I have had a few days to process the whole bike incident. After talking about the event with my sweet roommate, I am no longer angry over it, thankfully. I am thankful that my friend (who found the bike) was able to handle the situation with conviction and bravery.
My friend commented that this series of events has given us a glimpse into the heart of Japanese culture and its flaws. What was frightening to us all was the complete lack of grace shown by the cops. Grace is a word Christians use all the time and I am tempted to allow it to become a commonplace word in my vocabulary. It means, among many things, undeserved kindness. In the face of breaking the law, regardless of the circumstances (my friend not knowing that taking an abandoned bike was a crime) the Japanese cops came down swift and hard with absolutely no grace. In fact, they did everything they could to shame my friend into feeling guilty and like a criminal. The whole process was really embarrassing and the amount of paperwork was absurd, I mean really absurd, and everything we filled out had to be perfect, no mistakes. One of the worst parts was the way the chief policeman coldly said to my friend, “We will not forgive you.” I was angry about this for days. Now, I feel sorry for them. I really do.
Have you ever seen Les Miserables? There is a character in that movie named Javert. He is wholly devoted to the law and relentlessly chases Jean Valjean because he broke the law by stealing a piece of bread many years ago. He is unable to grasp the concept of grace and in the end commits suicide. I hate to say this, but the image will not leave my head: I think Japanese law in many ways reminds me of Javert with the shame, the inability to show grace, the slavish, almost absurd commit to the law even if grace is in due order, their obsession with details in the case, etc. In the end, I feel very sorry for people living in this culture which, in many ways beyond this incident, lacks grace.
During my time in Japan, I have heard of incidents of people whose homes burned down having to pay their neighbors money (because they “troubled” them unncessarily), people getting mad at other friends for not giving them a gift in return (there is no such thing as a true” gift” here -if you give a gift you expect a gift in return), junior high school kids committing suicde over test-related stress, adults committing suicide by jumping off trains, stories of adultery, lonely and bitter housewives who rarely see their husbands who are slaves to their jobs, etc. I am really started to feel great empathy for the people of Japan, much more than I did the last time I lived here. I cannot imgine the stresses involved with being Japanese. Yet Japanese people seem so good at keeping the rules and keeping the great well-oiled machine of Japanese society running. One of their chief values is called “gaman” or perseverance. They think they can get through trials through doing their best to “gaman” through life and its various trials. “I can do it, I can get through this with my own willpower and internal strength!” I am curious to see how the next generation will face this society – this generation is more violent, less thoughtful, and more materialistic than the previous ones. I think it’s only a matter of time before Japan starts to self-destruct. That’s just my opinion but it also gives me hope, because it’s only when people are broken, their pride shattered, and their hopes dim that they are able to hear the message of the Bible: that we desperately need God and life is meant to be lived for Him alone.