September 24, 2002
"We arrived in Japan as tourists with a one-month visa, but we stayed over
like everybody else. The next day we were all working,-- all eight of us. Construction
work was hard, but the pay was great. I had lost my job back home in Iran, you know.
I am a designer by profession. I used to design T-shirts and things like that. But
computers took over, and I lost my job to machines. That is when I lost my moped,
my house, and my wife. That's when I left for Japan.
"In those days Japan was easy to reach. They still respected Iranians. A few
years earlier they didn't even ask for visas. Iranians were respected then. They
thought we were rich Arabs spending money there. So Iranians crept into Japan in
hundreds and then thousands. I mean Thousands and thousands.
"Construction work, graveyard work, all sorts of cleaning and fixing. Japanese,
you know, are having more jobs than they can handle. They have just started to allow
non-Japanese to work there. Not really allowing, but sort of closing their eyes,
you know what I mean. There are a lot of Pakistanis there too. Their government in
Pakistan looks for countries where cheap workers are needed, and they smuggle their
own people there. Iranians find it on their own though.
"Anyway, we went there and started to work right away. Work was back-breaking
but it paid well. I sent money back home and after a few montnhs I bought my old
house. Then I saved enough to buy this car that I am driving. My wife heard about
me making money. She sent me a letter saying she didn't really want to divorce me,
she just had too. My answer to her letter was that I will try to bring her to Japan
"Japan is a good country but people are cold and unfriendly. They have interesting
habits though. For example they get up early before sunrise and play huge drums in
honor of the sun. I liked that custom. I even managed to play the big drum once.
Japanese are very neat. They wrap everything -- apples, pears, grapes, everything.
They eat very little, but they eat well, you know.
"But they have their own bad people too. They have their own mafia called Yakuza.
Yakuza is ruthless. They don't care if you are Iranian or Chinese. They work with
you as long as you serve them. God forbid if you try to cheat them, then the largest
piece remaining on your body would be your ear. They kill you like they kill a dog.
"A Rashti guy sold some drugs for them for a while, and then, when he earned
their trust, he took a huge amont of drugs, sold it and disappeared. You know of
course where he escaped to. A few months later, on his wedding night in Lahijan,
he didn't show up. Everybody in Lahijan was looking for him, but he was nowhere to
be found. They found him at last in his wedding suite, but his throat was slashed
like a sheep. That is Yakuza. They track you down, no matter where you go. Even if
you escape to Mars, they will find you and kill you.
"I am giving you a headache, am I not? Some passengers tell me I talk too much.
Do I? Ok then, let me tell you more... You come from America don't you? Do you know
how I guessed? Well, all the guys coming from America mumble when they speak. Also,
most of you guys coming from over there have bigger bellies! You eat all of that
beef there. Cows out there are fattened by artificial hormones, aren't they? Those
hormones make Americans big and fat too. In Japan there is no such a thing. Everything
is natural and fine. Japanese are small but healthy. They eat very little compared
to us. But they have all the energy in the world. I don't know how.
"Where is your address again in Farmaniah? Ok. I know where that is. I can ask
about Koocheh e Shahid Mozzafari. I will find it. No problem. What did you say? Just
Mozaffari? Can't be! Every alley in this city belongs to a shahid (martyr).
It must be shahid Mozaffari. People don't say shahid such and such
anymore, but it is always shahid something.
"Well, you want to know what happened to me? You want to know why I am a cab
driver here rather than being in Japan? Well, I didn't return here because I wanted
too. They came to the factory (I was working in an aluminum factory at the time)
and kicked us all out. Work was good in the factory; insurance and everything. The
government knew we were illegal, but they closed their eyes.
"But you see, we Iranians don't understand limits. We Iranians kill our milking
cows. Japan was our milking cow. They allowed us to work as long us we were not any
trouble. But the guys got mixed up with the Yakuza. They cheated everybody and for
"Listen to this: A guy would go to a store, buy
sixty, seventy Yen worth of groceries, then on the way out he would also steal a
piece of candy! That gets me. That always surprises me. You know how Iranians cheated
on cremating corpses? The Japanese believe it is a good sign if the head of the burning
corpse cracks and explodes. Iranians, -- many of them worked at the morgue -- made
it easy for the relatives. They would put crackers in the mouth of the dead. When
the authorities figured it out, Iranians lost their jobs, all of them everywhere,
"Listen to this: The guys would go the train station toilets, where the authorities
put some toiletries and soap for people to wash and perfume themselves after a long
trip before going home. Listen to this: Our guys used to go there morning after morning
and steal that stuff. They could buy it for a few Yens, but no, they preferred stealing.
They thought it was smart (zarangi) to steal. What zarangi?
"Then we were working in this aluminum factory in a small town near mount Fuji.
People came there to worship the mountain. Lots of people also hung out there, smoking
hash and other stuff. But we were working hard and making good money. Insurance,
dental, and everything. That was the best job I have ever had.
"Money was good, work was nine to five, and then we would go to the bars and
restaurants and have one hell of a good time. You see, here in Tehran, I work for
twelve, fourteen hours a day, and then where can I go after work even if I had any
energy left after these long hours? Nowhere! Here they tell us 'work and eat', in
Japan they tell you 'work and then do whatever you like.'
"You see, we Iranians are not happy with anything. They give us something, we
ask for more. You see, that's why we had a revolution. We asked for more and more
-- like a baby. Britons used to say 'Keep the Arabs full and the Iranians hungry'
if you want to stay out of trouble. You see, Britons knew us better than we know
"We could have lived and worked in Japan for generations. But no, we had to
get mixed up with the Yakuza. Raping, looting, and stealing were especially common
with the guys from Nazi Abad. For some reason or another, we had a lot of guys from
that Tehran neighborhood. There were so many guys arrested by the police from Nazi
Abaad that the Japanese police curse word was 'Nazi Abad, Natzi Abad!'
"Well, some Iranian guys kept hanging out with the Yakuza. One day, one of us
working in the aluminum factory was using a fake telephone card to call Iran (the
Yakuza fabricated I.D.s and phone cards). He was trying to call, not knowing that
the police was keeping an eye on him. They came to arrest him. He gave his bag to
a policeman and his card to another, and while keeping their attentions away, he
kicked the third man and ran away.
"They chased him down with helicopters, dogs and
everything. He hid in a grassy area, all the way down to his neck in the mud. But
the police dogs grabbed hold of him, dragging him like a piece of rotten meat. That
was it for us. They came to the factory. We were all handcuffed like criminals. They
kept us an immigration prison for a week where we almost died of starvation. Soon
we were in a jail in Malaysia waiting for an Iran Air flight back to where we belong.
"My nephew lived in Japan much longer than I, and he could speak Japanese. Once
he told me what a Japanese policeman had told him. He had said 'You know, you guys
are like termites, you brought your own house down, now you are doing the same thing
here. You are destroying our culture, our way of life. Why do you have to drink yourself
to death? Why are you so restless? Don't they teach you moderation?"
Rasool Nafisi is the chairman of the Department of General Studies at Strayer
University, Washington DC.