Who was the most intimidating Japanese person you've ever seen?
Answered by: Steve Kerwin,lived in Japan (1992-1997)
Being a foreigner in Kyoto Japan in the 1990s meant living in what the Japanese would consider “dodgy areas.” I remember walking home from the train station past the headquarters the local yakuza, a local police car parked outside to deter gang attacks.
Since my apartment didn’t have a bath, I had to go to the local sento, where I was greeted by the elderly proprietress with a hearty “konbanwa” upon my arrival. After getting undressed I would enter the bathing area with men, some having the most elaborate tattoos. These irezumi were works of art, and it was difficult not to stare because they were so stunning and beautiful.
If they were in a bath, I waited until they left before I entered it. Ditto the sauna. I knew my place and kept my head down, being careful to keep to myself and to avoid any interaction with the tattooed men.
Everybody knew who they were. They knew who they were, and they knew I knew. I stayed away from them, and consequently I never had any trouble with them during my 5 years there.
Meant to be Intimidating (source)
Oct 12, 2020 Update:
This answer is attracting a good number of comments that I would like to collectively address.
As a rule when I travel I try to avoid trouble because as a traveler it’s all-too-easy to accidentally stumble into it. So I don’t walk alone along the Tiber river in Rome at night, and I avoid getting too close to the surf in Iceland.
Idiot Tourists Ignore Warning Signs and Get Surprised at Reynisfjara, Iceland (source)
The question asked about intimidating Japanese. As a big white guy living in Japan, two things consistently intimidated me:
The language. It kicked my butt (and still does).
The culture. It’s unique, different, prone to misinterpretation and opaque to most outsiders.
I could easily have written about the justice system (see Krysta Storer’s excellent post on that) or the local cop at the koban - but I played by Japanese rules, didn’t do illegal drugs and didn’t do stupid stuff while drunk.
I think there’s a naive assumption that the Japanese can’t be intimidating, especially to those coming from countries that have more problems with violence and corruption. And like most assumptions it is completely baseless.
I’m pleased to see people having good experiences with Yakuza members. They’ve got some great stories that I’ll never have. I’m sure the same thing is possible with the Italian mafia in New York City. But I wouldn’t walk into a mob hangout, sit at a table and start quoting “Goodfellas” and expect a good result.
Yes, Yakuza members are human. So are serial killers. And while tigers can look adorable and like you could just walk up and pet one, doing so is a good way to lose your arm. Best thing to do is watch them from a distance.