Rough Guide on what to do if and when arrested in Japan


Hi Blog. From someone with experience. Name and nationality withheld at author’s request. Arudou Debito


Rough guide to police arrest in Japan
By Anonymous

The real earthquake

In Japan, earthquakes can hit anyone, any time. They do not come announced. There are many guidebooks and government leaflets that prepare you for the big bang and tell you what to do if.

In Japan, police can arrest anyone, any time. They do not come announced. There are no government leaflets that prepare you for the catastrophe. So, I wrote this one instead, compiled from my own painful experience and those of many other foreigners in Japan.
The actual chances to be arrested in Japan are much higher than the chances to be hurt by an earthquake in Japan – especially if you are a foreigner. Don’t think that you will be able to deal with it just because “you know your rights” from back home or from Hollywood court movies. Japan is not about justice, it is about bustice. So prepare yourself for the real big bang – read this.

Advice in a nutshell

Do not get involved.
Memorize telephone numbers NOW.
Don’t talk, don’t sign – anything.
Insist on your rights to contact people.
And finally:
You cannot make your situation worse – they already put you in the worst situation possible.

Do not get involved

Do not get involved with the police, or with other people’s problems. That is the golden rule to avoid being arrested in the first place. In Japan, police can arrest anybody without a reason, and if a foreigner is involved, they tend to arrest the foreigner.

 Do not get violent: Many foreigners get arrested because they got violent, namely because they got mingled up in fights. So, even if some asshole provokes you; while in Japan: control your temper, give in and never get physical by any means. Instead, take some revenge in thinking how the small the other guy’s penis is.

 Don’t call the police yourself. Think twice before calling or involving the police even if you are the victim of a crime. However clear the facts might seem to you – by your virtue of being non-Japanese, you are automatically a suspect, too.

 Do not help strangers. This is a harsh advice for Western altruists. But again, keep in mind that in a suspicious situation, you as the foreigner, are the suspect by default. I once tried to intervene when I saw a guy who had the chutzpa to beat up his wife in the open street. When I interfered, they both suddenly started beating up me instead because it turned out they were both piss-drunk. This aroused the attention of the nearby koban police: they took all three of us to the koban and as it was 2:1, police ended up demanding that I apologize to the couple. So do not ask the cute, drunk girl, who is puking at the side of the street, if she is OK – her nearby friends might just take out their frustration on you and accuse you of trying to rape her, for example.

 Avoid bad odds. Be especially careful, when you are just by yourself, and the other party consists of several people, who might afterwards give each other false alibis. Also, it goes without saying that if the other party is Japanese, police tend to believe them more.

 Don’t be a good citizen. The police will ask you (politely) to do something only when they do not have (yet) the grounds to force you to do the same thing. They drag you by force to the koban as soon as they see you getting in trouble. On the other hand, they ask you to come to the koban “to talk about it” only when they have nothing yet justifying to drag you. They will come directly to your apartment and break the door if they have a warrant or a specific complaint. On the other hand, they will wait downstairs and ask you via interphone if they may come up only if they have nothing yet. Complying with their request does not mean you are proving to be a good citizen, but it means you are helping them to build a case against you. Never comply; instead ask them for the concrete reason “Go-you-wa nani-desu¬-ka?” and if they don’t tell you or just say, we will tell you at the koban, tell them you will not do shit unless they tell you here and now and walk away slowly (or don’t open the door) . They cannot hold you back, because if they had grounds for that, they would have dragged you to the koban in the first place.

 Play the dumb gaijin, especially, when the situation seems to escalate: Smile broadly and constantly to all participants (police and adversaries), talk only English or your native language in a friendly tone, say “Sorry” or “Sumimasen”, at whatever they say or shout at you and bow every time. Police have been known to let gaijin go simply because of the hassle of dealing with them.

 Film them. If you see the situation worsening and especially if you are on your own: Take out your mobile phone and film your conversation with the police. Ask them in front of the camera what they want, what the grounds are for hassling you and what their name and affiliation is. They will probably not answer any of this, but the presence of a camera has a controlling effect. As long as they don’t formally arrest you, they can’t touch (and take away your phone). Even if they do and then infallibly delete the video, IT geeks should be able recover that video once you get your phone back.

Memorize telephone numbers NOW.

Memorize telephone numbers NOW. Arrest will in most cases come over you as a complete surprise; sometimes, you will not even have the chance of taking out your cell phone and tell your partner or friends about it. Once in prison, obviously, you will not be able to access your phone’s address book, either. This said, the prison staff (not the investigators) normally do call people for you whenever you ask them to do so (nicely). But they don’t look up numbers for you. So you need to know telephone numbers by heart – memorize them TODAY.
The most important number is the number of a lawyer. If you don’t know one, get yourself acquainted with one right now. Most embassies provide a list of lawyers, for example.
Also, you should memorize the numbers of friends, partners, family – who live in Japan – among them preferably people who have landline telephones (staff sometimes refuses to call mobile phones), and who speak some Japanese. Being able to contact your friends is important from the very beginning because you need somebody outside who will pay the lawyer his initial fees (between 150.000 and 300.000 yen).

Don’t sign, don’t talk.

As soon as you are formally arrested, the main suspect is YOU. They are not questioning you to find out more about the truth, they are interrogating you only to gather more evidence against you. That is why the core rule is: Do not make any statements about the crime, and do not sign any statement (signing is done by your fingerprints, so don’t fingerprint anything). Despite what police or prosecutor or even your lawyer might tell you: Signing doesn’t get you out faster; it will help keeping you inside longer.

Signing is the grand prize for them

In most cases, the evidence the police have is ridiculously thin, even if your file seems to have a lot of pages (Typically, most of the pages are just filled with dozens or hundreds of photos of the so-called crime scene, one picture per page) So, in many cases, they have no “proof” at all, except for the statements of (Japanese) witnesses and “victims”.

This is why your signed statement is the grand prize to them. Even if you don’t confess explicitly to having committed the crime: In the Japanese justice system, you will be convicted of the crime as soon as you make a signed statement about it. No further “proof” will then be considered necessary.

On the other hand, it will be difficult for prosecution/judge to further detain you without having any statement of your side.

Just don’t talk at all. Even if you refuse signing what you said, the police officer and the prosecutor are writing down rough summaries of what you say during interrogation and will add that to your file. It is legally less relevant, but it will nevertheless be seen by the prosecutor and by the judge.

A second reason for you to keep your mouth shut tight: If you tell them about the loopholes in their reasoning, they will not let you go, but they will close the loopholes. So telling them convincing reasons or tell them about evidence that would prove that you are innocent, only makes them look harder for counter-evidence, or worse, invites them to alter the statement of the victim or tamper with the evidence they have.

What you sign is what they said, not what you said

What you sign will never be what you said anyway. Investigator or prosecutor do not bother writing down your statement word by word; they take notes while you talk and then reformulate (or reinterpret generously) what you “meant”, using their own wordings. It is this re-enactment of what you said that they will want to you to sign (and which will count in court). You can be sure that they will insert all the legal keywords to make sure you are busted. Add to that the language barrier, and you see how little your influence is on what you sign.

Psychological spiel

It is of course very difficult to stay silent and to not make any statements for the whole period of 20 days in detention. This is precisely the reason why detention in Japan is so long. They say it is so long to allow for “collecting additional proof” but in fact, it is so long to increase the pressure on you to make a statement day by day.

The whole situation can probably be compared to a playboy who is trying to absolutely get laid with a girl. He will alternate between being nice and threatening, he will say anything, promise anything, use every trick that has worked before. He won’t keep any of his promises after reaching the goal, of course. Now, this guy has not only a night in a club to convince the girl – he has three entire weeks. And in fact, he has kidnapped the girl and has her locked up in a dark room inside his house where nobody can hear her. He promises to release her if she just sleeps with him only once – this seems so easy a way out, but if she complies, he will just keep her locked up longer.

So, it is indeed very hard to keep your virginity (=not to sign a statement) in jail. It is said that more than 80% of arrestees in Japan end up signing a confession during detention. Here are some details of the psychological mechanics to prepare you for that. Many of them are well-advertised in TV and movies; you would be surprised how well they work in reality:

 “Defend yourself against unfair accusations” trap. You have never dealt with a situation like this before. They have. And they know that your instincts will advise you to handle this as a “unfair accusations”-scenario, a familiar situation you have been through a thousand times in your life with your parents, teachers, partners, bosses. The natural human reaction to a reproach is to defend yourself, to justify your actions, to tell them how it really was – by discussing their arguments one by one, admitting to some of the facts but justifying it with moral means, counter-accusing the other party or trying to convince them of your good intentions… You see where this is going? All this means talking, cooperating and eventually signing. Never forget that your real and only crime is to be a foreigner. There is no way you can refute that. So stick with Nelson’s rule: Never admit, never explain.

 Lies. Once you have started talking (what you should never do in the first place) they will constantly accuse you of lying and being contradictory. This again triggers the “unfair accusations”-reaction in most people, only making them talk more and more. In reality, it is them who are using lies, fake promises and false accusations as standard interrogation techniques. And they don’t feel bad about it a tiny bit.

 Good cop, bad cop. Often the prosecutor will take the part of the good “cop”, as opposed to the (bad) police. On the third day after you arrested, you will meet the prosecutor for the first time. He often appears to be the first civilized person after you have been through what was probably the two most horrible days in your life. In my case, the prosecutor looked through my file and then gave me an astonished look and said: “I cannot understand why they had to lock you up for this!” smiling sympathetically and telling me about his close friend in my home country while afterwards it turned out he was the one who signed the arrest warrant in the first place. Still, you start thinking, after all those brute policemen, finally somebody who understands me, so you start explaining your point of view – and before you can say “chigau”, you will see him dictating “your” statement to his secretary.

 Little treats. Most of the day you are locked up in a tiny cell lying on the carpet and staring at the yellow walls. You will start welcoming anything that gets you out of that monotony, including the interrogations by the police detective. Firstly, there is a person that speaks your language – even though it is only the interpreter! Then, the officer will offer you real coffee or tea (in prison, the only liquids you get are water and miso soup). And you may smoke as much as you want (in prison, only 2 cigarettes per day, after breakfast). So the interrogation puts you at ease – and some people will just keep on talking (=making statements) to be able to smoke another cigarette.

 Feeling of guilt. You are being treated like scum – for a reason: They want you to start feeling like scum.
But it is them who are scum, by the way they are treating you. And even if you have indeed done something bad – their inhuman, brutal, unfair and undemocratic way annihilates any of their rights to superior morality – they are at least as bad as you are. Plus, in many cases, they wouldn’t lock up a Japanese national for the same “crime”, and, in a democracy, your case probably wouldn’t be considered a crime in the first place.

They sometimes remind you of your “promises” to tell them the truth – don’t feel obliged to your promises, don’t feel obliged to do anything. They do not deserve to be treated like a fellow human, because they don’t treat you like one.

 Promises and threats. They have a standard catalogue of promises and threats all with one goal: To make you sing and sign. On the promise side they offer you: a quick release, a mild sentence, a “deal”, they will offer to talk in your favor to judge/prosecutor, or to let you see the evidence (in reality, they will never let a suspect see the evidence; not even your lawyer may see the evidence before you are formally charged),. On the threats side you will encounter: They make you think of your responsibilities to your people outside. They will tell you they can keep you locked up forever. They will tell you that they have new/stronger/undoubtable evidence (which, again, you will never be shown). Also, they notice immediately if you want or fear something specific and turn that into another vain promise or threat. Just ignore what they are saying from the start because they may sound dramatic but it is all just tactics and lies.

 Cooperation. In short: Don’t cooperate. It is a long way from you being stubborn and refusing to talk at all to you signing the statement. This way is called “cooperation”, they have 20 long days to put you on the track, and they will infallibly ask you to cooperate (kyoryoku) fifty times a day. It starts with innocent things like “What is the profession of your parents?” where you might think, well telling him that cannot do me any harm. But keep in mind that every step of cooperation is a step towards making you sign the statement. It goes more or less like this: “Now that you have come this far, you might as well sign it, right?!”

In Japanese (justice system) eyes, cooperation means that you are showing signs of weakness, that they can lead you all the way up to the signing of the statement, and in the end, it means that you are guilty. This is why a very lenient judge might not even need a signed statement to find you guilty – any indication that you have cooperated with them will be interpreted as a hint that you are guilty.

 Be a pain in the ass – it won’t harm you. So instead of being cooperative, be stubborn from the start. There is a lot of signing (=fingerprinting), especially at the beginning. Start being strong by not signing anything, not even the form that states the number and content of the belongings they take from you when they arrest you. They cannot force your thumb down and fake a sign because you might claim they hurt you and complain with your embassy (that’s precisely why they do things like that with Japanese prisoners who have no embassy).

On the second day, refuse what they will present as a “necessary” routine to you: Taking your mugshots and fingerprints. If you comply with that, the next thing they will present as a routine is asking for a sample of your DNA (which is absolutely voluntary).
After having refused to sign at least a dozen papers during my first 24 hours in jail, on the second day, they came up with a search warrant for my house and they said: “We will open it with your house key from the things that you had on you but you have to sign a release form to allow us to use it” – power play time.

I asked: “What happens if I don’t sign?” They said: “We will have to open the door by force and leave it like that” – openly threatening me that they would leave my apartment visibly open for the next weeks that I was not there. So I took the warrant, and I signed but I added, in Japanese, below the signature: “Forced to sign under threats”. As soon as the police officer saw me writing that, he took the paper away from me, tore it into pieces and yelled to the others: “Let’s go and break the door with without the key.”
When I was finally released, I expected the worst. Only then, they told me they had actually notified the janitor when they broke in. The janitor had set up a provisional door lock right away that was not distinguishable from a real door lock.

 Right to remain silent. If you do not answer any of the interrogator’s questions, he will tell you that, in Japan, you only have the right to remain silent in case your statement would incriminate you. So he will infallibly ask you if the answer would actually incriminate you. This is a mean, double-bind game: you answer, you lose, you refuse to answer, you lose, too. So don’t play their game at all – just remain silent and there is nothing they can do about it. If you want to respond, respond every single time that you refuse to say anything because your human rights are violated, because you have no lawyer present or because Japan is no democracy or because he has bad breath.

Don’t be intimated by him scribbling or typing a lot while he has these one-way-conversations with you – if you don’t say anything, he will just have to copy-and-paste your refusal every single time. At the end of the “interrogation”, he will still ask to you sign the document (to confirm that you have said nothing). You will refuse that too (because, remember, never sign anything!), then he will ask you a last time why you refused to sign and you will just stay silent again to that.

 Don’t apologize. You will be reminded countless times how much the so-called victim has suffered from the crime. And then you will be asked if you don’t feel sorry at all for the victim. Don’t feel sorry and don’t comment on that! The only person you have to care for at this moment is you and nobody else.

If you start showing the slightest pity for the victim, they will pressure you into signing or writing a letter of apology – both of which are, in the eyes of any Japanese judge, the next best thing to a “real” confession.

By the way, even lawyers get trapped in this ruse. Your lawyer might advise you with good intentions that for reaching a deal with the victim (and the victim subsequently withdrawing the complaint), you must first show that you feel sorry for your crime. It is true that reaching a deal with the victim is in most cases the best way out – but you have to stay one step ahead of the police. Check out the notes on “Getting out” below for details.

 Slips of the tongue. It is definitely hard to refuse to say anything for three entire weeks – you will be questioned at least five or six full days from morning to evening out of that time.

The officer will sometimes start to deviate from the subject and start talking about your family, your life in Japan etc. Don’t be mistaken – he is the last person in the world who is interested in that (and who has a right to know about your private life). It is just a ruse to put you at ease and to make you talkative. Remember: He is not “actually a nice guy”, but he is your biggest enemy.

If you think your silence is going to crumble, you could deal with the situation and fill the time with asking HIM questions, how he feels working for such a shitty system, ask him about his grand-mother or hometown or just do small-talk. Just do never touch even remotely information about yourself.

But, even if you happened to say something about the crime: don’t panic. It still has almost no legal meaning until you sign it. So don’t start agonizing like “Now that I have already told him, I might just as well sign it.” For the prosecutor and even more for the judge, it is first and foremost a signed statement that counts. Of course, once something has slipped out of your mouth, the investigator will be furious to get you repeat it (and sign it). Don’t even say you lied. Just sit this out by getting back to remaining silent.

 Stockholm syndrome. When people are kidnapped and suddenly deprived of their entire normal social environment, they tend to create ersatz relations with the people who surround them. So you, too, might end up “understanding” why and what the police or the prosecutor did to you ( “after all, they are just doing their job”). Don’t! If you are desperate for human relations with scum, become friends with the yakuza detainees in your cell instead. You will find out that they have more dignity than the cops – at least under these special circumstances.

Insist on your rights to contact people

They will strip you of almost any dignity, but you should by all means use your rights to contact people from outside. Insist on your rights – you don’t have to sign forms for that.

 Vienna convention: Foreign prisoners have two exclusive rights that Japanese nationals don’t have. You are entitled to see embassy staff and to have an interpreter around. These rights are fixed in the Vienna convention which has been signed also by Japan. The words Vienna convention (Wiin-joyaku) and “human rights” (jinken) come in very handy throughout your stay. Mention them at liberty whenever you are unhappy with something; especially down in the detention cells. They don’t care about your private complaints, but they are afraid you could eventually report a violation of your rights to embassy people, who in return could complain about your treatment with their superiors (the Ministry of Justice via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

 Embassy: Police have to notify your embassy or consulate of your arrest immediately, even if you do not explicitly ask them to. They are contacting them through official channels though: police authority → ministry of Justice → ministry of Foreign Affairs → your embassy. This takes up your first two days – during which they will try especially hard to pressure you into a statement. Tell them you will not say anything before you have seen your embassy people (and after embassy people have come to see you, continue your silence, because you are not bound to your promise)

People from the embassy or the consulate have to come and see you as many times as you ask them to, even if you are imprisoned in a remote police station in Aomori – consular assistance to nationals is one of their core tasks.

The embassy/consulate can do a lot for you – but they cannot get you out of prison. You are not important enough that your government will start an international conflict with Japan. But what they do for you is indeed of help;

– Provide a lawyer. Officially an arrestee is informed of his rights to an attorney on the 4th day in jail – and then you have to remember his telephone number. Embassy staff typically visits you on your 3rd day and will make sure you get a lawyer. asap

– Contact your friends and family. They will explain to them in a familiar language (i.e., not in Japanese) what happened to you. Again, probably the embassy is going to get faster to them than your lawyer so this route is especially useful for contacting the friends that are able to help you out with money necessary to pay the lawyer and the victim.

– Improve your prison condition. The conversation with embassy staff has to be in Japanese or has to be translated into Japanese, and it will be monitored by somebody of the prison staff. This might seem obnoxious in the first place, but it is actually the chance to improve your conditions. Just tell them frankly all the little humiliations police has inflicted on you so far – you can be sure the prison staff guy is listening carefully (Vienna convention!). In my case, I had been refused pen and paper – I mentioned that to my embassy representative in front of the prison staff guy, in Japanese. For the rest of my stay, I basically got my own pen for the whole day.

 Interpreter. The Japanese police have registered interpreters for any language that is an official language in some country of this world. That is because the Vienna convention states that every official conversation has to be translated into (and from) your language by an interpreter. This starts right at the arrest – the arrest warrant has to be read to you in your language.

So, by all means, never waive your right to an interpreter, thinking you handle this on your level of Japanese. And don’t accept an English interpreter, either, if your native tongue is not English. You probably don’t know all those legal terms in your own language – how the hell should you be familiar with them in a foreign language?!

When I asked my interrogator once what he would do if he had to deal with a suspect from Iceland (only 300,000 native speakers), he said he was positive that they would find somebody for that too, somewhere in Japan, even, if the translation had to be conducted by telephone.

The presence of a third person (interpreter) also helps alleviating the aggressive atmosphere between you and your interrogator. And last but not least the lengthy translations take up some of your endless interrogation time.

 Lawyer. Get one as soon as possible.
You have the right to a lawyer and your lawyer is the only person who is allowed to see you as often as he wants to, and, as opposed to the embassy people, without your conversations being monitored by prison staff. He is the only person who the police or prosecutor will accept as your official representative. And most importantly, he is the only person that can really get you out.

Insist loudly on having a lawyer from the minute you are arrested. Here it comes in handy if you remember your lawyer’s phone number – give it to the police or the prison staff and they will probably contact him just to make you shut your mouth.

You shouldn’t talk at all – but this goes especially for the time before you have seen your lawyer for the first time. So, while they are exerting special pressure on you to talk while you have no lawyer yet, tell them during that time that precisely because you have no lawyer, you will not make any statements. That will speed their efforts to get you one.

Just forget what you saw in the movies: In Japan, lawyers do not have the right to assist you or be present during your interrogations. They do not have the right to see the evidence before the prosecutor formally charges you (that’s when it is too late). And you will only be able to talk to them through a Plexiglas window

 Doctor. Even if you have to take some medicine regularly, you are not allowed to take any of your pills with you into jail. The positive side is that they are obliged to take you to a doctor or the hospital as soon as you tell them that you really feel ill. You should consider playing this card as the ultimate resort, for example, when you think that you are going to crack (and talk and sing) during their endless interrogations. Tell them you feel terrible and that you have to see a real doctor. Make up fake health problems. They will take you to a normal hospital because of your Vienna convention rights – afterwards, they have no way of punishing you if the doctor finds you to be in good shape.

 Friends and Partners. On foreign arrestees, the prosecutor will infallibly put a communication ban (sekkin-kinshi), which means that you may not see anybody from outside except for members of the group of people mentioned above.

There is a trick, however, to see your close ones, or at least one of them. He or she has to pose as an interpreter for your lawyer. The conversations with your lawyer are not monitored (as compared to those with embassy people), so they should be able to talk to you relatively freely.

Your friend/partner has to:

– Speak good Japanese (otherwise obvious that he/she doesn’t qualify as interpreter), or, if he/she is Japanese, speak your/a foreign language
– Preferably have some name card that shows that he is qualified to do translations
Of course, the lawyer must be willing to play along, and the police must not know about the prior connection between you and the “interpreter”.

Getting out

There are two main ways to get out unharmed.

 Alibi. You have got or know of convincing proof establishing that you have been far from the crime scene at the time of the crime, and that you can thusly not be connected to the crime. Or you have proof that the witnesses or victims lied. In any case, never tell the interrogators about this proof. They lose their face when you can prove their arrest was wrong from the start . Instead of releasing you, they might be tempted to tamper with their/your evidence.

Instead, tell your lawyer about the proof as soon as possible and make sure that your lawyer can provide the proof to the prosecutor (not to the police) while you are still detained. Even here, the lawyer should hand over only copies to the prosecutor, not originals. You cannot be too paranoid…

 Victims withdraws complaint. Lighter crimes like assault or sexual harassment typically belong to the shinkokuzai type of crimes. This means that police/prosecutor only investigate the crime if the so-called victim of the crime officially files a complaint. On the other hand, it means that they have to stop the investigation – and release you– immediately if the victim withdraws his/her complaint before the prosecutor officially files charges against you.

Thusly, your lawyer has a time window of the 20 days the prosecutor detains you before deciding if he/she is actually going to file charges. In this time window, your lawyer should be able to contact the victim and convince her/him to withdraw. Most lawyers claim to be successful sooner or later in talking the victim into signing the magical withdraw form. Lawyers carry that form with them and will submit it instantly to the prosecutor once signed.

For succeeding with this strategy, your lawyer needs three things:

– Money (“apology money”). The going rate for a complaint withdrawal starts at 200,000 Yen and can reach 500,000 Yen or even a million. You need your friends to provide the lawyer with the money, he will not advance it at his own expense.

– Time. At first, most victims will be stubborn and even avoid contact with your lawyer. On the long run, a skilled lawyer can convince most people that you do not really deserve years in jail, that you have already been punished enough by the weeks in detention that you feel sorry and that money is nice. So the victim should be contacted as soon as possible – the withdrawal form has to be signed before the prosecutor files charges.

– Contact data of the victim. This is the tricky part. Don’t rely on getting it from the police or prosecutor; instead use the bumpy road and hire a private investigator.

Police and prosecutor will not release telephone number or address of the victim to your lawyer unless you show them that you feel sorry for the victim. However – that is the trap – they will not give it to your lawyer the victim afterwards, either. After all, they have gone through all this pain talking the victim into charging you with a crime – why should they help you talking the victim into withdrawing it again? In my case, after my lawyer had approached the police investigators about the contact data, it so turned out that the victim had “conveniently” gone abroad for vacation, by “coincidence”, he wouldn’t come back until the end of my detention period.

So do not write letters or make statements of apology (that prosecutor might use against you if the victim does not withdraw). Instead, your lawyer has to find the victim by himself. Even if you don’t know the victim’s full name, it will be on your arrest report. With the name and some circumstantial information provided by you, a private detective should be able to find out contact data of the victim in a few days.

Fascist Disneyland: Stay, leave, revenge?

Foreigners who get out of prison hell tend to reconsider the very base of their life: Is this country (Japan) still really the place where I want to live after all this wrong has been done to me?

Unfortunately, it appears that police are watching you twice as hard as they did before that, when you were just “one of those foreigners”.

Regardless of what you decide to do, consider this after getting out of jail:
– Write down your story.
– Post it on the net and/or send it to civil right groups. The Japanese justice system is definitely fucked up, and the more people talk about it, the better.
– Legal action. It is close to impossible to sue Japanese police or prosecutors in Japan. It is also difficult to (counter-)sue a Japanese national (for example, accusing the victim of perjury) if you are a foreigner. However, there are three more convenient ways to take revenge in court:
➢ Sue them in your home country. If they have been ignoring some fundamental rights during your detention, there might be a chance police-prosecution-victim are liable of a criminal offense against you in your home country.
➢ Start a class action in Japan: In Japan, more than elsewhere, it is the number of plaintiffs that makes a case. If you discover that a number of people have experienced the same unfair treatment, consider gathering those people and suing the responsible parties together. Again, for this, you should be getting in touch with civil rights groups first.
➢ Sue them in a civil court. The Japanese justice system is much more balanced and advanced on the civil side than it is on the penal side. Check with your lawyer.

Whatever your actions are – inform friends and public about what you are doing.

42 comments on “Rough Guide on what to do if and when arrested in Japan

  • Anonymous, You have my eternal gratitude for this advice. I knew the Japanese inJustice system was quirky, but you’ve just about stopped my heart beating as I was reading. Holy cow! This really could use some serious reform!

  • People from the embassy or the consulate have to come and see you as many times as you ask them to, even if you are imprisoned in a remote police station in Aomori – consular assistance to nationals is one of their core tasks.
    Yeah, right. I can just see the lazy shits in the British embassy–who maintain that expats should all go home (see my earlier posts ad nuseam on that subject) bothering to travel outside of the Tokyo metropolitan area. They want all British expats to leave Japan anyway; the more horror stories, from their perspective, the better.

  • This is very good. Thanks for open our eyes more. I know in this country law does not exist but this make things more clear. This is why I have so much stress, being not myself but someone else. The real countries of freedom are Europe and US, though there are mistakes too, but you have your rights and nobody beat you up unless you sign “damn statment” for crime you have never committed. I once had a situation where man was running away and woman was screaming “つかまえて!!!つかまえて!!!” He passed very close to me but do you think I did anything about it? Not at all, even though I do Martial Arts here and could grab him easily. Fear being accused for touching him was bigger than help. I always want to help, but in Japan I will never, ever, ever help anybody!! They can kill each other and I will be watching. This is how this country make its xenophobia work.
    Good luck for us gijins stressed by daily life to addition being locked up for nothing.

  • Is it really this bad? This is a disgusting stain upon a ‘supposed’ democracy!!
    I’d like to hear of peoples individual experiences if possible, and just how common is this racist action going on?!

  • The thing that shocks me about the Japanese Police detention system is how callous it is.

    I mean – no medicine allowed? That’s wilful neglect at least and could lead to sanctioned torture or manslaughter under certain conditions.

    No contact with family/friends. I wonder how that would affect my wife. “Oh! My husband’s gone – what’s going on? Has he been injured? Killed?”.

    I know it would have a serious effect on my mother, might even kill her.

    I really feel that the Japanese Police, as an institution, should be renamed ‘The Keystone Cops’ – though perhaps that is a bit insulting to the originals. Maybe J-Stazi would be better?

  • What would be a good way to pass time, especially during interrogations? Could you just randomly blab on to them about something irrelevant (eg explain how to cook a roast or start singing a tune)? I don’t know if I could do 20 days silently, but I could easily do 20 years blabbing about pointless subjects…

  • Jib Halyard says:

    Chilling reading indeed. But it gives me an idea for a business: suppose someone with the right qualifications were to offer training, maybe including 1-day mock interrogation sessions, to give foreigners in Japan the basic skills needed to survive possible incarceration without breaking? i’d be willing to shell out for such a service, and i’m sure many other law-abiding travellers would, too. More importantly, the advertising alone would certainly raise some much-needed awareness.

  • When in Japan I tracked down a punk who had stolen some kid’s allowance at the videogame store. When I brought him back to the cops no one even thanked me. Heh. But I suppose I’m lucky I wasn’t arrested.

    Our house was also broken into. The thief stole some cash. In this case, the cops were very professional and polite.

  • Jib Halyard,

    I can imagine the police using that training against you. They would obtain records of the training and then use it as evidence that you undertook it to as a required future defense against the police for your now “premeditated crime”. Of course it’s all hypothetical, but hardly beyond unreasonable. Unless it was anonymous, I surely would not want to put my name to such a training course. (A little paranoia never hurts while living in Japan.)

    Also, Japanese nationals could benefit from the training just about as much as foreigners.

  • Debito:

    Read the post and thought I’d offer up my two cents:

    1.) Perhaps the “WHAT TO DO IF……you are arrested by the Japanese police.” and the Handbook need to be updated to include this new info from your source?

    2.) IMHO, people joining FRANCA should be paying member dues if for no other reason than to have access to knowledgeable, competent, experienced legal counsel and private investigation services in the event they are arrested. I like the idea of mock interrogation sessions that Jib Halyard suggested, although I share Bobo17’s concerns about privacy. Without a doubt, there is great utility in simulation training sessions (i.e. highly modified versions of BaFa’BaFa’®) designed to give participants exposure to Japan’s law enforcement and legal system by role playing as cop(s), the lawyer, the interrogator, the prosecutor, the gaijin / arrestee, the victim, friends / family members of arrestee, embassy staff, the “interpreter”,etc). Access to simulation exercises would be another good reason to become a due-paying member of FRANCA .

    3) It seems to me that FRANCA members and the casual NJ tourist / business traveler can benefit from showing their face at their respective embassy on a periodic basis / after they land. In addition, perhaps non-FRANCA NJ folks might want to consider bringing a “security deposit” (read: a bunch of yen for a lawyer, PI, + “apology money”) with them for their next visit?


  • henry dark says:

    Good grief. The little useful information contained in this article is lost in slushy, tabloid level fear mongering. Didn’t people once cites sources to back up claims?

    This blog has really gone downhill of late.

  • Jib Halyard says:

    there’s no reason such a business couldn’t set up shop in guam or saipan, and advertise heavily in (to?) japan, with guarantees of customer confidentiality.
    the j police have no say what goes on outside their borders, in the free world…

  • I think I’d spend my 23 days of paradise asking my interrogators,
    “So, why did you become a policeman? To catch actual criminals or just catch
    anybody and pretend they’re criminals so you look good?”
    “When was the last time you read the Constitution?”
    “Have you found the guy who killed Lindsay Hawker yet?”

    Then maybe just play “Name. Rank. Serial number.” for a few days.
    If I’m convincing enough, they might send me to a US Army base, and
    then I could go shopping at the BX for normal sized clothes.

    Once I saw a homeless man lying in a gutter, probably dead. Signs were there.
    I was with a friend visiting Japan for a week, and he said “We should call the police.”
    I said, “No, we don’t want to get arrested for ‘killing’ this guy, it would ruin your trip.”
    And he thought I was a cold-hearted bastard.
    Thank you, Japanese Keystone cops. >:[

    There is one key point lacking in the article here, though.
    What should you do if you actually ARE guilty?
    Other anecdotal stories have indiciated that it can pay to
    cooperate, especially if you can finger a bigger fish, and especially if
    he’s another foreigner.

    –All this discussion assumes the accused is innocent, of course. If you actually ARE guilty, there’s not a damned thing we can do to help you. You deserve to have the book thrown at you. Debito

  • While a bit tabloidy, I think the article was great and I’m glad it was published. I hope I never find myself in the situation the author did, but if I did, I now feel I understand “the process” better. Without having read the article, I’m sure I would have fallen for all the little games the cops play to lure a confession, including the nice cop/bad cop tag play.

    Some may not like to admit it, but the cards are stacked against you here particularly if you’re a foreigner and faced with false accusations.

    The “fascist Disneyland” phrase is classic! That sums up perfectly many ugly facets of Japan (although I would hasten to add I love most other things about Japan).

    On a side note, I am also curious as to why the author was charged…would love to hear more about that. Even if he was partly guilty, it wouldn’t take away from the fact that the criminal justice system here is still messed up.

  • Query about “apology money”.
    Assuming one was innocent of a supposed crime, why should one have to pay an “apology money” which is pretty much like giving a donation to a crook? This seems to be a very corrupt system and doesn’t encourage police to look for the real criminal.
    If one was found “guilty”, does that mean a prison sentence without a “get-out-of-jail-card”?

  • >In Japan, police can arrest anyone, any time.
    >The actual chances to be arrested in Japan are much higher than the chances to be hurt by an earthquake in Japan – especially if you are a foreigner.

    These sentences are just wrong. Police cannot arrest with out a warrant issued by a judge. Unlike the US, neither police officers nor prosecutors can issue warrants. There are two exceptions to this rule. If a crime is taking place in front of a police officer, he can arrest the criminal. If a suspect of certain serious felonies is escaping, a police officer can arrest the suspect and ask a judge for a warrant. If the judge refuses a warrant, the suspect is immediately released.

    Anyway, police cannot arbitrarily arrest anyone.

    Trainings for unlikely event of police interrogation? I think that is just waste of time and money.

    –You’re right, on the books, police cannot arbitrarily arrest anyone. But they can detain you for “voluntary questioning” (nin’i no torishirabe) without arrest, and you can be held without charge, and without the involvement of a judge or even a lawyer, on the discretion of the police for three days, remember. It’s not an arrest. It’s an investigation. And on the books you are theoretically free to go at any time. But try to go before they say okay and they can arrest you for “interference in the duties of an official” (koumuin shikkou bougai).

    Get beyond the books, HO, and learn how people do things, already.

  • The advice and story above I recoomend everyone to read and abide by.
    The comment about the British embassy… here is one of my stories involving those tossers…
    I was going to be taken in on this “voluntary questioning” on accusations by a japanese national.
    I knew the police were coming to arrest me, so I made an appointment with the investigating office then went into Marunouchi with my girlfriend (now wife) as my translator.
    I went into the British embassy on the moring to tell them what was happening, and to leave a load of evidence with my consulate office, the nice gentleman assured me that the embassy would be ready to help me if they recieved the call from me.
    Well to cut a long story short, during my “talk” with the policeman, I decided to call my embassy to ask them to help and they informed me very politely that “They had allowed everyone to go and watch the football in Saitama” and had no one avaliable to help… needless to say I went mental.
    The police finally decided to drop all charges against me, and let us leave when they heard that this Guy charging me was her ex-boyfriend and married with a kid to boot.
    I have since been to the British embassy twice and both times have had to deal through the bullet proof glass… one of these was swearing on the bible for my marriage!!!

    I can only say the same as the guy who wrote this article, NEVER SIGN ANYTHING!! NEVER HELP THE POLICE!! I was lucky to get a nice policeman, but I know it was pure luck, other times I have not been so lucky.

  • For 3 days?
    What are you talking about? You must be confused. There is no rule that the police can detain someone for 3 days for voluntary questioning.

    Anything remotely near to the three day thing is that an arrest warrant is valid for 72 hours from the time of an arrest. An arrested suspect is released within 72 hours unless a detention warrant, which is valid for additional 10 days, is issued by a judge.

    Or, if a crime takes place in front of a police officer, he can arrest the perpetrator without a warrant. The arrest is valid for 72 hours. Is this what you mean?

    Memorizing lawyer’s phone number is also waste of time. Any detained suspect can talk to the local lawyers association and they can arrange a lawyer if he can pay.

    –Sorry, HO, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Trying to give you a substantive answer is in fact the waste of time.

  • Hmmm, have lived here 14 years, educated in Japanese, this is a bit much. I know local police (and the head of Tokyo metro), have worked as a translator at the Shibuya station and have bailed a few mates out of the holding cells before, this is way over the top.
    Advice: rather than believe this stuff and hate cops here, pay taxes, wait for green lights, be nice, keep your hands to yourself, contribute to society.
    No one is going to jail for stopping a fight, I have done it before.
    Japan is a wonderful country and the people here are good. I think he should leave and stop griping.

    –Great logic here. It’s happened to him, but not to you. Therefore he has no gripe. And if he does, he should leave.

    Love it or leave it, great way to make a life here…

    • A friend was detained at the site of an motor vehicle accident. He had stopped to help direct traffic. Police accused him of causing the accident. After 8hrs of “interrogation” they brought in a Japanese witness, who immediately informed the police that the foreigner had nothing to do with the accident. He was told to leave, no apology, no nothing. His bike was impounded & they wanted him to pay to have it released.

  • Advice: rather than believe this stuff and hate cops here, pay taxes, wait for green lights, be nice, keep your hands to yourself, contribute to society.
    No one is going to jail for stopping a fight, I have done it before.
    Japan is a wonderful country and the people here are good.

    All valid arguments.
    I definitely want to believe this but I can also see where a drunk arguing couple could get obnoxious about someone interfering, despite the good intentions.

    A friend of mine did in fact disappear for over a month. He’d had an argument with his girlfriend (he is Brazillian she is Japanese) and she apparently rang the police and said he raped her.

    They put him away until eventually she rang and said he hadn’t done such a thing. He was then released.

    I also read a story a while back of a gaijin family riding bikes through the park. Some random inspection by the police revealed that the lady’s bike was in fact not hers. It belonged to a co worker who had loaned it to her. She was unable to contact this co worker and was taken to gaol for a day or 2 before it was sorted out.

    Whilst I realise the sin of stealing bicycles one would think a housewife with the family was not very likely to have actually stolen a bicycle, but it does add to the advice of.. be prepared, be patient.
    Don’t sign
    And humbleness is regarded well. That advice of learning language and body I do believe is valid. Not that you are being apologetic for a crime but that you are patiently waiting for it to all be sorted out as you are sure it will be.
    Legal systems all over the world are, by nature of their self suporting powers, potentially evil.

    Terrorist laws in places like U.K., U.S.A. and Australia are allowing more and more power to Police to do as they please. To take and question people without allowing them communication with the outside world and without even being formally charged.

    It is the bane of our times, I believe, that what rights have been fought for and won over the last X hundred years are being worn away by governments and corporations in pursuit of global profiteering.

    To them the common man is all too common, merely cattle to be herded and managed.

    For governments the red tape is too long, the time consumed (read cost in terms of money) too great.

    Governments, in my mind, are meant to enable a social support system of health, education, welfare, transport and policing. But now these institutions are being sold off/privatised so that the government doesn’t need to answer the calls of “why no trains, hospital beds, police” in times of duress. They want to wash their hands of their duties whilst still keeping their jobs.

    I believe that is a politicians only job now – keeping his/her job!
    vote for me! vote for me!
    [shrug] I don’t know, I’m cute? Just vote for me! vote for me!

    watch “V for Vendetta” for a silver screen version of where I think we’re going.

    [/end rant]

  • I think Dee has put it most succinctly. In any given police force there is the potential for abuse. This does not mean that all police are evil. This is not a Japan Thing. This same situation could be repeated in the UK (believe me, because it is strikingly similar to what happened to my Indian friend while we were at uni there) or, I am certain, the US.

    I don’t think the solution is this kind of fear-mongering. While I am sure the author of the article had nothing but good intentions, and I entirely believe that everything purported to have happened did in fact happen, it would be ridiculous to tar the entire system because of this one event. Debito’s reply to Jd is a case in point: why is Jd’s opinion worth less than the author’s? I myself have had several dealings with police in Japan, in various cities, and they have been nothing but polite and helpful to me. So I have a fairly positive image of the police here. Why is my experience less valid than the author’s, simply because it is a positive one?

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, which means that not everyone will agree with you. If you want people to take you seriously you should avoid phrases like “you have no idea what you’re talking about”, and the sentiment that if one’s first reaction is to trust, it is somehow an indicator of naivety.

    But I am assuming by your tone that you will not care for my opinion, so I won’t bother to come back. I do hope not everyone is as cynical as the author has become. Cynicism breeds cynicism. And you’ve lost a reader.

    Yes, yes, I’m sure you’re crying a veritable river over it….

  • Here is another idea, EVEN if this story is totally out of whack, what is wrong with following his guidelines? Assisting the police in convicting yourself just seems wrong. I have had my issues with the NPA, and I would say that they are not the most moral upstanding individuals I have met. And yes trying to be a good samaritan here does not always go well.

  • Whatever the reason you were in the can as long as it’s not rape, murder, child molestation is irrelevant, but you just opened my eyes, Wow, I thought I knew a lot about the injustice system in Japan, but you put me waaaay to shame. I am a total novice. Now I realize, I knew nothing. Do I believe ALL Japanese police are bad, of course not. I have known and met very kind police men, that really tried to help me in a bad situation on the other hand I have witnessed the cops doing out of control crazy stuff, still, the info is good to know, because you never know. I too, have stopped fights and the police got involved and nothing happened, I went of on my merrily way. I guess, it`s all what you make of it, but to be vigilant is always a great sound of advice.

  • This piece–embassies should distribute copies of it at the departure gates for flights to Japan–also relates to labor disputes, and the pressure to sign Agreements to end them. First, almost anything goes, it seems, when employers apply the pressure to get you to sign. Moreover, what’s quite amazing is that the content of what you sign can be, for Japanese purposes, irrelevant to the general assessment that by signing a document produced by an authority over you, you have submitted completely to the will of this authority. I learned, to my horror, that because I had signed Agreements, Japanese lawyers and unionists agreed that I had closed the doors on all options of resisting anything further imposed by my then-employer. The fact of signing was effectively the end of my case. To anyone and everyone who would listen, I pointed out that the documents I signed, in their content, specifically reserved an avenue for resisting new abusive procedures when they arose; and anyway, that I had written that I’d signed under duress. But the form of my submission, embodied by signing, was deemed to override the mere contents of the documents signed. The end result of such signing, in Japan, then, is that the signer effectively loses all voice, because after you have signed something authored by an authority over you, nothing else you can say will matter, or even get any traction. Not-signing is much more challenging than it sounds, though, because for the short term, signing can bring benefits. Stay focused on the long term! Realize that in Japanese situations where, especially as a gaijin, you have almost no self-determination, your voice is just about all you have. So, if you are someone who prioritizes the ability to continue to speak for yourself with possible effectiveness within a given situation, then you should avoid signing anything you did not author yourself.

  • My friend has just been arrested and has been held at the Shibuya Police Station for 2 days now, we were out drinking and a bar says he knocked over a sign on the road. Of course, they have no evidence of this, and my friend said he didn’t do/doesn’t remember doing such a thing. That didn’t stop about 8 cops from swarming him and hauling him off. I was also threatened for arrest simply for going to the Shibuya Police Station, staying many hours, and asking for updates. Canadian and British Embassies (he’s a dual citizen) have been contacted but have not replied to me. As of yesterday he had not seen a lawyer. I briefly met one “interpreter”, who seemed to me to also be a cop, who was very rude and cut me off every time I tried to ask a question. I asked for names of officers (such as the one who threatened my arrest) but of course received no response. I guess I’m headed there again soon, I really don’t know what I can do to help.

  • this advice is absolutely true. happened to me. 72 hours to hold with no contact from outside is they get a judge to sign “no contact” certificate and if you are arrested just before new years or obon….you are screwed anyways cause noone can visit…even your embassy/lawyer during japanese holidays of weekends. then if the deem that you have not given them enough information ion that 3 days they can hold you for 21 days while they investigate. then even after the 21 days if they deem thay have enough evidence that you are guilty but still have not built the entire case against you they can hold you incognito for a long long long time before you even are actually charged and then go to a another holding prison waiting for your court date which is fastest possible time frame 2 months butmostly anywhere between 3-6 months just to have your day in court. you are not even able to be bailed out until you have your first court date. it is true, believe it I lived it…taken for questioning end of november held 21 days then charged with a crime taken from the police station holding cell…no english books, not letters, no contact other than my lawyer then transferred to semi-prison waiting for trial fr another 2 months. you only bathe twice a week in trial jail and only once a week in the police station holding cells. you only go outside twice a week in a small sand pit with bars for “exercise” this is the only time you see the sun. in police olding cell you are with up to 6 other guys everyday, no tv no newspapers witout all the stuff ripped out casue to pertains to on of the other inmantes…then when you go trial jail awaiting your court date you are in solitary confinement but you can have 2 visitors a day but you do not get to pick. so if your friends come to visit and then you wife/husband comes you cannot see your spouse cause you already ed up your 2 visits without ever being able to make the decision whom to see. so after 21 days i was transferred to the trial court jail on the day before the new years holidays…10 days with no contact, no exercise, no showers nothing!!! cause the government shuts it all down minimal staff the whole works you are stuck in your cell all day everyday by yourself for the entire vaction time then the day after holidays the visitation is so packed up that you are lucky if you get a chancce to see your spouse even if they have been waiting all day caus ethe visitation time is only until 3:30. even after you first court date if you can make bail it cost me $25,000 US yes dollars!! then I had to come back in 14 days for my sentencing. you can only make bail if you are gonna get a suspended sentence….yep it is just like this guy wrote no bullshit no lies…just honest ruth and mr. Ho dont talk until you know what you are talkiong about. if you need to know. I was busted for using a friends ID..which had my picture on it…did not o anything to set the world on fire, just your basic fake ID…there you go yep watch your ass cause you can go down for anything, yeahh yeah I know it is breaking the law and yes I regret it but comeon 3 months in solitary with no communication is a but rough for the crime.

  • Wow, I watched the movie “Soredewa bokuwa yatenaidesu” and felt so bad for the guy that got in jail for something he didn’t do. But to know that actually it’s true is shocking! The more I read the more scared I become

  • Another Gaijin says:


    this is hardcore stuff / fakeID and then 3 months in solitary confinement? Truly sorry to hear your story. This system is so fucked up. Where are you now? Did you leave Japan?

  • Wow, this is a real eye opener. I’m going to Japan soon as an exchange student. I have one huge concern I need to ask you gents.

    I take important meds to treat my disability daily. Being taken off it suddenly (instead of havng a lower dose to get you down) can have rather bad side-effects. It’s not a serious or visible disability (brain stuff), but it keeps me thinking properly.

    Is there anything I can do to get my pills? Thanks!

    — In the unlikely event that you ever find yourself in this situation, tell the cops, I guess. And hope they cooperate.

  • been 10 years obviously this has been written…interesting article…but in my opinion miss some important information such

    – what was the crime accusation from the police
    – were you married to a Japanese citizen at that time or you had to go through that alone
    – what was the final decision, were you indicted in a court? Did you had to leave Japan on Justice decision?

  • My English friend has been arrested for pushing a guy on a train who kept leaning on him and kept telling him to speak in Japanese if he had something to say. Now the guy says my friend punched him. It’s a joke. All these pieces of advice still apply and I’m stunned nothing has changed. I’m Japanese and I feel ashamed.

  • I was in jail because one immigration officer talk bad to me and I punch him directly front the security camera, but I was shocked not from police detention but shocked from the jail, its was like a Hollywood movie of the Japanese war prison, what I can say its unbelievable but I saw the most rude and inhumane prison systems of my entire life


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