CR 1

At some point in life, someone is going to ask you a question that makes you feel uncomfortable. How much money do you make? How many people have you slept with? Just what did happen to all of your political rivals from the junior high student body president election?

Quite often, though, you can get out of answering by asking in return “Why do you want to know?” As a matter of fact, the question “Why?” is so disarming it can even prevent armed robbery, as one foreigner working in Tokyo just found out.

Up until just a few years ago it was extremely uncommon to see non-Japanese clerks working in convenience stores. Over the last few years, though, there’s been a gradual change, and some shops, especially those in neighborhoods with large expat populations, have hired foreign workers, like one unnamed convenience store near Tokyo’s Ikebukuro Station.

Early in the morning on September 10, a 20-year-old Nepalese man was working the register. Sometime after 3 a.m., a man dressed in black, with a bandana obscuring his face, came into the store, walked up to the counter, and started brandishing a box cutter.

“Take the cash out of the register and put it in a plastic bag,” he demanded, speaking Japanese. In response, the Nepalese clerk, also speaking Japanese, asked “Why?”

When you stop and think about it, it’s a perfectly logical question, and the masked man, caught off-guard, actually answered, explaining, “Because I don’t have money.” By this time, though, other customers had come into the store to do some shopping of their own. Despite somehow having gotten into a cordial conversation with the clerk, the man realized that between the bandana and box cutter it was only a matter of time until someone whipped out their cell phone and called the police, and so he ran off without stealing so much as a single rice ball.

Police are currently looking for the would-be robber, but perhaps the oddest thing about this story isn’t even how easily the clerk diffused the situation, but how the incident is being reported in Japan. TBS News claims that when the man said “Take the cash out of the register and put it in a plastic bag,” the Nepalese clerk couldn’t understand the meaning of the Japanese words being said to him.

We’re not criminologists, but that seems like a bit of a long shot. Generally speaking, if someone says something that you don’t understand, it’s basic human instinct to respond with “What?”, not “Why?” For that matter, while there are many cultural differences between different countries, certain types of body language and non-verbal communication are more or less universal. Regardless of what country you live in, smiling and waving means “I’m happy to see you,” placing your hands over your groin and hopping up and down means “I really have to pee,” and covering your face with a mask and pointing a bladed instrument at someone who’s got immediate access to a large stack of cash means “I’m robbing you, genius.”

So even if media outlets in Japan aren’t giving the guy credit, we salute you, Nepalese convenience store clerk, for staring down an armed robber and keeping as cool as the delicious cans of Ebisu beer and lemon chu-his chilling in the cooler section of the store you defended.

Source: TBS News via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Wikipedia/呉