In 1958, the government of Japan wrote a law establishing that “no person shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords.” That law has since been amended to allow some of the country’s citizens to acquire firearms, but buying a gun remains an invasive and highly complicated process that can take upwards of four months. Needless to say, Japan, a country of 126 million people with around 710,000 privately owned guns, doesn’t quite compare in this respect to the United States, a country of 325 million people who own a combined 310 million guns.
After a 38-year-old woman shot three employees at YouTube’s California headquarters before taking her own life, a Japanese online television channel held a panel discussion in an attempt to understand it—and to understand America’s seemingly unending epidemic of gun violence. One of the participants was Patrick Harlan, a US expat-turned-Japanese comedy star, best known as one half of the (we’re told) hilarious duo Pakkun Makkun.
According to English-language Japanese news site SoraNews24, the panel discussed why the United States government didn’t just confiscate its citizens’ guns, and Harlan attempted to answer that question. (Again, gun ownership isn’t a constitutional right in Japan, so the idea that Americans are basically just allowed to have as many guns as they want comes across as decidedly weird.)
“Regulations have been tightened on the East and West coasts of America [...] But to people living in the interior states, guns are closely related to their personal identities,” Harlan said, in Japanese. “If guns are criticised, they feel as though they themselves are being denounced. To them, it’s like telling a Japanese person not to drink miso soup.”
That analogy seems to have raised eyebrows in both countries, because... what? SoraNews24 attempted to deconstruct Harlan’s thought process, explaining that miso soup is “a symbol of Japan’s traditions and values” and that having it every day can feel like an essential part of their lives and their identities. You know, the same kind of connection that Americans feel to their guns.
But many online commenters weren’t convinced. “Dude, you can’t kill someone with a bowl of miso soup,” one person responded. Others said that it would be closer to asking samurai to surrender their swords (which actually happened) or more like “telling people not to jerk off.” And another commenter added that a more accurate analogy would be telling the Japanese that they couldn’t have mochi on New Year’s Day, due to the fact that, every year, several people choke to death while eating it. (But again, you can’t kill several dozen people with one sticky rice cake).
Maybe the next time Harlan is on a gun-control panel, he’ll avoid the miso comparisons and just say “Wakarimasen”—”I don’t know.”