My Very Brief Fight with a Yakuza

August 29th, 2012By Category: Culture

This is the story I don’t want to tell, about my fight with a Japanese gangster, because it’s so horrible. But I’ve held onto it too long already, so I’ll just lay it out.

The night started out pretty much like every other, drinking with some random Japanese girl in Ikebukuro. What can I say, everybody’s gotta have a hobby. Now, I’ve heard people say that Japan’s expensive, but it’s really not. Seriously. Like I’ll tell you what Tony Robbins told me. I’m sure you know him—he’s that dude about seven feet tall with hands like baseball gloves. Sometimes I lie on the floor and watch him on YouTube when it’s two a.m. and I can’t stand any more Japanese TV. I’m not saying I even like the guy all that much, but from a Japanese perspective, he’s amazing. He occupies an opposite universe, where people are huge and loud and can accomplish whatever they put their minds to, like improving relationships and being healthy and successful. And I’m like, Hell yeah! I can take control of my life! I’ll just finish this bottle of Sapporo and then I’m on it!

Japanese Snack Bars and Nomihodai

So lying there with my laptop on my stomach, Tony Robbins said to me, “If you do the right thing at the wrong time, you don’t get rewarded. You get pain.” And I was like, Dude, that is so true. That’s like if you go to a “snack bar” with a cover charge and buy one beer and then leave. That beer’s going to cost you thirty bucks. See, that’s the kind of pain Tony Robbins and I know about. People who do stuff like that think Japan’s expensive. But . . . if you go to a nomihodai, you can drink all you want for two hours for only about fifteen bucks. A couple of hours, are you kidding me? I can power down a good twelve beers in that time, and that’s such a deal. Japan’s cheap if you follow the right program. Anyway, that’s what Tony Robbins and I think.

But where was I? Oh yeah, so that night I went with a lady friend to this nomihodai, which by the way translates to “two hours during which you and everyone else will look way more attractive than you actually are.” And we had a completely fantastic time, eating sliced tomato salad and octopus in wasabi and these mind-blowing shiso and plum sushi rolls. But as it was Wednesday and we had to get up the next day for stupid work, we just said goodnight, bowed at each other, and went our separate ways.

The Descent into Ikebukuro

It was a hot night, and when I walked down the steps into the station, even hotter air rushed up to meet me. Ikebukuro Station is a sweltering, foul-smelling place. Then, near the ticket machines, is where it happened. I heard a loud thud, like a soccer ball being punted. I heard it again, then again. To my left a crowd of Japanese people were ringed in a large circle, and in the middle, a skinny man in a purple shirt was lying face up, unconscious on the white tile floor. Over him stood a huge guy with a shaved head in a cream-colored jacket. The huge guy drew back his foot like he was going to kick a field goal—he had on these leather shoes—and booted the unconscious man as hard as he could in the ribs. Then again in the neck. He kept doing it over and over. The sound was horrible. Around him, nobody said a word.

I really couldn’t process what I was seeing. Like, a couple of minutes ago I was having a bunch of nice drinks with this chick, and now it’s like, What the hell’s going on? Why is nobody doing anything? Where are the cops? Ikebukuro has a ton of police. People were just cringing, looking away, but not moving, screaming, or even speaking. Now, I try not to impose American values on Japan. It’s another culture, like I get that. But if there’s one rule about fighting, it’s that you don’t kick a man when he’s down. No matter where in the world you are, that would seem to make sense. You certainly don’t keep pounding on someone after he’s unconscious. And in the States, if someone’s being attacked, you’re supposed to help. At least you’d call 911 on your iPhone. Or take a video with your iPad. Or chuck your MacBook Air at him like a Frisbee. Jesus, you’d do something anyway.

The Yakuza Outside of my 7-11

Like I said, so the skinny guy on the tile floor isn’t moving and this massive dude is just kicking the shit out of him. And I know immediately the big guy isn’t just an ordinary person. He’s a yakuza. I know these guys because they have a meeting every Tuesday morning in my town, in front of 7-11. It sounds strange, I know, but maybe they just like the rice balls there or something. They’re really good, actually. All these black cars line up with little old gangster guys sitting in the back, while muscly men in black suits mill around outside looking like K-1 fighters, with shaved heads and pounded up faces. This dude was one of them.

The Part you Really Don’t Want to Read

Everything happened really fast. I don’t think I’d even been there five seconds. I was still trying to make sense of the whole scene. Plus I’d had a few cocktails. Then the yakuza dude did something I still can’t deal with. He reached down and grabbed the unconscious man by the hair and lifted him up with one hand, until he was like a marionette dangling in the air. I just remember that purple shirt. Then with the speed of a baseball pitcher, he drove forward and whipped the man’s skull onto the tile floor as hard as he could. It was like an explosion. Jesus. There was blood everywhere. It wasn’t anything like a fight; it was like something from a war movie. I was like, Holy crap, this is an actual murder. The man in the purple shirt lay there lifeless with his eyes rolled back in his head, not even breathing, while all his dark blood poured out onto the white tile.

If you think about it, you probably don’t see a lot of blood very much. Like maybe emergency room workers or soldiers do, but ordinary folks just don’t see massive amounts of blood in everyday life. It’s surprisingly dark red. Yet somehow, the yakuza still wasn’t finished. He leaned over and once more picked the man up by the hair, like a lifeless doll. Nobody moved. The entire Ikebukuro station went deathly silent. And then he hurled his head onto the tile again, as hard as he could. The sound was awful, just bone on rock. More blood came gushing out. I couldn’t believe it. Then he reached down for him again. I stepped forward and shoved the yakuza in the chest.

My Very Stupid Move

Now, I’m not a particularly brave dude. Like if your baby’s on fire, count on me to be the first guy to take off running down the street for the fire department. Those guys are professionals; let them deal with it. They’ve got big trucks and water hoses and oxygen masks and stuff. Police have guns and clubs and handcuffs. Only right then, in Ikebukuro, there weren’t any police. There wasn’t even a lousy JR station attendant. Just hundreds of people watching and nobody was going to do jack shit. I stepped next to the unconscious man in the purple shirt, put my palm in the middle of the yakuza’s chest, and shoved him back hard, without a word, mostly because I couldn’t come up with anything to say. And until that point, I guess I didn’t really realize just how big he was.

His eyes were wild with anger and I knew he was going to take my head off. The moment he looked at me, realized I’d gotten into something I couldn’t talk my way out of. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder, What Japanese phrase would be appropriate at this juncture? Like I can make a dentist’s appointment or book a room at a hotel, but somehow this particular situation had never come up in my studies. I hate when that happens. He moved forward until we were standing about six inches apart, and I understood one thing: backing down was no longer an option. I pulled my hand back from his chest. I saw a look flash in his eyes that said, I’m gonna kill you. And then he did something I totally didn’t expect. He lowered his gaze, nodded slightly, and raised his hand vertically; the Japanese version of “sorry to trouble you.” Like he’d just stepped on my foot in the train. Then he walked past me, up the steps, and out of the station. Just like that.

The Japanese Police, to Protect and to Serve

Suddenly everybody was on the phone with someone, but for ten long minutes, nobody came. No police, no ambulance, nothing. I stood next to the lifeless man and counted the time on my watch. I knew there was a police box near the top of the stairs, but jeez, did I have to do everything myself? The crowd mostly hung around watching, in a loose circle around this dude and all his blood, except for two ladies and a man who knelt beside him and patted him like a dead puppy. Finally an ambulance crew arrived. When they strapped him to the stretcher, to my surprise, he let out a faint groan and I noticed he was breathing. The human body is remarkably resilient. As he was being carted off, the police finally arrived.

People started drifting away. One policeman asked a few casual questions of a couple people from the crowd, and jotted some notes in a notebook. I walked up.

“I saw the whole thing,” I said.

The cop looked at me. “That’s okay,” he said, and turned away.

“I can identify the man who did this,” I insisted.

“We’ll take care of it.

“He’s wearing a cream colored jacket, and he went that way. I know where you can find him on Tuesday morning.

“That’s okay,” said the cop firmly. “We’ll handle this.” He turned his back and strode away.

And just like that, it was over. I looked around. There were a couple of girls hugging each other and crying. A large puddle of dark blood was still on the white tile. I stood there stunned for a few minutes. Then I left. I didn’t know where else to go, so I went I went to the convenience store and bought a tallboy of grapefruit chu-hi. Then I rode the crowded train home and watched another Anthony Robbins video on the floor of my tiny apartment, but it didn’t make me feel as good as before. I guess I still think of Japan as a safe place. I just won’t be walking in front of that 7-11 any more.

Author of this article

Ken Seeroi

I'm that guy who writes JapaneseRuleof7, bringing knowledge to your brain straight from Japan. My writings are mostly humor mixed with social commentary, plus an occasional foray into language education.

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  • Markov Chain says:

    I thought you fought with the yakuza..LOL
    Why writers write misleading titles is a mystery….

  • duke says:

    i find you to be a coward.
    stepping in after a man is dead is due to your excess of alcohol.
    a clear mind could have saved his life.
    the fact that others call you brave is a testament to the low bar they hold to themselves on what it means to be human.
    being in that situation, even being on this blog, in the first place, is due to your ‘hobby.’
    however, you are human and this is a traumatic thing. the word coward only comes to mind because you decided to tell the story in such a nonchalant way.
    something like this happens, maybe it’s time to put your life in check pal.
    i understand humor is around to deal with this type of thing.
    but, i hope this man finds you again.
    i hope you have the where-with-all to be sober when he does.
    i hope you are not abusing his country and his people…some hobby.
    and tony robbins advice is garbage.
    there is no wrong thing.
    we learn, and that is lovely.
    perhaps that man gave his life so you could live a better one.
    that’s a hero.
    even if he didn’t know it, you can help him be one.
    because hero’s are all perception (as we see from your blog fans)
    all the best to you.

  • bizousoft says:

    awesome story, but the long unrelated intro and interludes dilute it too much. You did a man’s job there btw, need more people like that out there

  • kb4eva says:

    I’ve heard about Akiharabara toorima(Street devil) , while he was stabbing random ppl on the street, no one tried to help others. This similar incedent happened in Korea, lot of men were chasing after the perpetrator. one guy actually pinned down the perpetrator and the police caught him shortly after.

  • this story made me want to cry. i have never seen anything this violent in japan, but definitely saw things that were worthy of someone interjecting, and no one who could help would lend a hand. This is one thing I really dont understand about Japanese culture. Even Japanese people themselves dont seem to like this aspect of their society.

  • leslie nguyen says:

    about that Nomihodai, but I mean it makes complete sense! For example, I mean if I am going to a buffet,
    I’m taking advantage for what I paid. It would be out of the ordinary to go to
    the buffet and eat one plate of food and call it quits. Wow to that! In terms of that incident in Ikebukuro, the
    majority of the public there seems hesitant or negligent to respond to
    something like that. Obviously, this
    would be different in the States because it has to go on YouTube or something
    real quick! But I mean, recently I have seen videos and read articles about
    situations like this in other parts of the world specifically Asia
    where bystanders don’t do anything about a life/death situation. I do agree with you on kicking someone who is
    already down though, that’s foul. Unfortunately, not everybody plays by that
    rule. It is one thing in the ring, but in
    the streets it feels like no rule. I can
    see how you saved his life, but at the same time, you don’t know the story
    behind why that incident happened. I don’t think the outcome would have changed
    even if you knew the story. In terms of
    being brave, I’m kind of on the same page as you. I mean I’m not willing to die just for any
    person. There’s a saying that those who you hold close to you may be worth
    dying for, but not everyone else is. I
    am curious about how long it took the ambulance/police to arrive though. I’ve heard about that system in Japan
    as crappy as oppose to the States. But
    hey, who am I kidding, I mean it’s really sad that now-a-days, pizza delivery
    is faster than 911. I really do question
    where this world is headed in the long run. From what you said, I feel that Japan is safer than America.

  • Beth Matsuda says:

    Wow, where is the justice in that? You are a hero and probably saved that man’s life. My goodness!