One Japanese perspective on guns

Advisor note: It is happenstance that Risa’s editorial is running the day after a shooting in Newton. We had asked Risa to write a perspective on gun violence after the tragic events in Las Vegas Oct. 1. But we worried a bit about the timeliness of her piece. Won’t it be too late to run an editorial? Will people still care, two weeks later?

But last night, when a man was shot eight minutes from campus and just blocks from where I’m typing this, I was reminded that conversation on gun violence is sadly, never untimely. It’s never not local. It’s never irrelevant. Yesterday’s shooting, which brought Bethel College to a lockdown across the street from my house and led my husband and me to keep the porch light on so police officers could track the gunman down in my neighborhood, rattled me. And not just because it’s terrifying. It’s because it’s the new normal.

Dave Osborne, former director of international admissions at Hesston says the Japanese have a uniquely high level of anxiety when it comes to perceptions of violence in the U.S. That anxiety hasn’t seemed to affect recruitment: Hesston maintains a fairly consistent number of Japanese students. Still, safety is clearly on the hearts and minds of the agencies, students and parents he’s worked with over the last 29 years of his career.

“Their first question has always been, over all these years: ‘Is it safe at Hesston College?’ or ‘Is it safe in your town?'” he said. “Questions about safety come before questions about programs of study or questions of residential life or of English study.”

The following editorial explores that perspective. – Kendra Burkey, Horizon Advisor

By Risa Fukaya – Horizon News and Feature Editor

The advertisement Takahashi, my friend, saw in Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Chihiro Takahashi

“There are many more opportunities to get injured or die in the U.S.A. than in Japan,” my friend Takahashi, who studied abroad at a high school in Minnesota, said.

It sounded awkward to me that she chose the word “opportunity” when she talked about something bad like getting injured or dying, but maybe she was trying not to scare me about guns.

The shocking experience she was referring to was when she saw an advertisement at a furniture store, selling guns.

“Can we buy guns at furniture stores in America?” she asked her host mother.

Her host mother answered. “Why not?”

Not only that, she learned it was common that her neighbors had one to three guns in their houses.

One day while at her host mother’s house, she heard gunfire. A criminal was running around, trying to escape from police, and she was so scared because she felt like he could reach her quickly if he tried. She wanted something to make her feel safe. That’s when she understood how guns seemed like the easiest way to save oneself when facing danger.

Another friend who was in Quakertown, Philadelphia experienced shooting guns in neighbor’s backyard. “It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It didn’t feel dangerous.” 

In the U.S.A., it seems like anyone can possess guns. In Japan, on the other hand, we must go through a tedious process to get a gun. It requires us to take an exam, take lessons, a psychiatric test, and a drug test. Also, police thoroughly research if there are any relationships between people who try to get a license and fringe groups. Our parents and relatives also can be the objects of the research. In addition, we need to have reasonable reasons, like to be a hunter, to get licensed. We can’t get a license just for gun appreciation or collection.

From a perspective of history, our main weapons of war were always not guns but swords. It is true that guns arrived in Japan from Portugal in 1543, but Japanese didn’t get familiar with guns so much. Instead of guns, swords were very close to Japanese people in all ranks.

In 1588, a Japanese military commander took all swords away from farmers because he was afraid of rebellion. Come to think of it, this decree helped shape our current belief system: that you can remain safe and you can maintain peace without guns in Japan. He made citizens stay away from weapons. As a result, people also came to think that weapons are dangerous and should be kept somewhere far from us.

But the U.S.A. is much bigger than Japan. Because of the vastness, early American sheriffs were not able to offer full protection to everyone. That’s why, as I understand it, the citizens felt they needed to keep guns to protect their family and fortunes.

This is the biggest difference of awareness about weapons between the U.S. and Japan. Japanese people got rid of weapons because they could be a threat, but American people got more guns to protect themselves from guns.

My father knew this when I decided to study here.

“Promise me, Risa,” he said, a serious look on his face.

“Pretend you’re a dead body if you are involved in any kinds of accidents, including a shooting.”

It was the first thing he said to me after I decided to study abroad.

“Make sure not to go out alone after 6 p.m.” my mother added.

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