Japan’s police are at it again: Lying about the law. A reader with the pseudonym Onur recently wrote to me about his experience in the city of Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, when he checked into a hotel. Even though Onur clearly indicated he was a legal resident of Japan with a domestic address, clerks demanded he present his passport for photocopying. They pointed to a sign issued by the Ibaraki Prefectural Police.
But that poster has three great big stripy lies: 1) “Every foreign guest must present their passport” 2) “which must be photocopied” 3) “under the Hotel Business Law” — which states none of these things. Not to mention that Japan’s registered foreign residents are not required to carry around passports anyway.
What’s particularly egregious about this sign is that the Japanese police know better — because we told them so a decade ago. The Japan Times first exposed how police were stretching their mandate in “Creating laws out of thin air,” Zeit Gist, March 8, 2005, and, later, two updates: “Ministry missive wrecks reception,” ZG, Oct. 18, 2005, and “Japan’s hostile hosteling industry,” Just Be Cause, July 6,2010.
It made an impact. Even the usually noncommittal U.S. Embassy took action, posting in their American Community Update of May 2005: “After we sought clarification, according to the Environmental Health Division, Health Service Bureau, Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the new registration procedure at lodging facilities does not apply to foreigners who are residents of Japan but only to tourists and temporary visitors. If you write a Japanese address on the check-in sheet, hotels are not supposed to ask for your passport.”
Right. So why do the Ibaraki police still feel they can lie about the laws they are entrusted to uphold? Because … Ibaraki. I’ll get to that shortly…