CNN: Narita Customs spike HK passenger’s bag with cannabis


Hi Blog.  I think this is perhaps the most ridiculous story on Japan I’ve heard this decade.

According to CNN, Narita Customs put a bag of marijuana in some visiting NJ’s bag to test their sniffer dogs.  Then they lose track of it!

Now just imagine if that innocent NJ was later caught with it.  We’re talking Nick Baker (finally sent back to the UK after 6 years in Japanese jail) and other NJ judicial hostages (who can never leave custody or be granted bail until they go through years of slow Japanese jurisprudence, even when judged innocent).

Of course, we make sure we cause meiwaku to none of our tribe (or to ourselves–think serious chances of a lawsuit from a native)–we use the Gaijin as Guinea Pig.  Yokoso Japan!  


Customs slip cannabis into passenger’s bag

CNN May 26, 2008 — Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)

Courtesy of Chad Edwards

(CNN) — A passenger who landed at Tokyo’s Narita airport over the weekend has ended up with a surprise souvenir courtesy of customs officials — a package of cannabis.

art.jpg Unsuspecting passenger returns cannabis after sniffer dog test botched at Narita 

Sniffer dogs failed to find the cannabis after it had been slipped into a passenger’s bag.

A customs official hid the package in a suitcase belonging to a passenger arriving from Hong Kong as part of an exercise for sniffer dogs on Sunday, reported.

However, staff then lost track of the drugs and suitcase during the exercise, a spokeswoman for Tokyo customs said.

Customs regulations specify that a training suitcase be used for such exercises, but the official had used passengers’ suitcases for similar purposes in the past, domestic media reported.

Tokyo customs has asked anyone who finds the package to return it. 


You dumb shits!  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

67 comments on “CNN: Narita Customs spike HK passenger’s bag with cannabis

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  • Cannabis do not lie on their shelves like sugar for coffee to be easily accessed and used for low ranking officers even for test without authorization and permission from their superiors. Unless he had his own supply that was acquired in an illegal way i.e. confiscated cannabis were not destroyed.
    Legally acquired cannabis for test and training purposes are kept safe, cannot be accessed by individuals without authorization as they are accountable for that.

    It is like ammunition for police officers for their handguns.

    It must be drawn in documented way by the officer signing a document, giving explanation about his purpose with it and must account for that in the end when the action is over. It must come in a well distinguishable standard security box or bag that bears the name of Narita airport etc. etc. He must have muster key or other tools to open the suitcase that takes time, draw attention thus he needs to give them security and luggage section staff explanation what he is doing there especially if it is not permitted and is happening for the first time.

    In addition, there are many more little things I really don’t think I need to detail them all.
    This cannot be an irresponsible individual action of an overzealous officer as it jeopardizes his superiors, all Narita airport and stuff, their international reputation and his own team which doesn’t go on like that in the strictly team-working Japanese environment. Never!

    The formal apology, the smooth and quick teaming up with all the security stuff and later with the police in order to get the stuff back and their walking away from further investigation and further publicizing of the case couldn’t have been done without if it was a simple individual blunder.

    There are more but this blog was not created for my private investigation it is enough to say I do not believe it was a clumsy individual action of a custom officer.
    But clumsiness is considered cute and a forgivable quibble in Japan therefore the case is widely publicized as if it was that. Too bad it doesn’t work out for me.

  • I would suggest to anyone who feels this is some kind of conspiracy against foreigners to send a letter of complaint to the Narita officials to express your disapproval of how they handled the situation.
    We can all argue over intent until the end of time, but either way, without proof it’s a pointless debate. Trying to make generalizations about the behavior of Narita staff based on so-called ‘Japanese’ thinking is pretty ridiculous. This is like saying Americans are all fat and eat McDonalds every day and that all Irish people are alcoholics and spend all day drinking in pubs.
    There is no conspiracy. A mistake was made – a grievous one, at that – and just like any organization, the more people that complain, the more pressure they will feel to apologize and fix things.

    –Well put. I agree. Somebody track down their fax or email?

  • I thoroughly agree with Icarus.
    The number for Tokyo Customs is 0476342128. The Narita sub-branch is 0476326020. You can also email the Customs Counselors Office of Tokyo Customs at, and they have a variety of other contact numbers on their English website here.

    Mark, is this the quote you are referring to?


    It’s ambiguous, but the customs employee seems to be referring to his own actions in the past not those sanctioned by the customs service. Maybe this smacks of lack of training or supervision, both of which are the fault of the service, but nothing here suggests a campaign to target foreigners or even widespread use of this tactic.


    “Legally acquired cannabis for test and training purposes are kept safe, cannot be accessed by individuals without authorization as they are accountable for that.”

    Unless, of course, the individual in question trains drug-sniffing dogs at an airport. This guy did have legal access to marijuana and he abused the conditions under which he was allowed to use it. He was caught out and is being held responsible.

    Debito, please don’t ban LB, although he is somewhat prickly, he has brought some valuable points and material to this discussion.

  • —-generalizations about the behavior of Narita staff based on so-called ‘Japanese’ thinking is pretty ridiculous.—–

    Sorry, but with due respect I don’t think so.
    For two decades, I have been living here all I can hear from Japanese, are “we Japanese do that, we Japanese have that or we Japanese don’t have that, we Japanese think the same way, we Japanese act in team spirit, do what we do and the way we do – yarikata – and no one hurts you even if you mess up things but if you act individually we don’t forgive you that even if you do the right thing”. My business partners from abroad say more and more frequently and more often to me “if you know one Japanese you know all of them”. The nightmare of a Japanese is to be different than the others or to be ostracized from the group where he belongs. Their life is to belong to a group to do the same thing together in consensus.That gives them a helluva lots of feeling of security. I remember many years back the big poster at Ueno a smiling businessman in sebiro said “read the Japanese mind”. It is not me who says “Japanese” it’s them.

    ———A mistake was made – a grievous one, at that ———

    No, it wasn’t a mistake, it was professional negligence and a criminal offense. The officer acknowledged he knew he did something that was prohibited by the law and the regulation and still did it. Mistake? Really? Try to do the same thing at Narita and tell them “A mistake was made” when you end up in police custody.

    Interestingly enough I still don’t see serious conspiracy against foreigners and I am closer to what Debito said

    “………………… I would suggest that the customs agent
    picked a suitcase with a foreign name on it, so that there was less
    chance of the victim being a well-connected Japanese society type, or
    someone making a stink in the newspapers, etc.”

    But, I can’t help worrying that it might as well be a rehearsal – and that might explain why the box was not labeled – to train not only the dogs but the custom officers’ interrogating abilities with foreigners.

    ————Unless, of course, the individual in question trains drug-sniffing dogs at an airport.———

    I don’t think he trains dogs. He was testing. The dog seemed to skip the suitcase probably because he made a huge mistake planting the cannabis in it. Qualified dog trainer wouldn’t make that mistake. (leastways I hope so). I train dogs from my childhood, mostly sniffing dogs, pointers and retrievers. My friends called me and asked why the dog failed to sniff out the drug and I said it happens sometimes that the dog sniffs out the hidden sample but fails to signal to his master or retrieve. It can happen if the officer/trainer makes a classic mistake, although dogs will still perform well retrieving the official test suitcases. How many real smugglers’ suitcases these dogs could have skipped? I think it was the question going on in their minds and that is why they did what they did. They just didn’t realize where they messed up. And my question is how many times in the past they did this?

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Big B, yes, it was the fukusuukai part that stood out. That implies a number more than, say, two, and also implies that he couldn’t be bothered to remember the exact number. If they were indeed owning up to their malfeasance, they should be giving details about how often they’ve done it, how things went well in those cases, and what differed about those successful cases. KA’s supsicion, which I had not thought of, is even more frightening.

    Back in the 1960s, there was an incident where police pulled over numerous cars and interrogated their drivers as practice for some upcoming event. (I wish I could remember the details; it’s in Reischauer’s book on Japanese society.) Today people like Debito and myself also get frequent interrogations while riding bicycles, not because the police think we’ve stolen them, but as free training for young officers. This cannabis case is infinitely more grave than either of those! What is stopping these officials from simply hiring people to assist in training exercises? Aren’t they afraid that by forcing the general public to serve as unpaid guinea pigs, it will eventually blow up in their faces in the form of bad press and lawsuits?

  • ———KA’s supsicion, which I had not thought of, is even more frightening.———

    Yes Mark, and I am afraid my worry is realistic. I read an interesting commentary in JT that explains a lot-.
    “Wave of retirements impairs police investigative ability.”

    But, crimes continue to happen, hash is brought in, sold and traded here, someone has to go to the jail. They have to show some nice results. This unfortunately happens all over the world.
    I just came back from Europe where I saw a documentary on TV about countries where planting hash in travelers’ suitcases by airport customs officers or police agents is common practice,although they mostly plant it in the luggage of known drug dealers or undesirable individuals whom otherwise would be impossible to catch. Until they change their mind.
    Japan is still much better than many of those countries although far from safe.

    The prime danger I see in Japan is their hypocrisy and highly ritual social life, which misguides
    too many foreigners – mostly newcomers to Japan – and they tend to relax and sweep aside their routine caution believing that they are at a safe place.
    No, No, just remember to seal your suitcase, use your own safe locks on your luggage and watch out and check it carefully before going to the customs just as if you were in some knowingly less safer countries!!

    I am not coming here to say Japan is evil but to try to highlight the specific Japanese aspects of things – things that may happen all over the world – to help unsuspecting people to prepare to deal with. At this time in my previous posts, I tried to make one point and I think I have raised a very valid point. Knowing how Japanese would team up in their highly secretive society is, special to Japan and is vital to know, as much as it is vital to know that e.g. you cannot even contact a lawyer while in police custody.
    I am surprised that basic information such as was mentioned above the lawyer or this present issue is not printed on travel agencies’ information sites. Should be.

    BTW. In the meantime, I have found it. I was lazy to look for it at first as I got this news through BBC and I knew what I was saying is right. An archive Mainichi file.

    “NARITA — Customs officials have lost 124 grams of hashish they planted in an unknowing traveler’s luggage to train drug sniffing dogs, the head of Narita Customs said Monday. Customs officials are banned from using travelers’ luggage for training practices, but one worker said it was common practice.”

    So, it was going on for long, staff was involved and not just a single fumbling good-will gambatteiru officer as the said, they teamed up, consensus was reached, silence was maintained, the whole thing only came to light as their were forced into a race to get back a lost 1 million yen street value hash. The Japan trademark deep bow apology and the lie that it was just a fumbling officer worked.

    I don’t know how long this archive file will it be available.

    As for the rest for another other post.
    I am not going to get involved in challenging conversation that only veers off topic.
    I like discussions until we stay on target and help readers to find out about the truth, even if no poster is capable to present the whole truth. Nevertheless, readers will be able to find out and learn where to look for more or better information.
    It is not an expert opinion just a post through the eyes of an individual which is the best in the whole thing. I don’t ask anybody to believe me, I only ask them to consider what I say.

    Other kinds of discussions are not very inviting for me, as in kind of smart (off-target) discussions it is only the most skillful and strenuous debater is who wins and not the truth.

    Wave of retirements impairs police investigative ability
    In the past month, several serious crimes involving women victims have been reported nationwide. At the beginning of April, Kanako Ishida, 19, was kidnapped, drugged and confined in a car in Ome, Tokyo. Just after this kidnapping case, a female officer worker, 23, disappeared from her apartment. During Golden Week, student Manami Shimizu, 15, was killed on a street in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, and Miho Kosuzgi, 15, was found murdered in the woods in Maizuru City, Kyoto. Apart from the Ishida case, no suspect has been arrested yet in spite of witnesses and evidence left at the scene of the crime.

    Why are police having trouble solving these cases?

    “There has been a wave of retirement of skilled and experienced police officers from the baby boom generation, which is causing serious problems,” said Itsuo Tobimatsu, a former Hyogo prefectural police detective. “While the number of security cameras is increasing and investigative technology is being improved, the investigative skills and motivation of individual officers are declining. Manami Kosugi’s murder in Toyota City might have been prevented, in my opinion, because there had been reports of suspicious persons lurking in the area. At the very least, police patrols should have been stepped up, which is a basic security measure.”

    Journalist Akio Kuroki, a former Tokyo metropolitan police officer, says the morale of the police force is quite low in Toyota City. “When I visited the crime scene, I found abandoned shoes, covers and batteries which police had used. This is unbelievable. In the past, if such a crime scene investigation had been sloppily handled, the chief of the forensic science team would have been fired.”

    “Police officers cannot catch up with the high-tech investigative methods so quickly,” said another ex-cop. “When I talked with young police officers about a case concerning an anonymous online bulletin board, I found they didn’t even know how to contact the service provider so they could trace illegal posters, which would have made the investigation much easier. Even now, police are just starting to learn how to analyze mobile phones, but the gadgetry is getting more sophisticated all the time.” (Translated by Taro Fujimoto)


    Customs lose hash stash planted in traveler’s luggage to train sniffer dogs

    NARITA — Customs officials have lost 124 grams of hashish they planted in an unknowing traveler’s luggage to train drug sniffing dogs, the head of Narita Customs said Monday.

    Customs officials are banned from using travelers’ luggage for training practices, but one worker said it was common practice.

    “We want to improve the sniffer dogs’ ability, so we have practiced this way several times in the past,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

    Manpei Tanaka, head of Customs’ Narita branch, apologized for the incident.

    “It’s extremely regrettable that we have invited this sort of situation on ourselves. We will investigate the facts behind the case, provide thorough training and deal strictly with those involved,” Tanaka said.

    Customs said the hash was stored in a metal container stuffed into the pocket of a soft, black suitcase belonging to one of 283 passengers traveling on Cathay Pacific Flight 520 from Hong Kong to Narita, which arrived at 3:31 p.m. on Sunday. The owner of the suitcase is unknown and passengers were not informed that their luggage would be used to train the drug-seeking dogs.

    Customs officials said four customs officials had two sniffer dogs working a luggage conveyor at Narita, but neither was able to find the drugs. Police are asking passengers on the flight about the missing drugs.

    Customs regulations require customs officials to prepare luggage for training exercises like the one carried out on Sunday and specifically ban travelers’ baggage from being used.

    Click here for the original Japanese story

    (Mainichi Japan) May 26, 2008

  • “try to highlight the specific Japanese aspects of things – things that may happen all over the world”


    “Knowing how Japanese would team up in their highly secretive society is, special to Japan”

    Oh bull. The ‘Japanese’ do no such thing. You make it sound as if the whole country is a freemasonic lodge. Not having access to lawyers during police questioning is an unfortunate but well-known aspect of Japanese society. While we should rail against it, I don’t think your paranoid comments on a blog (that deals with the issue often) really highlights the problem any more than it already has been. And your comments about the dope incident are just off the wall and cross well into redneck country.

    Just a guess, but I’d say that the best way to combat discrimination in Japan is not to become a racist yourself.

  • ““We want to improve the sniffer dogs’ ability, so we have practiced this way several times in the past,” the official said on condition of anonymity.”

    OK, so you’ve found the English translation of the article posted way up above by LB in Japanese and requoted by me anyway. Well done. The fact that you had to go looking for it in English though it was right here suggests to me that you don’t read Japanese, which suggests to me that you don’t have much idea of Japanese discourse on the various topics that you want to discuss here. So I’m afraid I’ll have to harbor some doubt when you tell me you ‘know Japan’.

    In any case, the fact that this had happened before, although reprehensible, seems to suggest that this is not a plot to entrap the evil foreigner, right?

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Big B, I want to say that the Reishcauer anecdote is in either The Japanese Today or possibly Japan: The Story of a Nation. My copy is from the 1970s and has a red cover with “Japan/Japanese” in white, if that helps. I’m embarrassed to even have related the anecdote without being able to document it, but I’d been hoping that someone else here might remember reading it.

    As for my other supposition, this I can document — Debito’s experiences with police officers who clearly don’t suspect him of actual wrongdoing are detailed in his article for the Japan Times here:

    I can also give you my own evidence that they use bicycle checks as free training for new policemen. (This is going to be off-topic, so feel free to skim it if you’re only interested in the cannabis case.)

    Of the 116 stoppages I’ve experiences, #67, which occurred in late March 2004, was an eye-opener. This was in Ochanomizu, just a block north of where Debito ran the police “gauntlet”.

    I saw two familiar-looking policemen in front of their koban and one walked over to the roadside to pull me over. A very young and very nervous recruit demanded in pidgin Japanese to check the bouhan touroku and of course I had to allow it. After the answer came back from the registration record office, I asked the young officer if any bicycle resembling mine had been stolen in the area, and he said that there hadn’t. Figuring it was doubtful that this new guy would attempt to arrest me without any order from his superior, I pressed a little further and asked why he was questioning me if such was the case — I don’t appreciate being treated like a criminal for no reason! He assured me that he didn’t actually think I was a thief; he was just obeying his boss and that this was “kunren” (training).

    This station had checked my bicycle over 40 times previously, and it seemed to me that the older officer remembered that I wasn’t a thief and saw an opportunity for some on-the-job training for his protege without the risk of having to deal with an actual criminal.

    I’d be happy to serve as a paid actor who rides past police stations and cooperates (or not, as directed) with the trainees. And I’m sure that the poor traveller in the article, the injustice to whom is infinitely greater than what I experienced, would say the same.

    Please don’t accuse me of generalizing about the ‘Japanese’ — this is about police/government/authority figures, not anything racial. We have three data points that support the idea of officials making use of innocent people for training of their own units, with small and large risks forced upon the innocent party. This is something worth fighting against whether we’re in Japan or in any other country.

  • Holy crap! 116 times? That’s astounding! Do you dress up as the Hamburgler or Osama bin Laden when you go out? So totally at odds with my experience. I do remember now that I have been stopped by a policeman while out on my bike, but it was because I was riding at night and had forgotten to turn my light on – a fair cop. He was pleasant about it and didn’t give me any grief once I had turned my light on. Apart from that I’ve only had pleasant or indifferent encounters with the police. Maybe its a regional thing. Perhaps the cops east of the barrier are all nuts. If it is the same older cop, have you tried laying a formal complaint of harassment? They may even have records showing that your bike was stopped that many times.

    “We have three data points that support the idea of officials making use of innocent people for training of their own units, with small and large risks forced upon the innocent party.”

    True, but I’m still not convinced the customs official with the dope was targeting foreigners (or that “foreign bike stoppage” is systemic), which is what is being argued here.

    –I don’t think there’s any way you’ll be convinced, then, because it seems you have to experience everything yourself before you believe it…

  • “I don’t think there’s any way you’ll be convinced, then, because it seems you have to experience everything yourself before you believe it…”

    No, I fully believe that Mark has been stopped 116 times. And from his email it seems to be the same cop doing it in a lot of instances. What I don’t believe is that it is rampant in my area, otherwise I would know about it and my NJ friends, none of whom has a similar story, would too. Mark is probably being harassed, almost certainly because he is ‘foreign’. He should be mad about it and he should complain about it.* But is this a system wide characteristic of the Japanese police force? Doesn’t look like it to me.

    Similarly the fact that the customs officials at Narita have been playing fast and loose with the rules is pretty abhorrent, but it doesn’t seem to me that they were specifically targeting foreigners (they followed up the case with all passengers the flight, remember). That doesn’t mean we should excuse these actions, but I don’t think we should cry ‘discrimination’ every time a Japanese individual (or even an agency) cocks up, even if it is major.

    The official organ for complaints against the police is the human rights bureau, MOJ:

    –We know. Now check out what happened when I tried to level a complaint against the police at this very same organ–in Sapporo.
    Japan Times article on Japanese police abuse of authority: “WATCHING THE DETECTIVES: Japan’s human rights bureau falls woefully short of meeting its own job specifications” (July 8, 2003)

  • Hi Debito,

    I went to the site you posted above and found this translation of the Police Execution of Duties Law there:

    ‘A police officer is able to ask for a person’s ID, but only if based on a reasonable (gouriteki) judgment of a situation where the policeman sees some strange conduct and some crime is being committed, or else he has enough reason to suspect (utagau ni tariru soutou na riyuu) that a person will commit or has committed a crime, or else it has been acknowledged that a particular person knows a crime will be committed. In these cases a police officer may stop a person for

    Here’s the Japanese:

    I’m confused. It says nothing about ID and certainly does not say that the police are prohibited from asking you for it. It says that the police can stop you and question you (停止させて質問する) if they think you match the criteria above. Under a positivist interpretation of this clause they are therefore well within their rights to ask you for ID even if you are a citizen (a request does not constitute ‘questioning’ in any jurisdiction I’m familiar with), and unless other laws, such as those pertaining to the gaikokujin touroku shoumeisho, come into affect, you are well within your rights to refuse their request. I have just asked a lawyer at my work about this and he backs my interpretation. Police asking you for ID (or for anything, for that matter) three times since 1998 may be dodgy, but it is not technically illegal, at least under the law you have cited.

    And by the way, in most countries there are laws that allow for ID checks at airports. If I have time in the near future I’ll have a look to see if there is one in Japan.

    Mark’s case is patently different. If it is the same officer who knowingly pulled him over many times although he knew from past experience that Mark’s bike was his own, then we have an abuse of privilege. And that really is something to go to the Ministry of Justice about.

    Anyway, back to work…

    –I have explained all the caveats and extenuating circumstances at the site. And no, whatever “positivist” (read “ideologically contortionist”) avenues you wish to construe, the police can ask citizens basic questions, but not for ID without probable cause of crime. Walking while white in a non-security zone (even if in an airport) does not qualify. So agrees my lawyers (and my lawyers can beat up your lawyers any day 🙂 )

  • In the sense that I am applying it here, legal positivism simply means that people are allowed to do whatever is not prohibited by law – a philosophy with which I thought you might concur. Despite the rather odd translation above, requests for I.D. are not prohibited by the law as written. And 「身分証明書をみせてください。」is neither grammatically or legally a “question” (質問) as stated in the law. Have there been any rulings on this? I’m sure the MOJ’s judge will beat your lawyers 🙂

    Anyway, this will be my last word on this for a while, as the afternoon is moving on and I have a stack of papers on my desk.

    –Quite true–I think MOJ’s lawyers are the equivalent of “superdelegates”…

  • Debito, thank you for standing up to the troll LB. As you see from LB’s response to me, he is clearly not here to have an intelligent and polite debate.

    He stated I need to get my facts straight before “going off on Japan”.

    I will admit that I may have not had all the facts but I was not “going off on Japan”.

  • Still Narita.

    “Narita airport security employee arrested for threatening emails”

    What’s going on there? What exactly caused his distress? Could be grave if he thought it can only be cleared by exploding the whole airport. One can only hope it wasn’t caused by cannabis he just found in his bag on the way home.

    Is everything all right at Narita?

    Seems there could be a little problem with Narita authorities’ moral and mental health.

    Seriously, It is high time to start fingerprinting Narita staffs too, not only NJ passengers, anyway.
    Narita airport security employee arrested for threatening emails

    Thursday 05th June, 06:27 AM JST

    NARITA —

    Police arrested an employee of an airport security company Wednesday on suspicion of threatening to produce poison gas or explode a bomb at Narita airport. Tsutomu Nozawa, 25, who works for the Airport Security Business Center, has admitted that he sent threatening emails to the Narita airport website in April and May to “clear his distress,” according to police.

    Nozawa was engaged in luggage checks at Narita airport as an employee of the center, which undertakes security checks for airlines on departing and transit passengers, they said. Nozawa is being held on a charge of obstructing the airport’s business for allegedly sending an email on April 19 threatening to produce poison gas and another on May 2 in which he threatened to destroy the airport by an explosion, they said.

  • A man in Japan says:

    My wife works at Narita airport, she does security check at the metal detectors for people leaving Japan and she said that she knew that guy who got arrested and everyone who is on her team was shocked to find this out. She said that he had a strange atmosphere about him, looked nervous all the time and no one talked to him.

    My wife’s workmates say that he had no intention of doing ANY of the stuff he said he was going to do and just did it for attention. The man lives in government housing called UR or something which is where we live so he was living a few buildings away. Also, there is an internet cafe not too far away from our housing and it’s probably there where he sent the threats from.


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