There was one fight I missed on New Year's Eve. As I walked out the door, hoping to make it to Kiyomizudera by midnight I said, "I wonder what happened with Aoki." Little did I know.
I should begin this non-apologetic apologia by making the claim I have often made in the past but that I feel needs some clarification; Japan is a nation of big excuse makers. I don't want to go too deep into that now as it is not the main issue but, in a society that is always demanding that someone take the fall for everything, people have become very good at passing the buck and evading responsibility. Maybe I have just begun to think that as I teach junior high school, but I believe that it is largely true. "We have to kill whales because we are Buddhists and we don't want animals to go to waste." "We can't import rice from California because real rice can't be grown outside Japan." "We can't bury power cables because Japanese soil is unique." I hate it and I have had enough of it. But.....But.... I am going to make a little excuse for Aoki Shinya.
Here is my argument. Flicking someone off in Japan, which is part of what Aoki did wrong the other night, does not mean what it does in the U.S. What does it mean here (in Japan)? I don't know. You know who else doesn't know? Japanese people. When I lived out in the middle of nowhere I used to play mini-volleyball, which is the silliest non-sport going. One guy on my team was trying to explain to me that I should stop trying to spike on every play and try to pass more. As he was telling me this he was flicking me off the whole time. My reaction was to try and kill him but I repressed that and left the little concrete gym and never went back. When I asked other people who were there about what had happened, they couldn't figure out what I was upset about. "So?" They would say, honestly at a loss about what could be upsetting. My friend was crossing the street one day in Miyazaki as an old man passed by him smiling and raising his middle finger. What was he on about? Who knows?
In the last few years teaching at particularly bad junior highs I have seen the bird flicked at least once a week. When it has been directed at me I usually say, "I'm not going to get mad this time but if you do it again, we have trouble." This has invariably been followed with "Sensei, what does doing that (insert offensive gesture here) mean?" I respond, "If you don't know what it means then why do you do it." Of course no one gets this, it is Japan. Why do people who don't smoke pot keep head shops in business? Why do girls with flat asses make booty videos? Why are there Buddhists Rastafarians? Who knows? I usually tell people that in America it means you want to fight someone, which, while being a paltry explanation, would be the result. It is the closest you can get to spitting on someone in terms of getting a reaction.
Am I claiming that Aoki Shinya is an innocent who might as well have held up his thumb like he was flagging down a ride, or made hook-'em horns, that it would have all been the same meaning to him? No. What I would claim about Aoki, and I don't know the man personally, is that he is kind of a dork. He seems like a guy, from listening to him talk, who is not the most socially acute gentleman in the academy. I have a feeling that this wasn't his first uncalculated action. I say this based off of lots of guys I know in MMA in Japan. A lot of them are my friends. A lot of them are good people. A lot of them are not suave young masters parting the seas of civil society. A pro-fighter of my acquaintance often flicks me off while calling me a "stupid foreigner." Would this seem okay to me in America? Not in the least. But I consider this man a friend and a bit of a hopeless loser, although a good fighter. I could say the same of Aoki.
As I alluded to above, I see teenage boys flick of their friends all day long in class and giggle at each other. They will knock on the window passing by and flick off their friends. I just hang my head in futility. I noticed Takaya's fan section flicking off the cameras as he made his way through the lightweight tournament. They didn't look angry, they looked happy. As I saw the replays of Aoki running around the ring chunking the half-deuce like a true moron I had the same reaction I usually do to this stuff. The same reaction I have when a club full of kids raised at cram schools and living with their parents shout along with gangster rap and shout "pull-off" to every reggae song. I hang my head, rub my eyes with my fingers and shake my head slowly at a culture without any context.
If you are going to get mad at Aoki get mad at him for not caring about the meaning of what he was doing, not for thinking he was a macho badass, I doubt it even occurred to him.