Inside or Outside?

So, here in Kerala, I am a ‘saip’, or white man, and will be that before anything else as long as I am here. Whether I’m tucking into beef curry for dinner, wearing a lunghi, sporting an impressive moustache or even someday speaking fluent Malayalam, I am unlikely to ever escape the outsider category I came with.

I experienced a somewhat similar phenomenon in Japan, my previous home. The Japanese approach to foreigners tends to be dominated by the dichotomy of ‘uchi’ (inside) and ‘soto’ (outside). As a foreigner, you are destined always to be ‘soto’, regardless of how Japanese you have become – even if you renounce your country of birth and take Japanese citizenship. You look different, therefore you must be different.

…read more at The NRI…


Hello, 11th of September. I have an appropriate post for you.

I don’t know if I should be writing about this – not because it might get me in trouble, but because I’ve been here such a short time and I’ve only had one relatively tame experience with racial profiling by police. I could also be accused of fearmongering and of racism as strong as anything I mention. However, it is important and I should know as much about it as I can just in case something happens; also, perhaps this will be a useful set of links for other people. I don’t know. On with it.

Last Friday’s Metropolis had a feature by a gaijin on his experience of being arrested in Japan. He was held for 19 days without charge, suspected of “not cooperating with the police and hitting a man with a bottle”. It reads like you’d imagine a standard account of jail experience in a foreign, first-world country would read; indeed, not unlike the great Matt Frear’s. Most of it doesn’t sound that awful, but you can feel that the worst thing would be the absence of those daily comforts we most take for granted. A shower, a decent meal, a book to read.

Thing is, Matt was held for a day, while Paul was held for 19. Without charge. I must repeat that because it is most important. How can this be legal in a supposedly ‘free’ country? I turned to Wikipedia (what? It’s usually right) for clarification of the law that makes that possible, whereupon I found a page about Daiyo kangoku, or ‘substitute prison’. The stipulation is that under standards of habeas corpus, you can be detained by authorities for 72 hours; next, the prosecutor can request ten days’ detention (a right that is frequently exercised), usually used to elicit a confession; finally, a further ten days can be requested for the same reason. 23 days altogether. Paul got off light.

My first reaction was to think that this must not happen too often, but then I remembered back to my first day of training for work. During the persistent ‘don’t do drugs’ spiel drummed into our heads by the trainer (Simon Amstell from this entry, a really top bloke I’ve found), he said that judges really don’t give a shit about you. They just want to stamp the piece of paper and go home. So that’s what they do. The same Wikipedia page says that further detention past 72 hours is requested in 85% of cases, and 99.8% of those are approved. These figures date from 1987 so things could have changed, but it’d be foolish to write them off just for being 20 years old.

Concerned at this sentence in Paul’s article – “His two friends, mere onlookers, were also guilty and spent the same 10 days as their friend” – I thought shit, this could happen to me even if I did absolutely nothing wrong, I must find out more. The following is a list of things I found interesting (needless to say, some of them contain fucking strong language):

*A 2000 Shizuoka Police guidebook called “Characteristics of Crime by Foreigners Coming to Japan”
*A magazine on ‘Shocking Foreigner Crime’ that was stocked in convenience stores (and quickly withdrawn after protest)
*Do gaijin commit more crime than Japanese nationals? Not really. So why are they being vilified in some quarters?
*Instant Checkpoints in Japan: Extranationality as Sufficient Grounds for Suspicion
*Don’t leave home without your Gaijin Card
*Looong account of experience with prison in Japan (if you ask me, the guy behaved really stupidly and deserved some kind of retribution, but y’know… civil liberties…)
*Japan Times reporter arrested for kicking “No Japanese” bar signboard (this is a real clusterfuck, with bigots and idiots on both sides)
*Gaijin achieves EPIC LULZ by accosting a homeless man in Osaka, then throws the guy’s bike at a garbage truck, then gets beaten by the garbage truck driver (video)

A guy called Debito Arudou features heavily in all of this. He appears to have the biggest online presence of any gaijin rights activist, and while he appears to be the kind of guy who would be an activist even if he lived in the Garden of Eden, he’s smart and he knows more about this shit than anyone else I could find. He’s also a naturalized Japanese, putting him in the unusual position of looking like a gaijin (and presumably being subject to the same racial profiling) but carrying documentation which qualifies him as a Japanese citizen.

All I’ve really done here is compile a list of things to get upset about, mostly things that could happen in any Western country, but when you put them in the context of that 23 days I think the implications are a bit different. I’ve learnt tonight that idiots are idiots in all countries, some people can’t handle their piss, and that I put myself in serious danger that time I went all the way to Ginza without carrying any official identification. I must state clearly that this isn’t a bitchfest about how Japan sucks, because it doesn’t and I’m loving my time here. I do, however, find it interesting when civil liberties I’ve previously taken for granted don’t exist, and when any kind of racial profiling is supported by police/politicians/press/a general authority.


New article today in The Japan Times: The blame game. It gives a summary of some recent scapegoating of foreigners in Japan, and the picture it paints is one of all-around unpleasantness in a great many aspects of Japanese life. Foreign or half-caste children in schools are unclean and smell bad because their foreign mothers are sending all their money back to their home country! War brides are foreign spies! Too many African kids on a school running team gives them an unfair advantage! If the thousands of foreign workers on Japanese ships had to return home due to turmoil in their country, Japan’s shipping industry would grind to a halt! It’s a pretty angry editorial written with maybe a little bit too much passion, so you’ve got to question how reactionary it is. Especially me, someone who’s only been over here three months. Who am I to comment?

Well actually, just last weekend I had my first experience with police in Japan, and this article pretty accurately reflects my (admittedly tame by comparison) experience. E and I returned to Roppongi (yeah I know, don’t ask) and were still there at about 7:30am dancing when we noticed one of the girls we were with had been gone a while. We went outside and she was crying on the steps, her bag having been ripped from her hands by a group of men. I stayed to comfort her while the others went looking for culprits; about ten minutes later they returned with police. They established pretty quickly that I couldn’t speak Japanese, which I guess gave them confidence to say what they said next.

I can’t say I speak Japanese, but when I listen to people talk I can usually understand enough to make out what they’re saying, especially if it’s clear-cut and unambiguous. The following exchange happened about three times:

Policeman/detective: Who’s this guy?
Girl (through tears): A friend.
Policeman/detective: OK.
*three-second pause*
Policeman/detective: Are you sure?

E said that at the bottom of the stairs, he was experiencing the same thing, though he could understand more than I could. They referred to him as ‘koitsu‘ (this is very informal, possibly rude between strangers, and basically means ‘that guy’), and their tone was particularly suspicious – “what’s he doing here? I reckon he probably did it” etc.

Eventually they understood that we weren’t evildoers, she got into the police car and they went off, and we sleepwalked home swapping our tales of discrimination. It’s not like it was a big deal for me or anything – I was never in any doubt about whether I would be hauled off to jail or not – but it was interesting. And in light of the above article, I’m beginning to feel like it’s symptomatic of a pretty common attitude towards foreigners. Admittedly some of these foreigners are 50-something men with a bad haircut throwing themselves at barely resistant young Japanese women in Roppongi bars (don’t take it personally, guys), but we’re not all bad, not really.