Email on Gaijin Card Checks and Racial Profiling at Sakura House (with update)


Hello Blog. Received this email out of the blue from someone getting help from the information up at Always pleased when somebody takes action to do something about their rights. Blogging with permission. Links to some pertinent info sites within the email and at the very bottom. Debito

From: Anonymous
Subject: Gaijin profiling at guesthouse
Date: November 25, 2006 12:55:39 AM JST

Hello Debito-san, Thank you for your article about random gaijin- card checks.

What do think about this?

I live in Sakura House, which you may have heard of.
( It is a chain of
guesthouses in Tokyo exclusively for foreigners. The buildings are not
descreet. I live in Shitamachi and amidst the white tile and crumbling
brick buildings, mine is marked with a bright “Sakura House” sign, not
that the comings and goings of a few dozen foreigners would have gone
unnoticed otherwise.

Anyway this morning I was stopped by three men in black jackets
(windbreakers) and one of them flashed me a badge. They asked me if I had
my “card”. Even though I had read your article, I was running late for
work and was extremely frazzled at being approached like that. I could
feel my Japanese fumbling but did manage to ask “nan de desuka?”. They
told me that they had heard that some sakura house people had overstayed
their visa and were “just checking”. They went to far as to ask my room
number and whether I lived alone. They made double sure to check the
address on the back of my card and sent me on my way. I was very insulted
and humiliated at being stopped like that. And the more I thought about
it, and the angrier I became.

The part that gets me the most is that these men were just waiting outside
my apartment, waiting to trap the gaijin as they went outside. The fact
that they asked my room number makes me think that they’re just going to
keep patroling until they’ve accounted for everyone. Moreover, this sort
of thing should be really unneccessary, as Sakura house checks the
duration of everybody’s visa before allowing them to stay there.

I would like to ask you, if you don’t mind, a few questions to be sure of
my legal footing.

1) Who do you think these men were?

There were three of them, only one had a badge. None of them were in
uniform. Is it possible that they (or at least one of them) were
immigration detectives, assigned to check out my particular guesthouse
because they had some kind of lead? Were they plainclothes cops?
Vigilantees? (they did seem to be overly pleased with themselves)

2) Does checking everyone in a foreign dorm constitute “crime prevention”?

You had the bike example in your article, and it seemed that a cop
really does have the right to demand your gaijin card for rather flimsy
reasons. Is being foreign enough probable cause for suspicion, if the
crime in question is “overstay”? As you mention, Japanese are also
capable of theft, murder, and terrorist acts, but it would be pretty
difficult for them to overstay their visas. (Of course there is the
issue of Japanese who happen to look non-Japanese, of foreign- born
Japanese citizens such as yourself, and ethnic Japanese foreigners, but
I doubt that that issue would carry any weight with a cop on the

Also, if it is even true that they have some evidence of foreigners
overstaying their visas at my guesthouse, does that mean that any
special investigation they are conducting overrides my right not to show
my gaijin card when I am not doing anything suspicious?

Well, toriaezu, I emailed sakura house telling them what was going on and
how hurt I was by it. I told them I would appreciate it if they would do
something about it. I also posted a note on the front door of my
guesthouse and left a bunch of copies of “The law” in the entryway. I
don’t know if anyone will be interested in making waves, but there it is.

Anyway, I would appreciate any help or information you can give me. I’m
surprised at how much this bothers me. Good job with your site, I’m glad
that there’s information out there for us.

Thanks again, Anonymous


Thank you back!

A couple of links re the developing tendency towards racial profiling in Japan:

Here comes the fear: Antiterrorist law creates legal conundrums for foreign residents
Japan Times May 24, 2005

Justice system flawed by presumed guilt
Rights advocates slam interrogation without counsel, long detentions
The Japan Times: Oct. 13, 2005
An excellent summary from the Japan Times on what’s wrong with Japan’s criminal justice system: presumption of guilt, extreme police powers of detention, jurisprudential incentives for using them, lack of transparency, records or accountability during investigation, and a successful outcome of a case hinging on arrest and conviction, not necessarily on proving guilt or innocence. This has long since reached an extreme: almost anything that goes to trial in a Japanese criminal court results in a conviction.

Point: You do not want to get on the wrong side of the Japanese police, although riding a bicycle, walking outside, renting an apartment etc. while foreign seems more and more to incur police involvement. Debito



From Anonymous:
Oh, and by the way, I got the expected response from sakura house.

Dear Anonymous

Thank you very much for your staying at Sakura House.

In fact, Japanese police officer or imigration officer has a right to
check your passport, visa status and alien registration card. If they ask
you to show your passport, you have to show it to them. This is a leagal
action. They do that kind of inspection without informing.

With best regards,
Takuya Takahashi

COMMENT: Pity Mr Takahashi doesn’t know the law better. It’s not quite that simple. So much for helping out his renters. Debito


This is outrageous and dangerous. The woman should NEVER have
cooperated. She should write newspapers. Rapists could easily use
this ruse to target their victims ahead of time. If cops want to check
IDs, they had better be in their proper uniforms with their own proper


1 comment on “Email on Gaijin Card Checks and Racial Profiling at Sakura House (with update)

  • Forwarding with permission, courtesy of Charles DeWolf. This sort of plainclothes police checking is affecting people due to their appearance, according to the author. I’ve talked plenty about racial profiling on Another case for the files. –Arudou Debito


    A letter to the Asahi Shimbun, November 25, 2006

    Treated as a Terrorist – even though Japanese

    I was born in Peru. Yet though from outward appearances I might be taken for a foreigner, I have the Japanese blood of my great-grandfather flowing in my veins, grew up in Japan, have been living here longer than anywhere else, and hold Japanese citizenship.

    In the middle of November, a train delay had me running to my place of work, when I was stopped by a plainclothes policewoman: “Sorry for stopping you when you’re in a hurry, but…” In full view of passersby, she showed me her identification and told me to show her my own ID, saying I could go on running as I did so. I had not done anything wrong, so I suppose it was all because my face looks foreign.

    I found her manner of speaking discourteous, and as I was in a hurry, I ignored her. “All right, never mind!” she said in a scowling tone. The people around us looked at me with expressions of contempt on their faces.

    Likewise in August, again on my way to work, I heard someone call to me to stop: “Police! Show me some identification.” The officer may have been working in the anti-terrorism campaign, but this was most troubling and annoying. To form judgments solely on the basis of outward appearance is a violation of human rights.

    When I asked Japanese friends, they said they had had no idea that such goes on. Such widespread ignorance among citizens of this country is itself a problem.

    I am the mother of small children. The thought of rearing them – with their foreign-looking faces – in a society such as ours fills me with anxiety.

    Kanami Sakura (28)
    Nerima-ku, Tokyo


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