Hi Blog. Here’s a great little report from friend Steve King, on how he dealt with gaijin-carding police (and very well, too, to my mind). Great story, and questions asked properly and to the letter. Don’t make a racially-profiling J cop’s job easier. Make sure you let them know you know your rights.
Interestingly enough, Steve’s cop indicated that he would be carding Japanese citizens too. This is actually illegal under Japanese Law for citizens unless there is probable cause, so it’s probably a lie. But if a representative of the almighty police in this country are becoming that insistent, I guess when it happens to me (and you just know it’s going to, again), it’s going be worked out down at the Cop Shop… Ulp.
Anyway, Steve’s report follows, along with a letter he sent regarding this incident to the Japan National Tourist Organization. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
Subject: Carded for the First Time
Date: December 17, 2007 11:34:43 AM JST
Had an interesting encounter outside JR Koenji Station in Tokyo on my way to work this morning – I got ‘Gaijin Carded’ for the first time in over 11 years of living in Japan. I am now no longer a ‘Gaijin Card Virgin’ :O)
A few things were interesting. First up, he – a Mr. Akiyasu Nishimura of Suginami Ward Police Office – asked for my passport, not my Alien Reg. Card. When I said I didn’t have it, he asked if I was a Japanese Citizen. When I replied that I am not a Japanese Citizen, he asked for my passport again.
I asked him why (in Japanese) and he just said, in English, ‘Because of Japanese Law’. So I asked his name and for his ID, which he produced with a smile and I jotted down his name. Then I said that since I lived in Japan, I don’t carry my passport around with me so I’ll be on my way. Then he caught up with me again and asked for my Alien Reg. Card. I asked him why, and again he repeated the reason, ‘because it’s the law’…
I then asked him if he was also asking Japanese citizens randomly on the street to produce ID. To my great surprise, he said that he was. He claimed to also be asking Japanese people to produce their Health Insurance, Driving Licenses and such.
To cut a long story short (this exchange went back and forth for about 10 minutes or so), he said it was the law for Foreign Nationals to carry their Alien Reg. Card and that he needed to see mine. I eventually relented and showed him my card, which he didn’t seem to really show much interest in, just giving it a perfunctory glance.
At the end I asked him if he wasn’t ashamed to harass people on the street for their ID on their way to work and what this means for the Japan Tourist Board’s ‘Yokoso Japan’ activities. He just shrugged and said well, you might carry your Alien Reg. Card but there are many others that don’t, and we don’t know until we ask..
He was a pleasant enough fellow and smiled throughout the exchange and of course, is just another guy carrying out the policies and orders of others, but I can’t say I enjoyed the experience of being carded outside the station I use every morning and a small crowd of onlookers gathering to see what the fuss is about..
I’m sure you’ve read many such anecdotes, but I wonder if it’s interesting to you that he asked if I was a Japanese citizen? Maybe the police have gotten wind of your campaigning on the basis of not judging a person’s citizenship status by skin colour alone and asked the police to check first? I dunno..
Also, what do you think of this guy’s insistence that he was also stopping and questioning Japanese citizens? I stopped and watched him from a suitable vantage point for a few minutes and watched him – he certainly didn’t stop any Japanese people during that time. Was this not a blatant lie on his part?
Anyway, given any more thought to running for office yet?
PS: Now I think back to it, what I think he meant was (his English wasn’t great and he insisted on using it despite my demonstrably more than passable Japanese) that if he encountered a ‘foreign-looking’ person who claimed to be a Japanese citizen, he would then ask for some ID in order to obtain proof of this. I don’t think he meant that he would be as likely to stop ‘Japanese looking’ people on the street randomly.
Incidentally, there are four foreign staff where I work. Out of the four, three have been carded in this way over the last month or so (One guy got carded twice in one day, at his home station and at Koenji). The only one of us four foreigners working here who hasn’t been carded is a Nisei Japanese American. The guy that gets carded the most is an Australian of Lebanese extraction. SK
Hi Debito, In a bad and sarcastic mood after this morning, I decided to email JNTO UK about the ‘Yokoso Japan’ campaign. I BCCd you on it. Feel free to pass it on to others who may want to contact JNTO Offices in their own home countries. List here:
From: Steve King
Subject: “Yokoso Japan”
Date: December 17, 2007 9:29:42 PM JST
Dear Sir / Madam,
Re: Police / Immigration harassment of Foreign Nationals and the “Yokoso Japan” campaign.
I am writing to express my concern over the recent increase in the harassment, invasion of privacy, humiliation and general unfriendliness on the part of the Japanese government, police and immigration officials towards foreign nationals in Japan, and the effect this will have on your otherwise laudable “Yokoso Japan” campaign.
As you will be aware, since the end of last month foreign nationals have been required to undertake mandatory fingerprint checks at international airport checks throughout Japan, despite no clear or sensible rationale for this measure being offered by the Japanese government for its implementation. “Yokoso” in English of course means “Welcome”, and one wonders precisely how welcome tourists from the UK visiting Japan for the first time must feel after they step off the plane at Narita Airport and have to undergo this kind of humiliation.
I, however, am not a tourist in Japan, but a British National who is a long term resident. Today I was stopped outside of JR Koenji police station by a member of the Tokyo Suginami Ward Police Department, who subjected me to a series of questions and demands that I produce my Alien Registration Card for him to see. This has been happening a lot recently, and several of my colleagues have experienced similar kinds of hassle and intrusion into our lives. No clear explanation from the Japanese government has been offered to the foreign community for this. Is this “Yokoso Japan”? I certainly don’t feel very “Welcome”.
If this continues, I suggest that JNTO abandons the “Yokoso Japan” campaign as it is obvious to everyone that Japan does not, in fact, welcome foreigners. May I suggest an alternative campaign?
I suggest you re-title the campaign “Japan ni Konaide!”, and perhaps the following ideas for a poster campaign may be appropriate:
1. Instead of a picture of Mt. Fuji’s serene beauty, you could have a picture of foreign tourists being fingerprinted by uniformed officials at Narita Airport. The caption reads, “We think you’re all criminals. Please don’t come here”
2. Instead of a picture of a peaceful garden in a Kyoto temple, you could picture a foreigner being questioned by a policeman for no good reason on the street in the rain. The caption reads, “If you don’t look Japanese, our Police Force have some unwelcome questions for you”
3. Instead of a picture of an inviting plate of sushi, I suggest a picture of a family deciding whether to visit Japan or not, poring over some brochures. The caption reads, “Hmmmm.. No, I don’t think so. I’ve heard the people are not so friendly or welcoming”
Indeed, several of my family members in the UK were planning to visit Japan next April and spend a couple of weeks here. I’ve decided to tell them to cancel that trip, and we will all fly to Thailand instead. The people and government of Thailand have a much more welcoming and mature attitude towards people who visit their fine country.
Best Regards, Steve King, Fuchu City, Tokyo, Japan.