Hi Blog. I was told this would happen–people of color (i.e. non-Asians) are getting racially profiled at Hokkaido’s airports as they exit baggage claim. (Shin-Chitose and Memanbetsu are confirmed, as also acknowledged by an officer of the Hokkaido Police in the sound recording below).
On Thursday, June 19, 2008, on my way back from Tokyo, I was stopped at 3:12PM at Shin-Chitose Airport by a Mr Ohtomo (Hokkaido Police Badge #522874) at the JAL exit and demanded at least three times my ID. I recorded the entire exchange as an mp3 sound file (edited down to seven minutes, with no cuts once the police questioning begins). Download it from here:
It includes the complete exchange in Japanese between Mr Ohtomo and myself, which essentially runs like this:
1) Mr Ohtomo identifies himself as a (plainclothes) police officer, and that for the needs of G8 Summit security, he needs to see ID from me as a foreigner.
2) When I tell him I’m I’m a Japanese, he keeps asking whether or not I’m a Permanent Resident and continues the quest for my ID, saying that he asks everyone thusly.
3) When I tell him that I’d been watching them and they hadn’t stopped anyone until now, he apologizes and admits that he mistook me for a foreigner (meaning that that was in fact the criterion used). But he still keeps asking for ID.
4) Eventually I tell him my name and job affiliation (after he allows me to read his badge number out loud for the record), and I say I will cooperate if he will ask three Asians for their ID. He goes off and tries, but (it’s hard to hear, but I did not cut this section, for the record) the businessman he corners refuses to give his ID. So I say that if he doesn’t have to, neither should I. Under the Keisatsukan Shokumu Shikkou Hou, which he acknowledges is binding here.
5) Mr Ohtomo is very apologetic for stopping me, saying that it’s only his job, and that these checks will continue until the Summit ends. And that it will probably happen to me again and again, but he doesn’t want me to have a bad impression. He also says (this guy’s a very gentle, conscientious cop) that he has been told a number of times by people he’s stopped that he’s being racist in his activities, and feels bad when they say they are getting a bad impression of Japan due to these ID checks (NB: Bravo to those people speaking out!–Police are people too and it does have an effect.)
6) The final few minutes of this seven-minute recording is me asking three Australians in English who were on the same plane whether they got ID checked. They woman said yes, she had been. Thus verifiably no other passengers (since they were all Asian) from that domestic flight were ID checked by the police.
Further, as visual proof that the two police offers were only stopping non-Asians, I took these photos with my keitai while still in baggage claim. Easy to spot the cops (Mr Ohtomo is wearing black). And note how they stay in position regardless of other people exiting (photo four)–they were only checking the White people.
I missed my train, but no, in the end, I did not have to show my ID. But when I tried to give this story to a Hokkaido Shinbun reporter I had lined up specially, he didn’t bite, deep sigh.
Listen to the music. The refrain is familiar and now ever verifiably so. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
UPDATE: THE EXCHANGE BETWEEN MR OHTOMO AND MYSELF IN FULL, TRANSLATED. (original Japanese transcript here)
ARUDOU: Hello there.
OHTOMO: Sorry to bother you. May I speak Japanese?
OHTOMO: I’m from the Hokkaido Police. With the G8 Summit, we’re asking people to display their Gaijin Cards.
ARUDOU: Yeah, but I’m not a foreigner.
ARUDOU: Yep. I’m a Japanese.
OHTOMO: You’re a permanent resident?
ARUDOU: I’m a Japanese.
OHTOMO: Oh really. What are you, a half-breed or something?
ARUDOU: I’m a Japanese.
OHTOMO: Are you carrying a drivers license or some proof of that?
ARUDOU: Why do you ask?
OHTOMO: Sorry, could you please step over here out of the way?
ARUDOU: I’d like to get on my train.
OHTOMO: Are you a foreigner?
ARUDOU: Nope. Japanese.
OHTOMO: Aren’t you carrying proof of that?
ARUDOU: What do you want?
OHTOMO: A drivers license or somesuch.
ARUDOU: Why’s that?
OHTOMO: Do you have any proof of your identity?
ARUDOU: Why do you ask?
OHTOMO: We’re confirming this sort of thing with everyone.
ARUDOU: Uh, sorry, but I have been watching you for quite some time, and you haven’t confirmed anyone’s identity with anyone at all thus far.
OHTOMO: Thus far?
ARUDOU: Yes, lots of people have emerged from baggage claim, but I’m the only one you’ve checked so far. Isn’t that right?
OHTOMO: Sorry. It’s because you look like a foreigner.
ARUDOU: Sorry to break it to you, but I’m not a foreigner.
OHTOMO: Oh, really. Okay, I understand.
ARUDOU: May I go now?
OHTOMO: Sorry, but do you come through here frequently? Because from now, we’re going to be doing this sort of thing until July 9, and there’s a possibility that somebody’s going to call on you like this.
ARUDOU: There is that distinct possibility, yes.
OHTOMO: Well, please don’t take umbrage.
ARUDOU: Well, I understand that, but do explain yourselves. And please don’t target people just because they’re white or because they look foreign.
OHTOMO: I understand.
ARUDOU: Now, may I go?
OHTOMO: Sorry about that.
ARUDOU: May I ask your name?
ARUDOU: Mr Ohtomo, from the Hokkaido Police Department, right?
OHTOMO: That’s right. Shall I show you my ID?
ARUDOU: Thanks. May I read the number out loud? 522874. Thanks a bunch.
OHTOMO: Now may I ask you for your ID?
ARUDOU: Er, why?
OHTOMO: Okay, sorry, may I ask your name?
ARUDOU: I’m Arudou Debito, Associate Professor at Hokkaido Information University.
OHTOMO: Associate Professor?
ARUDOU: That’s right.
OHTOMO: I see. And where were you going and coming back from?
ARUDOU: I’d like to get on my train now.
OHTOMO: So you’re heading towards Sapporo.
ARUDOU: May I go now?
ARUDOU: You’re aren’t asking anyone else these kinds of questions now, are you?
ARUDOU: Well, if you want my cooperation, I’d like to ask you to ask three Asians for their ID. Do so and I’ll cooperate. How’s that?
OHTOMO: Okay. Would you be so kind as to wait right here?
ARUDOU: Sic ’em.
[Ohtomo asks a middle-aged Japanese businessman, who never breaks his stride, for his ID. Following him down the escalator towards the trains, Ohtomo eventually breaks off the chase when his quarry refuses to cooperate and show his ID.]
ARUDOU: Well, he didn’t show his ID, now, did he?
ARUDOU: Well, you can’t rightly ask him, under the Police Execution of Duties Law, now can you?
ARUDOU: So I guess that means that if he doesn’t have to show his, I don’t have to show mine, either, right?
OHTOMO: I take it you’ve been stopped like this many times before.
ARUDOU: Well, I’m a naturalized Japanese. I get treated a lot of different ways by the police as a White person.
OHTOMO: You’ve probably had a lot of bad experiences.
ARUDOU: Well, it’s happened many times.
OHTOMO: I see. Well, one time when I was talking to a university professor and asked him for his ID under the law, telling him this sort of thing goes on. He understood what we were up to. Anyway, we police are only doing this as part of our jobs, part of the activities associated with the Summit.
ARUDOU: I’m sure. However, please don’t just target people who look foreign or are White. That’s racial profiling. Some might even say it’s a kind of racial discrimination.
OHTOMO: Yes, up to now it’s been said to me many times. “This is racism, this is racial discrimination!”
ARUDOU: It’s not very pleasant, is it?
OHTOMO: But we police aren’t doing this with any prejudicial feelings. We haven’t even done this all that frequently. If we had, perhaps people would be more understanding. But suddenly here we start in June as the Summit approaches, so probably some people are going to find this hard to take.
ARUDOU: It is hard to take. Think about it for a minute. As of now, all terrorism in Japan has been caused by Japanese. From Aum Shinrikyo to the Red Army, all of it. So why are you only targeting people who look foreign? That’s the issue.
OHTOMO: I’m very sorry about that.
ARUDOU: Well, never mind.
OHTOMO: Are you going to make your 3:19 train?
ARUDOU: If possible. Alright, may I go now?
OHTOMO: It’s already 3:15. Cutting it fine. Anyway, take care.
OHTOMO: And also, please remember that you may be asked like this all over again, by somebody other than me. Could you please not take offense?
ARUDOU: I’ll make an effort (laughs).
OHTOMO: Well, I’ve said this before, but there have been cases where people I’ve questioned have said, “I used to like Japan, but because of things like this, I can’t stand the place anymore.”
ARUDOU: You’re kidding!
OHTOMO: People react like that sometimes. We aren’t doing this sort of thing just to offend people.
ARUDOU: I understand it’s your job.
OHTOMO: Again, I’m sorry about that.
ARUDOU: No problem. Look, do what you can to thwart terrorism.
OHTOMO: We’ll be doing this only until the end of the Summit.
ARUDOU: I’m looking forward to that.
OHTOMO: It’s happening in other airports in Hokkaido too.
ARUDOU: Such as Memanbetsu, right?
OHTOMO: Er, yes, right. Anyway, take care on your way home.
ARUDOU: Thanks. You too. Bye.