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Sweets we bought on the street turn out to be suspiciously delicious.

After finishing work the other day, our Japanese-language reporter Yuichiro Wasai was walking to the station to catch a train home when a young woman called out to him. He’d never seen her before, and for a second he almost thought she might be about to ask him out on a date.

It quickly became apparent, though, that the woman didn’t speak much Japanese at all. Instead, she pointed towards the sign she was holding, on which she’d written, in Japanese:

“I’m having trouble making ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic. Please buy my homemade chocolate.”

Speaking in broken Japanese, the woman said she was a foreign student currently going to school in Japan, and this set off some warning bells in Yuichiro’s head. Since the start of the pandemic, there’s been an increase in non-Japanese people selling various trinkets on the street, usually with some sort of story about how they’re in Japan on a student visa but no longer able to support themselves. Their stories are often vague and lack specific details, though, and it’s hard to get answers to any further questions, as the sellers often say they don’t speak Japanese well enough to understand the query or convey the answer. In other words, it’s hard to tell if they’re legitimate students going through a rough patch, or just scam artists looking to profit off kindhearted people’s sympathy.

When Yuichiro asked if he could take a picture of the woman’s sign, the woman said no, he couldn’t, which didn’t exactly inspire confidence. “What if she’s lying?” Yuichiro thought. “Maybe this is part of some scam operation and I’ll be funding a bunch of fraudsters?” But then the little compassionate angle aspect of Yuichiro’s psyche settled on his shoulder, and in …continue reading