Naturalized J citizen Jiei stopped by Osaka cops for Gaijin Card check. Shitsukoidom ensues


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Hi Blog. Here’s an important bellwether essay from Jiei, a fellow naturalized Japanese citizen who was singled out for a Gaijin Card Check by Osaka Cops last night. He tells the story of how he stood up for himself despite being explicitly suspected of being drunk or on drugs, and for sitting on a swingset while white when taking a break from jogging in a park. He cites the law back to the cops chapter and verse, but they undeterredly continue the questioning and racial profiling. I won’t give away the ending.

The point is, this is going to happen more and more often as more people naturalize, and more Japanese of international marriages come of age and get hassled for not looking “Japanese” enough to allay cops’ suspicion. This is not legally sanctioned, in any case. Which means people must learn about their rights and assert them, because there are no other checks and balances here.  Read on.

Thanks to Jiei for bringing this up to government-registered human rights group FRANCA.  Join us if you like.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Like Debito, I am a former American naturalized Japanese citizen. While I don’t look Japanese, I also had to jump over many hurdles for my naturalization application to be accepted by the government a year ago, and now I’m proud to call myself a Japanese and be recognized as a fully contributing member of this country.

Living here has had its ups and downs; I’ve been stopped at least 10 times by the police when I was a foreigner (once when I was leaving my apartment in the morning to go shopping because I “just looked suspicious”!), yet I never tried to exercise my full rights as Debito did, partly because of ignorance and partly because of fear.

However, tonight (09/7/25) I just had my first experience being stopped by the police as a Japanese citizen, and the situation was different. This time, I was going jogging around the park near my house in Osaka prefecture around midnight (something I always do since I work late and cannot go jogging during the daytime.) The park is a popular spot for teenagers to hang out at night, so I was not alone that night.

I took a short rest on the swings and then tried to leave the park from the main entrance to continue my run, when two “around 30” police officers on bicycles approached me from behind and suddenly stopped me with a loud “Konbanwa! Doko ikun’ desuka?” I removed my headphones and took a deep breath since I knew exactly where this was heading, and tried to prepare myself for the coming debate.

The two officers “greeted” me again and the proceeded to surround me on both sides as if to stop me from escaping easily. I was looking down at my cell phone the time, so the officer on the left asked if I was drunk or on drugs. Slightly amused, I closed my eyes and touched my nose with my index fingers to show that I wasn’t drunk. The one on the right looked at my face and simply said “Torokusho!” I asked him what he was talking about, and he repeated “Gaikokujin torokusho!” while making a rectangular symbol with his hands.

I stared at him for a moment and replied, “I am a Japanese citizen, I don’t have any alien registration card.” He looked genuinely shocked and asked me again twice if I was indeed Japanese. I simply responded,”I am Japanese.” When asked to show my driver’s license to prove it, I replied, “I refuse!”

The officer on the left then ordered me to empty my pockets and show my identification, so I said “Sure, I have my identification right here!” and pulled a copy of the “Keisatsukan Shokumu Shikkou Hou” that I always keep in my wallet, and showed the officer on the right the letter of the law concerning voluntary questioning by police officers.

Surprised, he asked, “What is this? Why did you pull something like this out?” I told them it’s the law concerning police activity and asked them if my actions (kyodou) seemed strange (fushin) to them and if they had probable cause (soutou na riyuu) to stop me.

When they both responded with a strong and clear “yes,” I asked if going for a jog is a crime in Japan. They both responded no, and then asked if I lived near the park. I deflected the question and said that it was quite rude of them to approach me and assume I was a foreigner and treat me like this.

The officer on the right laughingly apologized but then continued to ask if I was “haafu” or where I was born. I told them I refuse to answer any questions because police questioning is voluntary. They asked me “Why do you keep a copy of the law in your pocket? Are you trying to hide anything?” I spread my palms out to show I had nothing hidden, and replied that I was studying law and asked them if they were aware of the constitution or the code of criminal procedure.

The officer on the left said, “then you must know that voluntary questioning by police officers is a legally sanctioned activity (keisatsu katsudou.) I replied “That’s true, and it is also voluntary, so I have the legal right to refuse your questioning.” The officer on the right then repeated, “but we have the right to stop and ask you.” I repeated, “I have the right to not answer.”

This was repeated many times and after calmly debating with them for five minutes about what the meaning of “voluntary” (nin’i) is, and after repeated requests to show my license, the officer on the right asked if this was my first time getting stopped by the police, to which I said, “What do you think? With a face like this I’ve been stopped many many times in my life.”

The officer on the left finally changed his attitude and said, “Well then, at least tell us your name, job, family member’s names and where you live!” Naturally, I refused this also and said, “if you want to search me or see my license, you first need to arrest me or have a warrant. I am not on drugs, nor am I a criminal. I have been singled out for looking different many times now and I refuse to put up with it any longer. I know the law, so I honestly want to be arrested and take this to court; I’m sure I’ll win in the end even if I have to take this to the Supreme Court!”

After asking if they had their handcuffs ready and if they were going to arrest me, they both laughed and the officer on the left said, “Who’s talking about arresting you, we just want to see your identification! Don’t you have anything?” I then pulled out my wallet and waved it around. “My identification is in this wallet but I refuse to show it and if you want to see it, arrest me here and now.”

After more repetitive requests to identify myself and prove I am Japanese, they received a police report on their walkie-talkies, and finally sped off on their bicycles without saying anything or even looking back at me.

All in all, they were actually very calm about the whole thing; they seemed half amused to debate the meaning of the law with a “suspicious foreigner looking type” like me. To tell the truth, I was surprised at how easily they gave up without ask me to go to a police station with them, trying to search my pockets, or even actually see my driver’s license.

While it may sound that I was fearless, I was actually quite nervous and my legs and hands were trembling, so I forgot to ask to see their badges and note their information or try to walk away during the questioning.

Yet when I returned home and told my native Japanese friends about this, they were not so supportive of me. They all simply asked why I didn’t show my license first and not go through any hassle. I told them that this was a bigger issue about legal rights. I am definitely not the fighting type, and I basically keep to myself and try not to make any waves. However, I refuse to be treated as a second-class citizen in my own country, and if need be, I am absolutely willing to risk being arrested for standing up for what I believe in.

I’m sure that I will be stopped again in the future many times, along with all other non-Asian looking people in Japan, but I plan to stand up for my rights every time. While confronting the police and asserting your rights so clearly like this is not for everyone, I hope that my experience proves that calmly using the law to assert your rights does work in Japan, and can make a difference!



By the way, concerning the legality of photographing police officers’ badges…unfortunately Japan has no clear law concerning image rights (shozoken) and the leading supreme court decision in the Hayashi Masumi case found that while people generally have the right to not have their images taken and published without reason, image rights still have to be considered specially in each case based on the situation…leaving things still unclear.

However, considering that they were public servants on duty and I needed to confirm their identity since I didn’t have a pen to write it doen, I think that I would have a case if it went to court. However, it would take a clear Supreme Court verdict to give a definitive answer. In any case, as seen from the many shokumu shitsumon videos uploaded on YouTube, the police aren’t actively pursuing fighting this.


63 comments on “Naturalized J citizen Jiei stopped by Osaka cops for Gaijin Card check. Shitsukoidom ensues

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  • I’m sorry to hear about that crappy experience, but I’m happy to hear that you stood up for your rights. Dealing with the cops is never fun; they’re experts at really putting you on the spot.

    I recently discussed racial profiling issues such as this with a local lawyer (our international association does a free consultation each month). He suggested that in cases like this, one should try filing a complaint with the Human Rights Division at the local Legal Affairs Bureau. Obviously complaining to the cops will accomplish nothing, but if the offense is serious enough the LAB might consider investigating it. Just a thought.

    Regarding the photographing of badges, does anyone know if it is OK to make audio recordings of such encounters? It seems like a good idea just from the standpoint of having evidence if something odd should happen, and if you read out the officers’ names and numbers you wouldn’t need to photograph them. A lot of cell phones have audio recording functionality, so…

    — You can make audio recordings without informing the recordee, and they are admissible in court.

  • legal question to debito,

    just to confirm,
    as jiei is japanese-isnt he lawfully entitled to walk away from the cops??
    theres no compulsion to stick around if you refuse to answer questions and they dont arrest you is there?

    — That is correct.

  • these kind of racial profiling encounters happen alot more then people think, in fact from my own experiences in osaka they seem to happen far too often especially at shinosaka station. Ive noticed if you take a stand and dont back down to the keystones cops then finally they will take you seriously and then they will be the ones backing down. I refused there request when they rudely demanded that I show they my passport etc,, when I was just walking around the station looking for a place to eat at night. They were either undercover cops or detectives based on there clothing, but I didnt give them the time of day.

  • Nice job, Jiei. When you stand up for your rights like that, you help not only yourself, but also all foreigners AND all Japanese citizens in Japan, many of whom allow the police to bully them into waiving their rights in the name of “voluntary” questioning and searches. I salute you, sir.

  • Good for you.but i wonder how this would have played out if
    1.the police were not called away
    2 if this was a non japanese person.
    Maybe you should be goining off to the police station and make an official complaint about harrasement.

  • If Jiei were not a Japanese citizen, he would have been legally obligated to show his gaijin card provided the police showed him their ID as cops. (Right, Debito?) But he’s not a gaijin any more, so he doesn’t have to show them squat.

    Of course, the police can’t tell who is naturalized and who isn’t just by looking. Which is why they should stop questioning people just for looking foreign and go out and solve some actual crimes instead.

  • I’ve only been stopped on suspicion of being foreign on one occasion – I was asked randomly on the street for my alien registration card, at which I pointed out that I was a citizen. They asked a couple of follow up questions to confirm they’d understood what I said (are you haafu? married to a citizen? etc.) but ultimately they took me at my word without asking for any further identification. Would be interested to see how far they would take it, given the media circus a couple of years back when a native Japanese lady was arrested on suspicion of being foreign in Saitama, which resulted in an official public police apology. (Links to the article no longer seem to work, but the text is quoted below).


    <誤認逮捕>旅券不携帯で逮捕の女性、実は日本人 埼玉

    ( 02月28日 00時37分 )





    Police erroneously arrest ‘Asian-looking’ Japanese woman on immigration law breach

    Tuesday, February 28, 2006 at 07:01 EST

    SAITAMA — The Saitama prefectural police on Monday arrested a Japanese woman on suspicion of violating the immigration law but later released her after discovering that she was a Japanese national, police officials said.

    The police had judged that the unemployed woman, 28, was not Japanese because she looked like a foreigner of Asian descent and that she carried an envelope written in Portuguese, the officials said. The woman was questioned by a policeman around 7:40 p.m. on Saturday in Kawaguchi. She told the officer that she was Japanese, but stopped answering further questions, the officials said. The woman’s family said she is not good at speaking with strangers.

    — Thanks Kaoru. Please send dead links too, just for the record.

  • Police left red-faced after arresting Japanese woman they thought was a foreigner

    Mainichi Shinbun Feb 28, 2006

    KAWAGUCHI, Saitama — Red-faced police released a woman they had arrested for not carrying her passport after she proved to be Japanese, police officials said.

    The officials said local police had deemed that she was non-Japanese because she looked like a foreigner and did not say anything in response to questions in Japanese.

    Local police were apologetic about the mistake. “We caused great trouble to the woman. We’ll take measures to prevent a recurrence,” the head of Kawaguchi Police Station said.

    At around 7:40 p.m. on Saturday, three officers spoke to a 28-year-old woman walking on a street in Kawaguchi, and asked her name and nationality because she looked like a woman from Southeast Asia, according to the officials.

    After saying, “I’m Japanese,” she refused to talk to the officers, who took her to the police station. After she refused to respond to the questions officers asked her in Japanese, police deemed that she was a foreigner.

    The officers confirmed that she was not carrying her passport, and arrested her for violating the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law. She subsequently wrote down the name of one of her family members on a sheet of paper. One of the officers contacted her family and found out she is a Japanese national.

    Police quoted the woman’s mother as telling them, “My daughter wouldn’t talk to anybody she doesn’t know.” (Mainichi)


    What i am about to say cannot be verified but it might shed a little illumination. A few years back in Osaka i did get a cop drunk in his father’s izakaya. He went on to explain the hazing rituals trainees went through, for example beatings with canes to toughen them up. When asked why cops were so aggressive with futarinori (two people on a bike) but ignored light runners he explained that cops had to reach quotas of actions, stopping people or handing out tickets. Futrarinori earned them less points but was decidedly easier than trying to stop a car. They also got points for stopping “suspicious characters.” When asked what made a suspicious character he replied it was solely based on looking different.

    I have had my run ins with the cops too and admire Jiei’s guts in standing up to them. The worst one in Kishiwada involving them intentionally misreading my Gaijin Card and forcing me into their police car to take me to my apartment because they were determined to see my passport.


    Looking Japanese then Gaijin myself currently, yet as a child, visiting Japan to see my grandparents for the summer, and looking much more half-gaijin, I was stop by the J police at the age of 12, while riding my family bicycle. I was stopped on the suspicion of a stolen bicycle in broad daylight, and another time, at age 11 for a non-lite bicycle in the evening… How many times will the J police do so for Japanese-looking children at such age. Unheard of…. And this was in the 80’s.


    It’s fortuitous for J that a number of people who are visibly different is increasing and making commotions. The country being an island as it is, especially with the stringent immigration control, these people may be one of few hopes for a fairer society. They pump in the much-needed fresher perspectives untainted by the entanglement with the society. I am glad that the man did not succumb to the pressure from the police officers to show his ID; I so disagree with this guy’s Japanese friends who suggested that he should have just so that he saved troubles — that would not have helped any change at all! The man did absolutely the right & courageous thing by educating the police officers about some of the existing laws of the country. The benefit Japanese people draw from these NJ people is enormous.

  • Nice job in standing up for yourself.

    I’ve also had my run-ins with the police, but this was way back in middle school. I was stopped twice on my bicycle over a span of two days near Sugamo station in Tokyo. The first time I was riding to my friend’s house around midnight and was asked for some ID to verify that my bike wasn’t stolen. I wasn’t old enough to have one so the guy called in my bicycle registration to see if the owner was a foreigner, which it was as it was in my name. He let me go after that. I was pretty upset over this incident but could understand it a little as it was late a night in a deserted street.

    However, the exact same thing happened again the next day in broad daylight with a lot of people standing around and watching this guy (different one this time) question me over who I was and if the bike I was on belonged to me. He again called in my registration but when I told him that this had been done to me the previous night, he had a little chuckle and let me go.

    Understandably, when I told my parents about these incidents they phoned in the Sugamo police headquarters and asked for an explanation. All they were told was that there were a lot of bicycle thefts by Chinese gangs in the area and were just checking on things–and I am a Caucasian…

  • Jiei, good job standing up for your rights.

    I wonder if the police in Ōsaka are more respectful than their counterparts in Tōkyō. Last time I was stopped with a condescending “are, motteru?” like I was a child. (I did somewhat enjoy giving them some grief over that, though.)

    > Yet when I returned home and told my native Japanese friends about this, they were not so supportive of me.

    Not surprised. I have had similar conversations. They always tell me that I should not quote the law and to just cooperate. They do make a few good realistic points and I can understand where they are coming from, but at the same time I can not condone being racially violated.

    I think that the situation will get a lot worse before it can get any better. Fighting back as a NJ is toughest, but naturalized Japanese should never put up with it. There do need to be highly publicized court cases highlighting the situation. Although that would be a costly and lengthy personal battle, though.

    > “The worst one in Kishiwada involving them intentionally misreading my Gaijin Card […]”

    From personal experience, that seems to be a common tactic. They will read the details listed on the card, then try to “confirm” with you contrary details as if it says otherwise. Their wording is often quite sly and needs to be watched for.

    — The suggestion from J that we “just cooperate” is laughable because J will rarely if ever be treated similarly to NJ by police. Few J will ever fall under criminal suspicion for just walking down the street. Not the same situation, can’t give the same reaction.

  • With regards to police having to reach quotas etc

    (cops had to reach quotas of actions, stopping people or handing out tickets. Futrarinori earned them less points but was decidedly easier than trying to stop a car. They also got points for stopping “suspicious characters.” When asked what made a suspicious character he replied it was solely based on looking different.)

    Does anyone know if Japan has a ‘Freedom of Information’ Law? like in most European countries?
    (I think I remember reading eikaiwa unions had used some law like that to get info on dispatch companies from city halls)
    It would be interesting to get the police to disclose their quotas and definitions of suspicious etc.
    I’d look myself but my Japanese isn’t upto the job.

    — There is a FOIA. Called the jouhou koukai hou. There are jouhou koukai madoguchi in all major ministry buildings. I have tried to use them. Unfortunately, unless you know the exact name of the document you are looking for, they will not give you the information.

    I know. I’ve tried to get exact numbers from MOE on how many full-time academics have tenure (to see if there was a systematic tendency to give J tenure and NJ contracts — the very definition of Japan’s academic apartheid). They refused to give me that information because I did not know the name of the document that would be contained on. That’s how you get around the law and avoid accountability.

  • just to confirm,

    for foreigners is it correct that you have to show your arc when they show their id?
    or do they have to have “suspicious reason” to stop you as well?
    or is this where the law is unclear…

    — If they show, you must show. If you are NJ. That is the law under the Gaitouhou. However, moot if you are Japanese. Read the links I have provided, please. I have taken a lot of time to write them up.

  • To me, this is a little bit of nonsense though. Like what is going on in America with Professor Gates, Officer Crowley and Obama.

    Granted, it really irritates to no end to be deferential to a stupid or arrogant cop. Especially one who is going around looking for something when there is real police work to do.

    But it seems to me the easy solution was just to show some sort of ID and make some allies in the process. Instead of having a confrontational scene, Jiei might have had a few names to call on the next time there is some confusion about what nationality everyone is. (And you know that is going to happen again.)

    If this is a local neighborhood thing, then the goal would be to make it clear to the law enforcement powers that their constituents are a bit more multicultural and diverse than the rank-and-file on the force might think. There are several ways to do this. What is wrong with the most efficient one?

    — Because you are assuming they will become your allies. Nope. As Mark in Yayoi has attested numerous times before, even if you cooperate once, it’ll often be the same cop stopping you later on. Reset.

    Look, if there is a reason for suspicion (such as an active dragnet for someone who matches our phenotype for a crime just committed), then I think everyone here would cooperate. But just being stopped and asked for our ID just because we somehow look suspicious (i.e. we look foreign) is no grounds for cooperation, either under the law or morally. Especially if we are citizens now with even more legal protections against this sort of bullshit. What’s the point of naturalizing if we can’t claim those extra protections?

    Harassment of this sort will only continue until people are told to stop it. I would think you of all people would understand this, Asterisk.

  • Great for you, Jiei! I am not naturalized but I have permanent residency and I hope I have the courage you do if the police ever again stop me for looking NJ.

  • Of course, we have no way to know this, but I suspect Police will not stop people they think are “only tourists”.

    Of all the times I have been stopped, it is _only_ after hearing me speak Japanese or seeing something on me that indicates that I live in Japan. For instance my cell phone rings, that has done it twice (seems like a homing signal). Also explains the same cop targeting an individual twice.

    I think there are a whole lot of reasons for this, from not upsetting Tourists on the trivial side to the justification for the canard of looking for Visa overstayers to outright harassment of those who have the nerve to offend the racial purity.

    Jeff (tending my business in Canada for a while thanks to the economy…)

    — No, I’ve found that tourists are no less likely to be targeted.

  • Regarding the jouhou koukai hou.

    That is totally unreasonable that anyone could be expected to know the name of any document.
    Does the system have a review or complaints system?
    In the UK, if a public body refuses, first you can request a second review by that public body, then complain further to an Information Commissioner.
    In the UK, it also includes not just documents but also emails meeting minutes and memos sent between departments, so alot of documents are nameless to begin with.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    First off, Jiei, good job on standing up for yourself! The cops have no reason to be suspecting you of anything criminal, whether you’ve obtained citizenship or not, and you did the right thing by not giving in. Shame on your friends who think that getting things over with quickly is the solution. Something tells me that they’ve unknowingly absorbed the “rule of men, not of law” attitude that authority figures in general tend to impress on people, and also that they’re thinking of this as a one-off incident and aren’t thinking ahead to future harassment that might come your way.

    Debito’s Facebook comment (posted at 4:19) regarding police stoppage quotas is the final piece of a puzzle that I could never quite put together. This has to be why cops in Chiyoda-ku, who stopped Debito several times in one night, and me about 90 times over two years, are so ridiculous whereas in other, more dangerous, areas they might not even glance at you. There’s no street crime in Chiyoda-ku at night; the streets are dead, few businesses are open — but there are plenty of trainee cops patrolling the streets. Too many police recruits chasing too few “points” in an area where there’s nothing suspicious going on!

    Because you are assuming they will become your allies. Nope. As Mark in Yayoi has attested numerous times before, even if you cooperate once, it’ll often be the same cop stopping you later on. Reset.

    Asterisk, it as as Debito describes. I got stopped during my first week cycling to work in Chiyoda-ku (Jimbō-chō), and, thinking ahead to the many times I’d be passing that kōban, cooperated perfectly, telling them where I work and mentioning that I’d be passing by around that time fairly often.

    When I got stopped again just a few days later, I figured that this other cop just hadn’t heard anything about me, so I was still relaxed, figuring I’d just have to be patient as all the different shifts rotated through and they all got to know me.

    Imagine my surprise when I started seeing familiar cops claiming not to have seen me before, and (worse) new cops stopping me while a familiar older one looked on from the sidelines!

    No, they’ve got those stoppage point quotas to meet, and once they know you’re not an actual criminal (and have something to lose by mouthing off to the police), they’ll use you as “point fodder” whenever they need to.

  • I recognize that the police stopping people for “looking foreign” is a big problem. I also recognize that it’s something that needs to be stopped. But, I wonder how many people have had my experience.

    I have been asked for ID 1 time. Someone rear ended me driving through Yokohama and the police needed my license to fill out the report (that one was fun because one poor guy tried to explain in broken english how to get my car repaired and wrote out the instructions for calling my insurance company then gave me a number to have them call so he could explain it to them if there was any misunderstanding). Strangely enough they didn’t ask for my G-card, just my license.

    I have been questioned by the police 1 time as well. I had the kids at the park and noticed a police car circling the park very very slowly. After about 10 minutes they stopped and went parent to parent talking to them. They finally got to me and asked if anyone strange had approached my children or if I’d seen anyone unusual because they had had a report of a stranger trying to lure children away from the park then warned me be extra careful watching the kids. No ID request, no questions about whether I lived nearby or who I worked for, just a few questions about if I’d noticed anyone unusual and a warning to watch the kids.

    Now I admit, I’m a big intimidating looking person – perhaps the cops just think I’m more trouble than I’m worth. But I have to wonder are there any other people who live for years in Japan without ever being stopped or asked for ID? Or am I the only one?

  • Kyushujoe says:

    The problem is that the more incidents like this happen, the more the police are going to demand the right to stop anyone at all, foreign or Japanese and ask for ID. That way everyone will be equal, which is good in a way, but a bit of a hollow victory for those who want a less intrusive police force.

  • Just 2 questions for anyone who is a naturalized J citizen:

    1. From this post and a couple of others (including one from Debito) that I have read, it seems that the naturalized citizen extends the discussion with police because they have stated that they are merely a “Japanese citizen”. Not naturalized. Just Japanese. You MUST realize that a non-Asian face is often considered non-Japanese here, despite the mixing of races. So, why not just avoid the long conversations, trembling hands, badgering, and repeated questioning by simply stating what you are — naturalized Japanese citizen?

    2. On a more dangerous and illicit note, while I applaud Jiei and anyone else for standing up for their rights and refusing to show ID in this type of situation, what is to stop foreigners who are NOT naturalized from lying about being a naturalized citizen? One could play that card in order to refuse further interrogation. I certainly don’t advise it, but the possibility is there.

    — 1) I have indicated that I am naturalized in the past. Then police wanted proof of that. Back to square one.

    2) What’s to stop anyone regardless of nationality from lying to a police officer? Are we to give the police more power to interrogate anyone just because they have a “hunch” somebody is lying? I can see lots of abuses flowing from that. Why does trust only flow one way here?

    The reason is that the law seems to assume that NJ are more prone to lying, since citizens are not required to show proof that they are telling the truth. “Citizen” determined by racial profiling, of course.

    This situation must be rectified. Institute universal ID for all. Or instruct the police to have higher standards for suspicion, as the law requires them to do for citizens.


    “There needs to be a transparency where the law AND the police procedure stands on this NJ profiling issue.

    Does the police have the right to stop all NJ-looking person without “on the suspicion” of X, Y, Z? If they are solely stopping all NJ-looking persons on the basis of a routine immigration control issue, would this not be the immigration department to start monitoring and asking NJ-looking people for the IDs???

    As my previous post, I was stop at age 12 for riding an “assume stolen bicycle”… It was my family’s bicycle, and I was pulled over and had to wait until they cleared that it was indeed not stolen in front of a very busy JR station. I felt like a criminal. Did the officer stop me because a 12 years old could be illegally in Japan? I spoke to the officer in Japanese. Nor he did not ask me for ID, as this was in the 80’s nor did he ask me if I was a Japanese citizen. I was clearly stopped and became a suspect for “looking” NJ…”

  • Jerry,

    First, just to be clear, I support people like Debito and Jiei 100% on things like this. I doubt I would avoid provoking arrest if it happened to me regularly like it does to Mark in Yayoi.

    However, I have been here over 8 years, and not once has a policeman arbitrarily stopped me and asked for ID. I am large and white, a very conspicuous gaijin in my village of Kamakura (in fact my wife and I seem to be pretty well known and complete strangers keep on recognising us, perhaps due to our odd habit of riding a preposterously illegal and eye-catching tandem around town). We regularly cycle past a few koban on our daily commute to south Yokohama, and visit other parts of the city (and Tokyo) frequently enough, often enough carrying a suspicious rucksack and looking pretty scruffy. I have had a handful of very minor interactions with the police and at no point have they been anything other than respectful and polite.

    To be honest, I feel a bit left out 🙂

  • Glad to hear I’m not the only one. I imagine this is a case of if you’re happy you might tell 1 person, if you’re unhappy you’ll tell anyone who’ll listen. Not to downplay the problem of course, it is still something that needs addressing, just nice to hear I’m not alone in never having had a problem. After hundreds of business trips, almost 50 international flights from 3 different airports, countless domestic flights, weeks spent on trains and in train stations, and more vacations that I can shake a stick at I was beginning to think I was some sort of freak.

    And were I Mark I’d probably have gotten myself arrested by now as well just from the shear frustration at the official idiocy he has to endure.

  • Yep, I haven’t been stopped in my “major metropolitan area” even once in the year I’ve been here. Police have always been helpful and out-of-the-way in my personal experience. It certainly seems to depend on the place, however it’s nice have this information in case I do ever get stopped.

  • @Debito and Mark in Yayoi:

    I totally agree that if it looks like an instance or pattern of police harassment, an issue must be made of it. Whether NJ or J.

    American, for example, the simple fact that the passport says “[Hillary Clinton] hereby requests all to whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance, and IN CASE OF NEED TO GIVE AL LAWFUL AID AND PROTECTION.” Plus without us, a number of these Koban would have been reduced to atomic dust by the Chinese several decades ago. (Along with significant portions of Japan.)

    So, no, I would not have patience here for police harassment. My point is simply going to the fact that at the outset one should at least try to cooperate and/or educate the police about who they are.

    I don’t feel it’s wrong that Jiei simply stood up for the black letter rule. I just don’t know if that’s always the best avenue.

    Maybe it’s different for American professionals. Back home, the government has at least four sets of fingerprints from me on either jobs or occupational licenses.

    Debito, contrary to your statement, I must be clear that no one should ever escalate a situation without due consideration. I think this was Professor Gates’ mistake, honestly, and why the Cambridge police involved isn’t nailed in the corner right now.

  • Alexander says:


    I guarantee you it’s all luck. I went years without being stopped and then was suddenly stopped several times in a single month. It is likely the police were having some sort of internal campaign against bike theft. I get stopped from time to time, but not excessively. Some people tend to have even worse experiences. For me, alien card checks and other checks (bike, car etc…) have always been separate and never overlapped. That shows a certain restraint on the part of the cops in my opinion.

    Also a note to Debito – I do genuinely believe that they make an effort not to stop tourists (maybe only western tourists though…) Try walking in Akihabara. The police have a very heavy presence there and conduct bag checks everyday. But they only target “akiba-kei” looking Japanese people and never western tourists (of which there are many). Another case of discrimination based on appearance. Perhaps Akihabara is a special case, but I have also never seen tourists being stopped in Shinjuku.

    — And about eight years ago one of my best friends from Osaka brought over his nephew and nieces for a month from Wilkes-Barre, and found them being stopped, interrogated, and threatened with arrest by a phalanx of police if they didn’t produce passports while in Sapporo Station! And I’ve never even heard of this sort of thing ever happening in Sapporo Station (Chitose Airport, on the other hand…). And I have heard plenty more nationwide.

    Look, we all have limited information regarding a policing system which won’t make its policies and actions (and quite often even its budgets) clear to the public — despite repeated requests from the governments at large, the media, and people like us who make a stink. Sorry, I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the people who are in a less powerful position, and are being systematically victimized. Just because some commenters here haven’t seen it or experienced it for themselves should not give rise to them doubting the targets of the policy who are primary sources. Please don’t bother letting the police off the hook by doing their job of denying things in their stead.

  • James- cute last liner, but I have a feeling those who have been stopped won’t find it so.

    I have lived in Japan a mere two years but have already been stopped by an undercover police officer when visiting a friend in Hokkaido. This was 6 months ago. I had just arrived in Sapporo after flying domestic… which begs the question as to why a police officer would stop me in front of a huge crowd of people when I had already obviously gone through a security check?
    I stuck out my neck and asked why he had stopped me, and if I was suspicious. He replied that no, I wasn’t, and that he was just following orders. So I showed my card, without asking for his (silly me). I missed my train because of the stop.

    Either way, long story long: it’s not pleasant and can actually be very embarrassing.
    Yes, I’m still alive. No, I wasn’t hurt in anyway. It was just really irritating and made me feel powerless.

    However in contrast to this- I was swimming in the Ocean at 2am down here in Miyazaki at a beach wedding and was asked to come out of the water to talk to two police officers. They just told me to be careful and walked off. No card request, either because I obviously didn’t have it on me because I was in the water, or because I was bowing so much my head almost rolled off.

  • I think the bowing did, that trick always gets you off the hook, guilty or not. A cultural thing I guess…

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    I just looked at some of the shokumu shitsumon videos on Youtube — kudos to you folks keeping an eye on the police!

    Here’s a good one with a man in a car (if any readers think Debito baits the police, watch this guy!) taking some video when two cop cars come up and start questioning him, making up (at least it seems that way) a fictional person calling 110 to report a suspicious person. His tough-guy demeanor has the police acting a lot more apologetic than they ever would with a foreign-looking person, and eventually he actually gets them (3:20 to 3:37, and again around 4:00) to apologize to him for calling him fushin (“suspicious”)!

    I speak Japanese fairly well, but I don’t think I could pull off this guy’s schtick. I’d probably be led off in cuffs!

  • Just to be clear on what our legal obligations are, I’d like to see if my take on this is OK;

    First, non-citizens are required to produce their alien card when it is requested by police. In return, the police must also identify themselves by name and/or badge number and what station they work out of. Japanese citizens (either by birth or naturalization) are under no such obligation.

    After that, it seems that both citizens and non-citizens are in a similar position. Neither are obliged to answer any questions put to them by police, empty their pockets or bags, or pee in a cup. Given that alien cards have enough personal information on them to satisfy most curious coppers, this seems logical.

    Is it acceptable to merely answer every police question with, “I’m sorry, I’m a little busy. Can I go now?”? This seems like it would waste less time than debating the finer points of Japanese law with the officers.

  • First time poster . . . I’ve lived in Japan for a total of 4 years now. Right about the end of the 2nd year, I was stopped by the police, had my bike checked for registration, foreigner card checked out, etc. I was POed but let it slide as it was the first time. But from then I was stopped between 5-7 times over the next 10 months at all times of the day. I put up with it until one night when I was on my way home from a farewell party with a friend (a bit tipsy). A cop car with 3 officers pulled up and stopped us (2 women). I had had enough and started ranting about discrimination, etc. At one point I was pretty insulting to them (used the word ‘omaera’) and I remember actually laughing out loud at the older officer’s response ‘Be careful! That’s discrimination.’ Anyway, we had our cards checked, went on our not so merry way, and I returned home to write a carefully worded email to my supervisor at the board of education about how harassing and embarrassing this was . . My supervisor went to the police (as this was a common problem in our town for foreign residents) and I have not been stopped since. In fact, the cops will slow down when they pass me and then speed off as soon as they realize that it’s not just any foreigner but the one who pitched a fit.

    Tl;dr – Sometimes being a loud foreigner works. Especially if you do it the Japanese way and go through official channels (BoE supervisor) it can make a difference.

  • I have been living and driving in Tokyo for just over 3 years. In that time, I have been stopped many times. It seems to happen in seasons. Late summer is the most common time.

    After checking my driving licence and Gaijin card they often ask me to step out of the car while they search it. The searching is not too thorough… but does go to the extent of emptying my glove box and examining all the papers (maps, addresses, notes, etc) I keep in there. (But as they are all written in English… its more of a puzzled frown at each one)

    They also open up any bags I happen to have in the car and examine my shopping, empty the contents of my wallet and the “change wallet” I keep for car parks. Once they chose to empty the trunk which I was not pleased because the ground was wet and it made a mess of my stuff but most times they just search it by moving stuff around and opening bags.

    Once they told my Japanese girlfriend that because of the recent knife attacks by off-base American soldiers they were required to search the car for knives.

    Out of fear, each time I comply with their requests. I never have anything to hide so figured that because my Japanese is very limited the quickest way out of the situation is to let them get on with it. I must admit that even after reading your blog I do not have the confidence to stand my ground. Certainly if I have my Japanese girlfriend with me I will do nothing but comply because the inevitable argument afterwards would make me wish I had been arrested.

    The amusing part for me is that the first question after “do you understand Japanese” is almost always “America-Jin?” As soon as I reply that no, I am English, the other officer searching the car seems to lose heart and quickly wraps it up.

    Do officers have the right to search a car without a warrant or arrest?

    On a side-note: since I changed my old sports car for a much newer more prestigious luxury car 6 months ago I have not been stopped… yet

    — They cannot search your person, your belongings, or anything without your permission without a warrant. That includes your car. Ask for one. “Reijou ga arimasu ka?”

  • Police in general, use intimidation tactics more than they should. The fact that they are stopping people especially foreigners for some sort of power trip is annoying. Luckily I have only been stopped randomly once, and I just kept walking.

  • I have only heard of a couple instances of foreign-looking women being stopped by the police. In your experiences, does it seem to be far less common for the police to stop foreign-looking women than men?

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    @DS – non-citizens are required to produce their alien card when it is requested by police

    You’re leaving out an important condition: when it is requested *in the course of their duties*. Police duties are clearly specified, and do not include the harassment or involuntary questioning of non-suspects. Technically you have the right not to answer when they ask what country you come from.

    In practice, though, they’ll just make up some nonsense reason to be suspicious of you, such as a bogus 110 call (as with the Youtube guy in post 34) or irrelevant knife attacks (post 38). If you reveal that you’re not Japanese, they’ll know that you’re supposed to be carrying the alien card, and I suspect that you’d have a hard time not producing it in that situation, though I’d love to see someone try it: “Yes, I am foreign, but asking for the card in this situation is outside your duties, so I refuse.” (Someone with plenty of time and money, try it!)

    Also, it isn’t “in return” that the police have to identify themselves. They have to do that *first* to prove that they are indeed police officers and not impersonators.

    @Danielle — In my experience, it’s much less common for women in general to be stopped than men. I once watched some cops set up a bicycle checkpoint on the corner in front of my house, and every single person — they stopped was a man, with every female cyclist allowed to ride right through unscathed. They stopped 37% of the cyclists passing by: 60% of men and 0% of women. Only three foreign people passed by, and they were all men (and all got stopped), so there was no chance to see what would happen when the suspiciousness of being foreign butted up with the anti-suspiciousness of being a woman.

    A police officer in the family has revealed that the police avoid bothering young women (schoolgirls in particular) because the women can accuse the cops of molestation.

    Quite an interesting social hierarchy we’ve got!

    I wonder if gender equality could be used as last-resort evidence in a potential police harassment suit. If men can be pulled over repeatedly and accused of bicycle theft, why aren’t women pulled over and accused of, say, carrying fake Louis Vuitton bags?

  • Basically this whole post boils down to racial profiling and the police’ assumption that NJ or “NJ-looking” people have a high propensity to crime. In addition, the police have the legal right to walk up to NJ and request ID, which facilitates the whole situation for them. NJ are easy targets. I won’t revisit the the “how do you know I am NJ by looking at my face” argument, but for the most part are doing what they are told to do. So, in order to make a real difference, the appeal for change needs to reach the decision makers. Educating the police by refusing to play their “game” will not affect change in the end, but I recommend it just to make one feel better, by rebuffing their racist actions. All change begins as confucius said by moving one stone at time and eventually moving a mountain. My 11 years in Japan have led to many searches, ID checks, one arrest, but on the other hand I have been drinking with police officers and have had some pleasant experiences with them.

    Babbling aside, we as residents of Japan, NEED to force the police to follow the letter of the law by pushing back when they harrass us, by fighting the just fight!

  • I agree with the above poster. I also believe that more foreign men than women are stopped by the police. I was stopped once myself, and I’m certain the guys have been ordered so from above, because we actually knew each other with the guy who stopped me and asked for my ARC. We just laughed at each other and he even saluted me, and that was all.My friend, who was stopped too, told him she is a graduate student and he exclaimed:”Sugoi!”
    I think we women are little bit handicapped in this aspect, because we are more likely to be victims of different, mostly sexual crimes, and the cops are the only we can really rely on.You say yourself that the other foreigners are not very cooperative/helpful.Also, after a year or so in Japan, we just stop relying on Japanese “friends”, whose advises usually are ” Oh, but that’s too shameful to talk about. It is your fault, you must be more careful”.
    I doubt if a Non-Asian man have been followed by an admirer(“What’s your name?Do you study here?Lets go and have a drink!) on their way back from school/job, or groped, but these are things happened to foreign women I know, and to me too, and we asked the police for help. Therefore, when the police wants cooperation, a foreign woman, unlike that naturalized Jiei, must cooperate.

  • Well, in keeping with the anecdotal evidence theme: I have never been stopped in my 11 years in my medium-sized Japanese city. In fact, for four years when I would walk passed a koban on my way to work, I would get deep bows and a ‘ohayogozaimasu’ from the various cops.

    Nearer the big police station they have about a dozen big signs posted along the wall facing the busy road. They plead for all kinds of help from the public- with drugs, stopping gangs, shoplifting, weapons- nothing about big, bad, scary foreigners. In fact, one of the posters is about keeping our neighborhoods safe and has images of various citizens smiling- one of the citizens clearly being a foreigner.

    I remember when I described random cop checks to a girl in my office. She got angry with me. She said that why should foreigners be treated differently. I asked her what she meant. She explained that the police often stop people (especially at night) to ask them where they are going, where they work etc. Sure enough, about a week after this conversation I saw another poster near the koban asking people in Japanese to co-operate with police when they are stopped on the street.

    I am not saying that some police here don’t racial profile, but I think that in many situations the police are out asking many people questions in an effort to try and look like they are maintaining a safe society.

    My advice: if you are ever stopped and are given the ‘we are checking for illegal foreigners’ excuse, if you are not Asian, you could bring up the fact that most of the illegals here are in fact Asian, so if they were serious about this they would be stopping everybody. Failing this, you could just ask them if they are killing time ‘hima?’ or ‘hima tsubushi desu ka?’ as I find this to be more of a back-handed slap in the face of anyone working but looking like they should be doing something more productive.

  • I don’t agree with disrespecting the cops, and I have always been cooperative in producing my ID when asked for, the problem is when they start with what are you doing here? when do you expect to go back? (I’am living here almost 20 years) because that is just not their business, so I usually come with something like -you know, I still don’t get that tired but I’m working on it -or -you know, I still don’t get enough money but I’m getting pretty close” and they quickly change their stupidly bullish faces and just let me go without further questioning.

  • Jiei, well done and congratulations for insisting on your rights and for prevailing without any negative consequences.

    Taking Japanese citizenship is a big step and one of the expected benefits of doing so is that you should be treated like any other Japanese citizen. Shame on your friends for telling you otherwise.

    Unfortunately people like yourself are still in the twilight of acceptance/unacceptance as Japanese citizens, and in conservative Japan, it may take a very long time before things might change, as you must well know.

    To provide my own experience – 12 years in the Kansai area and I have never been stopped for appearing to be gaijin. That’s not to say I haven’t been stopped by police, I have, but it’s always been for routine matters such as breath testing at a roadside police check where every car was also stopped, or similar incidents. I don’t have any complaints about the kansai police, from my own experience. In fact, I was once stopped by a lone police officer in Tanimachi 6 chome while I was riding my bicycle to go get a haircut and all he asked me was if the bike I was riding was mine, and if so, where did I get it from. He didn’t ask for my passport or gaijin card at all. It was especially convenient because the shop where I had bought the bike from was just about 50 meters down the road. I told him as much and he went on his way.

    I’m not saying everything is rosy in Kansai, but I haven’t had a bad police experience yet. I hope your incident was an anomaly, but I will take what you reported under advisement when I’m out jogging late at night!

  • Thanks everyone for your support! I was expecting a lot more negative feedback, but most people here seem to feel the way I do.

    However, I’d just like to say that I hope that my story doesn’t scare anyone away from thinking about naturalizing. Despite the other night’s encounter, naturalizing has definitely been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. It is true that the paperwork/interview/waiting time is a bit of a pain, but I hope that many more eligible NJ will take the final step and naturalize. Not only does it make living here much easier, it’s the best way to bring attention to the racial profiling/discrimination problem that we all face. Politicians might feel that they can ignore foreigners, but once there is a larger foreign-born naturalized constituency, they’ll be forced to start taking action!

  • Norik & other women here – how much success have you and/or friends had with getting the police to help you in circumstances such as stalking, etc.? While I agree that women have less of a chance of being stopped for random questioning, I cannot place any degree of faith in the police to help me if I have need of it. This is mostly because of my bad experiences with the cops in my city, but also last year I had an accident (in a different city) resulting in a fairly bad head wound which of course bleeds profusely. My friend helped me to the curb and as we waited splattered in blood head to toe (and still bleeding) for another friend to pick us up and take me to the hospital, a police car slowed down and then kept going. It was late at night but we were standing directly under a streetlamp, so there was no way they couldn’t have seen how bloody we both were. I considered that the last straw with my trust in the police . . . not to say they are all bad, but it seems that those in this area regard foreigners to be good enough to harass but not help.

  • Mardi, if you have a traffic accident that resulted in death, injury or destruction of objects while you are driving, you have legal obligation to immediately call the police.

  • I don’t think these stories are going to scare anyone away from naturalisation. On the contrary, they’re scaring me into either naturalising as fast as possible or not bothering with Japan at all.


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