UNPUBLISHED • 2008


The Day the Foreigners Left [part 2]

BRIAN COVERT

IV.
MANY MONTHS WENT BY following the Day of Dispersal, and despite some international grumblings here and there about the way the foreigners had been treated, Japan’s position in the newly sanctioned “Big 3 Eastern Economic Partnership” (BEEP) — a bloc consisting of China, the two united Koreas and Japan — remained solid. This was something that was long overdue, most people in Japan agreed. On the other side of the world, the United States was preparing for an upcoming invasion of a small but threatening island somewhere near the Arctic Circle, and had its own problems and anti-war protests to worry about.

Discussions within Japan were moving quickly on the organizing of a “New World Japan Expo 21,” patterned after the immensely popular Osaka Expo 1970, this time to be held at the base of Mount Fuji. The basic idea behind the event seemed to be fully supported by the Japanese public: Yes, foreigners would be free to visit the proposed expo in Japan, but only if those visiting foreigners left Japan for their home countries again by the time the one-day international expo had concluded. This, NUT reported, was a positive sign that the Japanese people still harbored no hard feelings in their hearts for the masses of foreigners who had previously been asked to leave Japan.

The bigger headline around that time, of course, was how the privatized Japanese National Police Agency (current parent company: a paper-shredding machine manufacturer in Saitama Prefecture) had thwarted a plot by some
yakuza underworld members, apparently motivated by revenge, to plant a bomb at the base of Tokyo Tower with the intent of blowing up one of the tower pillars so that it would lean dangerously — though not fall over. A few of the yakuza suspects were taken in for questioning, fingerprinted and photographed, and declared by a citizens’ jury of the privatized Japan Supreme Court (current parent company: a men’s clothing manufacturer in Chiba Prefecture) of being “not innocent” but also “not guilty” at the same time. Thus, the yakuza suspects were placed under house arrest and admonished never to do such a thing again. The suspects repented publicly, the police agency chief called the closed case a success, and Prime Minister Mister proclaimed that the crime would have been much worse if it had been committed by foreigners. The nation nodded in agreement.

V.
Looking back, the Sunday TV news shows reflected years later, it couldn’t have been more than a year or two after the Day of Dispersal that something began to rise to the surface of Japanese society. Japanese people were becoming more irritable with each other. People were cutting into queues everywhere and taking other people’s places, without apology. Rude language in public places was becoming common. Violent crime wasn’t necessarily up, reported the School of Contemporary Research of the nation’s top university (current parent company: an ore-mining firm in Akita Prefecture), but something was amiss. Nobody could quite put a finger on it, but something was definitely not right — that much the various public survey results concurred with. Perhaps, some said, it was just the negative vibrations left behind by all those foreigners who had abruptly left.

Meanwhile, attendance at pro baseball and pro soccer games nationwide in Japan was steadily going down. The entertainment field in Japan was reporting an industry-wide slump in the number of Japanese people going to music concerts, stage shows or nightclubs. Museums were complaining about a declining customer base. And language schools all around Japan were closing down one after another due to a lack of new customers. The strange phenomenon kept spreading into other areas of life in Japan as well: fast-food restaurants, grocery stories, movie theaters, everywhere.

Then one day a prominent professor and doctor of psychology from an esteemed Kyushu-based public university (current parent company: ceramic pottery-producing company in Kumamoto Prefecture) released a paper espousing his newly researched thesis as to what the problem seemed to be:
Gai-kindan-byo, or in short, “Foreign Withdrawal Disorder.” The professor claimed that his research team had found that under the surface of the increasingly anti-social behavior of some Japanese laboratory patients was a craving for something foreign — something, anything. Mere boredom, loneliness? No, it was something much more than that, the doctor stated. Many of the Japanese patients in the lab tests expressed a “deep emotional and personal longing” for something more fulfilling in their lives, the research team found. What the patients in the experiments seemed to crave most of all was some kind of direct, human contact with a foreigner. The problem, the doctor asserted, was that there were no longer any foreigners living in Japan. Most Japanese had to travel abroad to have any direct contact with foreigners. But all this overseas travel, while definitely a boon to the Japanese tourism market, was taking its toll on the psyche, not to mention on the pocketbooks, of the common Japanese people. It was time to look into this “Foreign Withdrawal Disorder,” the professor emphasized, before it turned into a full-blown epidemic.

The doctor’s own home, which coincidentally had at one time been the residence of a foreign family living in Japan before the dispersal, was surrounded by herds of Japanese news reporters from the major news companies and staked out day and night. The reporters watched the professor’s every move through the zoom lenses of cameras, rushed to his front gate every time he stepped into his overseas-made car, and chased him around in vans mounted with TV cameras. The reporters had orders from their editors to press the scholar on exactly where he had gotten his half-baked ideas from, and whether he was ready to be prosecuted for “betraying the Japanese mind.” But when other reputable scholars in several other parts of Japan started coming out and confirming the same things in their own scientific reports, the news media in Japan could no longer blame the issue on a single academic nutcase. Foreign Withdrawal Disorder became the topic of one special edition after another of the Japanese weekly news magazines and sports tabloids, with the biggest
manga publishers, too, taking up the sensitive social issue in the pages of their comic books that were voraciously read by millions.

VI.
By year’s end, it was clear: Japan needed foreigners. Deliberations in the Diet turned to implementing policies that would let a few foreigners into Japan as residents for a short trial period. Questions began to be raised behind closed doors at the Diet in Nagata-cho (current building owner: the All-Giants Unified Baseball League, headquarters in Tokyo) as to whether or not Japan’s policy some years before of dispersing foreigners was a rash one. Japanese public opinion, the joint polls by liberal and conservative newspapers showed, was still against Japanese people sitting, standing or living next to foreign residents in Japan. But at the same time, it indicated that Japanese people felt somehow “empty” inside and that something drastic needed to be done to deal with the emotional issues caused by the foreigner-withdrawal symptoms. The longer the issue was drawn out and discussed and debated, the higher the rate of Foreign Withdrawal Disorder was spreading throughout Japanese society — until Prime Minister Mister himself finally could ignore the disaster no longer.

With the help of image specialists at The Ministry of Excellent Affairs (new parent company: an Okinawa Prefecture-based travel agency affiliate of the Excellent K.K. Group), the prime minister carefully and thoughtfully produced a document that, he hoped, would help foreigners living overseas truly understand the sensitive position that Japanese people were now in and have foreigners think over the idea of coming back to Japan — not only to visit but to live, even for a short period. The wording had to be diplomatic yet firm, empathetic yet remorseless, clear but vague in a way the Japanese people too could understand and feel from the heart.

And so it was that under the blazing lights of hundreds of Japanese TV cameras in the living room of his official residence in Tokyo that day, Prime Minister Mister, serious but with a touch of lightheartedness, dictated the following note to be relayed to the people of all nations where Japan still had an embassy. He read the note slowly, deliberately, stressing every word as officially as he could:

—————

Dear Sirs and Madams:

How have you been? It is now the end of winter and spring is approaching.

By the way, springtime in Japan means warmer days and smiling faces, as people shake off the cold and open their hearts to others. Springtime also means cherry blossom season in Japan. You like cherry blossoms, don’t you?

We would like to share the beauty of Japan’s cherry blossom season, which is unique in the world, with others who share with us a sense of beauty and harmony in nature. Man and nature share this small planet, so it is only natural that we too should want to share our small part of the world with all of you.

Today is the day that all foreigners are invited to come back to Japan, not only for visiting but for living as well. I am honored to announce the official start of a brand-new, original tourist promotion campaign that we have prepared after much careful thought from scholars, businessmen, politicians and ordinary citizens. The campaign is called Yokoso Again Japan [Welcome Again Japan].

We, the government of Japan, have decided that it is in the best interests of all citizens if those who are not of pure 100-percent Japanese origin would be so kind as to come back and intermingle in Japan with those who are.

Through the cooperation of our embassies in your respective countries, we have already designed postcards in which a special number and port of re-entry will be reconfirmed should you decide to come back to our country. All you have to do, after filling out the proper documents, is present the postcard at your assigned port upon arrival in Japan. That’s how easy it is. {sincere smile}

Once in Japan, please make the appropriate arrangements to be at the nearest Alien Arrival Processing Center listed on your embassy card at the time listed. Please make haste to be on time for the processing so others behind you do not have to wait.

Thank you for your support of Japan these many years. As you recall, we wholeheartedly welcomed your initial arrival and your departure, and now we welcome you back as you arrive once again in our beneficent nation.

For your kind understanding and cooperation, thank you very much.

—————

That was all he said.

VII.
After the TV lights had dimmed and Prime Minister Mister had let out a sincere sigh, there was nothing to do but wait. It was not an easy road Japan had taken, but all agreed: shikata ga nai — it was a necessary one that Japan needed to take if it were to restore its former standing in the international community. Sometimes in life, all the Japanese pundits and commentators noted, it is necessary to lose a little bit of face for the sake of understanding than to lose everything you have just because of a misunderstanding. Public opinion polls in Japan as high as 92.5 percent agreed. The time was clearly right for foreigners to return to Japan.

So Japan waited and waited for the day the foreigners would return. The embassies of Japan located overseas waited. The Ministry of Excellent Affairs waited. Prime Minister Mister, preparing for his re-election campaign, waited. The Imperial Household Agency and the new Emperor herself waited. Japanese labor unions and cultural centers waited. Newsrooms and economic organizations all around Japan waited. The general public waited. The cherry blossom trees throughout Japan too waited for as long as they could, then went out of season, right on schedule.

Yet only one single postcard had come in from any of the overseas embassies of Japan: from Washington D.C., of all places, where the new president in the White House — a famous former American TV game show host — now saw what he called “a neat opportunity” to visit Japan and once again use the Japanese people solely for U.S. geopolitical/military strategies of global domination. As for the rest of the world beyond America, all that Japan was treated to was…silence. And still people in Japan continued to hope, and wait.

The only persons who didn’t wait, however, were the young postal carriers of Japan Post, their familiar red-and-white cheerleader skirts flapping in the breeze as they zipped along on their dull-red motor scooters, delivering the ordinary daily mail to all the strangely quiet Japanese-only neighborhoods throughout the nation. After all, the postal carriers, like so many others, still had a job to do.

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( © Brian Covert 2008)