I went out to a Hanukkah celebration in Ghirardelli Square last night. The boy wanted donuts and coffee, and I wanted a walk. Since it is an open public space anyone can walk in and enjoy the hanukkiah lighting. We took the cable car down to the Embarcadero, and walked along the bay up to the old Ghirardelli Building. It is so much safer in that part of town. There is not the constant threat of violence that exists in my neighborhood. The Embarcadero at dusk is party-central. Families with children are out eating huge sundaes and bowls of clam chowder, there is laughter and light and it feels like a tourist town, not an experiment in end-stage capitalism with a heaping helping of desperation, city mismanagement and unfettered effects of drug addiction. Any shit on the ground down there is dog shit, and to be frank it makes a change from large steaming human turds littering the sidewalk. I don’t think I have ever felt more as if my part of town has been left to rot and decay. The bright and shiny façade is only there for the tourists and the rich. The rest of us have to weigh up going to buy a bag of potatoes at 6pm in winter because it is so sketchy outside that going hungry seems preferable to risking a violent incident.
We climbed the stairs up into the courtyard of that famous old chocolate company building. It is now all cafes, sweet little boutique shops and chocolate vendors. There was an Hanukkah event happening, and everything was chocolate gelt, happy families and a wholesome holiday celebration. We walked down to the far end of the square and I grabbed a table, a cup of coffee and some donuts for the kid. Thanks to my stupid allergies and celiac disease I can’t join in, but sit there happily watching others eat and drink the good stuff. It was then that I saw IT.
At the table next to me was a man along with a couple of female family members. The man was wearing a Tokyo Revengers Tee shirt, which was sporting a particular Japanese kanji which is not commonly used. He was not Asian. It reads ‘manji’. It means ‘awesome’. It looks like a swastika, just positioned backwards. It still is unmistakably a swastika. I suggest googling ‘manji’ if you are interested. The “Tokyo Manji Gang” or “Tokyo AWESOME Gang” is a set of characters in a popular manga. They had to change the cover for this book in the USA because of the manji symbol being….well….a swastika. This man came to a Jewish festival, full of families, celebrating light…deliberately wearing a swastika in public. It was positioned prominently, it was there clearly very much to be seen by everyone attending. The message was clear. It was antisemitism and hatred in full and poisonous display. My son elbowed me, grabbed his coffee and donuts, and we got up and left. We left the entire event actually. We went outside and walked down to the park and sat on a bench together and watched the ships come in. It is a rare treat to sit outside at night time and not be in particular danger. We then walked down to the pier, browed the little shops and flipped through the posters in the best old-fashioned poster shop still in existence. After a while we headed home. It is a terrible walk uphill all the way back to the TL, and the last section requires a strange and awkward route alteration in order to avoid a bad block or two, but neither of us felt much like taking the cable car. Neither of us felt much like celebrating at all.
My son has a Tokyo Revengers shirt. The series is Japanese, has nothing to do with antisemitism, nazis or hatred. It is a little story of a motorcycle gang of time-travelling teens. He bought patches at the same time and covered the manji over. I didn’t even have to ask him or tell him. He didn’t want to wear the symbol. It is clear why: it is no longer a Buddhist symbol of peace, it is inextricably a symbol of genocide and holocaust. The man who wore the shirt knew that absolutely: it is impossible that he didn’t. What I bet he didn’t know was the Japanese meaning of the word. He was wearing it to offend, provoke and threaten, and to be frank I wanted to be as far away from that shit as possible.
What started out as a nice little trip out together, ended up quite sad and scary, all due to one man and his family reminding me of the evil in this world that is sitting there waiting to rise up once again. I don’t much feel like discussing the whys and wherefores or the causes and expressions of hatred. I don’t feel like tussling over antisemitism and mentally ill rappers. I just wanted to light a couple of candles and watch my kid eat too many donuts. Not everything has to mean something. Not everything is a suitable subject for a blog post. Unfortunately some things do mean something, and no necessarily what they are meant to mean. Yes, the manji is an ancient symbol, but now cannot be used innocently. It is one of the things that Hitler destroyed in his campaign of evil. It is finished. Gone. Perhaps in Japan, where it is seen on old buildings that predate the war and Hitler’s usage, it is well known enough as ‘manji’ to exist. Perhaps in Japanese monocultural society, it is able to just be ‘itself’ instead of what it was pressganged into use as. Perhaps not.
I didn’t say anything to anyone. I find it hard to believe we were the only ones who noticed. I just wanted away from that man, his attempt to provoke and offend, and any scene of possible confrontation. I want peace. The trouble is the world around me insists on exactly the opposite. I suspect most of us want peace, tolerance and understanding. I think most of us are going to be gravely disappointed. As far as manji goes: the symbol ends up wearing the man; the man does not wear the manji.
I think I need more tea. Possibly a little breakfast. I am going to try and forget the world is going insane. I’ll huddle up, put on some music and think about how happy I have been these last couple of years in San Francisco. Despite it all, it is my home and I love it dearly. I just wish it would settle down a little!