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Hi Blog. Debito.org Reader JDG had this to say about a recent article in Japan Today:
JDG: Right wing Sankei owned Japan Today put out this ‘what to do if you get stopped by the police in Japan’ article for the Rugby World Cup.
Half the article about having fun and getting travel insurance, the other half about complying with all police requests because, y’know, cultural differences.
Failure to blindly comply with police stop requests will be ‘escalating the situation’ and grounds for arrest because, y’know, cultural differences.
What about police discrimination and your rights? ‘Don’t believe all the hoopla you read online’.
Basically article’s advice is;
If stopped by Japanese police, do as you are told.
For the record, the article is archived below.
COMMENT: Well, interestingly enough, Japan Today consulted with Debito.org before doing the article. And then it made no mention of Debito.org or its advice therein. Here’s the exchange:
From: Jeff Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>Subject: Journalist Asking about Any Updates on “What to Do if Stopped by Police in Japan”Date: September 8, 2019 at 11:08:36 PMTo: email@example.comHello Dr. Arudou,My name is Jeff Richards and I’m an editor for Japan Today.I’m currently putting together a piece on “What to Do if Stopped by the Police in Japan” as primer for both residents and tourists alike visiting for the upcoming Rugby World Cup (and by extension the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and other large-scale sporting and entertainment events).I have been using your website as a resource in this regard (and have since I arrived in Japan over a decade ago… ). I was wondering if you had done any updates on this topic (on your website either as a post or in one of your many news columns):
- “What to Do if You Are Stopped by the Japanese Police” (https://www.debito.org/whattodoif.html#checkpoint)I realize that most of the posts on your site dealing with the police, unwarranted checkpoints, unlawful ID checks by hotel/train staff etc. seem to relate to the former “Gaikokijin Torokushou” but I was wondering if there have been any significant changes to the law with the advent of the Residence Card? Or would these same laws still apply with just a terminology change?My goal with the article is purely to provide facts to readers about what they are required to have on them (passport or residence card), what they are legally bound to do and what they are entitled to ask before submitting to a check and their rights. It is really a “just the facts, ma’am” type of piece. I wold like to have readers informed of what they should know about these types of situations — especially since more people are a little more reticent about Japanese police and due process since the recent Carlos Ghosn detention shining a spotlight on how the justice system here is stacked against them.Any insight or updates from you would be appreciated and if you have any other outside sources I might contact or read that would be very welcome, too.I hope all is well and I look forward to reading any upcoming articles for the Shingetsu News Agency.Kindest regards,~Jeff Richards
Well, I was happy to oblige, so here was my response:
From: Debito Arudou <firstname.lastname@example.org>Subject: Re: Journalist Asking about Any Updates on “What to Do if Stopped by Police in Japan”Date: September 11, 2019 at 7:38:42 PMTo: Jeff Richards <email@example.com>
Dear Mr. Richards,Thank you for your email, and I apologize for my late response. Please find my answers below in your text:
On Sep 8, 2019, at 11:08 PM, Jeff Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:Hello Dr. Arudou,My name is Jeff Richards and I’m an editor for Japan Today.I’m currently putting together a piece on “What to Do if Stopped by the Police in Japan” as primer for both residents and tourists alike visiting for the upcoming Rugby World Cup (and by extension the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and other large-scale sporting and entertainment events).
Excellent. This sounds very helpful. I will be happy to point to it on Debito.org when it comes out.
I have been using your website as a resource in this regard (and have since I arrived in Japan over a decade ago… ). I was wondering if you had done any updates on this topic (on your website either as a post or in one of your many news columns):
- “What to Do if You Are Stopped by the Japanese Police” (https://www.debito.org/whattodoif.html#checkpoint)I realize that most of the posts on your site dealing with the police, unwarranted checkpoints, unlawful ID checks by hotel/train staff etc. seem to relate to the former “Gaikokijin Torokushou” but I was wondering if there have been any significant changes to the law with the advent of the Residence Card? Or would these same laws still apply with just a terminology change?
I haven’t updated the site in a while, as you know, but I have found that the systems in place are largely unchanged.As for the Gaikokujin Tourokushou issue, there have NOT been any significant changes with the advent of the Zairyuu Card. In fact, things have gotten a bit worse, as police don’t always believe the new Gaijin Card will suffice for visa kakunin purposes, and instead ask for passports more often on street ID checkpoints (which is what the Zairyuu Card is supposed to act as a substitute for). In any case, the Zairyuu Card is basically the Gaijin Card Part Deux. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. As you put it, it’s just a terminology change as far as police enforcement and racial profiling is concerned.
My goal with the article is purely to provide facts to readers about what they are required to have on them (passport or residence card), what they are legally bound to do and what they are entitled to ask before submitting to a check and their rights. It is really a “just the facts, ma’am” type of piece. I wold like to have readers informed of what they should know about these types of situations — especially since more people are a little more reticent about Japanese police and due process since the recent Carlos Ghosn detention shining a spotlight on how the justice system here is stacked against them.
That sounds good. And people are surely right to feel targeted after the Ghosn Case. Because they are. As you saw from recent articles, Ghosn’s peers just got the axe for similar misdeeds but Ghosn got sent to jail.
Any insight or updates from you would be appreciated and if you have any other outside sources I might contact or read that would be very welcome, too.
How about these?Scroll through these and see what catches your eye.
I hope all is well and I look forward to reading any upcoming articles for the Shingetsu News Agency.
My next one comes out in a few days. Enjoy.Sincerely, Debito
I then received no response, acknowledgment, or thanks for this email, so I refowarded the mail with a message:
From: Debito Arudou <email@example.com>Subject: Fwd: Journalist Asking about Any Updates on “What to Do if Stopped by Police in Japan”Date: September 17, 2019 at 2:30:12 PMTo: Jeff Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>Hi Mr Richards. Just checking to see if you got this. Sincerely, Debito
Then Mr. Richards responded:
From: Jeff Richards <email@example.com>Subject: Re: Journalist Asking about Any Updates on “What to Do if Stopped by Police in Japan”Date: September 18, 2019 at 12:50:42 AMTo: Debito Arudou <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hi Debito,Yes, thank you so much for getting back to me and sorry for not doing the same. Apologies.Your information has been very useful. It’s seems pretty cut-and-dried (regardless of personal opinions on the police’s reasoning or racial bias) but I did just want to give people a very good idea of what will indeed happen if you are stopped by the keisatsu (either just letting you continue on or taking you “downtown” depending on how important it is for people to be outraged).I ended up taking all of my “opinion” out of it and just presented what will happen and your rights — and how to just make it go smoothly so you can get on to enjoying the rugby. If people really are incensed, probably best to make a complaint later — unless it’s truly egregious. Our readers can discuss it in the comments.I believe we’ll be publishing the story tomorrow night ahead of the first Rugby World Cup game on Friday.Thanks again for getting back to me. I’d love to be able to contact you again on other matters involving foreigners in Japan for future stories (I’m planning to one on if you happen to get injured or have an accident and a follow up on if you are unfortunate enough to be detained by the police in Japan).Regards,~Jeff
Then the article came out, and as noted, there was no mention of Debito.org or any of the information therein. So I asked about it.
From: Debito Arudou <email@example.com>Subject: Re: Journalist Asking about Any Updates on “What to Do if Stopped by Police in Japan”Date: September 22, 2019 at 10:29:47 AMTo: Jeff Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hello Jeff,Thanks for the article. But if the information on Debito.org was so useful, why wasn’t it cited anywhere in the article, even as a potential information site like the others? Please explain. Thank you.Sincerely, Debito
I received no response from Mr. Richards for three days. So I drew some conclusions, and told him so:
From: Debito Arudou <email@example.com>Subject: Please respond within 48 hours. Re: Journalist Asking about Any Updates on “What to Do if Stopped by Police in Japan”Date: September 25, 2019 at 10:02:44 AMTo: Jeff Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hello Jeff again. I didn’t receive a response from you, so here’s my interpretation of what happened:1) You wrote up an article that had your “opinions” in it, and some of them were based upon information you found on Debito.org.2) As you are owned by Fujisankei, you were told by your bosses to remove that information, and all references to Debito.org. (We can’t have foreigners in Japan knowing their rights, after all.)If so, I find this overall trend in media complicity in disempowering NJ to be most distressing, as I noted in my Shingetsu News Agency articles that you say below you have seen.That is precisely a Debito.org issue, which I will be going public with (including our correspondence, since it was not private, and you were writing expressly in your public capacity as an Editor at Japan Today) in 48 hours from this time stamp.If you would like to clarify the record or my interpretation beforehand, I am inviting you to respond within that 48 hours.Sincerely, Debito
Mr. Richards responded soon afterwards:
From: Jeff Richards <email@example.com>Subject: Re: Please respond within 48 hours. Re: Journalist Asking about Any Updates on “What to Do if Stopped by Police in Japan”Date: September 26, 2019 at 1:09:53 AM PDTTo: Debito Arudou <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hi Debito,Wow. Well, those are some rather unexpected and confrontational email replies.I’m not sure what I did to warrant that type of reaction or what in fact you were expecting from me.The article I wrote is for the benefit of people visiting Japan for the RWC (and residents who might be interested). There is no sway over my editorial by higher ups at Fuji at all.My article steers clear of my “opinions” to keep it as objective as possible without editorializing on the matter since it is not an opinion piece, per se.While your website has information on it that can be useful, so, too, do the official sites for Japan Customs, the National Police Agency, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the Immigration Services Agency of Japan as well the information I received from embassy officials that I interviewed.One of the reasons I originally reached out was to find out if you had any actual new content on debito.org that updated some of the older stuff (the links in your original reply direct to articles well over 10 years old). To be fair, some other official Japanese sites (mostly ward and prefectural) contain info that isn’t that much more up-to-date, so I didn’t use those links, either.Is there a personal quote from you or reference to your website content that perhaps I didn’t attribute? If so, please let me know and I’m more than happy to rectify.Regards,~Jeff
FINAL COMMENT: I didn’t respond further to Mr. Richards. I acknowledge his courteous inquiries at the beginning, and appreciate his efforts to find out the most current information; I also acknowledge that his article is very helpful for the most part.
However, I felt things were certainly different when it came down to reporting any information that might let people know their rights in Japan. Because, after all, foreigners aren’t supposed to have any rights, according to the Japanese Police, and that’s generally the line that much of the “foreigner-friendly” media basically maintains — just do as you’re told like a good “guest” and all will go well. Until it doesn’t, of course.
Racial profiling in Japan is Standard Operating Procedure for the Japanese police, and that should be acknowledged somewhere, not simply worked around or removed as a matter of “opinion”.
I remain unswayed in my belief that the inconvenient truths that Debito.org has always offered were not something a media outlet like this was keen on publishing. And I believe that this is because it is owned by the right-wing Fujisankei group, which has substantially changed the tone of the once foreigner-owned Japan Today.
For the record, shortly after its founding two decades ago, Japan Today’s NJ editors invited me to write columns for them. I did in fact write eighteen over the course of two years (until they stopped paying me as promised, which is why I quit and went to The Japan Times). That was then. Now, I strongly doubt Japan Today would ever publish information found in my columns again. What I’m saying is simply not what “gaijin-handling” (i.e., putting forth a positive image of Japan under all circumstances) Japan-owned and -managed outlets want published. Debito Arudou Ph.D.
The current text of the Japan Today article, for the record:
What to do if you are stopped by the police in Japan
By Jeff W Richards
This year — for the first time in its 32-year history — the Rugby World Cup will be held in Asia. On Nov 2, 2019, the International Stadium Yokohama in Japan will become just the seventh stadium ever to host the final of the world’s third-largest sporting event.
While a fantastic time is expected to be had by all involved: hosts, teams and fans; that’s not to say some cultural scrums won’t form. The arrest and detention of Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn last year has shone an international spotlight on Japan’s justice system. This could have some people worried.
Japan is — for the most part — a forward-thinking, modern democracy. It’s justice system, however, still relies on solitary confinement, forced confessions and apologies (with financial compensation to “victims”) for its verdicts. The most worrying aspect of criminal justice in Japan is its detention system (suspects can be held for up to 23 days without being charged) and its bias against non-Japanese detainees.
Stating this is not meant to scare people. Your experience at the World Cup and other events will probably be as fun and enjoyable as you expect, or even more so — whether in Tokyo, Yokohama or farther-flung Kyushu. The locals want you to come and to enjoy yourself at the matches as well as learn and experience the delights of their city and region — police included
But differences in culture and behavior exist. For example, it may be completely normal in your home country — fellas! — to relieve yourself outside, in an alley or on the side of building, whereas here the keisatsu (police) may stop you for defacing private property or indecent exposure. From even minor encounters, major troubles can occur.
This is a no-nonsense guide to what you should do if you are stopped by the police in Japan, prefaced with some common-sense advice to prevent any problems before they might occur.
Before you come
A word to those arriving from overseas: before you leave for Japan, do your research.
Read up online. Visit the website of your embassy in Japan and read its travel advisories. Here they will post relevant information and updates on everything from extreme weather forecasts, natural disasters, pertinent crime reports and lists of prohibited goods you might inadvertently pack.
Websites and resources to check out before you leave:
- Japan Today
- GaijinPot Travel
- World Rugby
- Japan Customs
- Japan Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
- Japan National Police Agency
- Your embassy or consulate in Tokyo
- Your government travel advisories for Japan
Purchase travel insurance. When I asked representatives at the British Embassy in Tokyo about their recommendations for Brits coming to Japan, this was No. 1 on their list — and it applies to visitors from all countries. If an accident should occur, Japanese hospitals and clinics do not accept foreign medical insurance. We will have more on this in a second installment of this series for visitors to Japan.
To avoid any hassles before you pass Japanese customs at the airport, find out what medications (if any) from your home country might be illegal in Japan. You could encounter problems with pharmaceuticals as mundane as over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief (anything with codeine is prohibited) or certain allergy medications (pseudoephedrine is also illegal). If you do find an OTC medication you use is listed — don’t bring it. There will be a suitable alternative readily available here — and it won’t cause you grief should be stopped by the police and searched.
If you do require specific medication, make sure to bring the prescription with you and don’t bring more than a 30-day supply. And even if you do have a prescription, Jiminy Christmas, do not bring any medicine containing opium, cannabis, amphetamines, methamphetamines and certain medicines for treating attention deficit disorders (such as Adderall, Vyvanse and Dexedrine) as these are strictly prohibited.
If you’re already concerned about what might happen if you’re stopped by the police in Japan — do yourself a favor: Don’t get detained before you even clear customs.
Before you go out to an event
Make sure you have the proper identification on you when you go out for the day. You will be asked for it if you are stopped by authorities.
For tourists, this means that you must carry your passport with you at all times. Failure to do so could result in more than embarrassment — it could mean detention by the police (as proper ID will be the first thing they ask for) and a fine of up to ¥200,000 (U.S.$1,850) may ensue. “Proper ID” in this case does not constitute your driver’s license from back home.
Also, carry the name and contact info for your accommodations. If you’re staying at a hotel, grab a business card (with Japanese and English on it) from the front desk. This is not just to give to peace officers, but it can help you return safely as cab drivers or people you stop to ask for directions may not speak English.
If you’re a resident of Japan — and you should know this — you need to carry your zairyu, or Japanese Residence Card, with you at all times. Any immigration or law enforcement officers in the course of their uniformed duties can ask for it and — by law — you need to have it on your person at all times. Not doing so carries a fine of ¥200,000.
If you get stopped
During the Rugby World Cup, understand that there will be an increased police presence across the country, especially around match venues and fan zones.
“During the rugby, we are expecting people to be stopped or arrested for boisterous behavior considered minor in the UK or at least in [other] rugby countries,” says Marion Auclair, consular sporting liaison officer for the British Embassy in Tokyo. “That can get you detained for up to 23 days in Japan.” Nudity — like we mentioned above about answering “when nature calls” — is one of those behaviors.
Is it possible you may be stopped simply because you’re a foreigner? Absolutely.
Is there any reason for you to be unduly worried about it? I would say no.
By and large — especially at an international sporting event — police are deployed to assist the public, keep the peace and look for anything suspicious or unfamiliar. Foreigners quite often tick the “unfamiliar” box. They’ll ask you some questions about where you’re from, what you’re doing in Japan and where you might be coming from (or going to). I mean, it depends on how morally outraged you’d like to be about the situation. Contrary to the discussion board hoopla you’ll find online, there is no need to get your back up. This is not #blacklivesmatter. Nobody is going to shoot you because of the color of your skin. In fact, the police in Japan rarely use their firearms.
You are, however, in danger of causing yourself and your companions more trouble than it’s worth should you decide to escalate the situation — and the perception of “escalation” in Japan is quite different than it might be in the West. Here, even raising your voice can be interpreted by Japanese police as noncompliance or obstruction. It’s why you’ll often see Japanese citizens stopped by law enforcement stand perfectly still during an encounter all the while speaking in a non-hysterical voice. The cops as well. No sudden moves. No surprises. Nobody goes to jail.
Raise your voice indignantly, though, and you risk being seen as obstructing police duties. Reason enough for them to ask for your identification, search your person and even ask if you’d like to come “downtown” to the koban (police box). You do not want to do this.
The police in Japan have every legal right to stop you and ask to see your ID. You, in turn, have the right ask them why you’re being stopped. Best to politely pose the question and then submit to their request when they tell you the reason. They’ll note your registration card or passport information, ask you a few more questions and — most likely — you’ll be on your way.
A quick note if the situation does escalate and you find yourself being detained. It’s important to know that in Japan you do not get to make a phone call. By international convention — assuming your country has signed this bilateral agreement (not all have) — if you are held by the police in Japan, they will inform the consular department of your embassy about your arrest.
The British Embassy, for example, would then send the detainee a prisoner pack with a list of lawyers and check if they want a consular visit.
“If so, we automatically visit,” says Auclair. “Then we assess together what kind of assistance [the embassy] can provide to them.”
To avoid this in the first place — use your common sense.
“Because I think fundamentally everybody knows the things that are illegal, right?” says Emma Hickinbotham, the British Embassy’s head of media, communications and marketing. “That you shouldn’t smuggle drugs. That you shouldn’t steal things. Those things — they’re universal. It’s more the nuances of the cultural differences. That is, you might not get arrested but [the situation] could potentially escalate and if you don’t speak the language — maybe in Tokyo it’s different — but out in some of the regions where the rugby is being played, if the local police don’t speak English and they are asking you nicely to put your clothes back on or whatever, it might be [a good idea]. If you don’t understand anything they’re saying, then you might respond and if you’re being too loud, they might misunderstand that as aggression. So, it’s really trying to stop any of those kinds of misunderstandings happening where people may end up getting in trouble for very minor things that are just avoidable.”
To put it in perspective, while many people of all nationalities are stopped daily in Japan, the number of foreigners arrested is significantly small.
So how many UK citizens are arrested or detained in Japan in a year? “I would say about 50,” says Auclair.
Auclair adds something all embassy staff and Japanese people are likely thinking. “We want people to have fun, in the end. We actually want them to enjoy the rugby because we also are very excited about the rugby. [Laughs] You know, we are rugby fans ourselves, so it’s more about: ‘Yeah, just pay attention.’ Have some common sense. Maybe don’t moon in public, that might not be as well received as in the UK.”
For more information on being culturally aware, Auclair and Hickinbotham suggest visiting the UK government’s advisory page with tips for fans traveling to the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.
The more you know before you head out to enjoy a match — whether live at a stadium, in a fan zone with friends or gathered in a bar with strangers — the better time you will have and the less chance of having a bad experience with the police.
Most of it, though, is just common sense — like not urinating on private property or mooning people in public.
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