THE JAPAN TIMES, July
THE ZEIT GIST
Know the law
As terror fears cause crackdown, foreign residents should know their legal rights
(Click here to read the brief this article came from, with full Japanese text of laws and referential links.)
PHOTO: A Police officer stands guard at Shinbashi station in Tokyo
in March. More police have been deployed in train stations and
transport hubs as fears of a terrorist attack increase.
You might have noticed the dragnet in Japan these days.
Law enforcement's crackdown on foreigners (bolstered by official
declarations on the subject, including yesterday's speeches by
Emperor Akihito on rising crime and international terrorism and Prime
Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the growing threat of foreign crime)
has resulted in a lot more people being stopped on the street for
After all, the current logic runs, who knows how many foreigners
have overstayed their visas? Best to check anyone foreign-looking
just to make sure.
However, "Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?" asks the responsible
society, and Japan is no exception. What's to stop the authorities
from going too far? Japanese laws, of course. And readers who are
Japan residents should be aware of them.
What should you do if somebody asks for your ID?
Your "ID" is essentially your "Gaijin Card," since that is the only
form of identification all foreign residents by law must carry.
When asked, say that only the police can demand it. Anyone else,
such as a hotelier, a video store clerk, a JR staff member, etc.,
Check this out: Alien Registration Law: ("Gaikokujin Touroku Hou")
Article 13; Clause 2: "The alien shall present his registration
certificate to the Immigration Inspector, Immigration Control Officer
(meaning the Immigration Control Officer provided for in the
Immigration Control Act), Police Official, Maritime Safety Official
or any other official of the state or local public entity prescribed
by the Ministry of Justice Ordinance, if such official requests the
presentation of the registration certificate in the performance of
This means only those officials certified by the Ministry of Justice
can demand it.
Still, some companies refuse foreigners service unless they display
their passport or Gaijin Card. Why? In many cases, such as Shinjuku
sports clubs, the police are asking them to help find overstayers.
Deputizing the business community is authority overstepped, and at
variance with the law. So show them the above law, and ask to be
allowed to display the same ID as any other Japanese customer.
What if the police ask for your ID?
Ask for a reason why.
Under Police Execution of Duties Act ("Keisatsukan Shokumu Shikkou
Hou"); Section 2 (my translation), Clause Two: "A police officer is
able to ask for a person's ID, but only if based on a reasonable
judgment of a situation, where the policeman sees some strange
conduct and some crime is being committed, or else he has enough
reason to suspect that a person will commit or has committed a crime,
or else when it has been officially determined that a particular
person knows a crime will be committed.
In these cases, a police officer may stop a person for questioning."
You cannot just arbitrarily come up to a person and ask him who he
is. There must be a "specific crime" or "suspicion of a crime"
The act of being a foreigner in itself is insufficient probable
cause, and you should calmly let a cop know that.
However, if a cop knows his laws (and chances are he will), he might
assert (incorrectly) that the Police Execution of Duties Act does not
apply to foreigners. The Alien Registration Law (Clause 2 above)
Or he might just come up with a reason, such as "crime prevention,"
for stopping you on your bicycle. What then?
Well, sorry, you will have to show your ID.
But still there is a check. You can also ask the cop to show his ID back. How?
The Alien Registration Law; Section 13, Clause 3: "In case the
official mentioned in the preceding paragraph requests the
presentation of the registration certificate in a place other than
his office, he shall carry with him the identification card showing
his official status and present it upon request."
So make the request. Once presented, I recommend you, again calmly,
write down the cop's details. He will do the same for you, of course,
but holding a cop personally accountable might give him a little
incentive to treat you responsibly.
Note the loophole. The cop only has to show I.D. if he stops you on
the street, or anywhere other than the police box. So to avoid
showing you his ID . . .
A cop may try to take you to a police box.
They cannot do so against your will, unless they formally arrest
Under the Police Execution of Duties Law; Article 2 (my
translation), Clause Two: "It is possible to ask a particular person
to accompany the police to a nearby police station, (police box), or
any police administration area for questioning if it is determined
that this place is unsuitable for questioning because it obstructs
traffic or is disadvantageous to the questionee."
And Clause Three: "Unless there is something connected with a
criminal court case, officials may not confine, bring back to any
police administration area, or else coerce a person to reply to
questions against his will."
This means that a cop has the right to ask you to accompany him to
the police box. But you have the right to refuse, and he has no right
to restrict your movements without a formal charge or arrest. This is
not, fortunately, trumped by the Alien Registration Law.
However, please don't misunderstand. I am not advocating that you
give a cop a bad donut day just for the sport of it. Police in Japan
have a lot of discretionary power.
For example, if they feel you are being uncooperative, and that
includes claiming your right to remain silent ("mokuhi ken" -- which
automatically carries a suspicion of guilt here), they can arrest you
for "obstruction of official duties" ("koumu shikkou bougai") and
question you for up to 23 days on a single charge. So don't do this
Nevertheless, checks and balances have become necessary.
As seen in previous Zeit Gist columns, foreigners are being targeted
these days, often regardless of any legal grounds or extenuating
Japan does in fact have laws to curb this. So know about them. I
even suggest you print them up and carry them around with you. I do.
As residents, we should let people know that we won't accept wanton
questioning without some kind of justification or explanation.
So keep a cool head and make the authorities obey the law. It is
also there to protect us.
For a walk-though an ID check scenario, see
http://www.debito.org/instantcheckpoints2.html< FONT SIZE="4">. You can download and print up the Japanese text of the laws presented in the article from
this link, and you may like to stick a copy in your wallet or bag for
future reference or to show to a law enforcement official.
Send your comments to: email@example.com
The Japan Times: July 27, 2004
(C) All rights reserved
ENDS< BR> July 29, 2004