|

Visible minorities are being caught in police dragnet

by Debito Arudou

Around noon on Aug. 13, in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture, a local apartment manager notified the police that a “suspicious foreigner” was hanging around the nearby JR train station.

Police officers duly descended upon someone described by the Asahi Shimbun as a “20-year-old male who came from the Philippines with a Japanese passport.”

When asked what he was doing, he said he was meeting friends. When asked for his passport, he said he didn’t have it on him. At this point, he would no doubt have tried to explain his dual citizenship ― something the police claim they only confirmed much later through an interpreter.

So far, nothing illegal here: Carrying identification at all times is not legally required for Japanese citizens.

However, it is for non-Japanese. So the cops, convinced that he was really a non-Japanese man, took him in for questioning — for five hours. Then they arrested him under the Immigration Control Act for, according to a Nikkei report, not carrying his passport, and interrogated him for another seven.

In the wee hours of Aug. 14, after ascertaining that his father is Japanese and mother foreign, he was released with verbal apologies.

That hardly suffices. If any of you have ever undergone Japan’s “voluntary questioning” and/or 23 days of interrogation after arrest, you know how harrowing it can be.

And this isn’t the first instance. On Feb. 25, 2006, a 28-year-old foreign-looking Japanese woman was arrested in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, for not carrying a foreign passport.

Grounds for suspicion? According to the Mainichi Shimbun, she was carrying an envelope with Portuguese writing on it. Unable to talk because she was reportedly “not good at speaking to strangers,” she was released when they finally contacted her family after more than a full day of interrogation.

Milder cases are more commonplace: The New York Times (July 8, 2010) featured the account of a Japanese writer-translator who had been pulled aside repeatedly by Tokyo police officers for being “too tall and dark-colored,” and had even been asked to show the contents of her purse.

I too have been stopped and asked the personal questions reserved only for criminal suspects (shokumu shitsumon) on numerous occasions, but fortunately talked my way out of getting arrested for being a Japanese without a “gaijin (alien registration) card.”

As The Japan Times has been chronicling for years, the people particularly vulnerable during Japan’s perennial mission to smoke out “illegal foreign visa overstayers” are those who “look foreign.” That leads us to the point of this piece: Japan desperately needs a new concept to account for Japanese who don’t look it. How about visible minorities?

This concept and term has gained currency in minority studies. For example, the Canadian government uses it when referring to the treatment of people who may not at first glance “look” like the majority population.

Of course, it’s tough to discuss minority issues in allegedly “homogeneous Japan.” Our government has long denied any domestic minorities exist (see www.debito.org/japanvsun.html) You still get the occasional politician doing so (such as a Sapporo city assemblyman on Aug. 11), despite Japan’s parliament formally recognizing the Ainu as one in 2008.

But that hasn’t deterred Japan scholars from studying the Ainu, as well as the Okinawans, the burakumin historical underclass, Zainichi Korean and Chinese generational foreigners, South American workers of Japanese descent, and the 2 million registered foreign residents.

Yet Japanese studies have generally overlooked how physical appearance plays a part in Japan’s racialization dynamics. Even recent work, such as Kyle Cleveland’s insightful chapter on ethnic minorities in the 2013 book “Critical Issues in Contemporary Japan,” does not mention physical appearance or skin color as an issue in discrimination. He describes minorities in Japan as “invisible.”

I disagree. And those detained for looking foreignly suspicious, singled out for bullying for being “half” or “gaijin” in schools, and denied entry to “Japanese only” establishments, might also.

Moreover, unlike other minorities, visible ones cannot “pass” as Japanese in terms of physical appearance, and thus face different forms of discrimination. Further, visible minorities also include Japanese citizens, bringing in issues of guaranteed equal protection under the law.

It also leads to the fundamental question of “What is a Japanese?” As my doctoral research demonstrated, “Japaneseness” is linked to physical appearance by Japan’s laws, law enforcement, public policy, jurisprudence and media messages. And as seen in the Ushiku, Tokyo, Sapporo and Saitama cases above, you have to “look Japanese” to be treated as such.

Overlooking the existence of Japan’s visible minorities must stop. Thousands of Japanese children have been born to international marriages. Thousands have naturalized. Nearly half of Japan’s entire registered non-Japanese population are permanent residents. Well over half of those again (the regular permanent residents, as opposed to the Zainichi) are people who came from overseas. There is enormous diversity that is being under-analyzed.

In fact, let’s go one step further: Permanent residents should claim their minority status themselves. After all, if you can stay here as a permanent part of a society, you can qualify as a minority. That includes the foreign scholars of minority issues, who despite decades living in and researching in Japan, don’t appear to consider themselves members of a minority.

That’s the big-picture stuff for this month. Now let’s turn to some concrete policy measures the government can take to reduce the chances of people getting wrongfully detained.

First, if the Japanese police must go gaijin hunting, then train them properly in immigration law.

Any Immigration Bureau official knows that: a) foreigners are not required to carry a passport at all times (that’s why gaijin cards exist) unless they are unregistered tourists; b) naturalized Japanese exist; and c) dual nationality is legally possible until the day you turn age 22 — and, in any case, it is not grounds for suspicion, detention or arrest.

The Ushiku police in particular should have known all this. Ushiku hosts one of Japan’s biggest foreigner prisons, the East Japan Immigration Control Center. Then again, conditions there are so harsh that detainees carried out hunger strikes and even committed suicide there in 2010. So maybe this is how Ushiku police are trained.

Law enforcement also needs to let go of the narrative that “foreigners are suspicious.” If some old crank busybody calls the cops on some kid waiting for his friends, officers should demand more grounds than just his or her “foreignness.”

But, above all, the authorities need to acknowledge Japan’s diversity by accepting the concept of visible minorities, and start making policies to protect the Japanese who cannot “pass.”

Once again, that means creating that Holy Grail of a racial discrimination law. However, we can start off small by officially depicting Japaneseness as a legal status, not a bloodline-determined mystical concept entwined with racial purity. Fat chance under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, I know, but it must happen someday.

Ultimately, Japan’s visible minorities are the canary in the coal mine. How they are treated is a bellwether of how Japan will handle its inevitably increasing diversity. Otherwise, if you — or your kids — happen to be too tall, dark or scary, you had better start carrying your Japanese passport around.

Debito Arudou’s “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants to Japan” is available on Amazon as an ebook. For more details, see www.debito.org/handbook.html. Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause usually appears in print on the first Thursday of the month. Your comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Oliver Mackie

    You mentioned your dissertation. Sounds like a very important document indeed. I do hope you are willing to make it available to a wider audience.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    Excellent article. Your articles are so much better and interesting when they do not become polemics Debito. Please try and keep this style. It will be interesting to find out if foreigner tourists and athletes will be arrested during the Olympics for not carrying their passport….!

    • Speedygonzales

      Yes I was wondering about that too. I am a foreign athlete based in Japan. I never carry my gaijin card when out training (nowhere to put it!). I’ve never been asked to show it, and hopefully never do. Surely the Japanese authorities must use some common sense.

      • syrup

        Surely you have a wallet? How do you get around or pay for things? You are required by law to have the gaijin card on you at all times. Invest in shorts with pockets and carry at least a copy with you. You might never be asked to show your gaijin card, or you might be asked multiple times a week. The Japanese authorities don’t use common sense (like stopping me on my way to work and causing me to be late).

      • Speedygonzales

        I run. I don’t take a wallet. I don’t take money. I don’t even take a housekey if I can avoid it. Sounds like in Tokyo 2020 we should expect to see Usain Bolt competing with his wallet stuffed into his shorts. Hope it doesn’t fall out along the way, or he’ll get arrested at the finish line!

      • http://www.turning-japanese.info/ Eido INOUE

        Hi. I too am a long distance runner in Japan and run daily and do a marathon or two a year. Even though I don’t need to carry identification anymore when I train / jog because I’m Japanese, I and most veteran runners recommend you always do for safety; you never know if you’ll have an accident or a medical emergency and may be unable to communicate (ex. get hit by a bike / car, bitten by dog / snake, fall / trip and injure / break a leg, collapse due to dehydration / exhaustion / unforeseen medical condition etc).

        I use and recommend Road ID; it’s a featherweight water / sweat / rain / odor resistant ultra-compact (size of a credit card) “wallet” for runners that clips to your shoe / wrist / arm / phone / music player. Laser engraved on an aluminum band on it is your medical info (emergency contact info, blood type, allergies, etc).

        Although you could fit a foreigner’s Residence Card ID etc in it, I keep an emergency IC Card with enough money loaded onto it for emergencies (return fare via train / bus / taxi / phone, bottled water at the convenience store for dehydration, etc). I attach it to the laces on my shoe and I never notice it’s there.

        Oh yeah, I pass by about eight staffed koban and bicycle/car police check points during every run. Never been stopped in the hundreds of times I’ve jogged by them.

      • otisdelevator

        A report of a tall, fast, athletic looking foreigner checking his watch near the park is unlikely to be investigated by your average underexercised police officer. He may have to chase you. :)

        I’m not surprised you’ve never been asked for ID.

  • Steve Jackman

    The first step towards bringing about change is for Japan to come up with a comprehensive law against racial discrimination, as Debito has alluded to. This was also a main conclusion of last week’s report on Japan by The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). In discussing the report, committee member Anwar Kemal stated clearly, “You (Japan) need a comprehensive law on racial discrimination. That is the most important thing”.

    The Japanese are mostly law abiding, so a law against racial discrimination would send a very clear message to the police, other state institutions and average citizens, that racism, racial discrimination and racial profiling of visible minorities is not acceptable in Japan.

    I was disappointed that the U.N. report on the state of racism and racial discrimination in Japan did not get the news coverage it deserves. Even when, this news was reported by the Japanese press, they largely focused only on the one item of hate speech, while ignoring the committee’s many other findings outlined in the rest of the report. In fact, the U.N. report is much broader in scope and it strongly criticizes Japan for the racism and racial discrimination faced by minorities and non-citizens in many areas, including, employment, housing, exclusion from use of public facilities and businesses such as restaurants and shops, profiling of minority groups on the basis of religion, as well as, the absence of laws against racial discrimination in Japan.

    It is therefore important to keep in mind the following sections from the U.N. report on Japan, which was released just last week:

    —–

    “Definition of Racial Discrimination

    The Committee is concerned that the definition of racial discrimination in paragraph 1 of article 14 of the Constitution of Japan, which prescribes the principles of equality and non-discrimination does not include the grounds of national or ethnic origin, colour or descent, and therefore does not fully meet the requirements of article 1 of the Convention. Similarly, there is no adequate definition of racial discrimination in domestic legislation (arts 1 and 2).

    The Committee recommends that the State party adopt in its legislation a comprehensive definition of racial discrimination which integrates the grounds of national or ethnic origin, colour and descent, in full compliance with article 1, paragraph 1, of the Convention.”

    —–

    “Absence of a specific and comprehensive law prohibiting racial discrimination

    While noting that some laws include provisions against racial discrimination, the Committee is concerned that acts and incidents of racial discrimination continue to occur in the State party and that the State party has not yet enacted a specific and comprehensive law on the prohibition of racial discrimination which will enable victims to seek appropriate legal redress for racial discrimination (art. 2).

    The Committee urges the State party to adopt specific and comprehensive legislation prohibiting racial discrimination, both direct and indirect, in compliance with articles 1 and 2 of the Convention, which will enable victims of racial discrimination to seek appropriate legal redress.”

    —–

    “National Human Rights Institution

    The Committee is concerned that the State party has not yet established a national human rights institution in full compliance with the Paris principles. In this context, the Committee notes that the examination of the Human Rights Commission Bill was scrapped in 2012 following the dissolution of the House of Representatives and that the progress made to establish a national human rights institution has been very slow. (art. 2).

    Bearing in mind its general recommendation No. 17 (1994) on the establishment of national institutions to facilitate implementation of the Convention, the Committee recommends that the State party promptly resume the consideration of the Human Rights Commission Bill and expedite its adoption with a view to establishing an independent national human rights institution, providing it with adequate human and financial resources as well as with a mandate to address complaints of racial discrimination, in full compliance with the Paris principles (General Assembly resolution 48/134).”

    —–

    “The Committee recommends that the State party reinforce its legislation in order to firmly combat racial discrimination against migrants in employment and access to housing and improve migrants employment status, bearing in mind the Committee’s general recommendation No. 30 (2004) on discrimination against non-citizens.”

    —–

    “Access by non-citizens to public places and facilities

    The Committee is concerned about the continued exclusion of non-citizens on the basis of race or nationality from accessing some public places and facilities of general use, such as restaurants, hotels, family public bathhouses and stores, in violation of articles 2 and 5 of the Convention (art. 2, 5).

    The Committee recommends that the State party take appropriate measures to protect non-citizens from discrimination in access to public places, in particular by ensuring effective application of its legislation. The Committee also recommends that the State party investigate and sanction such acts of discrimination and enhance public awareness-raising campaigns on the requirements of the relevant legislation.”

    —–

    “the Committee is concerned about reports on the increase of xenophobic and discriminatory attitudes against non-citizens and indigenous peoples, including through mass media. (art. 2, 7).”

    —–

    “Preparation of the next report

    The Committee recommends that the State party submit its tenth to eleventh periodic reports in a single document by 14 January 2017, taking into account the treaty-specific reporting guidelines adopted by the Committee at its seventy-first session (CERD/C/2007/1) and addressing all the points raised in these concluding observations.”

    —–

    • Greg Estelcherry

      Letting Japanese people (this includes the detainee, I assume) know that racial profiling is not acceptable should, and will, occur when actual foreigners stop doing the same.
      Everyone here knows what I mean. You see a Caucasian in Japan. You assume he or she is a foreigner. You assume he or she came from elsewhere. You assume he or she comes from a different social or cultural background. You may intellectually acknowledge the possibility that he or she is, or has become, a Japanese citizen, but you also know that this is statistically so unlikely that you do not (quite reasonably) act upon this assumption. Same goes for those who look African, Middle-Eastern, South-East Asian, Indo Sub-continental…
      When we see East Asians in Japan speaking Chinese or Korean, or speaking heavily accented/broken Japanese we again reasonably assume they are not Japanese. We reserve the logical possibility that they hold Japanese citizenship but, again, this is not our initial or primary instinct.
      Everybody reading this comment, including Debito and his backers, does the same. Why shouldn’t the Japanese? Why hold them to a ‘higher standard’ than we ourselves would reasonably hold?

      • Steve Jackman

        You can assume whatever you want, but it is a problem when you and the police start suspecting people of committing crimes based solely on who they are, not what they have done (as happens in Japan all too frequently).

      • Greg Estelcherry

        Well this is rich, coming from the same person who decided that, without any evidence, the caller must have been Japanese, and automatically “racist”. Non-Japanese can worry about loiterers and speak to the cops in Japanese too, you know.

        Looks like someone here also indulges in a little racial profiling.

      • Greg Estelcherry

        Adding to the above…
        You also assume that the cops started questioning the man not because he was in fact behaving suspiciously, which we don’t know, but because you just know that it was solely due to the fact that he looked foreign because, well, because that’s the way it is in Japan.

        More racial profiling Steve, tsk tsk.

      • Steve Jackman

        It is not possible to racially profile the majority which makes up more than 90 percent of the population, duh!

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    “However, we can start off small by officially depicting Japaneseness as a legal status, not a bloodline-determined mystical concept entwined with racial purity.”

    Mr. Arudou, “Japanese” is already officially depicted as a legal, not genetic, status, as you yourself, as a Japanese national with all the same legal rights and protections as every other Japanese national, should know.

    Although I have absolutely no idea (and I suspect you do not either) as to how to arrive at a concrete, objective definition of “seemingly Japanese” (your “Japaneseness”, which I suspect should have been hyphenated anyway) that would not be somehow based on appearance or mannerisms (subjective analyses which you explicitly reject). Nor do I have any idea how, even if a definition could be arrived at, such profiling could be incorporated into and protected under the law – and I really don’t think it should be, even if it could.

    I really hope your doctoral thesis was better thought-out than this.

    • phu

      “I really hope your doctoral thesis was better thought-out than this.”

      I was amused at the article’s reference to the research for that document, which strongly suggests it’s little more than a longer version of his typical rants.

      • 6810

        Personally, I’d just like to know where this research has been published, as publishing in peer-reviewed journals is frequently a prequisite for attaining the doctorate award.

        Indeed, I’d be interested to know at which library this thesis can be found (that’s right, these documents are frequently/normally archived at the candidate’s institution, hard copy and/or digitally) so that I might take a peak it the research myself.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        I believe the institution in question would be Meiji Gakuin Daigaku, that is the institution Mr. Arudou has publicly listed in his credentials.

      • 6810

        and yet, a casual search of numerous academic databases by yours truly in both English and Japanese failed to find any peer reviewed publications…

      • Steve Jackman

        As usual, you’re more interested in shooting the messenger, rather than focusing on the message itself (which happens to be the problem of racial discrimination and racial profiling in Japan, in case you didn’t get it).

      • phu

        I went looking on his site, and while he has a listing of academic publications, his dissertation does not appear to be there. In fact, I can’t find much reference to it anywhere.

        I don’t know if doctoral dissertations are usually or even often made available online, but considering that’s his primary medium, it seems like it ought to be around somewhere.

      • Steve Jackman

        Let’s not fail to see the forest for the trees by focusing on the one sentence in Debito’s piece about his doctoral thesis. His article is about the very real problem of racial discrimination and racial profiling in Japan, not his doctoral thesis.

      • phu

        He invites this sort of criticism with his penchant for self-citation to the exclusion of all others.

        Of course you’re right, though. That’s actually most of the problem I have with Arudou; at this point he’s so thoroughly jumped the shark that he brings negative attention to a topic that desperately needs to be addressed in a constructive way if we want any change (for the better) to take place in terms of discrimination in Japan.

        I think his own personality has pushed him past the point of actually being helpful. Reading Arudou feels a lot like reading the constant “China angers Japan” and “Japan angers South Korea” pieces that pepper East Asian news: There’s nothing new here, and not even an attempt to initiate dialogue instead of just continuing his ongoing semi-private monologue.

      • Steve Jackman

        I disagree with your assessment of Debito. I couldn’t care less if he uses citations or not, since the points he makes about racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination resonate with me and many other foreign residents of Japan.

        I feel the commenters here who are constantly badgering Debito for more proof, more evidence and more citations, are interested only in trying to find more fodder to make personal attacks on Debito. I and other foreign residents of Japan know from our collective experiences of living in Japan over tens of years that Japan has an ugly underbelly of racism and xenophobia, which is much worse than any other developed country. No citations can supercede these personal experiences and all the citations in the world cannot change this.

        So, let’s not try to change the focus of the discussion away from the very real problems of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia in Japan, by constantly harping about the need for more citations in Debito’s pieces. For crying out loud, he is making social commentary about the state of racism in Japan in these Japan Times articles, not writing scientific papers. I would have hated to see historic leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Mandela and Gandhi, who fought against ignorence, hatred and bigotry, being dismissed by people because they did not use enough “citations” in their struggles.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        Japan has an ugly underbelly of racism and xenophobia, which is much worse than any other developed country.

        Do let us know when a Japanese policeman shoots a non-resisting foreigner six times and kills him or her, won’t you?

        Until then, keep up the good work. I am certain Mr. Arudou appreciates your support of him. I know I do.

      • Steve Jackman

        You must not know very much about the U.S., since minorities in the U.S. are very well represented in the top echelons of society, business and politics. The U.S. model is about providing equal apportunity, not a guarantee of equal outcome. In this regard, the U.S. offers minorities and foreign residents infinitely more opportunities than Japan.

        I have little patience for a discussion with those who want to base their arguments on headline news, such as the unfortunate incident at Ferguson, where a black man was shot by the police. We do not know all the facts of that case, but we do know that he had robbed a convenience store minutes before and may have very well assaulted the cop who shot him. By comparison, the kid in Debito’s piece did not commit any unlawful acts.

        You have lost all credibility with me by comparing the two very different cases. I cannot take your comments seriously from now, since you do not seems interested in having a sincere and honest discussion about the state of racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination in Japan.

      • phu

        While I can understand your sentiment here (and agree with it in the sense that I loathe the knee-jerk reactions media takes to anything potentially controversial that law enforcement does), you should consider that you just compared Arudou Debito to Ghandi, Mandela, and King Jr. I’m not sure that’s a much different fallacy than comparing two very different cases.

      • Steve Jackman

        I did not compare Debito to anyone else. The point of my comment is that people are being disingenuous and trying to distract from the main topic when they constantly ask for more proof and more citations for someting which is very obvious to me and others (i.e, racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, which are serious problems in Japan).

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        I have little patience for a discussion with those who want to base their arguments on headline news

        Unless the person doing so is Arudou Debito, apparently, since that is what this entire column of his is about. Or were you attempting sarcasm?

        I cannot take your comments seriously from now, since you do not seems interested in having a sincere and honest discussion about the state of racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination in Japan.

        Says the individual who claims:

        Japan has an ugly underbelly of racism and xenophobia, which is much worse than any other developed country.

        (emphasis mine)

        Sounds like the usual whining by a self-entitled white boy who spent few to none of his adult years in his home country, has zero grasp of what minorities there actually live with on a daily basis, and is being endlessly frustrated in his quest for White Man’s Privilege by the “minority” that constitutes 98% of the population around him.

        Does your Japanese wife know you look down on her and her kind?

      • phu

        Now it’s you concentrating on only a small part of my commentary. I have never, ever suggested that discrimination is somehow not a problem Japan has, or that it should not be addressed. Arudou’s failure to cite outside sources doesn’t mean he’s wrong, it’s simply one contributor to his lack of credibility to outsiders.

        I stand by the idea that he is so strident as to detract more than contribute from his chosen cause. If you don’t agree, that’s fine, we can agree to disagree. But I find your comparison of Arudou to people like Gandhi extremely distasteful and disingenuous, and the idea that expecting citations for factual claims subverts important human rights movements grotesque. His anecdotes are unquestionable (which is why anecdotes are not evidence), as is the trend of racism in Japan (which is so obvious as to be beyond question). The reality of discrimination is not something I question.

        Anyway, I think you and I have the same concerns, we just have different opinions on this author. I see him as counterproductive and you apparently do not; I hope you’re right.

      • Steve Jackman

        Yes, we disagree on Debito’s credibility. I find Debito to be extremely credible, sincere, insightful and articulate.

        His commentary is not based only on anecdotes, as you seem to wrongly think. All you have to do is read his website, where he has been diligently and selflessly documenting his case for years. I admire his persistence and perseverance. And, no I did not compare him to anyone else, just their struggles against ignorance, denial, hate and bigotry,

      • phu

        In that case, I find your comparison of my comments to “ignorance, denial, hate and bigotry” inaccurate and offensive.

        This is clearly not a difference that’s going to be resolved. Like I said, I hope your admiration of this person is warranted, but I don’t see much if any further good coming from it.

    • KenjiAd

      Debito is confusing Japanese citizenship with the ethnocultural concept of being “Japanese.” The latter is hard to define, as the clear boundary does not exist. It may be related to things like demeanor, fluency in Japanese language, appearance, habits, etc.

      If Debito’s mission is to get rid of the distinction between Japanese as defined by citizenship and ethnoculturally defined Japanese, good luck to him, because he is up against the custom of the past few thousand years.

      If his mission, which is still not very clear to me, is to have the Japanese police to be more sensitive to foreigners and foreign-looking Japanese citizens, I’m with him. They have to change.

      • Jim Jimson

        >good luck to him, because he is up against the custom of the past few thousand years.

        This part is wrong. Although such a statement may run contrary to current common sense, it’s only in the postwar period that large segments of the Japanese government and public have understood themselves as monoethnic. The exact reasons for this change might be up for debate, but there’s a mountain of evidence that proves how new the monoethnic myth really is.

        If you can read Japanese, Eiji Okuma’s book Tanitsu Minzoku Shinwa-no Kigen deals with this in quite a bit of depth. If you can’t read Japanese, John Lie’s Multiethnic Japan is a short, but adequate substitute. A couple of quick examples from the former: Monkasho-approved school textbooks from the early Showa period featured charts detailing ethnic make-up of Japan, and noting that Yamato-kei people made up only 60 percent or so of the population (I don’t remember the actual figure offhand). Other things like the contemporary slogan “Naisen Ittai” (The Naichi and Chosun: One Entity) were official acknowledgments of the polyethnic nature of Japan. It would be absurd to imply that anything approaching ethnic existed in imperial Japan, but that society was clearly not monoethnic; nor was it perceived as such. (For what it’s worth, the widespread existence of a unified Japanese identity before the Meiji period is also highly questionable.)

        Oh, and I know your “thousands of years” was intended as hyperbole, but no social entity that could reasonably be called Japan has existed for more than about 1,600 years. Japan is pretty young in the greater scheme of human civilization.

      • Andrew

        There are different examples you can pick out from documents well before the Meiji period of people referring to themselves as part of a lineage-based group of people, but it’s hard to say how widespread of an idea that would have been. It’s hard to imagine it would have extended into the peasant classes much, if at all. I’m not an expert, either, but I remember in my studies a few years ago this concept coming up more than once.
        Certainly, the concept of “homogeneity” or “homoethnicity” can’t have really existed before Meiji, since these are pretty European concepts.

      • KenjiAd

        Genetically, modern Japanese is a composite of two DNA lineage, one from the Korean peninsula (so-called “Yayoi” people, around 300BC) and the other from the South Asia (so-called “Jomon” people, who probably arrived Japan ~10,000 years ago). The Ainu and some Okinawans share some genetic markers with South Asians, so they likely contain more “Jomon” characteristics than average mainland Japanese, who are basically 50% Koreans in DNA. lol

      • Andrew

        I know the rough genetics you’ve outlined, I’m talking about in a cultural sense.

      • Mark Makino

        Not disagreeing, but we should remember that any grouping of people by common ancestry is going to involve a lot of leaky and fuzzy borders. Even if every modern Japanese were descended from what we looking back would consider a single population, the members of that population were genetically diverse as well and probably didn’t consider themselves to be a single group. Populations large enough to form countries can never be homogenous, although they can with the help of education learn to see themselves that way.

      • KenjiAd

        Thank you for the info. I may not be able to read the book you mentioned, because I’m now in China. But I will try to educate myself about the issue a little more. Yes, I can read Japanese (I was born in Japan and grew up there till age 25-6). And yes, “a few thousands of years” was a hyperbole.

        But I do need to clarify what you wrote above, specifically, about the textbook of early Showa in which you saw a chart showing that only ~60% of the Japanese citizens were “Yamato kei.”

        Is the composition simply a reflection of the fact that Korea (1910) and Taiwan (1895) were annexed by Japan, officially making these people Japanese citizens (though second-class citizens)? Perhaps you know that during these period, Taiwanese/Koreans were forced to change their names to Japanese names, forced to participate in the Japan’s war effort as “Japanese” soldiers. So Japan being a multi-ethnic country in that sense has lasted only 50 years (1895-1945).

        One last point is that I don’t think that mainland Japanese at that time ever considered Koreans or Taiwanese as equals. For example my mother, born before the war, used to refer to Koreans as “Chon” which is a derogatory name for Koreans.

        But thanks anyway. It’s always a pleasure to read informative comments. :-)

      • Jim Jimson

        Thanks for the reply. I thought you might point out that the empire was only a brief period in Japan’s history, which is why I referred you to the books and wrote the last line. :)

        Yes, imperial Japan was a horrible place to be Korean, but it was not ethnically homogenous. To argue otherwise is to discard a potentially powerful ideological tool which foreigners in Japan can use to argue that they do in fact have a place here. About your dates: the early Meiji conquests of the ethnically heterogenous Ezo-chi and the Ryukyu Kingdom make imperial polyethnicity as old as the modern Japanese state. Many Korean and Chinese people also remained in Japan after the war, until in the 1980s the government began to permit new waves of immigration at the behest of industry.

        Excepting perhaps Tokugawa-era kokugaku scholars, the idea that there was one homogenous Japan would not have made much sense to most people on the archipelago before compulsory education and industrialization arrived. John Lie’s book in particular provides a good treatment of this topic, but here are a few factors to consider: there was a profound cultural split between eastern and western Japan, han were commonly referred to as “kokka,” marriages between people from different han were exceedingly rare, many dialects were (and some cases still are after 150+ years of centralization) less mutually intelligible than European national languages, and the burakumin would fit most definitions of an ethnicity. Like in the vast majority of the pre-modern world, most people in premodern Jpan would have seen themselves as members of a village (See also Ernest Gellner and Thomas Hobsbawm.)

    • blondein_tokyo

      What he is saying is that the law does not clearly recognize that there are people with Japanese nationality who are not ethnically Japanese. This is an important to clarify because the police do not take that into consideration and wind up arresting people whom they think are not Japanese simply because those people do not LOOK ethnically Japanese.

      There is the additional problem of racial profiling, i.e., assuming that a foreigner who is standing around in front of the station is there for criminal mischief rather than simply meeting a friend.

      This would be like the police in Canada arresting random Asians who are simply walking around on the street for visa violations, only later to find out that person was actually born and raised in Canada.

      .If you are wondering how Japan can get around this problem, you only have to look and see how other ethnically mixed countries do it, and viola! You have a least a partial solution. Is really isn’t all that difficult.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        What he is saying is that the law does not clearly recognize that there are people with Japanese nationality who are not ethnically Japanese.

        The law very clearly does recognize that ethnicity is not linked to Japanese nationality. Mr. Arudou is a Japanese national. He can vote, the same as any “ethnically Japanese” Japanese national, he can receive welfare the same as any “ethnically Japanese” Japanese national, etc.

        Now, individual police officers may not recognize the fact that there are white (or black, or hispanic) Japanese, but that is a very different thing from claiming the law does not recognize it.

      • blondein_tokyo

        Sorry, I worded that badly. What I meant was that Debito is saying that the law needs to be explicit in the language it uses so that it is clearer that “Japanese nationality” includes ethnic minorities who have Japanese nationality.

        I.e., instead of “People with Japanese nationality do not have to carry ID” It should be “People of Japanese nationality, including racial minorities who are not ethnically Japanese, do not have to carry ID.”

        It is important to make the police more aware that there are ethnic minorities who do not look Japanese yet have Japanese nationality. Re-wording the law would be be a step forward towards that goal.

        Hope that clears things up.

      • Gordon Graham

        Then all one would need to do is claim they’re Japanese and no one would need to carry ID.

      • blondein_tokyo

        Let’s weigh this up.

        First, what would happen if the police were not allowed to just randomly stop someone just because they look foreign and might therefore be an over stayer?

        A person who is not doing anything illegal or suspicious is not approached by the police. As a result, the police might possibly miss an opportunity to catch someone who is breaking the law by overstaying their visa.

        When you think about it, this scenario actually plays out every single day, hundreds of times a day, all around Tokyo. As the police go about their business, they come across foreigners on a pretty regular basis, including foreigners who “blend” with the general population. Since the police don’t stop every single foreigner they see, they miss opportunities to perhaps catch an overstayer hundreds of times a day. So if their goal is to catch overstayers, then the best way to catch them would be to stop *everyone* on the street- every foreigner, and every Japanese. After all, you can’t always tell if someone is Japanese just be looking at them, so to be safe they would have to stop ALL Asian people, no matter if they weren’t doing anything wrong or suspicious, and ask for an ID to prove they really were Japanese.

        But of course, the government will never allow that because the general public would consider it a HUGE violation of their privacy, freedom, and basic human rights. It wouldn’t be stood for- the Japanese public at large would revolt and refuse.

        Actually, Japanese citizens who look “foreign” ARE often being detained because most Japanese don’t carry ID and can’t prove they are Japanese. This means even Japanese people’s freedom and basic human rights are being violated under the law as it is currently being carried out – including people who are naturalized Japanese. Logically, then, to solve this problem you can’t say that ONLY foreigners should carry ID. You have to say all people, including Japanese, have to carry ID- which we have already established that Japanese citizens would not stand for.

        So no- I don’t think forcing people to carry ID is the best way to solve the problem. To me, the ideal scenario is that the police can only arrest a person who is actually in commission of a crime.
        Then, when they take them to the police station, they of course ask for ID in the process of booking them, and then they will find out if the person is an overstayer.

        Again, if the goal of the police is to catch criminals, including overstayers, then ALL people, including Japanese, will have to carry ID at all times.

        Or we could just leave the problem of overstaying visas in the hands of immigration.

      • Gordon Graham

        Anything beyond “Japanese national” would be redundant…

      • blondein_tokyo

        I just spend about three paragraphs explaining from my point of view why the law is flawed and how it can even cause problems for the Japanese. Your reply is a one line assertion without any reasoning at all and it didn’t even address the particular point we were discussing.

        You need to do me the courtesy of engaging with my reasoning. Don’t simply ignore it completely and just make a new assertion. That kind of discussion is completely pointless.

      • Gordon Graham

        A visible minority clause would be superfluous as Japanese national covers it. Agreed that there needs to be more sensitivity and awareness on the part of the police.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        if the goal of the police is to catch criminals, including overstayers, then ALL people, including Japanese, will have to carry ID at all times.

        Given an infinite number of policemen, and an infinite amount of time, perhaps this would make sense.

        However we do not live in such a fantasy world, resources are limited and have to be allotted as such. If you are looking for illegal immigrants you focus on those who are from a group that is most likely to contain illegal immigrants, not check every single person because you want to “be fair”.

        Or we could just leave the problem of overstaying visas in the hands of immigration.

        And while we are at it, let’s leave suspected cases of arson in the hands of the fire department, since they handle “fires”, any crimes involving aircraft in the hands in the hands of the Civil Aviation Bureau since they handle “aircraft”, drug crimes to the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency, etc.

        Except that it doesn’t work that way, does it? Pretty much all societies have agreed that the body responsible for arresting people, holding them for prosecution, handling criminal investigations etc. is the police. Which is as it should be.

    • Steve Jackman

      Your comment seems like an attempt to muddy the water by throwing in a lot of mumbo jumbo. Debito’s article is right on when it comes to the mindset of the Japanese police, state institutions and general public, which is behind racial discrimination and racial profiling in Japan.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        Your comment seems like an attempt to muddy the water by throwing in a lot of mumbo jumbo.

        Sorry you found it too difficult to understand, but try lifting your game. I am not going to lower mine by writing solely in monosyllabic words just so you can keep up.

      • Steve Jackman

        Your smoke-and-mirrors approach does not fool me or others into believing that your comment has any profound meaning behind it.

      • qwerty

        I think you misunderstood. your comment wasn’t ‘too difficult to understand’ – you didn’t use any ‘difficult’ vocabulary (although I’m sure you do know lots of really big words)
        ‘mumbo jumbo’ means ‘claptrap’, ‘gibberish’, ‘gobbledygook’, or ‘hogwash’

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        My comment was perfectly clear, qwerty. “Claptrap”, “Gibberish”, “Mumbo Jumbo” and “Gobbledygook” all denote nonsensical writing or speech that cannot be understood. If Steve Jackman could not understand what I wrote, then he is illiterate.

        Or, increasingly likely, he is the latest incarnation in a long line of illustrious pseudonyms created solely to post to the community pages of JT as wondrous examples of Poe’s law.

      • Steve Jackman

        GMainwaring, are you talking about me or about yourself? Your comment applies to you perfectly.

      • qwerty

        you are tiring. again – you misunderstand. your comment is not ‘too difficult to understand’ because of its lack of ‘monosyllabic’ words, but perhaps because of its lack of sense.

      • Loren Fykes

        GMainwaring is correct here.

      • qwerty

        good to know – thanks for that

    • Jim Jimson

      You’re confusing the words legal and official, which Debito has used correctly. Laws make up only a tiny fraction of governmental/official publications, and it is clearly the latter broad category to which Debito is referring. In other words, non-Yamato people should be used as examples of a generic Japanese citizens in print and visual media with greater frequency. The word “depict” especially justifies this reading, since laws are incapable of painting a portrait of the ethnic makeup of a society, except in most roundabout and figurative sense.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        In other words, non-Yamato people should be used as examples of generic Japanese citizens in print and visual media with greater frequency.

        I am not sure what Japanese print and visual media you look at, but in the ones I look there is a distinct statistical over-representation of “non-Yamato” Japanese: Becky, Reina Trindle, Yukio Ueno, Eiji Wentz, the Kabira brothers, Christal Takigawa, Anna Tsuchiya, Kaera Kimura… I could go on for a very, very long time.

    • Greg Estelcherry

      Adding to what Mainwaring said, I find this piece by Debito hypocritical and disingenuous.
      Look at Debito’s past articles and his website and note the hundreds of occasions in which he and they refer to what ‘The Japanese’ allegedly believe, think, and feel. The ‘Japanese’ to whom they refer obviously do not include visible minorities, mixed-race children, naturalized citizens etc. It clearly refers only to the near-mythical Yamato-daishi segment of the population. For Debito and his fans, these are clearly the ‘real’ Japanese.

      By regular ignoring the diverse elements in the Japanese populace and treating the Japanese as a monolithic mindset, Debito and his supporters actually maintain and contribute to the very mentality that Debito is accusing the police of in his article.

  • Loren Fykes

    One of the few pieces–if not the first–I’ve seen addressing intelligently the need to stop the conflation of ethnicity and nationality in the concept of “Japanese,” and seriously to understand that race, color and appearance play a major role in discrimination and the socialization of a person in Japan.

    This should be immediately translated into Japanese and sent to the Japanese media for print. It’s a shame to have this type of editorial only available in English.

    @Japan Times: get it in Japanese so that your readership can share these types of opinion pieces with their “Japanese” network.

    • Gordon Graham

      You must be new, here. Wait til next month and the JT will publish the same article by Mr.Arudo.

      • Loren Fykes

        I don’t understand your point. Are you saying the article will be translated into Japanese in one month? And, if so, why so long to do so? And will the Japanese language version be linked to this article?

      • Steve Jackman

        This is even funnier than your other comment that GMainwaring is correct!

  • Steve Jackman

    You seem to have entirely missed the point of my comment, which is that Japan needs comprehensive laws against racial discrimination, if entrenched attitudes of racism, racial discrimination and racial profiling are to change among the Japanese public and police. The excerpts from the U.N. report which I included in my comment are absolutely relevent in this regards (especially, for those who have their heads buried in the sand and deny that Japan has a serious problem of racism, racial discrimination and racial profiling).

  • Oliver Mackie

    I have a question, either for the article author or anyone else who knows. The two incidents in Ushiku and Saitama were reported as having been detailed in Japanese newspapers. Why were these two incidents detailed in said papers?

    • iago

      Perhaps because they were seen as exceptional and newsworthy — an example of what problems can arise if a society doesn’t recognize and adapt to changes in its demographics.

      • Oliver Mackie

        That’s a possibility. I look forward to hearing from someone who knows for sure. The author, perhaps?

    • iago

      Also interesting from the original story, though not mentioned here, is that the man’s status was only cleared up when he was questioned via an interpreter. So a language barrier, too.
      The police chief apologized and promised to take efforts to prevent a reoccurrence.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Thanks. Was the original story in the Japanese AS or the English one?

  • Mike

    I just say I’m Japanese. Then the police have no reason to question me, less they risk being labelled racist.

    • http://www.turning-japanese.info/ Eido INOUE

      Just a FYI, if you do, and they decide to check you out, and they find out you’re not, then depending on the situation, it’s possibly up to a maximum fine of ¥1,000,000 and/or up to one (1) year in prison, and possible deportation.

      This law and penalties was primarily created to protect Special Permanent Residents from identity theft. (SPRs, like Japanese Nationals, are not required to carry ID. SPR interest groups complained that regular PR and other foreigners could claim they were SPRs and “steal” their identity, hence this law)

      • Mike

        Legitimate question:
        If a police officer asks a Japanese national if they are “Japanese”, does said person need to prove it?
        As I am pretty sure, Japanese police do not have the authority to detain an individual unless they have physical evidence of a crime being commited. Hence you can potentially avoid a traffic ticket by not showing ID.

      • iago

        A police officer may stop and question any person who has reasonable ground to be suspected of having committed or being about to commit a crime judging reasonably from his or her unusual behaviours and/or other surrounding circumstances, or who is deemed to have some information on the crime which has already been committed or is about to be committed…

        Any person provided for in the preceding [two paragraphs] shall not be detained by the authorities, or be taken into a police station, a police box or a residential police box by force, or be coerced to answer his questions against his or her will as long as it is not based on the laws concerning criminal proceedings.

        “Reasonable” is always a somewhat subjective threshold, but physical evidence at the time of questioning is not a requirement.

      • Mike

        I have been stopped and asked to provide identification. I asked if the officer was racist, and that quickly ended the questioning as he let me go on my way. Reasonable is certainly subjective and rarely have I found police win an argument on subjective grounds. physical evidence on the other hand makes them persistent to death.

  • http://www.turning-japanese.info/ Eido INOUE

    When asked what he was doing, he said he was meeting friends. When asked his nationality, he mentioned his dual citizenship. Unfortunately, he carried no proof of that.

    There’s a huge omission in these three sentences. According to Asahi’s article, which Dr. Arudou cites as his source, the “[mentioning] his dual citizenship” did not occur on the street as this and later paragraphs would lead you to believe. (i.e. the chronology between the escorting to the station and the discovery of his nationality is backwards in this article)

    According to Nikkei article, which Dr. Arudou also sourced, this information became clear only occured until later, at the station, via interpreter. It’s curious that Dr. Arudou decided not to mention that they needed to use an interpreter to discover key claims that would exonerate him.

    In the Asahi article, which Dr. Arudou also sourced — implying he read it — it said that the suspect, when initially approached, spoke “broken Japanese” (“katakoto no nihongo”) when saying “I came to see a friend” etc (“tomodachi ni ai ni kita” nado). THAT (the broken Japanese and inability to articulate his nationality in Japanese) was the reason they asked him (they did not arrest him yet) to voluntarily accompany the officers to the police station. It is very curious that Dr. Arudou left out this key detail.

    I suspect the reason Debito omitted all the details regarding communication difficulty is because it ruined his desired narrative: that the police’s decision to detail this poor fellow was based entirely on his “physical appearance” (mentioned four times) and had nothing to do with poor basic communication skills (mentioned zero times in Dr. Arudou’s article, yet referenced in both the Asahi and Nikkei articles).

    Perhaps Dr. Arudou is so obsessed with “race”, due to his thesis focus, that he failed to consider that there are possibly other reasons why the police suspected he didn’t have Japanese nationality: He wasn’t able to speak Japanese well enough to tell the police he was a Japanese national.

    It’s very true that it is possible to be a legal Japanese national and not be able to speak a lick of Japanese or speak it poorly. As the police implied in their apology, they need to take that possibility into account for future encounters.

    It’s a shame that Dr. Arudou omitted (Japanese language communication problems) and distorted (by reversed the chronology of) these important facts from his article.

    • Jim Jimson

      The fact that citizenship and ethnicity are not equivalent is hardly something this case revealed; it’s been a basic truth of human societies for as long as notions of citizenship have existed. The police are operating on basically ideological assumptions, which must necessarily hamper their ability to police effectively; beyond that, the failure to understand their own society at so basic a level should be an embarrassment.

      The fact that this person’s nationality was even questioned at all was a function of the false idea that appearance = nationality. That issue precedes the ability of the man to respond to police accusations effectively.

      • Sam Gilman

        I think it’s a bit strong to say that it’s an “ideological assumption” that a Japanese citizen should be able to communicate, even in broken Japanese, that they are a Japanese citizen. It’s a prejudice, certainly, but not a horrendously offensive one. To be honest, and not to defend them in general, but I can understand how the police got themselves into this mess, and frankly, reflecting on the behaviour of the police in my own country of origin, the apology and recognition of responsibility is to be welcomed.

    • Steve Jackman

      You’ve missed the very basic point that the kid should not have been approached and questioned by the police in the first place, since he was not engaged in any unlawful or criminal activity.

      He was simply going about his business and waiting to meet a friend (what is Japan, a police state?). Is it a crime in Japan to wait for someone while looking foreign? Hence, his Japanese language ability should not matter. What if the person in question was a native Japanese who could not communicate with the police due to being hearing impaired or mute? Does such a person not have the same civil rights and civil liberties as other Japanese?

      As long as the person is not engaged in unlawful activity, the police do not have a right to question and haul him to the police station. In the case of this kid, the police racially profiled him for no reason other than that he did not look “Japanese” to them. What does language ability have to do with it?

      • Oliver Mackie

        He was approached and questioned because a member of the public called the police and reported someone acting suspiciously. The police are pretty much obliged to respond to such calls. After asking the person, who by appearance was quite likely to be non-Japanese (whether you like this thinking or not, there’s no argument that statistically, right now, appearance is a relevant guide) to show ID which, if a foreigner, he would legally be obliged to be carrying (the police’s job is to enforce the law, remember) the person was unable to do so and unable (linguistically) to explain why. At that point there was statistically about a 50/50 chance that the suspect was either a Japanese national who didn’t need to be carrying one or a foreigner breaking the law. The police were well within the bounds of their job description to then require the suspect to accompany them, in order to sort out which it was. This took time, as an interpreter was needed. Thanks to the fact that Japan provides access to such interpreters, the situation was finally resolved.
        The articles states that the suspect was “released with verbal apologies” but that looks like a clear case of subtle distortion. If it was made by the chief of police and reported in a newspaper, then the only way it could have been as described is if the original report was based solely on an account given by the suspect. Highly unlikely. Did the chief of police pop down to the station during all this to apologize? Hardly seems likely. In which case, either the chief of police later came to find the suspect and do so or the apology was performed publicly, either to the suspect, or as a public statement by the police.
        Here again we have this author taking statistically insignificant events (3, in 2006, 2010, and 2014) among a population which the author acknowledges in in the range of 500,000 to 1,000,000 people.
        When this kind of distortion becomes apparent, it makes it all the more reasonable people demanded that the author back up his claims with reference to his sources.
        The more I read this author, the more I see a picture of someone who, deliberately or otherwise, is using the fact that ‘bad news sells’ to further his own career as a self-designated ‘defender of the people.’

      • Steve Jackman

        So any Japanese can call the police and report me for being a foreigner, anytime I am out of my house, and the police will come running to demand that I show my resident card? Some free country Japan is!

      • Oliver Mackie

        The person was not reported for “being a foreigner”, he was reported for acting suspiciously. Anyone so reported can be approached by the police. Additionally the law states that foreigner residents can be required to show their ID card. These requirements are on a par with laws in other developed countries.

      • Steve Jackman

        Are your dense or what? Some Japanese person thought he was acting suspiciously based only on the reason that he was foreign.

        It is the same as reports by many foreign shoppers in Japan that they are tagged and followed by security guards, as soon as they enter certain department stores. They do not act suspiciously, since they are going about their regualar shopping. Someone in the department store thinks they are suspicious, just because they are foreign or a visible minority.

      • Oliver Mackie

        How do you know that the Japanese person thought he was acting suspiciously based only on the reason that he was foreign? Are you privvy to a transcript of the call? The article uses quotation marks around suspicious foreigner, but doesn’t make it clear where the quotation is frim. It is either a non-quote actually, or a quotation from the referenced newspaper.

      • Steve Jackman

        Why are you being disingenuous and pretending that you are a newbie to this topic? This incident where a non-Japanese looking person was singled out is far from being an isolated case. Just do a search in this newspaper’s archive, look at YouTube videos, or visit Debito’s website, where you can find hundreds of other cases of racial profiling, xenophobia and racial discrimination against foreigners in Japan. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to connect the dots and see a clear pattern.

      • Oliver Mackie

        No, one has to possess a certain level of paranoia.

      • http://www.turning-japanese.info/ Eido INOUE

        Really? That’s your response? Reverse Profiling? (“… connect the dots and see a clear pattern“). In other words, because of statistics, we should ignore the known written facts of the case and just assume that the Japanese are guilty of singling out non-Japanese looking people because of past cases?

        Presuming that a racial/ethnic group or person motivation is racist because of past “newspaper archives”, “videos”, or a blog is well… racist.

      • Steve Jackman

        The Nikkei news clearly reports that the Japanese person who called the police stated that there was a suspicious FOREIGNER. He did not say that there was a suspicious PERSON. The caller was clearly making a judgment based on the kid’s appearance, since he could not have known if he held Japanese or foreign nationality. What is difficult to understand here?

      • http://www.turning-japanese.info/ Eido INOUE

        “The caller [sic] was clearly making a judgment based on the kid’s appearance.”

        The phrase reported in all the papers was [apologies for the transliteration to rōmaji; the English-only-comments-policy Japan Times ironically sometimes moderates & blocks comments if you use too much kana/kanji] “fushin na gaikokujin ga iru.”

        If the phrase used was “gaikokujin ga iru kara fushin da.” etc., that would be a “judgement”. Or the English equivalent, “There is a non-Japanese here so that is suspicious.”

        Really, your insinuation that people cannot physically describe people to the police to assist them in identifying the person sounds like a bad comedy sketch.

        Citizen: “Officer! There’s a suspicious white man in the alley!”
        Police: “Excuse me, did you just say ‘white man’? Why didn’t you say ‘person’?”
        Citizen: “I thought that would help you correctly identify him!”
        Police: “I’m not buying that. It’s clear to me the only reason you think he’s suspicious is because he’s white. Sorry, you should have used the word ‘person.’ It’s clear you’re prejudiced. I can read your mind.”

      • Steve Jackman

        Eido, you have just gone through a tirade, without addressing the main point of what it was the kid is accused of doing that arose suspicion in the mind of the caller and the police. His only crime is that he was waiting to meet a friend while looking “foreign” to a racist and paranoid Japanese caller and police. This is the same thing which probably thousands or millions of Japanese kids do every day without incident, since they do not look foreign.

        I like to keep things simple, so answer this simple question for me, “What is it the “foreign” looking kid is accused of doing that was deemed suspicious by the Japanese caller and the police”?

      • Oliver Mackie

        The key point is that he said there is SUSPICIOUS foreigner, not there is a FOREIGNER. If he had just reported a foreigner then it would be indeed strange that the police didn’t question further. Being of non-Japanese appearance (and much as you may not like it we know what it means) is different from being suspicious. If it were not, it would be impossible for an ethnic Japanese to report another as acting suspiciously. The fact that the caller described the person as suspicious (behaving suspiciously) is enough to justify the police checking it out.
        One may reasonably ask why, when informed of anyone (Japanese or otherwise) as being suspicious, the police don’t ask further questions to ascertain the nature of the suspicious behaviour. But such questioning is only likely to provoke answers (i.e. he looks like he’s casing the area) which are so vague as to require checking out anyway. The informant does not need to tell the truth, you can’t be arrested for perceiving someone to be acting suspiciously when they weren’t planning anything illegal. So the best policy is simply for the police to go and check it out, especially in the midst of a period when they are on high alert and asking the public to report any suspicious behaviour. (Imagine the repercussions for them were they not to do so and a crime be committed.) Everything else after that in this story has been covered above.

      • Steve Jackman

        What was the kid doing that was “suspicious”? (Hint: looking “foreign” while waiting for a friend).

      • Oliver Mackie

        Actually his response is even weaker than that. We don’t even need to ignore the statistics, as the ‘hundreds of documented cases’ he refers to are a miniscule drop in the ocean against the background of the literally tens of millions of interactions DAILY that take place between Japanese and NJ. He’s not connecting dots in any realistic way, more like he’s looking at a night sky with stars, assuming that of the ones visible to him, there are actually a million-fold more visible ones that he just can’t see right now, then joining the dots between all of those to come the concluion that it’s actually daytime.

      • iago

        The original story in the Nikkei indicates the caller reported “There is a suspicious foreigner” (「不審な外国人がいる」).

      • Steve Jackman

        It is clear from the news reports in the Nikkei and other press that the Japanese person told the police that there was a suspicious FOREIGNER, not a suspicious PERSON (even though, he had no way of knowing the nationality of the kid).

      • Oliver Mackie

        It is clear from the news reports in the Nikkei and other press that the Japanese person told the police that there was a SUSPICIOUS foreigner, not a SUSPICIOUS person, because at least half of the non-traditionally-Japanese looking people in Japan are non-Japanese, and anyway, even if the person in question had Japanese nationality, that description would still almost uniquely identify the person in question among the other very-traditionally-looking-Japanese around the station at the time (so whether the fact that he didn’t actually knew the nationality of the kid is irrelevant.)

      • Steve Jackman

        Can you tell me what the kid was doing that was deemed to be “suspicious” by the Japanese caller and the police (other than waiting to meet a friend while looking “foreign”)?

      • Oliver Mackie

        No, as I do not know what the caller was thinking. But the point is this: even if the caller was a ‘worst-case-scenario’ i.e. someone who just hates foreigners and wanted them taken away from the front of his local station, that is not the point. the point is how the police should react when notified by a caller of the presence of a person behaving so-called suspiciously. As I have posted elsewhere, it is a circular process for the police to question the caller further, as that caller can simply use vague assertions, which still need to be checked by investigation. The default action is to go and physically investigate. The only exception to this would be where the same caller has a history of providing the police with false leads, in which case they might be reasonably expected to ignore it. Except in such cases, the police are obliged by sensible procedure to proceed.

      • Steve Jackman

        So, you do not know what the kid was doing that was deemed “suspicious”. No suspicious behavior by the kid has been reported in the press, because he was NOT doing anyting suspicious. I rest my case.

      • Oliver Mackie

        You rest your case about what the kid may have been doing, but that’s not the issue. See again the post that you supposedly just responded to.

      • Steve Jackman

        The issue is exactly what the caller and police deemed to be suspicious behavior. It is clear that they suspected him not for anything he did, but for who he was (i.e. “foreign-looking” in their eyes).

      • Greg Estelcherry

        So rest it then.

        It’s obvious that the thrust of both the original piece AND Debito’s commentary was that the detainee was wrongly accused of being foreign (and thus lacking id), not that he was wrongly considered suspicious.

        For some reason that central point seems to have eluded only you.

      • Steve Jackman

        You seem to have missed the U.N. report on racism and human rights violations in Japan which came out just a couple of weeks ago and was extremely critical of Japan for its racial discrimination against non-citizens and visible minorities. In discussing the report, committee lead Anwar Kemal stated clearly, “You (Japan) need a comprehensive law on racial discrimination. That is the most important thing”.

        What do you have to say about the following criticisms of Japan by the U.N. in this report?
        ——
        “Definition of Racial Discrimination

        The Committee is concerned that the definition of racial discrimination in paragraph 1 of article 14 of the Constitution of Japan, which prescribes the principles of equality and non-discrimination does not include the grounds of national or ethnic origin, colour or descent, and therefore does not fully meet the requirements of article 1 of the Convention. Similarly, there is no adequate definition of racial discrimination in domestic legislation (arts 1 and 2).

        The Committee recommends that the State party adopt in its legislation a comprehensive definition of racial discrimination which integrates the grounds of national or ethnic origin, colour and descent, in full compliance with article 1, paragraph 1, of the Convention.”
        ——
        “Absence of a specific and comprehensive law prohibiting racial discrimination

        While noting that some laws include provisions against racial discrimination, the Committee is concerned that acts and incidents of racial discrimination continue to occur in the State party and that the State party has not yet enacted a specific and comprehensive law on the prohibition of racial discrimination which will enable victims to seek appropriate legal redress for racial discrimination (art. 2).

        The Committee urges the State party to adopt specific and comprehensive legislation prohibiting racial discrimination, both direct and indirect, in compliance with articles 1 and 2 of the Convention, which will enable victims of racial discrimination to seek appropriate legal redress.”
        ——
        “National Human Rights Institution

        The Committee is concerned that the State party has not yet established a national human rights institution in full compliance with the Paris principles. In this context, the Committee notes that the examination of the Human Rights Commission Bill was scrapped in 2012 following the dissolution of the House of Representatives and that the progress made to establish a national human rights institution has been very slow. (art. 2).

        Bearing in mind its general recommendation No. 17 (1994) on the establishment of national institutions to facilitate implementation of the Convention, the Committee recommends that the State party promptly resume the consideration of the Human Rights Commission Bill and expedite its adoption with a view to establishing an independent national human rights institution, providing it with adequate human and financial resources as well as with a mandate to address complaints of racial discrimination, in full compliance with the Paris principles (General Assembly resolution 48/134).”
        ——
        “The Committee recommends that the State party reinforce its legislation in order to firmly combat racial discrimination against migrants in employment and access to housing and improve migrants employment status, bearing in mind the Committee’s general recommendation No. 30 (2004) on discrimination against non-citizens.”
        ——
        “Access by non-citizens to public places and facilities

        The Committee is concerned about the continued exclusion of non-citizens on the basis of race or nationality from accessing some public places and facilities of general use, such as restaurants, hotels, family public bathhouses and stores, in violation of articles 2 and 5 of the Convention (art. 2, 5).

        The Committee recommends that the State party take appropriate measures to protect non-citizens from discrimination in access to public places, in particular by ensuring effective application of its legislation. The Committee also recommends that the State party investigate and sanction such acts of discrimination and enhance public awareness-raising campaigns on the requirements of the relevant legislation.”
        ——
        “the Committee is concerned about reports on the increase of xenophobic and discriminatory attitudes against non-citizens and indigenous peoples, including through mass media. (art. 2, 7).”
        ——

      • Greg Estelcherry

        So, you think it follows from the fact that this UN Committee thinks Japan can do more to combat racial discrimination that the police in the case we are discussing MUST HAVE investigated the man because he was considered suspicious only due to his foreign appearance?
        All this despite there being no such evidence (which Debito would most certainly have jumped all over). Ooookaaaay…
        By the way, the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and Sweden all received damning reports on racial discrimination from the same UN Committee. Look ‘em up. We can cherry pick from those reports too to create the impression that their societies and systems are rife with racial discrimination, worse than in ‘other developed countries’.

      • Al_Martinez

        Unfortunately, being a foreigner and acting suspiciously are interchangeable in many a traditional-looking Japanese citizen’s mind–especially the cops.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Is that your contribution to this discussion? Try reading all that has already been said before adding nothing at all.

      • Al_Martinez

        Yes, that’s all.

        I think you overestimate what you’ve contributed–it’s what you say, not word count.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Indeed. And the point you made had already been made several times before you arrived. If you had read what had gone before, you would have known that and would have understood why those who disagree consider such assertions as not only unfounded but indicative of the very racism that you claim to be against. If you want to answer those accusations then I recommend you go through the whole thread and see if you have something new to add.

      • iago

        It’s disappointing that without any knowledge of the caller, or the circumstances of the call, or why the caller might conceivably have considered the person’s actions “suspicious”, the author has chosen to accuse them of being “some old crank busybody.” Talk about prejudice.

      • Steve Jackman

        No suspicious behavior by the kid has been reported anywhere in the press because there was none (except for his foreign appearance).

      • iago

        As long as the person is not engaged in unlawful activity, the police do not have a right to question and haul him to the police station…

        For the record, I believe the person only needs to be suspected of being, having been, or about/planning to be engaged in unlawful activity. Police can act on the basis of [reasonable?] suspicion. Thus it can be argued that if you refuse to cooperate, you have something to hide (rather than you are asserting your rights), and therefore acting suspiciously, giving the police the “right” to further questioning.

        The odds favour the house.

      • Steve Jackman

        Being a foreigner in Japan should not be enough reason for suspicion, as it often is in Japan.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        You’ve missed the very basic point that the kid should not have been approached and questioned by the police in the first place, since he was not engaged in any unlawful or criminal activity.

        It is the job of the police to prevent crime from occurring, not merely respond to it once it has already occurred, is it not? And that includes immigration crimes as well as violent ones.

        What if the person in question was a native Japanese who could not communicate with the police due to being hearing impaired or mute?

        Presumably they could *write* the national language. If not, then the police would be obligated to find an officer who knew sign language, and could ask (as the police did in Ushiku) for the individual to accompany them to the police box or station until communication could be worked out.

        What does language ability have to do with it?

        A great deal, actually. If the individual in question had been able to convey basic personal information such as “I am a Japanese, my mother is Japanese”, that would likely have been the end of the “incident”.

        I don’t know about you, but I would not really want to live in a society where the police never question anyone for fear of offending, or where if, when questioned, an individual can get the cops to give up and walk away merely by pretending not to speak the language.

      • Steve Jackman

        Police need to have reasonable cause that a crime has either been committed or may be committed. Being a foreigner or a visible minority should not be the basis of this reasonable cause, as it often is in Japan. You sound paranoid.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        Police need to have reasonable cause that a crime has either been committed or may be committed.

        For shokumu shitsumon, yes. Like Mr. Arudou, I see you are conflating Article 2 of the Police Execution of Duties Law governing shokumu shitsumon with the Foreign Registry Law. These are different laws, with different purposes and different requirements. Asking an apparent foreigner to present their ID is not, and never has been, shokumu shitsumon. There is not, and never has been, a requirement for reasonable cause to believe that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed.

        You sound paranoid.

        Hardly – paranoia is your schtick.

      • Steve Jackman

        More mumbo jumbo.

      • KetsuroOu

        How on earth is quoting the relevant laws “mumbo jumbo”?

      • Steve Jackman

        It is not against the law to wait for a friend while looking foreign. Both the police and the Japanese caller were wrong, since none of the news reports have anything about the kid acting suspiciously or doing anything wrong (except for looking foreign).

      • KetsuroOu

        You are missing, completely missing, so many of the intelligent points being made in this thread that I am beginning to think that you are doing it purposefully.

      • Steve Jackman

        If you think I am missing something, then I challenge you to tell me what the kid did which the Japanese caller and the police deemed to be “suspicious”, other than waiting to meet a friend while having a “foreign” looking face in the eyes of the caller and the police.

      • J.P. Bunny

        The police responded to a call of a suspicious person and investigated, as they are supposed to do. The kid had a “foreign” looking face, but doing nothing. Maybe the kid was doing something suspicious before he arrived. The policeman could have decided to do nothing at all, but then he wouldn’t be doing his duty. The police are allowed to check foreigners for ID, and, if you look “foreign”, you will most likely be stopped.
        As an aside, I have been here for many decades and have never been asked to show my card, even when stopped for traffic violations. Debito and his lot are just overly paranoid.

      • KenjiAd

        It is not clear from the newspaper articles what exactly was the reason for the caller’s suspicion. You and some others seem to believe that the caller’s suspicion must have something to do with the guy’s foreign looks.

        The only evidence you have provided for your belief is the fact that the caller had referred to him as a “foreigner.” But this is a rather weak evidence, because all it shows is that the caller (wrongly) thought the guy was a foreigner.

        One could argue that the caller was definitely conscious of the guy’s ethnicity, which might indicate that the guy’s foreign look might have affected the caller’s decision of whether to call the cop or not. I get that.

        But to further analyze this angle would not be very productive. We don’t know, for example, how he actually looks other than his ethnicity. Was he wearing tattoo? His hair style? His clothes? His general facial features? These things would affect people’s perception of how dangerous a person is, not just his/her race. We know nothing about these factors.

        Another thing we don’t know is the history of crimes committed by non-Japanese persons in that particular area. If that area had been affected by the crimes committed by South Asians, people would naturally be nervous of anyone looking like a South Asian. I’m not saying that’s right, but that’s just the way it is (Ask any Muslims living in America).

      • KenjiAd

        Just for the sake of arguments, let’s say the guy’s foreign looks was the major reason for the caller’s suspicion. The caller might even justify his suspicion, citing the past crimes committed by South Asians in the vicinity.

        In this hypothetical case (which I believe is unlikely), I think that you and Debito are right in thinking that the caller is racist, not in the sense of KKK, but in the sense that some people might get nervous when they see Middle Eastern guys with long bears sitting in the same plane (not that they can get out lol).

        Even then, however, the police action was appropriate. As many posters have already pointed out, the officers had every right to ask for ID when they saw a guy who looked foreign and couldn’t speak Japanese well.

        In my opinion, the police erred when they officially arrested him at the station, before calling an interpreter or seeking help from any translation services online (say Google translate).

        An arrest can be a traumatic experience for a young person, especially when you can’t quite explain to the police. I think the guy needs more than just an apology.

      • C.J. Bunny

        Brilliant work, Steve Jackman! I and many others have been enjoying your restless work here. Well done.

        Nothing is made of what the suspicious behaviour was in the press. Entirely possible the caller could have been racist, as you suspect, and saw being in procession of a foreign-looking face as suspicious. Foreigner could also just been used as descriptive term as being the most distinctive feature about the kid – plenty of similar cases in the US of black people being held in white areas as the only decription given to police looking for a criminal is that they were “African-American”.
        Do you think the solution to this problem is stopping the police being given racial information as a description by the telephone handlers?

        Maybe the police thought, unreasonably as it turned out, that ID should be presented due to the foreign face. I know that you don’t think looking foreign is reasonable cause to suspect someone is non-Japanese, but in your head would it be reasonable for the police to hold those suspicions based on lack of Japanese language ability?

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        Apologies – allow me to rephrase that for you so you can understand:

        dirka dirka dirka jihad

      • Steve Jackman

        GMainwaring, thanks for confirming again that your comments make no sense whatsoever.

      • blondein_tokyo

        Then why do the police stop foreigners who aren’t doing anything other than going about their business and ask for their ID?

        It has happened to me three times. Once when I was getting a drink out of a vending machine behind my office; once when I was walking on the street on my way to the station at 1pm in Shinjuku; and once when I was with two other females (all foreign) when we were on our way to a restaurant.

        I do not think it reasonable to call someone paranoid for thinking that maybe the police are stopping people because they are foreign, when that person has been stopped because they were foreign.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        Then why do the police stop foreigners who aren’t doing anything other than going about their business and ask for their ID?

        Because it is part of their job to enforce immigration laws and ensure foreigners are not in the country illegally?

        And that to do that, they are empowered to ask for, and foreigners are required to provide, ID?

        All of which is covered under the Foreign Registry Law, which is not the same as the Police Execution of Duties Law section covering shokumu shitsumon. Because it is not shokumu shitsumon, therefore the rules which limit shokumu shitsumon (probably cause or suspicion) do not apply.

        So yes, you were stopped and asked for ID because you looked foreign. I wouldn’t call someone paranoid for thinking that is why they were asked for ID – that is why they were stopped for ID.

        Someone, like “Steve Jackman”, who then thinks they are constantly being eyed by suspicion by all Japanese, I would call paranoid. And racist. But “Steve Jackman” is just the latest ‘nym used by a long-time poster here and elsewhere whose only purpose in life is to act the clown and try to make Mr. Arudou look bad by association.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    I am from England. If you were to travel to England we do not require you to carry your passport or any identifying documentation. QED.

    • C.J. Bunny

      UK is a bit of an outlier even in Europe. Many EU countries require visitors to carry passports/id cards with them at all times. And in the Schengen area immigration checks can be done at any time, anywhere.

      The UK does require foreign residents to have biometric ID and if from many countries, foreigners have to register with the local police whenever they move house. (unlike Japan you are charged for all these things too). Foreigner biometric ID cards may also be required more widely than resident cards in Japan, for example they should also be checked by employers and soon maybe even landlords.

      Foreign residents (including UK citizens) are required to give passport information to any hotels they stay at in UK. Though visitors and residents alike are not specially required to carry ID, police and other authorities can demand identity and right to be in UK verification. Additonally, police have wide ranging powers for stop and search, stopping vehicles, and can basically do what they please under the terrorism act. For example, UK police are empowered stop anyone on the street to take fingerprints to check you against a database.

  • http://www.turning-japanese.info/ Eido INOUE

    Yes yes, shame on me. Wanting the core facts and timeline of an arrest reported accurately in a newspaper of all places, for heaven’s sake. I mean, as long as newspapers are getting the main point across, are “details” and “facts” really that important?! I mean, c’mon, this is the “Community” section of the paper, not the “News” section! The writer should be allowed to take liberties with the facts if it helps better make his main point! <snicker/>

    • At Times Mistaken

      I was just trying to piece together how the JT’s correction process works (or doesn’t work) and was wondering if you used the “error report” button at the end of the article to apprise the editor of the factual slipups you seemed to have found in this column? I like the fact that there is an error report button and trust it’s more than just window dressing.

      I also know there have been instances in the past where the JT has noted its goofups with an explanation in a correction statement at the bottom of the article (much like the NYT and other papers do) but it doesn’t look like it has done that here for some reason.

  • leonidas

    I remember my ex-GF would get stopped all the time in Saitame because the police thought she looked Filipino; despite being Japanese. It’s probably why she got a drivers license. Imagine having to spend 200,000-¥300,000 of your own money, just so the cops will leave you alone.

  • J.P. Bunny

    Another non-issue article. Overstaying visas and illegal entry are crimes and it is the job of the police to catch lawbreakers. Only foreigners can be guilty of immigration crimes, and looks count. From what was available in Debito’s, article the people questioned had no proof of what they claimed. How is a policeman supposed to know it those people were telling the truth or not? And considering that they couldn’t speak the language very well the police would not be doing their job if they weren’t brought in (not arrested) for questioning.
    Naturalized Japanese citizens may not be required to carry a passport, but they are always going to look “foreign” to people here. The “victims” in question couldn’t be bothered to have some piece of paper on them showing their status. No tears shed for them.

    • iago

      Personally, I have some degree of sympathy, or at least empathy, for all of them — particularly the two native born, “full-blooded” Japanese women who through accident of birth look a bit different.

      Now, if they’d done something like arm themselves with a tape-recorder and then hung around somewhere where ID checks are par for the course due to the nature of the place until they got questioned, just to make a point, then I would have zero sympathy. But what kind of agent provocateur would do something like that?

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        An agent provocateur would never have “hung around”, trying to get questioned. He would make certain, however, that he “did hang around” long enough to get questioned.

        There is a difference.

    • blondein_tokyo

      By your logic of “looks count” the Japanese police can then stop anyone who doesn’t “look Japanese”. Unfortunately for some ethic Japanese, this means they could be stopped by the police and asked for ID just because they are too tall, too dark skinned, or because their eyes are too big or small. Since most Japanese don’t carry ID, they are not going to be able to prove the are Japanese. The article mentions two such cases, actually, clearly showing that the way the law is currently being carried out it negatively effects Japanese people, too.

      Is this also okay with you? No tears shed, because these Japanese people couldn’t be bothered to get a driver’s license or carry a passport to prove they are Japanese?

      • J.P. Bunny

        If they don’t want to be constantly detained, then yes. Still no tears.

      • blondein_tokyo

        Well, at least you are consistent.

        Just out of curiosity, do you think everyone should always carry ID, just in general, that it is a good policy for any government to have? And, are you a proponent of laws like the one in New York they refer to as “stop and frisk”? And would you be okay with being randomly stopped and searched by the police, on a semi-regular basis? Would it bother you to give up some of your personal privacy and freedom in that way?

      • Ron Burgundy

        He wouldn’t, because he’s a brainwashed indoctrinated tool who thinks the government doesn’t have to respect their constituents’ rights. Plenty of sheeple like him out there. Best to give them them a wide berth, lest their stupidity rubs off on you.

  • iago

    From being a foreigner and not in possession of his residence card or passport: the offence of which he was incorrectly suspected.

    • blondein_tokyo

      No. the woman who called the police didn’t say “I think there is someone who isn’t carrying their resident ID at the train station.” She said, “There is someone acting suspiciously.”

      But when the police got there, they found a guy just standing in front of the train station, which is neither illegal nor should make them suspicious he wasn’t carrying ID. I mean, really- what does a person not carrying ID even LOOK like? How can you look at a random person going about their business and go, “AHA! That is someone who is not carrying ID! Let’s spot check him!”

      What really happened is that the police came, saw a foreigner, and decided to check his ID simply because he’s foreign. Which yeah…they are not actually allowed to do.

      • iago

        Read carefully. He was arrested/detained by the police on suspicion of not carrying the required ID, after they showed up in response to the call. The police suspected him of this. They were wrong, as the facts subsequently proved out, thus he was exonerated from “bring a foreigner not in possession of his residence card or passport”.

        And by the way — if he’s foreign, they are actually allowed to check his ID simply because of that, whether you like it or not. The issue in his case is that he carries Japanese citizenship and therefore is not, legally speaking, foreign.

        This isn’t about checking foreigners’ IDs. This is about checking Japanese citizens’ IDs because they look a bit foreign.

      • blondein_tokyo

        No. The police were called because someone reported a suspicious foreigner, but it is not clear what he was actually doing that aroused the caller’s suspicion, as there is no way to recognize whether a person has an ID or not just by looking at them. There is no criteria I am aware of for “he looks like he is not carrying ID”; therefore, “I must call the police because that person seems not to have ID” is utterly illogical.

        This means man was not questioned because he wasn’t carrying ID; he was questioned because someone reported his behavior as suspicious, and when it was found that he was not carrying ID, THEN it was thought he might be lying about his immigration status and so was taken to the police station.

        As for your last assertion, no- the police can’t legally ID check people just for looking as though they might be foreign. The police only have the right to demand ID from *anyone* if they have reason to believe that person is about to, or in the midst of, committing a crime. However, as we can see from this and other prominent cases, the police don’t strictly follow that law. They tend to ask for ID whenever they feel like it, and as a result, ethnic Japanese as well as naturalized Japanese have been taken to the police station for questioning, interrogated, and then only let go after they have finally been able to prove themselves to be in Japan legally.

        You are right to say this isn’t strictly about checking foreigners’ IDs. It’s also about checking the IDs of both ethnic Japanese nationals and naturalized Japanese nationals. Overall, it’s about the police overstepping their bounds in a quest to find as many overstayers as they can, because in checking the IDs of people who look foreign, that is their goal.

        I am quite interested to see what is going to happen when the police finally wind up detaining the wrong person. I.e., a person who actually has some power; someone who knows the law and has the means to sue them for false detainment and who also has connections to get the story out in the mainstream press. Japanese citizens have voted down measure after measure where the government has attempted to institute a national ID system. When Japanese people finally realize that the police are overstepping their bounds and detaining both ethnic and naturalized Japanese right along with actual overstayers, they are NOT going to be happy. Maybe then we’ll see some positive actions taken to correct this problem.

      • iago

        No. See, you didn’t read carefully, did you? The original question, that I answered correctly, was “what was the crime he was exonerated for?”

        Look, the police arrived because someone reported him as “acting suspiciously”. Subsequent to that, they “decided”, erroneously, that he was foreign and therefore demanded ID, which he didn’t have (nor require). Continuing on the wrong assumption that he was not a citizen, they detained him, for “being a foreigner without ID” (which he wasn’t). This is the offence he was later exonerated for. Nothing to do with the call (though as a result of it), or with “appearing to act suspiciously” but with what happened as a response to the call.

        The crime he was exonerated for was the crime of being a foreigner not in possession of ID. He was not exonerated for “appearing suspicious” (whatever that means), because that in itself is not a crime.

        The police can legally check ID of foreigners without suspicion of a crime, under the immigration law. They just can — it’s the law. They don’t need a reason, if the person is a foreigner. What is at issue is how they determine someone is a foreigner: they make broad assumptions based on physical appearance, which — as this demonstrates — affects people who look foreign but aren’t.

  • Mark Makino

    The danger of applying modern political terms for populations to the clades and subclades described in that WIkipedia article is that it implies that the political terms are coterminous with the genetic ones; and like evolutionary theory in the hands of writers of books like “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” ends up playing to political or ideological discourses which are not supported by science.
    I don’t think we really disagree, but when we use phrases like “Japanese are descended from…” it implies a uniformity that isn’t there to people who are inclined to look for it, which I prefer to avoid.

  • blondein_tokyo

    Sherryl, you are saying this to either purposely poison the well, or because you are honestly too ignorant to understand the difference between bashing and criticism.

    You are using the same kinds of dishonest tactics that you did in our last discussion. There, too, you offered up false dichotomies (as though one cannot address racism in one’s own country as well as in their adopted one) and made accusations towards me which were blatantly false and for which you could not provide any evidence or examples. You also refused to address any of the points I made, and instead launched ad hominem attacks.

    This shows me (and anyone else who cares to check the past comments which Disqus allows you to do by clicking the poster’s handle) that you have NO idea how to structure a sound argument, are completely disingenuous if not totally dishonest, and quite unable to understand even the simplest logic. Talking to you is completely pointless and a waste of time.

  • Oliver Mackie

    BTW, my post was not ‘accidentally deleted’ either. Rather telling, don’t you think?

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Clearly, you missed the fact that it has been reported in Japanese, as even the article itself says.

    But more importantly, why did you assume that it hadn’t been reported in Japanese? I’m curious because one often sees these claims about “how the Japanese need to be told” about something that was actually reported in the Japanese media before someone rendered it in English. It’s a little creepy because it paints a picture of the native Japanese as profoundly ignorant about their own sins and in need of enlightenment by westerners.

    Perhaps the right people in certain positions need to have their attention specifically drawn to certain issues, but that’s not what you said.

  • MeTed

    I have been to Germany, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Korea. I don’t remember being told to carry my passport at all times for ID in any of these countries.

    • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

      Malaysia requires everyone to carry ID. Malaysian nationals have a government-issued ID cards, foreigners are required to carry their passport with valid visa or an ID issued by the state of Malaysia, if they have one. The South Korean Immigration Bureau website says foreigners “should” always carry their passport or Alien Registration Card in case they are asked to present it (which sounds to me like their laws are very similar to Japan’s).

      German law “requires” foreigners to carry ID at all times, but the law is weakly enforced and most times the police will do nothing more than warn you to carry your ID next time – although if you have less than 30 Euro in your pocket they are empowered to arrest you for vagrancy. That said, Germany is also in the EU and EU laws do not require EU citizens to carry their passports around (although the national laws of certain EU member states, such as the Netherlands do require everyone to carry ID), so if you look like a white European you’d probably be OK.

      But not in France, their police are empowered to check anyone, and not just at the borders. French law specifically empowers the police to check anyone on an international train, or in any of several designated train stations within France. French police are well-known for exercising their power to do ID checks – particularly if you are a minority.

  • iago

    If you mean “everyone who lives here knows that, rightly or wrongly, it is written into the law that Japanese cops can demand to see ID of foreigners simply on the basis of them being foreign,” then yes, everybody is better to know that. Unfortunately it seems clear they do not.

    Is looking foreign equated with being foreign. Yes, and therein lies the rub.

    I’m afraid I don’t know which one is your relative, Uncle Tom, but I’m sure he’s quite the character.

  • HSSL

    Debito is the Al Sharpton of Japan.

  • http://www.turning-japanese.info/ Eido INOUE

    Obviously I’ve read all these, as I referenced them in my post. But thank you for ramming all those competitor links which I wanted to include through Disqus’ / JT’s moderation — allowing everybody else to easily confirm that this article / newspaper omitted & distorted key facts in a recent news story! It’s good for Japan Times readers to be reminded that they’re often not getting the whole story when they read a minor English language paper.

    Regarding Nishanta’s column (which I also have read), here’s one of many excellent counterpoints to it that you won’t find on the Hawaiian Doctor’s blog:

    bylinesDOTnewsDOTyahooDOTcoDOTjp
    /yamamotoichiro/20140818-00038372/

  • Jonathon

    I like how “Debito” gives us his own experience of being stopped by the police, as if this happens to white people as frequently and in the same manner as it does to non-white foreigners.

    • Gordon Graham

      His goal is to be stopped by the police so his experience cancels itself out…

  • http://www.turning-japanese.info/ Eido INOUE

    Here’s another bad mistake in this article:

    [They] took him in for questioning — for five hours. Then they arrested him under the Immigration Control Act for, according to a Nikkei report, not carrying his passport, and interrogated him for another seven.

    Dr. Arudou says he was detained for twelve hours.

    Checking with original sources, however, we see that according to the jiji article, it says the suspect was taken to the station at around 5:10pm (other articles round this time to “5pm”), and released seven (7) hours later.

    In other words, Dr. Arudou mistranslated “5pm” (a shame that they didn’t use the notation “17:00″) to mean “5 hours” and summed up seven plus five (7 + 5) to assume twelve (12)!

    The Doctor’s Japanese reading comprehension ability appears to be slipping…

  • http://www.turning-japanese.info/ Eido INOUE

    Wow. I’ve just been totally censored by the Japan Times.

    • Oliver Mackie

      You’re not the first, even in this discussion.

  • andrewmag166

    My wife is Japanese, I lived a couple years on and off in Japan. Most of the time in Tokyo but much time in smaller cities and the countryside too. I was always treated very good in Japan by Japanese and the police never bothered me. Maybe I was just lucky I never understand when people say they had problems with discrimination and the police. I love Japan I was treated better there than in the US.

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    I see that once again the JT community “editorial staff” is doing its utmost to circle the wagons and prevent actual facts from interfering with a hyperbolic narrative. One of the commenters here has pointed out, several times today, how Mr. Arudou got the most basic of facts concerning the Ushiku incident wrong – and every time his posts get flagged as “spam” and deleted. Disgraceful behavior – I would expect it on Mr. Arudou’s website, as he has an agenda to push and it is just a personal blog, but in a newspaper?

    Especially one which has dared use the motto ‘All the news without fear or favor”?

    It is quite clear that Ben Stubbings et. al. exhibit a great deal of favoritism, and fear the truth if it does not fit their (or their writers’ ) little narrative.

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    I see that once again the JT community “editorial staff” is doing its utmost to circle the wagons and prevent actual facts from interfering with a hyperbolic narrative. One of the commenters here has pointed out, several times today, how Mr. Arudou got the most basic of facts concerning the Ushiku incident wrong – and every time his posts get flagged as “spam” and deleted. Disgraceful behavior – I would expect it on Mr. Arudou’s website, as he has an agenda to push and it is just a personal blog, but in a newspaper?

    Especially one which has dared use the motto ‘All the news without fear or favor”?

    It is quite clear that Ben Stubbings et. al. exhibit a great deal of favoritism, and fear the truth if it does not fit their (or their writers’ ) little narrative.

  • Oliver Mackie

    I have spent part of the past two days writing a lengthy post that sought to, if not bridge the gap between the two sides, at least further mutual understanding of why the gap exists. In the meantime one of my posts has been deleted, simply for expressing the fact that the an earlier one had, as well as one of another poster’s. I first thought that claims made by some here, that certain posters here were acting under pseudonyms and were actually the author himself, was absurd. Now I’m not so sure. Anyway, given the clear ‘editorial’ bias here and the lack of transparency about what role, if any, the author plays in editing comments, I am withdrawing from any future debates here. I will not be further part of enabling either the author or the JT to point to the high level of commenting activity here to boost their credentials or advertising sales pitch.

  • iago

    As the newspaper reports identify the caller as a local apartment manager, it seems reasonable to infer that the police did confirm the caller and have his/her details. They then dispatched to the rail station to verify the caller’s claim, hence we now have something to talk about.

  • J.P. Bunny

    Maybe because the whole issue is just some very minor incident blown out of proportion by someone who needs to vent his paranoia in the newspaper.

    Police respond to a call.
    Person in question looks “foreign.”
    Person in question has no ID, nor can communicate in Japanese.
    Person in question brought to police station for questioning.
    A Japanese speaking person who knows person in question is contacted. Explanation in given.
    Person in question goes home with an apology.

    This is not a major event.

  • benvad

    That’s on paper and legal wise you’re a Japanese. Let’s face reality you’ll never be Japanese, ever. Just like in Canada a real Canadian is a white person descended from people in the British Isles and a Quebecer is an old stock original descendant from Western France only. The rest of the white Europeans can assimilate into either of these groups.

    Now non whites can never ever really be seen as Canadians. They’ll be visible minorities forever.

  • Guest

    Thank you for correcting (albeit a stealth edit) the article finally today. However, one big mistake still remains: the article mistranslated the Japanese sources, claiming he was interrogated for five plus seven (twelve) hours. In fact, he was arrested at five o’clock, but only interrogated for seven.

  • Rohan4

    Goodluck with the olympics!

    Haha. Enjoyed the article..

  • At Times Mistaken

    Glad to see the JT fixed what amounted to a minor error in this story. I only wish it had noted the correction at the bottom of the article like it’s done in the past (as with the April 6, 2013 wire story, “Whale Institute Still Justifying Lethal Research”). Anything less just seems kind of sneaky and detracts from the credibility of this much needed article on a very important issue.

  • Rafael Solorzano

    “Those who look foreign”. It appears that the author of the article is having a hard time finding the right terms to explain what in America is known as “color or race
    profiling”.