I met Hideo Asano in July, 2015
‘Hello. Excuse me? Are you Danish?’
I had to check out from my airbnb-apartment this morning, I did not get much sleep. I was heading for Osaka today, but had spent some time in Ueno first. Had some food, drank a lot of water, tried to nurse my hangover as best I could.
‘Excuse me, are you Danish?’
The same question again. I looked up. A Japanese man, probably in his fiftees although I suck at guessing the age of the Japanese, was standing over me, looking at me. He had old clothes on, a bit dirty, carrying a big bag.
A homeless guy. What did he want?
‘No. Not Danish. I’m from Norway,’ I answered.
The guy smiled. ‘Norway. I was close. That was a very good guess, don’t you think?’
I nodded, took a big sip of water from my water bottle. It was hot as usual, over 30° Celcius and humidity in the 90s. Rehydrating was impossible, whatever I drank I quickly sweated out. My head was pounding, my mouth dry. I could still taste the sake from yesterday.
The man bent down, clearly wanting a chat. I was in no mood for talking really, all I wanted was to get out of here, get on the train. Why had I stopped here in Ueno, why not simply get on the Shinkansen. Air-conditioned, I could sit. Maybe sleep a little. Now I was stuck in Ueno Park with a homeless guy.
‘My name is Hideo Asano,’ he said. ‘Nice to meet you. I am a writer and traveller.’ He held out his hand.
I shook it.
‘Nice too meet you. My name is Torgeir.’
Hideo Asano sat down next to me on the bench. I tried to be at my best despite my massive headache.
As the book begins the protagonist is celebrating New year’s eve, only himself and a can of beer, when he is arrested and thrown in jail. He is innocent of course, he has been tormented by a man for a week, now the man has made him been arrested.
In jail, the protagonist discovers the injustices and breaches of human rights in the Japanese prison system. He is being held without a verdict, tortured into confessing, loud pop music is being played all day.
Throughout the book, comparisons are being made to legal systems around the world, information the protagonist have picked up from talking to foreigners on the street.
It is clear that the author is not a big fan of the Japanese legal system, calling it barbaric, against human rights, a kangaroo court. He is denied a lawyer at his trial, and feels his basic human rights are being denied him.
As he is finally freed he realise the time in jail has changed his life for ever.
The book, A Short Nasty Journey is based on a true story, Hideo Adano’s I presume, how much of it is true I don’t know.
‘You know,’ Hideo said. ‘I hate Japan. In Japan you are never free, there is no freedom, no rights here.’ His English was surprisingly good.
I nodded. ‘Oh yeah?’
Hideo continued. ‘Yes. Policemen in Japan have all power, people are simply slaves to the system. Police can do whatever they want. They can arrest you for 23 days without reason.’
I’m only half-listening. I love Japan. I feel so free here. Whatever this guy is saying sounds like rubbish. I remain quiet, wait for him to continue. Don’t feel like talking anyway.
‘If I stay here at night, do nothing wrong, just stay here and drink a beer, police can come up to me and arrest me. And three weeks in jail.’
Hideo Asano is quiet for a moment, I don’t say anything either.
‘No freedom in Japan,’ he finally says.
We, or should I say he, keeps talking for another ten minutes. All the time about the horrible legal system in Japan, the power of the corrupt police. He finally picks out some leaflets, handprinted books, asking if I want to buy some. I hope this is the end of his talking, quickly buy a book and a leaflet of poems.
I am not an expert on the legal system in Japan, but I know two peculiar facts. Number one, police can hold a person without a charge for 23 days. Second, Japan has a very high conviction rate, over 99%. Are those two connected?
I have never felt afraid of police in Japan though. Many a times have they helped me out find my way when lost, and they look so nice with their “lightsabers”.
He quickly left after that, I put the book away. I would look at it later. I got up, feeling like no more weird encounters, walked over to the train station and got on a train for Osaka. On the train I could nurse my hangover in private.
When I was back in Norway I googled Hideo Asano and quickly saw I was not the only foreigner to have come across him. It seems he is often approaching foreigners for a chat. One of his favorite activities is to approach mixed couples, foreign guy and Japanese girl, and complain about how that is not natural.
He seems to be a man with an interesting story to tell though. Born in North Korea, raised in South Korea, he studied at College of the Desert in Southern Carolina.
He used to work as a journalist, a job that took him to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Singapore, France, London, Germany and Latin-America.
Now I wish I was in better shape when I met him, I wish I would have talked back more. I am sure it would have been an interesting conversation. A view of Japan different from mine.
Visit his website here.