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Pocket knife lands tourist, 74, in lockup

To the Japanese government and law enforcement authorities,

I’m writing this letter to all of you because I feel it’s in your best interest to understand how dangerous it is for tourists to visit Japan.

On July 2 in Shinjuku, a 74-year-old American tourist walked into a police box to ask directions. Inside the koban were an older (senior) officer and his younger (rookie?) colleague.

The American asked where Kinokuniya bookstore was, and the older police officer responded by asking the tourist if he had a pocket knife. The American, being the law-abiding citizen that he is, said “yes” and handed it to the senior officer. After a quick measurement of the blade, the officer arrested the 74-year-old for having a pocket knife 1 cm over the legal limit.

The most shocking part to the story is that a new revision of a law regarding pocket knives was subject to a moratorium until July 5, meaning those possessing knives that violate the new rules had until July 4 to dispose of them! Moreover, two other American tourists were arrested that same day at the same koban.

The conclusion to this man’s story was nine days in a holding cell. Welcome to Japan!

Things to consider:

1. How are unsuspecting tourists to know they cannot carry key-chain knives?

2. What are unsuspecting tourists to do if the airline they fly, American immigration and Japanese immigration officials don’t warn them about these laws?

3. How are unsuspecting tourists supposed to know how incredibly backward and illogical Japanese koban police officers are if travel agencies don’t warn them?

4. Why should gaijin tourists come to a country that targets them as criminals?

5. Why are Japanese not arrested if they break the same law?

This man is not only old and frail; he is also an incredibly nice, harmless person. He carries his pocket knife everywhere, and the knife is very small and practical. Of course we understand a law is a law, and no one wants to purposely break laws in a host country, but the reality is that it is completely and utterly unjust to target tourists who have zero knowledge of the laws here, especially laws subject to a moratorium for Japanese until a few days later.

This American is not my father, but my friend’s father who was visiting Japan for the first time. When I discovered this situation I was completely stunned and very upset, as you would be.

Now I feel compelled to shine a light on the fact that Japan is a horrible place to visit and extremely unsafe if you are not Japanese. It’s astounding that a tourist in Japan has more to fear from the Japanese government or national police force than the citizenry.

It is 2009, not 1809! It’s about time the Japanese government and people treated foreigners like human beings not unlike themselves — with respect and humility.

Submissions to Hotline to Nagatacho should address issues that affect your life in Japan or be in response to government policies. Please imagine you are actually writing to a government official — be it a local school board head or the prime minister himself — to bring attention to an important matter. Send submissions for Hotline to Nagatacho of between 500 and 600 words to community@japantimes.co.jp