Michael Moore lambastes GOJ for being fingerprinted at border during his first Japan trip


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 Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS now on iTunes, subscribe free

Hi Blog.  What follows is an excerpt of a transcript of Michael Moore’s press conference at the Tokyo Stock Exchange, dated November 30, 2009.  He too doesn’t like being fingerprinted at the border.  Fortunately, he speaks up about it, unlike most celebrities that want to bask in the lucrative glow of celebrity in Japan.  I make no claims about some of the other stuff he says, of course.  Text follows, courtesy of Philip Brasor.  (NB:  The transcript does not include the questions, only the answers Mike gave.)  FYI.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo



-This is my first day ever in Japan. I’ve always wanted to come here, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to do that. I’d hoped for many years that the island of Japan would float a little closer to America so that it wouldn’t be such a long trip, but that didn’t happen so I decided to finally come here.

-Can I explain why I’m dressed this way? The airline lost my luggage. It’s one of the two Japanese airlines, I don’t want to mention any names. OK. It begins with J and ends with L. I essentially decided to wear pajamas on the plane to sleep, and I got here with no clothes. So where in Japan am I going to find clothes that fit me? Anyway, they took to a place where sumo wrestlers buy their clothes, so i’m dressed partly in my pajamas and partly in sumo clothing. My apologies. I usually don’t look that much better anyway, so you won’t tell the difference.

-They asked me if I would share some of my impressions of my first 24 hours in Japan. The people are very friendly and nice. Well, actually, I landed at the airport and the customs people asked me for my fingerprints. I’m 55 years old and I’ve never been fingerprinted in my life, partly because I’ve never figured out the right kind of crime to commit, and partly because there’s no reason to fingerprint me. So I stepped up to the counter and they said please put your fingers here. And I said, Why? I didn’t refuse, I just asked why. And they immediately called in a supervisor and took me away. They told me, You have to be fingerprinted. And I said, I’ve never been fingerprinted. I have privacy rights, this is a democracy, right? They said, OK, so you want to be deported to the United States. I said, No, so they took me into a room and brought in another supervisor, even higher, and he said I could either voluntarily give my fingerprints and enter the country or they would forceably put me back on a plane back the US. So it’s a lose-lose situation, I said, and he said, But you do this in the United States, when we visit the United States. And I said, Well, that’s wrong. You have a passport, you took my picture, you X-rayed me. I don’t understand the fingerprint. It’s like, if no one stands up and says every now and then, we have rights as individuals. This is a privacy issue. I’ve not committed any crime, so therefore you’re not deserving of my fingerprints. So we went back and forth and they read me my rights, which I brought along. They had me read in English. I read that. My wife had already gone through the line and my friends were waiting, so I reluctantly gave in, but I gave them a different finger than my index one. I was allowed in the country at that point.

-No need to make any apologies about immigration. It was all comedy. We’re not robots, we’re human beings. I didn’t expect it to happen in Tokyo. I would expect it in Washington D.C.

-I’ve tried to film many times at the New York stock exchange, including inside the stock exchange for this film. And large news organizations in the states have requested that I be allowed there so that they can interview me on the stock exchange floor. And they’ve all been refused. So when they said to me this morning that we were going over to the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the Nikkei, I thought it was a joke. And we walked right in. No fingerprinting. I’m grateful, and thank you for allowing me in here to discuss “Capitalism” and business and the global economy. So you’ve seen me outside the New York stock exchange in the movie. I’ll tell you a funny story. At the end of the movie when I’m wrapping the stock exchange in crime scene tape, I was very afraid that I might be arrested–and fingerprinted. And sure enough, I see the police coming toward me, and I think: this is it, they’re coming to arrest me. And then I see the police officer and I said, I’ll be out of here in a minute. I promise to clean all this up and be out of your way. I won’t be any trouble. And the officer says to me, That’s OK Mike. The guys in this building have lost a billion dollars of the New York City Police pension fund. You take all the time you want. So that’s how I shot that scene.

-Generally, someone who holds some power, if they see me coming they don’t want to talk to me, and it just makes it harder. On the other hand, because so many of the people in the US see me as somebody who has not been bought by the establishment, and I’m going to do what I think is the honest and right thing to do, it’s easier for me to get the stories because the stories come to me. At the beginning of the movie, with the family that’s being evicted, and the police show up to bang in the door? The family filmed that themselves, and they sent me the videotape. So one day I just got this package in the mail and opened it up and there was a tape. Because they thought I might show what happened to them. There was one place where they could send it and perhaps someone would see what has happened to them. So in some ways it’s easier for me because I’m seen as someone who stands up to power, so people send me documents from work and things like that. But I have to say it’s not an enjoyable place to be public enemy number one for the Republicans or the conservatives or the business establishment, because it creates a lot of turmoil and hatred toward me. It’s not easy. I wouldn’t apply for this job if I had to do it over again.

-I’ve often spoken admiringly of Japan in my books and my movies. I believe that there are many things you do that are right. I know that if I lived here I would find many things that are wrong, but I don’t live here. For some strange reason you believe that if someone in Japan gets sick that person should be able to see a doctor without worrying about losing their savings or their home. Why do you do that? I’m guessing it’s because you’re all Japanese and you’re all in the same boat, and if you let some people fall out of the boat then what’s the purpose of the boat if people are drowning? An American family is evicted from their home once every seven and a half seconds. The number one cause of people losing their homes, the number one cause of bankruptcies are medical bills. People get sick and don’t have health insurance, or the right kind of health insurance, and they lose everything, including their home. The total number of Japanese who were kicked out of their homes last year because they couldn’t pay the doctor? None. Zero. Why not? Why have you decided to treat each other that way, to help each other, when you get sick, or lose your job? You’ve built a safety net. Why have you done that, and why don’t we do that? This is the eternal question in all my films, because I love the US. I love being an American. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. So the question I’m constantly posing to my fellow Americans is: Why do we treat each other this way, when no other civilized country that I’ve seen believes that we should punish you because you get sick, or we should punish you when your factory goes out of business. Why is that? You’re not better than us. We’re all human beings, right? Why have you structured your society in such a way that this is not allowed to happen? Why don’t you kill each other? Oh, I know, you think the murder rate has gone up, but there have been years in the past when you had zero handgun murders. You have just a few gun murders each year, compared to what we have in the US. In some years we have 15,000 murders with guns and then another 15,000 suicides with guns. So why don’t you kill each other? Because you’re better than us? I don’t think so. But in the last 20 years you started to change, because you had a series of conservative prime ministers, starting around the time of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, Kohl in Germany, Mulrooney in Canada, and a series of prime ministers here all through the Elvis impersonator. No disrespect. So now you’re getting more of the problems we have in America. There is more crime now. More murders. When people lose their jobs… I remember as a young man, the thing about Japan was that it was shameful for a company to lay people off. Is that correct? That’s the way it used to be. So your conservative governments started to cut away at the social safety net that you created for your people. Cut money for health care. Cut money for education. Throw people out of work. Make life harder for people who don’t make as much money. Punish them for being poor. So the more you’ve done it the American way, what have you ended up with? More crime. Less educated young people, who don’t know as much as they used to know, right? So to answer your question, as much as I love America, quit being like us. Be the Japan you created after 1945, a Japan that valued education, a Japan that would not throw you out of work. A Japan that would never invade another country, and which would not support a country that would invade another country. And let me tell you, when you supported George W. Bush in his endeavors, you gave him legitimacy, because he was able to say to the American people, The Japanese, they’re with me. Prime Minister Elvis-san is with me. Tony Blair is with me. The Italians are with me. Even the Danish. It’s a legitimate war. If the Japanese prime minister, and the British prime minister, and the Italian and the Spanish and the Danish had all refused to give him his cover, I don’t know that he would have gotten away with it. So the responsibility that these countries shared by supporting anything that George W. Bush did, it made it not only difficult for people in the US, but for people who suffer in this world as a result of the foreign policies of that individual. I’m so sorry to put it this way. Please don’t take personal offense, but you asked me what would I say to the Japanese people, a society I think highly of, a society structured on peace and respect, and you’ve started to go down the other road. And my humble plea is to get off that road with your new prime minister and return to the road you used to be on.


-My father is 88 years old and I told him I was coming to Japan. He was in the first marine division in the South Pacific in WWII and fortunately survived and had me. When I told him I was coming here he was very happy. He said to me when we were discussing the wars last year, the reason Bush got us into these wars is because he’s never known war. If he had known war he would never have wanted war again. He spent part of the war on Okinawa and I said I might go there to lay some flowers for all who died there, Japanese and Americans. His brother, my uncle, was killed in the Philippines during the war. And my dad has such a loving heart–you saw him in the movie. His best friend at church is a Japanese man. And both of them, 88 years old, go to the gym together every morning and work out together. As sad and difficult as this world can be, it does eventually get better. And I have always been filled with enormous hope and optimism that we will know war no more. Tomorrow evening Pres. Obama will announce if he will expand the war in Afghanistan, and I have passed on to him a personal request from my father and his Japanese friend: Mr. Obama, you do not know war. People who know war want it no more. I’m honored to share this message of peace with you, the people of Japan, who have been beacons of peace for the past 60-plus years.

24 comments on “Michael Moore lambastes GOJ for being fingerprinted at border during his first Japan trip

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    It would have been interesting if Michael Moore had refused to enter Japan and had gone right back to the US instead. Unlike just about every other traveler, he can afford to take a plane flight just to make a point.

    He “reluctantly” gave his print, but he still gave it. If only he’d had a Japanese partner who also refused when reaching the US; it would have made a good protest against both systems.

  • Steve VonMaas says:

    This is being done in retaliation for the Bush administration’s (now the current administration’s) stupid “U.S. Visit” program, pursuant to which we treat every visitor like potential criminals. “It is really embarrasssing, but what can you do, what with all these Mormons blowing everyone up all the time?” –The Confused Blogger

  • What is he complaining about? I always knew Moore was a certified loon, but this just so much more proves my theory. I agree, he can afford practically a couple of planes. He he doesn’t like the system, I mean, who does? He should then go back, refuse, stand his ground! But the man thinks that by ranting the way he does that hopefully someone will listen. Remember; this is ultimately what made Moore famous.

  • as they said at immigration,
    would have had more credibility if he had complained about the us system in the past.
    theres no way he didnt know about it-and it just smacks of the usual one rule for americans and a different one for others,which is unlikely to lead to an improvement in the situation for people in japan.

  • “I’ve not committed any crime,” he said, like the rest of the tax-paying law-abiding international residents of varying duration. Japanese nationals are only fingerprinted when being charged with a crime. Our “crime” is being foreign. Pure and simple. That’s how the pen-pushers who introduced this system see it, and I’m unlikely to be convinced otherwise. Innocent until proven foreign. The reason I departed.

  • Michael makes an interesting point:
    “I’ve often spoken admiringly of Japan in my books and my movies. I believe that there are many things you do that are right. I know that if I lived here I would find many things that are wrong, but I don’t live here.”

    Well, even if you do live in Japan, there is a vast list of things that are right. It’s my belief that when we post here it is because We Choose Japan… to contribute and be a part of, with honor and with our intellectual and industrial fruits.

    Here we are. This is only a part of our positive contribution, offered in that spirit.

    Perhaps we need to reinforce that message too…

  • was it necessary for airport officials to threaten him with deportation? He just asked why they do it. The official could have said ‘to keep out foreign criminals’ or whatever its purpose is nowadays. And then he copped out to the ‘Well you do this in America’ speech

  • …and he said, But you do this in the United States, when we visit the United States…
    And there you have it. Tacit admission that fingerprinting in Japan is nothing to do with security, and all about getting back at America for fingerprinting Team Japan, like I’ve been saying all along. Where Japan is racist, however, is that unlike Brazil, which also introduced tit-for-tat fingerprinting (so they only take American fingerprints; true tit-for-tat), Japan can’t distinguish between Americans, Canadians Brits, etc. We are all lumped together as “gaijin” and it’s assumed that we all support each other to Japan’s detriment (Japan as permanent victim). Now, if only we can convince Michael Moore to do an expose on racism in Japan…

  • Slightly OT, but:

    “The airline lost my luggage”

    This is why I always try to only bring carry-on luggage when traveling internationally. It’s just easier.

  • Max von Schuler-Kobayashi says:

    In my opinion, this is a result of the old LDP cabal in cahoots with the Bushies to see how 9/11 could be turned into profits to make a lot of useless security gear. But even if you don’t like the fingerprinting, be thankful. There are worse things that could have been implemented. Below is a link to an idea for electronic security bracelets. The idea is that the electronic bracelet would serve as a boarding pass. In the aircraft, a flight attendant would be manning an electronic console. If a passenger tried to hijack the aircraft in flight, or just got rowdy, then ZAPPO! Down you go. Well, this is one idea that so far has not appeared, so be thankful for small things.


    — Yeesh. So I guess we should be thankful that they don’t just anesthetize everyone after they take their seats. Or that they don’t handcuff everyone to the seat etc. No, I’m not the type of person who is thankful that things couldn’t be worse. I’m more thankful when things get better. Waiting for that regarding this issue.

  • As much as I like grumpy oldies, there’s quite a lot of flaws in that reasoning. To pick a few from what he writes, and be grumpy myself:

    – Handguns. Just because people don’t off themselves with handguns here doesn’t mean people don’t off themselves. Twice the rate of the states, no less. And less murders by handguns doesn’t mean people use whatever else is available. It’s just harder to get a gun here, but that doesn’t necessarily equal less dead bodies, if I get what he’s trying to say.

    – Healthcare. The safety net here that he praises is flawed, widely criticized and not beneficial for all. If he wants to praise healthcare there are far better examples/countries out there. Being in Japan, talking about the Japanese system, he’d be wise to read up a bit more on the subject.

    – The cutoff number 1945. Suddenly Japan is a peaceful country “that would never invade another country”. Could it be because they were/are forced too? Suddenly Japan values education oppose to the states. Is this some sort of flawed interpretation of Japans “high” iq levels? If he read more into things he might have known that education here is held at offices, and graduating university with high marks is done by simply being present with no obligation of engagement.

    So…how’s my grumpiness holding up?

    — Pretty well.

  • Another John says:

    Just by way of cross-referencing, there is zippo on Michael Moore’s website about this. (Specific “Japan” search: http://www.michaelmoore.com/search/?q=japan; Specific “Fingerprint” search: http://www.michaelmoore.com/search/?q=fingerprint😉 It’s not in his open letters (http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mikes-letter/), nor on his Tweets or on the front page (http://www.michaelmoore.com/).

    I mean, the fingerprinting is wrong and I am all for protesting (I leave a homemade flyer saying, “I am not a criminal / 私は犯罪者ではありません!” at fingerprint checkpoints when I return to Japan), and I’m not condoning it at all, but perhaps this is not a big deal with Michael Moore. Perhaps he just had a quick gripe with the system and now it’s gone; water under the bridge…

    BTW – sidebar correction…Kinpatsu and others have alleged that fingerprinting in Japan is some sort of tit-for-tat thing with the US. Not true. Can’t speak for Brazil, but in Japan, this is hardly an organic effort. The US goaded Japan into developing a system. and reps from the US Dep’t of Homeland Security have been consistently been dogging Japan into making more complete and invasive security systems. The same thing is slowly happening in Europe, too. It is driven, as Max states above, by profit (http://gyaku.jp/en/index.php?cmd=contentview&pid=000188).

  • Have you ever met Michael Moore Debito?? I really like his stuff. Somebody suggested he does an expose on japanese racism next. How about a Debito Arudo/ Michael Moore dream team collaboration??

    — Wouldn’t mind.

  • It’s great to know that Moore came to Japan, ’cause it gives a link between him and the country and culture that had been lacking for the most part. I have used some of Moore’s materials in classes before — including, recently, a discussion of his SiCKO, a great film for peeling the scales off the eyes of the sorts of students whose first idea for a graduation thesis is “the meaning of Thanksgiving in America” — and this material will help to increase student interest in him and his films and books. And thanks, Another John, for the additional links.

  • @John:
    Then why did the immigration official tell Michael Moore that it was tit-for-tat? And why would US Homeland Security goad Japan into it, but not Europe? The US DOHS has been badgering japan to allow them access to the Japanese database, which is not the same thing as forcing Japan to adopt a finterprint system in the first place.
    BTW, fingerprinting is being introduced at UK borders from next year, but only for people who have applied in advance for visas to enter the UK. Basically, if you’re from a country that requires a visa (say, India or Pakistan), you go to the British embassy and get fingerprinted, receive your visa, and then your prints are taken again upon arrival in Britain to see that they match. Your prints will then be deleted within 24 hours.
    (However, this may well be abolished if the British government changes at the next election in April, only four months away.)

  • Moore really needs to do his homework.

    “So your conservative governments started to cut away at the social safety net that you created for your people.”

    Uh, Mikey, the LDP had been in power for more than 60 years. The “social safety net” was created under an LDP administration!
    Now I am no great fan of the LDP, but I don’t get his conclusion that a conservative government coming into power destroys the safety net. The great socialist masses didn’t create the safety net, the (LDP) government did. This guy is the king of taking things out of context to promote his own agenda.
    And if he were so knowledgeable about Japan, he would have known he would be fingerprinted in the first place…

  • I should have added, that I have not once left Japan since they instituted the finger printing policy. I refuse to leave Japan until it is abolished. No, I’m not a criminal in hiding but I feel very strongly about this privacy invasion and I also don’t want to be touching something that 1000’s of people touch every day when they enter/leave the country.

  • phil adamek says:

    Yoga Boy: I am not sure that Moore literally meant he was X-rayed. I think that might have been a colorful way of saying that he had his fingerprints taken.

    Chris: I don’t think Michael Moore presented himself as being one who is knowledgeable about Japan — on the contrary, he disavowed having much knowledge and suggested that if he had more, he would better know what to criticize — so I believe your criticisms of him on that score are rational enough but misdirected. I think you have to look at the bulk of his pronouncements, not boil them down to a historical analysis, if you want to be fair. And if you do that, I think you might share the respect I have for the courage he showed on that occasion. The man speaks his mind when he is presented with a lack of justice. That’s his strong point, as well as, at times, his weak point. It’s his weak point only because it leaves him open to criticism that he did not study the details closely enough. But that has never been his role. He paints the world in broad strokes. That’s his particular talent, too. It allows him to convey difficult subjects (like the health care industry in the US) to the common people while not distorting them with secondary considerations nor weighing them down with erudition. Now, if you only wanted to show off your superior grasp of Japanese society and politics when compared to Michael Moore, that is another story. You have succeeded there, without a doubt. Bravo.

  • 1) about being X-rayed:
    I am not aware of anyone being X-rayed at airports when entering Japan (as that would be a medical examination which customs officers are not allowed to perform).
    Has anyone ever been X-rayed at any airport in the world?

    2) about being fingerprinted:
    I believe the trend is that fingerprinting is becooming more common. Example: Whenever EU citizens now apply for a new pasport of their respective country they need to supply fingerprints at the time of application.
    It is more likely that in future Japanese citizens will also be fingerprinted rather than non-Japanese citizens no longer being fingerprinted.

    In the corporate world fingerprinting is also becoming more common. I have recently visited a comany in Manila where employees had to touch a fingerprint scanner to gain access to the building (seems to be safer than showing employee IDs).

    3) the US vs. Japan:
    Japan is still “better” than the U.S. as your two index fingers will do whereas in the U.S. it’s 10 fingers … or else

    4) dry hands:
    According to my experience if you have dry hands (at least at Kansai airport) and the scanning process doesn’t work after 2 or 3 attempts they’ll usually just say it’s OK (if everything else is OK).

    5) Kansai airport vs. Narita airport
    From my own experience at KIX and from what I’ve heard about NRT it seems that KIX is a bit more relaxed and friendly towards both Japanese and non-Japanese passengers. I’ve never heard of anyone leaving KIX being asked to show their “alien card”.

    Any comments being appreciated.

    — I’ve only experienced a lack of Gaijin Card checks at KIX (Haneda, Narita, and Chitose all have zapped me at least once). I agree KIX seems to be a lot friendlier. Free Internet in the waiting areas too if you have your own computer with you.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>