XY: Hotel calls cops on NJ Resident at check-in for not showing passport. And cops misinterpret laws. Unlawful official harassment is escalating.


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Hi Blog. Let me forward this first and then comment:

From: XY
Subject: My experience allowing the cops to be called after refusing to show my passport at a hotel as a foreign resident of Japan
Date: March 22, 2019
To: debito@debito.org

Hello Debito,

If you like, you can publish anything I have written here that feels useful, but please don’t publish my name.

Just now I tried using your website to avoid having my passport scanned at a hotel after it escalated all the way to the police. The short story is:

1. Just don’t do it, it won’t work. It’s not worth it at all.
2. The thing they finally got me with is that the hotel can scan (yes, scan) the driver’s licenses of Japanese citizens as well. I don’t know if this place actually does it but that’s actually a fair argument in my mind.

Since this was clearly a very serious case, three officers showed up, one head guy, one lower ranking guy who watched me while the head guy was on the phone, and one lady who took the report of the lady behind the reception desk before coming to watch over me as well. We went through part of the script for the residence card thing but I decided that that was a fight for another day.

The main officer showed me where it says 日本国内に住所を持たない外国人 in the law (actually the exact text of the law uses 有しない, I copied that from the MHLW website), and then I pointed out the obvious problem with that: I have an address in Japan. He said that the hotel had a right to refuse me if I didn’t identify myself.

I showed him the three reasons that hotels can refuse service. He tried to make an argument that it fell under the “public morals” part of clause 2, but when I pressed him on that even he agreed that it was a stretch. He went and talked on the phone for a while, but not before talking about searching my possessions, which I said was no problem. When he came back, he had written down the name of a certain law, which I’m sorry I don’t remember the name of, but it apparently allows hotels to scan IDs of its customers.

I gave up at that point, and my possessions were never searched. I gave my passport to be scanned and apologized to the police and apologized more profusely to the receptionist.

I have the feeling that if the cops that showed up were less nice, they would have found some reason to take me to the station. So I’m currently feeling very lucky. I won’t roll the dice again.

Thanks for standing up for foreigner’s rights in Japan. I did it because as a white dual citizen exchange student at a prestigious university, I have a higher standing in society than a Filipino migrant worker out in the countryside.

Sincerely, XY

COMMENT: At the risk of appearing like I’m rubbing salt in a wound, it’s a pity that Submitter XY didn’t get the name of the law the cop cited.  Prepare for the next round of counterarguments for NJ Residents to use at check-in.

But the point still stands: When it comes to dealing with hotel check-ins, Japan’s police have been bending the law (if not simply making it up) for well over a decade. As recently reported on Debito.org (moreover reported to me off list by a NJ AirBnB owner friend), they’re also doing it now with AirBnBs allegedly under the new Minpaku Law.  Yet the cop above was, according to XY, clearly making the case that the hotel had the legal right to refuse service someone who didn’t show ID, which is simply not true under the law.  The law:  If you have an address in Japan, you don’t have to show ID, regardless of citizenship.

As Submitter XY would probably argue, the issue is now whether or not you are willing to stare down the police at the risk of being detained. (Under Japan’s system of arbitrary arrest and “hostage justice” brought to light by the Carlos Ghosn Case, no less.) I would. But it’s not for everyone, so be advised from XY’s experience what the stakes may be.

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics around the corner (and the reflexive fearmongering that Japan’s officialdom reflexively does before they invite foreigners in for a visit), it’s clear Japan’s law enforcement and hosteling industry are amping up the enforcement regardless of the unlawfulness.  They are now on a mission to racially profile all tourists, especially those who “look” like tourists.  And this is how racism becomes further embedded.  Debito Arudou PhD

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17 comments on “XY: Hotel calls cops on NJ Resident at check-in for not showing passport. And cops misinterpret laws. Unlawful official harassment is escalating.

  • Hey Debito, can you let us all know the name of the hotel? I’d like to avoid it in future. I never stay at APA, and as we do have choices it would be good to know which hotel phoned the police on this person.

    — I’ll ask XY to answer here directly.

  • I should add, that if the perp is named JALT members and other international organizations in Japan can boycott the perp, let others know and see if we can’t turn this into an “educational moment” for the perp. One can only hope.

  • @XY – We would appreciate it if you could release the name of the hotel. I travel all around Japan on business and I have found (for the most part) hotels are getting better about this issue. When I check in (in Japanese) they ask if I live in Japan and that is the end of it whereas a couple of years ago they were asking me to copy the zairyu card which I refused every time.

    I think there are some rogues out there and it would help us all to know them. Also it wound be interesting to know where this happened.

    As for the police it is no surprise they do not know the laws they are supposed to enforce.

    Good job standing up for your rights and totally understandable you drew a line where you were out of the comfort zone and backed down. No one can fault you for that!

    • I was fearing this was bound to happen sooner rather than later.
      What with the MLIT’s incorrect reinterpretation of the minpaku law advising to call the police, and the police not knowing the laws they are supposed to enforce, as Dave says.
      (“If the guest continues to refuse, and there is the possibility that the guest is not carrying a passport, take the appropriate action such as contacting the nearest police station.” http://www.mlit.go.jp/common/001253672.pdf)

      @Dave, I’m surprised you feel things are getting better. Maybe it really is a matter of sharing a whitelist and blacklist for hotels, and not just showing up and hoping for the best.

      • Mark in Yayoi says:

        From the linked MLIT document:

        When a police officer requests to inspect a guest list as part of his / her duties, cooperate to the extent necessary for the purpose of the duties, regardless of whether or not a written inquiry for investigation has been issued.

        Makes me wonder why things like warrants even exist.

      • Hi Gulf.

        The article in the Japan Times brought me back here. I use business hotels all over the country 1-3 times a week and I have honestly seen a dramatic improvement (this is my personal experience only). The hotels I stay at are usually in the inaka. This past week stayed at 2. Both times I was asked for my passport (I am obviously not Japanese) and I replied (in Japanese) “I live in Japan.” They asked me to fill out the address and that was the end of it.

        I guess this is why I am curious about this specific hotel. I would even try to stay there if I knew where it is and find out what the deal is.

        • Owen Hughes says:

          It’s good to see I’m not the only one pointing out how rare it is that this is actually an issue: yeah, the “外国人のお客さん” “simple Japanese” translation of “日本に住所を有しない外国人旅行者” is annoying, but simply being polite and explaining the situation seems to work somewhere 90 and 100% of the time. It’s inconvenient to have to wait for the receptionist to call their supervisor and check what the law actually says, but it’s never cost me more than five minutes.

          When I checked into hotels in the UK, France, and Portugal on trips back to Europe, I had to put up with a LOT more bullshit: getting delayed at the airport so I missed my transfer flight and had to call to say I’d be late, then finding out the guy who took my call hadn’t written it down anywhere so the guy who took over in the evening gave away my room .. was about as bad as it got, but I’ve never checked into a single accommodation anywhere in Europe that didn’t have more useless red tape and hoops to jump through, and that didn’t take a lot longer than five minutes.

  • That was a worse result than if you had just did what they wanted from the outset.

    To make an issue of it and then cave in and apologize was to reinforce their incorrect view of the law and was of no help to anyone. Don’t do it in the future,

    • TJJ, I feel your pain, but anyway you look at it, in the end he/she is the victim and not to be blamed. Let’s give useful advice and support where we can and leave it at that. I’m sure he/she has already been adequately humiliated by the experience itself.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    >the hotel can scan (yes, scan) the driver’s licenses of Japanese citizens as well.

    As many of us here know, that is totally illegal. It won’t happen if they have a Japanese customer. Pretty sure they will likely be confronted with an upset customer. Clearly, this hotel took advantage of her as a non-Japanese status, assuming that she doesn’t know anything about the hotel/travel lodge law. So they stretched, exaggerated, and blatantly lied(Copying DRL of Japanese citizens? You would never bring that to Japanese who is in the similar situation) about what they can/cannot do. What’s more upsetting is cops’ gross ignorance of the law. It’s just simply wrong and unconscionable. They failed to do their job.

    I think it is time to make a Japanese Black List Hotel.

  • Also, why did you even have your passport with you? You were doing domestic travel so why would you need a passport?

  • Interesting read, but I am confused on one part. XY says he/she was carrying a passport. I am a long term foreign resident in Japan, I never carry my passport. Ever. Where was XY’s residence card?

    Also, what exactly is the point of scanning a passport for a resident? It is not going to show an address in Japan or possibly even visa status. For example, my passport does not have any visa stamps – because it is newly issued.

    All in all rather confusing.

  • Recently was on a trip with a friend, we both look foreign.
    The “law” MLIT is talking about doesn’t exist, or even if it would have existed, that’s where Ryokangyouhou comes into play which clearly says there can only be three valid reasons to refuse service. Any further laws would have to have this p. 5 changed to work. It won’t match now, it would just legally not work. You can’t introduce more restrictions without modifying this paragraph.

    When receptionist asks for passports I just kindly explain all this stuff using my not the best but not the worst abilities in polite japanese. So far it worked, but it gets me every single time that I have to. That’s the point I hate when I travel here alone or with some other NJ. And the worst thing about it is the problem still applies when I speak japanese… So I just have to explain it every single time using exact quotes from the laws. Not looking at the phone screen or paper. I’ve got into this so many times I obviously remembered that stuff.

    Don’t flash your passport or ID. That’s a good advice that I think someone else has already posted here. If they can’t find your name on the bookings list, just ask for check-in card and write it there. Simple.

    // p.s. why would a resident have his passport, it’s heavy and won’t fit into your wallet. why do you carry that?

  • oh BTW, speaking of blacklist hotels, APA hotel group has a video dedicated to it, made by a son of Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, check it out on his YT channel “rare earth”. Pretty amazing nazi stuff they have out there. Just search for “rare earth apa hotel

  • I have noticed an increase in discrimination complaints on sites like youtube etc, and some suggest that the lattest gaijin generation types are just too sensitive. I think otherwise. I think what is happening is the new influx of immigrants and visitors has provoked reactionary Japanese to respond in kind with gaijin hate.

  • Thanks for the report, XY. I understand your frustration and also that you caved in to avoid further complications (The Police can arrest any of us on any charge for a total of 23 days. One might be to cause a nuissance, or if by accident you mere touched a policeman, obstruction of justice. NEVER EVER touch a policeman, by the way.)
    Anyway, I also would love to know what law was cited here. Just to be prepared. And the name of the hotel would be helpful, too.

  • Owen Hughes says:

    I’m wondering: if I emailed Debito about the four or five times that I’ve been asked for my passport by a hotel receptionist, explained that as a resident with an address in Japan I am not subject to that rule, and either (a) had the hotel receptionist immediately say “Oh, okay.” and apologize, or (b) saw the reception contact one of her superiors who clarified that I was right, and then apologize to me (let alone the number of times the receptionist asked me “Do you have an address in Japan?” or “Do you live in Japan?”, and no further questions after I answered “Yes”), would those be published?

    This kind of situation, where the cops are called, seems to be EXTREMELY rare. I imagine the establishment this particular reader stayed in was just a really unpleasant hotel to begin with — the kind where they give you the wrong key by mistake and you wind up walking in on someone, or when you get to your room you find they did a really slip-shod job of cleaning it.


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