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Knowing your rights can protect against fake cops

by Debito Arudou

Special To The Japan Times

Long-time readers of The Japan Times will already be aware of some of the information in today’s column. But within is an important update, so press on.

As you no doubt know (or should know), non-Japanese residents are required to carry ID 24/7 in the form of wallet-size “gaijin cards,” nowadays known as zairyū kādo (resident cards). (People without those cards — i.e., tourists here for less than three months — must instead always carry a passport.) Don’t leave home without yours, for you could face detention and a criminal penalty if a police officer suddenly demands it.

Which they can do at any time — underscoring the weakened position of non-Japanese under domestic law and social policy. According to the former Foreign Registry Law, any public official empowered by the Ministry of Justice may demand ID from a non-Japanese person, whenever. Inevitably, this encourages racial profiling, as cops with systematic regularity target people who “look foreign” (including naturalized citizens, such as this writer) for public shakedowns that are intimidating, alienating and humiliating.

Exacerbating this is social policy (see Community pages passim), with the National Police Agency and other ministries expressly portraying non-Japanese as agents of crime, terrorism, hooliganism and infectious diseases. They have also encouraged the general public to pile on, unlawfully demanding that hotels and other public facilities, taxation agencies and non-Japanese employers also carry out gaijin-card checks.

Note that this sort of thing cannot be done to Japanese. Even the prospect of creating standardized IDs (let alone being forced to carry one at all times) has caused public outrage (recall the scandal over the Juki Net system). No wonder: Citizens are in fact shielded by the Police Execution of Duties Law, which states that police officers can ask personal questions only if there is probable cause — that is, adequate suspicion that a crime has been or is about to be committed. Although there are cases of Japanese being similarly harassed by police, the attitude of those on the receiving end of such treatment — at least according to numerous videos on YouTube (search for shokumu shitsumon, or 職務質問) — generally seems to be alarm over capricious invasions of privacy.

Not so for non-Japanese. Last month I received reports that police officers in Roppongi have recently included searching bags and sticking their hands down the pockets of non-Japanese, heightening the invasiveness. (This is the same police branch, remember, that came up with non-Japanese urine checks — until The Japan Times questioned its legality. See “Cops crack down with ‘I pee’ tests,” July 7, 2009.)

Moreover, as general awareness has increased that non-Japanese must carry gaijin cards, I have received reports that weirdos posing as police (most recently in Kichijoji, Tokyo) are coming up to non-Japanese (particularly women) and demanding their personal information.

One might think things changed for the better when the Foreign Registry Law was abolished in 2012 — after all, non-Japanese can finally be registered as residents with their Japanese families — but no: The section that permits spot ID checks was incorporated into the revised Immigration Control Act (Article 23).

Fortunately, so were safeguards against cop masqueraders. So here is a revised version of your legal rights:

  • If someone who purports to be a police officer (some prowl in plainclothes) asks for your ID, ask if this is shokumu shitsumon (literally, a professional inquiry; download a dialog you can put in your wallet at www.debito.org/shokumushitsumon.html) If he says yes, ask if there is probable cause of a crime. If he says no, ask if you may leave. Repeat as necessary. This should stop some ID checks, especially if you start videoing it with your phone. (Legally you can, as YouTube demonstrates.)
  • If the police officer responds that as non-Japanese, you are required by law to display ID upon request, counter that by law, cops are also required to display badges upon request. Say “Keisatsu techō o misete kudasai” and take a picture of both the badge and the hologram ID on the back. (Beware of fake badges; see an image at www.debito.org/?p=12138). This will stop most abuses. Then show your gaijin card.
  • If the officer refuses to show his techō (pointing to the number on his uniform lapel — or, according to one account, patting his gun — is insufficient), then head to the nearest kōban (police box). That should send imposters scurrying away. Once there, by law, you will have to show your gaijin card, but try to get a techō from somebody, because you will need all the information (on front and back) for future reference.
  • If the officer demands a bag or pocket search, ask if he has a warrant, and that you won’t comply until he gets one. Say “Reijō ga arimasu ka? Reijō ga nai to dekimasen.”
  • If you feel as though you have suffered abusive treatment, then contact the Public Safety Commission (kōan iinkai)  in your prefecture (Tokyo’s is at www.kouaniinkai.metro.tokyo.jp/osirase.html) with the exact details of the officer’s badge. You can file a formal complaint in English — they have translators. Admittedly, these are wolves policing other wolves, but do something and you might get an answer; do nothing and there is no possibility of a check or balance on abusive cops or cosplay stalkers.

Remember: Only police and other officials of the Justice Ministry (such as immigration officials) may demand to see your gaijin card specifically. When necessary, you can choose to show other ID, such as a driver’s license or health insurance card, like any Japanese.

The point is, be aware of your rights. Like anywhere, Japan has people with foreigner fixations (such as killers Joji Obara and Tatsuya Ichihashi), and they prey on the weakened position of non-Japanese in Japanese society. Empower yourself.

Debito Arudou is the author of the “Guidebook for Relocation and Assimilation into Japan” (www.debito.org/handbook.html) A discussion of this issue is at www.debito.org/?p=12138. Send comments and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp.

  • Adrián Serna Vera

    Police in roppongi performed an embarrassing search across my pockets and wallet two weeks ago. If I knew this before. I’ll never let them do that in the street in front of everyone

  • Edward J. Cunningham

    Debito, I am not surprised that Japanese perverts are abusing this law, but I doubt that all of them are fake policemen. Have you read of any accounts from women of real policemen doing the same thing?

  • Edward J. Cunningham

    Sakura, do you have a link to a story about the new law prohibiting photographing or videotaping police officers? Even if the link leads to a story that is only in Japanese, it will be very helpful. Thank you very much!

    • Siloo Kapadia

      I doubt there is any credibility to that story. More hogwash by irate Westerners in Asia. Take a look at the demise of rights in USA-a real garbage country- to see what lack of rights is really all about.

  • FunkyB

    I’ve never been harassed or stopped by police other than routine/random checks and when I showed them my Japanese driver’s license that was enough. I didn’t know about the fake badges though – the link on how to tell if a badge is fake is very useful.

  • Toolonggone

    >Guess that makes me an apologist? Lucky? Or just normal?

    Why do you need bother to say who you are? No one is asking for that.

  • Kichijen

    I live in Kichijoji, today two non-Japanese women were standing at the crosswalk directly in front of me by the station (incidentally this crosswalk is directly outside the new koban location). Two policemen stopped the women and (very politely) asked for their cards, they showed them without hesitation. They had absolutely no reason to be suspicious of those women, they were well dressed and unassuming. It made me so angry.

  • Al_Martinez

    I agree. I tried to photograph a J-kop’s badge one time when he racially profiled me at the airport and he, in strong language, forbade me from doing it. I probably would have been arrested had I pushed the issue.