I was leaving my apartment a few days before Halloween and had made it no farther than a few steps before I was beckoned. "Sumimasen" ("Excuse me"), came the call from two on-duty cops. I was just running out for some ice cream, but now I'd have to go through an all-too-familiar song and dance of proving my identity.

The police rode over on their bikes and quickly went into their routine. They asked to see my residence card, and I immediately complied. The questions that followed were simple ones and all in Japanese: Where are you from? What are you doing in Japan? Do you live in this building? All of this information is printed clearly on my residence card, mind you, but they wanted me to explain it verbally.

When I told them I live in the building we were parked in front of, they reacted in disbelief, as if a non-Japanese, black 20-something could afford to live in a nice part of Koto Ward. However, based on my history with the cops over the past five years, I doubt it was my presence in the neighborhood that was the determining factor in their stopping me.