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  • SITYS: Japan Times confirms that 74-year-old tourist WAS indeed incarcerated for 10 days for carrying a pocket knife

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

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" width=Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\" width=「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.  After a very nasty discussion on last month, regarding the validity of a story by Brian Hedge that a 74-year-old tourist was incarcerated for more than a week just for holding a pocket knife, the Japan Times has come through (The only media to bother — subscribe to the paper, everyone!  Who else you gonna call?) and confirmed that it actually did happen.

    It sure would be nice for the anonymous nasties who raked people over the coals to capitulate now.  How ’bout it?  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    The Japan Times Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009
    Tourist’s 10-day detention rapped
    Lawyers say elderly American should never have been jailed for holding small pocketknife
    By MINORU MATSUTANI Staff writer (excerpt)

    It all started when an American tourist asked a police officer for directions to the Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

    The Californian, 74, could never have imagined the officer would reply to his question with: “Do you have a knife?”

    He could never have dreamed, either, that his possession of a pocketknife, which he calls a “customary personal item,” would be illegal in Japan and lead to 10 nights in detention, the man told The Japan Times during a recent interview.

    “It was unpleasant and disappointing,” he said.

    The actions by police, including asking the man if he was carrying a knife, are questionable, lawyers said.

    In particular, they say 10 days in detention is problematic — although unfortunately in Japan not uncommon.

    “I seriously doubt the man needed to be detained at all,” said lawyer Kazuharu Suga, who has been assigned to defend the American.
    “Police should have confiscated the knife and released him after getting answers for why he came to Japan, where and how long he plans to stay in Japan and how he got the knife,” Suga said.

    “Unfortunately, in cases like this, 10 days of detention is not unusual,” he said, adding that a foreigner could be held longer if police have linguistic trouble communicating with the suspect…

    Rest of the article at:

    The Japan Times Community Page ran a series of responses on Tuesday from readers, many outraged, by this treatment. Here they are:

    One pocket knife, nine days’ lockup
    Following are a selection of readers’ responses to the July 28 Hotline to Nagatacho column headlined “Pocket knife lands tourist, 74, in lockup.”
    The Japan Times Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009


    “Truly a horror story…”

    Rest at


    28 Responses to “SITYS: Japan Times confirms that 74-year-old tourist WAS indeed incarcerated for 10 days for carrying a pocket knife”

    1. George Says:

      “It sure would be nice for the anonymous nasties who raked people over the coals to capitulate now. How ’bout it?”

      OK. So it happened. Is that a capitulation? I said I would believe the story if it appeared in the Japan Times.

      What I wasn’t willing to believe was a dude with a very fishy story who got in touch with another dude with a blog.

    2. Igor Inocima Says:

      Now I`d love to see some foreign media coverage on this, Japanese authorities seem to pay much more attention when the pressure comes from the outside.

    3. Tornadoes28 Says:

      The question of course is would the police or have the police treated Japanese citizens in the same manner for carrying knives such as this.

    4. Jcek Says:

      In light of this story being a factual event and Brian and Debito bringing it to us first here on this site, many thanks. Unfortunately the sad truth is that the story is true, and it highlights one of the many issues foreigners face living or traveling to Japan. I can’t help but fear that these cases will be used to further the JGovs case on the immigration issue.

    5. Doug Says:

      Certainly one of the saddest and most disturbing posts I have read on this blog. In my opinion this makes Mr. James a relatively insignificant issue (although I do understand the causes for concern about Mr. James).

      I have forwarded this article to my friend at the International Olympic Committee urging him to pass this along to his colleagues and reconsider Tokyo as a candidate for 2016. I have also forwarded him a collection of other items including Gaijin Hanzai Magazine, etc.

      I cannot even imagine how I would feel if this was my father. It sounds like this man’s son exercised much more restraint then I would have.

      Due to the lack of common sense of the Japanese police and many politicians (including Tokyo’s infamous governor) I do not think Tokyo is ready to host any major international event. As a matter of fact I am not sure why Tokyo would even want to host an event as it would attract more troublesome foreigners to the city (Well over 10 years in Japan does tell me why..but that is another story). There are certainly better and more deserving venues in Asia.

      Reading the comment of FUMI MONOBE and comparing this to his experience about getting a parking ticket in San Francisco was laughable (I wonder if that letter to the editor was a joke). Ten (10) days detention vs. a parking ticket. Give me a friggin break!

      Even if this man violated the law, the logical thing to do would be to explain the law to him, confiscate the knife and even issue a citation and fine. I would see that as being reasonable…but 10 days?!?! No way.

      I certainly hope FUMI MONOBE does not represent the opinion of the majority of the people in Tokyo. If he does represent the majority view this is a very sad state of affairs and does not speak well for Japan or its future.

      Furthermore the United States Embassy (my Embassy) seems to have little or no concern for its citizens abroad.

      Basically as a foreigner we are on our own in Japan (something I have known for years…but this drives home the point).

      Time to go home!

      The U.S. is not perfect by any means but at least it is my country and if I am ever accused of something there I have a fighting chance….in Japan…I do not think so.

    6. Jake Says:

      Most of the “raking over the coals” was simply calls for corroboration, which the person who originally reported the incident couldn’t provide. It’s not a contest where people win or lose and “capitulate”; most people were simply expressing a desire for more information and proof that the incident happened so some constructive progress could me made, rather than the usual bout of Japan bashing that tends to happen when an unpleasant incident like this occurs. And considering the attitude of the informant, I think all the skepticism sent his way was perfectly understandable.

      Anyway, now we have that proof, which is obviously a good thing.

      I agree 100% with this:

      “I seriously doubt the man needed to be detained at all,” said lawyer Kazuharu Suga, who has been assigned to defend the American. “Police should have confiscated the knife and released him after getting answers for why he came to Japan, where and how long he plans to stay in Japan and how he got the knife,” Suga said.

      However, if indeed the knife was over the legal limit, the basic fact remains that the man was engaging in illegal activity. Now, I’m not saying that ten days of lockdown is an appropriate response, of course; however, I can’t think of any countries that would allow “ignorance of the law” as a legitimate defense for doing something illegal.

      To me, the important thing now is to discover the circumstances behind the other two people supposedly detained the same day for the same reason. If police were indeed targeting foreigners with the seemingly innocent question “are you carrying a knife”, it goes from an isolated incident of police overkill to a conscious effort to arrest foreigners specifically.

    7. Bendrix Says:

      Ignorance is no excuse, certainly. But law enforcers are allowed to use some degree of discretion or they’d be arresting every jaywalker and petty thief. The cop was obviously being a jerk. The response was excessive and inhumane. Should the cop also have known maybe a little bit about the culture of someone visiting from a country that is one his country’s biggest allies? A Japanese man writing to the Japan Times mentioned getting a parking ticket in San Francisco for breaking a law he was ignorant of, and that the American man who was jailed should also have been punished. I doubt the California law enforcer issuing the parking ticket even knew who was driving the car, and would likely not have had him JAILED for a week and a half for the violation. There’s a huge difference between paying a small fine and getting put behind bars for a petty offense.

    8. TJJ Says:

      I wonder if FUMI MONOBE would be so glib if he was jailed for 10 days in the U.S. for his breach of the law?

      — I think the Monobe comment was included because it was self-evidently blind to the point.

    9. AWK Says:


      Thank You for great post and forward stuff to IOC. This is what my friend did a lot and I have joined him. Faxes are going there on regular basis. Hope Rio or other nation get 2016

    10. HH Says:

      I think a very important sidenote here is that scooped the Japan Times. Way to go!

    11. Kakui Kujira Says:

      On the previous articles on Debito and on the comments elsewhere, people questioned how the gentleman got his knife on the aeroplane when he came to Japan.
      He almost certainly did what I do: Put it in his luggage.
      I can’t imagine he was unaware of the post Sept 11 security rules nor that such pocketknife got through.

      I am perturbed by this story, because I just measured the Swiss Army knife I have been carrying on my belt for about 20 years. The blade is 5.60 centimetres long. The tip is actually broken off a bit, so if new it would be longer.
      So, this law makes Swiss Army knives illegal?

    12. Graham Says:

      Sounds to me like the police was simply doing his job, albeit not really in a friendly way. Maybe he needed to meet some kind of a quota, who knows. I can tell you for sure that foreigners aren’t the only victims of being interrogated: “otakus” are often targeted for weapons search, because they themselves are often targeted by thugs who think they are weak and pay up without standing up for themselves, and they keep tasers and such in their bags and pockets for self-protection (or they used to, at least).

      You know how the Japanese society works: the law is the law, no matter how stupid it is (you could take this one step further: it is logically impossible for government laws to be stupid). You break the rules, there’s no excuse, no matter what. This applies to everyone, including Japanese citizens. Asking them to alter this mentality is not only terribly difficult, but touching to one of the cores of Japanese culture that they cherish so dearly.

      I’m hoping Mr. Arudou is not trying to turn this into a “victim of racial/foreigner discrimination,” because Japanese also experience similar treatment. To demand justice for this incident just because you believe he was discriminated for being an NJ is not a fight for equality but for special treatment, and that would be hypocritical for him.

      — Kindly avoid putting words in my mouth.

    13. Muhimuteki Says:

      Sad, really sad.

      “The American, who asked not to be named, came to Japan on a pleasure trip to visit his son, a longtime Japan resident. The tourist had no criminal record whatsoever here.”

      Well, sounds almost like Mr. James to me, should we give advise to Mc Donalds, just in case…lol.

    14. iago Says:

      “You know how the Japanese society works: the law is the law, no matter how stupid it is (you could take this one step further: it is logically impossible for government laws to be stupid). You break the rules, there’s no excuse, no matter what. This applies to everyone, including Japanese citizens. Asking them to alter this mentality is not only terribly difficult, but touching to one of the cores of Japanese culture that they cherish so dearly.”

      Frankly, that’s not my experience of how Japanese society works. I daily see numerous examples of people making their own judgement on which rules to follow and which to bend/break.

    15. Jcek Says:


      Why don’t you provide some examples of otaku being specifically targeted for searches?

      “You break the rules, there’s no excuse, no matter what. This applies to everyone, including Japanese citizens.”

      Apparently you are new here, welcome!

      I don’t think Mr. Arudou is turning it into anything, the police are taking care of turning it into a race/foreigner issue.

      (OT: I was stopped while riding my bike and the police asked me if I had a knife.)

    16. j Says:

      mate I’m sure this would not happen to a Japanese, don’t give us this law crap.
      The police also have the right to exercise discretion. A 74 year old man with an old knife? how dangerous could he be?

    17. Paul Says:


      I notice that you choose to use the word weapon. I suppose it could be that this senior tourist carried it for that purpose, but I doubt it. More than likely he carried it as a tool, or out of habit – with never a thought of how it might be used as a weapon.

      As a tourist he cannot be expected to know the underlying social contract that we all have with the police here – that is, to sign the apology paper as a get out of jail card. Sure technically he broke the law – but not intentionally nor as an offense against this society. The police simply over-reacted and they compounded it by not setting him free in the first few hours, and thereafter – in every hour that passed.

      And in requiring that he be spoken to in Japanese – how utterly ridiculous. This truly makes Japanese police look stupid – which they are not, but obviously were in this case.

    18. Graham Says:

      > Why don’t you provide some examples of otaku being specifically targeted for searches?

      Here you go (Japanese):

      You’ll find plenty of examples if you google “オタク 職質” and such. The case is often known as “otaku-gari,” which essentially means otaku hunting.

      Also to clarify, people may bend rules in Japan too, but once someone is accused of violating a law, then there’s no excuse for that person. That’s what I meant by the previous statement. Sorry for any confusions.

    19. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      Graham, thanks for that link; I’d seen it before, but hadn’t noticed the stories about the Motofuji police department (based in Bunkyo-ku, not Chiyoda where Akihabara is) expanding their jurisdiction to go bother people outside their regular area.

      These are the same people who used to set up bicycle-stoppage points right in front of my residence!

      The Motofuji police department sure is an active one. Not only are they harassing cyclists and making non-suspicious people open their bags, but they also used to drive around the neighborhood with a loudspeaker warning ordinary people not to get scammed into making dodgy bank transfers.

      I guess in a low-crime area like Bunkyo, they just have to find ways of keeping themselves busy. It’s a shame that they, like the cops who caught this 74-year-old man, seem to be more interested in padding their statistics and putting on a show for the public than they are in actually maintaining public order.

    20. Jean Patrick Says:

      I have witness japanese police releasing in situ (after admonishing) elder people who were caught shoplifting. The shoplifters obviously did it consciously and mostly sure with premeditation.
      So what is the difference with an elder foreigner who may have committed a fault by ignorance of the internal laws of Japan?
      Again my opinion is “Outrageous, Unbelievebable, Absolutely Abusive.”

    21. sri Says:

      I knowingly parked illegally one night in suginami-ku and had a clamp put on my company car.
      The next day i went to the koban. They asked me if I knew that it was illegal to park in that location. I admitted it from the beginning and apologized. I told them i worked late and took the
      company car home instead of a taxi.
      The clamp was removed and to my surprise the fine was dismissed. Maybe they were expecting ignorance of the law defense and were pleasantly surprised at just the plain old truth.
      Even told me “ganbate kudasai” regarding living and working in Japan.

      Police are people too.

    22. Bendrix Says:


      Yes, police are people too. And as people, they are all different. You got lucky and met some nice ones. What does your story have to do with this man’s incarceration? You knowingly broke the law, and you got a lucky break. This man did not know the law, and got jailed for a week and a half. I think this man was being pretty honest when he admitted to having a knife and handed it over.

      Unless you’re implying this man was aware of the law and would have gotten off by admitting so?

    23. sayitaintsojoe! Says:

      “Sounds to me like the police was simply doing his job, albeit not really in a friendly way.”

      Asking an elderly tourist who stopped to ask for directions seems a bit out of the way of simply doing his job.

      I remember a student at my school getting into trouble just after the Akihabara tragedy by having a pocketknife on him at a department store. He was only detain for an hour or so then let go. Why couldn’t the same have been done for this tourist?

    24. Dave Says:

      Someone correct me if I’m wrong please but how did the 74 year old man even commit a crime if there was a moratorium on the new knife law until a few days after he was arrested? Or did the new law go into effect a few days before he was arrested?

    25. Manule Says:

      You know, this kind of reasoning is what I find odd in here, in one hand the foreign tourist, honest but ignorant of the law, ten days in jail, on the other hand, the guy who knowingly commited a violation but apologizes, free to go and even get some “Gambatte”. Does some simple “Gomennasai” really makes that difference? It should not, the law is the law and should be applied with or without apologies in between.

    26. BlogD Says:


      What’s up with you on this? I really don’t understand why you react to the people asking for verification like you do. I went back to the original post and re-read the initial comments calling for substantiation, and they were simply reasonable. Al apologized for questioning, said that if the claim was true then it was preposterous, but very reasonably wanted to get more than just a hearsay account. It is nothing more than common sense to ask for more than just someone’s word before jumping to conclusions about a matter of such importance; in fact, what we tend to disrespect most about how foreigners are treated in Japan is how Japanese tend to jump to conclusions about us, how many Japanese will believe horror stories about foreigners without looking for substantiation. We should be better than that.

      As we now have that verification, we can fully accept the story and react accordingly. However, I have to say that your reaction gets in the way, making the issue more about whether or not your initial full belief was justified. Forgive me for saying that the word “gloating” seems to apply here.

      I see Al’s initial reaction as being the correct one: we should be appalled by such actions by police in Japan, but we should also neither accept or deny such stories as absolute fact until they have proven to be so. The less we do that, the less credible we come across when we protest.

      Something to keep in mind: Al’s reaction would come across as reasonable and indignant to misbehavior whether or not the story proved to be true, as it in fact did. Your reaction, however, only comes across as reasonable if the story proved true. It did–but had the the story been false or unreasonably exaggerated, as some such stories are, then you would have come across as gullible. That the story proved true does not mitigate the fact that you fully accepted it without verification. That you are sympathetic to non-Japanese mistreated in Japan is admirable, as is the fact that you are willing to fight for them with the resources you wield. But as Al Sharpton discovered in the Tawana Brawley case, not making certain that an injustice happened before you throw in your full-throated support is risky, and tends to harm one’s credibility.

      There is no reason *not* to report such stories upon receiving them; you were perfectly in line to do so, and I am not suggesting that you should have withheld it. But you should also have taken the line of “this story has not yet been officially verified” and sought out that verification to give strength and credence to the reporting.

      That said, now that it has been verified, what action can be taken? Can anything be done to bring action against the officer in question? Can legal action be taken? What can be done to see that this does not happen again? I think contacting the Olympic Committee would be a great move–cities tend to react strongly when such efforts are put into jeopardy by stuff like this. Do you have suggestions for actions your readers can take?

    27. E.P.Lowe Says:

      To be honest, the real question is:

      Why the hell are pen-knives being banned anyway?

      They are ineffectual as weapons, and are excellent tools. Used by fishermen, hikers, hunters, paramedics, engineers, handymen, hobbyists and probably a whole host of other people.

      My thought is this: for the politicians and bureaucrats responsible for the law this never crossed their minds – they don’t need things like pen-knives, as they can always get someone else to do the everyday things that we little people have to do. Funnily enough they do need golf clubs – which are much more lethal weapons than pen-knives!

    28. Hiropon Says:

      Not that I can add anything new here but I had a similiar experience in Kabukicho 2 years ago. Except I didn’t stop for directions to Kinokuniya book store, but I was just walking the seedier part of Kabukicho when I was stopped by the police.

      Well, actually a police car swerved to a stop in front of me and I was surrounded by 3,4 policemen asking me what I was doing. Since I was in kind of a shock, I replied, “Err, walking?” They asked for my ID, so I provided them my Alien registration card(BTW,I am a Permanent Resident, half Japanese/half American, and I speak fluent Japanese) and they asked me to empty out my pockets. I agreed since I had nothing to hide…and out popped my keychain with a tiny Leatherman with a 3cm knife.

      Man, I swear their eyes lighted up. They told me that it was illegal to carry a knife without a valid reason and they were going to arrest me.

      I told them like, hey this isn’t like a switchblade, my valid reason is its like, a handy tool and I like to like, carry it around, and I bought this like, at Tokyu Hands, and I didn’t KNOW it was like, illegal. Sorry, won’t do it again.

      Didn’t work.

      They put me in the police car(no handcuffs)and took me to the Shinjuku Police Station where a rather inept older policeman proccessed/interviewed me(I say inept, because he forgot to save his files, and we had to start the interview all over again) and asked me from everything from my shoe size, name of my family, how much in savings I had, where I worked etc. . They let me chain smoke but I had to buy my own coffee, cheap bastards.

      Finally, after 3 hours(he was a reaaaally slooooow typer), they made me sign a document, photocopied my Alien registration card and my company ID card, took my fingerprint/hand prints, took pictures of several angles of my head and they let me go.

      They told me they were going to send my case to the prosecutors office (syorui souken) and it was up to the prosecutor to charge me.

      Since I wasn’t charged, I consider myself lucky, even though I’m still pissed.

      After reading this guy’s story, I consider myself doubly lucky, even though I’m still pissed.

      In retrospect, I guess Kabukicho is a high crime area, so you can’t expect cops there to be like your friendly policeman in your neighborhood.

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