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  • FCCJ No.1 Shimbun & Jiji on Japanese police’s extralegal powers, and how that power corrupts

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on July 1st, 2010

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    Hi Blog.  Further exploring the theme of the Japanese police’s extralegal powers and how power corrupts, here are two articles outlining cases where the Japanese police can arrest people they find inconvenient.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    2010年6月24日13時51分配信 時事通信 Courtesy of XX

    XX notes: So golly, apparently it actually is a crime to criticize the police. In this news item a man who does not like the police has been putting up notices near crime scenes that say “Congratulations on not catching the killer.” He was arrested and prosecutored for violating the Minor Crimes Act. Interestingly, the Minor Crimes Act does not seem to have any offenses which cover what he did. Minor technicality, I guess. Interesting law to read though – it is a crime to cut in line, among other things…


    On the Wrong Side of the Law
    by Julian Ryall
    Japanese Police Branded as ‘Criminals’ by One of their Own

    Number 1 Shimbun, June 2010

    Haruhiko Kataoka is remarkably composed. For a man who has only recently been released from prison after completing a sentence of one year and four months for a crime that he is adamant he did not commit, his self-control is admirable. Even more so when one takes into account Kataoka’s insistence that he was framed by the police for the death of one of their officers, and that the legal system colluded in sending an innocent man to prison.

    When he spoke at a press conference at the Club in April, there was no disguising Kataoka’s determination to continue the fight to clear his name.

    There have been a number of high-profile cases that have gone against the police and judicial authorities in recent months – perhaps most famously the exoneration of Toshikazu Sugaya in March after he served more than 17 years in prison on the strength of inaccurate DNA evidence and a coerced confession to the sexual assault and murder of a girl aged 4 in Ashikaga in 1991. But Toshiro Semba, a former police officer who is supporting Kataoka’s claims, says these cases involving the Japanese police – which he describes as “a criminal organization” – are just the tip of the iceberg.

    Kataoka’s head-on collision with the forces of law and order here began on the afternoon of May 3, 2006, as he was behind the wheel of a bus containing 22 students and three teachers on National Route 56 in Kochi City. After slowly pulling out of a restaurant parking lot – and observing all the appropriate safety precautions, he insists – a motorcycle being driven by a uniformed member of the Kochi Prefectural Police drove into the right side of his vehicle.

    At the instant the accident happened, Kataoka says the bus was at a complete halt, a claim that he says has been backed up by the students and teachers aboard the vehicle as well as the principal of Niyodo Junior High School, who was in a passenger car following the bus.

    As he tried to help the injured motorcyclist, another police officer who happened to be passing intervened and arrested Kataoka on the spot. When he reached the local police station, he was told that the officer on the motorcycle had died.

    Taken back to the site of the accident later in the day, he was told to describe what had happened, but was not permitted to get out of the police patrol car. Kataoka says he could not even see the part of the road where the collision occurred. After being questioned for two days – and repeatedly told that the officer’s death was his fault – Kataoka was released.

    “It was only eight months later that I was given an opportunity to explain what had happened, after I was summoned to the Kochi District Prosecutors’ office,” he said. “But the description of the accident they gave me then was beyond my belief.”

    The prosecutors told Kataoka the accident had been entirely his fault due to his negligence to confirm that the road was clear, and that he was being charged with professional negligence resulting in death. To support their case, the police showed him photos of tire skid marks on the road.

    “Since the bus was stopped, I told them, there was no way it could have made the skid marks,” he said. “It was then that I realized I was in a very problematic situation.


    “From the moment the accident happened, the police had a scenario in which all the blame was put on me, and they didn’t even bother to carry out a proper on-site investigation.”

    Kataoka had not given up the belief that his name would be cleared as, he reasoned, he would at least be able to explain what had really happened on Route 56 in court. He says he “had trust in Japan’s trial system.”

    Instead, the testimony of the school principal and a teacher who had been aboard the bus were dismissed by Judge Yasushi Katata of the Kochi Local Court, on the grounds that their comments “lacked a realistic basis.” The testimony provided by the police officer who had been passing the scene of the accident on another motorcycle, however, was perfectly acceptable to the court because “testimony by a fellow officer is not necessarily unreliable.”

    The court also accepted the tire skid marks put forward by the prosecution, which provided scientific analysis that the bus was moving at a speed of 14 kph while the motorcycle was traveling at between 30 kph and 40 kph. That contradicted another eye-witness statement that the police motorcycle was doing 60 kph. Judge Katata dismissed that suggestion as simply difficult to believe.

    Kataoka was found guilty and sentenced to one year and four months in prison – with the judge taking a swipe at the defendant in his summing up by saying that he had failed to show feelings of remorse.

    An appeal was immediately launched, with Kataoka’s lawyers carrying out exhaustive tests on an identical bus that revealed that even if the vehicle had been moving at the speed prosecutors insisted, it would only have left a skid mark measuring 30 cm long. Instead, police were presenting evidence of skid marks measuring 1 meter for the front right tire and 1.2 meters for the left tire. Kataoka says there are other discrepancies in the evidence, including the fact that the marks were not parallel. Fortunately for the police case, they claimed the marks had completely disappeared the day after the accident. And they refused to hand over the negatives of the photos of the skid marks, which could have been used to prove Kataoka’s innocence.

    Even confronted with this evidence, the Takamatsu High Court dismissed Kataoka’s appeal.

    “The judge said there was no reason to reopen the investigation,” Kataoka said. “He merely dismissed all the evidence that was unfavorable to the police and tried to cover up the criminal actions of the police against me.”

    The Supreme Court reacted in the same way.

    “I believe the courts have discarded the very principles of the judicial system and are only trying to cover up the wrongful actions of the police,” Kataoka said. “But I cannot allow that to happen. This case is not special at all and there have been many victims of criminal actions by the police and the failure of the powers that be to carry out full investigations.

    “How can I put my faith in the justice system when the facts of a case are fabricated?”


    And Kataoka reserves a healthy dose of scorn for the Japanese media.

    “It is up to the media to follow up on cases such as this, but they looked away,” he said. “I was interviewed by the local media in Kochi, but no stories ever appeared.

    “It is the responsibility of the Japanese media to report these events, but they cannot face up to the police,” he added.

    Sitting alongside him, Semba nodded in agreement, adding that the system of kisha clubs “exists to conceal what is problematic for the police.” And he added that the media’s failure to report on these issues means that every day, more false charges are filed against innocent people.

    Semba retired from the Ehime Prefectural Police in March, after 36 years on the force. At 24, he had been the youngest officer in the history of the prefectural force to be promoted to the rank of sergeant, but he says his refusal to falsify expenses forms that were funneled into a vast slush fund meant that he was never promoted again, was regularly transferred between unappealing assignments and had his handgun taken away on the grounds that he might kill himself or pose a danger to others.

    “The Japanese police are a criminal organization and the senior officers of the force are all criminals,” Semba said. “Of all the companies and organizations in Japan, only the ‘yakuza’ and the police commit crimes on a daily basis. That includes building up slush funds and it was because I refused to participate in that that I stayed in the same position for all those years.”

    Semba alleges that ¥40 billion is systematically racked up from falsified travel expenses and fictitious payments to individuals who assist the police in their investigations. Pretty much every officer in the country is involved in the scam, he claims, and they do not speak out because they are all too busy climbing the ranks to try to get their hands on a larger share of the pie.

    “The money is spent by senior officer on purchasing cars, buying homes and entertainment,” he said, pointing to the example set by Takaji Kunimatsu, the former commissioner general of the National Police Agency who was shot by an unidentified assailant outside an apartment amid the Aum Shinrikyo cult investigations in 1995.

    Even though Kunimatsu was on a civil servant’s wages, Semba alleges, he had two apartments worth a combined ¥80 million. And Semba says the gunman was able to get close enough to nearly kill him because Kunimatsu’s bodyguards had apparently been given the night off (for reasons that discretion prevents Number 1 Shimbun from mentioning).

    “Japanese journalists all know this but they won’t report it,” Semba said.

    Similarly, he said they know that the charges against Kataoka are based on falsified evidence, but the police are not held accountable.

    Semba has written a series of books about police corruption and given 88 lectures around the country on his experiences, the vast majority of them while he was still a serving officer. He was never disciplined for his whistle-blowing, he believes, because the police do not want a court case in which all their dirty laundry can be aired in public.

    Semba is still clearly a thorn in the side of the force – two plainclothes officers attended the press conference at the Club and took notes on what was said – and he half-joked that it is “a miracle that I am still alive.”

    “If I was in a senior position in the police, I would definitely eliminate Semba,” he said. “I’m the police’s worst enemy. But it is those who have already given up their lives that are the strongest.” ❶

    Julian Ryall is the Japan correspondent of The Daily Telegraph.


    12 Responses to “FCCJ No.1 Shimbun & Jiji on Japanese police’s extralegal powers, and how that power corrupts”

    1. Jeff Says:

      Meanwhile, at the G20…

      Power Corrupts. Some social structures make that easier than others.
      But you know what? I _like_ the “harmony” of Japan… Usually. Unless it gets in _my_ way.
      However I don’t accept that credit for it should go to the cops, they are just a cog in the wheel.

      Deeply vexing, this repeatable power corrupts bug (nothing is flowing to me at the moment).
      Someone must fix it…

    2. GS Says:

      I suspect there is a lot of truth in this article. My friend’s sister was a policewoman in Kanto region. She said the bullying that she experienced was terrible, and the often complete lack of respect towards the general public was unbelievable at times. There existed an atmosphere where she said they were always looking for a reason to arrest or charge somebody for something. (quota, might not be the right word). Ultimately the stress became too much and she resigned. Evidently it is quite common.

    3. Joe Jones Says:

      @XX: Article 1.33 of the law prohibits posting handbills on someone else’s property. But check out article 4: “この法律の適用にあたつては、国民の権利を不当に侵害しないように留意し、その本来の目的を逸脱して他の目的のためにこれを濫用するようなことがあつてはならない。” That seems like a minefield for prosecutors, which is probably why these minor crimes are rarely prosecuted.

      Kataoka’s case is very sad and troubling, and underscores the need for stronger police oversight in this country.

    4. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      As Joe has mentioned, item 33 mentions handbills, but the wording is interesting. It says that you can’t post them “midari ni“; a vague term implying “without good reason”. (I imagine that’s what keeps all those real-estate agents posting for-sale signs from getting prosecuted.) In this case we’ve got someone going all over the place posting these signs, but what if he’s a friend of the family that was killed? What if he were a neighbor, and feared a similar incident coming to his own house?

      Was it the wording? The ironic tone? Had he posted something like 警察しっかりしろ or 早く犯人見つけろ or something like that, what would have happened? I recognize that it can take the police a long time to solve cases — look how long it took to find Tatsuya Ichihashi — but I don’t see anything wrong with people reminding the public that the police could be more diligent in doing their jobs.

    5. Mike Says:

      “Deeply vexing, this repeatable power corrupts bug (nothing is flowing to me at the moment).
      Someone must fix it…”

      It goes on in every government, including the U.S. in all branches. The way to fix it, or at least keep it in check is accountablity. Checks and balances. The U.S. answer is the IG, but sometimes that isnt enough. It starts with holding the leadership accountable. This direct method probally will not work in Japan, its much more complicated than that, but the could start with some form of an Inspector that has the juice to take action. An accountable media would also be nice.

    6. KaZ Says:

      It is quite amazing to see the police here have no accountability at all. They can racially profile anybody, talk insultingly and ignore or brush off anybody who protests reasonably against their actions. The general people and the society largely do not seem to protest against anything at all. They seem to retain and perpetuate all their Gestapo like powers with the view of cracking down on foreigners.

    7. Jerry Says:

      You know, blanket statements about the police etc. are every bit as annoying as blanket statements about foreigners.

      “The Japanese police are a criminal organization and the senior officers of the force are all criminals,” Semba said. “Of all the companies and organizations in Japan, only the ‘yakuza’ and the police commit crimes on a daily basis. That includes building up slush funds and it was because I refused to participate in that that I stayed in the same position for all those years.”

      My father-in-law was a senior officer in the Osaka prefecture police force, and I can promise you he was honest as anyone out there.

    8. Johnny Says:

      @ Jerry

      I have no doubt that there are some good honest cops out there doing their best.
      However, it cannot be denied that the checks and balances in place for the police in Japan are insufficient.
      Too many police officers abuse their authority because of this.

    9. Alex Says:


      You are in denial. Your father-in-law may or may not have taken part in the activities, but being a cop himself he would be have 100% been aware of what happens on a daily basis, especially as a senior officer. Being a senior officer means that he would have taken part in some form or another, even if that means all he did was keep his mouth shut and 黙認.

    10. Kaz Says:

      Hi Jerry,
      It is nice to hear that your father-in-law was an honest cop. I hope there are many more like him who will uphold the principles of honesty and justice in the Police force. The clear facts are there is almost 99% conviction rate, the judiciary rarely goes with the appealing parties and complaints with respect to people of foreign origin are given the least importance.

      From the above accounts it also seems that the Police force as a whole, does not behave transparently and impartially as a Civillian Police force should do, but rather functions like a secretive and unaccountable organization like the Secret Service or the Gestapo. Therefore if there are incidents of miscarriage of Justice or charges of corruption, the police force has a responsibility to make a clear statement of their activities to show that statements like “Yakuza” and criminal organizations are incorrect and let the public have faith in them.

      The fact that they have never done so, and always come across as ‘we are always right’ decreases the faith that people put in them. And when they completely ignore any feedback or constructive criticism, I believe there is a problem.

    11. DR Says:

      I have long since dispensed with the illusion that the Japanese police are a real police service in the “To Serve and Protect” tradition. Short blurbs appeared in Shizuoka-ken Japanese language newspapers a few years back lamenting the “ura-gane” accumulated by the SPD, to the tune of JPY8 Billion (with a ‘B’!) When an “investigation” was launched senior officers in Shizuoka HQ “declined to assist”.
      Quite by coincidence, in light of what are being reported as serious abuses of police power by Toronto police during the recent G8/G20 summits, this piece of history arose and bears thinking about, booth in TO and in Japan:

      From YaYaCanada:

      “Let us remember Sir Robert Peel’s Principals of Policing:
      1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

      2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.

      3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.

      4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.

      5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

      6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.

      7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

      8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.

      9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

      – Note: “The police are the public and the public are the police.” In other words, police fight crime full time, the rest of us part time: by protecting ourselves and those we are responsible for by self-defence and defence of property within the law. Police protect society, as individuals, we protect ourselves. Like it or not, in most cases you call 9-1-1 for clean-up.”

      I dare say that organized crime and organized crime by the Japanese police might render all of these high ideals a tad moot. I’d like to think not….sigh!

    12. John (Yokohama) Says:

      Interesting read in the NYT on racial profiling by police of a Japanese citizen who just happens to look slightly “different”.

      “Too Tall for Japan?


      TOKYO — Racial profiling had never struck me as a personal issue. I am a Japanese woman living in Japan after all, where less than 2 percent of the population is foreign. And even among that sliver of a share, the majority is Asian. How could racial profiling exist if most everyone looks the same?

      I was awakened from such naïveté a few years ago when I started getting pulled aside by police, apparently to see if I was an illegal immigrant. On three occasions, officers sidled up to me at busy train stations, flashing their badges and asking me where I was headed. When they concluded I was a Japanese national, they sent me on my way.

      Earlier this year, two officers approached me as I was exiting Tokyo Station and asked to see an ID and the contents of my purse. I refused their repeated requests while demanding an explanation until one of the officers finally told me, “You are tall and dark-colored and look like a foreigner.” He then added, “Every day we catch four to five overstays this way,” referring to immigrants with expired visas.

      I was stunned by the officer’s blatant profiling of me based on what I perceive as my only slightly unusual features: a bit taller than average height and a shade of a sun tan. But microscopic vision for sniffing out differences is a common trait among the Japanese who are often uncomfortable with dealings outside of their familiar zones.

      The officers who approached me on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant were presumably acting on Japan’s Police Duties Execution Law. It states: “A police officer may stop and question any person who has reasonable ground to be suspected of having committed or being about to commit a crime.”

      The Japanese law is broader than the controversial legislation in the U.S. state of Arizona that goes into effect this month, which allows police to confirm someone’s immigration status only after stopping the person on other grounds. “The same thing as in Arizona has been in place in Japan for a long time without much criticism,” says my cousin and lawyer Genichi Yamaguchi.

      Most Japanese are unaware of these racially motivated checks. But even if they knew about them, it is questionable how much they would object. Profiling is a common practice here with casual exchanging of personal information. The details collected from a business card or queries such as asking where one attended university or what blood type one is serve as clues to allow people to predict how each party will behave.

      As a single parent who has lived overseas and is blood type A, I am stereotyped as hard-nosed enough to have decided to go it alone, blithe from surviving dealings with all sorts of people and having the seriousness attributed in popular beliefs here to people of my blood group.

      Such typecasting takes on racist overtones when applied to foreigners. “Chinese don’t know train manners,” I overheard a man say recently in response to a Chinese woman talking loudly on her cellphone in the compartment. On a bus tour of the Western city of Nara, several Japanese passengers complained that the Filipinos aboard who had trouble keeping up with the rushed sightseeing pace “don’t understand ‘dantai kodo,”’ or group behavior. When one of the Filipinos went to the restroom, a Japanese woman grumbled that she should have held back in deference to the group schedule. Such intolerance — when the government is on a major campaign to increase tourism to the country, and just this month eased visa application requirements for Chinese visitors.

      There are even disturbing signs that Japanese increasingly don’t want to bother trying to understand the unfamiliar territory beyond their borders. Only one student from Japan entered Harvard University’s freshman class last year, bringing the total number of full-time Japanese undergraduates to five, compared to a total of 36 from China and 42 from South Korea.

      A 2007 Web-based survey by the Nomura Research Institute revealed a growing reluctance to live overseas among younger Japanese. While 33 percent of men and 23.9 percent of women in their 60s and older said they would have some aversion to either themselves or their spouses going to work overseas, the share of people with that sentiment reached 42.9 percent and 38.9 percent respectively for people in their 20s.

      The next time a police officer stops me, I plan to explain that suspecting me of a crime simply because I look foreign constitutes racial profiling. Only there is no term for the practice in the Japanese language.

      Kumiko Makihara is a writer and translator living in Tokyo.”

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