Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, May 02, 2010

When You're On the Receiving End

The year was 1996, and I was on my way home after a visit to the US Embassy in Tokyo. Since my visits to that fabled city have always tended to be few and far between, I decided not to take the same way back, i.e. travel via the Toranomon subway station on the Ginza line. Instead, I looked at a Tokyo atlas I'd brought and chose another station that was a bit further away in a different direction. It wasn't easy to plot my course through the maze of twisty, little streets, all alike (Plugh!), but I saw what appeared to be some of the landmarks mentioned on the map. I then headed off, eager for a little adventure.

My course took me off the main drags and into what appeared to be a residential area. Some of the homes planted among that hopeless tangle of narrow streets looked rather large and impressive. I was apparently skirting the edge of a ritzy neighborhood. I didn't think it would be a good idea to go in there (mainly because the morass of tiny roads looked intimidating), so I tried heading back toward the larger routes.

As I went, I spotted a policeman on a bicycle standing on a corner eying me suspiciously. Then he began talking into his radio. Next thing I knew, I had one officer standing in front of me and another behind me, barring my way. The one in front of me smiled, held out his hand, and politely asked to see my identification.

All foreigners staying in Japan for reasons other than tourism are required to have an Alien Registration Card, which is basically a residence permit along the lines of a green card in the US. We're all told by the immigration authorities and local public offices that, as long as we have the card on our person, we are not required to carry our passports. However, I'd already been warned by some ex-pats I'd met here that police in some parts of Tokyo (and probably other cities) don't recognize the Alien Registration Card, let alone accept it; indeed, the very act of trying to show one's Card to such an officer guarantees a humiliating trip to the station. Therefore, I made damned sure I had my passport on me when I went to Tokyo, and that's what I showed the officer.

He thumbed through my passport, tilted it around in the sunlight, and tested the feel of the paper. Then he asked me if I had an Alien Registration Card. I showed him that, too, and he subjected it to similar treatment. Then he asked me what I was doing on that particular street. I explained, showing him the map. He and his partner looked at it and burst out laughing. It turned out that:
  1. I'd apparently misidentified a couple of landmarks,
  2. I'd been holding the map upside down, and was therefore headed in the opposite direction,
  3. The map was hopelessly outdated anyway, so some of the streets were wrong.
They pointed me in the right direction and then escorted me back to the nearest main boulevard.

Japan, like the US, has an illegal immigration problem, though it's probably nowhere near as severe. Most come from countries like China, Thailand, or the Philippines, though there are a lot from Brazil, Sri Lanka, and (during the 90s at least) Iran, too. Apparently African countries like Nigeria are also getting in on the act. Organized crime, both here and abroad, is strongly involved in bringing them here, mostly so they can be employed as slave labor in sweat shops or the sex trade. Such things have been considered a fundamental part of society for at least the better part of the last century, so the authorities have long looked the other way. However, there has been an increasingly negative reaction on the part of the general public; the illegal immigrants are seen as a major source of crime (though statistics definitely do not agree) or diseases such as AIDS, a drain on the public infrastructure, even a threat to the very Japanese way of life. Because of this, the Japanese public is only too happy to let the police crack down when, where, and how they see fit. If that means finding out where foreigners tend to gather to socialize and herding them up like stray dogs, so be it. If that means arbitrarily ignoring the written law and employing vigilante justice to weed out the illegals, so be it. If that means harassing and humiliating people who are legitimate, productive members of society, so be it.

After all, someone who is here legally has nothing to hide, right?

Oh, it's very easy to say that if you're on the side that is dishing it out, but try being on the side that is forced to take it. Seriously, I dare you. The ex-pats I talked to had nothing to hide when they showed the police their perfectly legitimate Alien Registration Cards and wound up being hauled to the station, fingerprinted, interrogated, and degraded by police detectives for not observing an arbitrary, vigilante version of the law. Police sweeps in areas frequented by foreigners, such as Roppongi, have thus far mainly consisted of harassing and humiliating people who turned out to have nothing to hide. I certainly had nothing to hide when I got pounced on by two police officers and treated like a suspected criminal when my only crime was getting lost on public streets. We didn't look Japanese, therefore by default we were guilty until proven innocent, and we could expect no sympathy from the Japanese public. Face the facts: racial profiling may not seem like a big deal, but try getting racially profiled yourself.

Once you've actually had that experience, then...maybe then...I'll listen to your arguments in support of Arizona.


  • you should watch the Alex Jones Channel - Invisible Implant. very interesting stuff.

    i can't imagine having to go through this and am glad you didn't suffer further humiliation. this guy talks about military trained police and taking on a new world order w/ policed states... could be that japan is on the fast track to such.

    i find it scary.

    i'm thinking organized crime is raging in bahrain as well. slaves and slave labor... prostitution... the list goes on.

    very interesting post. i had no idea that japan was like this.

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 2:27 AM  

  • Japan is a good country in many ways, but their treatment of (especially Asian) foreigners is not one of them. The police and courts tend to be extremely hypocritical in this regard. Japan's constitution specifically forbids racial discrimination, and yet it happens very openly all over the place. Although there have been a few exceptions, most of the time foreigners trying to challenge discriminatory practices in court have only gotten lame excuses in return. (One very good example is a lawsuit brought against a restaurant that refused to serve foreigners. That case went all the way to the supreme court, who said, "They're not being racially discriminatory. They're just exercising their legitimate business rights. Obviously they've had trouble with non-Japanese in the past, so they've chosen to protect themselves by barring that segment of the population.") I've been "reassured" by public officials that the main target of such campaigns is Asians, Brazilians, and Iranians, but obviously they're not the only ones singled out.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 3:04 AM  

  • I never knew Japan had an illegal immigration problem so your post was an eye-opener. The seemingly arbitrary police enforcement was also interesting. Just glad you had your documents in order and policemen with a sense of humor.

    By Anonymous nikkipolani, at 9:18 AM  

  • Actually, you were treated well. So why shouldn't cops in Arizona be given the benefit if the doubt.

    The criminal element of the Hispanic population is very high. Mexico is in a serious drug war which is spilling into our borders. We have every right to take extra measures. BUT the feds won't do their job, so the states will. More states are planning similar laws. Approval of the laws in Arizona is 70%. The governors personal poll went up by 16 points.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 10:37 AM  

  • I was treated well, but I've met enough ex-pats here who haven't. (Read the article again.) And if you're going to ask me to give the cops in Arizona the benefit of the doubt, I'll start telling you horror stories of how cops tend to treat blacks in many parts of the US (e.g. tasering a woman because she took more than five seconds to get her vehicle registration out of her glove compartment during a "routine" traffic stop, making a guy [who happened to be a journalist] get out of his car and stand spread eagle for a frisking because he was driving 5 mph over the speed limit [or so the official charges read], etc., etc.). The police tend to use the "high criminal element" excuse to try to justify that, too.

    As I said, anytime you give the police free rein to treat an entire segment of the population as suspected criminals 24/7 by default, you are inviting abuse. You are also trampling on the rights of legitimate, tax-paying citizens.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:52 AM  

  • As always, the honest and forthright get pestered and sometimes detained while the cheaters and criminals continue unhindered. The college professor gets asked for his paperwork while drug dealer speeds on by. So it goes.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:27 PM  

  • Yes there are dirty cops, but your characterization that the problem is widespread and unchecked, I believe is inaccurate. That is paranoia. Might I remind you the great number of encounters we had when we were younger and how many lucky breaks we got?

    By Anonymous Dave, at 2:11 PM  

  • Dave, it's not a "dirty cop" issue. I have spoken directly to or talked to friends of policemen (in the US) who bragged about how they harassed blacks who weren't doing anything or landed on those who dared ask why they were being treated that way (usually with something like "Get smart with me, asshole, and it'll be just your word against mine."). These were NOT "dirty cops". They were police officers that I would otherwise consider highly respectable. Again, if the police come to regard an entire segment of the population as suspected criminals, they will tend to treat them as such. This is human nature.

    One policeman acquaintance said to me flat out, "It doesn't matter if only one in ten is bad. I mean, one in ten...don't you think it makes more sense just to assume they're all that way and keep 'em out of our neighborhoods?"

    This is human nature, and policemen are human.

    As far as our "lucky breaks", I'm sure things might have been very different if we'd been black or Hispanic. It also has a lot to do with location. I could name some places where the police basically impose their own curfew laws (with no legal mandate) and treat white teens more or less the same way as the blacks I mentioned in the above paragraph. Again, I have had a policeman acquaintance personally brag to me about such things. These were not "dirty cops"; they were respectable policemen who got overzealous in their belief that kids should just stay home.

    So you see, Dave, my "characterization" and "paranoia" are based on a simple observation of human nature...not to mention what I've heard directly from the mouth of the horse.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 4:29 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 5:01 PM  

  • In response to your last comment, Dave, which was both inappropriate and offensive for obvious reasons, only ONE of the acquaintances I'm talking about is a relative. I've been acquainted with a number of current and former police officers and, as I mentioned, friends thereof.

    For the record, the former policeman to whom I'm related bragged about harassing white teenagers, but he lived and worked in an overwhelmingly white yuppie town. He didn't have to deal with minorities much if at all. Those stories came from other cops I've met directly or indirectly.

    And frankly speaking, your trying to use a "reality" TV program to illustrate your point would qualify as a stand-up comedy routine. Those shows are intended from the beginning to be entertaining, not informative. Without exception, they are edited like crazy if not scripted outright. For every scene shown on the tube, there are probably dozens that wound up on the cutting room floor. If you use programs like that as your gauge of reality, I seriously feel sorry for you.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:24 PM  

  • Your prejudice leads you to assumptions which are simply not true. I think there are several thousand hardworking police officers who have appeared on COPS that would strongly disagree with you. You have a handful of people who you say do this or that. That is not what I have seen in real life as cops do their job. You can delete my comments all you want but this is not an argument you are going to win with the people of Arizona.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 11:14 PM  

  • (Your comment was deleted because of what you said regarding a family member. Remember, they read this too.)

    Dave, if you think what I say is based on prejudice, you really need to get off the internet and "reality" TV, take off your rosy-colored specs, put down the beer, and look at 100% genuine reality. It's ridiculous enough that you tried to use a "reality" TV program to back up your "argument", but now trying to claim that just because you've seen cops "do their job", or that "several thousand" would disagree with me means that none of them will abuse their power is just plain bananas.

    I will reiterate: COPS ARE HUMAN.
    I might also quote: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

    (Ever heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment? This, my friend, is basic human psychology in all its ugly truth.)

    If you think I'm "prejudiced" because I've been talked to by a "handful of people", would you prefer I started dredging up news stories of unnecessary force used by police against minorities? Including incidents resulting in injury or death of people that turned out to be innocent? There are LOTS of them. And I'm sure that in the overwhelming majority of the cases, the police involved were respected professionals who were just doing their job a little too zealously.

    Heck, you want me to talk about abuse of police power against NON-minorities? How about the August 2002 anti-Bush protests in Portland? The City of Portland went on record saying the riot police baton charge/random pepper spraying/non-lethal fire into the crowd was unwarranted and excessive (not to mention the order for them to move in the first place). They also tried to blame the whole thing on the Beaverton police department.

    But you know what: among my more respected friends is a policeman who was there. You know what he told me? "If they'd authorized it, I'd have used killing force. All those protesters were traitors." Again, he's not a bad cop. He's a highly respected professional. I'd rather have him walking my local beat than anyone. And yet he's human.

    Just like I'm sure Arizona's police are human. Which means that, if you tell them to regard a whole segment of the population as suspected criminals 24/7, odds are very high that there will be abuses. Legitimate, tax-paying citizens will very likely have their constitutionally-guaranteed rights trampled on. And no matter how the fuck the people of Arizona feel about it, or what you'd like to believe, that's the simple fact of the matter.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 3:09 AM  

  • I am proud to be as prejudiced as Moody.

    I didn't really catch or read the other wharblegarble.

    (One thought, though: Wouldn't it be nice if you could get everyone's varied opinions instead of having one attention whore stomping through monopolizing the discourse and having everyone else beg off from commenting because it isn't worth the hassle?)

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 4:40 AM  

  • Excellent post, Moody.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 6:50 PM  

  • I can just imagine what many of the supporters of Arizona's new law would have to say if President Obama had proposed that all people in America be required to "show their papers" upon request. Of course, they would have gone apes**t crazy.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:17 PM  

  • Snabudon and Panda-B
    Very excellent points from both of you. Thanks!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:17 PM  

  • Incidentally, Don, in reply to your "thought", judging from what just happened on Facebook, and the unbelievably mean-spirited, slanderous attack on my character a certain individual posted as his status (meaning it got read by everyone on his contact list), it may be a while before said individual does any more threadjacking here.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:21 AM  

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