Mainichi: Transport ministry mulling random body search of 10% of all airport passengers at Narita etc. Random? Not likely.


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Hi Blog.  Relating to the current topics of racial profiling, searches, horrendous detentions, and even killings of NJ in Japanese airports, here is a harbinger of future policy:  More of the same.  In fact, according to the Mainichi, a “strengthened” more of the same — affecting 10% of all air passengers.  All in the name of anti-terrorism.  Sounds jolly.  It’s still in the “mulling” stage (but it’s at the bureaucratic level, so no doubt it’ll be smoothly rubber-stamped into law by politicians loath to “touch the controls” when the “safety of wagakuni, the kokutai and kokumin” (i.e., not foreigners) is at stake.

Proponents claim these searches will be “random”.  Yeah, sure.  Just like they have been so far.  After all, GOJ official policy has long been that foreigners are more likely to be terrorists.  So, find the foreigner, and Bob’s your uncle, yuppers; it’s a short cut.  Narita Airport, a pretty crappy and inconvenient airport to begin with, sounds like it’s becoming a real funhouse.  Shall we try Haneda, Chubu, or KIX, anyone?  Arudou Debito


Transport ministry mulling random body search of airport passengers
(Mainichi Japan) December 25, 2011, courtesy JK

CHIBA (Kyodo) — The transport ministry is considering strengthening antiterrorism measures at international airports in Japan from as early as April by conducting body searches on randomly selected passengers, airport sources said Sunday.

Departing passengers who do not pass screening at walk-through metal detectors are currently asked to go through a body search. With the new inspection procedure, about 10 percent of passengers will be randomly selected for a body search and baggage check, the sources said.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism expects the reinforced inspection procedures to act as a deterrent to terrorism, including acts involving explosives and weapons which metal detectors do not pick up, they said.

The new airport security practice is expected to be introduced at Narita airport and some other international airports, the sources said.

The ministry and airlines are discussing whether the longer time needed for the security inspection would cause significant delays in plane boarding.


17 comments on “Mainichi: Transport ministry mulling random body search of 10% of all airport passengers at Narita etc. Random? Not likely.

  • If these guys went out of their way to dissuade visitors to Japan they couldn’t do any better, could they? It’s the ultimate “Japanese Only” sign, plonked right on the front door to the nation.

    Unrelated, but I suggest worth following up on, (as always, that’s up to Debito). I stumbled across this gem today: A Japanese-only city is proposed for Southern India.

  • 25 years ago when I was in Mexico they did random searches at the airport. Everyone had to push a large red button. If nothing happened then they were fine but if the big yellow light started flashing for everyone to see they searched that persons luggage. I have no problem with a system like that, but I’m fairly certain that if they do “random” searches the large majority of those searched will be non-Japanese.

  • Being finger printed when arriving in Japan is already a giant annoyance. This will just make foreigners even less inclined to return to Japan. And does Japan really have severe external threats anyway? Xenophobia strikes again!

  • Alert: The random checks have ALREADY STARTED. Just about 4 months ago I was traveling from Narita to New York. I am American, a black guy, 35 years old, wearing a suit and tie at the time I was waiting for my flight. Boarding began and I was pulled from the line for a rather touchy feely search in front of all the other boarding passengers.

    Embarrassing and quite aggravating. I gave them hell for it too. Resisted every step of the way, and then was very rude during the body and bag search that happened right near the door of the plane where they take your boarding pass. If this had happened at the initial security entrance to the departures area (as per usual in most airports) I might not have been so angry/embarrassed. But I had already passed the security check and had been quietly waiting an hour for my flight to board. I asked repeatedly “why me”, and “is anyone else being checked?” No answers, just urging me to comply. They even made me take off my shoes to be checked in front of many passengers looking quite surprised by the proceedings.

    Up until then I was in an exceedingly good mood, relaxed and was in my normal “follow Japanese etiquette” mode, as I’ve learned over my years in Japan. But now I was pretty pissed off. Especially since people always rag the U.S. for profiling people at the airport, as if the rest of the world doesn’t do this. Well, it does. On the other hand, I’m usually quite in favor of rigorous checks and happily comply with anything asked. But I repeat, this was done right by the door to the plane where they take your boarding pass. WTF? It kind of made me feel like dirt. Like I, for some reason, had to pass some extra hurdle to be allowed to take a flight with all the rest of the people. It was very embarrassing.

    Luckily, I didn’t have anything on my person or in my bag that gave the checker any concern (and yes, my genitals were touched over the pants) But I was pretty amazed that somehow, during a sleepy late night flight with hardly any passengers, I was the one magically selected for a checking. I guess I might as well wear my standard black guy large gold chain, side turned baseball cap, and t-shirt that says “pimpin’ ain’t easy,” and then maybe they’ll leave me be? (i joke, i joke…I think)

  • @Carl
    I think it’s probably a US thing given your destination. I had the same happen prior to a flight to Honolulu. A Japanese guy behind me was also being searched at the same time.

  • Carl

    Sorry you had that experience. This has happened to me at Narita several times going back as far as 5 years ago. This has ONLY happened to me on flights to North America (I fly to Europe and SE Asia from Narita as well).

    I have no idea if the 10% is mostly foreigners however I believe this is most likely being forced on the folks at Narita by the the TSA and/or Homeland Security in the U.S. Several airports in the EU had special screening for flights to the U.S.

    Used to be fun to travel and fly but becoming less and less when travelling in or to the U.S.


  • I had the same kind of thing happen years ago (2004 or 2005) in Narita. I was in line for *ticketing* and some airport employee came over, pulled me out of line, and emptied out my bags on a fold out table right in front of all of the other passengers, underwear and all laid out on a table in plain view. Mind you, I hadn’t even gotten my ticket yet or even approached security, and I was the only person who was searched in this manner. Coincidence that I was also the only foreigner there?

  • Sorry to hear about your experiences. Can anybody remember who did the searching? Security guards? Any particular company? Or was it airline personnel?

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    They will never know random body searching at the boarding gate is not only a waste of time and nuisance to the passengers, but it also gives us a message that Japanese airport has a serious flaw in its security system.

  • I had similar not so long ago at Narita, though they did not actually unpack the bag, but just swabbed for explosives. I get flagged for special treatment quite a lot when flying between Japan and USA in either direction, I suspect it may be because I am a national of neither country and/or do not check baggage, both of which are rumoured to be considered risk factors. I have always found the USA security far more intrusive and oppressive though, even before they brought in the electronic strip-search.

    Honestly, Narita is by some distance the least stressful and unpleasant airport (in all aspects) of the handful I routinely use (US and Europe). I am usually on the train platform literally 15 minutes after getting off the plane, and flying out is only slightly slower.

  • James, Narita has usually been that way for me too. Get in, get out. The problem is what happens behind the scenes to anybody who falls through the trap door. Innocent people treated like criminals, denied rights, abused. In Canada, for example, every human being is instantly covered under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the moment they step into the country. That doesn’t happen in Japan. That is the crux of this issue. The lack of human rights. Passengers going through Narita should know that they enter at their own risk, and their embassies can do little to help them. The evidence is overwhelming. Wish it wasn’t.

  • This is Carl again. Sincere thanks to those who related their experiences, very much appreciated. Those anecdotes actually do a lot to put my mind at ease that it wasn’t just some weird thing about me on that one time. I am generally the model traveler in terms of being low maintenance and complying with all the rules, so it just miffed me to be in Japan and get ‘the treatment’. But alas, good to know (well, not ‘good’, maybe comforting) that my fellow non-Japanese have had similar recent experiences.

    As for who searched me, it was a Japanese woman. She wasn’t particularly rude or aggressive, and compared to airport searches I’ve had in the U.S. I will definitely admit that the Narita check was pretty tame and fast. Still didn’t like it though, but I guess that’s the new reality of air travel.

  • These “random” searches are a waste of time. The Israelis have found the best solution : a pre-boarding interview with a psychological profiler for EVERY El-Al passenger. These profilers are trained to find abnormalities in the passengers behaviors, so the interview can last from 2 min to 1 hour depending on your answers. For ideological reasons, airports in US and EU prefer to randomly screen passengers for explosives, in order no to be accused of racial discrimination. The israeli method seems much more efficient and fair (even though it is more strict):

    “El Al’s passenger screening system, established in the early 1970s, relies on psychological profiling techniques backed up with high-technology equipment. This system has been highly effective: the last successful hijacking of an El Al jet was in 1968, when Palestinian terrorists diverted a flight from Rome to Algiers.34 Whereas the United States gives priority to screening baggage rather than people, Israel’s security model aims at ferreting out individuals with terrorist intentions. This profiling process relies on access to intelligence and careful observation of would-be passengers.

    The main reason for Israel’s primary emphasis on human factors is that advances in explosives technology have made it increasingly difficult to find bombs hidden in luggage. Plastic explosives can now be disguised in almost every conceivable form, including shoe soles, toys, cell phones, and clothing. Moreover, the 11 September terrorists did not carry guns or explosive devices but used small, easily concealed weapons (box-cutters) to hijack four airliners and transform them into flying bombs. Although scissors and box-cutters are now banned from carry-on bags, determined terrorists could employ seemingly benign objects, such as the stiletto heel of a woman’s shoe or a man’s belt, to seize control of an aircraft in flight.

    According to David Harel, an aviation security specialist with Shin Bet, some type of profiling system is essential because it is impractical to subject every passenger to a high level of scrutiny. Travelers on El Al are told to arrive at the airport three hours before a flight to go through preliminary screening. Passengers are categorized at the outset as to whether they are Israeli Jews, foreign-born Jews, and so forth, with Arabs and certain other foreigners most likely to be profiled. The fact that the El Al security system is owned and operated by the Israeli government facilitates the use of intelligence and law-enforcement databases to help identify the small minority of passengers who may have criminal or terrorist intent.35

    In addition to searching government watch lists, interviewers ask each traveler a detailed set of questions that takes several minutes. Based on this initial screening, the great majority of El Al passengers are classified as low risk and subjected to a routine level of security. About 1%, however, are flagged as high risk because they are on a government watch list or appear nervous at the checkpoint, or because their answers or behavior arouse suspicion. These individuals are diverted into a more intensive screening that takes an average of 57 minutes per person.36 The process involves a lengthy personal interview, a complete search of all carry-on bags, and the use of sophisticated explosives detection equipment. For example, when Richard Reid (the future “shoe bomber”) decided to fly in July 2001 from Amsterdam to Israel, allegedly to check out terrorist targets, El Al security personnel selected him for profiling and subjected him to a full security check from head to toe (including an X-ray scan of his shoes) that showed he carried no bomb or weapon. Although Reid was allowed to board the plane, El Al remained suspicious and made sure he was sitting near an armed sky marshal, who was instructed to keep a close watch on him.37 American Airlines was not as careful, however, and allowed Reid to board a flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001. This time the al-Qaeda operative carried an explosive device, concealed in a shoe, and he attempted to detonate the explosive in mid-flight. Only timely intervention by the other passengers and crew prevented a major disaster.”

    — Now please relate this back to the topic of this blog post, thanks.

  • Response to Carl:
    FWIW, I have seen this on several flights from Narita to Chicago. About halfway down the ramp, before the moveable part, a couple of airline employees (in my case JAL) checking carry-on bags on a folding table. I have seen this EXCLUSIVELY on flights to the USA. The first couple of times I was surprised. Not any more. I have taken several other int’l flights over the last few years and have not seen it happen en-route to any other destination.


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