JIN-265 -- Targeting Foreigners -- the More the Merrier

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T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R

Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 265
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Targeting Foreigners -- the More the Merrier

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Is Kohei Minato for real? For 30 years, the maverick inventor has
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@@ VIEWPOINT: Targeting Foreigners -- the More the Merrier

We were strolling back through Ginza from some meeting or other last
weekend when the usual fleet of Japanese news helicopters buzzed overhead.
Given that the likes of TBS and NHK will scramble a chopper if a child
falls off his tricycle, we weren't that interested -- until we saw a
throng of panic-stricken shoppers and petrified police.

Without realizing it, we had stumbled onto the scene of the country's
biggest-ever jewellery heist.

Only twelve pieces were stolen in the mid-morning raid on "Le supre-diamant
couture de Maki," but the combined value of the rings and necklaces taken
was well over $30 million.

The principal focus of the heist was the famous "Comtesse de Vendome" --
a diamond-encrusted necklace made to celebrate the shop's opening 13 years

The robbers would have had little trouble discovering the whereabouts of
the necklace: It is prominently displayed in the shop itself and is the
centerpiece of the company's Web site. The shop itself is in a quiet street
off the main Ginza drag, and is surrounded by designer-name boutiques such
as Hermes and Tiffany.

Once near the famous 25-carrat necklace, one of the robbers overpowered the
accompanying staff member with a canister of tear-gas before producing a
steel claw-hammer from his coat and smashing open the showcase. Having
helped themselves to the jewels, the two donned wigs (that witnesses
described as "ill-fitting and unnaturally colored") and sunglasses before
escaping through a nearby alley on two motorbikes, apparently prepared
for the getaway.

The two robbers, who according to witnesses were tall "European-looking"
men in their late-30s, remain at large after making their escape on motor-
bikes. Police attending the scene said they were "90 percent certain"
that the robbers were Eastern European, following reports from bystanders
and shop staff that the villains had blue eyes. The same witnesses said
that they heard the two men speaking English to each other, though it
has not been established if it was their first language.

And that is where the problem lies.

The supposed crime spree that has sent Japanese mothers flocking to the
shops to buy miniature rape alarms for their children has created a wave
of concern. But a little digging reveals that much of the panic is
rooted in a bit of old-fashioned racism.

From the people interviewed in the crowd that morning to the boss of
Japan's biggest security company, the cry rises that all foreigners
are behind all crime in Japan. The cry generally refers to Chinese,
but it now seems that Eastern Europeans have just been added to the
squad of usual suspects.

It is a great shame that this record-breaking smash 'n' grab was
perpetrated by non-Japanese, because it strengthens the prejudice
and the prejudice is plain wrong: Japan has plenty of its own home-
grown villains, and if the police were a bit more honest they would
inform the public about them as well.

That policy sea-change may take a little time, however. But while
we wait, perhaps the boys in blue should ponder the following
questions: How did this robbery take place less than 100 yards
from a police box? Why didn't the jewellery shop have any security
guards? And how come the getaway route took the felons past another
THREE police boxes as they made their way to Shinbashi station?

-- The Editors

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SUBSCRIBERS: 14,231 as of March 10, 2004

Written and edited by Roland Kelts and
Leo Lewis (editors@japaninc.com)


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