Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cops and Foreigners in Japan

This morning I became very bothered by an e-mail I read. The e-mail came from David Arudou, a naturalized Japanese citizen who is active in defending the rights of non-Japanese residing in Japan or Japanese citizens who are of a different ethnicity. In the e-mail, he shared the following article in which a Japanese woman was mistaken for a South East Asian woman and arrested and detained for 14 hours for refusing to show the police her passport.
This reminded me of an experience I had with the police last December 27. I was driving from the city of Morioka, where I live, to the city of Hachinohe in Aomori prefecture with my 1 year-old son and wife. We were going to Hachinohe to take the ferry to the Island of Hokkaido where my wife's family lived. The drive to Hachinohe was about 150 kilometers. Usually we take the highway and it takes us about 2 hours. Our ferry was to leave at 7AM on December 27 and up until then we had had about 3 days of constant snow fall. The major highway was closed so we left our house at 2:30 AM and took the back roads to Hachinohe. At about 5 AM we were passing through the outskirts of a small city called Ichinohe. We were hungry so we stopped at a convenience store to get breakfast. One thing that really impressed me when I first came to Japan was how polite convenience store clerks were. When you enter the convenience store you are usaully greeted with an "irasshaimase" which means something close to "welcome" and after buying something the store clerk will thank you. When I entered this convenience store the clerk was very quiet and seemed to avoid looking me in the eye. It did not bother me because I was with my one-year old son and had my hands full as I was trying to let him walk around the convenience store to stretch his legs while prevent him from touching the convenience store merchandise.
We bought our breakfast and ate it in the car outside the convenience store. While we were eating, a police car drove by us in the parking lot. The car was moving at an extremely slow speed and I noticed that the two policeman were looking right at me. They stopped, backed up and parked their car. They came to my car and shined their flashlights at me and knocked on my window. I opened the window and one of the policeman asked me what I was doing at the convenience store at that time at night. The other policeman was shining his light at the back seat of my car and they soon realized that my wife and son were sitting in the back seat. Once they saw that I was not alone, their tone became much more polite. They told me that they were surprised to see me because they never see foreigners in that area, especially at that time of night. They then asked to see my driver's license, wrote down information about my license in their notebooks and left.
I was tired after driving 2 and a half hours through a snow storm and just wanted to get to Hachinohe in one piece. When we were actually on the ferry, I started to think about the incident and became very disturbed. If I had an Asian face, there is no way the policemen would have questioned me. So, me being a foreigner made me a suspect. My son has both Asian and caucasian characteristics and is also a Japanese national. Will he also be considered a suspect based on his ethnicity when he stops at a convenience store in the early morning?


Anonymous said...

Bottom line, you don't belong in Japan, no gaijin does. And your little half-breed will probably be singled out and outcasted if he goes to public k-12 there, unless he joins an international school. And your wife is a disgrace to Japan, she needs to be beaten pretty good too. Just think if the number of foreigners increases in Japan, not only will the cops interrogate you; there will beatings to follow. They tolerate foreigners for the time being since you people only make up .9% of the country if even that. They don't care for foreigners, sure they may be nice and greet you, but in the back of their heads they're thinking: "kitainai yatsu", haven't you noticed how they stare at you and refer to you as gaijin? Trust me if you're not Japanese, you don't belong. Japan is not meant to be a diverse melting pot like America, I don't know what makes you fuckin' gaijin people think you belong everywhere.

JH said...

Your post reminded me of the walls of my junior high school bathroom. Some people would sometimes write
cuss words and racial epithets but would never leave their names. I guess they knew that what they had written was ridiculous and wanted to save themselves the embarrassment of having their names associated with it.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm.... not really sure what point you're trying to make by sharing this experience with us. Everybody knows that for some inexplicable reason Japanese people treat white foreign men like Gods. You obviously feel very comfortable with this and now you've become an expert on Japan and soon you'll be lobbying for change so that non-Japanese are treated equally and the police will refrain from staring at you and daring to question you at night and.... and... and.... I get so sick of Gaijin who want all the smooth but none of the rough. Why should Japan change for idiots like this and that tosser David Arkwinkle? Bottom line is this- you fell in love with Japan because you can't be popular in your own country.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Adam. Gaijin love to stay in Japan because they get special treatment that they simply wouldn't get back home. At first they love the novelty of being a superstar Gaijin but then, having lived in Japan for while, they decide that they want to change all the negative stuff and start to complain about discrimination etc. Let the Japanese decide how to behave in their own country. After all, you weren't invited to stay there were you? Despite what your massive ego believes you really aren't that special so shut up complaining about a country that permits you a very good standard of living and the opportunity to feel more interesting and attractive than you probably really are.

JH said...

Adam and Henry,
I worry about my son being considered a suspect when he gets older even though he is a Japanese citizen. That was the point of my post.
You guys complain about bitchers and moaners but maybe you should look in the mirror.

Anonymous said...

I understand your concerns JH but I don't think there is any real cause for alarm. I have met several citizens of Japan of mixed ethnicity and they don't report any major problems. Look, I am sure that you are a good guy and you probably nothing like the idiot Gaijin I referred to in my previous post (and you must admit that they exist) but the reality is that the good things in Japan easily outweigh the bad and if things get so unbearable there is the option of leaving. May I also add that the person who wrote 'half breeds have no place here' and 'your wife needs a beating' is a complete idiot and not worth worrying about. He is indeed a disgrace to Japan. I am sorry if I offended you before, JH. Please accept my apology. Adam.

JH said...

Thanks for the apology.
I agree with you that the good in Japan outweighs the bad. It has been easy for me to get a work visa, most every one treats me with respect, people are for the most part sincere and considerate, the country is safe, there are a lot of fun things to do, and the food is delicious and healthy. I think that living in Japan has made me a much less self-centered and selfish person because I have learned to consider the needs of others before my own needs.
I, like you, take issue with people who only complain about the bad. I think that just because the good far outweighs the bad, however, does not mean that we should ignore the bad. Japan is of course much more homogeneous than my country and probably your country, but in Heisei 17 1 of every 20 marriages in Japan was an international marriage. Also, in the 1990s Japan started granting working visas to Japanese Brazilians and "training visas" for workers from developing countries to work in Japanese factories. A lot of the children of these workers cannot get an education in Japan because Japanese schools have inadquate Japanese as Second Language programs.
I have been treated very well by the Japan and I have nothing to complain about personally. Nevertheless, Japan is no longer a homogeneous country (some history professors in my uni argue that Japan was never homogeneous) and I think that foreigners in Japan need guaranteed rights such as education etc. So, I think that Mr. Arudou is doing valuable work because he brings issues about internationalization in the open. The foreign population in Japan is small, but its problems should not be ignored.

Anonymous said...

You know, nobody on this planet is of pure blood. Everyone is either a half-breed or more. Just to let "half breeds have no identity" know, I have never heard more rascist comments in my life. My husband is a Japanese native. We met while he was in America. After we got married, INS refused him a Visa. Because I love him and race doesn't count to me, when he had to move back to Japan I came with him. Yeah, I get funny looks from Japan natives but as long as I am happy it doesn't bother me. I have also been told many times by Japanese women that they envy my Caucasian looks. My 7 year old daughter goes to public school and is the only foreigner there and they treat her like one of their own. I am proud of that. I am also pregnant with a half-breed baby and if anybody told me that my husband should be beat by straying from Asian women to be with me, my husband would beat that persons a**!

Oh, by the way "half breeds have no identity," if we don't belong here and we should go back home, why do so many Asians want to live in the U.S.?? If your race is so proud and so racist, why are there so many Japanese in America??? If I was a Japanese national, I would be ashamed to call you my countryman.

Anonymous said...

To half_breeds_have_no_identity and those like you, better a half-breed than a half-wit. People such as yourself merely rely on your discontent with foreigners to help you get over your own failings or some traumatic, past experience. (such as a girl you liked in school mentioned she thought some American actor was cute) Your type, in any country, is the bane of social evolution. Try and catch up…this is the 21st century.

Foreigners, such as myself, enjoy Japan because of the culture, food and people. (well, most of the people) Our ‘superstar’ status is fallacy. From your post, it sounds like you’re suffering from envy. Poor you.

However, I do appreciate the fact you’ve learned a bastard foreign language well enough to relay your discontent. You’re obviously not too disillusioned with us. Semantics aside, pull your head out of your ass. We are all fortunate that your narrow little opinion is insignificant to the tides of the world.

Though take a moment and thank everyone for giving you more attention than you deserve.

Anonymous said...

Sadly seems that people are still short minded and living on there own little worlds...

sad sad sad...

Sai Hitaki said...

Wow, I'm really surprised. This is the first time I've actually read of anything that I thought was somewhat discriminatory. Not all foreigners are bad people, I am pretty well known here in America and I have plenty of friends. I don't think that if someone were to move to Japan they should do it under the premise of wanting to be popular or spoiled.

The reason I am considering moving there is mainly culture and religion. I feel that my beliefs are more in tune with Buddhism and my personal interest pretty much all come from Japan. I enjoy the food, and I am highly attracted to the nature there. I don't expect special treatment if I do make the decision to leave my life in the states but I certainly hope that I wouldn't be hated just for being an American.

JH I have been thinking about moving to Japan for years now. I am almost 26, and I have heard a lot of good things and bad things about the various teaching programs there. I was wondering if you could tell me more about it and what the requirements are to qualify for such. I was reading that most start off between 200,000 yen and 300,000 yen (300K if your lucky) How is it possible to survive on anything less? Also were you fluent in Japanese before you went and if not how long did it take you to become fluent?

I don't want to leave for Japan unless I have a decent understanding of Japanese speaking and writing. Also how old is too old to go? I realize that if I leave I will be abandoning my friends and my girlfriend. I don't forsee myself getting over there until I am 30. Are most women over there (Japanese, American or whatever) Married by then? I was considering Hakone, do you know if it snows there?

I know there are a lot of questions. I really don't know who to ask or where I can go around home to practice Japanese. I live on the east coast so there are not as many Japanese People here. Also is it common to own a house in Japan if you aren't mega wealthy? It seems like everything is Apartments. Please tell me what you can when you have a chance.

JH said...

Hello Sai,
I would be happy to answer your questions over e-mail. My username is james.gandai and I use gmail.

Unknown said...

So the cops asked you some questions, big deal. At least they're doing their job. Let me tell you about my friend Sam's brothers. Sam is Filipino, but she and her brothers could pass for Mexican. They lived in Hawaiian Gardens, California, and to make matters worse drove a late model Buick or something. When they would drive to Orange County (a predominantly white area) they would get pulled over so many times that they would just leave their license and registration on the dash.

Another friend of hers who is Samoan lives in Hawaii. I think he has gotten pulled over maybe twice in the 3 years he has lived in Hawaii. He came to LA for vacation and got pulled over 4 times in 2 weeks!

I would be happy that the usually useless Japanese police were doing something.