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Hi Blog. I’ve written about this many times before, but the JT commissioned me to write up this quick sidebar to a separate article about Japan police racial profiling on a NJ student of color (who has been cited on Debito.org before).
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no failsafe method that will work in all situations, given the enormous power of policing agencies in Japan. However, submitting to unlawful and racialized enforcement of the law is not something Debito.org can abide. So here goes. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
ISSUES | JUST BE CAUSE
Remain calm when stopped by the police in Japan
BY DEBITO ARUDOU, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, JAN 20, 2020
Visible minorities in Japan are in a tough spot in a country where the police have a lot of arbitrary power and few enforceable checks (as we’ve been witnessing recently with the Carlos Ghosn case). As a result, we are facing two decades of police-promoted narratives of “the foreigner” as a visa overstayer and criminal.
What follows is my advice on what to do if you face a sudden ID check on the street — that is, assuming you don’t want to simply surrender your zairyū kādo (residence card) and eventually get on with your day. This is just a brief outline, you can find more details online at debito.org/whattodoif.html.
- Ask why you are being stopped: Ask if this is a “shokumu shitsumon” (police questioning of personal details). If yes, the law requires probable cause that a crime has been or is about to be committed, and the display of POLICE ID upon your request. If it is not, ask if you may leave.
- Ask to see their ID: “Sumimasen. Keisatsu techō o misete kudasai” will do. Write it down and/or take a picture of it. This will no doubt agitate, but without this record there is no personal accountability.
- Use your phone (or ask a friend) to start recording: You do not need consent and, even if done surreptitiously, a recording is admissible in court. They will tell you to put the phone away, but at least leave the audio on. No recording may result in a “he-said, she-said” outcome and nobody is likely to believe your side. It may also preemptively temper the cops’ behavior somewhat, but there’s no guarantee it won’t go the other way.
- Ask if compliance is optional (nin’i desu ka): If they ask to go through your backpack, pockets and wallet, you have the option to refuse the search without a warrant (reijō). Try: “Reijō ga nakereba, kekkō desu.” (“Without a warrant, no thank you.”)
- Above all, remain calm and polite, and never raise your voice: That can be difficult when surrounded by a phalanx of suspicious cops. But, as in other societies, the threshold of “resisting arrest” in Japan is arbitrary, and a judge will take the police officer’s word over yours in custody.
Arm yourself with the requisite vocabulary. Demonstrating some fluency with your statutory rights will also act as a natural check on abuses. Cops around the world take advantage of the ignorance of their targets, so if you come off as informed and confident, things might go smoother.
There’s no surefire means of getting out of an ID check (except perhaps getting your own personal chief of police to vouch for you except perhaps getting your own personal chief of police to vouch for you), but doing a few of these things might help you feel less powerless afterward. Good luck.
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14 comments on “My Japan Times JBC 118: “Remain calm when stopped by the police”, on what to do if stopped by Japanese police for an Instant ID Checkpoint, Jan 20, 2020”
I heartily approve the above solid summary by Debito. 🙂
— Thanks. Best I could do in about 400 words of sidebar.
I want to make a request. When you have some free time, can you go through your website and update some of the old ID data? If I click the above link, I find pages that reference the “gaijin card” and discussion of days when people weren’t on the juminhyo. If those are clearly dated and sorted, it’s nice to have the historical information, but if they’re in the middle of an FAQ about life in Japan, then the entire FAQ appears outdated and perhaps unreliable because of that. Naturally, updating a big website like yours is chaotic and time consuming, but if you have time to organize a bit, it would help new readers. Great stuff!
I was stopped by three policemen in the bicycle parking near the station where I live two weeks ago and thanks to this site and debito was able to engage the officers with confidence.
They basically said “tokyo olympics” when asked way I was being stopped and I said thats not a good enough reason because I was clearly not in Tokyo. They then said that they were checking for terrorists and once again, I said not good enough because I am clearly not a terrorist.
With a calm voice, I refused to walk with them to the train station as it was “hazukashi” and the officers seemed to get the idea that I was not happy. The main policeman who was talking to me showed me his ID and I took a photo of it but the other two ran back to the car.
“I was stopped by three policemen … and thanks to this site and Debito was able to engage the officers with confidence.”
Right on, brother!
“When asked why I was being stopped, they basically said ‘Tokyo Olympics’, and I said that’s not a good enough reason, then they said that they were checking for terrorists, and once again I said that’s not a good enough reason … ”
Right on, brother!
Yes, those three police officers initiated questioning without first having reasonable suspicion of YOU being involved in a crime, thus they initiated ILLEGAL questioning.
For police officers to initiate legal questioning, they are required by Police Law Article 2 (Keisatsu Hou Dai Ni Jou = 警察法 第二条) to first have Reasonable Suspicion to believe that YOU committed a Crime, or that YOU are committing a Crime, or that YOU are about to commit a Crime, or that YOU have knowledge about some Crime about to be committed.
Without first having Reasonable Suspicion of YOU being involved in a Crime, any police officer who attempted to initiate questioning committed an illegal act.
“With a calm voice, I refused … the main policeman who was talking to me showed me his ID and I took a photo of it but the other two ran back to the car.”
Again, right on, brother!
When people calmly Refuse (Okotowari Shimasu = お断りします) the police officers’ “voluntary” requests, while calmly filming the police officer’s illegal actions, while calmly demanding to film each police officer’s ID (Keisatsu Techō = 警察 手帳), the illegally acting police officers often run away, because they KNOW they are violating Police Law Article 2, and they KNOW court judges can penalize them for their Illegal Questioning (Ihou Na Shokumu Shitsumon = 違法な職務質問.)
Good job Chris! 🙂
You calmly refused their illegal questioning attempts, you calmly filmed and calmly demanded they show their ID for the courts to penalize their illegal acts, and so you calmly watched them run away. 🙂
You proved to yourself, and to everyone here: knowledge of the law is powerful, and those costumed cowards run away when they see the power of calm courage being filmed for the courts and for the world. They are scared of judges seeing their illegal suspicion-less questioning attempts, and they are scared of the world seeing the faces and names of these tax-funded on-the-clock illegally-acting law-violating public-workers. 🙂
Yes, Chris stuck it to them good. Well done.
Let’s not let the police break the law and indulge their racism just because we don’t want to make a scene. Screw ‘em.
I ‘love’ how the guy comments on JT;
‘Are you serious?….cooperate calmly’ with illegal police stops. Why? Didn’t work out so well for Carlos Ghosn, did it?
My dear Chris,
I think you did well, but the next step is to contact the Consul at your Embassy or Consulate and ask the Consul to confirm with the Japanese authorities, through a Note Verbale or a telephone call, that the police did have a reasonable cause to ask you for your ID, Just reporting what you did to this site is useful, but insufficient. Your diplomatic mission would be in the right to lodge a strong protest, backed up by your ambassador (or ask that people high up in your Embassy or Consulate, say at the Counsellor level, contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about this), if it turned out that the police had no justifiable reason to ask for your ID and asked for it only on the assumption that you look racially different from most Japanese. Provide your Embassy or Consulate with the photos you took of the police ID. Ask your Embassy or Consulate to lodge a protest to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the police if you think it is necessary. Don’t be afraid of taking this step as the job of your diplomatic mission is to look after the interests of its nationals in Japan and that means your interests. Japan’s diplomatic missions overseas would do the same if the situation were reversed. Your diplomatic mission should make it clear that a protest will be made on each occasion if the circumstances warrant.
IF not a 「Crime-Committance-Judgement Case」 THEN
not a 「Police-Duties-Obeyance-Case」 SO
I invoke all rights AND
NOW I have the right to go, correct?
MOSHI 「Hanzai Okashi Handan Baai」 dewanai NARA
「Shokumu Shikkou Atari Baai」 dewanai NODE
kenri zenbu youkyuu shimasu SOSHITE
IMA watakushi wa iku kenri arudeshou?
もし 「犯罪 犯し 判断 場合」 ではない なら
「職務 執行 当り 場合」 ではない ので
権利 全部 要求 します そして
今 わたくし は 行く 権利 あるでしょう?
Police officers committing suspicion-less 警察法第二条-violating stop-attempts say:
“Are you a foreigner? Answer! Foreigners are required to show the Zairyuu Kaado!”
Actually, Foreigners need to show ONLY when the officer is obeying the 警察法第二条.
Their beloved “must carry and must show to any police officer who demands it” Immigration Law has a powerful Limiting Qualifier (a relatively-unknown-by-most-foreign-citizens, and absolutely-hated-by-all-police-officers, Limiting Qualifier) which LIMITS the “must show” situation to: only when the police officer asking is actually acting within the confines of Police Duties Law = Shokumu Shikkou ni atari baai dake = 職務執行に当たり場合だけ (and of course acting within the confines of Police Duties Law requires obeying the 警察法第二条, and of course obeying the 警察法第二条 requires the police officer to first have reasonable suspicion to judge that YOU are involved in the committance of a specific crime, before even initiating any questioning, before even initiating any stops.)
So my Addendum is a way to show you know about that Limiting Qualifier, WHILE making no statement about yourself (don’t stupidly tell them you are a foreigner, while also don’t stupidly claim you are not a foreigner, it is stupid to make any statements about yourself) and, notice my recommended run-on sentence has connecting words which helps prevent them from cutting you off mid-sentence and, notice it ends with the vital question, which should be repeated until they admit they say “Yes, you can walk away” (or at the very least, until you are sure they are NOT claiming you CANNOT walk away) because the reality is as long as you are not currently in handcuffs you are free, so you DO have the right to walk (not run) away.
(Note: Yes, the English part of my translation is kinda’ Yoda-Style to match the Japanese as much as possible, and the Japanese part is kinda’ Headline-Style to be as short as possible, cutting out many prepositions. I’m prioritizing Memory-Ease & Quick-Utterance over naturalness.)
Remember your goal: to gain confirmation about whether their “stop” request/demand is an unconditional order or a voluntary request, to film them answering your calm confirmation questions, to film them complying with your calm demand to film their police ID (as the Police ID Rule Article 5 = Keisatsu Techou Kisoku Go Jou = 警察手帳規則５条 requires) to show the Koan Iinkai and Criminal Court Judge this illegal suspicion-less stop / illegal probable-cause-less detainment, to film them answering your “Am I legally free to walk away now?” question, and to film yourself legally, regally, calmly walking (not running) away in your calm royal manner.
OK, the above was an important, relatively brief-for-me, Addendum.
Below is a more lengthy bonus, only for those interested in deeper thoughts about this subject, if this wall of text looks boring feel free to simply scroll down to the next person’s comment.
Debito’s vital advice in his article above, to do everything CALMLY, is essential.
And yes, all of those strong actions Debito which listed can/should/must be done calmly.
Calmly for reasons of culture (whoever loses their cool by yelling loudly immediately loses the argument in the eyes of witnesses and judges, regardless of the fact the sentences being yelled are perfectly logical/just/true), and calmly for reasons of legality:
The very-important-to-the-judge essential first question, which you ask the police officer, should be stated confidently and calmly: “Is that an unconditional order, or a voluntary request, which is it? = Sore wa mujouken na meirei, sore ka nin’i na onegai, dotchi desu ka? = それは無条件な命令、それか任意なお願い、どっちですか?
That confirmation question really should be your calm reply to their very first rude/illegal request/demand that you stop in the first place, and you should calmly perform that same confirmation question each and every time they make any additional requests/demands after that.
Because even if their order is later found by a judge to have been illegal, you still in the moment have to obey any UNCONDITIONAL ORDER given by a police officer.
Which is why police officers are trained to disguise their voluntary requests as appearing to be unconditional orders.
Which is why the most intelligent lawyers say to calmly ask that confirmation question every time.
Usually that confirmation question forces the police officer being filmed to begrudgingly admit “That was just a (strongly worded) request for voluntary compliance, it was NOT an unconditional order.”
If the police officer takes the rare bold path of answering, “That was an unconditional order!” then you are required by law to do it immediately.
You can and should say “If that was an unconditional order then I must obey it but I’m obeying it under protest because I think it was an illegal order but I’m obeying it because you said it was an unconditional order.”
And of course you should be filming every moment of this calm interaction: from the moment you perform your very first calm confirmation question (to your calmly repeating that confirmation question as many times as necessary) until they either choose to make the bold claim that they ARE giving you an unconditional order to stop your movement, or until they meekly admit their request/demand for you to stop was NOT an unconditional order, thus it WAS a voluntary request, thus you are free to continue walking immediately, and your video must show you remain calm and not be too loud, because you want the judge later and all the world to see you did NOT commit the illegal act of disturbing-the-peace.
See, the perform-all-these-actions-CALMLY advice is to prevent the illegally-acting police officers from being able to claim “Well, regardless of the fact you might show this video to the Kouan Iinkai Ombudsman and/or to a Criminal Court Judge and/or the whole world, you broke a law right now by raising your voice loud enough for a ‘disturbing-the-peace’ arrest, so regardless of your eventual possible lawsuit against us police officers about about our actions, the fact that you yelled your statements loud enough to wake a nearby neighbor from a nap, in our subjective opinion of course, means we can arrest you for disturbing-the-peace, which means during your month in jail you’ll probably be fired from your job. The fact that you lost your cool and yelled at us police officers loud enough to disturb the peace of those people around here (and/or accidentally touched one of us police officers during your wild hand movements accompanying your yelling, even as lightly as a feather, even by mistake) means we can now arrest you for disturbing the peace and/or touching a police officer. Whether or not the initial stop request/demand was indeed an illegal suspicion-less stop, the fact remains that YOU are NOW under arrest for disturbing the peace. So now suddenly I AM officially verbally issuing an unconditional order: put your hands behind your back because I am placing the handcuffs on you now. The time is 6:01pm, you are now officially under arrest.”
See, that’s why Debito’s vital advice to do all the above actions CALMLY is essential.
Sorry for the long post, but I think it is essential for balance: I have posted hundreds of explanations about the importance of knowing you have the right to refuse all voluntary-requests, and now it is important to also remember you must do so CALMLY to avoid being arrested for yelling.
Don’t speak too softly of course, since that would cause the judge to not be able to hear in the video recording your essential questions about “Unconditional order, or, voluntary request? And if not an unconditional order, am I legally free to walk away now?”
And don’t speak too loudly, because that would cause the judge to see you committing the illegal act of disturbing-the-peace by angrily yelling too loudly in the video recording.
The safe way to refuse voluntary stop/talk/stay/show requests, is to film the police officers hearing you speak in a manner which a reasonable judge would approve of.
Don’t appear in the video as a low-level chinpura needlessly yelling above 80 decibels thus disturbing-the-peace thus committing an illegal act.
Appear in the video as a confident, composed, CALM Emperor-King-President-Godfather-Priest-Judge-Sovereign-Royal, asking the essential questions in a strong dignified manner, watakushi wa and anatasama wa are fine phrases to use in this Theater Of The Absurd (hat tip to Baudrillard), calmly politely wisely receiving the vital confirmation of the initial stop request NOT being an unconditional order, and thus calmly politely wisely choosing to legally decline and walk away from all admittedly voluntary stop/talk/stay/show requests.
And remember this too: you should NOT make any claims about yourself (such as “I’m a busy person” or “I’m going to be late for an appointment” or “Stopping to talk to you might cause me to lose a million dollar business deal by being late” or “Stopping to talk to you might cause me to lose the love of my children forever by being late” or “I have a lawyer already” or any such statement, because ALL statements are unnecessary and ineffective and dangerous) because verbally testifying ABOUT YOURSELF IN ANY WAY is an extremely dangerous risk, but you SHOULD simply IMAGINE that all those things are true, since they MIGHT indeed be true for you, just don’t make any such statements.
Making statements about yourself is how people get arrested for obstructing the duties of a police officer.
Asking questions is NOT obstructing. Declining to answer questions is NOT obstructing. Making any statement which later can be shown to be incorrect IS obstructing.
So don’t make false statements about yourself, and to be extra safe, don’t make ANY statements about yourself even if true.
The police officer is not searching for truth. The police officer is searching for weak idiots who make statements, and ANY statement can be used against the speaker later, so don’t give police officers statements to use against you.
When you are speaking to a police officer, you are actually testifying to an officer of the court, an officer who is highly motivated to misstate your statements later, an officer whose lies will be believed, so it’s better to avoid that whole problem by simply not making statements about yourself.
For example, Martha Stewart wasn’t imprisoned for tax evasion, she was imprisoned for making statements about herself.
But nevermind rich folks like Martha Stewart or Carlos Ghosn. Think about how many victim-less over-stayers, and victim-less cannabis-lovers, and regular people in general, could have walked away from the police officers WITHOUT showing identification and WITHOUT allowing a pat-down and WITHOUT being arrested, if they had simply known that the police officer who said “hey you, stop and talk to me” never actually issued an unconditional order, and that it was all just a voluntary request, and that there was no need to answer any questions about nationality or about pocket content in the first place, and that there was no need to stop and stand in front of the police officer in the first place, that they could have and should have simply asked if they were free to go and simply walked away free.
All people who haven’t hurt anyone should remain free.
I share here at Debito’s site to help people remain free. 🙂
Was this a typo? What is a foreign citizen?
In Japan, a foreign-citizen is a-citizen-who-is-not-a-citizen-of-Japan = 外国籍 = 外国人.
Sorry for the confusion, just mentally insert “NJ” or “foreigner” there to make that sentence clear.
The point is: most people-who-have-a-Zairyuu-Kaado don’t know about the limiting-qualifier which exists in the “must-show” Immigration Law. The limiting qualifier which says we only have to show WHEN the police officer is asking within the confines of 警察法第二条.
I’ve always wondered on what criteria the police in Japan choose which NJ to stop and card, and which to ignore?
I’ve read so many accounts and heard so many anecdotes, but I fail to grasp a pattern of any meaning whatsoever. I’ve never been stopped once in over twenty years, but a friend who lived in the same area got stopped weekly. We are both white anglophones wearing suits. What’s the difference? I just don’t get it.
And then I saw this;
Written by JT’s resident right wing Japan myth believing, xenophobe who doesn’t even live in Japan. It contained this astounding claim;
‘ don’t the hundreds of foreign spies that covertly active in Japan also pose external threat to Japan?’
WTF? Where’s the source for that? Oh, there isn’t one.
Last time I checked, it was Japanese selling secrets to foreign powers;
Or was stolen by foreign agents not even in Japan;
So I’m not entirely sure why it’d be necessary to insert ‘hundreds of foreign spies’ into Japan in the first place (never mind that institutional racism would prevent them from getting access to anything, I mean, gee, they better not try getting around by bicycle!), when Japan is frankly as leaky as a sieve.
This just sounds like some kind of insecurity fantasy to me; yeah, yeah, Japan’s so ‘geopolitically important’ and Japan’s got such ‘advanced technology’ that literally HUNDREDS of foreign agents are infiltrating state institutions without being noticed….
Ha! Pull the other one!
Anyone remember the time at the height of the second Cold War that Japan sold the Russians computer controlled lathes so that they could make their ballistic missile subs harder for the US Navy to track? Now THAT was an ‘existential threat’.
‘Hundreds of foreign spies’? ROTFL. Comedy gold.
This is a good time to ask Dr Debito and other knowledgeable people my rights as a foreigner to not fill in a resident’s card the local police left in my letterbox.
It is all in Japanese except for the envelope which also has English – telling me to fill in all the details including ones I regard as my personal business such as my phone number. I can’t even send it to the local koban by mail – supposedly I ‘have to’ personally deliver it.
Of course this is part of the increased surveillance before the Olympics which is why I was never in favor of it. More excuses for more cameras, police inserting themselves into our lives etc.
I don’t see why I should do this when my local ward office and Immigration already have my details plus ‘My’ Number – all of which tag me. I don’t believe the police can’t have access to those data bases.
But, but the locals do it – hmm, but the locals also have rights which I as a taxpayer and resident do not. In my country Japanese people have rights after a few years of residency that I don’t here as a longer term resident.
I don’t want to fill out the form and I certainly will not go there in person to invite nonsense from the police. The last time I saw one on patrol he asked me where I live – using rude language speaking down to me.
What are my rights here? Thanks.
— I say ignore it.
Yeah, the police cane to our house asking all these questions and I just told him that if he a legal right to this information then he could get it directly from the kuyakushou, but he couldn’t, so he was hassling me on my doorstop. Then I started talking about Nazi Germany, the Gestapo and North Korea.
He took off.
The only thing I have EVER gotten from the the police in the 40 plus years of living in Japan is trouble. Far more than even being the victim of a real crime in which they showed the slightest interest in investigating.