Dr. ARUDOU, Debito's Home Page

From Debito's doctoral research:

Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination

  • Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination
  • (Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield HB 2015, PB 2016)

    Click on book cover for reviews, previews, and 30% discount direct from publisher. Available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle eBook on

  • Book IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan
  • Narita cops allegedly stopping newly-arrived “foreigners” for passport checks before boarding Narita Express trains

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on September 16th, 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.  Just got this from someone who wishes to remain anonymous:  Cops in Narita are carding and passporting people trying to take trains into Tokyo after arriving and going through Immigration (i.e. not in any security zones).

    Anyone else experiencing this in Japan’s airports?  Of course, I have on several occasions (one here and another here).  Others, please pipe up.  As the author says, this passport checkpoint coming so fast on the heels of Immigration checks is a bit much.  And if you want to do something about this, click here.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    September 16, 2009 11:26:32 AM JST

    Don’t really want to open a can of worms here, and would prefer that this stay anonymous if blogged, but I was stopped by the police in Narita airport after returning from a two-week trip to the states yesterday.

    There were many officers deployed in a couple of lines to catch anyone comming off the escalators to the trains out of the airport.  They were carrying clipboards and stopping anyone who looked foreign for a “passport check.”

    The officer stopped me also looked at my gaijin card and asked for my phone number.  I went along with it uncomplaining, not much I could have done, but I thought it was particularly egregious comming so shortly after immigration had checked my passport (and gotten my picture and fingerprints) not half an hour before.

    I’ve lived in Japan for four years, gone abroad many times, always take the train to and from the airport, but this was the first police “passport check” I’ve ever had.

    Saddened, Anonymous NJ Resident of Japan



    51 Responses to “Narita cops allegedly stopping newly-arrived “foreigners” for passport checks before boarding Narita Express trains”

    1. betty boop Says:

      this did not happen to me when arriving (i also saw it on the way out of the country the previous month) last week from a trip abroad but i did see police stopping people at narita (maybe about 10 in the 30 minutes i was there which seemed a lot) especially terrible because these people had presumably just gone through immigration and were weighed down with heavy luggage.

    2. kevin Says:

      Yea, that really doesn’t surprise me. I went to Kandai in Osaka for a year and I was waiting outside of a music hall by campus, when a police officer randomly asked me and my friends for our ID’s asking us where we were from and why we were there. I told him we were exchange students,but he said “where” and I said ” here”, then Im not sure what he said, but he told us to show him our ID’s. After that, he said became nicer, but he said ” oh this isnt racial discrimination, this is like getting pulled over when you’re driving.” ” Um..we’re not driving and we didn’t do anything wrong and if this isnt racial discrimination, then why didn’t you check our korean friend’s ID?” The police officer was kind of shocked and asked our friend if he was korean and checked his ID.

      That whole situtation really made me mad because I know it happened just because I was white, but at least he spoke to me in Japanese instead of trying to speak English. This happened in Osaka, I forget when, but it was after you did that movie showing in the blarney stone. I kind of told you that I didn’t think this stuff was a big deal and that it was worse parts of Hawaii, but a lot of pretty blatantly racist crap happened after that.

      — Now do you think this stuff is a big deal?

    3. Marius Says:

      Am I missing something? The people by the lines at the Narita train terminals have been doing it for years, at least as far as I remember.

      To wit: perhaps to stimulate the economy by encouraging taxi-rides for arriving/departing tourists instead (where you don’t have to show anything to board)?

      On a related note: I’ve experienced it while waiting in the airport arrival terminal.

      When asked what I were doing in Japan I told the officer, calmly, that I were a resident here and that I were waiting for my friend. When he insisted on showing my passport, not arc card for some reason, I questioned the legibility of it; I were just waiting, in a waiting terminal. Where after the officer threatened to throw me in a custody cell of airport security.


      — Did you get him to show you his ID first, as is standard procedure?

    4. Kaoru Says:

      My parents just arrived from England yesterday, and described the exact same phenomena. Being tourists here they weren’t particularly offended by it, but it certainly struck them as being a little odd.

    5. DR Says:

      I’ve studiously avoided using Narita if at all possible in the past five years, simply because of its lack of accessibility. However, having gone in the main gate by bus and car a few times I have had to show my passport to the colleagues of the Darth Vader cops with big sticks who guard the perimeter. When going by to NRT by train it happened at the spot where the luggage trolleys are stopped by steel poles en route to/from the platforms. They ONLY asked for NJ passports on all occasions near the train access points, if my memory serves me correctly. During the AUM crises of 1995 I remarked to one of them that I was not the problem, not resembling a certain Asahara guy, but was just ignored.

      Japan is not alone in secondary passport checks. I’ve had the same thing happen south of the 49th in Washington on I-5, and just north of the Mexican border in California on one of the minor highways. Apparently DHS and INS are doing this a lot 20-30km inside US territory now in border states. It’s also common in Shengen Treaty European countries too, notably France. The gendarmerie sets up a checkpoint and screens folks travelling by car or bus, though their main focus is weed exiting Holland via Belgium.

      Just two weeks ago I had the same thing happen here in Spain. I ran into a heavily armed Guardia Civil checkpoint right on the Portuguese access road, with a very determined cop wielding an UZI and a spike-belt. They did random ID checks and car searches, but again, their focus was a ton and a half of cocaine that had been nabbed that morning in Cadiz. My lemon-yellow rental car didn’t match the dealers’ profile.

      While in Japan I must admit to feeling singled out. Here in Europe everyone must carry ID, so I don’t even blink on those very rare occasions I’m stopped and asked to produce it. It happens to everyone here regardless of ethnicity, though usually they are very up front about telling you why; security access to a Govt. building in light of ETA attacks; photo ID MUST accompany all credit card purchases; and for any transaction involving banking, city hall etc. etc. But I DO understand your contributor’s concerns on this. I don’t trust the J-Cops as far as I can throw them.

      — Actually, the people the J-Cops probably have to worry more about when you’re coming TO Narita by bus etc. are the domestic (and historically violent) demonstrators against the building of Narita. They might as well check everyone, and have whenever I’ve bussed into NRT.

      That said, Anonymous was talking about going back FROM Narita this time.

    6. Mumei Says:

      Not a very smart cop. Such foreigners leaving arrivals and about to board the train have just gone through immigrations where their visas were just checked. Thus the chances of them actually catching any violators is extremely low. Unless the intention is for harassment alone.

      That said, I have been stopped at the airport before (which was followed by being stopped again later that same evening on my way home). Not while heading for the trains, but it was while waiting at arrivals for my girlfriend. Her flight had been delayed, and I got tired of sitting so variously walked around to stretch my legs. A police office noticed this and thought that it was 不審. Whether it was or not, I have since learned to minimize my movements at the airport.

      Anonymous NJ Resident,

      The first time can be upsetting, but don’t let it get to you too much. It’s something that just about all NJ, especially those that that do not “look” Japanese, eventually go through. At least you got by for four years; hopefully the next time will be a number of years away.

    7. Shaun Says:

      I had the same experience on Sept. 10, but that was upon arrival and immediately after immigration in Guangzhou, China, where they were obviously stopping anyone looking non-Asian. I spent 15 – 20 mins watching this while waiting in the long foreign-passport line for immigration. But that of course was China, firstly not the country that I happen to live in, and secondly, an authoritarian regime which has no idea of human rights, not an example that I would wish Japan to follow. (Although ofttimes I do see Japan’s propensity to extreme control by the beauracracy as being quite “socialist”.)


    8. GiantPanda Says:

      I nearly always go to and from Narita by car these days, and the funny thing is that when you enter by car they ask only for your driver’s license, not your passport, and only the driver need show it. Usually my husband is driving (he can pass for Japanese, but isn’t) but I am obviously gaijin, and I have never been asked to show ID after he flashes his license. I think you can also show any photo ID on the bus – it doesn’t have to be your passport, but they just say “passport” because its the ID they expect everyone to have.

      Incidentally I’ve also received a lot of very nice treatment at Narita – (probably because I’m dragging around a toddler and a baby and look like I could use all the help I could get!) such as being whisked through the fast track “crew” line at customs, or being invited to cut in to the top of the check in line.

      I contrast this to the treatment at my ex-home country, where everyone is treated like cattle and if you happen to have a problem the staff glare at you like how dare you ask them to do anything. After some trips it is particularly nice to arrive back in Japan.

    9. Manule Says:

      Quote(Not a very smart cop. Such foreigners leaving arrivals and about to board the train have just gone through immigrations where their visas were just checked. Thus the chances of them actually catching any violators is extremely low. Unless the intention is for harassment alone.)

      mmm…Maybe the intention is to “warn” newly arrived foreigners about how well policed is this country and behave well because they are watching…

    10. Eido Inoue Says:

      Yes, I’ve been stopped at Narita platform. It’s practice time for the police officers: they are practicing their foreigner interrogation skills. It’s low risk for the police officers to practice here because:

      o the chances that you are illegal are very low, as you’ve just gone through an extensive passport and customs check. If you were a bad foreigner, you would’ve been nabbed at immigration. Unlikely to get a runner or somebody that does something rash because they have nothing to lose.
      o the odds that you have you passport and/or ARC in your possession are very high.

      Once they’ve finished practice time at the airport, they’ll probably be asked to apply their skills in a more realistic scenario in the future.

    11. level3 Says:

      It really doesn’t make any sense at all, unless it’s some kind of need to suddenly meet a quota; or perhaps the police think the Immigration folks are fucking things up? (Can a beat cop in a train station do a better job checking passports and such than an Immigration officer at his station with fingerprint scanners and such? Plus the, I assume, various chemical and X-ray screenings by customs officials on incoming bags? No.)

      In America or Europe or other non-island countries, there is some sense, I suppose. These secondary checks would prevent people from trafficking illegals to 1 km from the border, letting them cross on foot, and then picking them up 2 km later on the other side.
      For an ISLAND nation, next to an airport, it doesn’t make any sense at all.

      Are illegals beaming into Japan somewhere between the Immigration checkpoint and the airport police ID checkpoint?

      I do have to agree with the above, in that the cops, if their actual motive is to catch illegal gaijin, ought to be checking gaijin going TO the airport, since they will not have just been checked through Immigration. Or how about stepping up patrols in seaports and port towns? Of course what the j cops REALLY should be doing with their time is putting real criminals (who rob, attack and kill people) in jail, rather than harassing people who are coming to solve Japan’s labor shortage and pension problems in exchange for substandard wages and no rights.

      Go ahead and cooperate as required by law, but could some people just try asking the J cops exactly what the point is, given the facts above? Or could debito make another predictably fruitless phone call to a police representative who will tell debito that he doesn’t have to answer any questions.

      Maybe this is just more of the “No-koso Japan!” campaign?

    12. Mumei Says:

      GiantPanda wrote: “I think you can also show any photo ID on the bus – it doesn’t have to be your passport”

      That is correct. Often people will not bring their passports because they are traveling domestically, or may not even be departing anywhere because they are picking someone up. Any official ID will suffice. I always show my health insurance card, which by the way does not have a photo on it. Also, it only has my name in kanji, which has made some believe that I am naturalized, which I am not.

    13. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      My guess is that the cops wanted to train their recruits and decided to have them bother people in a place where everyone is likely to have their papers on them and where nobody is likely to resist.

    14. esmode Says:

      I always take the limo bus so I have never experienced this in Narita. But on my second day in Japan a plain closed officer pulled me aside from a crowd in Ikebukuro station and asked me for my passport, why I was there, and if I spoke Japanese. It kind of freaked me out being approached by a plain clothes officer like that and it was embarrassing being a spectacle.

    15. carl Says:

      “But that of course was China, firstly not the country that I happen to live in, and secondly, an authoritarian regime which has no idea of human rights, not an example that I would wish Japan to follow”

      Interesting! Every time I’ve been through customs in China there, literally, has been NO ONE in the booth at all. I usually wander around until I find someone in a uniform, ask them what I should do, and they just wave me on. I’ve never had a post-immigration passport check in China, though different officers in different area may behave differently.

    16. John Says:

      The last three times I have traveled back to Japan I have been stopped inside the arrivals hall at Narita (after just having passed through customs). Annoying to say the least. I am a 20 year permanent resident of Japan and don`t like this kind of checking. In my mind it is harassment, plain and simple.

    17. Kimpatsu Says:

      Here in Europe everyone must carry ID
      Not true. Not in Ireland or the UK (for now), at any rate.

    18. Johnny Says:

      A poster on Expat Japan was stopped by the police at Ueno station and snuck a photo of the cop himself.

      Registration required to view.

    19. john k Says:

      #5 and #17
      Correct. In the UK there is nor formal ID card. One is never asked to provide evidence of who you are, unless under extreme conditions. If one is doing something or suspected of doing something “illegal”…the police will take you away. Even then, there is no ‘system’ of providing 100% proof, other than a driving licence if one happens to be a driver. There are so many other ways of establishing ones ID.

      Anyway, even after my first trip to the US after graduation in the 1980s, i realised how easy it was to obtain/provide fake ‘anythings’ of ID.

      So as Level3 noted, what does the cop on the beat think he knows or can do better than those poeple sat behind desks watching you get photographed, finger printed and scanning your passport and checking for a valid visa??

      I wonder if these draconian laws will change with the new Govt.?

    20. Marius Says:

      Debito, he was wearing a uniform and had a badge, in the middle of the airport.
      Didn’t bother writing down the number, or name, perhaps because I figured he was legit, or perhaps because of the shock of his threat of putting me into airport security.

      In hindsight I think I should.

      — Please do. If these are as other posters have noted just cub cops fulfilling a quota or getting practice grilling gaijin, don’t be a completely compliant patsy. Have him show you his then you’ll show him yours. Tough when you’re jetlagged and just want to be left alone, I know. But nothing else is going to deter them but you standing up for yourself.

    21. john k Says:

      Slightly off topic, but this is great:
      if her eccentricity can be welcomed, not ridculed, there may be just may be hope for us other ‘aliens’…and hence (here is the link) to us NJs here in japan being constantly asked for ID.

    22. DR Says:

      @Kimpatsu (love that handle!) I stand corrected. I should have said on continental Europe. I just found out that even Irish & other folks from outside Shengen Treaty countries are required to have ID on them when inside the zone. Usually a passport. Not sure how they’d enforce that on a packed beach in Malaga or Torremolinos, though.

    23. ken44 Says:

      —–The last three times I have traveled back to Japan I have been stopped inside the arrivals hall at Narita (after just having passed through customs). Annoying to say the least. I am a 20 year permanent resident of Japan and don`t like this kind of checking. In my mind it is harassment, plain and simple.—–

      I too am a long-term resident of Japan who travels in and out of Japan twice a year. Yet, I’ve never been stopped/hassled by anyone at Narita. In fact I’ve never heard anyone complain about such a problem.

      Is this something new on the part of the airport police?

    24. ken44 Says:

      —-I contrast this to the treatment at my ex-home country, where everyone is treated like cattle and if you happen to have a problem the staff glare at you like how dare you ask them to do anything. After some trips it is particularly nice to arrive back in Japan.—–

      I agree. I’ll take any potential problems/hassles at Narita any day over all the bullshit I have to deal with at LAX. (Los Angeles International airport)

    25. Matt Says:

      I just got back from overseas a week ago but encountered nothing of the sort. In fact, pairs of police were walking all around the airport and passed right by me a couple times as I waited to send my luggage, buy the Narita Express tickets etc., but the police paid no attention to me. (Just for the record, I am a very big, white foreigner, and after a 14 hour flight, hairy and not very friendly looking.)

      My question is: are you sure they are only asking the non-asian looking people to produce I.D.? If so, these cops would be spending a lot of down time as 80% of the people using Narita are Japanese and other Asians.

    26. DW Says:

      In my 15 years I am lucky enough to have never been hasseled by the cops. Regardless, this type of pure discrimination and abuse is something people should not have to endure. Police should be held accountable & questioned when they are doing these types of things. Though I doubt it would be helpful, complaining directly to the Prefectural Police HQ or the NPA would at least make them aware people are very displeased. Hopefully, the new gov will make some changes in the way NJ are treated.

    27. Ariel Says:

      A large part of my job is picking up/dropping off exchange students at Narita airport, so I’m there somewhere between 1-5 times a month.

      I got asked for my passport for the first time (other than the ID check as you enter the airport) about 3 weeks ago. I was sitting in the arrival lobby filling out takkyuubin tags while waiting for a couple of college students to exit customs, so I was in no way being suspicious. A very polite young cop approached me and asked for my passport in English. I responded in Japanese, and the rest of the conversation was in that language.

      I asked why he wanted to see my ID, and he responded that there has been a rise in visa violations, so they have been doing random checks. He then asked if he could see my ARC, and I said I felt a uncomfortable but handed it over. If I had not been waiting to pick up those college students I would have refused and made a fuss if he pushed it, but I didn’t want their first impression of their year-long program coordinator to be me arguing with a police officer. I did not take down his number, but I did look at his badge.

      On the postive side, the officer did treat me respectfully throughout the exchange. When he first approached me he clearly said he was a police officer and made the request in polite English. As soon as I responded in Japanese, he switched to keigo. He asked a couple of questions, like why I was at the airport, but I think he was just making converation at that point…he didn’t ask anything that felt intrusive like how long I’ll be in Japan or if I was carrying knives.

      As for checks on the train platforms, I’ve never encountered them. I’m usually leaving the airport after 6pm though, so perhaps they happen earlier in the day when there are more passengers.

    28. Steve Says:

      I have not been stopped at the train station before, but I have been harrassed by police at the Narita bus driveway outside of the waiting area. Within a 45 minute period, I was interrupted 3 times by 3 different officers who asked me to show ID, asked about my occupation, and then walked off. However, the 3rd officer told me that the benches were not for sitting and I had to go back inside.

      Obviously, I have not sat in that area since.

    29. Kingofpunk Says:

      In Europe specially in France you don’t need to carry your ID, you have to prove your identity, it’s a subtle difference

    30. James Annan Says:

      “the benches were not for sitting”

      I’d have been tempted to ask him what else he thought they were for :-)

    31. Guile Says:

      This happened to me, arriving at Narita at the very beginning of September. I agree with those who have said they think it’s about training – the pair that came up to me were clearly experienced cop + rookie cop. I also agree with those who suspected they’re filling a quota – there weren’t lines of police checking everyone, just these 2 cops looking around. They spotted me and one said to the other something along the lines of “look, there’s one” (I wasn’t close enough to hear what was actually said), then they rushed over.

      Good points:

      * they spoke to me entirely in Japanese
      * the first thing they did was ask me if I had enough time to talk to them before my train left (I did)
      * they explained why they were doing it (swine flu, apparently)

      Bad points:

      * it happening in the first place.

      Just plain strange:

      * they asked for my mobile number, then they asked if it was from my home country. I told them it was Japanese, then they asked what network it was on. You’re the police, you can find that out for yourselves, no?

      Sad to say I didn’t ask them to show me their ID first. What if experienced cop decides to teach rookie cop how to rough up a gaijin for being “uncooperative”? I was jetlagged and didn’t fancy spending 23 days in a koban at Narita, sorry. And as for Debito’s statement that it’s the “only way to deter them” – if they’ve got a quota to fill, being asked for ID first, even if it happens every single time, isn’t going to deter them one whit. IMHO it’s merely going to piss them off.

    32. Stephen Says:

      This happens in lots of counties including the US, Canada, Australia etc… but in the luggage awaiting area.

      Say no or give them your library card from your home country (Japan or otherwise).

      You are not require to care your passport once you have been registered. When I pick up people at the airport I bring my foreign registration card but end up showing a driver’s license etc.

      I am curious though, why the above individuals are being stopped? I don’t think it is because you are white,black, red, western looking etc…..

    33. Douglas Sweetlove Says:


      I’m from Canada, and it has never happened to me there, nor can I remember seeing anything like it. Besides, in the luggage pick up area (still inside the “security zone”) is far different from in public areas of the airport. I would be shocked and appalled to see the RCMP doing anything like random ID checks at the airport bus stop or taxi stand.

    34. Matt Says:

      I got checked late July while leaving. They stopped me just after the first screening you do before you go down to the immigration area. I had my passport in my hand so I just showed it, but it was the same deal with clipboards etc.

    35. ken44 Says:

      —-And as for Debito’s statement that it’s the “only way to deter them” – if they’ve got a quota to fill, being asked for ID first, even if it happens every single time, isn’t going to deter them one whit. IMHO it’s merely going to piss them off.—

      That’s pretty much my feeling as well. If they want to see my passport, gaijin card or whatever I would simply show it. The last thing you want to do is piss of the local authority in any country. You might be 100% correct but what does that matter if you suddenly find yourself tied up for hours trying to make your point.

    36. A Man In Japan Says:

      I have never got asked for my ID at the airport, but any time we would come back to Japan and go to the luggage area, I get the guy with the sniffer dog sniffing me and anyone who basically isn’t Japanese. He must of walked by me 7 times bringing the dog by me to sniff me, so in general the “police” at the airport just seem to be complete dicks.

    37. cjb Says:

      I’m surprised this is still going on. I got stopped about a year ago (June 2008) and thought it might have been a temporary measure. I had the same question in my mind about why they are checking passports when everyone just showed theirs to get through customs. I doubt too many visa overstayers hang out at the airport. At least they don’t anymore since they probably all know about these checks.

      My officer seemed like a rookie; he was polite and asked me some curious questions about where I was from and how I learned Japanese. I showed him my passport and thought that would be the end of it, and out came the questionairre. The thing is, I was already running late to meet the rep of the company I was going to work for. So, a slightly annoying but amusing encounter with the passport gestapo turned into a more frantic annoyance.

      Funny thing is, when I explained I was in a real hurry, and asked him to do his questionnaire on someone else, he said OK and let me go.

      This makes me think it is a quota, and not any real effort to fight crime/visa overstays.

    38. A Man In Japan Says:

      Hey guys. My wife and I had to go to Chiba today to update my visa, by bicycle if you can believe it. And when we came back, my wife had to go to the JR Narita train station to get a monthly train ticket.

      I waited outside, near the taxi stand and I I was just watching my wife walk into the train station and saw a policeman with a clipboard, walk out of the train station. He spotted me, but he just walked on, towards the police station that’s very close by.

      After getting her ticket, I said to my wife that the police are doing the usual of harassing people who are “not from around here” and I started going on about it. Then she told me that the police do this all the time and have been doing it for ages and she also says(but also stressed that she did not hear anyone else say it) that they do it for a daily target.

    39. john Says:

      Good point.[…] It’s about balance, and the balance of power is with the police.
      I certainly ask for police ID, the purpose of being stopped, and do they suspect i have committed a crime.If no.then there is no need for my gaijin card and they are given a drivers license.If so, they still get my drivers license.Only if they push it, do i ask them.”If i was Japanese, what ID would satisfy you of my identity?” After that they get my card.However I usually have Japanese national with me when i give the police a hard time

    40. J.C Says:

      hmmm this is worrying, the police seem to be getting more intrusive recently…
      but saying that in my 14+ years in japan I have never once been stopped and asked for my gaijin card (except when on my motorbike, whilst wearing full gear and full faced helmet…but thats another story)
      I used to go to narita to pick up my kid from daycare there, picked up friends and flown often so the j-cops have had plenty of oppertunities, but I’ve never been carded or passported.
      I know its not my looks that saved me this experience cause I am european and heavily tattooed (many visible) so I stand out in japan quite a lot. my wifes theory is that I look like a student (hope she means young and not stoned by that) but I am not sure thats the reason either.

      on a closing note cause I am rambling now, I have to make a trip to narita soon to pick up family so I will see how it is then. (hope no poor cop gets between my mum and her first ciggy in 14+hours, they’ll not enjoy that I promise)

    41. debito Says:


      Hi Debito-san,

      Have been meaning to write to you about precisely the matter you bring up regarding the Narita police and their clipboards…

      Some weeks ago my wife and I took the bus from Chiba to Narita to see off a visiting brother of mine. We had bade him farewell and gone down to the arrival level to take the return bus. I noticed that two policemen with clipboards were talking to a pony-tailed man in his early thirties, together with his female companion, and taking down their passport data. They had lots of pinkish luggage. It struck me as odd, as I thought that if they were under some sort of suspicion, they would still be well on the other side of customs. I thought they might have lost something or had something stolen, but they seemed utterly calm. I was gesturing to my wife with my left arm and accidentally brushed the man as they passed. I heard them speaking Spanish. my wife wanted to go to the restroom. I waited outside and then saw the two policemen coming toward me. Suddenly I knew what was about to happen, but I was like your garden-variety deer in the headlights…

      “We…porisu…You, pasupooto show me!”

      I replied: “Nan desu ka?”

      Same sort of bad, rude English.

      “Nihongo wo hanashite kudasai.”

      Semi-polite response.

      “Watashi wa pasupooto wo motte imasen. Aru to-shite-mo miseru gimu wa arimasen. Douse, kataku o-kotowari-shimasu. Kore wa akiraka na jinshu-sabetsu de, iyagarase desu.”

      The one cop claimed that they were also stopping Nihonjin. (As if they could tell.) I guffawed: “Uso bakari!”

      At this point, my wife emerged from the ladies room. I expected her to yell at me, but instead she yelled at the police. I said we had a bus to catch and simply walked off. She said she would, if necessary, catch a later bus. Fortunately, the bus was delayed, so we were able to return to Chiba together. She was furious – but not with me. But she also laughed, saying that she treated the cops as though they were her own children. Apparently, they wimped out.

      Later it occurred to me that I would never have engaged in such behavior elsewhere. But then there is something particularly exasperating about the way desk-bound idiots in Japan dream up useless “make-work” schemes. For what it’s worth, my wife called up the authorities and gave them an earful.

      The irony is that while, on the whole, I seem to be more “optimistic” about Japan than you, my behavior, when push comes to shove, may be more radical. Is it reckless simply to call the cops’ bluff?


    42. Mike Says:

      There is a keystone cops characteristic to the way the Japanese police operate and twice experienced the bad side of this. However, I just read the following article on Yahoo news.

      Right or wrong, does seem to be the trend in a post 9/11 world…?;_ylt=AnmOinRUowId9O52aTByXW5BXYh4;_ylu=X3oDMTJrOTZubXFpBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMDkxMDA5L3VzX3N0b3BfYW5kX2ZyaXNrBGNwb3MDNgRwb3MDNgRzZWMDeW5fdG9wX3N0b3JpZXMEc2xrA3BvbGljZXN0b3Btbw–

      Police stop more than 1 million people on street
      AP – George Lucas stands at Adam Clayton Blvd. and 148th Street in Harlem, New York, Friday Sept. 4, 2009. …
      By COLLEEN LONG, Associated Press Writer – 1 hr 42 mins ago

      NEW YORK – A teenager trying to get into his apartment after school is confronted by police. A man leaving his workplace chooses a different route back home to avoid officers who roam a particular street. These and hundreds of thousands of other Americans in big cities have been stopped on the street by police using a law-enforcement practice called stop-and-frisk that alarms civil libertarians but is credited by authorities with helping reduce crime.

      Police in major U.S. cities stop and question more than a million people each year — a sharply higher number than just a few years ago. Most are black and Hispanic men. Many are frisked, and nearly all are innocent of any crime, according to figures gathered by The Associated Press…

      — Can you imagine if we could have figures like this released on the NPA in the Japanese press…?

    43. Sapporo77 Says:

      My brother and his girlfriend just came for a visit for 2 weeks. They arrived at Narita and then came up to Sapporo. During their 4 hours layover they went outside for some fresh air. They started talking to a group of 4 English students when 3 policemen came along. Without so much as a hello the first policeman just said: ‘Passports’, in English. They all handed them over. Names, numbers, and ‘a contact address in Japan’ was recorded. This just happened on Oct 1st.

    44. Orient Says:

      I went past Saturday(Oct. 10, 2009) to Narita Airport to pick up a visitor and was eye witness how Police singles out foreigners and screens them:

      Location: Terminal 2, Arrival Lobby, in front of the “B” exit
      Time 15:20

      Two police men approached a young male foreigner among the many waiting people and asked for ID, which was given to them. Then they asked many questions (which due to private nature I never would answer) and finally, they searched his bag and manually body-screened him – all in the public! It was disgusting and I was clsoe to intervene, but I was afraid of an arrest ” due to obstruction etc.”

    45. Johnny Says:

      The police were out in force at Narita when I was leaving and coming back this weekend.

      Got stopped by them with a lot of people around as I was leaving the country, and I gave them a serving about racism, and also the Chiba police’s handling of the Lindsay Hawker case.

      They were also hassling foreigners at the train station today when I got back into the country.

      Not only is it discriminatory, it’s also a pretty poor use of resources.

    46. Mumei Says:

      I have actually avoided air travel in the past due to frequent police harassment at airports. Roughly half of the times that I have been stopped were at an airport.

      Unfortunately I have a business trip coming up that I can not avoid. (I’d take a boat if I could.) I suspect that I’ll be stopped at least once, but maybe even twice. Of course I always give them a hard time and make them follow the law to the letter (thanks to the wallet-sized cards that Debito made), but the stops seem to only get increasingly more frequent.

      In any case, one thing that I have learned is to minimize your movements. If at all possible, sit and do not walk around unnecessarily, even if to stretch your legs. Walking as a foreigner is apparently very suspicious.

    47. Johnny Says:

      A report from a friend tells me that the Chiba police are still persisting with this racist crap.

      I have sent an e-mail to Narita airport this morning at

      Basically I have told them that I will be using Haneda, Chubu and Kansai until the Chiba police cease their racial harrassment.

      I also sent them the link to this thread. Will advise if they actually bother to respond.

    48. blvtzpk Says:

      This is second-hand report from a colleague who left for the US in mid December. He has given me permission to repeat the story here.

      While sitting in Narita airport – prior to passing through immigration – my colleague was passing the time, texting on his keitai. A policeman approached him and asked for three things (1) his passport (2) gaijin card and (3) his keitai number.

      His Japanese is quite sophisticated, and he asked the officer whether he would be asking a similar request to the Japanese couple sitting next to my colleague. The officer apparently shrugged and said something to the effect that ‘he was just doing his job.’ My colleague gave up all 3 requested for items, and all were recorded by the officer in question. At the end of the exchange the officer stayed true to his word – he skipped the Japanese couple and asked a NJ woman further down the line of seats for the same three pieces of information.

      My friend was given a thorough going over at the security gates going into immigration and even at boarding was asked a stream of security questions by the flight crew boarding the passengers. By this time he was furious at being singled out on 3 separate occasions with the space of an hour or two, and was not polite to the boarding-pass checker, even though he realised that she was also ‘only doing her job’ and was probably unaware of his two previous grillings that morning.

      Now, this seems to be par for the course for many a traveler now, but being asked for one’s keitai number got me thinking – are the police tapping the phones of NJs? I know, probably paranoid, but that strikes me as particularly intrusive.

      — What if we gave a wrong number? Are they checking?

    49. blvtzpk Says:

      “– What if we gave a wrong number? Are they checking?”

      Good point. I raise the issue because, before this case, I hadn’t head of phone numbers being asked of people at these random stops.

      And what would be the point of taking the phone number if the first place if not to…?

    50. Matthew Says:

      I am so happy to find this.

      This happened to me two weeks ago at Narita. I couldn`t believe it.

      I have been living in Japan for two years and have never been stopped by police.
      I went to Narita to collect a friend who was visiting for two weeks. When I got off the train to go to arrivals I passed two police officers taking details of a group of South Americans. I thought “uh oh, did they do something wrong?”

      40 minutes later I went back down to get the Narita Express with my friend and we were stopped.
      I was shocked and terrified as I had no idea what it was about.
      They said “we are airport police, please show us your passport, security check.”

      I was confused because my friend had just got through immigration and I have been living here for two years. I gave my registration card and one officer asked for my passport again. I didnt have it because I wasn`t going anywhere. He asked his partner what the card was!!! The partner said is was a registration card and he proceeded to take EVERY piece of information and write it down on a blank A4 page, I noticed lots of “foreign” names like “Sarah” and “Robert” on his other pages.

      I was totally pissed off, and confused and insulted. They took the info and walked on! I asked the officer to explain why in abrupt Japanese and he just said “security check”.

      Racial profiling is alive and well.
      It felt like he was a newbie and was in some kind of training, I mean to not know what a registration card was?!

      Anyway, glad to vent!

    51. In Tokyo Says:

      This has happened to myself and my best friend on our return to Japan and I have to say that it irritated me. My best friend is fluent in Japanese and spoke in Japanese while I, though I could speak in Japanese in well, kept to English. And after they checked us and wrote down all our information, a SECOND group of cops tried to stop us as well, having not seen we’d been checked. If this happens again when I go to the airport next week I’m going to be very angry. Not that it matters to them.

    Leave a Reply


    Not Found

    404 Not Found