Debito.org reader Brian reports on Shinjuku Police 9-day incarceration of 74-year-old tourist for pocket knife (UPDATED)

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Hi Blog. We have had a lot of discussion this weekend regarding the Japanese police and their powers of search and seizure (particularly regarding naturalized Japanese citizens). A commenter or two asserted that this wasn’t happening to tourists. Well, this poster would respectfully disagree. Yokoso Japan y’all, too bad if you’re in the way when police have crime-stoppage point quotas to fill (http://www.debito.org/?p=3925#comment-180560, comment #11). Name and contact details posted here with permission. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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To: debito@debito.org
From: Brian <brian_hedge@hotmail.com>
Subject: Tourism in Japan is very unsafe!!!
Date: Fri, 10 Jul 2009 22:45:06 +0900

Dear Mr. Debito,

I’m writing this email to all of you because I feel it’s in your best interest to understand how dangerous it is for tourists to visit Japan.

On July 2nd in Shinjuku, a 74-year-old American tourist walked into a koban to ask directions. Inside the koban was an older (senior) police officer and a younger (rookie?) police officer. The American asked where Kinokunia Book Store was and the police officer responded by asking the American if he had a pocket knife. The American being the law abiding citizen that he is said “Yes!” and handed it to the senior police officer. After a quick measurement of the knife, the police officer arrested the 74-year-old man for having a pocket knife 1 centimeter over the legal limit.

The most amazing parts to the story, a new law about pocket knives had just gone into effect one day before this TOURIST was arrested, making this entire situation more ridiculous! Moreover, 2 other American tourists were arrested that same day at the same koban.

Things to consider:

1. How are unsuspecting tourists to know they cannot carry key-chain knifes?

2. What are unsuspecting tourists to do if the airline they fly, America immigration and Japanese immigration officials don’t warn them about these laws?

3. How are unsuspecting tourists supposed to know how incredibly backwards and unintelligent Japanese police officers are if travel agencies don’t warn them?

4. Why should tourists “gaijin” come to a country that targets them as criminals?

5. Why are Japanese not arrested if they break the same law?

This man is not only old and frail, but an incredibly nice person and harmless. He carries his pocket knife everywhere and the knife is very small and practical. Of course we understand a law is a law, and no one wants to purposely break laws in a host country, but the reality is, it is completely and utterly unjust to target tourists who have zero knowledge of the laws here, especially laws that went into effect 1 day earlier.

This American is not my father, but my friend’s father who was visiting Japan for the first time. When I discovered this situation I was completely stunned and very upset, as you would be.

Now, I feel compelled to shine a light on the fact that Japan is a horrible place to visit and extremely unsafe if you are not Japanese. It’s astounding that a tourist in Japan has more to fear from the Japanese government or national police force than the citizenry.

It is 2009, not 1809! It’s about time the Japanese government (people) treat foreigners like human beings not unlike themselves–with respect and humility.

Sincerely,
Brian Hedge
Shibuya, Tokyo

///////////////////////////////

ADDENDUM:

> From: debito@debito.org
> To:
brian_hedge@hotmail.com
> Subject: Re: Tourism in Japan is very unsafe!!!
> Date: Fri, 10 Jul 2009 21:00:38 +0900
>
> Hi Brian. May I blog this with your name attached as author? And has the US Embassy gotten involved? Thanks very much. Debito
From: Brian <brian_hedge@hotmail.com>
Date: July 10, 2009 9:03:30 PM JST
To: <debito@debito.org>
Subject: RE: Tourism in Japan is very unsafe!!!

Yes. He was released today after nine freak’n days! Unbelievable! I told my friend he should sue them for time lost and his plane ticket here….

ENDS

=================================

UPDATE JULY 28, 2009: A version of this letter was published in the Japan Times today. As you will see below, this blog entry engendered a lot of comments about likelihoods and substantiation. I had no idea the JT would also be publishing it, but I guess in an ideal world Debito.org would be citing the media as the primary source for more credibility.

Moral, I guess: Debito.org should not be scooping the Japan Times, for it would attract less criticism. 🙂

=================================

UPDATE AUGUST 25, 2009:  The Japan Times corroborates the story as true.  http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090826a4.html

Now let’s see if the naysaying commenters below actually offer a bit of capitulation.  Would be nice.

110 comments on “Debito.org reader Brian reports on Shinjuku Police 9-day incarceration of 74-year-old tourist for pocket knife (UPDATED)

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  • Innocent Bystander, I appreciate what you are saying, but I think this kind of reasoning can also be used to justify police abuse or racial prejudice. The fact that prejudice exists in the US doesn’t justify its existence in Japan. It should be fought against in both countries.
    And Debito’s web site, I believe, is focused on problems foreigners and naturalized Japanese face in Japan. Personally, I would never comment on a Japanese-American’s web site that since there is prejudice against NJ in Japan, they have no right to feel upset about prejudice in the US. I’d wish them luck in their struggles. I agree that there is need for balanced and neutral information on cases like this, however.
    I’m curious about what really happened at the koban, too. Maybe the elderly man isn’t aware of the thread on this web site. I think he was only visiting Japan and may not be aware of or care to respond about this case.

    Reply
  • “No mention about the other 2 foreigners arrested that day, nor the fact that the 74-year-old was being pushed to sign something he didn’t understand, nor the fact that the son was forced to speak Japanese to the 74-year-old who doesn’t speak Japanese, nor the fact that on the immigration card it only mentions “swords” not pocket knives.”

    OK, now I am almost certain this story is fake. If a 74 year-old man was arrested and detained for nine days, I am almost certain that the Japan Times, if they had the sources–and according to Brian’s story they apparently do–would have run with it. The JT is probably the most immigrant friendly paper in the country. If there isn’t a piece in the Japan Times that appears in the next week or so about conditions in Japanese jails, I will be completely certain that our “Brian Hedge” is somebody trying to catch the Japan Times and debito.org out.

    […]

    Reply
  • FILE UNDER IRONY. NOTE AGE OF ASSAILANT:

    Two police officers stabbed while trying to subdue 74-yr-old man
    Saturday 22nd August, 02:00 PM JST
    http://www.japantoday.com/category/crime/view/two-police-officers-injured-while-trying-to-subdue-knife-wielding-74-yr-old-man#comment_321065

    OKAYAMA —
    Two police officers were stabbed while trying to subdue a 74-year-old man brandishing two kitchen knives in his home in Nadasaki, Okayama Prefecture, on Friday. The man, identified as Kenji Nanba, was charged with assault and interfering with police in the line of their duty, but he has denied the charges.

    At around 3:50 p.m., police received a call from Nanba’s wife, 69, saying her husband had begun to get violent. When two police officers arrived, Nanba had already settled down, but when they approached him he suddenly grabbed two kitchen knives. He lashed at an assistant inspector, 49, and stabbed him in the leg, then slashed the other officer in the arm. Nanba was drunk at the time of the incident.
    ENDS

    Reply
  • New to this board, but have heard about Debito for a long time over at FG. I think Debito went a bit too far in publicly chastising Mr. Hedge and post #99 pretty much said it all. Cool heads prevail.

    Reply
  • sayitaintsojoe! says:

    Ah, self-loathing suck ups and constant apologists for xenophobic profiling will be eating a large slice of crow today especially the conspiracy-seeking ones who thought this was all something wretched from someone’s butt cheeks.

    I just stumbled upon this site and article after reading Brian’s letter in the Japan Times and I thought he got quite a raw deal here from a few but admittedly not all his detractors. I believed the story from the get-go because it fit in with similar stories I had heard before from people who had experienced them.

    In my time in Japan I have always encountered both online and in person those who are willing to defend Japan sometimes to the ludicrous point of even pooh-poohing Nanking and in these type of cases they will either dismiss such stories as poppycock or express the sentiment that the foreigner deserved what they got.

    Then there are those who need to just smarten up by not asking stupid questions such as:

    1 why did he have a knife?(not good on aeroplanes)
    2 How did he get it on the aeroplane with said knife?
    3 How did he get through customs and the metal detectors with said knife?

    Answer:
    1. Pocketknives are useful (Check In Luggage)
    2. Check In Luggage
    3. Check In Luggage

    Some of you owe Brian an apology for raking him over the coals.

    Reply
  • Innocent_Bystander says:

    Now, wouldn’t it be nice if the naysayers (particularly the sarky ones) offered up a bit of capitulation?

    I don’t know if I’m sarky or not. I will concede that it really happened but even the Japan Times article was unsatisfactory since it didn’t come through with enough who, what, how, where and when to satisfy me. How can anyone mount an effective protest against the police with so little information to go by?

    — How about your assertion that the cops were acting out of character? Take some responsibility for your claims after pouring scorn on others for their claims.

    Reply
  • sayitaintsojoe! says:

    who?

    The man didn’t want to be named probably because he didn’t want his son to be bothered over it

    what?

    what more do you need

    where?
    shinjuku, tokyo, japan. How would knowing the exact koban help you? Were you planning on visiting it?

    when?
    July 2

    Reply
  • Thanks for linking for the Confirmation, Debito!

    I personally was doubtful about this history when I first heard it here – it was too bizarre to be true. I’ll be passing the news around.

    However, your “let’s see the naysayers capitulate” comment is unnecessarily divisive :-/

    — Sorry. But there’s “asking for clarification” and then there’s just “being mean about it”, which the people I’ve called the “naysayers” were being, IMHO. They didn’t just act doubtful, they tried to *categorically deny the possibility of this even happening*, if not blame the victim. Sorry, but that’s being even more divisive, and no doubt if I had been wrong they would have beyed for my capitulation (which of course I would have given; so why can’t they?).

    Sauce for the goose. If they demand that people be right, then we should have the ability to demand that those people admit when they’re wrong. Thing is, as we’ve seen here, they won’t even do that. So there’s just no possibility of being “inclusive” when they won’t be helpful or supportive under any circumstances.

    Reply
  • Confirmation of this Kafkaesque report is a good way to shake off the Japologists for sure. As someone who has lived here a long time I appreciate the general safety, but sometimes wonder whether living with the friendly neighborhood police state is worth it? The right to lock someone up for three weeks without charges is just not acceptable, it is a violation of human rights. You know, I’ll bet North Korea is mighty safe as well . . .

    Reply

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