Arrest and Detention Periods of Criminal Suspects
Under Japanese Law
(originally made public Sept 18, 2002, revised December 19, 2002 and April 9, 2003)
(Japanese 日本語)

(page directly down to the phone numbers to lodge a complaint against police treatment)
(Page down to JAPAN TIMES articles (March-April 2003) on CONDITIONS IN JAPANESE PRISONS, warranting Ministry of Justice inquiries on deaths during incarceration.)

I received the following information and handouts from the Hokkaido Police Headquarters, as part of preparation for police interrogation translation work before the World Cup games in Sapporo, May 2002.

English translation of the time periods below is followed by the original Japanese.

Note that there is no 24-hour period of Habeas Corpus. You can legally be denied legal counsel and Consular assistance (as well as contact with the outside world and the mass media) for 48 hours. After that, your detention is made public, but you may be turned over to the Public Prosecutor for another day of questioning. Then afterwards he may ask a judge for another ten days, renewable again once, of detention--usually granted except under unusual circumstances (which your lawyer will have to make clear to the court).

In other words, once you can contact the outside world, contact your embassy or consulate and get a lawyer as soon as possible. Otherwise the judge will probably order your further detention for more than three weeks.

Don't be a hero and go this alone. Twenty-three days is plenty of time to have your consciousness altered and a confession signed (Most people unsurprisingly confess, with the consequent conviction rate close to 100%. Meaning if you sign, you will probably go to jail.) You will be out of your element in terms of sleep and creature comforts, especially since, according to a friend of a friend who was arrested, you are only allowed three days' of clothes and supplies at a time. The US State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Japan (Feb 23, 2001) also notes "credible reports that police and prison officials physically and psychologically abused prisoners and detainees". There have also been deaths in custody. More information about what happens in custody from somebody who experienced it in the following report:


HOW AND WHERE TO LODGE COMPLAINTS about police treatment
YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS before incarceration at
Other useful contact details just in case

However, nothing is said below about the informal ("voluntary", or "nin'i") detention periods used when police informally question subjects. The police often do not make this clear when carrying out their questioning, so you must ask. Find out if you are under arrest (taiho sarete imasu ka). If not, be reasonably cooperative but eventually make it clear you want to go home.

Otherwise, good luck if the Japanese police ever decide to detain you. All the balls are in their court.

--Arudou Debito

PS: Possibly useful telephone numbers in case of problems with the police:

For information on civil (minji) and criminal (keiji) matters, crime prevention (bouhan), etc:
Seikatsu Anzen Soudan Center
03 3503-8484 (I've tried it. It's legit.)

If you are having trouble with the police and want to file a claim (good luck, but for what it's worth):
03-3581-4321 (Tokyo Metropolitan Police)
Public Information Desk (kouhouka), ask for the Kouchou Kakari (広聴係).

If your beef is outside of Tokyo, call Tokyo anyway and ask for the local number in your area which addresses these issues.

FWIW, in Sapporo it's the Hokkaido Keisatsu Honbu Soudan Center
011-241-9110, given me by with a smile by the above Tokyo cop shop.
広報課 広聴係(警察についてのクレーム・苦情・改善要請など)


WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET STOPPED BY POLICE FOR A "GAIJIN CARD" CHECK: The letter of the law (on the street, police must show their ID to you before you show them yours) is here: http://www.debito.org/activistspage.html#checkpoints


03 3503-8484

広報課 広聴係(警察についてのクレーム・苦情・改善要請など)




(From Fox. My assertions in bold italics, Fox's amendments in plain text)

1) "but you may be turned over to the Public Prosecutor for another day
of questioning."

No, not "may be", your case must be turned over to a prosecutor, or you
must be released. The prosecutor decides if there is a case against you,
whether to set bail, or to detain you for furhter questioning. Thus, a
person may be arrested and incarcerated for 72 hours without being
indicted. If the police want to hold you for further questions, or even
punitive reasons, i.e., marching in a demonstration protesting the
tenno-sei, they can easily do so for twenty more days with the consent
of a judge, consent which is rarely refused.

2) "In other words, once you can contact the outside world, contact your
embassy or consulate and get a lawyer as soon as possible. Otherwise the
judge will probably order your further detention for more than three

This doesn't make any sense. Whether you contact your embassy or not
will not have any bearing on what the judge (in reality what the police
and prosecutor working in tandem) might do.


"Don't be a hero and go this alone. Twenty-three days is plenty of time
to have your consciousness altered and a confession signed."

Excellent advice.

"However, nothing is said below about the informal ("voluntary", or
"nin'i") detention periods used when police informally question
subjects. The police often do not make this clear when carrying out
their questioning, so you must ask."

Good point, could you please make a link to the Rosal Case, the filipina
who was held illegally and interrogated without counsel for eight days,
driven to false confession, and wrongfully convicted of murder.

website: www2.gol.com/users/rosal/eng/index.html

Perhaps you could also make some links to my articles on the
Higashi-Sumiyoshi Case, an example of coercions which have been beaten
out people:


You can also read about the relationship between police interrogations
and the death penalty.


1) Amnesty International on Japanese Prison Conditions

2) Amnesty International on deaths in Japanese prison custody

3) Japan's National Police Agency White Paper on their "Kokusaika Taisaku Iinkai", a committee founded in May 1999 in response to "internationalization", specifically for the prevention of "foreign crime" (See Chapter Two)
http://www.npa.go.jp/kokusai2/h12/contents.htm (Japanese)
or see text excerpt in Japanese.

4) More on the imaging down and erosion of civil liberties for "foreigners":


6) HOW AND WHERE TO LODGE COMPLAINTS about police treatment

7) YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS before incarceration at

8) Other useful contact details just in case

Deaths and abuses of power, FYI.

Although things like these can (and do) occur in prisons all over the world, for the record, this is to make sure you are aware that Japan is not immune. And abuses have occurred to a degree where even the Ministry of Justice has begun pushes for reform and greater accountability. Be advised. And stay out of a Japanese prison.

68 prison deaths warranted autopsy in decade
THE JAPAN TIMES: March 27, 2003
(Courtesy http://www.japantimes.com/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20030327a5.htm)

Of the 1,592 deaths in Japanese prisons and detention houses in the 10 years to 2002, only 68 required autopsies because of questions over the circumstances of death, according to a Justice Ministry official.

The number of postmortem examinations prior to an autopsy being carried out was 484 during the same period, Kenji Nakai, head of the Justice Ministry's Correction Bureau, told the House of Representatives committee on judicial affairs Tuesday.

The 68 autopsies, included in the total number of postmortem examinations, were conducted to pinpoint the cause of death, Nakai added.

Investigative authorities conduct postmortem exams on the bodies of people whose deaths are deemed suspicious, connected either to crimes or accidents.

Opposition party members on the committee used death records obtained from the ministry to claim that the number of deaths among prisoners was excessive. They argued that some of the deaths were a result of the ministry failing to provide adequate medical treatment.

Nakai admitted that correctional facilities lacked medical preparedness, saying "Our response was late."

Whenever a convict dies or commits suicide, coroners or witnesses must detail the results of the postmortem examination, together with their names and titles.

Each prison keeps death records, in line with the Prison Law. The records are preserved for 10 years.

Warden admonished

NAGOYA (Kyodo) The warden of Nagoya Prison was admonished Wednesday for his subordinates' alleged fatal assault of an inmate with a high-pressure fire hose in 2001, and was warned to prevent further abuses.

Kazuhiro Umetsu, director of the Nagoya Legal Affairs Bureau, admonished Atsushi Nakayama in the second such action meted out to him over a series of fatal assaults on inmates that took place at the prison over the past few years.

Through a joint investigation with the Justice Ministry's Civil Liberties Bureau, the Nagoya Legal Affairs Bureau determined that the assault rivaled other fatal assaults at the prison involving restraining devices.

The bureau determined that guards involved in the assaults lack respect for inmates' human rights and that the incidents have exposed structural problems in the directorship and supervision of the prison.

In admonishing Nakayama, Umetsu demanded that he educate the guards under his command on the need to respect inmates' rights and build a structure ensuring their rights are protected.

Nakayama was admonished in January for his subordinates' involvement in the death of an inmate in May 2002 and severe injuries to another in September the same year, both involving leather manacles and body belts that were too tightly cinched.

The inmate killing for which the admonition was issued Wednesday took place in December 2001, when two guards allegedly helped another guard aim water from a high-pressure fire hose at the inmate's bare buttocks as punishment.

The 43-year-old inmate suffered serious injuries to his rectum and anus, and died of an infection the next afternoon, prosecutors said.

The guards were later indicted in connection with the assault.

A total of eight prison guards have been charged in connection with assaults on inmates at the prison.

The Japan Times: March 27, 2003 (C) All rights reserved

Ministry plans new law to stop prison abuse
(Courtesy http://www.japantimes.com/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20030331a6.htm)
THE JAPAN TIMES, March 31, 2003

The Justice Ministry plans to draw up new legislation to prevent correctional officers from abusing prison inmates in the wake of a series of incidents at Nagoya Prison in which two convicts have died since late 2001, according to ministry sources.

The ministry intends to scrap the current prison law, established in 1908, and replace it with new legislation that introduces a system under which inmates can more effectively seek help, the sources said.

An advisory panel to the justice minister, to be set up in mid-April and made up of outside experts, will be tasked with discussing ways to reform Japan's correctional system and making recommendations for a bill.

The ministry will then draft the bill with the hope of having it presented to the regular Diet session next year for deliberation and enactment, the sources said.

The prison law has remained virtually untouched since it was established nearly a century ago, and there have been calls from within and outside the ministry to review it to meet the heightened recognition of convicts' rights.

The incidents at Nagoya Prison indicate that the existing system, under which prison inmates can only complain about mistreatment in writing to the justice minister, is not functioning properly.

The ministry plans to come up with a new system in which inmates can seek help more easily and also consider easing controls on mail correspondence by convicts and increasing medical provisions for inmates, the sources said.

It intends, however, to retain the substitute prison system, under which police cells can be used in place of jails for suspects, but also plans to allow indigent suspects to retain state-paid lawyers even before their indictment, according to the sources.

In past attempts to revamp the prison law, the government presented two related bills to the Diet on three occasions between 1982 and 1991, but they were scrapped due to strong protests from the Japan Federation of Bar Associations because one of the bills called for the substitute prison system to remain unchanged.

At Nagoya Prison, six guards allegedly abused two inmates last year using a leather belt with manacles, killing one and severely injuring the other. Another guard is accused of killing an inmate after aiming water from a high-pressure fire hose at his bare buttocks. All of the guards have been indicted.

The Japan Times: March 31, 2003 (C) All rights reserved

'Structural' woes behind prison deaths

THE JAPAN TIMES: April 1, 2003
Staff writer
(Courtesy http://www.japantimes.com/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20030401a4.htm)

The Justice Ministry on Monday said that "organizational and structural problems" at the nation's correctional facilities are behind recent cases of fatal abuse at Nagoya Prison.

The ministry released an interim report on two deadly assaults on prisoners by guards and another case of abuse that resulted in serious injuries at Nagoya Prison over the past two years.

The report says the crimes took place due to a "lack of human rights awareness" among guards in general, rather than individual problems of the guards being accused. The lack of such awareness can be attributed to the absence of a specific law that underscores the basic rights of prisoners or of guidelines to regulate the relationship between inmates and wardens, it says.

As a general problem shared by correctional facilities across the country, the report points to overcrowding, which topped 116.5 percent on average as of the end of 2002.

Overpopulation has caused stress among prisoners and thus raised tensions between inmates and guards, undermining the mutual trust that used to exist between them, and possibly resulting in the
abuses at Nagoya Prison, the ministry said in the report.

Specifically, the report points out that Nagoya Prison used leather restraining devices, which caused the death of an inmate in May, on an increasing number of occasions in recent years, which stands in contrast to the trend at other prisons.

In addition, it says the prison allowed inmates to file written petitions on their plight much less often than did other facilities.

It also points out the "secretive and self-protective nature" of prison officials that led to a series of coverups.

In order to prevent similar crimes from taking place, the report says legislative measures are required to underscore the rights of prisoners and to establish a system that allows prisoners to file complaints with outside authorities when they face injustice inside prison.

It also says the operation of prisons needs to become more transparent, and extensive discussions to propose ideal relationships between inmates and guards should take place.

The Japan Times: April 1, 2003 (C) All rights reserved

Human rights abuses behind bars

THE JAPAN TIMES: March 17, 2003
(Courtesy http://www.japantimes.com/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?ed20030317a1.htm)

Human rights violations in prisons are nothing new. But what happened last year at Nagoya Prison is alarming. Six prison guards, including a deputy warden, stand accused of physical abuses that resulted in the death of an inmate and caused severe injury to another. On the first day of their trial earlier this week, all but one defendant denied the charges, saying that they had not used a restraining device -- a leather belt with manacles -- to punish the prisoners for disobedience and that the "accidents" had occurred in the line of official duty.

The death of one prisoner is attributed to abdominal injuries and blood-flow obstruction because of excessively tight cinching of the leather belt. The other prisoner suffered internal bleeding that is said to have required more than two months of treatment. Prosecutors must find out exactly what happened in the prison.

Investigations have revealed that leather restraints have been used at other prisons as a means of punishment, but these are not the only cases of prison brutality. In an incident that occurred in 2001, also at Nagoya Prison, a guard fatally abused an inmate by shooting water from a high-pressure fire hose into his anus.

The Justice Ministry must better clarify publicly the duties and responsibilities of prison guards, who are classified as special civil servants. The ministry's decision to scrap all leather belts and manacles -- numbering an estimated 1,000 units or more throughout the country -- within six months is a step in the right direction. Any other correctional devices that involve inhuman treatment also must be discarded.

Human rights abuses are not confined to prisons. Detainees in police cells and immigration facilities also have been mistreated. The government must deal severely with these violations, which have attracted international attention.

In a U.N. review of Japanese prison practices in 1998, one member of a human rights committee noted that there was no effective relief mechanism for victims of bullying and brutality. Another member called for the creation of a prison supervisory agency. In a report to the government, the committee recommended the establishment of an independent body to investigate complaints of "unfair treatment" by police and immigration authorities. The proposal is still pending. The government should consider it promptly and seriously. A third-party commission, excluding Justice Ministry officials and prosecutors, would be welcome.

It is not that Japan has no relief system for prisoners. The Prison Law provides for a petition system, which allows prisoners to appeal directly to the justice minister. However, this system exists all but in name. In the past two years, for example, there have been about 250 complaints, including reports of assaults on manacled prisoners, but to our knowledge, no prison guards involved have ever received disciplinary action under the National Civil Service Law. This makes a strong case for an independent watchdog.

There is also a need to define the prisoner's rights in clear-cut terms. Both the government and the Diet should start discussing what rights should be recognized for prisoners. This is not to say that prison authorities should deal leniently with criminals. The point is that all prisoners, including serious offenders such as murderers, must be legally assured of their human rights.

That brings to mind the Prison Law, which was enacted in 1908 under the Meiji Constitution. Since the end of World War II, the Justice Ministry has applied the law in ways that conform to the present democratic Constitution, by issuing various regulations and directives. However, this statute from the Meiji Era has almost no provisions governing prisoners' rights.

The ministry has taken the initiative for legislative action, but to no avail. One bill was designed partly to give permanent status to police cells known as "substitute prisons," which have come under criticism from human rights groups. Another bill was aimed at improving the conditions of prisons and other criminal facilities. Both measures were killed because of objections from the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and other concerned organizations.

It is high time that the ministry took the initiative again to address pending problems. For a start, it should order prisons to promptly take steps to prevent any further human rights abuses. At the same time, the ministry should begin drafting a new bill to revise the Prison Law with a focus on the treatment of inmates.

The Japan Times: March 17, 2003 (C) All rights reserved

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