WB and me on what NJ tourists also need in Japan — security against NPA harassment


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
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Hi Blog.  I get letters like this on a daily basis (thanks everyone; can’t respond to all).  This one dovetails with something Debito.org is increasingly focusing attention upon:  Japan’s attempts to rebrand itself as a “cool tourist destination”.  This is fine, of course, but if you’re going to make it easier for NJ tourists (such as Chinese or Subcontinental Indians) to visit, you better make sure that they have a good time while here.  And I certainly see some room for improvement there.

I was waking up to NHK last Monday morning, and in line with their general cluelessness about how to treat NJ (such as acclaiming paltry 30-sen discount coupons for exchange rates), this time they were surveying airport tourists about what they’d like to see done to make Japan more attractive.  Some of the advice was decent (such as making clear on menus the contents of food, as in, what items are safe for vegetarians or diabetics).  But others were of the “whiny” variety (as in, “In America, we have menus in English”; this in a land where menus are very conveniently visual indeed).  Nice try, but if you’re trying to appeal to Asian-Region tourists, why not ask more Asian tourists what THEY want, NHK?

But one thing is of course being overlooked — how tourists and NJ in general are being targeted and harassed by police for instant passport checks.  It starts at Narita Airport, where the Narita Police are essentially using gaijin for target practice.  And as Debito.org Readers keep hearing here, it keeps happening once inside as well.  Witness this letter below, redacted only in name.

Point is, if you want to make Japan a more attractive tourist destination, please heel your police dogs, GOJ.  The NPA is spoiling the party with its racial profiling and treating NJ as suspicious.  Being treated as a criminal can really spoil one’s vacation.  Arudou Debito


November 2, 2010

Hello Debito, My name is WB and I have been following your site for 3 years by now. Let me start by saying that I was very doubtful and cynical of what you mentioned in regards to racism and discrimination in Japan as I’ve noticed none when I first went there for a short 2 week trip on Dec 2008 (Narita’s fingerprints aside). As a matter of fact, I still have some reservations towards the way you approach things, though my opinion of you changed dramatically after I went back to Japan for a 3 month stay last summer.

I went on a tourist visa to Osaka to practice and learn martial arts. My experience in that regards was fantastic and I’ve have the pleasure to meet amazing people during my trip. My experiences with police checkpoints, however, we nothing but scary. During my 3 month stay, I’ve been stopped 5 times, once by undercover detectives simply because I was gaijin. Once I was stopped on my bike, asked for my residency card (which naturally, I didn’t have because I am a tourist!) and escorted back to my home like a criminal, had my privacy intruded, handed my passport to the officers to see it being inspected to the very finest bit as if I gave them some letter full of anthrax or something. One of the officers was apologetic but the other one was rude and warned me harshly. I protested but that got things escalating so I backed down with a “hai, wakarimashita” and breathed a sigh of relief as they went away from my place.

The ensuing days had left me in fear. I quickly looked in the internet for some practical solutions and yours was what I found. I printed the Japanese laws tidbit you posted and had a copy of my passport in my pocket all the times. Carrying my passport all the time is out of the question! What if I lost it here or there? Terrible treatment awaits me if they decided to check on me when that happens! Thankfully, the next few checkpoints after this incident went smoothly, but I was always in a state of fear (for a “crime” that I didn’t commit).

The passport thing also extends to hotels it seems. I went to Shikoku for a 3 day trip and I’ve been asked for my passport in two hotels I stayed in. Failure to do so apparently means that they have to deny me service. I didn’t have my passport at that time, but I managed to convince them to accept my Canadian ID. If you think of it, they’re just following “the rules”, and since my Canadian ID had an name, address, and personal information on it; I was able to “get around” those rules.

Let me stress again that my experiences there were more positive than negative, and I am hopeful to return there once again. However, I can now understand what most NJ face in their daily life. I still have don’t like some of the aggressiveness in your opinions, but I am glad that you’re putting up the fight. Your site provided me with important information at a time of need….Thank you.

PS: I am unable to connect to your site here (Nova Scotia) for the past 2 months. I had to use an anonymous surf proxy to view it. What gives…??

Regards, WB

7 comments on “WB and me on what NJ tourists also need in Japan — security against NPA harassment

  • You’d think they’d be smarter.

    I always got the impression that Japan loved foreigners who came here, had their tourist experiences, dumped a load of money and THEN WENT HOME.

    But it appears the relentless criminalization of foreigners by the NPA and the media is meaning the the tears in the curtain are allowing more people to see some of the ugly realities here.

    Just want to say that Japan should not be judged on its police (and I’ve met many decent cops along with the racists) and the Ministry of Justice and its obvious racism.

    Japan is just as much the decent folks you meet here every day, just like everywhere else – your mates, partner, family, the old lady in the shop who gives you a smile and a tangerine or something.

    A truly bittersweet experience. That bitterness needs some sweetening (and could do without such a saccharine ending!)

  • I also can only access debito.org via my work’s proxy and it also started approximately 2 months ago.

    I lived 4 years in Japan until that I decided to leave. On my departure I was stopped twice at Narita for “security checks”. I complained that I was targeted just because I was foreigner and that I didn’t like it. This even motivated me to give my alien card to the immigration (even if the visa was valid for one extra year).

    I had met and worked with wonderful Japanese people but the government needs to change how they see foreigners in Japan.

  • I think if I got stopped 5 times by the cops, I would be talking to the embassy. Unless you’re drunkenly accosting people on the street or otherwise engaged in something obviously shady, getting stopped 5 times in 3 months is inexcusable.

    Funny, I remember back when I was a scrubby backpacker in Europe, I talked to the police once, in Amsterdam. They stopped me when I was walking around at 2 am to tell me that there was a crime reported in the area and that I should go back to my hotel because it wasn’t safe. They didn’t ask for ID or anything.

    I think the requirement to carry the passport is a bit odd, honestly. Yes, you have to have it with you somewhere, but there are numerous good reasons not to be carrying a passport in your pocket while travelling. What’s with the paranoia?

    — Police carrying out what they see is their mandate. Too bad it’s a paranoid mandate towards NJ.

  • Just a thought, does anyone have an opinion on whether the racism is mostly from low ranking officers on the beat or also from detectives? I used to have a couple of detectives as students and they were two of the most upstanding, principled, tolerant and open minded people I have ever met anywhere. Indeed I had one beat officer who was also a great guy.

    Don’t get me wrong I don’t doubt the heavy handedness of the police in general and their racism in particular – (mind you show me a country where they aren’t heavy handed), but I just wondered if there was any hope of improvement once more senior ranks are brought into a situation?

    — I think what’s crucial is getting our hands on the NPA police training manuals, to see what they say about how to approach/deal with/investigate NJ as individuals and/or suspects. There’s something just a little too systematic about the treatment. I have tried to get a copy, but it’s top secret.

  • A policeman asked for my passport just after I passed security at Narita when I was LEAVING Japan. This was when I was still upstairs and gathering my belongings on the “secure” side of the x-ray.

    I hung around a bit and watched to see if he was doing this to all gaijin, but no — it was just me for those few minutes.

    I didn’t object, but it was a bit weird since momentarily I would have had to show it to the immigration guy downstairs. What could the cop possibly discover that they wouldn’t (plus they put it through a computer)? He did write down a few details on a sheet of paper, I didn’t see what.


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