Poverty, Violence, and Crime

This is an excerpt from my book, BIG LIKE: CASCADE INTO AN ODYSSEY.

Tokyo, May 1996. At the immigration office in Otemachi, I’m asked to write my request in English on a piece of paper and submit it. After a wait, I’m directed to an office. A middle-aged white woman with puffy cheeks and a gray-blond perm thrones behind a desk.

“So, you want to stay in Japan longer,” she says with an icy British accent.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Your ninety-day visa isn’t renewable.”

“I know. I’d like to apply for a long-term visa.”

“Do you work here?”

“No, ma’am.”

“What kind of job have you got in the US?”

“I don’t have a job.”

“How do you support yourself?”

“I live off my investments.”

She glares at me over the rim of her glasses. She doesn’t approve of my stratospherically priced linen jacket whose shoulders are too narrow and whose sleeves are too short.

“You have to have a company that sponsors you,” she says.

“I didn’t come to Japan to make money. I came to spend money.”

That doesn’t sit well with her. Not at all. Her lipless orifice contorts into an expression of disdain. “If you try the ticket-to-Seoul caper, immigration will deny you reentry and send you back to Seoul. At your expense.”

“Of course.”

We limit immigration. We don’t want to become like you. Look at your country.”

“What’s wrong with my country?”

“Poverty, violence, and crime.”


“Because you’re swamped with foreigners from all over the world.”

I feel my face redden with anger. Presumably, we means Japan, and you means the US. With a few words, she has succeeded in insulting me personally, denigrating the US, and conveying just how unwanted I am in Japan. Being fat in a country of thin people has to be really upsetting.

Somehow, possibly by divine intervention, I manage to keep that comment to myself. I go to Shibuya and bathe in its voltage. I’m not in search of anything. I’m drifting. But at 11:45 p.m., the juice is draining out of Shibuya into the entrances of Shibuya Station. Daytime rules have been annulled. People are inebriated. They laugh, barf, have trouble with locomotion—a welcome contrast to the reverential silence that reigns during the day.

On the train, I hold on to one of the stainless-steel overhead bars rather than the straps that dangle from it and that everyone else holds on to, my solitary act of outright rebellion. Two girls behind me rub against my back, butt, and thighs to the swaying of the train. Body heat bleeds through my clothes. The train isn’t that packed, and they could avoid body contact if they wanted to, but they chitchat with each other, pretend it isn’t happening, switch places, take turns. I don’t cede territory either, though I could. I’m part of the Japanese liquid, or at least a foreign particle in it, neither shunned nor kept at a distance but integrated into it, sought out perhaps.

This is an excerpt from my book, BIG LIKE: CASCADE INTO AN ODYSSEY.

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