XY: Hotel calls cops on NJ Resident at check-in for not showing passport. And cops misinterpret laws. Unlawful official harassment is escalating.


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Hi Blog. Let me forward this first and then comment:

From: XY
Subject: My experience allowing the cops to be called after refusing to show my passport at a hotel as a foreign resident of Japan
Date: March 22, 2019
To: debito@debito.org

Hello Debito,

If you like, you can publish anything I have written here that feels useful, but please don’t publish my name.

Just now I tried using your website to avoid having my passport scanned at a hotel after it escalated all the way to the police. The short story is:

1. Just don’t do it, it won’t work. It’s not worth it at all.
2. The thing they finally got me with is that the hotel can scan (yes, scan) the driver’s licenses of Japanese citizens as well. I don’t know if this place actually does it but that’s actually a fair argument in my mind.

Since this was clearly a very serious case, three officers showed up, one head guy, one lower ranking guy who watched me while the head guy was on the phone, and one lady who took the report of the lady behind the reception desk before coming to watch over me as well. We went through part of the script for the residence card thing but I decided that that was a fight for another day.

The main officer showed me where it says 日本国内に住所を持たない外国人 in the law (actually the exact text of the law uses 有しない, I copied that from the MHLW website), and then I pointed out the obvious problem with that: I have an address in Japan. He said that the hotel had a right to refuse me if I didn’t identify myself.

I showed him the three reasons that hotels can refuse service. He tried to make an argument that it fell under the “public morals” part of clause 2, but when I pressed him on that even he agreed that it was a stretch. He went and talked on the phone for a while, but not before talking about searching my possessions, which I said was no problem. When he came back, he had written down the name of a certain law, which I’m sorry I don’t remember the name of, but it apparently allows hotels to scan IDs of its customers.

I gave up at that point, and my possessions were never searched. I gave my passport to be scanned and apologized to the police and apologized more profusely to the receptionist.

I have the feeling that if the cops that showed up were less nice, they would have found some reason to take me to the station. So I’m currently feeling very lucky. I won’t roll the dice again.

Thanks for standing up for foreigner’s rights in Japan. I did it because as a white dual citizen exchange student at a prestigious university, I have a higher standing in society than a Filipino migrant worker out in the countryside.

Sincerely, XY

COMMENT: At the risk of appearing like I’m rubbing salt in a wound, it’s a pity that Submitter XY didn’t get the name of the law the cop cited.  Prepare for the next round of counterarguments for NJ Residents to use at check-in.

But the point still stands: When it comes to dealing with hotel check-ins, Japan’s police have been bending the law (if not simply making it up) for well over a decade. As recently reported on Debito.org (moreover reported to me off list by a NJ AirBnB owner friend), they’re also doing it now with AirBnBs allegedly under the new Minpaku Law.  Yet the cop above was, according to XY, clearly making the case that the hotel had the legal right to refuse service someone who didn’t show ID, which is simply not true under the law.  The law:  If you have an address in Japan, you don’t have to show ID, regardless of citizenship.

As Submitter XY would probably argue, the issue is now whether or not you are willing to stare down the police at the risk of being detained. (Under Japan’s system of arbitrary arrest and “hostage justice” brought to light by the Carlos Ghosn Case, no less.) I would. But it’s not for everyone, so be advised from XY’s experience what the stakes may be.

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics around the corner (and the reflexive fearmongering that Japan’s officialdom reflexively does before they invite foreigners in for a visit), it’s clear Japan’s law enforcement and hosteling industry are amping up the enforcement regardless of the unlawfulness.  They are now on a mission to racially profile all tourists, especially those who “look” like tourists.  And this is how racism becomes further embedded.  Debito Arudou PhD

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35 comments on “XY: Hotel calls cops on NJ Resident at check-in for not showing passport. And cops misinterpret laws. Unlawful official harassment is escalating.

  • Hey Debito, can you let us all know the name of the hotel? I’d like to avoid it in future. I never stay at APA, and as we do have choices it would be good to know which hotel phoned the police on this person.

    — I’ll ask XY to answer here directly.

  • I should add, that if the perp is named JALT members and other international organizations in Japan can boycott the perp, let others know and see if we can’t turn this into an “educational moment” for the perp. One can only hope.

  • @XY – We would appreciate it if you could release the name of the hotel. I travel all around Japan on business and I have found (for the most part) hotels are getting better about this issue. When I check in (in Japanese) they ask if I live in Japan and that is the end of it whereas a couple of years ago they were asking me to copy the zairyu card which I refused every time.

    I think there are some rogues out there and it would help us all to know them. Also it wound be interesting to know where this happened.

    As for the police it is no surprise they do not know the laws they are supposed to enforce.

    Good job standing up for your rights and totally understandable you drew a line where you were out of the comfort zone and backed down. No one can fault you for that!

    • I was fearing this was bound to happen sooner rather than later.
      What with the MLIT’s incorrect reinterpretation of the minpaku law advising to call the police, and the police not knowing the laws they are supposed to enforce, as Dave says.
      (“If the guest continues to refuse, and there is the possibility that the guest is not carrying a passport, take the appropriate action such as contacting the nearest police station.” http://www.mlit.go.jp/common/001253672.pdf)

      @Dave, I’m surprised you feel things are getting better. Maybe it really is a matter of sharing a whitelist and blacklist for hotels, and not just showing up and hoping for the best.

      • Mark in Yayoi says:

        From the linked MLIT document:

        When a police officer requests to inspect a guest list as part of his / her duties, cooperate to the extent necessary for the purpose of the duties, regardless of whether or not a written inquiry for investigation has been issued.

        Makes me wonder why things like warrants even exist.

      • Hi Gulf.

        The article in the Japan Times brought me back here. I use business hotels all over the country 1-3 times a week and I have honestly seen a dramatic improvement (this is my personal experience only). The hotels I stay at are usually in the inaka. This past week stayed at 2. Both times I was asked for my passport (I am obviously not Japanese) and I replied (in Japanese) “I live in Japan.” They asked me to fill out the address and that was the end of it.

        I guess this is why I am curious about this specific hotel. I would even try to stay there if I knew where it is and find out what the deal is.

        • Owen Hughes says:

          It’s good to see I’m not the only one pointing out how rare it is that this is actually an issue: yeah, the “外国人のお客さん” “simple Japanese” translation of “日本に住所を有しない外国人旅行者” is annoying, but simply being polite and explaining the situation seems to work somewhere 90 and 100% of the time. It’s inconvenient to have to wait for the receptionist to call their supervisor and check what the law actually says, but it’s never cost me more than five minutes.

          When I checked into hotels in the UK, France, and Portugal on trips back to Europe, I had to put up with a LOT more bullshit: getting delayed at the airport so I missed my transfer flight and had to call to say I’d be late, then finding out the guy who took my call hadn’t written it down anywhere so the guy who took over in the evening gave away my room .. was about as bad as it got, but I’ve never checked into a single accommodation anywhere in Europe that didn’t have more useless red tape and hoops to jump through, and that didn’t take a lot longer than five minutes.

          • Jim Di Griz says:

            Sorry, just noticed this unaddressed apologism;
            The old ‘well I’ve never seen it so it can’t be true’ and ‘but other countries are worse’ excuses. Again.Yawn.

            — I know. He’s one of the trolls who keeps trying to sabotage anything about me on Wikipedia. Look for him as “Hijiri88”. He even tried to remove the Yunohana “Japanese Only” sign from the historical record of the Otaru Onsens Case section. This is one of his milder comments here, so I approved it.

          • you are equating Japan’s lack of human rights with the lack of efficiency and convenience in certain other countries. So, you would trade convenience for being trated as a second class gaijin? Oh, OK I guess that is why you like living in Japan. But one day, the modern equivalent of immigation kempeitai will come for you, could be you did too well in Corporate Japan, or you looked at some girl near the koban the wrong way, and then you will find out that the conviction rate in Japan is chillingly “efficient” as well. 99%.

        • Loverilakkuma says:

          That’s good. However, it will be even greater for the hotel to say “do you have an address in Japan?” first.

        • Thank you for elaborating Dave.
          Do you travel around the non-touristic inaka?

          I wonder if Okinawa is especially problematic, since the 2 lodgings that gave me serious trouble were in Naha and Ishigaki City. Talking about specific prefectures, two commenters pointed recently how bad it is in Hokkaido and how they see all foreigners as tourists:
          (Please say thank you to your friend, Debito, his comment resonated with me.)

          In my case I only travel for pleasure and much less frequently. I seriously curtailed my national travel after being refused in 2014. Not healthy, but I want to relax when on a trip, not have to fight the good fight at a moment’s notice.

        • That’s my experience, too. I travel extensively around country.
          I’ll get asked for my passport, but then mention I’m a resident, I fill out my address and that’s it.
          This has been my experience in hotels from metro Osaka down to a little 旅館 way out yonder in Ishikawa.
          Last time I was harassed (and I harassed back) about my passport was maybe 10.years ago.

  • That was a worse result than if you had just did what they wanted from the outset.

    To make an issue of it and then cave in and apologize was to reinforce their incorrect view of the law and was of no help to anyone. Don’t do it in the future,

    • TJJ, I feel your pain, but anyway you look at it, in the end he/she is the victim and not to be blamed. Let’s give useful advice and support where we can and leave it at that. I’m sure he/she has already been adequately humiliated by the experience itself.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    >the hotel can scan (yes, scan) the driver’s licenses of Japanese citizens as well.

    As many of us here know, that is totally illegal. It won’t happen if they have a Japanese customer. Pretty sure they will likely be confronted with an upset customer. Clearly, this hotel took advantage of her as a non-Japanese status, assuming that she doesn’t know anything about the hotel/travel lodge law. So they stretched, exaggerated, and blatantly lied(Copying DRL of Japanese citizens? You would never bring that to Japanese who is in the similar situation) about what they can/cannot do. What’s more upsetting is cops’ gross ignorance of the law. It’s just simply wrong and unconscionable. They failed to do their job.

    I think it is time to make a Japanese Black List Hotel.

  • Also, why did you even have your passport with you? You were doing domestic travel so why would you need a passport?

  • Interesting read, but I am confused on one part. XY says he/she was carrying a passport. I am a long term foreign resident in Japan, I never carry my passport. Ever. Where was XY’s residence card?

    Also, what exactly is the point of scanning a passport for a resident? It is not going to show an address in Japan or possibly even visa status. For example, my passport does not have any visa stamps – because it is newly issued.

    All in all rather confusing.

  • Recently was on a trip with a friend, we both look foreign.
    The “law” MLIT is talking about doesn’t exist, or even if it would have existed, that’s where Ryokangyouhou comes into play which clearly says there can only be three valid reasons to refuse service. Any further laws would have to have this p. 5 changed to work. It won’t match now, it would just legally not work. You can’t introduce more restrictions without modifying this paragraph.

    When receptionist asks for passports I just kindly explain all this stuff using my not the best but not the worst abilities in polite japanese. So far it worked, but it gets me every single time that I have to. That’s the point I hate when I travel here alone or with some other NJ. And the worst thing about it is the problem still applies when I speak japanese… So I just have to explain it every single time using exact quotes from the laws. Not looking at the phone screen or paper. I’ve got into this so many times I obviously remembered that stuff.

    Don’t flash your passport or ID. That’s a good advice that I think someone else has already posted here. If they can’t find your name on the bookings list, just ask for check-in card and write it there. Simple.

    // p.s. why would a resident have his passport, it’s heavy and won’t fit into your wallet. why do you carry that?

  • oh BTW, speaking of blacklist hotels, APA hotel group has a video dedicated to it, made by a son of Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, check it out on his YT channel “rare earth”. Pretty amazing nazi stuff they have out there. Just search for “rare earth apa hotel

  • I have noticed an increase in discrimination complaints on sites like youtube etc, and some suggest that the lattest gaijin generation types are just too sensitive. I think otherwise. I think what is happening is the new influx of immigrants and visitors has provoked reactionary Japanese to respond in kind with gaijin hate.

  • Thanks for the report, XY. I understand your frustration and also that you caved in to avoid further complications (The Police can arrest any of us on any charge for a total of 23 days. One might be to cause a nuissance, or if by accident you mere touched a policeman, obstruction of justice. NEVER EVER touch a policeman, by the way.)
    Anyway, I also would love to know what law was cited here. Just to be prepared. And the name of the hotel would be helpful, too.

  • Owen Hughes says:

    I’m wondering: if I emailed Debito about the four or five times that I’ve been asked for my passport by a hotel receptionist, explained that as a resident with an address in Japan I am not subject to that rule, and either (a) had the hotel receptionist immediately say “Oh, okay.” and apologize, or (b) saw the reception contact one of her superiors who clarified that I was right, and then apologize to me (let alone the number of times the receptionist asked me “Do you have an address in Japan?” or “Do you live in Japan?”, and no further questions after I answered “Yes”), would those be published?

    This kind of situation, where the cops are called, seems to be EXTREMELY rare. I imagine the establishment this particular reader stayed in was just a really unpleasant hotel to begin with — the kind where they give you the wrong key by mistake and you wind up walking in on someone, or when you get to your room you find they did a really slip-shod job of cleaning it.

  • You’re welcome to share your experience, but not so much to imply that serious discrimination at check-in can be dismissed because it’s rare. “Proof: it doesn’t happen to me.”

    Human rights are not about probability, or “good enough”.
    To answer your rhetorical question: the fact that most check-ins go smoothly doesn’t outweigh the ones that don’t. Thought exercise: most people in the world can go through a day without being robbed; should the press stop reporting crime?

  • I travel for business a lot, and refuse to show my card. But we should keep in mind that the hotel front desk staff are normally poorly paid and poorly trained. It does not make sense to yell at them or fight with them. When there is no manager at hand, I show them my id and talk to the managers the next day. I often received an apology. And when this doesn’t work, I give bad ratings to the hotel on all websites. Of course I don’t write that the hotel is racist (that might even attract some Japanese), but that the staff is unfriendly and incompetent.

  • After going through all the explanations about a new phone contract with Y Mobile in a Yamada Denki in a big shopping centre in Kanagawa, we sat down to sign the contract. The staff asked for ID, so I presented my Residence card, which has name, address, visa status, workplace, all the details. The staff asked for my passport. I said, I don’t carry a passport when I go shopping, that’s what the Residence card is for. The staff said that according to the rules, I’m not allowed to buy a phone without showing both Residence card AND Passport. And told me to go ALL the way home to Nakano and back on the same day to get my Passport, as the offer was until that day and no other Yamada Denkis closer to my home had the same offer. My 14th year residing in Japan. I walked out with no phone, after having wasted half an hour on listening to precontract explanations.

    • Yeah, they blatantly admit this bigotry on their public FAQs.

      There was no reason for you to ever get to the step of showing your gaijin card. No private business should ever be asking for it. The second they ask, it’s discrimination, as they would obviously never ask a Japanese person (or, more accurately, a Wajin) for it.

      I can imagine an interaction of this nature:

      Staff: “Show us your residence card and passport.”
      S: “What are you talking about?” (This is an odd demand in and of itself, so I would probably say 何言ってんの? in a rather sharp tone. This helps signal “I’m not just gonna roll over and take this.”)
      Staff: “We require identification when signing a new contract.”
      S: “Oh, here’s my health insurance card/driver’s license.”
      Staff: “No, persons of foreign nationality must present their residence card and passport.”
      S: “Foreign nationality? What’s my nationality?”

      How the staff will respond from there of course varies on the person, but most will essentially try to turn the question back around on you. “Well, as far as your appearances go, you don’t look Japanese” (racist statement) or “I’m not aware. What is your nationality?”

      At any rate, just keep turning the question back around on them. (“You said ‘foreign nationality.’ If you know my nationality, what country is it?” Obviously, even if they guess correctly, you just keep denying it.) If they ask if you’re Japanese, you can just claim that you are, or you could be really persistent and point out that there’s no way they ask every customer who comes through for that information, so lose the racism and complete the transaction. (早く人種差別をやめてこの取引を処理しなさい。)

      Regardless, the FAQ without the bit about “foreign nationality” does not specify a passport as an essential form of ID, so you can use this as ammunition should you get into a debate. I wish I could say I cannot imagine them demanding you PROVE that you are Japanese with a Japanese passport, but Wajin racism knows no shame, so it’s possible. At that point, you just point out that nowhere is a passport specified as necessary proof of ID, and it’s completely inappropriate (大変不適切)that they make such a demand.

      If the situation goes nowhere, ask to speak to a manager or supervisor. Stand your ground; they cannot prove you are not a citizen. If you want to make your case airtight, e-mail them in advance and inquire about what forms of identification are acceptable at the time of contract. Their page does not specify, but if you get it specifically written in an e-mail beforehand, all you have to do is whip that out.

      In my experience, most times businesses do not directly specify the gaijin card at first. Thus, when they demand ID, just pull out your health insurance card or driver’s license and leave it at that. If they push specifically for the gaijin card, see the above loop. Don’t give them enough rope to hang you.

      Unfortunately, when applying for apartments, even Japanese will be asked to present passport and/or 住民票, which will show that you are not a citizen. Your only option, as far as I am aware, is to find a non-racist landlord or fight it out in court.

    • Sigh, the exact same thing happened to me with Softbank a few years ago. The irony is I later signed up smoothly with B Mobile… guess how they are called now? Yes, Y Mobile, because they were bought by Softbank. And apparently they now apply the same horrible rule than their parent company.

      Aaah, if only Softbank had a non-Wajin for President, surely this discrimination wouldn’t happen, right? Not.

  • My experience so far was OK. Each time they ask for passport I say that I live in Japan and ask my J wife who travel often with me but is not asked for any indemnification to write down J address. No more ID issue then.
    Last week we were with whole family in Kurume. The hotel we booked asked me for passport while we were all 4 with Japanese family. They asked my family nothing, they did not take into account we spoke Japanese and are family. They just asked gaikokujin kata, pasupoto…she didn’t had time to finish as I jumped in and said: I live here and I am with my family. No more issues, no apology either. I was pleased after all. The stupidest thing is that they see whole family and they still ask only me for passport.

    • . – The stupidest thing is that they see whole family and they still ask only me for passport. Well, you arent on the Koseki are you? Except maybe as a footnote (She married a foreigner called XXX)

      Fun fact, Mainland China and North Korea use the same system, but South Korea abolished it “These states include People’s Republic of China (hukou), Republic of China (Taiwan) (hukou), Vietnam (Hộ khẩu [vi]), and North Korea (hoju, hojeok, hojok). In South Korea, the hoju system was abolished in 2008.”


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