This is stippy’s seventh part in a series (see also parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6) 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 that he wrote in his diary while in the Japanese ryuchijyo. Here, he tells us about his “victim” and gives the best insight he can into what sort of man the taxi driver was. It seems the driver’s version of the truth was far from that which George knew to be the facts. For context, you should read the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth parts of this series before continuing on with this seventh installment of George’s jail journal.
Enjoy “The Driver”. From here, is taken straight from the journal:
If only we had taken a different taxi that night. As I had kind of assumed based on my memories of the incident, my lawyer confirmed for me on Day 8 that, the victim of my incident was not a nice man. Even on the surface he looked like a typically rough kind of guy. Permed and oiled hair (“punch perm” as they call it). Those big tinted glasses that old men with permed hair in Japan tend to wear on their sun weathered faces. My lawyer assumed that the driver drove a Toyota Crown sedan or something similar with tinted windows as is common in the rougher neighbourhoods. I supposed he did. He certainly came across as a jerk when I met him (though so did I to him of course) and in hindsight he definitely did not look the most wholesome of folks.
As a fairly regular taxi customer from Roppongi to my home late on a Thursday or Friday evening (or early morning), I had encountered many a taxi driver. Roppongi being a notoriously dodgy place to be as a drunken Gaijin after midnight, the taxi drivers were usually a little wary of picking up a Gaijin. I assumed that it was always due to the level of drunkenness and the potential arguments that would ensue from language breakdowns – I have never met a taxi driver who conversed with me in English (I speak Japanese, but I assume that many of the other drunk gaijin wouldn’t).
The kojin (個人) cabs in Japan are by far the best. They are privately licenced and have large sedans with clean and comfortable seats. No smoking seems to be the norm of these taxis, or at least I have never been in a kojin that really smelt of tobacco, and because they are in business for themselves, they are likely to be much more cordial, courteous and professional. In my experience, they generally know their way around and make use of their navigation systems just to make sure they take the best route. They cost a little more I guess than “company” taxis but the ride is usually worth it. Even more so, the drivers seem to enjoy conversing with their customers and I enjoy the experience.
Company “fleet taxis” are the worst sort. Some are fine but I have had a few that made me think I will never ride in a Kokusai Jidosha taxi again. Not that I am sure the others were Kokusai, but this particular guy, my victim, was from Kokusai Jidosha. I had some drivers who just made bodily, facial and audible gestures that made me immediately realize I was not welcome in their car. I would just get out no matter how inconvenient for them, call the guy a prick and try to find another car; again, no matter how inconvenient that may be for me at 1am or 2am in the morning. It usually takes me a few attempts to get a taxi in the first place. Not a few – many. I have stood on the streets for 30-40 minutes trying to get a taxi with no luck. They would just speed past me and stop at the next person. I would get frustrated with it but what can you do? I just assumed that they thought I lived in some fancy-schmancy neighbourhood just down the road like Azabu or Hiroo. Little would they realize that I actually live a 6-7000 yen ride away. Even the jerks that knew where I wanted to go and didn’t want to play ball, must have additional reason not to take my money. I guessed they just didn’t want to go that far out of town or maybe they just did not want a Gaijin in their taxi. I didn’t really care so much actually, so long as I could find a taxi that would take me. And standing 190 cm tall with short (balding, grrrrr, there I said it) hair, I guess I did look fairly menacing at midnight to a little Japanese taxi driver. The best trick I have learned from a friend years ago is to just wait at a set of lights and impose yourself upon the first taxi that stops in front of you. Yes, I have had one or two occasions that immediate altercations began upon my setting down in the back seat, but I would make the driver stop and let me out. But on the whole the taxi drivers like to get the business and once in, they realized I speak pretty good Japanese and we would typically be chums throughout my ride home. 99% of the drivers I have met are absolutely fine.
Unfortunately the second or maybe third time in my life in Japan where I did have an “altercation” was on the night of my incident that led to my prison stint. If I had not had such a rude driver, there is no way I would have lost my temper like I did. His rude intonation when asking for directions and his turning away, muttering under his breath, clicking and sucking his tongue in contempt (as Japanese “Oyaji” do, were the triggers that set me off. Too late now. I agreed with my lawyer though that this was a guy who could easily be comfortable lying and setting up a “negotiation” for a nice cash settlement. This is known as Jidan (示談) and is pretty much a necessity for getting anywhere as it proves that the complainant “forgives” the suspect (even if not yet “proven” guilty, which is kind of chicken and egg stuff).
The driver’s name was Shibazaki Masato. I found that out as on the second day being interrogated by Good Cop Kudo, he didn’t realize that I could read a fair bit of kanji and both he and Bad Cop had a tendency to leave their notes lying right out in front of me. Hard to read their handwriting but I did get to see a small amount of the accusations or the descriptions made by my accuser. Shibazaki was aged 58 and was short and had a skinny, wiry build. He was a smoker I guess, as my memory of the taxi interior just reminded me of that stale cigarette smell that I personally detest. He wore dark tinted glasses even during the night and had darkened skin. His permed curls were oiled and he was likely to think highly of himself as a ladies man down town. There are thousands of guys like him in every old part of Tokyo, especially out in the ‘burbs like Adachi-ku, Asakusa, Taito-ku or around Ueno. Also out in the fringes like Chiba or Saitama. He was in my opinion not too different to a lot of the guys I was in detention with, though I have no idea whether the guy had ever been inside. I did suspect though that I am not the first and only customer he had angered, Japanese or foreign. He, like myself, obviously had a fairly explosive temper and the two of us coming to a disagreement at 4 in the morning was never going to work out well.
As mentioned, I naively thought that my version of events was the one and only version of the truth and while my picture of that Thursday morning were a little unclear in their order; I did not realize that his description of events given to the Police would be so different to my own.
I began to realize that my case relied on my ability to convince the detectives that Shibazaki was lying and therefore his charges not to be trusted in the full. The charges of robbery and injury were by definition correct but the motive was critical to my case. I needed to show that this cheap-ass bastard was simply not trust worthy and that my motive was more plausible. New lies came out each day at the start. Firstly he had stated that I had tried to smash his fare meter in a rage over the price of the ride. Secondly, I had allegedly flicked the meter’s discount switch taking the price down from something like 3200 to 2800 yen. Thirdly, I then grabbed his mobile phone as he tried to call the Police (true, sadly) and ran from the taxi. He caught up with me as I had dropped the phone, which he picked up. Fourthly, I grabbed in a “Full Nelson” (a what?) and pushed him down to the ground where he cracked his head on a concrete planter block. Finally I had picked up the taxi fare (cash lying around) and his phone and ran off.
Much of this was sadly true. I did smack his car navigation system but to my knowledge I never touched the fare meter. The fare was in fact nothing to do with the incident. It was 100% to do with me not getting home due to a rude jerk of a taxi driver who I felt strongly was pretending not to know the directions. I never even looked at the fare as I would simply pay and use the receipt as an expense. I also had \8-9,000 on me, which was more than enough, as we were not using a highway. My friend was asleep in the back seat so my choosing that particular location in the middle of nowhere for a robbery was pretty stupid, especially when he and I were both still 5-6 kilometers from our homes. Further to that I have no prior history of criminal offence, but I was drunk at the time, so there was potential that the prosecutors would simply say I acted out of character under the influence of alcohol. Again, partly true but not to the extent they made out.
The next lie was that I had flicked the discount meter. I really wouldn’t know in broad daylight which button on the fare meter was the discount switch, let alone if it were in English. But at 4am with sleep and booze in my eyes, it was highly unlikely that I could work out which button to press. The next lie was that I exited the taxi and ran for the back streets. Again, why would I leave my friend asleep in the back seat? He would then be made to go to the cops and tell them whom I was, or perhaps just be obliged to pay the fare. Reality was different. Rather, I got out of the taxi out of frustration and I stood beside the taxi and the driver came out after me. I also hoped someone in the apartment adjacent could have at least backed up my shouting, “just stop it! I am not robbing you” in Japanese but this was unlikely. If anything they wouldn’t have picked up on the “not”. Even more I really hoped my friend’s statement to the detectives would back my story up.
The final lie being told was that I pushed the driver down after grappling him in a wrestling move. No-one was likely to have witnessed that part but I had abrasions on my right elbow and knee that matched my description of how I had pulled at the phone up across my chest to the left with both hands and the drivers arms were extended, still holding the phone. We both lost balance and fell heavily. The driver hitting his head, while mine narrowly missed the same concrete block. I remember it clearly but no witnesses may mean I had a very very weak argument. At least there were grounds for the detectives to believe me in several of the points. Maybe. And I hoped that was enough.