Prison in Japan: Part 5 “Manga and Routine”

Mitsuko from Battle RoyaleThis is stippy’s fifth part in a series (see also parts 1, 2, 3 and 4) about one foreigner’s experience of being put in a Japanese prison (留置場 or “ryuchijyo”, a prison for locking up people for as long as 23 days until they are convicted, or cleared of a crime).

Below is the continuation of George’s story, and how he was processed in the Japanese legal system. For context, you should read the first, second, third and fourth parts of this series before continuing on with this fifth installment of George’s jail journal. Here again, George provides us with a laugh in his colourful account of his life on the inside – from two very different perspectives – letting us know about his new found interest in manga, and the drab daily prison routines that he was subjected to. Enjoy “Manga and Routine”.

From here, is taken straight from his journal (All names of people have been changed at George’s request):

The Manga:
One of the more interesting things that I contemplated while incarcerated was the Japanese comic known as Manga. Every day after exercise we were allowed to take 3 books back to our cells. 90% of the books available were Manga and I chose the ones that fit with the selections of Wajima and Hakamada so that they could read an extra episode or two of the series. The first one we got into was called “Heat”. The main protagonist was a character called Koitsu and he was an exceptionally muscled, handsome fella towering at 6 feet or more tall. He had as hot girlfriend or friend who was a high school student named Yuka. Hmm. Koitsu was at least in his late 20’s so that seemed a bit dodgy to me. Actually I got confused by the story as it was hard to tell the ‘ho’s and gangsters apart from one another as they all seemed so similar. I thought Koitsu met the high school girl when he was cruising through the Nevada desert on his Harley one day when he came across two bad ass whitey bikers who were about to rape a Japanese exchange student who just happened to have car trouble in the middle of the desert and was wearing an awesomely short skirt and had huge tits bulging out of her skimpy blouse. The big whiteys jumped on her with their big boners and amazingly Koistu timed his desert ride perfectly, beating the baddies and taking the girl away on his cruiser. I think her father was a big Yak but I gave up on Heat’s story and just went for the sex scenes, of which there were plenty.

The Manga kept me marveling at how deeply involved in utterly crap stories the inmates would get. Wajima and Hakamada loved it. Rape was a common theme and even the sex that was “sex” looked a lot like rape. There was another girl, maybe the same one as before, whose father sold her and her mother to a Brazilian drug lord to pay his debts. The mother (who I admit was hot) was raped and killed and the girl was just raped. A lot. Hakamada would help me through the difficult Yakuza kanji that added word like arsehole, anus, etc to my vocab and even a saying “if you step on a tigers tail you get…” whatever. It was rubbish. Yakuza rubbish. Though as it was all there, I just flicked through for the sex and violence.

The sex was incredible. Koitsu was sought after by all the ‘ho’s. Even his best mate Fujimaki’s girl wanted a log from Koitsu. She got drunk, passed out, got dragged from the bar back to her hotel by Koitsu who was trying to help out. Once she was on the sofa in the lobby though she started playing with herself squealing Koitsu’s name as she dreamed he was giving it to her. Fujimaki was not impressed and a fight ensued. Another funny scene included a random switch from a mid-city nightspot to the Yak lord “raping” his girl up against a tree in a forest. She didn’t seem to want a bar of it but next thing they were lying back in his Limo smoking together. I assumed that whenever there were smokes, the rape was just play-acting.

Another goody was when Koitsu, Fujimaki and their pals went up into some mountain retreat to find a bad guy and smash him for whatever reason. The bad guy was at some semi-gay martial arts camp in the woods. Lots of muscled lads doing karate, kung-fu and dancing with each other sharing iPods. I shit you not. Anyway as Koitsu was sneaking up on the camp, ducking through the bushes, he came across 3 young martial arts lads who were probably trying to prove their heterosexuality by gangbanging a hot chick lying naked in the grass. According to the script these young warriors were selected from the top 30% of athletes and students in the country. The girl I figure must be addicted to gangbanging or something as it occurred to me that lying naked in a bamboo forest with a billion mosquitoes and the like while getting dealt to by a team of lads, saying “don’t come inside me” was not what I expected from an educated girl. Wow and this seemed a fairly typical read in the detention center.

Takeshi’s Battle RoyaleAs I said, I gave up on “Heat” and ended up on “Battle Royale” as the storyline was so much easier to follow and there were no ridiculous kanji for Yakuza words I would never use. Still, there was lots of sex and violence to keep the lads and me happy. Battle Royale was the story made into a controversial movie by Beat Takeshi that involved a school class being taken hostage and put on an island where given weapons and to kill each other. The sole survivor would be the winner. Very bloody stuff. Especially for 15 year olds.

My recommendation out of the Manga was a story called Piano no Mori (ピアノの森). Actually it was a very touching read (everyone agreed) about a poor kid with a real talent for the piano. No sex. Well, not much and not graphic like the other books. Zero violence as well. Hmm. Depends on your definitions here, as I was probably getting quite desensitized to slicings and shootings by this stage. Interestingly this became the most popular series in our establishment and being first to the bookshelf was always a treat or you would miss out.

At least “Piano no Mori” and some of the other storied we started reading after the violent ones were quite tame. The first two, “Heat” and “Battle Royale” that were read in my cell were a hell of a start and maybe not the norm. Though the Manga had me thinking that the average IQ in the detention center was pretty low and the authorities probably had no expectation that these guys would become wholesome citizens once released. Rather I assumed they were written off and it didn’t matter what sort of reading material you gave them, they would always get back to offending again once they got out.

The Routine:
The days were long in detention. Waking at 6:30am or as was usual for me often around 4 or 5am as the cars took to the streets was early. Especially considering there was very little to do and nowhere to go all day long. The first few days I just slept as much as I could. Perhaps the escape from work, family and daily stresses to a state of complete idleness meant my mind and body had to adjust and shake itself free of the wear and tear of the real world. Perhaps I was just plain tired from the stressful circumstances of my crime, arrest and detainment. I just wanted to hide in dreams all day and for the first few days I really felt exhausted and strangely relaxed.

On more than one occasion I was only sleeping fitfully from 3 or 4am and it was all I could do to escape the bright luminous bar that lit our room 24 hours a day. Dimmed only 50% or so in the evening. When lights were turned out at 9pm it really did not make much difference to me as I am an very light sleeper. Even at home I am forever closing the smallest cracks in the curtains as even the smallest sliver of light make it hard to sleep. You would think switching 8 of the 9 lighting rods in the ceiling off would make a huge difference but I find the lights in Japan extremely bright and unnatural on the eyes. Although the room dimmed a little, on top of the centermost light remaining illuminated, the toilet light and hall lights added to problems. My roommates had no trouble with the lights. As soon as they stopped chatting they would be contentedly snoring until the lights came on and a guard called out for us to rise.

Gaijin in a Japanese JailOnce the hall lights came on and the sound of the jingling keys was heard it was time to roll off the futons and fold up our bed kit. Following Wajima’s actions of the first morning I folded my 2 drab brown blankets on top of my futon and placed my small pillow under the pile. We would then lay back and rest against the bed kit until the door opened and it was cell 6’s turn to return the kit to the cupboards. The order changed every day but initially started at cell 1 and followed down to us in cell 6. Once a cell returned their futons they would go to the washbasins where 8 taps and refreshing cold water were made available in a long steel basin, only 8 people at a time. At the same time a couple of vacuum cleaners and some cleaning products (a soapy spray and towel) were passed between cells for the inmates to clean the floor and the toilet. Roommates took turns at these tasks each day in rotation.

We had to buy our washing kit on entry and at a cost of around ¥800 I got a polyester towel, a cheap and weak toothbrush and a block of soap in a plastic case. The wash was just for our faces and teeth. We could also make an attempt to wipe the sweat and stink from our armpits but that was fairly futile. Washing our stinking feet or our oily hair was off limits. The cheap towels were hung on a hook in the wash lockers and within 2 days were getting very smelly themselves despite trying to wash the bacteria out with soap. They would hang but never really dry, and it was only on bath day – every 5 days – that we would receive new towels and be able to really clean our bodies. It was not at all a hygienic situation and my whole body began to reek a stale, sweet sweaty smell. My feet and armpits completely stank and my crotch was far a bed of roses. I picked up a problem during the middle week and began to leak tiny droplets of urine, leading to a highly embarrassing scenario where I really didn’t want to put my hand up and ask for a doctor. So I just stunk in my corner and waited for wash days. I wasn’t sure if my urinary problem was an infection or just a reaction to the stress, so I waited it out until I could get out.

When the morning wash concluded, whoever the last 22 people were at the basin would wipe it dry and everyone would return to their cells. Meal mats were handed out via the cell holes and laid down in front of the hole. The hole was just like in the movies where Hannibal Lecter and the like receive their books and so on. Sometimes I had fleeting but very light thoughts on how bizarre it was for us to have zero chance to leave this cell. There was no way or reason for me to get out. I was trapped in this small space, which struck me as very odd, and more than once made me feel very claustrophobic.

As we waited for the meals and o-hashi to be readied for delivery to our cells the on duty tantou and the warden (or whatever title he had) would walk along from cell 1 thruogh to cell 6 and do a headcount: tenken. Every inmate’s number was called from a list and every inmate had to reply hai! When their number was called. I was #14 and on any given day there were between 22 and 26 inmates of which at least 2 were minors under 20 years old and housed in a separated cell block, which I never even realized existed until my final day.

Breakfast would follow the count and plastic bowls for our daily sachet of miso soup and hot water would be passed in through the hole. A polystyrene tray with white rice and a plastic bento tray followed for each inmate. Chopsticks followed and my roomy, Wajima, would dutifully hand these things around along with some folded tissue from the toilet stock. He took this as his task and favour to the rest of us. Of course the guards offered me a fork or a spoon on my first day but I got by with the o-hashi just fine. The bento was always of a standard variety: quite tasteless and luke warm. Sometimes the rice was cold and stuck together making it particularly unappetizing. Hakamada taught me how to make “neko-mama” to ease the pain of eating the cold, gluggy rice. Very simple and a great idea, in short, “neko-mama” involved putting your cold rice into your hot miso soup. A small improvement, but far more palatable than taking mouthfuls of the miserable cold “go-han” and trying to wash it down with the instant soup.

As mentioned, bath day was a joy to look forward to. On this day 4 or 5 guys were allowed into the bath room at a time, which was a small Sentoh-style room with a deep bath that could hold only one man. I would treasure my time in the wash room, soaping away days of stink, feeling incredibly rejuvenated. It amazed me that we were only allowed to wash once every five days as that seemed pretty stupid, but I just had to accept it and would count down the days as soon as I got out of the bath.

Entertainment was one of only a few options for me. I was not allowed communication or any materials from the outside world, so I was able to spend my time by sleeping, reading, writing or talking. Once, while the Chinaman was there in the early days, he was struggling his way through a Su-Doku puzzle that came with the newspaper. I helped him through it, as it was a fairly low grade puzzle and he was mighty pleased with the help. He then in turn took the time to help me with some kanji, though his Japanese was not so good. Wajima would help me out also. Once I got my notebook and pen (pens were only allowed 1 per cell during the hours of 9am to 7pm), I was able to create a draughts/checkers board and we made some checkers out of tissue. We called them “tamago’s” and “tadpoles” (玉杓子?), as when the checker made it to the opposite side and became able to jump forward and backward, we would twist out a tail from the rolled up tissue ball. We had to keep this game hidden from the guards as any such interaction was strictly forbidden. One of us would read his book near the caged wall and watch out for the guards who would occasionally patrol. A quick kick to one of the other two who would be engrossed in the battle of wits, and the guard would only see three chumps in a cell reading books. The game was hidden under my notepad.

Lunch would come at 11:30 and a change of books and chance to get anything from your locker was allowed at 3pm. Dinner would come at 5:30 or so and books and notepads, pens etc taken back at 7pm. An evening wash would come at around 8pm as the futons came out in a reverse version of the morning routine. A head count (点検) at 9pm and lights out immediately thereafter.

Any comments? Feel free to leave below as always.

Update: Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 and Part 10 of the “Prison in Japan” series are now available.

31 thoughts on “Prison in Japan: Part 5 “Manga and Routine””

  1. i wonder if the 5 days between baths, is because its a temporary jail?
    originally it was thought that the inhabitants would be gone
    before spending the maximum 23 days there?

    great read, thanks george!

  2. What an A-Hole! For a gaijin living in Japan, this guy sure doesn’t have any sensitivity towards other peoples & cultures. He uses “Chinaman” without any thought about it being a derogatory term while going on and on about he was treated discourteously. Probably has nice terms for blacks, hispanics, arabs and jews as well.

    Plenty of his type around, has Japanese wife, but looks down on the men and details how everyone else is dumb, slow and stupid.

  3. Charles,
    We have had plenty of discussion in part 2 about this, see especially THIS comment – since it is a Chinese person’s view, lets just assume that Chinaman is ok for now, and that those who think that it is racist may have to examine themselves a little more – “your shit stinks too” as someone else said in the comments.

  4. I agree, “gaijin” is more offensive than “Chinaman.” This Charles guy sure doesn’t have any sensitivity towards other peoples & cultures. He uses “gaijin” without any thought about it being a derogatory term.

  5. Gerard van schip, thanks. Actually Google doesnt make much money here, only helps with a bit of hosting. Mostly, the time lag is my laziness in getting the text ready! Stay tuned for the next update though, will be here “soon”…

  6. This is a stern warning to unbearable Americans who get drunk and assault and insults the locals. I hope they deport this so called “smart guy” for being an insufferable rube.

  7. Not only is he NOT an American but he LIVES in Japan. Did you even read the article or did you form your baseless assumptions through a quick glance?

  8. I don’t expect this comment will make me particularly popular around here, but so be it.

    Let’s see… no rape, no torture, no beatings, and no threats of any of the above. Clean conditions for the most part. Adequate food. Writing materials. Sounds like utopia compared to what goes on in prisons in the US, though of course even an hour in a cell should be enough to convince most freedom-loving humans to straighten up and fly right, rather than endure even another hour of life in even a humane cage.

    The obvious lesson of this story is also the same as for many similar stories: Don’t get drunk. Don’t overdo. Getting drunk leads to all manner of avoidable stupidity and painful consequences that only seem funny in retrospect by way of making them less painful. Unless you kill someone with your car, in which case there’s no way to make that seem funny in retrospect.

    What I don’t understand is why any reasonably intelligent person would want to make themselves temporarily stupid and un-coordinated and belligerent. A couple of drinks to relax and socialize, sure; a few tokes to loosen up the imagination, fine; but getting blotto to the point where you act like an idiot and black out and don’t even remember it the next day? Blech!, give me ice cream instead, any day of the week. With the exception of (consenting-adult) sex, the best of life’s pleasures are G-rated, and the Rs are vastly over-rated. If you stick to the Gs and the consenting-adult Xs and skip the Rs, you’ll never see the inside of a cage.

  9. To A Different G,

    I’d like to join your church or cult or whatever it is. Man, you just make so much sense. Thanks in advance if you can pass on your URL.


  10. A different G,

    >> “With the exception of (consenting-adult) sex”
    Just “sex” would do here. For most of us, I’m pretty sure “sex” means “consenting”, and hopefully “adult”. If not, you have bigger problems than George does dude.

    Anyway, it’s hard to see where you are coming from. I mean, if you haven’t gone out on the booze, and totally lost it for a few nights in your life, you really don’t know what you are missing.


  11. Trevor,

    >> I mean, if you haven’t gone out on the booze, and totally lost it for a few nights in your life, you really don’t know what you are missing.

    I think that when people get completely wasted, they’re trying to get away from something in their life. Some people get tired of doing that, and/or realize that the consequences of getting smashed aren’t worth it. Those people sound a lot like a different G.

  12. Hi Bev, I guess we are all trying to get away from something at some stage in our life.

    I don’t smoke, but I respect people who do even though they must have a screw loose in their head – why else are they breathing in poison that they know will kill them. They must be trying to get away from a longevity?

    We all have our quirks. At least Alcohol is not addictive – for most of us.

  13. Trying to defend the use of the word “Chinaman” is ridiculous. Here’s Mirriam-Webster:
    “Main Entry: Chi·na·man
    Pronunciation: ‘chI-n&-m&n
    Function: noun
    often offensive : a native of China : CHINESE”

    If you choose to use a word that most Chinese-Americans find offensive that’s your choice. But don’t pretend to be ignorant. Or if you want to get on some moral high-horse then be consistent and also say “Englandman” “Germanyman” “Japanman” etc.

  14. Sorry Vanya, but you really are a bore. The whole point of ‘Chinaman’ is not to degrade some dude in a jail or the entire Chinese race but to add some imagination to the story. read Georges comment on Story 1 or 2 on that. If you had some imagination you would also realize that ‘characters’ often are given quirky names like in Tarentino films etc. You won’t make it in the movies when you out of school.

    Who said, alcohol is not addictive? Ha ha.

    My last point of the day: yeah, why do you have to be escapist to go have a few beers and drunk with your mates? More bores. How come there are so many boring gits on this thread?

    - marv

  15. I never drank more than one beer at a siting until I was 25 and met my first wife.
    She drove me to drink, she did…. Never did thank her for that.

  16. 5 days between showers is the standard in most Texas prisons and jails as well. I hate to mar the entire U.S. corrections system because penal systems depend on a State’s political culture. Texas happens to be full of many deep conservatives who believe people in prisons have failed at life and don’t even deserve to be fed. Not unique to Japan at all.

    When it comes to being offensive, it’s about context. “Chinaman” was not used in a degrading context. As someone stated, it’s a character reference. Same with “gaijin.” More of a term of endearment unless the context is degrading or downright hostile, as it can be in Japan. I don’t know anyone who uses 外国人 gaikokujin in colloquial speech.

    Funny about the manga. Seems like many whites in Japan were otaku before going to Japan. I suppose they thought that the Japan in anime or manga exists in the real world. I joke about foreign English teachers go to Japan because anime and manga tells them that teachers banging high school students is like a tradition. 2 or 3 moe girls always vying for the sensei/oniiiiiiiiiiiichan ^^

  17. To Vanya,

    We do use those terms. Englishman. German. Frenchman. And they’re not considered offensive. We don’t see japanman as it’s ungainly and English has a tendcey towards simple voal contractions. Hence its German as opposed to German man. I don’t understant how language can be warped in this way to make a perfectly inoccuous term out to be derogatory.

  18. Yeah, “Chinaman” is not a derogatory, racist term in the least. George himself said he used it just to add character to the story.

    If there was a black man in the story, I’m sure George would have called him “the Nigger”, and a Hispanic man would be “the Spic”, which are also not racist in the least, right?

  19. Maaaan…..fdasfds, Vanya et al: I’m Irish, and male, therefore I am an ‘Irishman’. If I were the ONLY Irishman in a given context I would probably be ‘the Irishman’. I wouldn’t particularly have a problem with being the “Irelandman” but as with Rieux’s points such usage would be odd-sounding in English . I don’t know what it is about people that seem to think by removing language that they perceive to be discriminatory they can remove the discrimination itself. We could pass a law to call all [name your group] “Gods Who Walk the Earth and Can Do No Wrong” and racist people would still say “Look at that goddamn GWWtEaCDNW”…Also, what, precisely is derogatory about calling someone a Chinaman? Is “a male native of China” derogatory? Is it because it reduces a complex human being to one defining characteristic? Well get used to it – when describing someone you met at party to a friend do you describe them as the “single father of one, sociology major, interested in golf and literature, caring yet decisive, good sense of humour, loves dogs” or do you say “the redhead”, “the guy with the purple jacket” etc.?

    Go read 1984, specifically the bits about NewSpeak, cop on and shove off.

  20. It seems like the person writing this jail story isn’t American. He said ‘arsehole’ in this chapter, and it wasn’t the first thing that made me question his nationality.

  21. well this story is really interesting, the initial naivity and hope in the system followed by the resignation and perplexed attitude reminds me a lot of “midnight express” :D, I wonder what would’ve happened had he not turned himself in….
    on another note, the things on the comments are really funny ^^

  22. I find this interesting reading as I have been visiting my friend and anti-whaling protester in Japanese prison since his arrest on 12th March. He will have sentencing on 7th July which is 4 months. My friend is in high security detention and solitary confinement…..Yes, I was involved in 2 riots; the 1st on 31st May and the last on 10th June. I was detained on each occassion but released.

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