Deep winter is coming, the time when people’s thoughts turn to prison. I have never been to prison. All things considered, I don’t take this for granted. Here are just a few of the (less than serious) reasons why I am lucky never to have been “taken down to the station” in any of the countries I have been obnoxious in (my less amusing misdeeds, of course, have no place in this blog).
Trying On My First Hand-me-down Suit at Age Thirteen Gives Me Ideas
Looking Suspicious at Boarding School in the Philippines
Practicing with a Butterfly Knife I Brought Back Illegally from Boarding School
Scaling Apartment Buildings in New York City (the Same Summer I Didn’t Know Who Britney Spears Was)
Abusing Royal Guards in Norway
Speed Boat Shooting Spree in Sweden
Growing up, I was under the delusion that I was more-or-less invincible from police interference. This was naïve, but I did survive to adulthood without experiencing any shocking evidence to the contrary. Nowadays, though, I have a growing desire to be prepared. In terms of corruption and abuse of power, the police in Japan are probably in the same league as their North American colleagues—nothing too over the top. Although the mass media in Japan makes an effort to encourage hysteria about “foreign crime” and the Tokyo police have their committee for dealing with “the problems of internationalization,” I do not feel anymore threatened as a foreigner in Japan than I do as a Canadian in America. What I have discovered first hand is that prefectural police in Japan have a reputation of wanting to avoid confronting foreigners—of being “afraid” of them. I can only imagine that this offends them, and causes a few of them to do their utmost to belie this accusation. In my humble opinion, what is important is not worrying about whether law enforcement in Japan is good or bad, but rather being aware of what can happen when things go terribly wrong—how different things can be from what we have come to believe about our “rights.” I would recommend reading these two testimonials I found on Arudou Debito’s website; one about a young husband who fought off some small time thugs threatening him and his wife and another about a first year female JET accused of shoplifting because she wasn't aware of the difference between North American shopping malls and Japanese department stores. The latter story, written shortly after it happened in December 2002 left me wondering so I wrote to the young lady in question. She was kind enough to write back with a postscript to her ordeal along with her permission for me to share it publicly. For most of us, though, the most interaction we are going to have with policemen is getting speeding tickets (fair enough) and being spot checked for our alien registration cards (read about Jacob Witt's experience). Technically Japanese policemen can do these alien registration card spot checks without breaking the law, but if you like to consider yourself a social activist of sorts, you might want to consider putting them through their paces (preferably without aggravating them unnecessarily) when they try to do so. Again, Arudou Debito offers an outline of how one might go about this. Personally I have taken his advice and begun carrying around these little scraps of paper in my wallet.
They include 1) a photo copy of my alien registration card—just in case, 2) the Police Law’s Section 2 stating that police must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify demanding ID (keep in mind that while technically this law does not apply only to Japanese citizens, it is superceded by the Foreign Registry Law Section 13 Clause 2), 3) the Foreign Registry Law Section 13 Clause 3 that specifies that when a law enforcement agent asks a foreigner to produce an alien registration card outside the agent’s workplace, the said agent must produce identification upon the foreigner’s request, and 4) the Police Law’s Section 2 Clause 2 which states that a law enforcement agent may “ask” someone to accompany them to the station i.e. by implication the agent cannot make someone do so without first placing the person under arrest. In conclusion, it is a good idea to 1) KNOW THE LAW, 2) make an effort to come across as polite and sophisticated, and 3) DON’T ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE ESCORTED TO THE POLICE STATION UNLESS YOU ARE UNDER ARREST!! And if you are a foreigner, remember that there are other people in this country who probably have more to worry about than you do. Right now I am watching a television program interviewing otaku and and ko-gyaru.