and Dobuita is no exception. There are plenty of burger shops, but one serves a meal that would stump even the chunkiest Yank. The 7th Fleet Burger costs around $60 Australian and has more meat in it than my ex-girlfriend did while I was at work. I’m sure if I’d waited around long enough I would’ve seen some poor bastard get wheeled out of there on a trolley, but I had a murder to solve.

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I figured the best place to find sailors would be by the water, so I headed to the harbour, where the legendary battleship Mikasa floats proudly. Built in the late 1890s and first put to use in 1902, it remains an impressive ship, but it was an absolute beast back in the day. The pride of the Japanese fleet, she rumbled with the evil Russians for years, causing all sorts of problems for the vodka drinkers. According to signs on the ship, the Mikasa basically destroyed Russia without any trouble – I’m not sure that’s quite true, but the ship is still an incredible sight.

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I didn’t find any sailors out there, however, and trudged dejectedly into a nearby disable toilet. To my surprise, I found a number of sailors in there and they were quite pleased to see me, but it was at that point that I realised I didn’t really want to find sailors after all.

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As day turned to night I headed back towards Dobuita street, and when I spotted an empty carpark I decided it was as good a place as any to work on my karate moves. I was a martial arts prodigy in my younger years and could’ve become a master if I’d pursued it, and it felt good to bust out some roundhouse kicks and dragon punches. Then a Japanese woman came over and asked me if I was having a seizure, so I stopped.

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One of Shenmue’s most-loved characters is Tom Johnson, an African American stereotype who spends most of his time dancing out the front of his hotdog truck. I was gobsmacked to find a truck that was strikingly similar to Tom’s, selling delicious kebabs instead of hotdogs. Tom wasn’t grooving in front of it, but I didn’t let that deter me, and cruised over to throw out some of my best moves. Just as I was getting into ‘the orangutan’, a very angry man poked his head out from the truck and told me to go fuck myself, which is certainly not something that happened to Ryo. I assumed I’d misheard him and kept shakin’ my groove thang, but when he pulled out a large knife and thrust it in my direction, any miscommunication was cleared and I left.

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On the train ride home, I reflected on how much fun I’d had in Yokosuka. I’d spent 16 years wanting to come to this place, for no reason other than a video game. And it was everything I’d hoped it would be – for a few hours, I was able to feel like I was in the world of Shenmue, without getting my head kicked in. Sure, Yokosuka doesn’t offer too much for the average tourist (although there are worse ways to spend a day – and it’s certainly better than Kyoto), but to me it was the most special place on the planet. I didn’t get to root Nozomi and no children asked me to wrestle, but I loved Yokosuka!