Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Won't Miss #536 - fear of being arrested

I don't think having your picture taken with the police mascot would have been an arrestable offense, but I wouldn't take any chances.

Early on in our time in Japan, my husband and I knew that the Japanese police could hold you and disallow contact with the outside world entirely if they chose to do so. "You" means "foreigners", of course. This could happen for no reason at all or for something trivial like if one of us happened to step outside for a moment without our gaijin cards and a policeman was walking by. This was an oddly not uncommon experience in my neighborhood as they seemed to go around to the houses not infrequently). In theory, a police officer could refuse to allow us to step inside our apartment to get our I.D. and show it to him. He could haul us off to the local police station and hold us until someone brought the gaijin card. Oh, and they don't have to let you call someone and ask them to bring it.

So, my husband and I had an agreement that, if one of us seemed to vanish, we'd start with going to the police station to see if one of us had nabbed and disallowed a call. Does this sound far-fetched? Yes, it was unlikely, but it did happen to people on occasion - yes, even white people. It was one of the first things I was told about and warned against when I arrived in Japan in 1988.

I don't miss fearing that I'd be arrested and held without the ability to contact my husband and let him know what had happened to me - small as that chance may have been.


  1. An acquaintance's Japanese husband was arrested a few months ago, and when he failed to come home she began calling hospitals and police stations looking for him. The police initially told her that he wasn't there and she didn't know what had happened until he was eventually allowed to call her. She asked the police station why they had lied and they said it was to "protect the prisoner's privacy". She had two kids under 3 at home and no idea what had happened to her husband. It's the stuff of nightmares.

    1. I guess that not only to do foreigners have to worry about this, but Japanese as well! Holy cow! That's just horrible!

      Rights are very different in Japan as compared to the U.S. I don't think anyone would be held without right to contact someone and let them know what was happening.

  2. Completely justified worry, that one... I always imagine a fellow expat getting a little too angry when asked to present an ID causing the police officer involved to be less than lenient when he/she comes across a foreigner without one...

    1. I think it's really not about the foreigner being irritated or angry about being checked. Leniency is simply not in the picture for the most part. I think it has to do with rigidity and not wanting to take responsibility. In Japan, it was the case again and again that no one wanted to think for themselves because doing so meant that, if anything happened, they'd be held accountable. They'd rather just do what their told (not only for law, but also for business).

      I'm sure foreign people do get angry when asked to present ID. However, Japanese people who I've spoke with who were asked the same thing also were angry and some of them simply refused flat out to do so - walked away without complying. They didn't get chased down though. I've heard that foreigners do.


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