I fought the law……..

***Warning – Long rant ;-0***

Minding my own business walking from my friends shop to the station in Shibuya at 5pm on a bright warm Wednesday afternoon, on my way to work and looking forward to a video on my iPod on the train.

I see the 3 fascists, opps sorry, officers walk past me in the other direction and whilst my hackles immediately rise, I do after all live in a city where the Governor is an openly racist bigot who has told his police force to regard ALL foreigners as suspicious, I’m not overly concerned as I have done nothing wrong.

A few moments later though the 3 ‘officers’ have stopped, turned round, surrounded me and started asking questions in Japanese.

#Rule 1 – NEVER admit to speaking Japanese to these bullies.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese, could you speak English please?”

“we are Shibuya police officers….blah blah blah….can we see your passport…..blah blah blah”

“im sorry what is this in connection with?”

Blank look, tiny win back of power for me, he doesn’t really speak English, but a double edged sword, this is not going to go smoothly.

Now, unlike most Japanese people and foreigners here, I have made it my business to educate myself about the laws of this country regarding my rights, so I whip out the paper I always keep in my wallet in preparation for this situation.
Prepared by a friend of mine Debito it is a print out detailing the relevant laws in Japanese and English. (and it can be found here)

However, one must always be mindful of:-

#Rule 2 – Don’t give these ‘gentlemen’ any excuse to arrest you. Be polite.

I show the paper to the only one of the 3 ‘officers’ who appears to speak any English and incidentally the only one of the 3 with his face showing, as the other two have their faces conveniently covered with those ‘allergy’ masks so popular here. Why are police officers on duty allowed to hide their identities from me in this way?? 警察国家 (Police state) anyone?

The paper points out that under Police Execution of Duties Law (Keisatsukan
Shokumu Shikkou Hou), Section 2:

“A police officer is able to ask for a person’s ID, but only if based
on a reasonable judgment of a situation where the policeman sees some strange conduct and some crime is being committed, or else he has enough reason to suspect that a person will commit or has committed a crime, or else it has been acknowledged that a particular person knows a crime will be committed.

I wait for him to read it and then ask what crime he thinks I have committed.

“This dangerous area of Shibuya many drug(sic), gun (sic) and (stabbing motion I presume means knife)”

“ok, but what specific crime do you think I have committed”

More blank looks and a repeat of the previous less than satisfactory reason in his broken English.

By this time I’m angry, scared and really really don’t want to be late for work so I ask politely to see their ID’s first and pull out a pen to write down their badge numbers.
Because under The Foreign Registry Law, Section 13, Clause 3 :-

Public officials governed by the previous clause, if asking for the Gaijin (sic) Card outside of their workplace, must carry a certificate of their identity and present it if asked.”

This doesn’t go down at all well, one of the other ‘officers’ (face still hidden), up until this point just standing menacingly close starts angrily asking in Japanese why I wont show them my ID.
I ignore him because of #Rule 1 , despite my instinct to respond.

Officer#1 completely ignores the paper and demands my passport again. (as a small aside as a tax paying happily married resident I don’t have to carry my passport only my Alien Registration card)

Despite the admonishment of #Rule 2 , I start to try to write down their badge numbers at which point all 3 of them cover their badges with their hands so I can’t!!!!!!

So now I’m really scared, I’ve read what Amnesty International and others have to say about the treatment one recieves in the custody of the Police in Japan. There is a good reason these people are not allowed to be part of the UN security council you know.

Against my better judgement but with #Rule 2 firmly in mind, I show them my ‘Alien registration card’ (I’m not calling it that nasty racist word everyone uses for it) and am finally able to write down their badge numbers.
Not their names however as they refuse to give me their names claiming their badge numbers are enough.

We are now about 10 minutes into our little dance and I have already missed my express train for work, a fact that I point out repeatedly to Officer#1 to no avail.

I knew what question was coming next and like the programmed robot I expected him to be I was not disappointed, “Can we look in your bag?”

Now I’ve really had enough of these bullies and their disrespect for the laws of their own country, so I pull out my phone and call my wife, who thank the little baby Jesus had a day off and was shopping in Shibuya.(God alone knows how this would have panned out if she had been at work 40 minutes away and probably unable to answer the phone)

On the third (THANK YOU!!!) try she answers, I explain in English whats happening, “I’ll be there in 5 minutes” she says.

So, we wait , in silence now as I have decided not to answer anymore questions until my wife arrives.

5 long, long minutes later she arrives.
I explain again in English what is happening and she turns to the ‘officers’ and asks what is going on and what their names are.
Surprise, surprise the ‘officers’ are suddenly very polite and standing at a respectful distance instead of oppressively close, they tell her their names and attempt to make excuses for their behaviour.
Suddenly my very being is legitamized because I have the blessing of another Japanese person, one that is prepared to marry me no less, so I can’t be all that bad.
2 minutes later after an exchange I don’t fully grasp and with my bag unsearched we walk away, the shockingly rude ‘officers’ apologizing to her for disrupting her shopping, but not to me for keeping me there for 20 plus minutes, making me late for work and having broken at least 2 laws themselves.

I cannot stop myself, my blood is boiling and as we walk away I turn and shout, ‘人種差別主義者このヤロー!!’ (Jinshusabetsushugisha kono yaro!! -racist bastards!) in my best angry Japanese voice and pronunciation so they know that I actually do speak Japanese after all.

There is an epilogue to this story which involves us going to the local police box that night to make a complaint against these ‘officers’, my wife being fobbed of with some bullshit about ‘post Akihabara‘ the need to search people and no good reason given at all for the blatant disregard for the Police Execution of Duties Law section 2.

Where I’m from this would have involved at the very least a written report of our complaint, but not here, the ‘officer’ in the police box didn’t either bother to write down the badge numbers of the ‘officers’ involved, there was not even the pretense that they were going to do anything about it.
The ‘Akihabara’ comment made even my wife angry (not something you see very often, the woman has the patience and calmness of a saint, she married me, she has to).
I asked the ‘officer’ in our local koban which country the guy who committed the Akihabara stabbings was from.
I also asked him if he had ever as a police officer arrested or heard of a foreigner being arrested for such a crime in Japan.
There is no need to relay his answers as they will be obvious to everyone who has even a tiny working knowledge of this country.

That in essence is my point (despite the cathartic nature of this post, which overly long as it is I doubt many people are still reading at this point) that the average person who doesn’t live here and many of the apologists who do have NO IDEA what Japan really is.

To most people its all politeness, sushi, kimonos, anime and weird ‘oh god just get to the point’ pixelated porn.

I have finally come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to change a single thing here, that if they started rounding up the foreigners and putting them in concentration camps not one of the Japanese people I call ‘friend’ would do anything about it, that no one would piss on me if I was on fire (to use a delightful English colloquialism), that no matter how good my Japanese gets or how many hours I spend teaching their children the most useful language in the world I will NEVER be a part of this society – condemned forever to be not just a foreigner but an outsider, a hakujin, a keto.

The only thing I can do is try to inform other foreigners both inside and outside the country, especially visiting tourists with their rose tinted spectacles, that just below the glittery neon surface of Japan beats the heart of a nation still stuck in the dark ages, a truly xenophobic black heart that regards everyone not of 100% Japanese blood (a joke in itself as at least 20% of the Japanese DNA is Chinese/Korean, but hey hypocrisy isn’t a problem here as long as you bow while you do it) as an inferior savage, a heart that despite effectively being the Nazis of Asia during WWII still thinks they did nothing wrong.

On an almost daily basis I speak with Japanese people, who when out of earshot of other Japanese are vocal about their distaste and contempt for these kinds of incidents, but those same people when faced with a group of people that they do not know revert quickly to the group mentality and we see just how deep their convictions go – not very.

I have tried my best to ‘adjust’ to the culture of this country, but I cannot bring myself to condone the level of racism and small mindedness that exists around every corner that a full ‘adjustment’ would require.

By asserting my rights I did something that precious few Japanese people have ever done when faced with a similar situation and that is also a huge part of why problems like the one I had with those fine upstanding ‘officers’ of the law arise.
These rights have little or no meaning in a society where no one asserts them and precious few even know about them.
They have little or no meaning when there is no recourse in the event of a situation like the one I experienced, save for to the Police themselves.

Several friends have suggested that the above conclusion is an overly pessimistic one, that many Japanese people find such abuses of power and racism repugnant, that Japan is slowly but surely changing.
I am willed to counter that the mentality that provokes even my wifes friends to react in surprise when I can use chopsticks well, is still deep down a fundamentally racist one.

In this day and age (if it ever was) ignorance is no excuse.

Now almost a week later I am no longer angry, just resigned and saddened that the Japanese people have allowed their society to become what it has.

So, I did fight the law and apart from the small moral victory of walking away without my bag being searched, the law won.

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  • Lluis Gerard

    Sad but true :(

    I’m not living in Japan but I know something about these practices. I hope that one day it will change, but it takes time. I wondered about how foreigner people that don’t live in Japan misunderstand this society.

    As I am from Barcelona (Spain) and I’m living here, I’m proud about the acceptance of multi-cultural people here and, at the same time, I’m scared about how different it’s in Japan. But we have changed throughout the time, step by step, and we have a lot to do… At the same time, Me and a lot of my friends don’t like bulls, flamenco, all “olé” relation… but foreigners only think about that, as Japan foreigners think in kimono, anime, otaku, etc…

    (WasabiNoise)

  • e

    interesting read. i’ve found many foreigners are quick to dismiss the underlying prejudice in this country. i remember the confusion i felt the first time my other half and i were abruptly stopped by a policeman on his bike to show our passports. my confusion was mostly due to the fact that we were innocently waiting at a crosswalk near a busy shopping area.

    anyway, thank you for the debito link. i’ll be sure to keep one on me.

    -e

  • Sean Miles Lotman

    I agree with you things are bad and in some ways getting worse i.e. that only foreigners are IDed and photographed at immigration shows a clear disregard for the facts on terrorism in Japan which has always been domestic.
    True reform can only happen with education. The Germans did that by acknowledging the horrors in school, conditioning young minds that war and that an assertion of ethnic superiority is antithical to a compassionate philosophy. As long as Japanese educators continue to focus instructions on the kanji of insignificant edo-era samurai instead of their colonial enterprises, war crimes and ethnic violence (within Japan as well, see the mob violence against Koreans following the Kanto quake) then most Japanese will continue to be passive regarding human rights and discrimination.
    Real, profound change would take at least a generation, but it can come.

  • Manny

    Long rant indeed…but a justified one. We’ve all had our run-ins with what passes for “law enforcement” here, but that’s another long rant that need prefacing with a t least two glasses and a bottle of whiskey. That said I have had the blissful and rare opportunity to meet two upstanding members of the police here in Japan. They too were supportive and disgraced by the situation and lack of awareness on the part of the general populace. The fact is, you’re right: “In this day and age (if it ever was) ignorance is no excuse.” Excuse or not, that doesn’t change the fact that, sadly, most of the citizens of this country are ignorant. So how does one go about educating an ignorant populace that we’re not going away? Impossible? While a popular attitude to take, that’s the kind of defeatist attitude that won’t exact any positive change. Sean’s right when he says true reform can only come with education. Will the Japanese Obama please stand up already?

  • Christine

    I never had a situation this frightening when I lived in Japan, but I came to much the same conclusion, and it's the reason I chose not to move there permanently. They will be polite and cold, and always surprised that you can do anything in their country other than bungle around like the loud, ignorant American (non-Japanese) you are…

    I think in the 5 times I've been there, and the 7 or so months that I lived there, that one or maybe two Japanese people ever treated me with true warmth. One of them now lives in SF with an American husband. Guess that's just the way it goes.