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Filing complaints to J police


Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
Posted on behalf of Debito.


By Arudou Debito
December 18, 2002


In November 1998, I was stopped for an ID check by Tokyo Metropolitan Police in Haneda Airport for no apparent reason. Lodging a harassment complaint, I entered into personal negotiations with Haneda authorities and the police themselves. Their express reason for being stopping me? Because I am a
foreigner, they said, and therefore suspicious in a high-security area such as an airport. Also because they legally can stop me--under the Foreign Registry Law (Gaitouhou). Rather miffed, I hit the Japanese law books to find out my legal rights. Turns out what they did was indeed legal (if the cops show their ID back--see full background and letter of the law at: Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle's Page for Social Issues in Japan
I suggest you print up the law and carry it around; I do)

But it would not have been legal if I had been a Japanese citizen. Guess what.


On December 11, 2002, I was on my way to Tokyo when it happened again. (Why do these things keep happening to me?!) Exiting the Post Office (having withdrawn some money to buy presents) at Shin Chitose Airport (Hokkaido 's largest air hub) at 4:50PM, I was stopped by policeman (a Mr Amano, Hokkaido Police Badge # AJ 869) and told to show my passport. I asked him why, but he gave no reason.

Me: "Without a reason, what you have just done is illegal. The Police Execution of Duties Law (Keisatsukan Shokumu Shikkou Hou), Section 2, says (yes, I read it to him):

'A police officer is able to ask for a person's ID, but only if based on areasonable (gouriteki) judgment of a situation where the policeman sees some strange conduct and some crime is being committed, or else he has enough reason to suspect (utagau ni tariru soutou na riyuu) that a person will commit or has committed a crime, or else it has been acknowledged that a
particular person knows a crime will be committed. In these cases a police officer may stop a person for questioning.'

"So under what circumstances was I behaving suspiciously? Merely exiting a post office is insufficient reason."

The subsequent conversation with him, and also his supervisors (a Mr Taniguchi, Badge # AJ 861, and a Mr Tani, who called me on my keitai once I
reached Tokyo), eventually went like this. The polices' points are in
nutshell; my ripostes follow.

1) We police ask everyone. It's the holiday season, and bag snatchings
are on the increase in airports.
MY RIPOSTE: You don't ask everyone for their *passport*--because
Japanese hardly ever carry that sort of ID. The fact that you asked for
that form of ID is specifically because you saw me as a foreigner. And I
bet that is the only reason you singled me out in the first place. In any
case, asking people for ID or questions about their identity without
sufficient reason for suspicion of a crime is illegal.

2) We police can too ask people questions: Where are you going, where
are you from? Under The Police Law (Keisatsu Hou) Section Two (yes, they
quoted it), in the name of crime prevention (bouhan no tame). Otherwise, we
can't do our jobs.
RIPOSTE: Perhaps you can, but asking people a) where they are going or
b) to produce ID are two different questions. Even the law says so--and
that is why it exists: To stop you overdoing it. I'm sure you know the
law, so why aren't you following it?

3) Look, if we police were in America and a cop asked us for ID, we
would cooperate and show. That's part of being a guest in a country.
RIPOSTE: Wrong answer. I am not a guest. I am a naturalized Japanese
citizen. America's laws have nothing to do with this situation when you are
bound by Japanese laws.

4) We police wouldn't have known that you are not a foreigner without
asking you.
RIPOSTE: Is that meant to justify your invasion of my privacy? I am
still waiting for a single reason why you singled me out for an ID check.

5) It was in the name of crime prevention.
RIPOSTE: Also still waiting for you to show any connection between me
and criminals. Let's face it: The only reason you stopped me is because
you saw me as a foreigner, therefore a potential criminal. That will not
do. That constitutes gaijin harassment.

6) Of course it doesn't. We ask for everyone's cooperation whether
they look foreign or not.
RIPOSTE: We are going around in circles. Pursuant to receiving a
correction, the only reason you stopped me is apparently because you can
stop foreigners. If I had looked Japanese, you would not have done that
because you cannot. What should I have done, and what should I do next time
this happens?

7) Tell us police that you are a Japanese citizen, and we'll leave you
RIPOSTE: (rare outburst of sarcasm) Yeah, I'm sure Mr Amano would have
believed me on the spot.

8) The only reason you were not given a reason is because you got angry
at Mr Amano. If you hadn't, I'm sure he would have given you a reason.
RIPOSTE: You're trying to blame me for not getting a reason? This
conversation is going nowhere and should be drawn to a close. Put
yourselves in my shoes--if you were a civilian and asked to produce
ID--which legally only criminal suspects are bound to do--how would you have
liked it? I have yet to receive an apology, let alone a reason for
suspicion, from any of you for it. And I will continue to file formal
complaints with your supervisors until I get one. Shittake ne.


Which is what I did. On December 17, 2002, I called the Tokyo Metropolitan
Police Public Information Desk (kouhouka) and asked for the Kouchou Kakari
(03-3581-4321) This is the specific desk for making complaints against the
Tokyo Police (if someday you want to do the same but your beef is outside of
Tokyo, call Tokyo anyway and ask for the local number in your area). The
very friendly desk manager gave me the number in Sapporo (Hokkaido Keisatsu
Honbu Soudan Center), 011-241-9110, where someone at the desk took down all
the details (dates, times, place, people talked to, what was said) and asked
what would satisfy my complaint.

My answer: A formal letter from the Hokkaido Police offering 1) an apology
for stopping me for no reason, 2) an apology for causing me inconvenience
("meiwaku"--after all this, I had less than fifteen minutes to check in,
pass my bags through, and buy presents), and 3) an clarification of what
criteria the police would use to stop people to make sure this never happens

Dunno when, but I will get some sort of answer sooner or later.



Am I overreacting? Of course I don't think so. Getting singled out for
special treatment (especially in the case of potential criminal activity) is
no joke in Japan. As there is no writ of Habeas Corpus in this country, if
the police are so inclined, they can take you into custody for up to 22 days
(the first two of those without any legal or consular consul whatsoever).
Amenities such as sustinence, sleep, space (jail cells can be very small),
comfort (cf. Nagoya Prison leather restraints), or change of clothing (only
three days allowed at a time) are at police discretion, with tag-team
interrogations until you break down and confess to something (even Diet
Member Kamei Shizuka, a former public prosecutor, has come out and said
Japan's death penalty should be repealed due to the omniprescence of forced
confessions). There have even been confirmed reports of deaths (see related
links below) while in custody in Japanese prisons. So arrest (or even the
possibility of it) is a serious problem given the lack of checks and
balances in police-civilian relations (which is why I decided to quote the
law--that's what it's there for). See:
www.debito.org: Arrest and Detention Periods under Japanese Law

Couple that with the fact that the Japanese police readily admit to singling
out foreigners on sight for years as potential criminals (despite the fact
that the foreign crime rate is actually less than half that of the Japanese
rate, and is in many cases dropping) in both their White Papers and public
police notices. One quickly realizes that you can have a really rotten day
due to a bored cop and the wrong color skin.

The point is that nationality should not be a factor in these checkpoints.
If the police were to do their jobs properly and offer reasons why when
checking people's ID (say, there is a White suspect at large for a specific
crime in the the area who looks like me, or because everyone is being carded
as they go through the metal detector), then fine, cooperate and show. But
until that reason is given, I think it is a point worth pushing.

Especially these days, with civil liberties in Japan are arguably in retreat
thanks to law enforcement. With the Japanese Police policies being enacted
to treat "internationalization" and its effects as a social bane, I think it
behooves people like us (who live in Japan and stand out as extranationals)
to know a little more about our legal rights, and to at least lodge a formal
complaint when one feels they have been violated.

Arudou Debito
debito.org | Dr. Debito Arudou's Home Page: Issues of Life and Human Rights in Japan

1) Amnesty International on Japanese Prison Conditions.


2) Amnesty International on deaths in Japanese prison custody
GLOCOM Platform - Special Topics - Europe Report

3) Japan's National Police Agency White Paper on their "Kokusaika Taisaku
Iinkai", a committee founded in May 1999 in response to
"internationalization", specifically for the prevention of "foreign crime"
(See Chapter Two)
http://www.npa.go.jp/kokusai2/h12/contents.htm (Japanese)

4) More on the imaging down and erosion of civil liberties for "foreigners":
www.debito.org: Links Page for Japan Times Zeit Gist Article
Holy shiz... I didn't know about a lot of this. I was reading up on a little Japanese law for my trip this summer, but I haven't gotten very far with my studies. That whole no due process thing is kinda putting a damper on it too. I'll have to reconsider some of the guys I'm going with. Am I ever glad to have come across this. Thanks, Thomas.
You shouldn't let something like this deter or sway you from going Vicidian although I can understand Debito's frustration. I used to get stopped, pulled over, questioned ,etc. quite often when I was in Japan. Of course, being an American with a shaved head, goatee, and driving a flashy new Supra to boot probably warranted their suspicion, heh. Heck, I get questioned here in the States just as much as I did there though often times without the benefit of an explanation, go figure. I'm not so sure that I would go so far as to actually file a formal complaint for violation of civil liberties unless I was actually detained for any length of time, nevertheless I hear what he's saying.
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After reading a lot of the older threads in this forum I got to thinking about one particular experience I had which stands out in my mind as a perfect example of being singled out because I was a foreigner. Not entirely sure if it relates to the original content as posted by Thomas on Debito's behalf but I digress.

One afternoon (after my primary duties at the school were finished), I was teaching a class at the local community center to a group of high-schoolers. As usual, I parked about a block from the actual center (although I could have just as easily parked within their lot I suppose) off on one of the side streets (my usual routine to avoid getting my ride "dinged" in a crowded parking lot).

About halfway into my second class that evening, one of the caretakers on the first floor quietly pulled me aside to let me know that the police were inquiring about my vehicle and would like a word with me. Naturally, I agreed and excused myself from the class while I went back to my car to speak with the officer(s). Much to my surprise there were actually two police cars adjacent to my own along with four officers.

To make a long story short... it turns out that someone had actually broken into my vehicle (smash and grab) through the window and had stolen my MD player along with some other other miscellaneous stuff (a pair of used sneakers among them, go figure). Apparently the culprit had been partially seen by one of the residents (a middle-aged woman) who lived just across the street and recognized my car from previous visits. She in turn took it upon herself to call the police almost immediately after the perpetrator had left the scene of the crime.

Still with me? Here's where it gets interesting. That evening, I probably spent a good hour talking to the various officers relaying to them my personal information along with showing them proof that I had all my proper papers in order (license, gaikokujin torokusho, etc.) as they canvassed the crime scene taking photographs and dusting for latent prints. I was informed I should make arrangements to be absent from work tomorrow morning so that I could check in at the local headquarters to file a complaint (talk about short notice...).

Knowing full well in advance the nightmare of paperwork I would be getting myself into as a foreigner, I told the officers then and there that although I appreciated the woman calling the police (and that I would have done so myself eventually), I did not feel inclined to press charges or file an official complaint as the culprit did not really make off with anything that couldn't be replaced (although I did need proof that the police recorded the incident for insurance purposes to get my window replaced). Perhaps they thought me saying this was suspicious, i'm not sure. At any rate, I was promptly told to show up the following morning and to bring all my papers with me... (didn't we just go over all that?)

That morning when I showed up at the police headquarters (with all my papers as per instruction) I was immediately greeted by several detectives and escorted to a room on the second floor that to me looked very similar to an interrogation room. I was asked to take a seat and for the next SIX HOURS I was questioned repeatedly about my personal background, reasons for being in Japan, personal contacts, etc. ad nauseum. Granted, they did buy me lunch (woohoo...) but to be cooped up in that tiny room for most of my day even after I was insistent on not pursuing the matter any further than needed was unbearable. One detective even went so far as to say (in perfect English no less as if to make a point) "If you have anything in your record we should know about, you might as well tell us now because we'll find out eventually..."

And here I thought I was the supposed "victim" lol. At any rate, ultimately my goods were recovered (full credit to the police for that one) and my dealings with them came to an end. I suppose my demeanor was less than cooperative at the time the more flustered I became, although in hindsight I realize that I did not do or say anything that anybody else woudln't have done given a similar situation. Was it harassment? Yeah, probably to a degree at least--ok, definitely. One could go so far as to call it racial profiling even without it being a stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, I simply chalk it up as another learning experience and one that probably couldn't be avoided had I done or said anything differently.

Moral of the story I guess is that while incidents of this nature (and the aforementioned ones by Debito) are by no means unique, I think if anything it helps us to understand the Japanese perspective a little bit more. I suppose if I were still in Japan and had constant exposure to such treatment like Debito I might be more inclined to be more vocal and active as he has but i've always found it better to just focus on the positives. Anyways, that's my .02 cents 8-p
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