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  • Japan Today: Shinjuku cops rough up Singaporean women during “passport check”

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on April 25th, 2008

    HANDBOOKsemifinalcover.jpgwelcomesticker.jpgFranca-color.jpg
    Hi Blog. Glad to see Japan Today giving an audience to these things. I keep receiving emails from others who say the same thing is happening to them. More G8 cop crackdowns on “suspicious foreigners”? Debito in Miyazaki

    =========================================
    Roughed up by the cops in Shinjuku
    By Yvonne Lee
    Japan Today Commentary, date unclear, but accessed April 25, 2008
    http://www.japantoday.com/category/commentary/view/roughed-up-by-the-cops-in-shinjuku
    Courtesy Dave Spector

    On April 18, my friend and fellow Singaporean, Joyce Tok Mui Ling, and I were outside Shinjuku station, specifically right outside the Toei-Oedo line entrance (where the train ticket gantries are), around 11:30 p.m., when we were stopped by two Japanese men, dressed both in blue shirts who flashed a badge at us that said “Police” and who repeatedly said “Passport” to us.

    Doubting the authenticity of these supposedly plainclothes “Police,” we tried to ask them if they spoke English and we tried to walk to the nearby train control station which was about 10 steps away from where we standing to ensure that these suspicious men were not posing as officers.

    As we took a step away, one of these “officers” grabbed my friend by the arm and tried to walk her away. She tried to get him to take his hands off and so did I. We repeatedly told them to take their hands off her, and when I tried to take the man’s hands off my friend, the other “officer” grabbed me and tried to lead me away.

    Feeling quite threatened at this point, I started shouting at them to let go, and there was a mild tussle between us, as we had to repeatedly get them to let go of both of us. We literally had to drag and shout ourselves over to the station control where I asked the station control officer whether they spoke English and whether they could help us because these two men were trying to grab us.

    The station officer looked confused and the two “police officers” started their spew of Japanese at us. One of the “police officers” once again grabbed me by both hands and tried to drag me into the station control room and I physically refused and asked them for the umpteenth time what they wanted. They kept asking for “Passport” and when i asked WHY, they simply repeated clearly the only English word they knew—“Passport.”

    I asked one of the “police officers” to get on the phone and get someone who DOES speak the English language to speak to me, at which point my friend said just show them the passport. I then opened my bag and showed them my passport while asking them “Do you read English? My passport is in English, if you can’t even read it, why are you bothering to look at it?”

    One of the “police officers” saw my passport, then asked me for my visa. I informed him that as a Singaporean, I did not need a visa to enter Japan. All of a sudden, their attitudes changed and I heard one word I did understand—“Arigato.”

    The ridiculousness of the situation really hit me; these men who just man-handled us, were thanking us?? And before I could ask them for their police badges again to note their numbers down, they disappeared. My friend did catch the name of one officer: “Yamashita.”

    We have no idea even now what the whole incident was about. We would like to know and more importantly, we would really like some form of apology for the way we were physically handled. This incident was extremely disturbing and I cannot believe that the Japanese police acted so aggressively, like thugs in such a public area, without any ability whatsoever to explain themselves.

    It has marred the image of Japan for both of us, and for all I read about the polite and courteous culture of Japanese, we are now left to wonder if that only applies to non-governmental situations.

    A few burning questions that arose from this incident:
    1) Are these police officers authorized to request our passports as they wish?
    2) Under what circumstances can these officers exercise this authority?
    3) Without any resistance in any way from us, other than just asking why they require our passports and trying to walk to the station control, where we feel safer, are they allowed to use physical restraint?
    4) Are these male officers allowed to use physical restraint on females like us? Should they not have waited for a female officer?
    5) In such a predominantly tourist area like Shinjuku, where these officers are checking for foreign passports, should they not have received some form of language training so that they can explain why they need to see my passport? I do not believe that expecting them to be achieve a basic level of communication skills in the English language which is spoken in most of the rest of the world is unreasonable in anyway. What kind of training DO these officers receive?
    6) What in the world did my friend and I do that warranted the passport check and the physical restraint?

    Editor’s note: This commentary was submitted by the writer. Japan Today contacted the Shinjuku police but a spokesperson declined to comment on the incident.

    18 Responses to “Japan Today: Shinjuku cops rough up Singaporean women during “passport check””

    1. Daniel J. Says:

      Definitely contact the Singapore Embassy and any other place that could help. Japanese authorities are too used to the average passive Japanese citizen. Maybe they don’t understand that in most other countries people don’t stand for abuse. Don’t expect them to admit any wrongdoing until you can find someone who can pressure them in the right way.

    2. Kimpatsu Says:

      For future note, the women should have started screaming “Chikan da!”
      That would have made these thugs let go pronto. (The same way that one should always yell “Fire!” instead of “Robbery!”) Besides, touching a woman without permission IS chikan behaviour.

    3. Behan Says:

      Those are all good questions that I would like the answer to, too.

    4. tornadoes28 Says:

      It probably was some form of racial profiling. One thing though, the way the incident is described I actually don’t blame the police. Yes, they may have been plain clothes and the people may have been only “10 steps” away from the train office but the people tried walking away and when the police officer tried to stop them the people started complaining and not cooperating. See quote below. They say they tried to take a step away and they started shouting at the cops. It seems to me these people over reacted and brought some of this on themselves.

      “As we took a step away, one of these “officers” grabbed my friend by the arm and tried to walk her away. She tried to get him to take his hands off and so did I. We repeatedly told them to take their hands off her, and when I tried to take the man’s hands off my friend, the other “officer” grabbed me and tried to lead me away.

      Feeling quite threatened at this point, I started shouting at them to let go, and there was a mild tussle between us, as we had to repeatedly get them to let go of both of us. We literally had to drag and shout ourselves over to the station control where I asked the station control officer whether they spoke English and whether they could help us because these two men were trying to grab us.”

    5. Uzi Says:

      I’d like to point a few things from ms. Yvonne Lee’s personal account.

      1) It’s incredibly naive to assume and demand from the Japanese police officers to speak in English especially in a country where English is NOT the first language. In fact it is ms. Lee’s responsibility, as in her burden, to learn the local language. Does the Singaporean law their police officers to speak Russian when they request a passport from a Russian tourist?

      2) Just about anywhere in the world any police officers can come and ask a foreigner for their identification. I know this because I’ve visited more than 21 countries. And if you comply then nothing happens. Just because ms. Lee is foreigner it does NOT give her any special right more than what is already applied to the Japanese locals.

      3) ms. Lee and friend were roughened up because you didn’t comply to the police officers’ simple request. In the US you’ll get treated worse than this to the point they’ll handcuff you. In the US when you are pulled over by the police, say for traffic violation, you are required to place both hands in the steering wheel. If you do not then police will take their gun out and will consider you as a suspect. This is in their training.

      4) The police officers presented to ms. Lee their badges before requesting for an identification. Ms Lee refused for reason only she could not read or understand Japanese. She is in Japan. Again Japan is not an English speaking country. In the face of the law, the police officers did nothing wrong while ms. Lee can be charged for obstructing justice. In fact, specific to Japan she could have been arrested for creating disturbance in public by screaming and shouting plus disobeying the authorities.

      5) All of this could have been avoided with ms. Lee simply showing her passport. An act that takes no effort at all. IF she gets arrested even after she shown her passport or for not carrying one then she may have a case.

      Just like the opinion of the poster above, it seems that ms. Lee brought this incident onto herself.

    6. Kimpatsu Says:

      @Tornadoes28:
      Note that these peopel did not properly identify themselves as cops. They did not permit their badges to be properly inspected, for example. For all the women knew, these were a couple of pervs pretending to be cops.

    7. E.P Lowe Says:

      Tornadoes28, you have to look at the situation from the viewpoint of the tourists:

      They were approached by people who looked like guys off the street.

      These guys flashed a badge that said ‘Police’ at them and repeatedly said “Passport”.

      When the tourists tried to move towards the station police control to get help these guys grabbed the tourists and tried to lead them away.

      No offence, but when guys who profess to be police try to lead people away from an area where there are uniformed (i.e. real) police officers – that screams ‘abduction’ to me.

      Shouting is understandable in that situation.

      The plain-clothes cops initiated the situation and caused it to escalate though their incompetence, or so it seems.

    8. tjj Says:

      Police officers should be concerned with real CRIME. Not visa overstaying. That should be left to immigration officials.

    9. Martin Says:

      Tornadoes28 you should go to Hungary and show your passport to a 125kg skinhead looking dude dressed as a “police officer” flashing a fake ID, just for fun… it is a scam pretty common in Eastern Europe. I had 3 beefs surrounding me and my friend in Poland for an “ID check” (but it is Japan after all, those things never happen here) If they are real police officers paid to “protect and serve”, they should adopt a professional attitude: 1-identify themselves clearly and politely 2-should avoid treating innocent people like criminals 3-stop racial profiling (well, we stopped them because they “look chinese”…which is not legal btw)

    10. HO Says:

      1) Are these police officers authorized to request our passports as they wish?
      (A.) Yes. Police officers can demand any foreigners to show their passports or gaijin cards for no reason. If a foreigner refuses to show his/her passport, there is a criminal penalty (fine of 100,000 yen or less) for not complying. (Law of Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition, article 23)

      2) Under what circumstances can these officers exercise this authority?
      (A.) Any circumstances.

      3) Without any resistance in any way from us, other than just asking why they require our passports and trying to walk to the station control, where we feel safer, are they allowed to use physical restraint?
      (A.) If a person “runs” from a police officer, he can arrest the runner. Don’t run. Walk. (Code of Criminal Procedure, article 212)

      4) Are these male officers allowed to use physical restraint on females like us? Should they not have waited for a female officer?
      (A.) They are allowed to use physical restraint on women, if circumstances warrants.

      5)
      (A.) First of all, Shinjuku is not a tourist area. There are no foreign language skills required for police officers in Japan.

      6) What in the world did my friend and I do that warranted the passport check and the physical restraint?
      (A.) They can ask passorts for no reason. Not showing a passport itself is a crime.

    11. Daniel J. Says:

      “Chikan da!” is a great idea. Is there anything even stronger?

    12. Level3 Says:

      I’m assuming these stupid cops were doing racial profiling, and given the time and place 11:30PM in Shinjuku, assumed to 2 ladies were illegal sex industry workers on the way to their jobs in Kabukicho.

      And I bet Japan was doing plenty of advertising abroad geared towards young women as part of the Yokoso Japan campaign.

      “Come to Tokyo and go to the shopping, eat a delicious dinner, and get arrested by our incompetent racist police who will assume all sankokujin-looking women who walk our streets after sunset are, of course, prostitutes. NOkoso Japan!”

    13. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      1) Are these police officers authorized to request our passports as they wish?
      (A.) Yes. Police officers can demand any foreigners to show their passports or gaijin cards for no reason.

      HO, I’m really starting to think you’re a troll. It is clearly stated in Article 13, Section 2 of the Alien Registration law that police can make such demands “in the course of their official duties” (shokumu no shikkou ni atari ). What is meant by “official duties” with regards to stopping people on the street is spelled out in the Police Execution of Duties Law, Section 2: gouriteki ni handan shite naniraka no hanzai o okashi, moshikuwa okasou to shiteiru to utagau ni tariru soutou na riyuu, “to logically conclude that there is reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed or is about to be committed”.These laws are similar to those in other countries, and people accept them because we trust that government officials will not overstep their duties. We expect to be required to show proof of legal residence when we enter the country, when we go to immigration offices to renew our visas, and perhaps when conducting business at city hall, but certainly not when walking through a train station and doing nothing at all suspicious except perhaps having a rare skin color.

      Arbitrary “papers, please!” demands from police to non-suspects went out with the Gestapo and KGB. Despite what you may wish, even Japan does not allow them. If the police would just stick to their own rules, they’d take a lot less heat from social activists and would get along a lot better with the public.

      It would be useful to have an official legal answer as to whether or not people are required to obey otherwise-legal demands given by police officers who have not satisfactorily identified themselves as such. I imagine that a police officer does not begin to have the “powers” of that position until he produces a badge; otherwise out-of-uniform police would be free to arrest anyone shoving them around on the train or in a crowd of people for “assaulting a police officer”.

      –Yes, HO is a troll.  He continuously goes out of his way to misrepresent facts and cases. And according to JAPAN PROBE, there are apparently people masquerading as police to dupe NJ.  Japan’s laws are also there to stop that, too (cops must show their ID when asked).  But you wouldn’t know that from reading HO.  Read the pertinent full text of the laws here, and belay the trolls.  Debito

    14. HO Says:

      Mark, what you say is a strange interpretation of laws at best and is harmful to people who naively believe it.

      First of all, passport check is stipulated in article 23 of Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, not in article 13 of Alien Registration Law. So, you are wrong from the on set.

      Second, the article 23 of Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law does say “sono shokumu no shikkou ni atari”, but what it means is “while they are on duty”.

      Now, you try to interpret the “duty” is limited to “stop and question” provision stipulated in article 2 of Police Execution of Duties Law.

      But look at the article 8 of Police Execution of Duties Law.
      “第八条  警察官は、この法律の規定によるの外、刑事訴訟その他に関する法令及び警察の規則による職権職務を遂行すべきものとする。”
      “Article 8
      In addition to the duties in this Law, the police officers are to perform the duties stipulated in the Code of Criminal Procedure and other laws as well as the police regulations.”

      “Passport checking” is one of such duties stipulated in “other laws”. They can check passports as well as stop and question. These are different powers of police officers. So, “passport checking” is not limited to the circumstances where “stop and question” is allowed.

      If you still cannot believe what I am saying, consult your lawyer.

    15. alex Says:

      while I do disagree with random passport or gaijin card checks, I also disagree with the attitude of people from the pacific rim who think it strange if a person cannot speak english.

      Where the hell do they get off demanding to speak to someone who can speak english? how far do you think a chinese woman would have got demanding to speak with a police official who speaks chinese?

    16. Level3 Says:

      I’ve always wondered if the Japanese tendency to go on group tours when going abroad means they tend to think that the opposite is true, and people coming to Japan as tourists must be part of a tour group. Therefore, any foreigners who are found in singles or pairs must not be tourists, and are thus perfectly fine targets for passport checks on suspicion of being immigration violators.

      Racism is the heart of the issue. Anyone who doesn’t “look Japanese” is easily targetted by the police, who probably hang back until they hear the foreigners speaking a foreign language as “proof” of their non-Japanese-ness and “justification” for harassing them.

      Of course, as more and more international marriages yield more and more bi-cultural children, there are going to be more and more cases of the cops hassling Japanese citizens for passports and actually dragging them to the koban overnight, just because they may have blue eyes, or darker skin, or happen to be bilingual.

      As an increasing number of Japanese don’t “look Japanese”, how the hell are the racist cops gonna cope? Will Japanese mistakenly targetted for passport checks be able to sue? or at least get an apology?

    17. KK Says:

      Did some of these posters miss the part where these officers were plainclothes? As a woman, I would NEVER assume someone in plainclothes flashing a badge was actually a cop. It was perfectly reasonable for these woman to want to walk over to where an actual person in uniform was to make sure these guys weren’t just a bunch of thugs.

    18. Sumoni Says:

      I know this is old, but what I want to know is why these two went to Japan and can hardly speak japanese? Very foolish. I would have flashed my passport and asked them in japanese for their badges again and an introduction since I believe that’s customary. This would have prevented any grabbing or shouting.. Imagine that happening in America, two foreign women trying to walk away from the cops, they would be grabbed and cuffed. Going to a foreign country and not knowing the language is very dangerous. Especially a country that does racial profiling.. What if these guys weren’t police but women traffickers? They would have been snatched up no matter what. I honestly think they should consider themselves lucky.

      Also, not to sound like a meanie, but I understand also as a woman precautions about who could be faking being an officer. But learning the language and researching the country would tell her that japanese police wear plainclothes. I’d chock this up to bad trip preparation and unfortunate racial profiling.

      – Rather harsh attitude towards tourists, no?

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