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

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on July 27th, 2009

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in JapansourstrawberriesavatarUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

    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 (, comment #11). Name and contact details posted here with permission. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    From: Brian <>
    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.

    Brian Hedge
    Shibuya, Tokyo



    > From:
    > To:
    > 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 <>
    Date: July 10, 2009 9:03:30 PM JST
    To: <>
    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….



    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 would be citing the media as the primary source for more credibility.

    Moral, I guess: 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.

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

    110 Responses to “ reader Brian reports on Shinjuku Police 9-day incarceration of 74-year-old tourist for pocket knife (UPDATED)”

    1. Manule Says:

      Why is the big question and many of us, foreigners, are just evaluating that right now. Is all this crap happening here really worth it? Outrageous!!

    2. jim Says:

      thanks brian for the story, and i will make sure to tell my elderly parents to not visit me this summer. japan is really turning into a very dangerous country.

    3. Charles Says:

      It might be useful here to state the law, just what IS the maximum length blade allowed?

    4. Ken44 Says:

      Try and bring this to the attention of the US media. If they give it some play you can bet the Japanese government will be quick to offer an apology, maybe offer to reimburse the ticket and perhaps give him something extra for his trouble.

    5. Al Says:

      My first reaction was shock because it seems preposterous. With that in mind I wondered how Debito protects against people who make up stories and send them in. Have you been able to verify the facts here? I’m not saying that Brian Hedge is a liar, just that we don’t know and before we pass on the story (or post it) it might be better to have some evidence or something to back it up.
      Debito, do you know Brian Hedge?
      You have to admit that the story seems strange.

      Old Man: Excuse me police officer, do you know how to get to…?
      Police: Do you have a pocket knife?
      Old Man: Yes sir.
      Police: Let me measure the blade.

      I’m sorry for bringing this up Brian, but I’m sure you understand. We all come across Japan haters who make up worse stories than these.

    6. kokogahenda Says:

      I understand the need expressed in other comments for more back-up on stories like this. But the story does not seem at all strange to me. The police are probably operating under a quota system (this was revealed a few years ago when it turned out police in some parts of the country had been systematically falsifying crime data for years). Probably the quota system includes foreigners (foreigners are the only “growth sector” in the police version of the economy, so it is probably important that foreign crime increases for budgetary purposes). So engaging in practices which help fill the quota is not at all unusual (the same dynamic probably applies to targeting foreigners for drug testing in Roppongi).

    7. BlogD Says:

      What Al said. I would like to see some verification, as well as how the person knew that 2 other Americans were arrested at the koban the same day, and what for. I am all set to be indignant, but want to make sure that I know the whole story first. Even assuming the event happened, reports by interested parties almost always color the story to some degree.

      Whatever the case, however, it is worth looking into.

    8. Chris Says:

      I strongly agree with Al.

      If this did indeed occur, there must be a significant chunk of the story missing.

      I’m probably the last person on Earth that expects law enforcement officers (Japanese or otherwise) to behave appropriately … but this is aberrant behavior even for them.

      Debito, would you consider pulling this article from your web site until you’re satisfied as to the particulars of this event? At the moment this seems to fall under the “unsubstantiated inflammatory rumor” category.

      — You have the contact details of the poster. Contact him directly. I notified him this morning that commenters here have questions. If we get no further responses within a decent amount of time, I will pull this blog entry with apologies.

    9. Asterisk Says:

      I am not confident this story has all the facts, either.

    10. Alexander Says:

      Like the others, I find it hard to believe. But if it is indeed true, the guy should make a statement and hopefully get some backup from the US embassy to verify any assistance they provided him with. This kind of story is the worst nightmare of the folks at “Yokoso Japan” and I imagine even the Japanese media would have a field day with it. I think it is absolutely essential to verify this story.

    11. E.P. Lowe Says:

      I’d be inclined to believe the poster – similar stuff has happened in the past, like in this case with the creator of the Death Note manga:

      According to Fuji Television Network News, Death Note manga artist and co-creator Takeshi Obata has been arrested on the morning of Thursday, September 7th in Japan for violation of the Gun and Sword Control Law. Tokyo Metropolitan Police Shakujii Station officers pulled over his car in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward Oizumimachi at 12:45am after seeing a head light that was out. Officer Shakujii questioned the author about the light issue and found him to be in posession a folding type army knife with a blade of 8.6cm in length. The knife was located in the car’s internal console box. When asked about the knife Obata reportedly replied that it was for camping. According to the law one may not be in possession of cutlery with a blade in excess of 6cm in length unless they have legitimate reason. Breach of the law can be punished by a 30,000 Yen fine and/or imprisonment of up to 1 year. Obata hails from Niigata Prefecture and is of course known for the smash hit Death Note comic he created with writer Tsugumi Ooba. The work was serialized in Shuesiha’s “Weekly Shonen Jump”. His “Hikaru No Go” manga won the Osamu Tezuka cultural newborn prize in 2003.

    12. George Says:

      “You have the contact details of the poster.”

      True, but you are running a blog dedicated to advocating for foreigners rights in Japan, not a gossip column. People come here for accurate information about what’s going on and what to do about it. I would assume the onus is on you. Couldn’t you ask “brian” for some sort of evidence–a scan of a police report, perhaps–before you assume that he is not either a disaffected gaijin or one of your detractors trying to catch you out? Just because a piece of evidence agrees with what you are saying, doesn’t make it sound.

      — Yeah, a police report. “Thanks for staying with us. Here’s your police report as a souvenir. Enjoy the rest of your stay in Japan.” Now why didn’t I think of that?

    13. Tinker Says:

      This story sounds very plausible indeed.
      The rest of you debunkers are out of touch with modern Tokyo street life. It’s just not the place it used to be folks!…
      …so better wake up and smell the “Ko-Hi”
      My sympathies go out to this man and his concerned family.
      And respect to Debito-san for his endurance.

    14. Al Says:

      Plausible or not I think it is Debito’s responsibility to verify claims like this before he posts them here. I read this blog and expect to get facts, not unsubstantiated claims.

      And Debito, I think that your sarcastic response to someone who appears to be a loyal reader of your blog is totally uncalled for. He is just saying that he expects more from you. I also think that your telling the previous poster to contact Brian Hedge is a little off too. It’s like if we contacted the New York Times editor about a particular article and they he us to contact the reporter directly as he didn’t write the article. I’m not saying you are the New York Times but we do expect news that’s fit to print. Also it would be as easy to create an email address as to create a story. Easier for some.

      Again I’m not saying Brian is a liar and I know that worse things than this have happened in Japan but still, we need evidence.

      — Fine. Ask for it. But let’s keep it civil when we critique. And “George”, whoever he is, is hardly a person I’d attach the word “loyal” to. He has a history of trolling… Anyway, back to the point.

    15. Clark Says:

      Brian’s letter was also carried by the Japan Times. I have no idea how much fact checking they do for these types of things, but apparently they saw fit to publish it.

      Tuesday, July 28, 2009

      Pocket knife lands tourist, 74, in lockup


      To the Japanese government and law enforcement authorities,

      I’m writing this letter 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 2 in Shinjuku, a 74-year-old American tourist walked into a police box to ask directions. Inside the koban were an older (senior) officer and his younger (rookie?) colleague.

      The American asked where Kinokuniya bookstore was, and the older police officer responded by asking the tourist if he had a pocket knife. The American, being the law-abiding citizen that he is, said “yes” and handed it to the senior officer. After a quick measurement of the blade, the officer arrested the 74-year-old for having a pocket knife 1 cm over the legal limit.

      The most shocking part to the story is that a new revision of a law regarding pocket knives was subject to a moratorium until July 5, meaning those possessing knives that violate the new rules had until July 4 to dispose of them! Moreover, two other American tourists were arrested that same day at the same koban.

      The conclusion to this man’s story was nine days in a holding cell. Welcome to Japan!

      Things to consider:

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

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

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

      4. Why should gaijin tourists 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; he is also an incredibly nice, harmless person. 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 that it is completely and utterly unjust to target tourists who have zero knowledge of the laws here, especially laws subject to a moratorium for Japanese until a few days later.

      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 and people treated foreigners like human beings not unlike themselves — with respect and humility.


    16. Chris Says:

      (open letter to “Brian”, who I suspect reads Debito’s blog)


      Your story sounds very strange.

      Could you please provide a few additional details? For instance, at which specific koban did this take place? What time of day? Was the 74-year-old alone or accompanied? How was his family notified of his incarceration? Where was he held? Was he charged with any specific crime? Did he sign a confession in exchange for release? On what pretext were the other two gaikokujin detained, and what was their relationship with the 74-year-old?

      Please forgive my suspicions, but this sounds very much like a hypothetical used as a study aid for a first-year criminal law examination (which, coincidentally, is happening right now). The first two bullet points that you mention pertain to “Ignorantia legis neminem excusat” (or “ignorance is not an excuse to break the law”), and the latter three seem to be referencing in-group bias.


      — Chris

    17. Jake Says:

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

      Is there any evidence whatsoever that this is the case?

      I agree with Al, two posts above. Discrimination is indeed a problem in this country, but rushing out claims like this without any sort of evidence or other back story damages the credibility of this blog. The content of this page is normally of high quality, but unsubstantiated claims and sarcastic remarks drag the level of discourse down.

    18. James Annan Says:

      I think you are all (many) being pretty harsh. The guy reported his story, briefly, and many of you are basically concluding it’s probably all made up, based on absolutely nothing. By all means, report it as an as yet unsupported allegation. It would be interesting to find out more about the story. But I don’t see any basis on which to call him a liar.

    19. Jcek Says:

      James Annan

      This story has no logical time line.

      An old man goes to a koban to ask directions, then suddenly hes asked if he has a knife? That doesn’t make any sense at all, the police are silly sometimes but they don’t go around asking people if they have knives(and if they are it’s a first for me).

      Of course people are going to try to debunk a story that looks shot through with holes. The story just doesn’t make any sense.

      I read it three times (much to my embarassment) and I can’t find any reason for the actions that took place.

      — Well, how about this for a scenario:

      Man goes on knife rampage in Akihabara, kills several people, causes huge shock to the nation. One of a number of indiscriminate knifings and cycle-by slashings that one hears about on the wide shows ad nauseam.

      Police are told to crack down on knives. Japanese people are now being stopped and having their bags searched for weapons. New law gets passed to shorten the tolerance for length for knives carried in public.

      Police have crime-prevention point-system tally quotas to fill. Police see convenient foreigner, not on a bike this time (the typical kikkake for ID checks in the search for possible stolen property, not to mention asking about drugs and knives these days; been reading this blog?). He’s actually come a the Police Box (where, incidentally, the questionee cannot refuse questions since there is no doubt people manning the Police Box are police).

      Knives are the crime-prevention torishimari campaign du jour. Tourist gets asked about one in passing. Cooperation ensues. So does enforcement of the letter of the law, since said tourist is in violation, regardless of whatever mitigating standards (advanced age, tourist status, or unawareness of law) may apply.

      Could just say the knife is in violation of the law and confiscate it (like at border controls). But what would happen if during the nationwide anti-knife campaign word got out that we let somebody off? Everyone would make that excuse and want amnesty! Mayhem would ensue. Sorry, old man, you’re nicked.

      This is what went through my head when I read Brian’s report. If you’ve had much dealings with the Japanese police (I have, and plenty more people have had plenty more), none of this is much of a logical stretch.

    20. Al Says:

      James, I think you are mistaken. In my case anyway, I am waiting for evidence before I make conclusions.

    21. Joe Says:

      I’m all for publishing heads up like “watch out for your pocket knife”, but the obviously leading and unfounded comments such as “Why are Japanese not arrested if they break the same law?” really undermine the credibility of this report.

      I agree with everyone else that says this mail is too incomplete to determine what, if anything to do with this information. But I think that, if someone is walking around an unfamiliar country in 2009 with concealed knives on their person, then though they may be able to claim that they were unaware of the law of Japan, I don’t see how they can be found innocent of disobeying the laws of common sense.

    22. Al Says:

      “Fine. Ask for it. But let’s keep it civil when we critique. And “George”, whoever he is, is hardly a person I’d attach the word “loyal” to. He has a history of trolling… Anyway, back to the point.”

      Wow. I hope you were not inferring that I wasn’t being civil.

    23. Bryan Says:

      I have personally had a police officer pull me over while driving, and ask me the following questions

      1. Where do you live

      2. Where do you work

      3. Do you have any knives

      4. Are you sure you don’t have any knives?

      5. Will you get out of the car and open up the trunk so I can make sure you don’t have any knives?

    24. john spiri Says:

      While it’s sensible to not rush to a judgment and desire more information and facts, I don’t see the logic of badgering Debito for it. It’s a blog for heaven’s sake. Even any news story can have omitted info, slant, or contain lies (to what extent do critics like Al think newspaper writers can verify the statements of others?). But this is a blog. I agree that more of a stink should be made about it in the American press, or perhaps a proper article in Japan Times. Thanks for providing us this preliminary report, Debito.

    25. Chris Says:

      Just checking the laws, knives over 6cm have been outlawed for years.

      There were no laws that went into effect “yesterday”.

      “With the exception of any type of switchblade, any knife with an overall length of no more than 15 cm (about 5.9 in), with a blade length of no more than 6 cm, is legal to carry.”
      [invective deleted]

      — Link please.

      Have the laws regarding knives not been tightened up recently? The Japan Times says they have.

      Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008
      Bill would toughen knife, gun law
      Kyodo News: The government approved a bill Tuesday that would ban possession of certain types of double-edged knives and tighten the criteria for who can own guns.

      The revised Firearm and Sword Control Law would ban possession of daggers and other double-edged knives with blades 5.5 cm or longer. Currently, swords, and knives and spears with blades 15 cm or longer, are banned.

      And with tighter laws means new police enforcement campaigns. Too bad if you’re a tourist caught in the campaign.

    26. Kakui Kujira Says:

      If you think a story sounds bogus because something a Japanese policeman does sounds weird/illogical, then you can’t believe just about all of the stories involving Japanese policeman in the media

    27. Victoria Says:

      Carrying a knife when you’re a foreigner on holiday anywhere doesn’t seem like a particularly good idea to me. In most cases, even if it is legal and you find yourself in a situation where you need it for defence, it’s most likely to be used to harm you by the assailant unless you happen to be training regularly in realistic street combat/defence skills.

      Why was this man wandering around with a 6.5cm blade?

    28. KG Says:

      Ironic that some of these responses come after Debito felt compelled to write about ‘cannabalistic NJ’s’.

      Regarding the law that was implemented in January and the amnesty of sorts until July 4th –

      “The new law adds a ban on possession of double-edged knives such as daggers with blades longer than 2.2 inches; spears, single-edge knives and swords with blades longer than 6 inches; and switchblades that open 45 degrees or more and have blades longer than 2.2 inches…

      …Violators face a maximum of three years imprisonment or a fine up to 500,000 yen (about $5,680). According to the Japanese National Police Web site, anyone possessing the newly banned knives must dispose of them by July 4.”

      Some oyster knives are included as well –

    29. Jake Says:

      I don’t doubt the story about the man being arrested for a knife at all. It would be nice to hear a first-hand account or something else to back it up, rather than a single email from cyberspace, but I have no reason to believe Brian is lying — and I don’t. I’ve experienced sketchy police work first-hand several times and I would not put it by a cop to take advantage of such a situation in order to bag another “dangerous foreigner”.

      Personally, my beef is with the instant association with racial discrimination. Obviously, simply being a foreigner does not make one a criminal; likewise, simply because it is a foreigner who was arrested does not make the motivation for the arrest racial. Like I said earlier, instantly jumping to the conclusion that this was specifically a case of racial discrimination is not a constructive way to approach a situation like this — and furthermore, neither are loaded questions like “how are unsuspecting tourists supposed to know how incredibly backward and illogical Japanese koban police officers are if travel agencies don’t warn them”.

      As for the arrest itself: if that is indeed how the whole thing went down, the behavior of the cops strikes me as quite underhanded. However, on the flip side, you cannot claim to be ignorant of the laws of a country and expect to be let off the hook, no matter how harmless you may appear. I disagree strongly with the idea that third parties should be responsible for informing you of the laws of whatever country you are traveling to; it is YOUR responsibility to ensure you are in compliance with the laws wherever you go. In some countries I could smoke a joint on the street corner without breaking a single law, but nobody would think it odd if I was arrested for doing the same thing in Japan.

    30. Justin Says:

      Bryan, when that happened, did you let the cop search your car for knives, or stand up for your right to refuse searches without probable cause? How did the situation play out?

    31. Al Says:

      I can’t vouch for other people but I look at this blog as a reliable source of information and I respect what Debito does but if this story does indeed turn out to be bogus it would be damaging to all the non-bogus issues that have been detailed before. And I would like to reiterate that I am not saying that this story is bogus but just that it is a little weird and that I would like to have more information before I can fully trust it. If this had been from Debito’s personal experience I would have believed it instantly but as it is from someone who we have had zero dealings with on top of the story that has some loose threads I think it is wise to question the veracity of the source.

      I believe that Debito himself now also believes this also as he posted this message:

      “I notified him this morning that commenters here have questions. If we get no further responses within a decent amount of time, I will pull this blog entry with apologies.”

      – Right. Those are the paradigms for which I will keep this story up. Waiting and seeing.

      It’s just a rum situation for me. If the JT had published this (and they published this with almost exactly the same contents) first and I had cited it, then people would be more likely to assume they checked their sources. Yet when I put it up on a blog for people to critique, the assumption becomes that I didn’t check the sources. Not only that, but opinions expressed therein (based upon the invective of nasty messages, both here that I didn’t let through and on Facebook, that personally attacked the messenger instead of the message) must necessarily be my opinions.

      That’s just silly, and for a more cognizant audience who would have as much accountability for their comments as I do, that association would probably not be made. It couldn’t be the case that people who have it in for as a medium are just trying to capitalize on people’s questions to foment doubt about it, now, can it? Naw, that’s just being paranoid.

      Look, about my modus operandi: I see as an outlet for people who don’t have a voice to broadcast it to a wider audience. Where else would a person who experienced this sort of thing be able to tell others who are receptive to these issues? Well, there’s the Japan Times. But I’ve seen enough reports about issues worse than these that never made the papers. Not because they were dubious. But because they had no newsworthy peg. Brian got lucky this time. But I’m happy to put up a report, however preliminary, about an issue that may be important to our lives in Japan, and have others investigate from there.

      On that note, I’m waiting for Brian to step up and answer your questions and fill in the holes. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll take down this post, as I said. It’s pretty tiresome to have to speak in place of a primary source when I know as much as you do about the event that took place. People have to stand up for themselves too.

      Continue your critique, everyone. Keep it civil. And leave me out of it: Stop demanding that I answer questions that Brian should be answering. If we don’t get some answers from him, I’ll take this article down. Of course that means we lose this nice debate, but ah well. If my blog polling functions worked I’d do a readership poll.

    32. Tinker Says:

      I had a similar harassment to Bryan plus a couple more recently.
      Even though I try not to dress like public enemy number one I guess the seventy four year old was.
      [invective deleted]

    33. john Says:

      How about CNN being contacted? Or a video on You Tube?
      Why is the US embassy not kicking up a fuss? This should also be front page of the English press in japan. [unwarranted supposition deleted]

      However there are a few points.
      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?

      — Keep the questions coming. Brian, you out there?

    34. snowman Says:

      Debito, sometimes I wonder how you manage to keep going and not just throw your hands up in the air and just give up? Well I for one have deep respect for you and what you do on all our behalfs.

    35. Asterisk Says:

      To me, the three key missing facts are:

      1) what was the 74-year-old man’s name?

      2) what was the specific koban in Shinjuku? Since the man was held for nine days, the concerned family must have at least tried to have contact with him. As a 74-year-old, he might (might) require special needs.

      3) Was the U.S. Embassy contacted and who was the contact person? Like I said the other day, all of our passports (American ones) have the same request printed, in at least two languages, to give all lawful aid and protection. In diplomat language, it basically means to watch over (or watch out for in a positive since) our citizen while he/she is in your country.

      The family should have contacted the Embassy when the elderly citizen was suddenly whisked from the streets. I should think any traveling American would realize to do this.

      As far as Debito posting or not, it’s the well recognized fact that the blogging community does not have the resources to substantiate every piece of stories traveling the internet. Are Debito AND the JT being “punked” by someone who, for whatever reason, has a lack of integrity and the desire to share it with the rest of the expat community? Is this Chinese Special Ops messing with the reputation of Japan? Who knows!

      But for one, I would hope that the piece stay up, regardless. With a disclaimer if it turns out that the missing facts tend to ameliorate or entirety exculpate the police. Or if it’s a total fiction, that the person was able to get the story printed in JT.

      Requiring a self-censorship of every cyber-punking would tend to mislead the blog followers about one of the aspects of fighting for legitimate fair treatment in Japan (i.e. fight against discrimination): It’s that there are a handful of people out there who aren’t helping matters with fiction.

      Shading stories helps no one, and it isn’t fair to Debito, who so many of us realize takes a very important issue seriously. And he goes beyond the efforts everyday people usually make to correct unfairnesses that we see in life here.

    36. Kyle Says:

      A 6.5cm double-edged knife isn’t some innocent Swiss Army or Leatherman: unless it’s for opening oysters your usually looking at a butterfly or switch blade built with a singular purpose.

    37. KG Says:

      This is all conjecture. There are too many ifs and buts rather akin to the keystones presuming guilt rather than innocence.

      Maybe the old guy went fishing or hiking or oyster eating and got lost at Shinjuku Station on the way home. Maybe the Embassy could not do anything until he had been charged with a crime (that is what the British Embassy here has informed me previously) and we all know how long can you be held without being charged here…

      I have a standard swiss army knife that I used to carry it with me all the time in central Tokyo (picnic in the park cheese and wine, compass, magnifying glass, toothpick, tweezers, pen, torch etc etc). When I fly it goes in my check in luggage. Yes I take it on holiday it is a very useful tool. I have just measured the blade and it is 6cm long (it is 6.5cm if you include the bit not sharpened).

      I do not doubt Brian for a moment. And really hope that Debito does not delete this thread as we all need to know and understand that it could happen and like the Roppongi urine testing it does and it is reassuring to know that there is somewhere where you can be heard and warn others of potential ‘misunderstandings’. Apologies to those who have never been stopped for having the audacity of being here whilst foreign.

    38. Asterisk Says:

      KG says: Maybe the Embassy could not do anything until he had been charged with a crime (that is what the British Embassy here has informed me previously) and we all know how long can you be held without being charged here…

      Oh really now! If an American is being held for nine days somewhere here, without being charged (!), I should hope that the Embassy DOESN’T say something like, “well, there’s really nothing we can do until the Japanese figure out if they’re going to charge the person or not. (But if his passport is expiring, we’ll gladly issue a new one!)”

      An Embassy official should always be notified if the Japanese government decides to start messing with one of our (that is, American) citizens. We should at least be notified, as a people, through our local Embassy.

      This is why, for me, the key facts on this story remain: who was the 74-year-old, where was the Koban, who (if any) was the Embassy contact?

      As I’ve said, some of the U.S. Embassy personnel give off the feeling that they are really working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, instead of for, um, you know, America.

      But to me that doesn’t excuse the fact that the parties involved in this alleged incident didn’t at least tell the Embassy about it.

    39. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      Here’s my guess — the man is 74, and when he was young, all boys had pocketknives. Plenty of such boys kept the habit of having one of those handy devices around when you needed to slice something, or unscrew something, or whatever.

      “…whenever I have my pants on I feel incomplete unless there’s a trusty pocketknife in my right side pocket, and it has been that way ever since I was a six-year-old first-grader. In those days it was the norm for boys and pocketknives to be inseparable, one each, always.”

      “When I was a boy, I had a pocketknife. All the boys did, and we carried them everywhere, including school.

      My uncle did too, and he gave me a Swiss Army knife as a “entering high school” present; I still have it, and can continue to possess it without fear in Japan since the blade, while longer than 5.5 cm, has only one edge.

      My guess is that the cop, knowing that the law had recently been passed and that this monolingual tourist was unlikely to know about it, while at the same time being just the right age cohort to be habitually carrying a knife, saw a prime chance to score some points with his superiors. Remember, the law had only just been passed. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some kind of “Stop! Knife Carrying” campaign going on in that koban.

      I don’t pretend to know which kinds of knives are popular with people that age, but the basic Swiss Army lineup seems to be all single-blades, and thus legal:;

      I’d hate to think that this man’s knife was one such, and that he was arrested due to its length, with the cop conveniently not noticing that there was only one blade.

      Common sense and humanity would have the cop politely informing the man that such a knife has just recently become illegal to carry in public, and that he should wrap it up and bring it back to his hotel. But, of course, those two virtues go out the window when an NPA officer has a quota of suspicious people to report.

    40. HopSingLingLao Says:

      I think this is definitely an interesting story, but also missing many key facts that must come out before rushing to judgment. If it is in fact true, as mentioned a few times in comments, it is definitely the duty of anyone knowing all the true details to come out with them publicly so that either justice can be done, or so that the public can understand WHY they did this to the tourist. If there is absolutely no follow up of this story in the upcoming months, I would assume it was spun or simply false. With that being said, it still does not diminish the fact that racial profiling here needs to be abolished.

    41. Anonymized Says:

      Debito: I would prefer this post (my history) not to be made public but in response to Asterisk I quoted Edward Michelvoy British Consulate General on the phone to me during my 141 hours in detention in 2005. They cannot give legal advice or get involved unless you have been charged with a crime or are a victim of a crime. They can only offer a list of legal representatives (lawyers).

      — Okay, I’ve anonymized your name on this post.

    42. KG Says:


      From the UK consulate:

      From the US Embassy:

      “Japan is an independent, sovereign country. One of the chief attributes of sovereignty is the right of a country to make and enforce laws within its own borders… While in Japan one is subject to the same laws as is a Japanese citizen. A U.S. passport does not entitle its bearer to any special privileges…”

      Regarding privacy “The Privacy Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-579) was enacted to protect U.S. citizens against unauthorized release of information about them by the government. … The Embassy will not inform any person of your arrest without your permission. Even if your family or friends find out by other means, we will be unable to discuss your case with them without your permission…”

    43. Doug Says:

      As I have said before over the past 3 years or so Japan has been spiraling quickly into a place that is less desireable to stay.

      If this is in fact true (I have emailed Brian for further clarification) the police acted in a very unreasonable way. These guys want to have the olympics in Tokyo!?!?! – If this account happened as written there is no way in hell the olympics should be here!

      For those of you saying there is no reason to carry knives – what about those of us that like to fish? I like to fish in the inland sea – I used to carry several knives I would use to clean and filet fish (one of which my grandpa gave me so I always use this when fishing). I also gave my son a leatherman for use in cub scouts and boy scouts. We used to carry these knives in a backpack on the train with our tackle to meet the other party we were fishing with. I guess this is now illegal. It is ridiculous that Japan had to react in this way and even more ridiculous that this guy was arrested. I would guess the J-cops act more reasonably in the countryside or areas where sport fishing is popular or they would be overwhelmed to the extreme. I have Japanese friends that have knives and have carried knives (Mostly older men and mostly in rural areas) for various reasons.

      Either way, this is government intrusion and police acting in an authoritarian fascist way to the extreme.

      Regarding how the man could get the knife on a plane and into Japan – easy questions to answer

      1) There are no laws preventing knives from being carried in checked luggage (it is the way I got the knife I use for fishing into Japan)

      2) If the customs agents do not search your bags upon entering Japan then there would be no way for them to prevent the knife from getting into the country.

      3) Your checked luggage does not go through a metal detector when entering the country

      Japan needs to take a hard look as to why the knife attacks (Akihabara, etc.) occured in the first place rather than harass and punish innocent people for carrying a knife.

      Debito-san – The mail from Brian is hard to believe, but I also have a hard time discounting it outright without a reply from Brian (either saying he has no further information or providing more information). My opinion is you should keep this post up longer. You have published an item that appeared in another professional journalistic source – I do not think you are responsible to verify every post or item on this blog as long as you use some level of due diligence. Additionally those of us benefiting from this blog (by gaining information or through actual changes to the system) should take some responsiblilty and lean on Brian a bit to come up with more information.


    44. NQD Says:

      The Keihanzaihou actually seems to specify that carrying any concealed blade of any length (or a bludgeon or other item capable of causing injury) without a good reason can get a person in a bit of trouble.

      Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department page at:

      From the “sample” dialog:
      “But the guy at the store said it’s not against the Firearm and Sword law since the knife is so small!”
      “It’s not against that particular law, but there’s this other law that’s open to interpretation. Anyway, don’t do it.”

      A Japanese blogger discusses the issue, with citations, at:

      He read another blog from someone whose friend apparently got into trouble for carrying a grass-cutting implement, and so he read up on the issue and seemed to be rather surprised at how unspecific and broadly applicable the law is.

      (Both pages in Japanese)

    45. George Says:

      “And leave me out of it”

      Dude, it is your blog. You decide what goes on here. To paraphrase Barthes, you have become the author, or at least you have enabled him.

      “Yeah, a police report…”

      “And Debito, I think that your sarcastic response to someone who appears to be a loyal reader of your blog is totally uncalled for.”

      Word. Considering the moment anyone says anything slightly amusing on this blog it is called “iyami” ([iyami deleted]), I would have thought you would be so dry as to be combustible in response to “loyal readers” like me.

      Anyway, did anyone else note the bits in the e-mail that didn’t match the bits in the Japan times? The cynical part of me wants to suggest that “Brian Hedge” heard about the laws, got his information wrong when he wrote his email on the 10th, went back and checked the facts and rewrote his piece two weeks later to send to the Japan Times when he thought that Debito was not going to run with it.

      There are other things that don’t add up. How does Brian know about the other arrests, for example? Surely the cops don’t let you hang around the koban potentially making trouble once your friends have been arrested.

      And as has been pointed out, why no details?

      Brian, hello? Where are you?

      — Despite your best efforts at nasuri tsuke, I am not the author of this piece, “George”. And I don’t really dig what you find even “slightly amusing” (i.e. winding people up). Belay the trolling and stay on topic.

    46. John Says:

      A new incident in Yokosuka will not help the situation.

    47. James Says:

      just a couple of questions:

      How much room is there in the Japanese text of the law for the police officer to decide ‘what is a dangerous knife’?
      Is it blade plus handle greater than 15 cm? Or blade only greater than 15 cm? How does the Japanese text of the law define “switchblade or butterfly knife “

    48. KyushuJoe Says:

      Al’s contribution (no.5) has been up over 48 hours and still the questions he raised haven’t been answered.I have to say that this is looking moere and more bizarre.
      Brian, as Debito asked, “Are you out there?” If so, there’s a lot you could do to satisfy people’s suspicions.

    49. Jcek Says:


      Yeah, but, the story doesn’t state that this person witnessed the incident, nor does it explain where he heard this story. A blog is a fine place for this sort of story to appear. Still waiting for the 74 year old man to give us his story.

    50. john Says:

      I agree,all these questions need to be answered if this is to stand up.Why in the world did he need a small knife for a short family holiday is beyond me.Couldn’t he borrow one if needed?

    51. Paul Says:

      Why in the world did he need a small knife for a short family holiday is beyond me. Couldn’t he borrow one if needed?

      I carry one all of the time – especially when traveling and use it a lot. If I am packing something in the wee hours, or am away from people who know me – then No, you cannot borrow one.

    52. Jeff Says:

      I hate that the Internet is a place where people might hide behind anonymity and outright question people’s motive and veracity in a way they would never do otherwise.

      I hate that the Internet is a place where people might hide behind anonymity and outright misrepresent facts in order to smear someone else who represents a point of view that is against their vested personal interests, and so require people to distrust.

      We all need the Internet to be a place of free speech, with safety in anonymity.

      No idea what I would do with this post, but I feel it comes to no good (in the literal sense of no useful purpose served… awareness, meaningful discussion…) unless the original author authenticates (defends?) the story… in spite of the fact that it is terrible that he has to, if it actually happened as he describes which I think is highly likely.

    53. Bryan Says:


      I’ve been pulled over enough times to know that disagreeing with an officer is a pretty surefire way to get ticketed for something. And while I don’t have a knife, I do have enough done to my car to make its street legality dubious. Much rather have my trunk looked through than my engine bay.

    54. Asterisk Says:

      in response to KG:

      Thank you for pointing out the U.S. Embassy’s website. But I myself have seen it before.

      Yes, you are right that the Embassy is not going to swoop down every time an American gets swooped into a Koban. Nor should they. They are indeed a couple miscreants around who would be trouble anywhere in the world.

      But the website makes clear, there is no prohibition on the arrested party or an associate contacting the U.S. Embassy. The Embassy offers an internet registration to any American, no matter how long resident here, with a monthly newsletter. In the registration, the Embassy asks for various contact information, both here and stateside. The Embassy asks that when the American leaves Japan, to notify the Embassy.

      So it’s unlikely that the Embassy would not want to know about an incarceration. They are simply making it clear there, that there are extremely limited efforts the office can make. Additionally, that Congress sees a privacy interest in an arrest, so the Embassy will not reveal the information without authorization.

      And then, it bears repeating of course, as they do, that an American passport does not entitle anyone to special privileges under law, a kind of extraterritoriality. (I wish this would be pointed out to the number of expats who cheat on their kokumin nenkin and skip out on resident’s tax.) But I never said that’s what the passport does. The language in it says that the U.S. asks that “all lawful aid and protection” be given. Which means Japanese due process, however weak anyone might regard it.

      The website makes clear, without expressly saying it, that the Embassy does not want to be brought into the politics of Japanese criminal due process. Nor does it exist as a publicity arm for American arrests.

      But they should always be made aware of what is going on in the American community here, when it deals with these serious matters.

      That is what it is there for.

    55. Orchid64 Says:

      I chuckled at the people who believe this story “seems strange”. I’ve lived here for 20 years, and it doesn’t seem strange at all. In fact, it sounds exactly right to me. It’s certainly no stranger an act on the part of the police who would go around asking random foreigners in Roppongi to pee in a cup upon request.

      For those who question the pocket knife carrying, for those in a certain generation, carrying a pocket knife (pen knife) is pretty common for emergencies. People just carry them out of habit or because they may not always be able to manipulate things as they wish with their hands (tearing packages, etc.). I don’t think an elderly tourist would be going around asking people to borrow a knife when he needed one, but he would be likely to be a part of the group that grew up carrying pen knives.

    56. Jerry Says:

      Just as an FYI – while the story does sound odd when we moved to Japan my father in law (who was a cop and has since retired) warned me to stop carrying my pocket knife after I pulled it out to open a box. His advice was that if I was ever stopped even thought it is legal it would cause me more trouble than it was worth (single blade Old Timer that has a 1.5″ blade and was a gift from my grandfather).

      While some of the things in the story don’t seem add up (like how could you possibly miss the bookstore south of Shinjuku Station – although I guess he could have gone out the wrong exit or been at street level rather than up on the walkway) it’s not entirely unbelievable. Probably a good idea to withhold judgment until the facts can be verified.

    57. George Says:

      “You have published an item that appeared in another professional journalistic source”

      Well, that certainly has an air of the chronologically creative. Debito published his piece before it appeared in the Japan Times, and he seems to have since reconsidered whether this was a wise thing to do. Good for him.

      I would ask Debito not to remove this post from the site, though. Now that it has been posted–and now that it has been up for, like two or three days, it has created its own urban legend (which may even turn out to be true! Brian?), no matter how minor. Any damage that it might have caused has already been done.

      In the meantime, it has generated a lot of discussion about publishing standards on this blog, and significant problems with the story have been pointed out without a response from the original author. I think that in itself shows something and is therefore valuable.

      “how could you possibly miss the bookstore south of Shinjuku Station”

      That part does actually add up, doesn’t it? As far as I know, the only koban around Shibuya is over by the Hachiko exit, which is kind of north-west, isn’t it? I still find it hard to believe that someone standing in the middle of Shibuya would go to a koban to ask directions, though. I find it even harder to believe that the Japanese police would ask random people if they have knives, apparently out of the blue.

    58. Ken Aston Says:

      Stupid question, how do I carry a kitchen knife home after I bought it in the store?

    59. Chris Dunn Says:

      The idea of a 74 year old coming to Japan for the purpose of slicing and dicing the innocent inhabitants of Tokyo with a fairly wimpy knife strikes me as odd. Also it says he was asking where KinoKuniya was and was then asked if he had a knife. He would have been far better off asking where the knife shop was as they would have only asked him if he had a book. Following the Japanese policeman’s logic. Where is the toilet? Do you have swine flu?
      Where is the best sushi shop? Do you have a grenade? Where is the Post office? Do you have the video that killed the radio star?

      — Now this is what I consider amusing!

    60. Mark in Yayoi Says:


      I find it even harder to believe that the Japanese police would ask random people if they have knives, apparently out of the blue.

      This is the one part of the story that I’m not surprised about at all. The cops who pull me over on my bicycle certainly ask about hamono (knives) without any reason for suspicion; consider the one that Debito blogged about a few months ago:

      @Ken — Keep it in its case and only break the seal after you get home?

    61. let`s talk Says:

      It is disgusting. Both. The story itself and what some people posted. Knowing J-police attitude and behavior, I have no doubt that the story could take place. Feel sorry for that elederly man who couldn`t get enough support form his embassy and from some online co-citizens.

    62. George Says:


      The cops that pull you over all the time and ask you about knives because they are on a stakeout near your place in Chiyoda-ku, an area where radical student groups choose to hang out. No, it is not fair that you get stopped all the time on your way to and from your apartment, and something should be done about it. But it is not indicative of standard practice elsewhere in Japan.

      In fact, I note that you explicitly make the point elsewhere that you have never “claimed that the bicycle harassment is widespread *in Japan*”. Why shouldn’t the same be true of checking for knives? It’s not as if student radicals hang out in Shibuya.

      “@Ken — Keep it in its case and only break the seal after you get home?”

      Ken, don’t worry about it. The law does not cover kitchen knives. It applies to double-edged blades over 5.5 centimeters, as this helpful policeman points out.

      I believe the law also states that if you have a particular purpose for carrying the blade, you should be fine. Transportation from the shop to your home would count as a “particular purpose.” And Mark’s advice is pretty sound. There is no reason to take a carving knife out of its packaging until you get home anyway. It you are talking about butter knives, you don’t have a problem.

      Frankly, the fact that this discussion has given some the impression that they will be targeted by the police for buying kitchen knives in Japan underscores my uneasiness with the way things are done on this blog.

      — Stop blaming the blog for everything. You make it sound as if it is a means for brainwashing. Hardly. Give people more credit for their sussing-out abilities.

    63. arin Says:

      I strongly disagree that Debito-san take this blog away, because as time goes by, people open up and the thread becomes more interessting. Brian might not have any evidence, because I think no reporter or whatever was there or even interessted in gaijin matters. However this will not be the last time and im sure stuffs like this will happen many times in the future. Then the people will/ might then remember about this thread and (might) end up saying: ” maybe it wasnt a joke after all ”

      Example: After the Akihabara incident. There were many random check ups about knives. If I still remember, if caught, a gaijin will face deportation and will never be a loud to enter Japan again.

      Do correct me if im mistaken. This is only from my point of view :)

    64. Marc Says:

      As a knife collector, here is what you need to know:

      It is illegal to carry a knife with a blade length of more than 6 cm and an overall length (when opened in the case of folding knives) of 15 cm, with the exception of clearly purposed tools, such as a fishing knife when you are in possession of your other fishing tackle or a hunting/camp knife when you are clearly on your way out to go camping.

      The blade is measured from the hilt to the tip, including unsharpened areas. In the event of a knife that does not have a hilt, the blade is measured from the start of the grind.

      The knife must be concealed, and should not be easily accessible.

      Double edged knives with blades over 5.5 cm are completely illegal to possess – even in your own home – unless they have been registered with, and accepted by, your ward/city office as a piece with artistic merit.

      Swords or spears with blades over 15 cm are also completely illegal to possess – even in your own home – unless they have been registered with, and accepted by, your ward/city office as a piece with artistic merit. Knives with blades over 15 cm are NOT illegal to possess. It is, however, up to the police to determine if a particular item is a knife or a sword. Keep in mind that a prosecutor and judge have to agree with the assessment, though.

      Switchblades or assisted opening knives (both are covered by the term tobidashi knife) are legal to possess if the blade length is under 5.5 cm OR if the spring/torsion device carries the blade through no more than 45 degrees of arc.

      Butterfly (aka balisong) knives are subject to no restrictions other than potentially being classified as swords if the blade is over 15 cm, and carry provisions if the blade is over 6 cm.

      Kitchen knives, fishing knives, and other clearly purposed implements are all exempt from regulation. Again, it is up to the police and judiciary to determine if a particular item is “clearly purposed”.

      When transporting a knife over 6 cm, it should be stored in the original packaging from the store with the receipt if you are taking it home after purchase, or stored with the rest of your gear (in tackle box, wrapped and in bottom of backpack, etc.) and realtively inaccessible if you are on your way to a location where the knife will be used.

      I have personally been taken in and questioned, and had an otherwise legal knife confiscated because I had it attached to the edge of my pocket with a pocket clip – and therefore the knife was partially visible and easily accessible.

      Right now, because the grace period for possesion of double edged blades over 5.5 cm and certain assisted openers, there is a police crackdown on.

      If you are stopped and asked to consent to a search or if you are stopped for a traffic stop and asked to submit to a search of your person or vehicle, you DO have the legal right to refuse unless the officer has a judicial warrant (reijo). You also do not have to accompany the officer to the koban for questioning unless he is willing to arrest you (taiho) on the spot.

      For the next couple of months, though, it is advisable to leave pocket knives at home.

      — Wow. Thanks very much for this! With information this good, I can’t rightly delete this blog entry now, can I?

    65. Justin Says:

      You should never, NEVER delete blog entries. If you find out later that an entry was in error, just update it with an explanation saying it’s not true, and how you found that out. Even our mistakes have value, if only in that we can learn from them and do better in the future.

      Deleting inconvenient mistakes is a hallmark of Soviet-style rewritings of history, when people were airbrushed out of photos once they fell out of favor with the party.

    66. Brian Hedge Says:

      OK. I don’t have time to read all these comments.

      I’ll tell you about a fact that I had wrong:

      The revision of the Firearms and Sword Control Law was enforced Jan. 5 this year. For those who had possessed illegal knives as of Jan. 5 had six months (until July 4) to dispose the illegal knives. In case of the 74-year-old man he clearly brought an illegal knife to Japan before Jan. 5, so it was illegal for him to possess it July 1.

      But the rest of the facts remain as they happened. The man walked in to ask directions and ended up spending 9 days in jail for it.

      There is a JT reporter looking into this situation. I put him in touch with my friend (the son of the 74-year-old man) so it’s out of my hands.

      If it was my dad, I’d make so much noise they’d throw me out of this country forever but it’s not, so whatever–I did what I could….

    67. HO Says:

      Brian, I am glad you are here.
      What was his allegation?
      You said the old man was arrested on July 2, which is BEFORE the effective date of the relevant law change.
      The following is the transition rule.
      (See 銃砲刀剣類所持等取締法の一部を改正する法律 附則第四条)
      As you wrote, if a person possessed a knife as of January 5, 2009, the new rule does not apply until July 5, 2009 with regard to the said knife. Did not he possess the knife back in the US as of January 5, 2009?

      The law change was about swords and daggers. A foldable pocketknife has never been classified as a sword or a dagger. Are you sure that he was arrested because of the law change?

      Apart from the law change, there is another regulation about “carrying” a knife whose blade length is more than 6 cm. There is an exception with regard to the allowable length of blade as far as foldable pocketknives are concerned.
      (銃刀法22条 Guns and swords control act, article 22)
      Was he arrested because of this regulation? If so, how long was the blade of his knife?

      And there is one more misdemeanor rule for carrying a knife of any length without a good reason. Was he arrested because of this? But since it is a misdemeanor, it is hard to believe the police would arrest or detain him for 9 days.

    68. Brian Hedge Says:

      HO: I don’t know the details about the length of the blade. The knife was a Swiss Army style knife. What I do know is this frail old man (he’s a very strict vegan) walked in and ask directions and ended up locked up for 9 days. He said he literally walked in and asked where Kinokuniya was and the cop asked him if he had a pocket knife as to “show off” in front of the rookie cop.

      To all the non-believers, have you ever talked to a cop at a koban station in downtown Tokyo that speaks a little English? If not then your opinion doesn’t really matter!

      All the naysayers on this site either live out in the sticks or have been lucky enough never to have to talk to a cop in downtown Tokyo!

      P.S. – 2 other backpackers were arrested too that same day at that same koban for the same reason. The old man said they were young and not very friendly to the cops and got treated badly for their “disrespectful” attitudes.

      P.S.S. – There was no English translator the first time the son went to see his father so the cops made my friend speak Japanese the whole time to the old guy! Can you freak’n believe it??? My friend said him and his dad at least had a chuckle for a moment about how stupid the whole situation really was….

    69. George Says:

      That was very good info Marc, thanks. And hello Brian!

      “In case of the 74-year-old man he clearly brought an illegal knife to Japan before Jan. 5, so it was illegal for him to possess it July 1.”

      Hmmm. So an old man stays for six months as a tourist, when tourist visas last for three months.

      How strange!

      Perhaps the old man was arrested for being an overstayer.

      What is also strange is the fact Brian is keeps citing a law that does not concern pocket knives. In fact, any discussion of the law here, while it may be interesting and informative, is irrelevant. The old man was breaking the law by carrying a blade without any purpose. And I personally believe that such laws should exist. But my opinion–and the opinions of those who disagree on this point–is irrelevant to the issue at hand, because, again, the old man was indeed breaking the law. What is relevant here is the extent to which the police (apparently) went in detaining this guy. So I don’t know why Brian keeps bringing up laws that don’t apply to the case at hand.

      Oh well, I’ll believe it when the investigative piece comes out in the JT, with the relevant facts. In the meantime, I’ll reserve judgment. [unresisted temptation to bash Debito deleted]

    70. Brian Hedge Says:

      George: He’s a tourist, got set up for being honest, and spent 9 days in jail for his naivety.

      I don’t give a rat’s a$$ that I’m wrong on the law, the fact is, the cop clearly abused his power and took advantage of an unsuspecting elderly tourist.

      Japan is supposed to be a “1st world” country but you’d never know this if it wasn’t for the nice cars and clothes people own. The only difference between the cops in Japan and the cops in Mexico is at least the cops in Mexico are smart enough to ask for a bribe….

      — Recommend you don’t allow yourself to get wound up by “George”. He’s our pet troll.

    71. Asterisk Says:

      @Brian Hedge:

      Would you be willing to share more details of the situation besides the fact that the elderly man was a Las Vegan. Maybe pocket knives are more common there, but the reason the story is hard to believe on specifics is that there aren’t very many.

      Didn’t his family do anything about it in the nine days?

      Usually when someone is arrested falsely, they aren’t embarrassed about coming forward and saying who they are. I am sure the people back in Nevada aren’t going to think less of him.

    72. PL Says:

      Just a thought –
      I think it would make sense to say that NJ frequent police box stations more than J (we can debate this, but I wouldn’t expect a lot of J to go to a police box for directions as much as NJ). Hypothetically speaking, if it is the case that the police officers are actually not discriminating against NJ’s but asking both NJ’s and J’s about their blade-carrying whenever they come in, then NJ’s are by default experiencing these kinds of arrests and fines proportionally more than J’s, a ratio that we can’t really change.

    73. Jake Says:

      Whether or not George is the “pet troll”, he makes some good points. There are countless questions that need to be answered and unfortunately the only issue Brian has been able to shed light on is the length of time the man possessed the knife for — which in turn only raises more questions.

      1. How long was the man in Japan, and what was his visa status?

      2. What was the exact size of the knife? Did the knife he was carrying fall under the laws described above?

      3. Where are the other two backpackers arrested on the same day? What were they arrested for?

      4. Has anyone contacted the police themselves to corroborate this? What is the specific koban?

      All the rest of Brian’s new comments simply rehash the stuff he said earlier, with even more emotionally-charged invective (“Japan is supposed to be a “1st world” country but you’d never know this if it wasn’t for the nice cars and clothes people own”). As I said earlier, I wouldn’t put it past the Japanese police to use such a situation to fill their quotas, but considering that half of Brian’s comments contain some sort of non-constructive criticism of Japan, and considering the questions I posed above that have yet to be answered, I think it’s natural to approach this story with a healthy dose of skepticism — at least until a lot more facts come to light.

      — Brian, despite his first report, is having trouble understanding that taking on an issue requires assiduous follow-up, and calm answers to people who raise calm questions. He at least has to appear on the forum he appealed to for help and participate in making clarifications, if he ever wants to get something done about issues like these. Otherwise the issue dies the death of a thousand critics.

      As for the pet trolling. Yes, G sometimes makes good points (the posts I let through, that is). But he almost always laces them with personal attacks on me, and due to visceral dislike has trouble staying on point. He can’t seem to shake the feeling that everything that appears on this blog is not necessarily my opinion or related to me. Ah well. Will continue remedying that.

    74. Innocent_Bystander Says:

      I am only familiar with one koban in Shinjuku station, at the lower level of the west exit (the railway police may have a small crevice inside the JR wicket). But the one I’m thinking of faces the Hilton, Keio Plaza, Washington, Century Hyatt and other major hotels used by foreign vistitors, who pass by that spot every day in the hundreds if not thousands. Considering the weirdos, freaks and low-lifes lurking in the immediate vicinity, the idea of cops posted therein pouncing on an elderly foreign gent (irrespective of his dietary preferences) sounds bizarre. Aside from checking in for domestic flights, I can’t even recall being asked by a Japanese for my ID over the previous 5 years. Assuming Mr. Hatch is being honest about wanting to convey his righteous indignation, I suppose the question that really needs to be answered is, “What happened to make this cop take such extreme action, which seems so out of character for the Tokyo MPD?”

      — Er, have you been reading this blog, or even this blog entry much? Plenty of people have been stopped for ID Checks by the Tokyo MPD (myself included), so this action is not necessarily out of character. Are you going to blame the people who got stopped too?

    75. Innocent_Bystander Says:

      Er, have you been reading this blog, or even this blog entry much?

      Yes I did. Did you read my question? The extreme action refers to arrest and 9-day detention, not asking a foreigner for ID — a point that did not come up, as far as I know, in Mr. Hatch’s initial letter.

      So I reiterate my question:

      “What happened to make this cop take such extreme action, which seems so out of character for the Tokyo MPD?”

    76. George Says:

      “Brian, despite his first report, is having trouble understanding that taking on an issue requires assiduous follow-up, and calm answers to people who raise calm questions.”

      [herikutsu deleted]

      But I think the koban Brian means must be the one at the hachiko exit. There is a police station in Shibuya, but I don’t think there is another koban, at least not by the train station. Perhaps somebody who has rung the police before about discrimination cases might like to ring the koban and see what’s up.

      — How about you?

    77. Marc Says:

      In the case of the 74 year old tourist…. totally plausible. I got hauled in once for having a knife clipped to my pocket, and was released only after I had signed forms stating that I had broken the law, was sorry for breaking the law, and would endeavor not to do it again.

      Not being aware of how the system works in Japan, if this old fella didn’t sign off on the form on July 2nd, they would arrest him and throw him in the pokey overnight, then try to get him to sign off again in the morning. If he didn’t sign off the next morning, then they would have referred him to prosecutors, which takes a whole day, then held him over the weekend, then a visit to the saibancho (arraignment judges office) – another whole day. This already has the old guy up to five days… and they probably released him on July 10th (Friday) to make room for the usual Friday night influx, forms still unsigned but figuring he had learned his lesson.

      The dates and timing match the SOP for the metro police, so I’d believe that this happened.

    78. KG Says:

      @ George – the alleged incident and incarceration took place in Shinjiku not Shibuya. Where there are 2 branches of Kinokuniya and about 47 possible exits (that could be a slight exaggeration).

      One branch of Kinokuniya is Central West exit (ish), the other that was mentioned is South exit (ish).

    79. KG Says:

      Ooops fact checking – the closest exits are East exit and New South exit.

      Two kobans are marked on this map in the immediate station environs. Both Kinokuniyas are off map. As mentioned there is another koban on the West side in the direction of the hotels.

      — Unfortunately, this level of detective work and explanation isn’t our job. It’s Brian’s.

    80. niigata resident Says:

      Hi Debito,

      I wanted to alert your organisation to a case of police harassment to which I was subjected last Monday while walking home from Niigata station. You‘re probably aware of very many such incidents but in this case the officer seemed particularly stupid and unaware of the law, and managed to turn routine discrimination into a very public and major nuisance for me…..

      About 10 minutes from my home, while walking at the side of a busy road, I passed a police officer on a bike. He stared, I continued walking. Soon he appeared beside me and asked ‘Where are you going?‘. I answered ‘Home‘. After a few other questions – ‘Do you speak Japanese?‘, ‘Where do you live?‘, ‘Do you have a bicycle?‘ – he reported by telephone to colleagues (all I caught was the word ‘gaikokujin‘, cropping up again and again during the conversation) and then released me.

      Two minutes later, the same officer reappeared, this time ordered me sharply to stop, and then to wait. He made another telephone call. Then he demanded my passport. Now, I know I am not legally required to produce a passport, as a resident, but I complied because I keep my alien registration certificate inside my passport. Again he told me to wait, and did not answer when I asked if there was a problem.

      A police car came up, with two more officers inside, one of whom made the ‘X‘ symbol at the original officer, and apologised to me. I was now free to go, with no further harassment.

      All in all, this was a humiliating and bizarre incident. I can understand being stopped for my AR card, or indeed asked a few questions so that the local police can know who is in the area. But on this occasion, it seemed as though the officer was determined to do everything in his power to detain me, but at the same time he appeared totally ignorant of what his legal powers were. For instance, I don‘t believe he knew to ask for an AR document the first time he stopped me, but instead of letting me continue he chose to harass me further. I believe he wanted to force me to go to a police station, perhaps make an arrest, but was prevented by his colleagues.

      And I stress, ALL I was doing was walking home from the station. I did not walk through a red light, or do anything else illegal or dangerous.

      The end result of this incident of blatant harassment is that on future occasions I will NOT choose to answer questions and will NOT cooperate with police further than the minimum extent that the law requires. I will be printing off some copies of your advice on how to deal with police checks, and will pass them around to others.

      Hardly a PR coup for Niigata police..!

    81. George Says:

      “Perhaps somebody who has rung the police before about discrimination cases might like to ring the koban and see what’s up.
      – How about you?”

      Actually I intend to go there dressed as a backpacker and ask for directions the next time I am in Tokyo, to see what happens. I will keep you posted. Nevertheless, “this level of detective work and explanation isn’t our job. It’s Brian’s.”

    82. Brian Hedge Says:

      More details:

      1. Knife was 1 cm over legal limit.

      2. He was a mere week or so in on a tourist visa.

      3. His only family here (his son) was contacted by the US embassy after 24 hours. The son said even the Embassy staff was pissed off by the entire event!

      4. I’m not sure which koban it was in Shinjuku.

      5. The other 2 backpackers arrested that day were arrested on the same charge.

      6. “Marc” above should be a detective because from what I’ve heard from the son that sounds about right. They were trying to get him to sign something after they detained him but the old guy didn’t want to sign anything that he didn’t understand for obvious reasons. And, yes, he was released on July 10th, Friday.

      7. I’m not the son so the very minute details of the story I cannot provide. I will try to get in touch with the son over the weekend to find out some more for you all.

      8. We can analyze this until our brains implode, but the reality is that if it was a Japanese man, same age, same situation, he would have walked away a free man but short one Swiss Army knife. This incident just proves how really unsafe, cold, and racist Japan (even in the metropolis) really is for an unsuspecting tourist because at least in Bali or Thailand you can bribe your way out of something as small as this. This cop was clearly targeting tourists to prove some kind of point to his junior employee at the expense of these tourists’ vacation and freedom. The lack of better judgment on behalf of this cop, not once but 3 Xs, just proves that you can come to Japan but forget about trusting the law officials here–you’re on your own basically for better or for worse….

    83. Jake Says:

      “the reality is that if it was a Japanese man, same age, same situation, he would have walked away a free man but short one Swiss Army knife”

      How do you know? The answer is: you don’t. Continuing to insist that this is a case of racial discrimination when there is no evidence that such is the case makes you look like you have an axe to grind and little else. Again, this kind of groundless Japan-bashing is utterly counter-productive, ESPECIALLY in serious cases like this.

      I’m also curious as to how you know all of the details you’ve provided:

      1. How do you know the knife was 1 cm over the limit? Was the man’s son told that such was the reason for the arrest, and did the son then tell you this? Was the embassy informed? Did the police make this clear to some party, and that is how you know? Or did the son know the measurements of the knife in advance?

      5. Do you know the other two backpackers? How did you find out about their situations, too? Do you know their names or any other pertinent details that may allow their stories to come to light, too? This in particular seems key to me with regards to proving that this was a case of foreigners specifically being targeted — the whole case changes from one man being arrested on a knife charge to a more organized campaign to arrest foreigners in particular. We need to hear their stories, too, directly from them, if possible.

      7. Frankly, and I don’t mean this in an offensive manner, but you’ve been rather poor at providing the kind of details needed to shed more light on what might be a very serious case. It might be better to have the son — or even better, the father himself — get in touch with Debito, the Japan Times, or anyone else in order to set the record straight, and for you to bow gracefully out. Thus far, the entire story is nothing more than hearsay. That’s not to say I don’t believe it, but it still remains entirely unsubstantiated, which is a real pity considering how serious this entire case may indeed be.

    84. James Says:

      Let’s get this straight. According to the law posted above double sided knives are banned, switch blades are banned, swords are banned….jack knives are not banned. Yet this man was carrying a swiss army jack knife. 1 cm over some legal limit that is supposed to be reserved for double- bladed knives…

      These cops are targeting jack knives that are supposed to be legal.
      Doesn’t matter does it ….the statistics will say x number of foreigners were arrested for illegal knife possession ..none of these cases will make it to court.. to be thrown out, dismissed or refused to be taken up by the prosecutors..the cops have their prized statistics that are not subject to criticism. All of us foreigners well we are dangerous…some many of us were arrested for having knives. It is the arrest statistic that counts.

      {and unfortunately I do not think this will ever change until a great number of Japanese citizens abroad are similarly supremely inconvenienced}

      This is like “dangerous driving” or “driving too fast for the conditions” if the speed limit is 40km but the road is icy or slick it is what the cop thinks is dangerous that counts. “suspicious behaviour” is what the cop thinks is suspicious behaviour.

    85. Marc Says:

      James, you’re confusing limits for ownership with limits for casual carry.

      A standard folding knife with a blade under 6.0 cm is legal for carry, as is a non-folding knife with a similar blade.

      A folding knife with a blade over 6.0 cm in length is legal to own, but is not legal to carry unless it is being carried for a definitive purpose, such as fishing or camping.

      My Buck 110 folder (9.6 cm blade) and fixed blade filet knife (19 cm blade) won’t get me in trouble if they’re in my tackle box next to my lures and reels as I’m driving down to Izu on a fishing trip. Either one will get me arrested if it’s in my pocket or backpack in Shibuya.

      Another point worth mentioning that I failed to mention above is that it is illegal to use a knife as a defensive weapon, and the penalties can be just as harsh as if you had used the knife offensively. With that in mind, there is basically no need to carry a larger folder or fixed blade knife in an urban setting.

    86. O.T. Says:

      “8. We can analyze this until our brains implode, but the reality is that if it was a Japanese man, same age, same situation, he would have walked away a free man but short one Swiss Army knife.”

      Maybe, be if it was a Japanese man, he would have apologized and wrote the paper saying he did it, was sorry and wouldn’t do it again.
      I understand why in this case a foreigner who can’t read and speak Japanese wouldn’t want to sign a paper he doesn’t understand, but that just makes the comparison with the Japanese man in the same situation invalid.

      I wonder if he could have written this apology in English, now… In a non police related issue (I didn’t know I had to change the address on my Alien card when I moved to another apartment within the same district), the city hall asked for such a letter when I realized my mistake and came to correct it (after the normal delay for it), but they let me write it in English. I’d guess it is different for police issues, though.

    87. Bob Says:

      I went to a Koban in the same area a couple weeks earlier to ask for directions, and I was shocked at how rude the young cop there was to me. I have had much worse experiences, but it was probably my worst Koban encounter ever. That Koban was on the same street as the Muji around Shinjuku 3chome, and I wonder if it was the same one. Had I not been in a hurry I would have educated him about what kind of language is appropriate to use with strangers who are older than oneself, but I was moving and in a hurry.

    88. Brian Hedge Says:


      I know a Japanese guy would walk away a free man because I have Japanese friends who were busted with much worse and they walked away free–short their knife.

      1. Of course the son told me this, did you take your Ritalin? Why would I just say “1 cm over the limit” if it didn’t come from him? Why would I be that precise? Did I use the words approximately? NO!

      5. The old guy shared a jail cell with them….

      7. A lot of you guys lack reading comprehension, seriously. I’ve stated some of this stuff already. There’s is a JT reporter doing a thorough investigation into all this. He is in contact with the son and the father is still in Tokyo. The son is not as bold or passionate as I am about this stuff so I’m not sure how far he’ll go with it. I can understand though, some people would rather not be bothered with it, but when I heard this story I hit the roof because I’ve lived here a long time–I’ll leave it at that.

      If any of you want to know more here’s my suggestion: Call the US Embassy, say you work for some news website like “Smelly Gaijin Power News” or some other wacky name you can come up with and ask to speak with the person who dealt with the 74-year-old man who was arrested in early July for carrying a pocket knife 1 cm over the limit. I’ll bet the staff could give you tons of details. Make sure you ask about the other 2 guys too!

      — Brian, I am giving you a lot of rope because you’re the source for this blog page, but if you keep taking swipes at our readers I’m going to start editing you. Knock it off.

    89. betty boop Says:

      in today`s daily yomiuri was an almost half page ad for THE swiss army knife. bizarre?!?!?!?!?!?!?

    90. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      in today`s daily yomiuri was an almost half page ad for THE swiss army knife. bizarre?!?!?!?!?!?!?

      Not really. With many of their rivals’ products having suddenly been made illegal, now is their opportunity to swoop in and grab some market share!

    91. Brian Hedge Says:


      I saw a draft copy of the article that will appear in the Japan Times. It basically looks like the reporter is going to spin the story to appear that Japan jails are friendly and comfortable. Moreover, that a stint in a Japanese jail cell is not too bad and if you don’t want to eat pork and eggs you don’t have to.

      I guess shame on me for thinking the mass media would be “fair and balanced.”

      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.

      To my surprise, the draft article did mention that Shinjuku police officers must be burdened with so many problems with foreigners that this 74-year-old man was just “another foreigner” and probably was a victim of pre-justice–I mean prejudice.

      Of course Japan is sooooo safe and such a great society that I should be humble, grateful and quiet while I’m here so I do apologize for my barbaric habits and lower my head in shame….

      — That’s quite enough, Brian. Any sympathy I had for your reported case has long evaporated due to your demeanor. That’s something you should take very seriously — alienating a medium this sympathetic to cases like these.

      You should instead lower your head in shame for the following reasons:

      1) Asking for help, then basically refusing to help when was in need of substantiation.

      2) Never once saying “thank you” for’s efforts or “sorry” for your attitude.

      3) Treating posters on this blog like they were beneath your concern when most were making honest queries.

      4) Doing more to undo the issue than any criticism you levy at the domestic media by writing reports full of holes and then not bothering to fill them later. Your hypocrisy is stunning.

      In short, Brian, go to hell. Don’t bother posting to again. You’re worse than a troll. You’re a person who pretends to mean well then spits and scratches at anyone who extends a hand. People like you are worse than emotionally immature. Reactionaries like you damage and delegitimize our very causes. Next time something like this happens, people could be more likely to take it less seriously. Fuck off.

    92. Al Says:

      Very eloquently put Debito.

    93. carl Says:

      Slightly OT:

      “I got hauled in once for having a knife clipped to my pocket, and was released only after I had signed forms stating that I had broken the law, was sorry for breaking the law, and would endeavor not to do it again”

      Does anyone have any info on how these kinds of form are used after the fact? To whom are they available? Do they follow you or are they available to potential employers or other third parties who might do background checks? Do they just end up in the circular file after you leave or do they stay in some kind of “gaijin permnanent record” that may have bearing on a PR or naturalization? I know the easiest thing to do in the case of a minor “crime” is sign the paper and be done with it, but I’m curious as to whether or not a tiny “I committed a crime” form could have bigger ramifications later on. Maybe it’s been discussed here before, I don’t remember.

    94. Peter Says:

      Geez Deb – you’re pretty hot on ol’ Brian there.

      His “over-the-top???” rants hardly call for your condescension.

      As you have been proffering for years – don’t expect everyone to fit the mould. If you re-read all the posts you may find that the level of cynical attack aimed at him warranted some sort of “in your face” reply. Since when has there been rules on – well don’t come on here if you haven’t got it all. Loosen up a little. You should know better.

      And any list of “The Shame Commandments” is …errr….well…straight from the proverbial.

      And I seriously hope the original story was mis-reported, but I have a more than suspicious concern that it’s true – all true – which does little for the state of things in the state.

      — If I didn’t think the story was true, I wouldn’t have put it up here, so obviously I agree.

      It’s just that a simple “thank you” for volunteer efforts, and “sorry to be late in clarifying, thanks for your questions, here are specific answers” assiduously works wonders.

      Cynical posts notwithstanding, asking posters if they’ve taken their Ritalin, and sending nasty answers to me offlist to my several nudges for answers, only makes me feel this person isn’t worth the time or effort (since he’s not making the effort himself).

      And that’s a bad thing to make human-rights volunteers — especially those you’ve specifically asked for help — feel.

      That’s not expecting people to “fit a mould”. That’s just common sense and common human decency. And a good “fuck you for your presumptuous use of my time” to these types of people is IMHO perfectly warranted.

    95. Chris Says:


      Based on personal experience, the “apology paperwork” doesn’t affect PR or naturalization.

      In mid-2000, I went to Narita to pick up a colleague … but had forgotten my wallet at home that morning. I was stopped at the ID check at the entrance to Narita, then I went into the small police room and signed the apology paperwork. I was then permitted to enter the airport and bring my colleague back to Meguro.

      I received PR in 2003 and naturalized in 2008. At no time did the “apology paperwork” bit ever come up.

    96. Jess Says:

      Er… that was harsh. It seems like Brian did fill in the holes – just not as timely as you would have liked – but people have busy lives. As soon as he came back, he stayed and answered the questions. Are you blaming him for being steamed about the story that he brought to our attention? If he wasn’t steamed about it, he wouldn’t have bothered telling anyone about it.

    97. innocent_Bystander Says:

      I know it sounds like shooting the messenger, but the Japan Times should have insisted that Brian provide more essential details before running his initial article. The piece read too much like hearsay (“the son told me”) and was based entirely on a single, secondary source. That may be fine for a blog, but is not how news media is supposed to do its job. Brian’s invitation to other posters to phone the U.S. embassy to confirm it really happened is specious. He’s saying in effect, “I’ll supply some data and if you don’t believe me it’s your job to hunt for the rest.” Then he pouts and rants when people point out the holes in his logic. Meanwhile,I’m still waiting for the Japan Times piece confirming (or rebutting) Brian’s tale to appear.

    98. iago Says:

      Well, although I’m not a huge fan of the Japan Times, to be fair to them, Brian’s “article” was in the Hotline to Nagatacho section which is not much different from “letters to the editor”. More of a place for people to air grievances and blow off steam…

      Quote: “Submissions to Hotline to Nagatacho should address issues that affect your life in Japan or be in response to government policies. Please imagine you are actually writing to a government official — be it a local school board head or the prime minister himself — to bring attention to an important matter.”

    99. Charles Landgaarde Says:

      Hello Debito,

      First time poster, frequent reader.

      I have to mention that I have followed this story closely because something similar happened to me a few years back, but luckily I was not carrying anything illegal. After my experience with the police in Japan it made me feel very insecure to live here. I have always felt afterwards that the police in Japan are not here to assist foreigners ever, but to search for an excuse to lock them up and deport them. This is only my humble opinion though.

      With regards to Brian Hedge’s story, I have to agree with Iago. This was an opinion letter written by a 3rd party. Debito was kind enough to post it on his blog and because of this other posters became upset with the writer. Some of the posters accused Mr. Hedge of being a fraud or impostor. This raised many yellow flags with me because if I was a betting man, which I am not, I would bet that some of these posters who leave comments under Western names are anything but Western and more than likely Japanese. This is obviously just me stating my opinion again though.

      To my surprise when Mr. Hedge appeared here he was treated not with enthusiasm but abrasiveness. This seems odd to me because this forum seems to be the only place where a person with a serious issue with regards to Japan could come to find sympathy. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of pro-Japan sites and I enjoy all of them. I love Japan as much as anyone who has lived here, but I am also a realist and have unfortunately seen the underbelly here too.

      It is unfortunate that Mr. Hedge had to resort to condescension and other forms of aggressive behavior, but before we point the finger at him maybe others here should take time and think about how they might have contributed to this entire situation. It just seems that we did not really accomplish anything and actually caused more harm than good. I am now left wondering about this 74-year-old man and his story and feeling. It is just ashame that this story could die here without anything at all resolved. Neither the fact or fiction may ever be heard now and that is the tragedy of all this.

      I feel some of the more aggressive posters should take some of the blame here and next time be more sympathetic to your peers. This is a community here even though we are nameless and faceless, and we should treat each other with more humility because we certainly need as much as possible throughout our daily lives here. I am not saying that Japan lacks humility but it does have a special way of disguising it sometimes and if you don’t have a keen eye of finding it then you might just end up bitter like Mr. Hedge….

    100. Innocent_Bystander Says:

      Charles, greetings. First of all, let me say that if a Japanese (which I am not) has something useful to add to the dialog, I think he/she should be welcome here. Period. Secondly, sorry about your negative experience with the police. Suggest you go to YouTube and watch movies of US cops tasering old ladies before you go overboard on your criticisms about Japan.

      Third and my main point — to which I would like to address all readers — is what I feel is a general issue about people who write to raise complaints over perceived or real injustices. I have learned from sad experience that all too often when doing so they withhold essential information. I’ll give you an example: a journalist friend whose column was dropped from an airline magazine bitterly blamed the editor, and from what I could tell, his complaints appeared valid. But later I was shown the original email that the editor had sent him and seen that the journalist deleted essential passages from his mail to me in an effort to win me over to his way of thinking. This manipulative cherry-picking of information makes it impossible for a reader to make a rational judgement about what actually happened.

      That said, I very much hope that the story of the koban-knife-incarceration is unambiguously clarified. The key reason I remain skeptical about this is why did Brian need to raise the issue at all? And why hasn’t the injured party himself come forward?

    101. Behan Says:

      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.

    102. George Says:

      “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 out.


    103. debito Says:


      Two police officers stabbed while trying to subdue 74-yr-old man
      Saturday 22nd August, 02:00 PM JST

      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.

    104. Pheyton Says:

      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.

    105. debito Says:

      Japan Times corroborates the story as true:

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

    106. 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?

      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.

    107. 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.

    108. sayitaintsojoe! Says:


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


      what more do you need

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

      July 2

    109. Claus Says:

      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.

    110. DM Says:

      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 . . .

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