Osamu Mizutani, aka Yomawari Sensei, and his book
Once again it's just a coincidence that I came to know of the extraordinary Japanese by the name of Osamu Mizutani. He used to teach an evening class at a high school which happens to be located just around the corner from my apartment at the edge of the Yokohama China Town. (See footnote). Mizutani is known among locals as Yomawari Sensei, or schoolteacher on nightly patrol, because that's the way cops and yakuza mobsters in this area have dubbed the 49-year-old educator, with some awe mixed with a sense of annoyance.
As I wrote in the December 8 TFP story titled "Yokohama, my kind of town?", the city where he and I are living is one of the centers for abuse of the youth, especially girls, with the unholy alliance between law enforcement and yakuza going unchecked. But Yokohama is not really an exception. You can see the more or less same situation in other cities across the nation because regardless of how closely cops and mobsters cooperate in exploiting youngsters, teachers and parents are totally unable to prevent their kids from falling victim to drug pushers and operators of disguised whorehouses. The media don't help, either, despite the banal lip service they reiterate everyday as if they are suffering from automatism.
(According to a supposedly heartwarming story by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily, a growing number of adults substitute dolls or robots for living companions. To me it's not smile-inducing at all)
When a 12-year-old schoolgirl stabbed her classmate to death with a boxcutter in June 2004, I argued in a TFP piece that we were seeing the upsurge in juvenile crimes simply because of the inability on the part of parents and teachers to help their kids develop their own selves and grow into mature and self-reliant adults. That is, in turn, because these parents and teachers are hopelessly immature themselves. No matter how hard these adults, including those in the media, try to stem the upsurge, you can never expect mentally-"neotenized" people to be able to nurture their children to become un-neotenized grown-ups. The root cause is as simple as that.
A real doer as he is, Mizutani does not talk too much about what has driven him to this unique undertaking. But obviously it's against this social background that he felt an irresistible urge to start his nightly rounds some 14 years ago. Soon he learned where to find the hangouts his students headed for as soon as the class was over at 9:00. And ever since, he has encountered more than 5,000 stray kids, including his own students, roaming around the streets just to look for criminals who are ready to take care of them in their particular ways. But the most distinctive thing with his patrol is that he never takes them into custody. He even never preaches. According to his book just titled Yomawari Sensei, he just mixes with them one-on-one and tries to "be with them", often until dawn, sometimes until dusk when his class for the next day is about to commence. Mizutani modestly admits he doesn't know what he is doing all this for and whether he is doing the right thing. Perhaps he just wants to be a catalyst for these lost kids to rediscover themselves. But at least nobody can deny that Yomawari Sensei is making a difference, if the progress is as slow as a tree bleeds its sap.
This way he could "save" hundreds, or even thousands, of these youngsters. But he admits that sometimes
he makes the situation even worse for them. He recalls one such bitter
experience. The boy to whom he was lending a helping hand had developed over time an excessive sense of dependency with the prowling teacher. So one day he turned a cold shoulder to the boy, saying, "Don't you ever come to
me any more." Hours afterward, this kid threw himself in front of
a speeding dumper truck.
He is almost literally sleepless because he knows his time is running out. In 1999 his doctor diagnosed him as suffering thymic lymphoma. The doc said Mizutani was within three years of death. So his demise is four years overdue by now. But he seems to be fully prepared for it. That's why he is still roaming around the streets, night and day, flatly refusing to be treated.
His deeds of genuine altruism remind me of Kenji Miyazawa (1896 - 1933), a poet and agronomist who dedicated his short life to needy peasants in his hometown in Iwate Prefecture. But I think he is closer to Oskar Schindler. In the Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning film, "Schindler's List", when the concentration camp in Krakow is liberated, the German businessman cries over an extra number of Jewish lives he could have saved by adding their names to the list for holocaust survivors-to-be. But his old accountant Itzhak Stern, handing his boss a gold ring as a token of appreciation from the Jews, says: "[The inscription inside the ring] is Hebrew. It says, 'Whoever saves one life saves the world'." Like Oskar Schindler, Osamu Mizutani thinks he could have saved many more kids from incompetent parents and teachers, or corrupt cops and yakuza gangsters. And just like Itzhak Stern, I would say to Yomawari Sensei that he has done his best as an individual living in this rotten world.
No one can tell him what to do, or how to do it. It's none of anyone else's business. This is neither a pastime, nor a job, to him. He is just living all this as a calling which can/should not be institutionalized in any way. So only thing I can tell him is that I would do it (actually I have been doing it) a little differently by redefining the goals and targets.
I would define it more clearly. Certainly my goal would NOT be to reform these dropouts into acceptable members to this society because what has to be reformed, first and foremost, is the society, not these kids. It makes little sense to try to help the youth get back on the "right track" or come to terms with the same society that has alienated them. Instead I would help them learn how to become themselves. Only then, will they possibly learn they have to fight their real enemy in order to regain their lost selves. And along the way, they will possibly learn how to identify their real enemy, if it's the whole society.
I would certainly leave out boys because otherwise I would be wasting my time. Very few of them deserve my helping hand, especially when time may be running out on me, too. Who knows? But I am 20 years older than Yomawari Sensei. If I "successfully" attempted to rescue a male delinquent from a yakuza organization, the best thing I could expect from him would be to climb the same ladder, which I call "the chain of oppression", a step or two upward. In this male-dominated society, he has just temporarily slid down the ladder that would ultimately lead him to the levels reserved exclusively for male. Now he is going to turn from a loser to an abuser, certainly not a winner.
In this context, it's a pity that Yomawari Sensei, who isn't a sexist like myself, once got involved with a lad from Taiwan. One day he spotted the boy being beaten by an employee of a pachinko parlor near China Town. He had been caught redhanded when using some magnetic trick on a pinball machine. Mizutani could somehow rescue the boy before he got seriously injured. Months later, the young Taiwanese joined a yakuza organization. His mother asked Mizutani to bring him back. Thanks to the precinct chief who had a buddy-buddy relationship with the boss of the gang, Mizutani could claim the boy from the organization without paying 500,000 yen he must have had to pay had it not been for the cozy relations between the bosses. The boy could leave the gang only on the condition that he should stay away from the yakuza's turf in the future. But soon afterward, the Taiwanese was captured by the same gang because he violated the agreement. Once again Mizutani went to see the gang boss to ask for his release. But this time, it cost Mizutani a finger off his right hand. Although he writes in his book that's not a big deal, he lost his precious time on top of the finger for absolutely nothing. This is why I have always distanced myself from male delinquents.
I have half-a-dozen young female friends. Almost all of them have a scar or two from slitting on their left wrist. And none of them is free of a serious mental bruise. I think I should concentrate on them because it's these girls that are badly in need of my support. Like Yomawari Sensei, I've experienced a confrontation with yakuza and cops a couple of times in the past. But even then, I thought my young female friends deserved it. And that's as far as I could barely afford.
I think I owe Osamu Mizutani a lot of thanks for reminding me of this fundamental truth about life. We were all born to enjoy ourselves through self-realization. And the only way to achieve this goal is through helping our friends with their pursuit of self-fulfillment. So you don't have to be a selfless saint to help a limited number of your friends out of the hardships they are going through at home, in schools, and in the streets.
Neither Osamu Mizutani, nor myself, needs support from each other, or anyone else. He does what he does in his own way and I seek the same end in a different way. We just expect as many un-neotenized adults as possible to go to the rescue of the victims of social injustice in their own ways.
(Footnote) Osamu Mizutani seems to have moved over to another high school within the same district several years ago but nobody can tell exactly what he has been doing since then. The talk on the Net has it that he has been on lecture tours across the nation. He is said to have visited even Seoul, South Korea. And guess how Yomawari Sensei spends his sleepless night in every city he visits. Most recently he closed down his websites (he had two of them). So as of now only a limited number of people can directly reach him. I wish him well from the bottom of my heart and hope he still withstands the enormous challenge he has imposed on himself.