Protest letter to Hokkaido Police for Racial Profiling, presented Weds June 25, 11AM, Hokkaido Police HQ


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan

Hello All. Just a quick note to advise:


In the wake of being treated like a suspected terrorist by Hokkaido Police just for exiting Chitose Airport Baggage Claim while Caucasian, I will be handing in a protest letter to Dou Keisatsu Honbu (Sapporo Kita 2 Nishi 7) tomorrow morning asking for the cessation of the Hokkaido Police’s clear policy of racial profiling, targeting people as potential terrorists just because they look foreign.

More background on what happened to me and others at Chitose Airport, Hokkaido, June 19, with photos, mp3 recording, and transcripts of the police questioning, are all blogged and linked at
as well as lots of comments by other people also annoyed at being treated the same way recently.

If you would like to drop by and express your opinion or experience to the Hokkaido police (at least one Japanese media outlet will be represented), please meet me at Hokkaido Police HQ at 10:45AM on June 25 in the lobby. Be prompt, as people will have to be cleared for entry if we are granted an audience in one of their conference rooms (I’ve done this before).

I will make my rough draft of the protest letter public on my blog in Japanese by tonight, after I find a native speaker to check it.

The Summit is nigh, and things are only going to get worse before the event finishes. Make your voice heard. Don’t let the police they can treat people like “terrorists” the same way they did gaijin “hooligans” during the 2002 World Cup.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

15 comments on “Protest letter to Hokkaido Police for Racial Profiling, presented Weds June 25, 11AM, Hokkaido Police HQ

  • If they stopped EVERYBODY, Japanese and non-Japanese, would you stil file a protest letter?

    I live both in the Philippines and Japan. In the Philippines, every time you enter a shopping mall, foreigner or Filipino, you are frisked, and your bags are checked. Same goes for hopping on a bus between cities. Every single time.

    Am I treated like a terrorist? Yes. Is everybody else? Yes.

    The Philippines is a third-world country, with a legitimate terrorist problem in the southern portion of the nation. Japan is a first-world country, with its own (albeit small) example of terrorism, home-grown.

    My point is: The legitimate grievances this site often raises, especially regarding issues surrounding divorce and child-custody, run the risk of being overshadowed by actions that strike me as a little bit over-the-top.

    The complaints recently seem to revolve around: I was asked to see some i.d. at an airport or train station because I looked like a foreigner. Period.

    Having worked in NGOS in Cambodia, and living part-time in the Philippines, I can only say that exposure to the true, massive government incompetence and corruption endemic to these countries leaves me more and more impressed with Japan. (Having lost my passport in Cambodia, I had to bribe the police themselves to get a police report.)

    If the biggest grievance one can raise is that the police sometimes ask you for i.d., well, to me, that doesn’t seem all that bad. I’ve lived in Japan a total of five years, never been asked for anything, been attacked by a homeless nut and had impeccable care by the police.

    Are there problems? Of course. But freaking out on a consistent basis because (polite) police officers are checking (presumed) foreigners for i.d. is not the sign of the apocalypse.

    I’m not saying this as an attack, because I think you’re fighting the good fight and standing up for what you believe in. But by focusing on relatively harmless matters (in my opinion)that are a pain in the ass but ultimately not-all-that-earth-shaking, your other good work can potentially be marginalized and discredited. It just seems to me that the somewhat over-dramatic tone of the posts and comments leads people to forget that there are many, many places nearby where true government indifference and incompetence affects people much more harshly than an occasional i.d. check.

    –Who’s “freaking out” and talking about “signs of the apocalypse”?

    If the police stopped everybody in Japan, I doubt I’d be the only one handing in a protest letter…

  • Debito-san, I’m surprised the cops don’t know you on sight yet. Given all the (justifiable) rabble-rousing you do, I’m also surprised they don’t have a dartboard with your picture on it up at the station.

    –Quite. Maybe it’s because racial profiling is blind to individuality? They’d be checking Umemiya Anna if she didn’t have an entourage…

  • Debito, Having done likewise for similar reasons, I support you 100%! It’s high time the police service in Japan understood that they work for us, not the other way around! Bravo! Keep up the good fight. You are most definitely not alone on this.


    Hi Debito,

    interesting sideline. On Sunday, I had to pick someone up @ Chitose Airport.
    No stops at the “kenmon” (saw two on the way in, two on the way out).
    Lots of uniformed police (all from Ibaragi-ken, musta been their shift).
    No one inside the baggage claim area.
    But then – no gaijin on that plane…
    Conclusion – they go by passenger lists & have plainclothes agents only at those gates that carry gaijin.

    Tell ’em that checking people who stick out is not the way.
    Terrorists, just like spies, are people who can blend in… 😉 This is what they are trained to do…
    And if there are terrorists, they will see who gets checked & have a good laugh…


    Hi Debito.

    Well done on the transcript.
    I left a comment also. On 15JUN i was waiting on passengers (foreign) that were on JL3047 that we were taking out to Niseko. I was clearly on business there as I was in company uniform. I was asked to show my gaijin card. I am a little angry because I was singled out and so were th other foreigners on the flight. Funny thing is, the cops didnt ask my passengers for their passports, probably because I explained about them prior to their arrival.

  • Happened to me in Hakodate on the ferry from Aomori. Three plain clothes police stopped me. I just decided to look confused. They attempted to question the Japanese person with us who was hungover and in a very bad mood but backed off quickly when they saw how grumpy she was. They handed her one of those flyers about watching out for terrorists.

    It was incredibly funny how embarrassed they get when a native Japanese is involved. Yukie was in such a bad mood I think she actually scared them. She’s no lawyer either.

    @Scott – you seem to have missed the point. First, no-one is claiming the apocalypse is unfolding. Second, they are only checking non-Japanese.

    If the police behaved this way in your home country there would be an outcry. And there has been one, for instance, in the United States when racial profiling has shown to be used.

    Furthermore, the only acts of terrorism in Japan have been committed by Japanese. The Japanese police have never reported foiling any terrorist plot being planned here by foreigners. So why target foreigners? Makes no sense and its bad policy.

    Not sure, about you if see bad policy, I’ll exercise my right to complain and hold those policy makers to account. Ignore the thin edge of the wedge at your peril.

  • hello debito i live in osaka, could you also supply me with a sample of your letter so i can turn it into the police station here in osaka, because the same thing is happening over here in kansai so in fact its not an isolated incident. we really need to nip this racial profileing in the bud before it really gets bad..

    It’ll be up on my blog by tonight. Debito

  • Thanks Debito for your good work.

    I really hate this kind of discrimination, and as many say here,
    especially because it is UTTERLY unuseful in the fight on terrorism.

    On this matter I have just one doubt (which doesn’t justify at all the racial profiling anyway !!).
    Could it be that police have been tipped or received informations (probably from foreign sources)
    that some “white” disturber will soon arrive in Japan to disrupt the fabulous “Wa” ?

    I hope that your protest will bear some fruits.

  • I feel compelled to add another testimonial:

    About three years ago, I traveled with my Japan based office to Australia. I was the only white guy with a bunch of Japanese people heading back to Japan from an otherwise nice trip to the beach.

    Through the airport, the Australian gendarme (another white guy) was most interested in, well, “me”, the outlier, this one guy getting on a plane with a bunch of Japanese people. We had already passed through the main immigration check. Did this Australian dude ask any of the other Japanese people for their passports? No. Did he ask to see mine (again)? Yes.

    Did I get mad because I was singled out on the basis of race, even though I was. No. I showed him my passport, explained the situation, and all was okay.

    In such a situation, was it wrong to have singled me out? Was it racial profiling? Do I have a case against the Australian airport authorities? I don’t think so. Their actions and behaviors seemed reasonable to me, on balance, given that it wasn’t something they encounter everyday, and everything was quickly resolved once a cooperative attitude and an explanation were offered.

    I’m just saying …

  • “If the police behaved this way in your home country there would be an outcry.”

    Really? Do you honestly believe that cops in the U.S./Canada/Australia/where ever, recent focus on the issue due to its links to terrorism notwithstanding, have always been colorblind and further, all instances of racial profiling in these countries cause an outcry? Sure, the Japanese police are in the wrong when they do this kind of thing, but let’s not pretend that racial profiling is just a “Japanese” phenomenon.

    “But then – no gaijin on that plane…
    Conclusion – they go by passenger lists & have plainclothes agents only at those gates that carry gaijin.”

    By “conclusion” you mean “speculation” right? Has it ever occurred to you that random checks might actually be, well, random? Or do you have any other proof that the cops are checking passenger lists? Actually, do you know if they are allowed to do so if they are not investigating a crime?

    Again, while it’s good that the cops are held to account (where ever they are), let’s not let speculation get out of hand.

  • Great work Debito on fighting the racial profiling. I have experienced this in Nagoya and found it very unpleasant.

    I haven’t experienced any trouble in Tokyo so far but have noticed the increased security presence in Tokyo Metro stations. Mostly it is security guards, not police, dressed in red vests and I am not sure how much authority they actually have. But this weekend, the brand new Shinjuku 3-chome station on the Fukutoshin line was crawling with uniformed police officers. Posters warning about summit security are up everywhere. They are obviously thinking of what happened in London a few years ago. Again I haven’t seen any shokumushitsumon taking place yet.

    As for terrorism in Japan, I would caution people saying it is exclusively Japanese. The 1985 bomb that killed 2 at Narita comes to mind immediately.

  • Michael Weidner says:

    Hello Debito.

    I was refered to your website by a college of mine here in Ebetsu who says he knows you (Robert).

    I also was treated badly and was stopped by police at the Chitose Airport when I was returning home from Tokyo for a weekend trip. On the entire plane, there were only 3 foreign people and ALL of us were stopped and questioned. I asked the officer why I was being stopped and said that it was because of the G8 summit. I also asked why he was only stopping foreigners and his responce was “how are we supposed to know if you are a terrorist or not?”. When I responded with, “Well, are you stopping Japanese citizens as well? So far, all the terrorism that has occured in Japan has been done by Japanese people”, he replied “Well, if they look suspicious we will.”

    I made sure to get his name and badge number as I remembered from your site here but it was told to me that they are stopping ALL foreigners and only suspicious-looking Japanese. Had they been doing random checks of everyone that was coming through I wouldn’t have had an issue with it, but the fact that they are diliberately targetting foreigners makes me upset. If you would like to know more about what happened, including the officer’s badge number and name, please feel free to email me.

    It’s about time something say something about this. Had you not been going through this, I would be making a formal official complaint myself to the police, as well as the human-rights board.

  • Paul, customs officials have more powers than the p0lice. They have the right to search you and they don’t even need a reason for it. They also have the “power” to copy whatever you have on your ipod, computer, PSP… which is something that the p0lice cannot do (they would need a mandate).

    Racial profiling (not only race, but also religion, sexual orientation…) is a problem everywhere, but generally speaking, if you file a complaint (in the U.S., Canada, Australia…) there is a committee that will investigate it. As fas as I know, this kind of system doesn’t exist in Japan.

    I agree with Scott, we should all shut up, after all it is much worse in other countries, we’re actually lucky… Well, is it legal to ask for I.D. just because we look foreign ? Nope, it’s not. Japan is a “civilized country”, so the p0lice should act like “civilized people”, not like 3rd world countries where they do whatever they want with the law. I pay tax here and I refuse to be treated like a criminal or like a second class citizen. We have rights.

  • “As for terrorism in Japan, I would caution people saying it is exclusively Japanese. The 1985 bomb that killed 2 at Narita comes to mind immediately.”


    You also have to take into consideration the changes in foreign diplomacy (i.e. Japan’s involvment in Afganistan and Iraq). Not until the 1980’s did the JSDF sent their troops overseas (hakken).

  • Thomas Read says:

    The truth is I would have never seen what the big deal was all about with just getting as to see your ID until it began happening to me on a daily basis in Hokkaido. Now I understand the seperation and anger it brings. I, like nobody else, enjoy’s to be look at with a supicious eye due to nothing more than my physical appearance. No it is not the end of the world when this happens, but, it would be very very foolish indeed for one to expect an individual to take this quietly.

    I have been here for 3 weeks and have been asked for ID no fewer that 8 times, once twice in one day. I also had the police called on me in Sapporo in an internet cafe 4 days ago as when they took my details from my Gaijoujin Torokusho card they did not check the back to see the updated date for when my visa runs out.

    I am sick of being treated like a suspect on the basis of my appearance to a crime that has not even happened yet.

    –It’s very frustrating how blithe and unsympathetic people seem to be when we complain about being singled out this way. “What’s the big deal?”, they say.

    Until it happens to them. Then they either suck it up, unable to admit they’re wrong or that they shouldn’t feel this way (after all, “we’re only guests” etc.). Or they capitulate and come round, which in the long run is much healthier.

    Thanks for sharing. Debito


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