Race-based ID checks in front of families send wrong message

To the National Police Agency and the Ministry of Justice:

Do I have to be good-looking to come to Japan?

I am an Indian who has been living in Japan since 1993. My wife is an Indian — she joined me here in 1998 — and we have two children who attend an international school in Tokyo. We all have permanent resident visa status. I have my own IT consulting firm, which I established in Tokyo.

I like Japan in many ways compared with a lot of other countries. After spending so long in Japan, we feel like the country is our second home. The Japanese people are well known for their politeness and consideration for other people’s feelings.

Being such a good country, I cannot understand or accept the way Japanese police treat foreigners such as myself in public places — especially how they judge people by color and appearance. I have had several unpleasant experiences that would seem to suggest this is the case.

The most recent incident was on Nov. 10, a Sunday, when I was out with my family to attend the Nihongo Oshaberi-kai event, organized by JCA, a voluntary organization. My wife is a student in this class and she had to give a speech at the event that day.

Afterwards, when I was about to enter Sangenjaya Station with other foreigners who had attended the event, two young policemen stopped me — only me — and asked to see my residence card. It was such an embarrassing moment, because I was the only one stopped among all the foreigners. Everyone passing by stared at me.

From my perspective, I hadn’t done anything wrong, except to be of a particular color and appearance. If the police had stopped a few more foreigners and checked their cards, it would not have hurt my feelings. Because of this, my wife and kids also felt very sorry for me.

Similar incidents happened to me in the waiting halls at both Narita and Haneda airports.

On one of these occasions, I was sitting with my wife and two children in the waiting hall. There were many other foreigners around us. Some were with their families and others were businessmen. A young policeman walked through the crowd, came up to us and asked us to show our alien cards. We could not understand why only we were interrogated, particularly as we were sitting together as a family.

Japanese police should have some reason to target or suspect a person before they approach someone who is with their family. This spoiled our whole travel mood. If the police are picking on a person just because of their color and appearance, they are violating human rights and doing psychological damage.

Is this any way to treat a fellow Asian? To come to Japan, do I have to be good-looking? These kinds of incidents make me feel as if I am an ill-treated gaijin (foreigner) in this country. This gives the wrong impression to my children as well.

I respect the law, but it should be applied fairly to everyone. In public places like an airport, why can’t Japanese police implement this alien-card check at the entrance itself, for all foreigners?

If the police want to check again in the waiting hall, they should first have a valid reason to suspect a person; otherwise, I can only imagine that young Japanese policemen must enjoy inflicting psychological distress on weaker Asian communities.


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  • I don’t think this is in itself an indicator of racial profiling. Lack of evidence? Or lack of consequences for them? I think its hard to make your point. Even if you provide evidence that suggests Indians (?) are not performing crimes beyond a greater incidence than anyone else, this article does not make the point. In the absence of ‘direct causal evidence’, police might be inclined to use correlation-based attribution to potential risks, i.e. They might conclude there is a higher probability of you being a criminal by virtue of your race, or maybe you just gave the incident that sensitivity because you happen to be the only Indian this guy has ‘profiled’. I myself have been asked as a foreigner to not just show my ID, but also on 2 occasions the police asked me to take them back to my apartment for an inspection. Maybe they expected to find a ‘pot of hidden gold’ or stolen Iphones. Maybe they were bored and just wanted to practice their English. I think such perspectives show how disdain for policing & govt generally, that we can reflect poorly on every incident…sometimes with insufficient justification.

  • bq70

    Welcome to Japan! They stop us white folk as well at Narita. Happened to me twice. Really meanlngless practice.

    Let’s face it, we’ll never be Japanese or able to blend in much unless you’re CJK… Chinese, Japanese, or Korean.

  • Doug

    That is indeed terrible that has happened to you several times at the airports and other places.

    “Why can’t Japanese police implement this alien-card check at the (airport) entrance itself, for all foreigners?”

    As you know, they do check everyone coming in by train AND everyone coming in by car or bus. So, they supposedly have checked everyone BEFORE they arrived inside the terminal. That is one more reason that these random checks inside the terminal are meaningless and insulting.

    “If the police want to check again in the waiting hall, they should first have a valid reason to suspect a person.”

    Exactly. They are not allowed to frivolously ask for random peoples’ ID. They MUST have a reason. If this happens to you again, demand that they tell you why they are asking for your ID. Ask to be brought to their supervisor before you will show your ID. They can’t be allowed to continue to get away with their power trips, just because they have a policeman’s badge.

  • Steve Jackman

    I am really sorry to read your story, even though, these types of incidents are not uncommon in Japan.

    I can only imagine the shock and discomfort your kids and wife must have felt. As adults, we are much better at dealing with humiliating situations, but such incidents leave an indelible impression on children, since they look up to their fathers.

    I am fortunate that nothing like this has ever happened to me. I don’t know your situation, so my advice to you may be inappropriate, but have you considered leaving Japan? Can you return to India or go to another country like the US?

    The reason I’m saying this is that in Japan you risk this type of incident happening again. I think it is too much to subject your wife and kids to the possibility that you will be stopped in front of them by the police again. You cannot expect to change the entire culture overnight, and are risking a repeat of this incident as long as you live in Japan.

  • camnai

    This has happened to me a few times over the years as well, most often at Narita (I’m white–or pink–by the way). Some years ago I had a police officer as an English student, and at one point over a few beers he said that young officers, as part of their training in dealing with the public (and acclimatizing them to the risk of possibly having to speak English), are sent out with instructions to do things like ask foreigners for their gaijin cards, or to check bicycle registrations. None of the officers, he said, really like this duty, but they have to come back having talked to a certain number of people, and they look for the type of person who they may have some justification in checking, but who does not look likely to make this into an ugly incident. That is why you will on occasion see a Japanese mother with a child or two on her bicycle being stopped–presumably very few mothers are riding around on stolen mama charinko–and it may also explain why you are being centred out. It would be naive to say there is no racism involved, but the main reason could well be that you are a friendly looking chap who isn’t going to give him any trouble. You could cultivate a more forbidding demeanour (at the risk of walking around looking stupider than you probably are), or you can treat the cop as just another guy doing an unpleasant part of his job.

    • I think you are right. When they asked me to take them to my apartment on two occasions, I should have offered them tea and 1-on-1 instruction. lol

  • Max Erimo

    Welcome to Japan. The Land of free policeman with nothing better to do than harrass foreigners. Let’s face it they not very good at catching real criminals.
    Looking at the news, falsely convicted people are being released and the current police are being arrested for crimes. But enough of that….
    I have been stopped at the Airport. Asked many private types of questions, and I was literally running late for my plane. I answered all that I felt necessary and then left. They are chasing numbers to fill in paperwork.
    If you are asked for your residence card you should also ask for the policeman’s ID and take note of the name and number. You have the right by law to do this and not enough people know this.
     ” A Police officer is able to ask for a person’s ID, but only if based on a reasonable judgement of a situation, where the policeman sees some strange conduct or crime being committed or else he has enough reason to suspect (utagau ni tariru soutou na riyuu), that a person will commit or has committed a crime, or else it has been acknowledged that a particular person knows a crime will be committed. In these cases a policeman may stop a person for questioning”

  • musahifeet

    you not traveled in Asia? Come to Vietnam/Cambodia/Thailand they will stop you and ask for id anytime and if you not have it, prepare yourself for a stay in the local police station and believe me they are not as friendly as the Japanese.
    Take your Foreign or Japanese id out, smile, give it to them and make friendly conversation. Take a little interest in them and they will feel better about doing their job. They are people just like you and me and have a job to perform.
    Rather than taking it so personal, you can walking away with a better attitude.Such a small thing, really upset you that much.

  • It means nothing Todd without a causal explanation. Maybe he struggled with the Indian accident…maybe he loves cricket and wanted to know the rules, but didn’t know how to ask. Yes, that is racial profiling..less any sense of causation.

    • Todd Strickland

      Oh, I see, the conversation went something like this; (Policeman) “Uh, excuse, uh… I very interesting in…uh…cricket ga like, like..uh.. Oh, the hell with it, just show me your residence card!”

      Good for you, Sheldon, you win the argument. Asking an Indian to explain cricket rules just because they are Indian is also racial profiling. And I’m sure that’s exactly what motivated those police officers at Narita…