Sendaiben and MB on Narita Airport again, this time both before and after entry


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Hi Blog. Have just finished giving a presentation and partaking in a PhD workshop at the University of British Columbia (getting ready for those sucked all the time out of blogging, sorry). But we have some updates to some recent posts on how Immigration (and extensions thereof) is treating people crossing borders and afterwards. Sendaiben and MB comment:


September 29, 2010
From Sendaiben:

Just came back through Narita and gave my usual calm and friendly rant to the immigration officer (she wasn’t particularly impressed -got a very curt “if you don’t comply you can’t come in”). Fair enough.

I then had a thought. The re-entry permit holder line anywhere I’ve been has been by far the shortest. I have never had to wait more than a minute or so, unlike the Japanese citizens who often have long lines (and let’s not talk about the tourist lines, which are often pretty bad). I can also take my family through with me (even though they have Japanese passports) and save them time standing in line too.

If you think of the re-entry line as a VIP line that requires additional security (fingerprints), does that not make the whole thing easier to swallow? After all, it’s not such a big deal, is it? It’s not worth getting het up about every single time we come back into the country, is it?

Sadly, that doesn’t work for me, however much I would like it to. I really dislike the policy, which seems pointless and needlessly offensive to me.

I will keep complaining, although I make sure I do so in a calm and friendly manner (the immigration officers on the desks didn’t make the rules, so there is no point being hostile to them). However, as public servants, they should know how the public feels about the policies they carry out: thus it is my right to talk about it in a calm and reasonable way 😉

Ironically it is this more than anything else which is pushing me to naturalize: I don’t need the grief every time I come home. What does everyone else think?


MB adds what happens once within the pale:


July 14, 2010
From MB:

It seems that Narita cops still practice racial profiling even after all the protests lodged at their office in Narita…this is sad because it shows we foreigners count like zero.

I frequently use Narita and to say the truth this was the first time I saw this bad practice at work. Hearsay is one thing, seeing something with your eyes is very different and I have to be honest to say that I got angry.

In the open space just before the Narita Express entrance two policemen
had stopped two people and were asking them various things.

Those two people of course were also showing their passports. They were foreigners. At that point I took one picture. I thought to myself, “Well, they will also stop Japanese….”. So I purposedly waited nearby to see what the two cops would do next.

When I saw that the next people they stopped were foreigners too I began to feel angry. Welcome to Japan.

Then, after these two people the policemen stopped another couple of…. foreigners.

All of this lasted like 30 minutes and they only stopped foreigners (all white, no asians etc.).

I also walked around to see if they stopped me but they didn’t. Maybe I look “mendokusai” ? One of the two cops looked at me after I was staring him for a long time but he didn’t make any move. The pattern I noticed is:

– white only
– two people for two cops
– tourist looking type
– normal looking person (with this I mean
those people they stopped were not really “suspicious” looking !!)

The cops always asked for:
– passports
and, this is interesting, I also noticed that in all three cases they talked to their targets for a while, THEN, when they were about to let them go, they asked again, casually, for some last thing (which I couldn’t hear). I am curious to know what it was…

The pattern was something like: “Thanks, now you may go. (then with a surprised face) Ah…I forgot to ask….”

I really do hope they also start stopping anybody not only practice dummies. This practice doesn’t make me feel safer at all, instead it makes me think of all those people that just pass through Narita without any fear to be stopped by these robo-cops.


38 comments on “Sendaiben and MB on Narita Airport again, this time both before and after entry

  • Being finger printed, photographed is bad enough, as i travel through Kansai some 5~10 times a year. There are just as many “other aspects” of living in Japan that irk me. BUT, as annoying as these are, it will never make me want to naturalise and give up my passport.

    To me, this is just capitulation. If I live here, pay taxes, and all the other “things” associated with normal domicile, I should be afforded the same rights, rules and laws as its nationals. If it doesn’t, then why would I wish to “join them…having a piece of paper to wave at them will not change their mind/mentality. So why bother…??

  • It’s a total pain and completely unnecessary but as Ben points out, the shorter lines for re-entrants is a bit of a sweetener. To be honest when I arrive at any airport my first thoughts are of getting out of there as soon as possible, so I never say anything. I guess my only silent protest is to never smile for the camera – the cherry blossom or cartoon temple background they put in the background to the photo is just silly.

    On a related note, I have noticed hotels in Japan have wised up to the fact that you don’t need to show a passport if you live in Japan. Haven’t had any passport-related hassle in hotels for a good while now, whereas some countries in Asia will insist not only on you showing your passport at check-in but keeping it with them for the duration of your stay, too. Or at least taking multiple photocopies.

    Taxi drivers have got better too. It must be ten years since the last time I got a crossed-hands refusal from an available cab. Although some drivers still hit you with racist bile on the start of your journey, “Guys like you are OK, but I just find black people scary, especially at night, etc etc’. Had that line a couple of times in the last year or so… My usual tactic there is to tell them to shut up and drive.

  • As for Narita, it still happens.
    It happened to an irish co-worker after he got back from Bali.

    When I go to Narita I just walk around with my Japanese wife, and I find they just leave me alone.

  • Sounds like they target FOB newbies. Gaijins “tainted” by the long terms look know their rights too well, might be mendokusai, and make a recording, take pictures or write down said cops’ badge numbers?

  • I came through Narita recently and saw no uniformed police patrols. The odd experience was when I came through immigration: the guy asked me for my ARC (they also did the previous time) but not from the two middled-aged women of Asian appearance, travelling separately, who were ahead of me in the re-entry queue. Being semi-conscious from a long flight, this only occurred to me later, so I didn’t say anything. They were fingerprinted so they weren’t Special Permanent Residents.

    Another slight observation is that the camera was good enough to fairly clearly snap the person waiting in the queue behind. So you’re probably being photographed twice on each entry.

  • Are the re-entry permit holder lines only at Narita? I would think that the foreigner lines would be long at Kansai (and soon at Haneda)?

  • Try to wait in line with screaming and kicking, tired baby in your arms and to be fingerprinted without droping the baby.Why aren’t sick, pregnant, mothers with babies and very old people given priority?
    “If you think of the re-entry line as a VIP line that requires additional security (fingerprints), does that not make the whole thing easier to swallow”-I think they are doing this for statistics:how many Japanese enter, how many foreigners, how many with re-entry…

  • I have yet to leave Japan since they instituted the finger printing policy at the customs checkpoint and I never will. I refuse to go through process on principle alone. Having never committed a crime, why should I or others be subjected to said injustice (which does little to improve security). Additionally, I do not want to place my fingers on scanners that have been touched by thousands upon thousands of other people’s nose picking fingers.

  • I have yet to hear any rational explanation for what ‘security’ is being provided by asking foreign-looking people for their passports that isn’t already covered by other, more sincere airport security check points. Terrorists don’t have passports? It states if you are a terrorist in your passport? Japanese people feel a sense of relief when they see foreigners being randomly checked? This last reason is likely plausible, albeit far from rational.

    Wasn’t there a thread on this recently where it was determined that these police are actually newbies undergoing a form of training? Whatever the case, it is a travesty.

    Last year at Narita, I was repacking my suitcase while the wife took the little one to the washroom. Two police officers appeared not too far from me, looked around, saw me, and proceeded to talk to each other while staring my way. At that moment, the wife reappeared with the kid, they saw this, turned around and walked away. Just my imagination? Could be, but my blood was boiling at the thought that I was about to be racially profiled.

    How can awareness be raised about this issue? The police have been doing this for a few years now which may indicate that they receive very little daily resistance, aside from the odd long-termer. Surely letting someone in power know that this has no actual security relevance and serves only to disappoint and anger those who have just arrived here or those just about to leave.

  • > got a very curt “if you don’t comply you can’t come in”

    Last time I passed immigration at NRT, and complained about fingerprinting, a young officer who was very irritated for some reason even before I got to him, responded to my complaint with “This is how we do things, and if you don’t like it you are free to go elsewhere” (うちのやり方です。いやだったら入らなくてもいいですよ). He repeated the last line two or three times, not prompting me to press on scanners with my fingers or look at the camera (I did it all myself following instructions on screen), until I responded to him “Okay, I’ve got your point”. I’ve had an impression he’d readily departed me had I not scanned my fingerprints and took my photo myself.

    — Well, possibly the Pinprick Protests are having an effect.

  • …the immigration officers on the desks didn’t make the rules, so there is no point being hostile to them…
    “I was only following orders” is not a defence. In the UK, they would have been out on strike until the policy was changed. I still maintain five years mandatory prison for any immigration officer who has ever participated in this racism, and life without parole for the politicians who introduced it. Racism is a serious crime. It should be treated as such.

  • “…I would think that the foreigner lines would be long at Kansai (and soon at Haneda)?…”

    They can be, depends what time of day you arrive and where your (or other) flight orginiated from.

    The re-entry line is almost always empty though.

  • I have an idea that I am putting into action.

    To my knowledge, this is the Narita police only. They don’t respond to direct complaints, but Narita airport is worried about losing business to Haneda. I will have to travel abroad soon, and there is a Haneda route which requires a connection in Asia but will get me where I am going without the hassle of 1. traveling all the way to Narita; and 2. dealing with random passport checks and the sure-to-follow hour where I call the wrath of the Japanese justice system down upon them. I plan to do / suggest to all of you that, where possible, you book the Haneda route and write a complaint to Narita airport telling them of your reasons for doing so.

    Money talks.

  • >“This is how we do things, and if you don’t like it you are free to go elsewhere” (うちのやり方です。いやだったら入らなくてもいいですよ).

    A good ‘pin-prick’ response to something like this may be: “I don’t want to come here, if you must know. But seeing as how I am the sole supporter for the 4 Japanese nationals living with me, I have no choice. That is, until I get the opportunity to go to another, more welcoming country.”

    Amazing how some people in authority have this notion that they are doing us a favor by allowing us to work and raise a family here. Surprised we aren’t burdened with an added tax: the ‘kansha’ (appreciation) tax.

  • ““Guys like you are OK, but I just find black people scary, especially at night, etc etc’.” Had that line a couple of times in the last year or so… ”

    I’ve had that too, but not from a taxi driver. I just say “My wife’s black,” (or Chinese, or Jewish, depending on the particular strain of bigotry involved) and that shuts them up.

  • Reading through all the posts, including my own, overall it seems like the overbearing Japanese “rules” or “over checking” at the airport make NJs understandably paranoid or irked after a long flight or a long history of this borderline harrassment, which leads to them “challenging” the staff (as they should), which then stresses out the staff and makes them snappy and unfriendly. A vicious circle.

    Mark my words, as Narita continues this peculiarly Japanese-style take on the downward spiral into paranoia and nastiness we already see at American airports, it is only a matter of time before someone-probably an employee-violently lashes out.

  • Sent an e-mail to Narita airport again, and told them I was uncomfortable with what was happening, and will be using Haneda from now on.
    Then again, what’s to say that they won’t try the same nonsense at Haneda as well.

  • G (anon) I wantt to keep employing these says:

    I have honestly employed all of these tactics, every time I come back and take great satisfaction. Try them, keeps me amused

    1) keep your eyes closed when getting photographed timing is everything, the look on the Immigrations officers face was brlliant,when he was checking it, I just kept a straight angelic face .

    2) have a great rant ( but keep it calm …)

    3) pull the peace sign when getting your photograph taken and a sarcastic “Yokoso”

    4) press too hard on the fingerprint machine you will get the red beep , keep doing this until you get bored

    5) keep getting the wrong fingers

    6) ask them to clean the Fingerprint machine as you don’t want to catch Influenza.

    7) sneeze when you get your photograph done ( I was great at this at school , just to annoy the teachers) practice practice!

    finally for you “gaikokujin” card, take a subtle but ridiculous photograph,

    I made a side parting and had a huge silver bow -tie, and had an inane grin, it was subtle enough to be on my card, my way of say “this system is a big fat ferkin joke”

    anybody else got low key but pleasing tactics let me know and I will use them next time , no problem
    never take this lying down,

  • I don’t have a problem with giving my fingerprints. Personally, I think it would help solve crimes if every person in the country was fingerprinted, say upon entering grade school or something. Fingerprints at a crime scene can be used not only to identify criminals but also potential witnesses who may not have been aware at the time that they were even witnessing a crime. If it were a process of fingerprinting EVERYONE who lives in the country ONCE, and then keeping that single set of fingerprints on file, I would gladly comply and encourage others too.

    But there is NO need to fingerprint the SAME long-term resident every time they enter, nor is there any reason to discriminate based on nationality. Both just contribute to racism… seeing people who live here and have been in and out of the country multiple times, each time complying with the law STILL being denied access to that “Japanese pasport” line just makes that line between “us” and “them” even clearer, and assuming that there’s a need to have foreign residents’ fingerprints on file, but not Japanese citizens’ just enforces the “Huge amounts of crimes are perpetrated by NJ” stereotype… when a quick glace at the figures will tell you that simply isn’t true. Bottom line, I don’t hate being fingerprinted on general principle, but if they’re going to do it they ought to do it right…. either you’ve got a right to privacy regarding your fingerprints or you don’t, whichever they decide should apply to everyone if they want to be fair OR effective.

  • What I still don’t get, is that we all need “re-entry permits”. Where in the world does a similar system exist?
    At least not in Europe, and with the arrival of machine-readable passports, even the GOJ should know at any time, who’s in and who’s out any given day.
    Even though it’s only once in three years, it bothers me as a PR to haul my butt to Immigration, fill in two absolutely meaningless forms in order to be able to leave Japan and come back on my Permanent Residence visa, and lose half a day of work over the procedure (mind you, losing time means losing income for my self-employed modest self, and THAT, dear GOJ, means less taxes for YOU!!). And I doubt the 3,000 or 6,000 yen we have to pay for that most gracious permit help to financially sustain, let alone fiscally justify the very system of re-entry permits…

  • Received the following answer from Narita airport.
    Basic gist of it is as follows.

    1) Yes we know this is happening, and we know it has an impact on the image of the airport as a whole
    2) We can’t limit what the police are doing, so the best you can do is to clarify with them the reason and the necessity behind these stops

    In other words you’ll have to put up with it as we don’t want to do/can’t do anything. As usual the person replying didn’t give their name.

    By the way the last line highly annoys me, implying that this is all for everyone’s ‘safety’.














  • @Getchan: reentry permits exist both in the United States and Hong Kong. And probably some other countries I don’t know about. For the United States, one is needed only if you’re out of the U.S. for more than a year as a permanent resident, and then is valid for only a year, and is not consecutively renewable. It costs $170, and takes weeks to months to receive after application (I-751). It makes the Japanese re-entry scheme look cheap, fair, and efficient by comparison.

    @John: as those photos are probably used with facial recognition technology, they probably wouldn’t want to get more than one face in each photo as that would confuse the software.

    @Kimberly: agreed that Japanese citizens should be fingerprinted too. The primary reason they fingerprint non-Japanese every time is to guard against passport forgeries and the spies (and terrorists sponsored by nation-states) that use them. A practical and plausible example for Japan would be North Korean “illegal †” spies coming to Japan on state forged ‡ South Korean passports. North Korea is famous for its forgery ability; it’s the #1 producer of fake U.S. $100 bills in the world, and the offset printing is so advanced that practically only the U.S. Secret Service can tell the difference between the DPRK “Super-K” bills and the real bills.

    So while it’s easy to detect a forged passport made by an amateur or civilian, it’s pretty much impossible for border control to tell the difference between a real passport and a bogus passport that is professionally produced by a government. (Example: the Dubai assassination of the Hamas leader this year by agents using state-produced {alleged to be Israel} phony UK passports). Fingerprints help in these cases (although nothing is foolproof), because most governments are very careful about getting the fingerprints of as many people connected to the military and intelligence agencies, in additional to Interpol criminals and terrorists, as possible on file. Embassy X hosting a gala dinner for the fellow embassy Y across the street? You can bet that all of the wine glasses held that night get dusted for prints and put in the database. Of course, there are ways around fingerprints, but it’s much, much more difficult compared to bogus passports.

    So, in summary, the fingerprinting is done not because immigration is worried so much about resident non-Japanese committing crime (there are many Japanese that do believe this, but that’s not immigration), but rather there I believe genuine concern about nation-state pros pretending to be resident non-Japanese: “illegal”† spies. Recall that passports were originally created during WW1 primarily to cut down on spies.

    Why do they do only non-Japanese? Probably two reasons: it’s easy to do on non-Japanese because they really don’t have a say in the matter (no vote) unfortunately, whereas there are bound to be privacy concerns, regulations, etc. to overcome and negotiations in order to to get the consent from Japanese citizens. The other reason is that real spies are not like James Bond: they don’t speak Japanese fluently or go undercover or have had corrective surgery to look Japanese. Their job is not to infiltrate. Their job is to network and bribe and pay off locals to do the dirty work of gathering information. A spy that does not look Japanese and doesn’t speak Japanese and hasn’t been in the country enough to know it well — remember, a naturalized citizen has probably been in Japan for a very long time — coming in on a Japanese passport is not going to have a plausible cover story to tell border control. On the other hand, a North Korean spy is going to be able to pose as a South Korean well enough to fool an immigration officer if the phony passport is professionally produced. An American, likewise, would probably be able to easily fool a Japanese immigration officer if they came in on a pro-state-forged Canadian passport. However, it’s still possible that a spy would attempt to pass themselves off as a recently naturalized Japanese. And North Korea has shown that it has the audacity to try to pull something as crazy as this (ie. the ’70s kidnapping JP children to train KP spies fiasco).

    This is not only a safety/security loophole, it’s unfair. Japanese should be treated the same way as non-Japanese with respect to national security identification. The interesting thing here is that all new Japanese passports are biometric-chip enabled, but they’ve only chosen to record the name, birth date, etc (all the stuff on the passport front page) in the chip (which is properly PKI digitally-signed and thus can’t be uniquely forged unless the master keys are stolen from the government). Currently, the only biometric data on the chip is your passport photo even though it’s perfectly capable of holding the fingerprint. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, like the U.S. and U.K., chose intentionally not to include the fingerprint. The automated gates at the airport? Those compare against a auxiliary database created just for it, not to fingerprints encoded in the passport.

    My opinion: The MoFA should make all Japanese register their fingerprints, putting the data on the passport IC chip, if they want a passport. Fingerprinting for non-Japanese should be optional IF their fingerprints are already encoded on their e-passport. Many new (post 2009) EU — and some other countries’ — e-passports already encode fingerprints, making the fingerprinting of these non-Japanese residents unnecessary.

    † “Illegal” is a term for spies that enter the country not under a Diplomat-status passport; most “spies” (eg. the CIA stationed at the U.S. Embassy) enter countries using diplomatic status because the penalty for being caught engaging in espionage is usually quite strict. Diplomats do not have to be fingerprinted, which means that these people can enter the country with a phony, state-sponsored and produced alias and not worry about getting caught by biometrics. However, by entering using a diplomatic passport, it basically gives away who you are — you’re probably a field operations officer for an intelligence agency. You will be let in, and the police can’t touch you, but they know who you are (you even have a special license plate!) and they will be keeping a very careful eye on you, making it difficult to do things discreetly.

    ‡ Although Kim Jong-nam, son of Kim Jong-il, was busted in 2001 trying to enter Narita (to visit Disneyland‽) pretending to be Chinese and using an embarrassingly bad fake Dominican Republic passport.

  • “This is how we do things, and if you don’t like it you are free to go elsewhere” (うちのやり方です。いやだったら入らなくてもいいですよ)……is a valid option. Being at liberty to do so, it’s one I took, and, two-plus years later, one I don’t regret. My re-entry permit just expired, and, presumably, with it went my PR status on September 10 2010. Just another Friday. “Aujourd-hui, rien!” to quote Louis XIV.

    Believe it or not, I just started a one-year contract in Saudi Arabia. Here I am among the 26 or 27% of the population which is from outside the Kingdom. I have more freedoms here, as a non-citizen, than I did in Japan. Nobody’s called me a “أجنبي” (foreigner) here, and the welcome has been just unbelievable. Even my Saudi ID card (iqamma) says “Residence Permit”, not ARC. I’ve laughed more here in the last three weeks than I ever did in eleven years in Japan.

    I look back and realize that, yes, it’s serious, the fumbling mismanagement and lack of appreciation of the riches inherent in the international community in Japan, but I also realize that, time and distance gave me perspective. For those who can, I suggest likewise, time and distance. For those who may not be able to, illegitimi non caburundur! Fight the good fight, but don’t wait eleven years to remember how to laugh. The mindlessly unaware idiots who do this to us are just not worth the emotional energy.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Eido, that is an excellent post. Agreed on all points except one: The vast majority of all trips abroad last less than one year, a period for which the US requires no fees or paperwork beyond the Green Card that you already have, so the US re-entry system is only more expensive and more difficult for the particular case of being outside the country for more than one year and less than two. (With the Japanese system being clearly superior for periods of one year and less than three — your US residency clock will reset to zero if you’re abroad for more than 2 years, the maximum for that permit.)

    And of course the US has the option to naturalize — allowing you to come and go as you wish forever — without losing your former nationality. Yet another argument in favor of Japan allowing dual nationality.

    Of course, the entire concept of re-entry permits is redundant as the passport already shows whether you’re eligible to enter or not. But with the US and Japan both having terrible national budgets, I can’t see these moneymakers going away anytime soon!

    @Ben and Debito — I just passed through Narita Airport on Monday afternoon and had the following experiences:

    * A video describing immigration procedures was shown as the airplane landed; English first, then Japanese. When they showed the fingerprint/photograph portion of the procedure, the phrase “foreign visitors” was used. That could be a bit misleading, since (as posters here well know) residents without Japanese nationality also have to undergo this. When the Japanese-language video came on a few minutes later, I was looking forward to seeing what phrase they used to describe the people who would be fingerprinted — imagine my surprise when the fingerprinting segment was cut out altogether!

    I could easily see a long-term immigrant who speaks Japanese well but has no English (and is thus ignoring the English video entirely), returning after going abroad for the first time in several years, getting an unpleasant surprise!

    Now why would the Japanese-language video have that part cut out? It’s not like the Japanese video is directed only at Japanese nationals — has anyone else seen this? If nobody knows, I might ask my airline why they did this.

    * There were about 15 immigration-control windows available, evenly split between Japanese passports, re-entry permit holders, and foreign visitors. The re-entry windows were labeled only in English. There was no waiting for Japanese passport holders (as it should be), a few minutes’ wait for re-enterers, and a very long line snaking all around the room for visitors.

    I hadn’t filled in the inane question on the back of the re-entry card asking how much money you’ve got in your possession. The man behind the desk didn’t ask, though — in fact, he never uttered a single word in any language — and I got the impression he was expecting to get some guff from travellers as his machine wasn’t taking the prints very well. I and the three people in front of me all requierd four or five tries to get them.

    * Customs officials were friendly, happy (and relieved) to speak Japanese with me, and not intrusive in the least. Perhaps the drug dogs were sniffing the troublemakers out before they could get to the officials, but yesterday, and every time I’ve re-entered Japan, their attitude and performance have been exemplary. Props to them.

    * Yes, there were police questioning people in the area between the airport and the train platform. This time it was two youngish cops and two Caucasian women. And yes, they pulled them back for one extra question just when it looked like they were finished. I didn’t stay around to watch anything else.

    So, to sum up: the immigration and customs officials ranged from indifferent to excellent; nothing worth complaining about. As usual, it’s the National Police Agency hassling people for no reason.

    @Johnny: This sentence in your letter is interesting: 「空港会社が警察官の職務執行に対して制限をすることはできません」. The airport has no ability to stop (or “limit”) police questioning?

    Did your letter contain a telephone number for you to reply to them?

    It looks like the airport wants to get the police to explain why they’re questioning people, so even though 今後、外国の方を呼び止め職務質問される場合には、質問の理由や必要性等を明確に伝えていただくよう申し入れを行いたいと考えております
    sounds like tatemae, you should still follow up on it with the same person.

    When police were hassling bicyclists outside my house (myself included, many times), they rebuffed my landlord’s complaint by saying that the areas in front of apartments are not private property, and so the police can do as they like there, but they can’t enter private property. So who does that area where the Narita police gather belong to? It’s clearly indoors and is part of a building, so it’s not exactly open space. Does it not belong to the airport? If it doesn’t (and is public space), how can passports be demanded just to enter the place? If it does, why can’t the airport do anything about the police’s actions?

  • @#21 So the airport is claiming that the police questioning is ‘shokumu shitsumon’, while the police officer I talked to told me it was ‘voluntary’. Hmmm.

    Anyone care to refuse next time? I won’t be in Narita for a while, or I would try it…

  • I really don’t understand the complaints on this. I use Narita frequently – a dozen times or more a year. Every single time I have been the re-entry permit line has had the shortest queues and I have got through immigration in under 5 minutes.

    I don’t really care if they take my photo & fingerprint – I agree it is essentially useless – but the practical effect is I got through immigration more quickly then the Japanese. This always annoys my wife so has an added bonus.

    The practical effect of this policy is to disadvantage Japanese over re-entry permit holders by giving us (sometimes considerably) shorter queues in immigration. I don’t care in the slightest if the Japanese authorities have my photo (they do already for the ARC) or fingerprints.

  • Further correspondence from Narita airport. Clearly they still do not get it. Nor will they put a name to an e-mail.
    I rather suspect that non-action on behalf of the airport company is part of the problem.











    — Yes, I just came through Narita today. The Chiba Police were practicing on unsuspecting NJ just outside the Narita Express gates. I used all the tactics Readers have used (including pretending to talk on the phone) and got by without incident.

  • @DR: “[You] have more freedoms [in Saudi Arabia], as a non-citizen, than [you] did in Japan“? I’m sure you’re having a great time, but from at least a Constitutional/law point of view {see the links in this paragraph}, I don’t think that’s correct. And even if you scope your opinion to the context of ex-pat living, I still don’t think that’s generally accurate.

    Now if you excuse me, I think I’m going to enjoy savior some of my Japanese freedoms that I’ve been taking for granted: I’m going to the convenience store, wearing ragged shorts and a t-shirt, with a local woman that’s not my wife by my side, buying a 500ml beer for the left hand, a giant bacon roll for my right hand, and am going to walk down the sidewalk while eating pork and drinking alcohol. Mmmm, bacon. Nom nom nom. I might also kiss that girl (on the cheek; I’m married and have some self-imposed limits) goodnight in public, ideally in front of the police, before retiring for the night.

    ↑ Sorry for getting cheeky in the previous paragraph, but I think it’s important to remember and point out, amongst all this talk about fingerprints and interrogation and ARC problems, that on the whole, Japan is still a democracy, like the U.S., Canada, & most states in Europe, that gives a lot of rights and freedoms to its people (both Japanese and non-Japanese), that would be unthinkable in a lot of other countries in the world.

    @Mark In Yayoi: [slaps forehead] I forgot an important one! The PRC “multiple use” visa (not a separate permit) – which is in my U.S. passport. It basically describes your ideal situation: one visa in you passport that can be used to enter the country within it’s valid period as many times as you want. No additional re-entry permit needed. Of course, a Japanese passport is even better: no visa needed. 🙂

    Regarding naturalizing to the U.S.: you can still lose your former nationality, as it’s a two way street: both countries have to allow multiple citizenship. And while the U.S. is relatively open minded about bringing along baggage (former citizenships) with you to your marriage to the U.S., it’s not thrilled about Americans using additional citizenships. For example, legislation was introduced as late as 2005 (H.R. 3938). (the 109th Congress closed before it passed, and the bill died):

    H.R. 3938 would have made it a felony for a naturalized U.S. citizen to vote in an election in, or use a passport from, their former country. Supporters of H.R. 3938 may have believed labeling such activity a criminal offense, but without seeking to use it as a reason to revoke the offender’s U.S. citizenship, would sidestep objections based on the Afroyim and Terrazas rulings.

    And given the immigration hysteria that’s all the rave right now in the States (and many countries in Europe), I wouldn’t bet in Vegas that the U.S. and European attitude towards dual nationality is always going to be as liberal as it is now.

  • How I love Kansai Airport!!!

    Living in Osaka, I’ve been using Kansai Airport for the past 10 years. Have never been stopped by any police officer. There are usually one or two police officers walkig around. But they have never stopped me nor have I ever seen them stop any foreigners or foreign looking people or anyone at all.

    MY CONCLUSION: This “police problem” seems to be limited to Narita Airport. Although lucky for me personally, it affects the great majority of travellers (as Narita is still Japan’s main international airport)

    Let’s just hope the Narita cops will get bored one day!

  • Picked up my family at Narita today. Went through the post-train security where I showed my Gaijin ID. Usual place where they might check your bags. No problem.

    About 30 seconds later I was stopped by a policeman in the open area near Starbucks and the Midori no Madoguchi.. He asked for my passport. I told him I had my gaijin card because I live here. He wanted to see it. I asked “For what reason?” He said “No reason. I just need to see it.” I pulled it out and then he started writing my information down on his clipboard. I asked him several times if everything was OK and why was he doing this? He kept saying it was procedure now. I asked if it was only procedure on gaijin. He straight up said “Yes”.I said it was “bimyo” and “okashi” several times since I have never had to give up such detailed information in the time I’ve lived in Japan “on the street”.

    He then kept pressing for my ketai number over and over. I finally gave it to him because I didn’t want an incident and didn’t have the time, patience or knowhoe to deal with this “more righteously”. But I let him know that I have been living here for 8 years and go to Narita many times. And today was the first time I needed to give all this information. He said “Sorry” and that was about it. I complained about it to the Information desk, not for hope that something be done, but because I needed to vent.

    Afterwards, when I picked up my family and we went back down to the train area we were approached again. I very quickly told him “I already did this 30 minutes ago” and he walked away.

    I’m a bit pissed, and also a bit wary about having them write down all my personal information. I really don’t like this one bit.

    — Narita Cops fulfilling quotas and getting practice.

  • Hi All,

    I’ve read this post and it’s replies with great interest. Especially Oscar_6’s reply (#10):

    “Last time I passed immigration at NRT, and complained about fingerprinting, a young officer who was very irritated for some reason even before I got to him, responded to my complaint with “This is how we do things, and if you don’t like it you are free to go elsewhere” (うちのやり方です。いやだったら入らなくてもいいですよ). He repeated the last line two or three times, not prompting me to press on scanners with my fingers or look at the camera (I did it all myself following instructions on screen), until I responded to him “Okay, I’ve got your point”. I’ve had an impression he’d readily departed me had I not scanned my fingerprints and took my photo myself.”

    The comment: “This is how we do things, and if you don’t like it you are free to go elsewhere” sounds familiar to me, and I also feel that refusing to provide further instructions on the process could be interpreted as attempting to provoke a refusal. In any case, I consider this kind of reaction to be rather unprofessional.

    What concerns me of course is that in order for a victim of a false alarm of the machine (or of identity theft) depends on the professionalism of the organisation and it’s staff to avoid getting into major trouble. With these kind of incidents in mind, I’m not reassured such professionalism can be counted on…

    Perhaps a few remarks can help with these pinprick protests.

    First of all, those intending to resign themselves to the fait accompli of this system, can fairly easily undercut the implied threat above by making their protest after going through the formalities.

    It may also help in these pinprick protest is to record the conversation as a matter of course. While there are videocamera’s for sale for a few dozen euro’s that are so small they have been fitted in pens, watches and such like, in at least some airports photography is not allowed and I suppose that goes for video too. In that case, sound recordings will have to do. Of course I’m not sure if that ban goes for all airports. Where it is allowed, video is of course the best medium.

    The idea behind this is that the staff appears to be rather touchy and easy to provoke into saying something that doesn’t look good in the newspapers. Putting that on record could give an opportunity to hoist the Immigration Bureau by it’s own petard.

    What also might help on this is that there are some perfectly valid points. That there are risks of false alarms and of ID-theft is no big secret anymore. Just on the first of this month, the influential magazine The Economist posted a collumn on it’s blog, nicely summarising the main problems with biometrics (people becoming victims of false alarms and identity theft, see Those concerns are quite right, and if such an answer were to be given to insisting on an explanation, this puts the official clearly in the wrong.

    Another way I know of is to ask for the reason (in technical terms the Purpose of Use), and to either refer to or cite article 4 of the Act on the Protection of Personal Information Held by Administrative Organs (Act No. 58 of 2003) (see Again, an answer like the above puts the official clearly in the wrong.

    Personally I feel like Mr. King (reply #2), not to cause trouble on the spot (for me it also feels not giving enough return on investment). Instead I gather evidence on the problems with fingerprint verification in general and the J-VIS system in particular and try to use this knowledge to create awareness. If anyone has any further evidence beyond what I already have, that would be greatly appreciated. A post to the CommunityInJapan Yahoo group is sure to reach me. I would be especially happy with more statistics on the number of people that have been deported based on matching fingerprints. In november 2007 and again a year later there have been some newspaper articles with a few statistics, but these together only give five figures.

    I hope this helps.

    Kind Regards, GS

  • Just came though Narita again yesterday, as I do roughly twice a year, and didn’t see a single ID-checking cop, as I have never done in the 9 years I’ve been here. So I’m a bit baffled as to where I’m going right! To be clear, I am neither implying it doesn’t happen nor condoning it when it does, in fact I look forward to making a nuisance of myself…and am mildly disappointed when I don’t have the chance.

    Apart from the silly fingerprinting, the only thing that grates a bit is when the customs guy inevitably asks me why I am “visiting” Japan. But compared to the crap that you have to deal with at any US airport, or the complete dilapidation and inadequacy of Heathrow, going through Narita is the generally the most pleasant end of the trip. I do like having a special express line for re-entry permits, which is generally far quicker and easier than even the UK/EU nationals line in Heathrow (just to put it in perspective).

  • @GS Beware that Economist blog entry: its main point, that biometrics are not foolproof and subject to false alarms, is based on a premise (the Mayfield case) that has been distorted or misunderstood.

    That blog entry omits the fact that in the famous post-9/11 Mayfield case, it was actually biometrics (fingerprints) that cleared his name. The U.S. court found that the claim of a “100% verified” fingerprint match was “fabricated and concocted by the FBI and DOJ”. This fact, that the post-9/11 U.S. government was busted for using false evidence, led to a formal apology by the U.S. government and $2M redress.

    The blog entry has a point in that fingerprint systems vary in quality, but it chose a really bad main example (three paragraphs) to bolster its opinion. In the Mayfield case, his fingerprints helped prove his innocence after his rights were abused by the post-9/11 U.S. government that arrested and spied on him partially due to his and his wife’s religious beliefs.

    Also, the article confuses and mixes two security concepts, identification and authentication, implying that one system (ie. fingerprints) must solve both problems, when he talks about passwords vs biometrics.

    I’m not saying that fingerprint systems are always foolproof. But if you are really concerned about identify theft and false alarms, then the systems used before the era of fingerprints — photos & signatures — should concern you far more, as these inferior “biometrics” are way more prone to abuse and mistakes than fingerprints are.

    And yes, I registered my fingerprints for the immigration automated gates, both when I was a non-Japanese and again after I naturalized. I’m confident that I’m far less likely to be the victim of identify theft or misidentification thanks to it.

    In particular, as a non-Japanese †, I appreciated the extra privacy it gave me as foreign governments could not fully analyze my travel patterns by examining my passport visa pages.


    I caution everybody to think very carefully about the potential consequences before deciding to record — be it video, audio, or still photo — immigration officers or the immigration area (either surreptitiously or in plain sight), be it in Japan or anywhere else in the world. There’s a reason why there are warnings about no cameras, recording devices, cell phones, etc., posted all around the immigration area / Customs Hall — not just Japan, but the U.S., Canada, U.K., and many other countries in the world. * Many countries consider the immigration area to be a secure and sensitive area (as in militarily), and get about as uncomfortable with people recording things and communicating as they do with people taking photos of military bases without permission. This is very different situation, than say, recording something once you’re admitted inside the country.

    Just last week I witnessed a brash young lady, an American, in front of me at JFK immigration, get pulled aside and had her Blackberry confiscated because she ignored ‡ the immigration officers repeated warnings to not use a phone while waiting in the line.

    Remember, immigration/customs is trained to look for smugglers etc. If you are caught with covert recording equipment hidden in pens, etc., let’s just say, in the best of cases, you’re going to have a very long and stressful day at the airport.

    † If you register for the automated gates as a non-Japanese in Japan, you get to choose each time whether you want an exit/entrance stamp in your passport when you use the automated immigration gates.

    * You may have noticed that there has never been pay-phones, even pre cellphone era, before the immigration checkpoint. And general photography has been prohibited for as long as I can remember.

    ‡ She pretended to hang up and put away her phone after being warned, then pulled it out after the officer walked away from her and attempted to finish her conversation via SMS while covering / hiding her phone with her palm. Unfortunately for her, the immigration officer(s) were a little more eagle-eyed and paying better attention than she assumed.

  • Silly Mid On says:

    I e-mailed the airport about this in English.
    They simply said they can’t control the police.

    When I e-mailed them to ask who at the police I should complain to, they simply said to call the airport police to find out.

    In other words, I don’t think the airport cares.

    — Well, with all the attention being drawn to the brand new international terminal at Haneda, it seems soon nobody will care what goes on at Narita. Problem is, Keishicho is worse than the Narita Police. Then again, Ishihara can’t live forever.

  • @Eido Inoue,

    Thank you for your interesting and thoughtful reply.

    First of all, thank you for your comments on the Mayfield case. If this indeed hinged on fabricated evidence instead of a mere false alarm with fingerprints, I agree The Economist chose a rather unfortunate example. And I agree there is much more and more thorough evidence.*

    Also, thank you for adding your caution. As you will have noticed, I also pointed out it will not be possible to use video evidence in locations where this is not allowed. I have other reasons, but I consider the potential risks you mention valid reasons as well. While I am not aware of similar restrictions regarding audio evidence, if this is the case, that’s off-limits as far as I’m concerned as well.

    However, I have to disagree with your point that original passport verification would pose greater risks of false alarms and identity theft. To be sure, neither system is foolproof (in this respect, the 10^-11 False Match Rate of an iris scan using John Daughman’s algorithm completely outclasses the 10^-4 standard of fingerprint verification). Just what the False Match Rate of passport verification would be is difficult to say, I have no figures and have reason to believe such checks against a blacklist were not done. But my misgivings do not concern whether the J-VIS system is foolproof, but whether it is fail-safe. In other words, am I still a happy person when a False Match occurs, or, in your words, am I going to have a very long and stressful day at the airport in the best of cases?

    As I said, much of this fail-safe depends on the attitude of the staff on the spot. In this respect, there is little to fear from a system of which it’s well-known that it’s not foolproof. But a system that is widely believed to be foolproof while the reality is rather different makes for a combination that gives cause for misgivings. And as you can imagine, incidents like the ones mentioned on this blog do little to give reassurance either.

    And there is a second failsafe to consider. The best failsafe with passports is that if all else fails, you can work together with your government to leave the problems behind and get a new passport. In my view, all identification systems that are not foolproof must have the failsafe of being possible to replace. No biometric system has that property.

    Finally, some may find some background on the pre-registration interesting. From what I understand, this changes the behaviour of the verification from checking against a blacklist to checking against your own pre-registered prints. In turn, that changes the main error in play from a False Match to a False Nonmatch. However, from what I’ve seen in test reports, the False Nonmatch rate is a degree worse than the False Match Rate, and in any case, the fail-safe involved is dependent on the same organization and staff.

    Kind Regards, GS

    * For those wishing to really go in depth into fingerprint systems, a good starting point is the US National Institute of Standards and Technology: Among the contents there can be found test reports as well as experiences with actual fingerprint verification systems.

  • Let me share my latest experiences at Narita Airport, Wed, Nov. 17, Terminal 1, South Wing, around 3pm.

    First, my wife, walking around in the shopping arcade, was approached by a police officer who kindly asked “May I see your passport?”. She gave it to him, he checked, took his memopad and asked “Can I write down some data?” My wife said “No!!”, seems, he did not expect such reply, returned the passport and left the scene.

    Around half an hour later, I was the victim. Just had passed the security check and packed my notebook into its case on the packing tables at the windowside, when a young police officer approached me and asked in good English”

    “Excuse me, may I see your passport?”
    Me: “What?”
    He: “May I see your passport please?”
    Me: “Why?”
    He: “It is for security”
    Me: “Bullshit, you do not provide any security by such actions. You waste my time and you waste your life at the airport here. If you want to see my passport or alien registration, come downstairs with me to the immigration, then you can see it”
    He: “Butto, butto, butto, it is my duty, I have to do”
    Me: ” I don’t show you my passport”

    He let me go. Certainly, if he was not alone,it might have been more difficult to “escape”. I know, legally he was entitled to ask for the passport, he even could have arrest me (I was anyway on the begin of an unpleasant business trip…) But somehow I was glad to fight against this system and to make those police officers feel uncomfortable in their actions.

    Within one year, in my family of four, three got checked at Narita, not bad?

  • Orient, would you say it was racial profiling?

    As on another recent thread we have just heard that only the Chinese are actually growing in number in Japan, it would be interesting to see if the cops stop them. Can they tell any difference between Chinese and Japanese (if they weren’t speaking)? Would they ever stop a Japanese by mistake (and ask to see their passport)?

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    Oddly enough, I managed to get through Terminal 2 at Narita with only one police officer in sight, and he wasn’t checking anyone.
    I wondered if it had to do with the date (Nov. 24, post APEC), the time (third plane to land after the 6:00 AM curfew ended) or the fact that I went straight to the bus counter and didn’t use a train.
    Possibly having a two-year old Japanese national in tow helped a little too.


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