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


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

Comment navigation

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Justin,

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • “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.

  • 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!

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Mark,

    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.

  • 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 🙂

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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….

  • 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.

  • 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….

  • 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]

  • 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.

  • @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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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?”

  • “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?

  • 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.

  • @ 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).

  • 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.

  • 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..!

  • “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.”

  • 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….

  • “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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • “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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Carl:

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • 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….

  • 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?


Comment navigation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>