Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE 98, “Ibaraki Police still unfettered by the law, or the truth”, June 6, 2016 (UPDATED with links to sources)

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Police still unfettered by the law, or the truth
Repeat-offender Ibaraki force called to account for backsliding on the issue of hotel snooping
By Debito Arudou.  Column 98 for The Japan Times Community Page, June 6, 2016 Version updated with links to sources.

Japan’s police are at it again: Lying about the law.

A reader with the pseudonym Onur recently wrote to me about his experience in the city of Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, when he checked into a hotel. Even though Onur clearly indicated he was a legal resident of Japan with a domestic address, clerks demanded he present his passport for photocopying. They pointed to a sign issued by the Ibaraki Prefectural Police.

But that poster has three great big stripy lies: 1) “Every foreign guest must present their passport” 2) “which must be photocopied” 3) “under the Hotel Business Law” — which states none of these things. Not to mention that Japan’s registered foreign residents are not required to carry around passports anyway.

What’s particularly egregious about this sign is that the Japanese police know better — because we told them so a decade ago.

The Japan Times first exposed how police were stretching their mandate in “Creating laws out of thin air,” Zeit Gist, March 8, 2005, and, later, two updates: “Ministry missive wrecks reception,” ZG, Oct. 18, 2005, and “Japan’s hostile hosteling industry,” Just Be Cause, July 6,2010.

It made an impact. Even the usually noncommittal U.S. Embassy took action, posting in their American Community Update of May 2005:

“After we sought clarification, according to the Environmental Health Division, Health Service Bureau, Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the new registration procedure at lodging facilities does not apply to foreigners who are residents of Japan but only to tourists and temporary visitors. If you write a Japanese address on the check-in sheet, hotels are not supposed to ask for your passport.”

Right. So why do the Ibaraki police still feel they can lie about the laws they are entrusted to uphold?

Because … Ibaraki. I’ll get to that shortly…

But back to Onur, who also took action. He stayed an extra day in Mito and raised the issue with local authorities:

“I went to Mito City Public Health Department (Hokensho), who were very helpful, and confirmed that as a resident I need not show ID at hotels. Then I showed them the poster from the Ibaraki police department. Surprised, they said they had never seen this poster before, and the police had not contacted them about it. They said it is clearly different from the real law, especially the bit about ‘every foreign guest.’

“The Hokensho added that the police have become stricter because of the G-7 (Ise-Shima) summit and 2020 Tokyo Olympics. They said they would check the hotel and inform me of the result.”

But Onur wasn’t done yet: “Then I talked with two officers at the Mito City Police Department’s Security Division. They listened without making any comments. I showed them an official announcement from the Health Ministry and said that their poster is clearly different.

“The police read the ministry announcement and took notes like they were unaware of the law, asking questions like ‘Do the other hotels in other parts of Japan ask for your ID card?’ and ‘Isn’t checking the ID card necessary to confirm that a foreigner really has an address in Japan?’ I offered the contact number at Health Ministry for more information, but they said it wasn’t necessary. Finally, I asked them to fix their poster. They said they would check the law and behave accordingly.”

Shortly afterwards, Onur got a call from the Hokensho: “They checked my hotel and saw the poster was now changed. It seems the Ibaraki police had printed a new one and distributed it to all hotels within a few hours! The Hokensho said the new poster clearly states ‘foreign nationals who do not possess an address in Japan,’ which follows regulations. They said the police warned the hotel not to make the same mistake again. Finally, they thanked me for informing them about this problem.”

Well done. It’s satisfying to have others retrace our steps and get even better results. It’s just a shame that he should have to.

However, two issues still niggle. One is that photocopying requirement, which, according to The Japan Times’ own legal columnist, Colin P. A. Jones, may also be questionable:

“According to the Personal Information Protection Act (Kojin Joho Hogo Ho), the hotel should explain to you why they are collecting personal information from you, which is what they are doing if they take a copy of your passport,” Jones said in an email. “So if they can confirm that you are a resident of Japan by looking at your residence card or driver’s license, they do not need to take a copy because they have confirmed that the Hotel Act no longer applies. If they take a copy they are collecting personal information beyond what is necessary for the expressed purpose. In my experience, once you point this out, hotel staff then start mumbling about ‘their policies,’ but of course those don’t trump the law.”

Second issue: Ibaraki.

Ibaraki is where cops take local grumps seriously when they report a “suspicious foreigner” standing near JR Ushiku Station — seriously enough to arrest him on Aug. 13, 2014, for not carrying his “gaijin card.” Well, that “foreigner” turned out to be a Japanese, and Japanese are not required to carry ID. Whoops.

Ibaraki is also the site of a mysterious and under-reported knife attack on Chinese “trainee” laborers (the Japan Times, Feb. 23, 2015), which resulted in an as-yet-unresolved[*] murder. (Funny that. Imagine the media outcry if foreigners had knifed Japanese!)

Do Ibaraki police have anything to do with this? Actually, yes.

Ibaraki police have posted in public places some of Japan’s most militantly anti-foreign posters. I mean this literally: Since 2008, at least three different versions have depicted cops, bedecked in paramilitary weaponry, physically subduing foreigners. The slogan: “Protect (Japan) by heading (foreigners) off at the shores.”

Ibaraki police have also offered the public online information about “foreign crime infrastructure,” as if it’s somehow separate from or more ominous than the yakuza. They claim that foreigners are responsible for drugs, illegal medical activities, underground taxis, false IDs — and paternity scams to get Japanese citizenship. And, conveniently, the National Police Agency argued within its 2010 white paper that foreign crime infrastructure “cannot be grasped through statistics” (see “Police ‘foreign crime wave’ falsehoods fuel racism,” JBC, July 8, 2013). It’s enough to make the public paranoid.

And Ibaraki is a strange place for such militancy. It does not have a particularly high concentration of foreigners. Except for, of course, those behind bars at Ibaraki’s Ushiku Detention Center.

Japan’s infamous immigration detention centers, or “gaijin tanks,” are where foreign visa overstayers and asylum seekers are left to rot indefinitely in what Amnesty International in 2002 called “secret detention facilities.” Gaijin tanks don’t get the oversight governing Japan’s prisons because the former do not officially qualify as “prisons.” They’re pretty bad places to be.

And Ushiku’s gaijin tank is notoriously bad. It has made headlines over the past decade for drugging and subjecting detainees to conditions so horrendous that they have gone on hunger strikes, committed suicide or died having received improper medical care and under other mysterious circumstances.

Therein lies the point I keep banging on about in this column: What happens when racial discrimination is left unrestrained by laws? It just gets normalized and embedded.

Treating people badly without official checks and balances eventually makes abuse tolerated and ignored — like background radiation. And, fueled by the innate fear of The Outsider, the abuses just get worse and worse. Because they can.

In this case, the unfettered xenophobia radiating from the Ushiku Detention Center, Ibaraki’s fast-breeder reactor of foreigner dehumanization and abuse, has clearly corroded Ibaraki police’s judgment — to the point where they feel they can outright lie about the laws they are supposed to enforce, and have their propaganda irradiate hotels, street-corner busybodies and the general public.

It’s time for people to realize that Japanese police’s free rein to maintain our allegedly “safe society” has limits. For officially treating an entire people as potentially “unsafe” is dangerous in itself.

Ibaraki Prefecture thus offers a fascinating case study. Of what happens to a neighborhood when xenophobia goes beyond the occasional international summit or sports event, and becomes regularized into official extralegal standard operating procedure.


Debito’s latest project is the mockumentary film “Go! Go! Second Time Gaijin,” which is now being funded on Kickstarter. Twitter @arudoudebito. Send all your comments and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp.


[*]  Correction:  According to Chinese media translated into Japanese, the abovementioned knife attack and murder of Chinese “Trainees” has resulted in the arrest of 5 Vietnamese nationals:





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20 comments on “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE 98, “Ibaraki Police still unfettered by the law, or the truth”, June 6, 2016 (UPDATED with links to sources)

  • Making photocopies of passports is generally a bad idea – it’s asking for identity fraud no matter how secure the copies are stored. Regret for the inconvenience is hardly enough in such cases.

    One recommendation for the people who get caught up into this, any place, any time, any reason. Courtesy of the Dutch Ministry of Internal Affairs Insist on writing the purpose, recipient and the date across the copy. This more or less ensures that it can only be used by the recipient and only for the purpose stated, and not to open bank accounts and so on in your name. There can be no valid objection to this.

    You can find the recommendation with explanatory pictures on https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/binaries/rijksoverheid/documenten/brochures/2012/12/21/flyer-voor-gemeenten-om-inwoners-te-informeren-over-identiteitsfraude/bzk-toolkit-a5-flyer-15-jan-2013.pdf (sorry, the text is in Dutch).

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Great article Dr. Debito! That’s the real Japan, right there! It’s got nothing to do with tea ceremony and omotenashi.

    I love reading the comments; all the usual suspects saying ‘B,b,but in China!’ as if that has anything to do with J-cops breaking J-laws, and Ken Yasumoto Nickelson who believes that J-cops will overlook his skin color and ask to see his koseki before they decide not to discriminate against him. These people are all ‘Greg Clarks’ in-waiting; the first time they get discriminated against, their bubble will totally pop, and they’ll slink off unable to admit that not only were they wrong (and you right!) all along, but that they haven’t even (as Greg doesn’t) have the moral fiber to then say, ‘Hey, I was on the wrong side of this debate all along. Gee, I was so taken in’.

  • its not only hotels, now all net cafes are requiring a photo copy of your alien card in Tokyo

    If you refuse they ask you to leave. They were cool about it to me, but I told them I dont want it, and he said he understood but it was the law and he had no choice

    I think the apologist world is getting smaller and smaller. They caught a wave a few years ago, but rode it out. There is too much on social media about the racism in Japan to make any of them credible anymore.

    — What was the name and location of the internet cafe in question?

  • Tim2,

    Indeed, several years back net cafes all of sudden started requiring ID. Whether it is law or store policy I cannot say, but in the recent past there have been multiple cases of Japanese posting “anonymous” threats on various message boards. Requiring ID is a step in identifying the individual in such cases. However, the ID being requested is not specific to foreigners and there is absolutely no need to ever show your zairyū card except, of course, when being racially profiled by the Japanese police. Show regular ID like a Japanese citizen does. Often this is a Japanese drivers license, but if you do not have any other ID, go to your local ward office and apply for a jūmin kihon daichō card (住民基本台帳カード). There are two forms of it: one with a picture and one without. Often when you need official ID it needs to have a picture, so you should opt for the version with your picture.

    I think part of the problem is that many businesses falsely assume that the only ID that foreigners have is 1) a passport or 2) zairyū card. As such, they request these. Do not give in to their assumptions and never, ever show your passport or zairyū card.

  • Can confirm, I have run into commands by internet cafes to show zairyuu cards in the past as well. Appears to be common practice.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Indeed, Ibaraki has very serious problem with foreign workers. In 2014, 27 local farmers of JA Hokota were barred from recruiting trainees for 5 years by National Immigration Bureau in Tokyo for the failure to pay them for all overtime work.

    Ibaraki is one of the prefectures struggling to cope with the spike of foreign trainees who went reportedly missing. It appeared in local news that there were at least 293 trainees who disappeared possibly due to labor exploitation and/or sexual harassment. They invite several hundreds of trainees(most of them come from China and Vietnam) for agribusiness, fishery, and factory every year, finding some tens or hundreds of those missing each and every single month.


    Not surprisingly, prefectural police and media are standing on the other side by inflaming public sentiment of xenophobia through foreign-crime alert–instead of cooperating with Ministry of Labor to crackdown on local farmers, employers, and brokers for violation of labor standard and criminal conduct of fraud/exploitation. I don’t know how labor issue relates to the best interest of Mito Police Department. But I’m not surprised to see their wired-up mentality stemming from cultural/geographic remoteness to the center of universe.

  • any net cafe in shibuya. Near the starbucks near the shibuya crossing up on like the 11th floor, sorry forgot the name. They are all doing this in shibuya, its the law now

    ” However, the ID being requested is not specific to foreigners and there is absolutely no need to ever show your zairyū card except, of course, when being racially profiled by the Japanese police”

    No thats not true, they said its required by law and make you fill out a form, then ask if they can photo copy your gaijin card or passport, try it out for yourself

    — No, it’s not required by law, no matter what they say. Did you read this JT article? Also read here.

  • Hi Debito:

    Is anti-foreign police militancy rearing its ugly head at the other gaijin tanks as well (i.e. Ibaraki city, Osaka and Oomura city, Nagasaki)? I ask because it seems like all the action is taking place at in Ibaraki-ken.


    — The article focuses on Ibaraki-ken since that is where my evidence is concentrated. If there is more evidence elsewhere of how a local Zimbardo-style incarceration hotspot is affecting the rest of the neighborhood, I will report on it. Meanwhile, other information about treatment in Gaijin Tanks in other locales is mixed in with other Debito.org posts here.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ John K #9

    Yeah, I watched that last night and chuckled!
    It’s very good of the BBC to show Japan’s prison style detention camps for refugees.
    BUT (see, it’s a big ‘but’) Wingfield-Hayes doesn’t even answer his own question (the very title of the article!) ‘Why does Japan accept so few refugees?’.

    So his shockingly poor skills as a journalist allow him to let Japan off the hook, since he fails to address Japan’s xenophobia.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    Well, well, well! What have we here?

    The people benefitting from the anti-constitutional voter weighting disparity, the people receiving the most is government subsidies (including a special bonus to help them restructure for the now never to be implemented TPP), the people who have voted LDP over and over again; Rural farmers, are the exact same people breaking the law by employing the greatest number of NJ illegally!

    And guess where? Chiba and IBARAKI!

    It makes a laughing stock and a sham of the legal system, the JA, the LDP, and the stupid notion that Japanese Shinto mumbo-jumbo rice farming culture is a corner-stone of Japanese identity! If it wasn’t for the LDP letting it’s voters illegally employ NJ, those voters and their farming culture would be over! No wonder Ibaraki police are so crazy; they are being told one thing by the government and then expected to turn a blind eye to the NJ underpinning the local economy! That conflict of interest must be causing them trauma!


  • Jim di Griz says:

    As an addition to my above comment, I would put forward the following supposition to explain the behavior of the Ibaraki Police;

    Local people, believing NPA statements that the vast majority of crime is caused by NJ, are alarmed by all the ‘shady’ NJ in Ibaraki.
    The local police have to been seen to act tough on this issue to make the citizens feel safe, and to ensure that they don’t voice their dissatisfaction by throwing out the local LDP incumbent at the next election.
    Therefore the PD put up posters of a militarized police, and hassle law abiding NJ whenever the locals phone them, since this means that they can be seen to be acting, when in fact they are choosing to overlook the huge numbers of NJ illegally employed by LDP supporting farmers, and under-pinning the local economy.

    It’s all a dog-and-pony-show designed to distact the citizenry from politicians in league with law breaking Japanese farmers, so that they can keep their sticky fingers on the levers of power.

    See? It all makes sense now.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    As for J-gov employees bending the law to suit themselves, I recently commented that following the rape and murder of a Japanese woman in Okinanawa by an American citizen who worked at a base, that the J-Gov promised Okinawa 20 extra patrol cars and 100 extra police.

    Seems that plan has been changed!

    From today, officials from the Okinawa bureaus of the Defense Ministry and the Cabinet Office are participating in patrols.


    Really! Defense Ministry officials conducting ‘anti-gaijin safety patrols’, and members of the Cabinet Office? What the heck? Are these guys trained police? Do they know my rights and the legal limitations on their ‘power’? I would guess not.

    What happens when they try to stop me, and I just ignore them and walk on? Will they then call the ACTUAL police because my lack of co-operation makes me ‘suspicious’? Will they try to physically prevent me from leaving the scene and instigate a physical altercation, which the police will NEVER decide is their fault?

    Or, will they be doing ‘ride-alongs’ with real police? What special training do they have to identify an NJ as a potential criminal? Oh! Of course, it’s all just racist profiling of people who don’t LOOK Japanese. When they do a ride-along, if the police officer stops me, is it ok for these Defense and Cabinet Office officials to be around when I’m answering personal questions? Where’s my right to privacy? Are they allowed to ask me questions? If I don’t answer, will it harm my defense in court?

    This whole thing is an extremely poorly thought out idea, a knee-jerk reaction designed by the LDP in a rush (elections coming and all!), with no thought as to the actual legality of the proposal, and no thought as to the illegality of implementing it because (as this clearly shows);

    1. NJ have no rights in Japan, the law doesn’t apply to them. And,
    2. The presumption that only a criminal would want to protect his human right to privacy from a bunch of interfering nosey busy-bodies acting out on their racist prejudices.

    I don’t like it. Being watched, stopped and questioned by employees of the Cabinet Office and the Defense Ministry rather than the police, strikes me as being too Kempeitai, too Gestapo for me.

    Maybe Ibaraki could use some Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries employees on ride-alongs to catch all those law-breaking Japanese farmers?

  • Sapporo Bound says:

    A recent experience of mine with a Japanese hotel:

    I’m staying at Hotel Sho Sapporo. I arrived last night. There were two clerks at the front desk. One asked to make a copy of my passport. I explained that I had written my name and passport number on the registration form. When the clerk repeated the request to make a copy, the other, older clerk said that the information that I had provided was sufficient.

    Today I got a phone call from a clerk, who asked to make a photocopy of my passport. I said that under the law, I had provided enough information (name and passport number). He repeated his request to make a copy of my passport. I repeated my explanation for not needing the copy of the passport. He then said he would call the police. He did, and informed me about 15 minutes later that the police said that adding my home address to the registration form would be adequate. It was unnerving to hear that the hotel was calling the police on such a small matter.

  • @#14 Notice even the Sapporo Police Officers had to admit that giving a copy is NOT required by law, even for tourists.

    Residents of Japan
    After you write your name and Japan home address on the registration form [No showing of ID, No copying of ID]
    the hotel MUST give the room key now or the hotel is in violation of Japan Hotel Law, Article 5: 旅館業法 第五条.

    Non-Residents of Japan
    After you write your name (home address) & passport number on the registration form [No to show, No to copy]
    the hotel MUST give the room key now or the hotel is in violation of Japan Hotel Law, Article 5: 旅館業法 第五条.

    旅館業法 第五条  営業者は、左の各号の一に該当する場合を除いては、宿泊を拒んではならない。
    一  宿泊しようとする者が伝染性の疾病にかかつていると明らかに認められるとき。
    二  宿泊しようとする者がとばく、その他の違法行為又は風紀を乱す行為をする虞があると認められるとき。
    三  宿泊施設に余裕がないときその他都道府県が条例で定める事由があるとき。

  • So for hotels, just remember: 宿泊を拒んではならない。 = Shukuhaku o kobande wa naranai. = Lodging Refusal is ILLEGAL.

    Staff will cite incorrect memos from the MoJ and the Police: “Fine, call the Police: Shukuhaku o kobande wa naranai.”
    Point to what you have already written on the registration card, and repeat strongly: “Shukuhaku o kobande wa naranai.”

    When staff & police search for “宿泊を拒んではならない” the government 旅館業法 forces them to give you the key.

  • Loverilakkuma says:


    That’s a typical knee-jerk reaction we expect from the clerk who hastily equalizes ID requirement with photocopying.

    Idiotic thinking? Check. Painting a NJ client as potential criminal for refusing a further request that goes beyond what is required in the law.

    Panic attack? Check. Calling for police by ignoring advice by a senior clerk who surprised us to show that he understood the Hotel/Business Management Law.

    Ignorance in disguise? Double check. Especially when a younger clerk faces an embarrassing moment to recognize how stupid he responded in front of a senior one.

  • #14 and #17 reply.

    I would seek a written apology from the junior clerk. Sending the letter to the senior clerk (and cc’g in the main admin HQ), thanking him (or her) for their understanding and due diligence with the law correctly. Yet the junior clerk ignored protocol and his (or her) superior and thus attempted to embarrass you and beyond his authority, since he (or her) is not the police nor immigration dept. and as such is impersonating a police officer or immigration officer.

    This needs to be stamped out and making the junior clerk feel shame for his actions is the best way to educate such ignorant staff.

  • @ John K, #18

    Yes, he should get his Japanese wife/partner to kick up the biggest stink possible, making the management aware that he is sharing this all over the internet and will comment about it on travel sites that rate the hotel, and how outraged he is by this junior employee shaming him. This is Japan (!) so they will tell him that it is ‘extremely regrettable’ and he will hear no more of it, but behind the scenes, the company will give this junior employee hell for making trouble for them, and ignoring the instructions of his sempai when the incidence occurred. The junior employees days will be numbered, and the hotel industry will inch one step closer to regulating itself properly.

    Of course, disgruntled junior employee will likely develop a pathological hatred of ‘gaijin’ from then on, for ‘getting him fired’ etc. Too bad. He should have been more professional.

  • #19 JDG

    “…Of course, disgruntled junior employee will likely develop a pathological hatred of ‘gaijin’ from then on, for ‘getting him fired’ etc. Too bad. He should have been more professional….”

    Any more than usual???!!

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