3/17/11: I'm putting this post back up again as an illustration of that old saw about brevity being the soul of wit. I put it up last night, then took it down this morning when I saw that it didn't really work. I'd meant to make a statement about how the Japanese are so law-abiding, especially compared to Americans, and do it in a humorous way. But the humor got muddled up in the attempt to use a purposely awkward translation of Japanese, and it ended up sounding as if I were making fun of the Japanese rather than those who actually loot. Anyway, here's how not to make a joke:
Reports are coming in from the major news services that massive looting is now taking place in Miyagi Prefecture, the area hardest hit by the recent tsunami. Initial reports are that many of the looters are claiming that they need the goods to survive. But what they are taking do not seem to constitute necessities.
Reuters had some reporters on the scene who were able to interview some of the looters. One young man named Kenji, who refused to be interviewed on camera or give his last name, explained, "I need this honorable 72 inch plasma TV to survive."
Yet another was overheard saying, "My ancestors would want me to have this stereo" as he ran off with his new state of the art Sony system.
Looting has now extended to areas not directly affected by the tsunami. One young man named Hitochi volunteered, "We tried many houses in Sendai, but the salt water has ruined everything: artwork, rugs, electronics. So we go to houses that weren't in the path of the tsunami. And now that people are actually evacuating Tokyo, some of our pickings will be ichi-ban stuff."
Some of the looters seemed to be a little embarrassed by their activities. Several pointed at their companions and said, "I must do as my sensei commands." One was overheard telling a reporter about some designer jeans he was carrying out of the broken window of a clothing shop, "These are not for me. They are for my honorable bitches."
Jewelry stores were frequent targets, particularly for their larger, gaudier items. One young man could be heard yelling "Banzai!" as he exited such a store with a large gold watch hanging from a thick gold chain around his neck.
The generally lawless atmosphere has been exacerbated by the fact that many of the police have deserted their posts. Helicopters bringing relief supplies to the homeless victims have been shot at by gang members. And many people have been reluctant to go to the government's designated shelters because reports of rapes there are rampant.
As one member of the Japanese National Defense Force, Masa Watanabe, said, "Whenever we have a natural disaster there are always those who would take advantage by looting and rioting. It is our great shame as a nation."