Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Col 17 July 7 2009 on Roppongi Urine Samples: “Cops crack down with ‘I pee’ checks”


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The Japan Times: Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Cops crack down with ‘I pee’ checks

Column 49 for the Zeit Gist Community Page/Column 17 for the JBC column
Version with links to sources

My blog has been getting periodic pings about rumblings in Roppongi: Tokyo cops cleaning out pesky foreign touts before Olympic inspectors see them; the U.S. Embassy warning Americans to stay away from the area after reports of drugged drinks and thefts.

The latter was particularly embarrassing (coming from the Americans, of all people) given Japan’s reputation for having the world’s safest streets. So police have begun reasserting their control, cracking down on — you guessed it — foreigners. And where might you find them? You guessed that too.

I heard about police raids in Roppongi in May and June. But now they are going beyond ID checks for visa overstayers. Regular customers have been apprehended for drinking while foreign, bundled into police vans and shuttled off to HQ for urine tests for drugs. According to their associates, those testing positive for controlled substances have been deported.

What triggered this drugs dragnet? A few months ago, several sumo wrestlers (Japanese and otherwise) were discovered possessing and puffing marijuana. Then it turned up in universities and rugby teams, and suddenly reefer madness was toking its toll on Japan’s youth. Some reeferers referred the cops to foreign dealers in — where else? — Roppongi.

This justified a budget for new trooper toys. An alert Debito.org reader sent in an article reporting that the National Police Agency bought 78 spectrometers in May from Thermo Fischer Scientific Inc. designed for quick drug analysis.

Back to the Roppongi smoke-out: Witnesses told Debito.org they saw foreigners being rounded up at bar exits for a piss take. However, few people who looked Japanese were detained, they said.

Of course, if cops are looking for the dealers (as opposed to users) who corrupted our youth, I’m not sure how a tinkle test would uncover them. But never mind — the police have to do something, or at least be seen to be doing something.

But watch the policy creep beyond suspected dope dens. Another blog reader, motorbiking at sunrise to a Roppongi dojo in April, said that patrolling cops ignored him parking until he took off his helmet. Then they made a beeline and demanded to search his luggage compartment. “I hear that marijuana is pretty popular in Canada,” one cop commented after finding out he was Canadian, implying that he was possibly carrying the demon weed. Finally, they had him reach for the sky while they searched his pockets.

Yet another reader reported that he was approached last March in Roppongi Hills by a young trainee cop who demanded his bag for inspection. Explicitly accusing him of carrying drugs and knives, moreover talking down to him like he was “a child or a mental incompetent,” the cub cop kept snarling until his handler intervened. Seeing their prey was a Hanshin Tigers fan ,they let him go. Phew. Go Tigers!

But the metastasis of the surveillance society is only just beginning. Reports from Tokyo’s Shibuya, Yoyogi and Akihabara indicate that even Japanese are being targeted for these surly satchel searches. Meanwhile, The Japan Times reported on June 26 that spy cameras — staffed by neighborhood associations, not trained professionals — are being installed in 15 other residential areas nationwide. So don’t expect this to be a temporary anticrime campaign.

Again, as I’ve argued before (Zeit Gist, July 8, 2008), this is a case of “gaijin as guinea pig.” Laws bent to target foreigners will ultimately be stretched to target everyone else.

And here’s what’s bent: By law, cops need a warrant to do a bag inspection, not to mention take a urine sample.

Last Wednesday, I telephoned Azabu Police Station to find out how this circle was being squared. I was connected to a Mr. Teshima, who was in no mood for questions. After identifying myself by name and affiliation (that of human rights group FRANCA), he repeatedly refused to give me straight answers.

I did get Mr. Teshima to confirm that the police were subjecting foreigners to urine tests. But, he averred, not only foreigners. When I asked him to explain the criteria for deciding whom to stop and detain, he refused to elaborate.

When I asked if a warrant for a pee check was necessary, he said it depended on the situation. What kind of situation? Not gonna say, but if the individual agrees to submit to this wee procedure, “we no longer need a warrant.” What happens if they don’t submit? Not gonna say.

When I asked if noncooperation could lead to arrest, he said he was now too busy to answer any more questions. When I asked him what his position was in the police department, he enforced his right to remain silent and hung up on me.

In a separate inquiry, The Japan Times wrung these clarifications out of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Public Relations Center: 1. Police raids on businesses only happen after a reliable tip; 2. Urine testing is not a new procedure, and has always been done whenever necessary; 3. Only those who look wasted on drugs will be asked for a urine sample; 4. Urine samples are only ever taken after persuasion, never under threat.

Sure. But something still stinks. Much ink has been expended exploring how the Japanese police lack accountability. They can detain you for “voluntary questioning” with or without probable cause for days at a time, convert that into an arrest for up 23 days, carry out unrecorded grillings that famously crack detainees into making false confessions, interpret the constitutionally guaranteed right to remain silent as a sign of guilt, and otherwise just make your life miserable in detention if you don’t “cooperate.”

The police, however, as Mr. Teshima demonstrated, often see themselves as under no compulsion to cooperate — even when you need information to make your rights and their legal obligations clear.

If this were a contractual relationship, and an agent took advantage of your ignorance to lock you into a punitive agreement, it would be considered fraud. But police hold themselves to a different standard. Never mind informed consent — your ignorance becomes leverage for them to detain, arrest and imprison you.

Thus, without checks and balances, things stretch to their logical extremes. Random street stoppages have crept beyond simple ID checks into “I pee” checks. These are clearly more invasive, more intrusive, and more easily mixed up (urine samples require scientific precision — they can be spilled or misplaced; it’s not as if they have photo ID). They are in any case beyond the current bounds of the law regarding search and seizure without a warrant.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that drugs are a bad thing and that people must obey narcotics laws. But there are also issues of law enforcement here that must be obeyed.

These checks take on added importance since it seems these “random” pee searches, done without accountability or appeal to counteract “false positives” (such as from poppy seeds, nasal sprays, medicines for colds, migraines and allergies, and even tonic water), may in fact not be all that random after all. One mistake and your life in Japan as you know it is over.

So let me enlighten. This is the law:

Police cannot search your person, property or possessions without a warrant. Ask for one: “Reijou ga arimasu ka?”

If they threaten to take you to a police box for questioning, refuse and don’t move. Police cannot force you to go anywhere without a formal arrest (taiho).

But be careful. Do not raise your voice. And never ever touch the cop, or they could arrest you for “obstruction of duty.” This is why sometimes you see street standoffs between cops and questionees during which nobody moves or talks until somebody gets tired and goes home.

Know your rights by checking out www.debito.org/whattodoif.html, or read more in our “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants.” But don’t assume the police will give the public the same cooperation they demand from the public. Accountability gets in the way of their modus operandi. Laws protecting people against invasive procedures interfere with keeping the streets safe from foreigners.

Anyway, shouldn’t Roppongi also be protesting this? Inconveniencing customers to this extent without probable cause is bad for business.

It’s also bad for society in general. What happens to a small minority sets precedents for the rest of the population. Ignore this at your peril.

Debito Arudou is the author of “Japanese Only.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments to community@japantimes.co.jp
The Japan Times: Tuesday, July 7, 2009

12 comments on “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Col 17 July 7 2009 on Roppongi Urine Samples: “Cops crack down with ‘I pee’ checks”

  • A friend writes with advice:

    Of all the stuff you have sent out in recent years, this is the first to really raise my eyebrows. Solution–contact the Nichibenren Jinken Yougou Iinkai in Tokyo and apply for assistance. They will investigate and most probably issue the police a warning. This is not perfunctory stuff, if they issue a warning, the word is publicized and gets around.

  • Debito,

    Good writeup. Thanks.

    “Regular customers have been apprehended for drinking while foreign […]”

    I’ve seen it a few other times (here?), but the phrasing “for X while foreign” is quite creative and amusing. Of course it is nothing to laugh about, though.

    > Nichibenren Jinken Yougou Iinkai

    Minor correction, but that should be Nichibenren Jinken *Yougo* Iinkai (日弁連人権擁護委員会). (Yougou has another meaning.)

  • I agree. I have been reading this blog for years and have lived in Japan for more than 10. This is by far the scariest and most worrying issue I have heard of and read on this web site. I am amazed there was not more of an uproar over this issue on this blog and others and interest in this issue seems to be waning so quickly. It would be nice if more of the blogs/websites catering towards foreigners in Japan could try to use their sites to very publically try to gather factual data about this issue. I would think that even blogs or websites with philosophical differences with this site would at least see this as a major issue. Most of us do not use drugs and I do not go to Roppongi, however this issue is still important to all of us. For those of you that say “I do not use drugs so I have nothing to hide” please consider the following. As an engineer I am trying to take the emotion out of the issue and look at it this way.

    First, it appears that these samples are not taken in a laboratory and controlled setting. Additionally I seriously doubt there is any legal chain of custody associated with the samples (although I could be wrong). This is a huge cause for concern as the entire process may be in question. I imagine you would be long convicted and deported before this issue would come into play.

    Second, drug testing is not 100 percent accurate. This has been proven several times before. So any time you are sampled there is a chance your sample will test positive for drug use (even scarier considering the item above). For a good statistical analysis of false positives see (http://www.intuitor.com/statistics/BadTestResults.html). Skim the article and look at Figure 4. If we assume 2.5% of NJ in Japan use drugs (just a guess) the odds of a false positive are around 5%. Very scary odds if you consider the consequences. Furthermore it has been proven that random sampling of subjects where there is no true probable cause, results in even a higher potential for a false positive.

    Third, the Japanese police mistreatment of suspects, and the lack of due process in Japan for both Japanese and non Japanese alike is well documented. Consider the case of Toshikazu Sukaya, just released after more than 17 years in prison after being cleared of murder. Read his whole story, which outlines the terrible miscarriage of justice in his case.

    Fourth, the Japanese police attitude towards foreigners in Japan has also been well documented here and in other locations. Examples include the posters to report suspicious foreigners and the NPA likely connection to Gaijin Ura Hanzai file magazine.

    Fifth, the Japanese public has been reminded year after year by the NPA and the Japanese government that foreigners are criminals and carry dangerous diseases. Remember the Japanese government’s rationale for fingerprinting foreigners: prevention of terrorism, foreign crime and.

    Finally, if you happen to live in Tokyo, your Governor Shintaro Ishihara stated in the year 2000 that sangokujin and foreigners have created atrocious crimes and in the event of an earthquake they should be rounded up.

    So for those of you that say this is not a big deal because you do not do drugs….I beg to differ. This is not a bag search, not a breathalyzer to prevent drunk driving…this is serious shit. With Japan’s no tolerance for drugs, the increases sharing of criminal records between governments (and who knows else) this is a game changer for your life. All foreigners in Japan (even the less critical of Japan) should be worried about this.

    More factual cases would be helpful, but with the few incidents that have been reported and Debito’s conversation with Mr. Teshima at the Azabu Police Station perhaps FRANCA should consider Debito’s friend’s advice and make contact with the Nichibenren Jinken Yougo Iinkai.

    Consider the above. If you are sampled and your result comes back with a false positive, you are screwed.

  • In related news… and the keystone quote of the day…


    Jul 10, 7:18 AM EDT

    US warns of drink-spiking in Tokyo
    Associated Press Writer

    TOKYO (AP) — The U.S. Embassy on Friday advised Americans to avoid drinking in a Tokyo nightlife district, warning that some customers have fallen unconscious and been robbed after their drinks were spiked.

    It was the second such alert in four months about bars in the Roppongi district.

    “The U.S. Embassy continues to receive reliable reports of U.S. citizens being drugged in Roppongi-area bars,” the embassy said in statement.

    Tokyo is among the safest big cities in the world, but the embassy has reported a rise in incidents of American customers being rendered unconscious or extremely sleepy. Victims awake hours later to find credit cards missing or fraudulently charged for big amounts.

    “These cases are very hard to investigate,” said Masahito Fujita, vice head of the Azabu police station overseeing Roppongi. “It’s difficult to know whether people were just drinking too much or if they were actually drugged.”

    Canada, Australia and Britain have also warned their citizens to beware.

    Canada says in a travel report on Japan that drinks should “never be left unattended.”

    Roppongi became a nightspot for foreigners shortly after World War II when the U.S. military was posted nearby. It remains popular with tourists and Western expatriates drawn to its hundreds of bars, lounges and dance floors.

    © 2009 The Associated Press.

  • I’m one of the people whose story is told in this article.. I had a bit more information that I mailed Debito about after it was printed… information that is second-hand, so not really suitable for printing, but that may make some interesting reading for people on the blog:

    An acquaintance of mine, a family man in his mid 40s, has been pulled over (in his car) and searched 3 times now; three times because he was driving down Yasukuni-dori (near Kabukicho) and the 3rd time driving down Roppongi-dori. Each time he’s been flagged down, told that there are lots of foreign drug dealers, and asked to vacate his car while the cops have taken about 45 minutes searching it. Not sure why the cops thought that he’d be using his drug money to buy a 10-year-old, beat-up Kei Jidousha!

  • debito,

    surely they cant do car searches without a warrant,unless the person agrees to it?


    you have to tell your friend to stop being a victim and just accepting this racism.

  • @adamw: I have heard that same comment in response to my own story about the coppers searching my luggage compartment. Maybe it’s selfish, maybe it’s not “the right thing to do” in your eyes, but quite frankly, letting the cops search me was the least intrusive solution at that point. Anything else would have involved, at the very least, a trip to the koban. Same thing with my buddy; why would he argue with the cops (which would take even longer) when he just wants to get home to his wife and kids?

  • hi drew,

    they cant take you to the koban unless you agree or they arrest you which they have no reason to do..
    as your mates search took 45mins and its happened to him 3 times i would suggest that complying is not the quickest solution and just increases it in future

  • If you just roll over and accept the abuse of your rights it only means they’ll continue to do it. Even if you do waste more time refusing and waiting for them to just give up, you’ll be sending a clear message that people are not going to accept this kind of behavior.

    What pisses me off the most about this thing is I have met police on the job who were polite, efficient and we ended our time together with a warm handshake. On the other hand I have been on the receiving end of rude and questionable conduct by other police officers during my years in Japan. I appreciate that its a hard job, but if your job is to protect and uphold the law, start with your own actions before you start on other people.

  • Doesn’t it seem so coincidental that they started doing urine tests on Roppongi foriegners when almost a month ago and again just last week the U.S. Embassy issued a warning about drink spiking? This seems to go one of two ways.

    1. People are spiking forigners drinks for some reason thats not clear to investigators yet. The police get a warning from the U.S. Embassy to investigate. NPA issues urine testing to foreigners in Roppongi in hopes of tracking down where unsuspecting foreigners are getting their drinks spiked. (likely)

    2. The NPA is systematically spiking foreigners drinks. The NPA is then urine testing these foreigners and deporting them for being intoxicated with illegal substances. Which, makes Tokyo a safer city for the 2016 Olympics. (unlikely)

    Let’s all look at the reasonable facts and leave the speculative reporting for the tabloids.

    — Er, you’re the one speculating here. No one’s even brought up #2 above.

  • funny thing is that before WWII the marijuana plant (大麻) was a very common crop to grow for farmers in Japan; besides making rope, clothing etc. people would puff up as well, whether for recreational use, or in Buddhist rituals.

    When the US implemented its will on Japan after WWII, the use of one of the best crops to grow on earth, was deemed illegal and immoral.

    A lot of older Japanese don’t even know pot is from the flower of the taima (大麻)plant. They think it’s some drug just as bad for you as crack. When you explain to them how is was in the olden days, you’ll get a ‘naruhodo ne’

  • Apparently the emperor has a stash growing somewhere as his formal clothing is made from hemp. Which can’t be made from just any hemp of course.


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