You might have noticed the dragnet in Japan these days.

Law enforcement’s crackdown on foreigners (bolstered by official declarations on the subject, including yesterday’s speeches by Emperor Akihito on rising crime and international terrorism and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the growing threat of foreign crime) has resulted in a lot more people being stopped on the street for identity checks.

After all, the current logic runs, who knows how many foreigners have overstayed their visas? Best to check anyone foreign-looking just to make sure.

However, “Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?” asks the responsible society, and Japan is no exception. What’s to stop the authorities from going too far? Japanese laws, of course. And readers who are Japan residents should be aware of them.

What should you do if somebody asks for your ID?

Your “ID” is essentially your “Gaijin Card,” since that is the only form of identification all foreign residents by law must carry.

When asked, say that only the police can demand it. Anyone else, such as a hotelier, a video store clerk, a JR staff member, etc., cannot.

Check this out: Alien Registration Law: (“Gaikokujin Touroku Hou”) Article 13; Clause 2: “The alien shall present his registration certificate to the Immigration Inspector, Immigration Control Officer (meaning the Immigration Control Officer provided for in the Immigration Control Act), Police Official, Maritime Safety Official or any other official of the state or local public entity prescribed by the Ministry of Justice Ordinance, if such official requests the presentation of the registration certificate in the performance of his duties.”

This means only those officials certified by the Ministry of Justice can demand it.

Still, some companies refuse foreigners service unless they display their passport or Gaijin Card. Why? In many cases, such as Shinjuku sports clubs, the police are asking them to help find overstayers.

Deputizing the business community is authority overstepped, and at variance with the law. So show them the above law, and ask to be allowed to display the same ID as any other Japanese customer.

What if the police ask for your ID?

Ask for a reason why.

Under Police Execution of Duties Act (“Keisatsukan Shokumu Shikkou Hou”); Section 2 (my translation), Clause Two: “A police officer is able to ask for a person’s ID, but only if based on a reasonable judgment of a situation, where the policeman sees some strange conduct and some crime is being committed, or else he has enough reason to suspect that a person will commit or has committed a crime, or else when it has been officially determined that a particular person knows a crime will be committed.

In these cases, a police officer may stop a person for questioning.”

You cannot just arbitrarily come up to a person and ask him who he is. There must be a “specific crime” or “suspicion of a crime” involved.

The act of being a foreigner in itself is insufficient probable cause, and you should calmly let a cop know that.

However, if a cop knows his laws (and chances are he will), he might assert (incorrectly) that the Police Execution of Duties Act does not apply to foreigners. The Alien Registration Law (Clause 2 above) trumps it.

Or he might just come up with a reason, such as “crime prevention,” for stopping you on your bicycle. What then?

Well, sorry, you will have to show your ID.

But still there is a check. You can also ask the cop to show his ID back. How?

The Alien Registration Law; Section 13, Clause 3: “In case the official mentioned in the preceding paragraph requests the presentation of the registration certificate in a place other than his office, he shall carry with him the identification card showing his official status and present it upon request.”

So make the request. Once presented, I recommend you, again calmly, write down the cop’s details. He will do the same for you, of course, but holding a cop personally accountable might give him a little incentive to treat you responsibly.

Note the loophole. The cop only has to show I.D. if he stops you on the street, or anywhere other than the police box. So to avoid showing you his ID . . .

A cop may try to take you to a police box.

They cannot do so against your will, unless they formally arrest (“taihosuru”) you.

Under the Police Execution of Duties Law; Article 2 (my translation), Clause Two: “It is possible to ask a particular person to accompany the police to a nearby police station, (police box), or any police administration area for questioning if it is determined that this place is unsuitable for questioning because it obstructs traffic or is disadvantageous to the questionee.”

And Clause Three: “Unless there is something connected with a criminal court case, officials may not confine, bring back to any police administration area, or else coerce a person to reply to questions against his will.”

This means that a cop has the right to ask you to accompany him to the police box. But you have the right to refuse, and he has no right to restrict your movements without a formal charge or arrest. This is not, fortunately, trumped by the Alien Registration Law.

However, please don’t misunderstand. I am not advocating that you give a cop a bad donut day just for the sport of it. Police in Japan have a lot of discretionary power.

For example, if they feel you are being uncooperative, and that includes claiming your right to remain silent (“mokuhi ken” — which automatically carries a suspicion of guilt here), they can arrest you for “obstruction of official duties” (“koumu shikkou bougai”) and question you for up to 23 days on a single charge. So don’t do this for fun.

Nevertheless, checks and balances have become necessary.

As seen in previous Zeit Gist columns, foreigners are being targeted these days, often regardless of any legal grounds or extenuating circumstances.

Japan does in fact have laws to curb this. So know about them. I even suggest you print them up and carry them around with you. I do. As residents, we should let people know that we won’t accept wanton questioning without some kind of justification or explanation.

So keep a cool head and make the authorities obey the law. It is also there to protect us.

For a walk-though an ID check scenario, see www.debito.org/instantcheckpoints2.html. You can download and print up the Japanese text of the laws presented in the article from this link, and you may like to stick a copy in your wallet or bag for future reference or to show to a law enforcement official.

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