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Extranationality As Sufficient Grounds For Criminal Suspicion: Instant Checkpoints In Japan, Part 2

Author:Author unknown, Issue: July 1999, Topic: Safety

In the second instalment of a three-part series David Aldwinckle examines how Japanese police are willfully targeting foreigners for spot identity checks.

So let's bring out my notebook. I'll divide Mr Koga's answers into capsule-summary points:

A. My request for Haneda Airport Lodging a Complaint with the Police

To my surprise, Mr Koga had already talked with a superior in the police force, a Mr Watanabe Keibi Kachou [again, real name], about lodging my complaint. Unlike the other police officer I had the tete-a-tete with, Mr Watanabe was willing to give out his name and even his phone number (03-5757-0110). He even wanted to meet said uppity university lecturer in the flesh. However, Mr Koga had told Mr Watanabe that meeting as a threesome might be a little premature - that since the former had not yet met me personally, it would be better for Mr Koga to get to know me one-on-one beforehand. (a wise call - I doubt I could have a full uninterrupted and warm exchange with a cop sitting there getting all defensive.) The point is that Mr Koga thought that my message was worth passing along to the pertinent authorities no matter what. A good start.

B. The need for Security in the Airport "This sort of thing is inevitable," Mr Koga said, "and it's not exactly harassment." He brought out his version of the Gaijin Card: a laminated Haneda Airport ID with all his credentials listed avec dangling tag to clip on his breast pocket. "Debito-san, I have to show this every day when I come to work here. It's just an inevitable part of working at a transport hub, a good target for any terrorist. We need high security to keep order and ensure that we don't have a disaster on the premises."

C. Why I In Particular Got Stopped... ...was, in both the cops' and Mr Koga's view, a matter of bad timing. Haneda Airport, thanks to the inconvenience of Narita, is fast becoming the bottleneck for overseas VIPs paying calls on the Japanese government. Clinton was in town between November 20 and 21. Then PRC Party Secretary Kou Taku Min (Ziang Zhe Min to the rest of the world) was here (and in Hokkaido too) from November 25 onwards. "Now we've got Carlos Menem in town and who knows who's next. Your November 23 arrival was right between visits, and the cops were just maintaining their beefed-up of security in the interim." When I told him that suspecting me of terrorism just because I was a foreigner was rather off, he said:

D. Foreigners are Suspected of More Crimes by the Police. Sorry Mr Koga voiced the suspicion I already had quite clearly sensed: "It is a fact of life that, say, American officials will more likely be targeted by Middle-Eastern-looking terrorists than Asian and Japanese. It is a fact *to the police* that a foreign-looking person is far more likely to do something criminal for political reasons. Japanese are much less suspect, sorry. I know that's not very nice, but that's just the way the police see it, and they will more likely target foreigners if there is a need at this particular moment for more security."

[I thought about countering that Japanese are equally capable of terrorism, Sarin gas attacks, the Red Army even as a hobby nowadays viz. lethal-house-hold-chemical terrorist handbooks, randomly-poisoned cans of cola, or Wakayama curry rice. Commonplace in Hokkaido convenience stores and bus stations are lookout-for posters saying "Is Your Neighbor An Extremist?" It's funny Terrorism in Japan never seems a matter of nationality unless an extra national appears - then the blame gravitates towards the foreigner or foreign influence. But as I said, I was letting Mr Koga talk. I never got to say this point, so for sanity's sake I'll mention it here.]

E. Police are Fallible Too. "The police here are not all from Tokyo. Some are imported from the provinces, where foreigners are fewer and they're not used to dealing with you the same as Japanese. Plus one look at you, Debito-san - heavy-set, big-boned, towering over most of these shorter Japanese cops - will make many Japanese get antsy. Even if you talk back to them in Japanese, their uneasiness about how to deal with you in general plus their surprise in specific means they might be gruff. Sorry. They're only human."

[I thought "image" was going to be an issue, so even though I hate wearing a tie when I'm traveling, I bit the bullet when dropping by Haneda this time: slacks, button-down collar, even a pastel-green V-neck sweater to make me look grandfatherly. It had the intended effect "But you, Debito-san, it's hard to believe that a cop would find you threatening. Sitting here talking to you. I can't imagine what they suspected you of." Smirk.]

Mr Koga seemed out of steam, so I started cajoling, like I was persuading a sixteen-penny galvanized nail to go straight into a hardwood stud deep and straight or else the whole structure would fall down (yes, a rather cryptic simile, but you get it, right?). My answers:

I. Bad Timing is one thing, but Haneda is getting infamous in "The Community" (I know addressing "us" as a whole as 'The Community' is presumptuous, but maybe it's time to start.) I said to Mr Koga that it is fast becoming common knowledge through our internet links that Haneda is giving the run-around to other non-Japanese for no reason but extra-nationality. I told Mr Koga of the case of one gentleman of European origin, a prominent member of The Community, used the airport three times between September and November. He was questioned each time without fail. The first time was by blue Haneda Security, who saw that our friend's language skills were impeccable (therefore he must be somehow legit) and let him go without a fuss. The second time was by the Police proper, but our hero indicated in passing that he was accompanied by a Japanese friend who would vouch for him, and thus slipped away. The third time was nastier: despite again being with a Japanese friend, the Tokyo cop demanded his Gaijin Card and threatened to take him into a separate room for questioning if he did not comply. Although this is in fact illegal without criminal charge for arrest, our hero realized that he had a plane to catch and was surrendered his ID with a suitable degree of grumbling.

"The point is, Mr Koga, that there seems to be a lot of 'bad timing' happening here. In fact it seems difficult to time it right. I think that we are being targeted and that should not be happening, for the sake of the comfort and image of Haneda Airport to The International Community."

To this, Mr Koga replied that this special security (Tokubetsu Keibi Kikan, I think he said) happens a few days once a month. "It's a pity that you and your friend were here when that happens. Still we can't tell too many people that we are tokubetsu keibi kikanchuu or terrorists are going to swarm. Please understand that this is a classic case of shikata ga nai."

I continued:

II. Police should Mind Their Manners and Show More Respect "I know that the Japanese police are better than the prewar days, when they carried Kendo-sized batons and could beat anybody at will [cf manga "Barefoot Gen"]. But they still should respect our dignity more by not singling us out. If it is absolutely necessary to ask us for ID, ask everybody, or at least a random sampling of both foreigners and Japanese. "At least give us a reason why you want us to show our ID - don't just say 'it's the law, so there'. If you tell me that a crime has been committed, and the prime suspect is a Caucasian male, 180 cms, with brown hair, sure, l'll gladly show my ID. But I have to be suspected of a *specific crime*, not just because l'm a foreigner. If the security measures taken to get me into this airport lobby were enough for a Japanese, they should be enough for me too."

Mr Koga did counter that there is an impression within Japan nowadays that foreigners are scary to the police, moreover the harbingers of crime. Recent statistics have been bearing that out, he said. But he did agree that giving a good reason is important and would reiterate that to the Police chiefs.

Time to conclude this jawing session:

III. This is not just for my sake, it is for Japan's sake Now it was time to bring out the warm-fuzzy feelings: my kids' pictures (see them for yourself at http://www.voicenet.co.jp/~davald/daughters.html) . Japanese, to their credit, have an irrepressible soft spot for children, and mentioning names and showing photos melts hearts every time.

"Look Mr Koga, I have one daughter that looks Asian and the other Western. They're both Japanese, but under the current circumstances one will be targeted and the other won't. That's kawaisou. For the sake of their future and Japan's modernization, it is important that people, particularly the police, stop seeing Japanese in terms of genetics. Japan is a modern, mature country now, and should start behaving like one. One way is to accept that people with differences can be citizens and not viewed with distrust. Stopping these instant checkpoints at Haneda is a good place to start. If you really must check my ID, give me a good reason and you'll get my cooperation. Demand it thanklessly aand there should be trouble. For the sake of Japan's open-mindedness I hope you will help me help internationalize Japan."

Mr Koga said he would. He gave me his meishi and told me that if l, or any of my friends, had any trouble, they should get in touch with him. He hoped that I would contact him again off-hours for a beer, and I said l'd be delighted next time I'm in town. He walked me to my JAS departure gate and as I lifted off for my weekend in Oita, I felt just plain swell. l'd met a nice guy, had a nice chat, and had not only made some waves but opened an avenue for entreaty should it be necessary in future.

But still I could take it farther, I realized. I would be passing through Haneda again on my way back, so a little call to Police Chief Watanabe might be just what the doctor ordered. So...

IV Monday. December 7, 1998 Meeting Mr. Watanabe. Haneda Police Keibi Kachou

This time around, I had a two-hour layover, so l left a message at (03) 5757-0110 saying that I would be lounging around the gate for the 3:30 JAL flight to Sapporo, and would welcome a few words with Mr Watanabe if he had the time. l was in the midst of typing up both this essay and the Morikawa Fingerprint report when two suited gentlemen (yes, black suits over white police uniforms) sidled up to me and said, "Are you Mr David?"

"I am. You must be..."

We shook hands. Mr Watanabe was a thin cop in the grand tradition of thin cops. He had the rugged face of Takakura Ken, the wiriness of David Caruso, and the Dennis-Farina eyes that could burn through bullshit in no time. His assistant, who was along for the ride and sizing me up for the duration, was the prototypical Dennis Franz fat cop: round face that usually scowls, dark circles under the eyes, world-weary but ready to spring in an instant should anybody affront his boss. His name was Mr Jin (kami-sama no jin), and the two made a formidable partnership. Both in their late forties/early fifties, they trusted no-one, for they had seen every type of human depravity and knew that a person was capable of absolutely anything. If there was a criminal around, they'd know in an instant. l knew that there was no way I would be making waves with them.

Worse yet, there would be no time to get to the Entreaty Stage. I looked at my watch: 3:10. Boarding calls would be in five minutes, and the airplane doors would shut in fifteen minutes. So on went Mr Watanabe with his specially-prepared spiel:

"Mr David, it's nice to meet you. I heard from Mr Koga that you felt you had been ill-treated by one of my police officers. I came to apologize for that. It was not our intention to make you feel uncomfortable, and l want you to know a couple of things:

A) We don 't discriminate. "You might think we singled you out as an individual, but that's not true. We question everybody. We don't care if they're Chinese, don't care if they're Chinese, Korean, Filipino, White, European, American. We ask all foreigners for their Cards if we are in a tight security situation."

Uh, this is not exactly how one defines "non-discrimination", I thought. l asked if they ask Japanese for their ID, hoping that that would lay bare the irony. Nope. As you know, irony doesn't work so well here. He replied: "No, almost never, unless they are doing something suspicious. Anyway, Japanese don't have to carry passports." The glaring tautologies were astounding but insightful into the mind-set at work. So I said: "By law, neither do we, but anyway, I think you should ID everyone, not just foreigners. It's extremely uncomfortable and prejudicial to be thought of as suspicious just because we look differently."

Mr Watanabe was not feeling assailed, again because I was being sunny and keeping my head low. So more came out of him: "Well, Mr David, l'm sure you understand our need for security around here. We cannot go around NOT asking foreigners for their ID, right? Especially since foreigners are more likely to attack fellow foreign VIPs. We have to do this or we would not be doing our jobs properly. We don't want the same thing that happened at the Japanese Embassy in Peru to happen here. We can't let accidents happen in the name of human rights."

A lot of things clicked into place when he said that. So I let him finish.

B) We are just doing our jobs. "Honestly, Mr David, our job is to keep the peace and public security. If that means that you get asked for your ID, I'm sorry, but I must ask you to cooperate for the public good." l nodded. "Yes, that I understand. I would just hope that you would respect our dignity (igen) enough to at least try to persuade us that there is a good reason for showing it." I knew that this would be the only policy that the cops could swallow, and I finished off with my pat Naturalized-Dave argument and pulled out the kids again for good measure. At this point both Mr Jin and Mr Watanabe began softening up when they saw the ningensei of the situation. Mr Watanabe: "Yes, with beautiful kids like that I can see why you're so concerned. I have already instructed my staff to give foreigners concrete reasons when they ask for ID. That's a reasonable solution, no? "

I knew that that was the only solution with mentalities like these. JAL was announcing their final boarding call, and l finished off our brief but pleasant meeting by saying: "Thank you very much for taking the trouble to meet me! Please give us a good, fair reason, and we'll co-operate. "

l gave them a deep bow (These are Japanese cops, for Chrissake! Be respectful or they'll lock you up for weeks!), and it again had the intended effect - Mr. Watanabe: "What a polite foreigner! How can somebody so polite be stopped by one of us?" (Yes, he really DID say that!) I was soon on the plane and started ruminating about whom we're dealing with here.

EPILOGUE TO PART FOUR:

"We're only doing our jobs," The Almighty Excuse

Before I start discussing what we can do to improve our legal situation here, let's bear in mind what kind of force we're up against.

1) These are cops. Cops see themselves as keepers, if not micro-managers, of the peace in any peaceful society. That is their entrusted job.

2) To accomplish this domestic peacekeeping mission, police will exercise their powers to the fullest extent of the law. Read the previous sentence again. Since the law no longer permits beating people up with batons like during wartime, nipping crime in the bud involves something more mild, like keeping one's eyes open and understanding what people around you are up to.

3) People commit crimes. That is axiomatic. Therefore to a police officer (cf Judge Dredd), anyone is a potential criminal, worthy of suspicion should they catch your eye. Moreover, anybody whose activities a police officer cannot understand qualifles as "suspicious", and therefore worthy of investigation for potential criminal activity. This is how foreigners suddenly become targets. It's awfully hard to look unsuspicious when you are so physically conspicuous, and Japanese in general expect foreigners to act differently anyway. So there you go. Coming and going.

4) You gotta target those who commit crimes, if not anticipate the likelihood by finding potential "perps". From a police standpoint, targeting everyone in Japan is difficult. The Police Execution of Duties Law (Keisatsukan Shokumu Shikkou Hou), mentioned above and more fully below, makes random spot checks of Japanese for ID illegal. So in order to carry out their duties as effectively as possible, the police are going to target whom they CAN in the name of the law. Which means that they will spot-check foreigners in the name of the law because the Foreign Registry Law permits it. To a cop, this is a natural part of the enforcement process.

All right, enough empathy. Now let's address how to deal with that as a member of the public. There is in fact a way to check their checks to a certain degree. The main reason why Japanese are not checked is that Japanese know they are not allowed to be checked. Now it is time for you to know the same. The Community needs to understand their rights. How? Know the law. In fact, you should *carry the law* around with you inside your Gaijin Cards to challenge the police if they are being inconsiderate.

<< Summer Festival Schedule | Master Index | For the Adventurous: July 1999 >>


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