SuperTalk Mississippi

A Mississippian in Japan — Did I hear a gunshot?

Festival in Okinawa (Photo by Brian Lamar)

I was at a festival here in Okinawa not too long ago when I experienced a strange feeling. This was such an odd feeling because I cannot remember a time in my adult life, especially as an overprotective father, when I experienced this particular feeling.

My sons and I were walking around a car show near a beautiful beach. Everything was perfect. The constant tropical island breeze mixed with the gentle warmth of an early spring sun carried the smells of so many different culinary delights in the air (Japanese food is amazing by the way). These were all the ingredients needed to create a perfect core memory. At the end of the row of cars that would pass as Japan’s version of decades-old muscle cars, engines began revving. One of the cars experienced what we know in America as a backfire.

The loud popping sound sent shivers through my spine. None of the Japanese seemed to even notice the sound, but I was placed in a high PTSD-like fight or flight mode with adrenaline in my veins. It was at that moment that I realized that I have not been worried about being shot or around shooting in public for the last eight months. Not only have I not worried about that, but I also haven’t even thought about the possibility of it. I have begun to let my guard down in a way that has been so therapeutic that I cannot even explain.

Back to the festival, though. During the backfire, just like a species that has been introduced into a new environment with unknown predators and dangers, the Japanese didn’t react. A few looked in the direction of the backfire but immediately went back to what they were doing. They were immune to the fear because they have not lived it. In the States these days, a backfire could easily start a stampede or panic. I was able to shake off my adrenaline rush and continue having a great day at the car show, but my mind had been temporarily reset into a gear I hadn’t used in a while.

Two mornings ago, when I got home from work, I took a moment to scroll through social media. To my horror, I saw the horrible news of the shooting on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I tend to stay away from the news since I have been here, but my Facebook feed was lit up with prayers for the officer involved in the shooting.

I am stunned by the level of violence that I see when I accidentally run across a U.S. news site. It seems there are gun deaths or gun violence that strike terror in communities all over the U.S. on a daily basis.

For now, I feel safe from all that while I am in Japan. Of course, I know that someday we will come home as a family and be reintroduced to “the culture.” I am not anti-gun. I am not anti-Second Amendment, but something’s got to give. I find myself worried about being immersed in all of that again.

Luckily, I never have to worry about my sons as they head off to school each morning while we are here. We can’t stay here forever. We love and miss our home. I don’t miss wondering each morning as they got on the bus back in Mississippi if today would be the day I would get a call or see news that there was a violent incident in their school. I googled school shootings, and it seems that while there have been one or two large incidents in Japanese schools with knives, that is really all that can easily be found.

Luckily, in regard to violence, it seems that we have stepped back in time a few decades. My sons came home recently and talked about the earthquake drill and the fire drill their schools had. Boy, those were the days for me when the worst we had to deal with in my North Alabama elementary school was a tornado drill or fire drill.

I get asked all the time what the biggest difference is between Mississippi and Japan. I would have to say there are many differences in many different categories, but one that stands out in my mind these days is the immense social safety that I experience here. In future editions of this column, I plan to point out humorous or weird differences like food, language, culture, religion, etc.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of SuperTalk Mississippi Media.

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