(in response to Arudou Debito's Police Checkpoints 2002-2003 Case Study, available here)

To: <debito@debito.org>
Subject: Re: [LIFE IN JAPAN] REPORT: Filing complaints to J police
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2002


I love this and only wish it had been a bigger incident.

> 2) We police can too ask people questions:

Important to note that police can do almost anything, including searching your home, "IF" you give them permission or allow it. So, sure police can "ask" but you don't have to give them an answer and the crucial point is how they behave when the answer is no, "I don't want to talk to you."

> Where are you going, where
> are you from? Under The Police Law (Keisatsu Hou) Section Two (yes, they
> quoted it), in the name of crime prevention (bouhan no tame). Otherwise, we
> can't do our jobs.

Doing their jobs is "asking" not "forcing" answers out of people.

> Am I overreacting? Of course I don't think so.

I don't think so either. This story kicks ass!

To: debito@debito.org
Subject: Police and detention
Date: Thu, 19 Dec 2002

Hi Dave,

Unlucky you - I have never been approached by a police officer and asked to produce an ID, not even after 13 years here. Probably because I look "kowai" and you don't... ;-).

On detention - they can hold you for 48 hours without charges, but when they apply for a ten-day detention period, they must bring forward charges. Even though it is very rare for a request to be turned down by the judge, the judge won't act if he doesn't see any charges. These charges have to be read to the detained person, and if he does not speak Japanese, an interpreter must be present.

I can only speak for K---- Prefectural Police, and in all cases I have seen, these requirements were observed, and the suspects have been duly informed of their right to legal counsel (big deal, with only the first hour free of charge!) and their right to have their consulate notified of their arrest and detention.

And if you have to fight off a local "chinpira", make sure no one can testify against you... :-).

"12 Days of Detention"
(in response to Arudou Debito's Police Checkpoints 2002-2003 Case Study, available here)

(The following is written by a non-Japanese who was incarcerated for questioning in southern Japan--because he defended self and spouse against physical harassment by some local chinpira ("baby yakuza"). This person was never formally (apparently orally, but never in writing) charged with a crime, and requests anonymity because the police have threatened to dredge this up in the person's workplace if what transpired is ever made public.)

These are what conditions can be like if you are ever held for "questioning" (see more on the legalities of the time periods involved here)

"12 Days of Detention"

1. We were allowed to shower once every 4 days during a 30 minute private bathing period in a private ofuro room. After the shower, we could change our dirty clothes for clean clothes. Thus, during my 13 days [2+1+10] of detention, I learned to turn t-shirts, underwear and socks inside out in order to "stretch" their wearability. Strings were removed from the waists of sneakers to prevent suicides - luckily mine were also elasticized.

2. We were allowed to wash our face and brush our teeth in the morning and the evening in a shared sink with cold water. I learned to stretch this out to allow for quick washes of armpits and even scalp a couple of times. We could keep two small towels to alternate using am/pm.

3. We could use a shared electric razor - unfortunately not much use on my facial hair and obviously, extremely unhygenic. I am sure microtears on the skin make the spread of viruses and bacteria common in prisons.

4. We were allowed 15 minutes once a day to walk 3m down a hall to a small room where most others smoked in front of the only open and accessible [thought barred] window on the prison floor. This was their idea of daily exercise, and contrary to international law.

5. We ate 3 bentos a day - identical every meal: rice, small portion of fried fish, tsukemono, boiled rice. I lost about 5kg during the 13 days detention. I learned about half-way through my detention they allowed one to purchase various snacks for daily evening "relax time" consumption. Of course, I became a regular orderer.

6. We were housed in small, tatami-matted 1.6m X 3m "dog cages" with semi-open squat toilets in the back. Our cages were raised about 40cm off the floor, arranged in a semi-circle around the officers station, which was also raised to allow for maximum observation. There were cameras in the ceiling of each cell, and lights were on [although "somewhat" dimmed at night] 24 hours/day. These conditions are contrary to international law.

7. We slept on thin futons and had two old, wool blankets to use as we wished - e.g. one folded as a pillow, one as a cover. Aside from one's clothing and the futon and blankets, the cells were bare. The futons were removed by us and stored in a common storeroom during the day. Any individuals eyeglasses and reading materials were provided in the morning and removed in the evening.

8. Anytime we were brought out of the holding area for questioning or visitation, we were handcuffed, anklecuffed, roped from hands to feet and around the waist and steered around from behind by the accompanying officer.

9. The police were generally okay, although I was manhandled once and received a bleeding wound on my head once when pushed into my cell [apparently I was not entering it quickly enough...] I was still brought to questioning even though dizzy from the wound, and once they saw the blood was allowed back to my cell, but I never received any medical attention.

10.I was held in an isolation cell for all but one night of my detention, when a violent drunk was put there. That night I was put in a cell with convicted criminals, which is contrary to international law.

11.I was allowed visitation by my lawyer [private, expensive but effective], my supervisor and my spouse. Only Japanese was allowed to be spoken in the glass-divided visitation room, so if you cannot speak Japanese, it becomes difficult to say the least. An officer was present - sitting 1m away from me - during any visitations.

12.They [the police] seemed to understand that I was not a criminal [no charges were eventually filed]. One or two sympathetic officers shared their time talking with me about their hobbies or my home country, and one or two treated me like a criminal. The only odd thing was on my release date they had "lost" several man yen [\50,000 or 60,000] that I had had on my person when arrested, although they did have the \10,000 or so my spouse had provided for incidentals. It took quite a lot of protest to get them [they seemed convinced they had no other money of mine in their possession] to search for it.

Overall, my advice: Don't get arrested. Don't expect decent treatment, or even legal by international standards to which Japan is a signatory in various UN agreements if you are arrested.

Read books on Japanese law. I had read a great book on the law published by the Japan Legal Aid Association, "101 Q&A" [I believe that is the correct title] even before my arrest as a matter of course. As a result I knew what to expect. Knowing before hand allowed me to get over the shock much better than had I had no prior understanding of the Japanese legal system.


(in response to Arudou Debito's Police Checkpoints 2002-2003 Case Study, available here)

Delivered-To: debito.org-debito@debito.org
Date: Thu, 19 Dec 2002 14:40:40 +0900 (JST)
Subject: HELP
To: debito@debito.org

Dear Debito,

We need your help. I came across this on a forum for JETs
in Japan (www.bigdaikon.com) If it's true, this person's
rights have been violated--not that it seems like a rare
occurence around here. And I smell the putrid odor of
racial discrimination here too. At any rate, please read
the story below and if you have any advice or want to get
involved, get in touch with the victim by email.
Thanks, A Friend

Hey all,
it's kel here, with some pretty shitty news. well, it's
not so new to me, as i've been dealing with it for about a
month now. but something awful happened, and now i can
finally tell people about it. this is long, so i apologize
in advance. feel free to send this to whoever you want; i
want people to know how badly i was *****d over. i'm doing
alright now, looking at news (better?) jobs in japan
actually, so there may be a silver lining after all.
anyway, this is my general statement, and i'm sending it
to everyone who will listen...
What Happened

Quick summary: I'm a first-year JET in a big city. I was
arrested on a false charge of shoplifting and put in jail
for six days. I was advised/ordered to sign a confession,
which I eventually did; then I was released. Though they
knew the truth (I am innocent) the Board of Education
fired me, for reasons no one knows, but it's likely that
it was to save face in one way or another. The situation
mishandled from the beginning by the store, the police,
and the City Education Center (who technically employs me,
not the schools or BOE). There's nothing short of spending
long months in court to get my job back, and it's not
worth it to me. But I want everyone to know what happened.

Nov. 23--I was shopping in a department store the other
JETs and I refer to as "K-Mart"--the place has pretty much
everything, and it's cheap. Set up the same way, too, with
different departments running into each other, plus there
are three or four floors connected by escalators. I was
carrying around four items from different parts of the
store--slippers, water purifier, shirt, scarf. I didn't
grab a cart when I came in; I never do, plus I wasn't
planning on buying that much. I was carrying everything,
water purifier under my arm, everything else in my hands.
I was up on the third floor, away from the carts, and it
was getting awkward, holding everything. I had a couple
bags with me, one of which was clear, so I put the stuff
in there to hold til I got to the register. I chose the
clear bag precisely because I didn't want to appear
suspicious, and I dumped the stuff in there in plain view
of everyone. A few minutes later when I was down near the
front door, checking out the sale clothing rack before
heading to a register to pay, a security lady grabbed my
arm and fired away in Japanese. She pulled me to the back
of the store, still speaking Japanese even though I told
her I couldn't understand. Again, I never left the store.

She brought me to the back security room and took the
things out of my bag. She obviously thought I was trying
to shoplift. I tried to tell her that was NOT the case, I
wanted to buy the things; I showed her my wallet and money
but she would have none of that. Eventually the police
showed up, still no one spoke English, and despite the
fact that I told them I was new to Japan and couldn't
speak Japanese, they continued to talk to me and ask me

They put me in a police car and we headed to the station,
where I was led through the station itself, out the back
and through an outdoor passageway to a dimly lit, freezing
room that resembled a garage. I was alone with eight or
ten male officers. They smoked heavily and spoke in
torrents of Japanese. One repeatedly raised his voice and
always pointed his finger at me while he talked. I was
more than a little scared, not to mention angry and
completely helpless.

There was one cop, an older guy with what you might call
"smiling eyes," who spoke some English and tried to talk
to me. He listened to my side of the story and told me
that in that store, you aren't allowed to pay for things
from departments altogether (unlike K-Mart), plus I had
the things in my bag. I explained my reasoning, and
pointed out that I hadn't even left the store. He told me
the security guard had said that she caught me out in the
street, then later she said I was "in the doorway." It
seems strange that she changed her mind.

Someone handed me another cell phone and another
Japanese-English voice barked at me, "WHY YOU STEALING!" I
explained again my side of the story. He interrupted me
constantly, ending with, "I KNOW YOU THINK JAPANESE ARE
STUPID!" I handed the phone back in disgust. I was still
alone with the chain-smoking men who were obviously
talking about as if I weren't there, laughing hard then
looking down at me as I sat there. One made some kind of
gesture towards his chest, and everyone laughed except the
nice cop, who just looked at me with a small, embarrassed

A couple hours later I was still there, unable to gauge
anything about what was going to happen. I didn't know if
we were waiting for something, or if they believed me, or
really if they even understood me. They took me back into
the station, this time to a tiny room with a table and two
chairs. There was a woman officer to sit with me then, as
a "female overseer" I guess, and I suspect she should've
been with me the whole time. I went through the same story
again and again, trying to find out when I could go home,
trying to call someone to tell them where I was, but
anything I asked for, the answer was no. It became
apparent that they weren't even sure what to do with me,
and the nice cop came in and made conversation with
me--about his uncle in San Francisco, baseball, how I like
my job. He told me a translator was coming.

Two hours later, the translator arrived, and the questions
began. A cop sat across from me with a computer to take
down my responses. I wasn't sure if I had to answer, but I
did because I didn't want to prolong this any further. The
questioning was ridiculous and long. Among the questions
asked were: Do you study martial arts? What is your
monthly salary? Apartment rent? Have you ever been awarded
a medal by the Prime Minister or Emperor? Do you like to
gamble? Do you like to drink? What kind of drinks do you
like? What's your blood type? I was ready for the next
question to be "Do you like sushi?" When I commented to
the translator (whose English was far from great) that the
questions seemed irrelevant and unprofessional, he ignored
me. When I pressed him about it, he said that his job was
only to tell me what the police man was saying to me. I
told him I thought this was extremely unprofessional and
he ignored me.

They also took my statement about what happened at the
store. At times the translator and cop would talk for a
long time after I explained something, then there would be
another completely random question. I also noticed that if
spoke for thirty seconds in English, the translation
lasted about ten in Japanese. Again, I wasn't sure even
how well the man understood me. I was certainly not able
to speak "normal" English with him--I had to speak slowly
and use simple words (a skill you pick up quick here, I

Eventually we'd come to an impasse about whether or not I
had actually shoplifted. I felt I couldn't spell it out
any more clearly. I asked the translator if he understood
and believed me. He looked uncomfortable. Then I asked if
the police man believed me, and he said, "He thinks you
are making an excuse."

After that the female guard searched me and the officers
went through all my personal belongings. They emptied my
purse and coat pockets, went through my wallet. They
reminded me of my overly-curious junior high students. I
had to explain every single card in my wallet, answer
questions about how ATMs work in America, how one gets a
driver's license, and when they found an old CTA token,
the other people in the office crowded around as I
explained the Chicago transit system. I had some packs of
Japanese study cards and English flashcards for students,
and they took the rubber bands off and counted them,
reading each one and sometimes debating the correctness of
the Japanese phrases. They were also impressed by the
rocks in my coat pocket from Mt. Fuji and Kamakura. I had
quite an audience by the time I finished the
show-and-tell. Then they told me I was arrested and would
be taken to jail so the case could be investigated.

They put me in handcuffs and tied a rope around my waist.
I was going to the police headquarters in (big city
nearby), where there's a women's detention area. It was 2
am and I hadn't eaten, though I couldn't have anyway due
to nerves. I'd been at the police station for nine hours.

When we arrived at the detention center, we went through
the same routine of going through and listing all my
possession with the guards, even though there was already
a detailed listing from the Kawasaki cops. As the Yokohama
folks counted my flashcards (328 in all), even the police
from my city were rolling their eyes.

After I was handed over, some women took me into a room to
change clothes and search me. I stood naked for awhile
before they gave me a yukata/robe. When they noticed my
bellybutton piercing, they tried to tell me to take it
out, but it's not that easy. We had to go back to the
translator so I could tell them that it's not like an
earring; you need pliers and a professional to take it
out. That threw them, because prisoners aren't allowed to
have jewelry, and the idea of making an exception doesn't
really seem to be part of the Japanese society.
Regulations must be followed mindlessly because...they're
regulations. One guy actually went to look for pliers to
rip the ring out of my navel. I told the translator that
it had to be done by a professional, otherwise there would
be a serious infection. The prison people consulted each
other and finally decided to let it be. I was trying to be
strong through all this, keep the tears away and not show
my fear. But at that point, everything was so surreal and
unbelievable, I just lost it.

They led me to a cell with two women in it, sleeping on
the floor: my new home. Didn't sleep well that night.

The next day was Sunday, and a man from the American
Embassy came down to see me. It was such a relief to see
an American, and speak to someone who understood what I
was saying. He told me straight out that once you're
arrested, it's very hard to fight the charges. There are
all kinds of waiting periods between visits to the
prosecutor (they can hold you up to 23 days for pretty
much any reason they come up with, and bail is the
exception rather than the rule here in Japan). The
prosecutor then decides if you're indicted, and if you
are, then you have to wait for the trial, etc., and in the
meantime you're sitting in prison. The whole process could
take up to five months, and then I would have to serve a
sentence if I were found guilty (99% of people brought to
trial in Japan are found guilty). He told me the fastest
way to get out was to plead guilty, and that I might
consider that. He said in most cases you stay in jail for
a few weeks and the prosecutor doesn't send you to court;
you are simply released. At that point, that was the
brightest option. I could make a false confession and hope
that all I'd have to do was get out of Japan. There was no
way I could handle being in a jail cell for months with
nothing to do but lose my mind. It wasn't an option.

I also got a visit from my supervisor (we don't work
directly for the BOE or schools, but for the Education
Center). The head of the Education Center had issued an
order, and my supervisor showed it to me through the
glass: It said that JET, CLAIR, and the superintendent had
been made aware of my situation. I was ordered to hire a
lawyer and plead guilty to the charges. There would be
"bad press" if I went to court, and I was to settle out of
court in any way possible. The paper said nothing about
telling the truth or fighting for what was right. It said
to plead guilty. I could tell then and I know now that it
wasn't my supervisor's decision--in the heirarchy, he's
very low and has little power.

I went to the prosecutor the next day and told him I'd
tried to shoplift, and that I was very sorry, that this
was my first time doing such a thing and that I felt awful
and would never think of doing it again. It was harder
than I thought to make up a good story and stick with it.
All of this was through a Filipina translator whose native
language was neither English nor Japanese, and who both
the prosecutor and I had a hard time understanding as she
spoke to us respectively. The prosecutor ordered me
detained for ten days. I would see him again and he would
decide if I was indicted or not.

The police from my city came back to question me again a
few days later. It was absolutely ridiculous. They were
much nicer to me this time, and the interpreter they
brought was an absolutely amazing Japanese woman. We were
in there for two hours as they took my statement about
being guilty and sorry, though the actual business only
took about 45 minutes. The rest of the time they were
going off on tangents about where to go in Japan over
winter break--there's a great ostrich park in Okinawa--and
how to say certain things in Japanese or English. At one
point one of the guys opened his bag and brought out a
huge sack of tangerines, and we all sat around eating
them. I had to regretfully tell them, no, I can't bring
any back to the jail cell with me, it's not allowed, and
they told me to keep our little snack a secret. They said
they'd talked to the prosecutor and he would release me
within the next week--everything would be okay.

The prosecutor called for me two days later and I managed
to convince him that I'd never "steal" again. My
supervisors picked me up and over dinner they told me the
superintendent was intent on firing me but that she would
take a week or two and talk it over with the Board of
Education. During that time I was not allowed to visit
classes. I wrote a long letter describing my situation to
the BOE, and my supervisor translated it and handed to HIS
supervisor, who handed it someone else, who gave it to the

I understood that the Board was concerned about its image,
but I believe that the truth should be told (ironic how
lying got me out of jail--the truth certainly didn't set
me free this time). It's not complicated--it was a bad
situation and I did what I had to do. I hoped that they
would look past the surface of things and consider me for
what I am--a well-liked teacher who does her job well--but
I see that this is not a system or society designed to
accommodate exceptions. The BOE decided that I was no
longer allowed to be in the classroom. They didn't
technically fire me, but forced me to quit. Either way, it
shouldn't have happened.

I wrote this because even though I can't get my job and
life back, I think it's crucial for people to know what
happened, and that the system can really screw you here; I
aroused suspicions unconsciously, and once the police were
called, it was like jumping into a wild river--the current
was going to carry me to an inevitable end. There are a
million maybes and what-ifs--what if I spoke Japanese,
what if I wasn't a gaijin, and so on--but what happened to
me could happen to anyone that makes an honest mistake or
stops thinking for a second. In this country, you're
guilty until proven innocent, and that's a really scary
thing for a foreigner.

In the end, maybe things will work out for the best. I
have endless support from my boss and the other ALTs, and
I'm hoping to stay in Japan and find a new job. I don't
want to work under a BOE that doesn't care about its
staff, especially the foreign teachers, and who obviously
isn't thinking about the students--the reason they have a
job in the first place. The police will throw out my
record (they promised they would within two weeks, and I
also asked my lawyer to makes sure they do) but even then
I would not be allowed to return.

If you've made it this far reading, thank you. I know it's
a long story and I actually left a lot out. But just
please be aware that these kinds of things do happen, and
they happen to people who've worked hard, honestly, to get
where they are. I will send this letter to JET, CLAIR, my
teachers and parents my community, and anyone else who
listens. Out of respect for the other ALTs, I won't say
what city I teach in--for now, anyway.

December 18, 2002

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