Home > Political Ranting > America Like Japan Like America?

America Like Japan Like America?

March 8th, 2006

I have, in the past, joked wryly about how America’s new anti-terror laws are becoming as draconian as the Japanese system can be. But it seems like Japan might be changing in turn to become as oppressive in some ways as America is–as if the two countries are in a race to see who can blunt freedoms and become more of a police state faster.

In the U.S., new laws allow for people to be arrested without charges, held for an indefinite period of time, questioned without access to an attorney, and even tortured (though they’re usually sent overseas for the last). These somewhat resemble Japanese conditions that have existed for some time; in Japan, you can be arrested and held without charges and no access to an attorney for 48 or 72 hours, and then held for another 20 days without formal charges against you. During that time, you can be questioned incessantly, sometimes even denied food or restroom privileges, and stories of people being beaten are widespread. If the police want to keep you for longer, they can “release” and then re-arrest you and then keep you for another 22-23 days. This period is the cause of many of Japan’s famed forced confessions, which sent many innocent Japanese to prison for decades. So when the U.S. started allowing stuff like this, I thought that it was catching up with Japan.

But Japan, it seems, is not to be outdone; it is now taking on some American anti-democratic techniques. For example, in the U.S., many have been arrested for being critical of Bush, Cheney, or the administration in general, often times for something as innocuous as a t-shirt. People have been arrested on parade routes for nothing more than carrying signs that even might be anti-Bush. Cindy Sheehan was dragged out of the State of the Union address recently and arrested for her t-shirt. The charges? Usually something bogus, like disturbing the peace or trespassing. In the U.S., these charges are usually dropped after the evil t-shirt wearer has been deprived of their ability to speak freely, after the damage is done. And these laws are always enforced selectively, only arresting and detaining those who disagree with Bush, while supporters with approving t-shirts and signs occupying the same public space are never “disturbing the peace” or “trespassing.”

So how is this manifesting itself in Japan? Anti-military-deployment protests. Prime Minister Koizumi has sent Japanese soldiers to a war zone for the first time since WWII, a move opposed by 71% of Japanese people, though not protested so much–but what protests there have been have been reacted to aggressively. Koizumi and the conservatives have been extremely sensitive about this, as it represents a tentative new step in violation of article 9 of the Japanese constitution. So when three Japanese civilians were kidnaped in Iraq while doing humanitarian work, they were not hailed as heroes or praised for their sacrifice. Instead, Koizumi and his people viciously attacked them, made them pariahs in Japan for causing the country “shame.” The politicians vilified them, spread rumors about crimes they committed as youths, even sicced the ultra-nationalists on the poor trio as they returned to Japan after their harrowing ordeal–then billed them for air fare and medical expenses.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Japanese government acts with open hostility to those who protest the Iraq deployment. A group called Tento Mura (named after tent villages that sprang up in anti-military protests in the early 70’s) distributed fliers in early 2004 to a housing complex in Tachikawa where families of Japan SDF (Self-Defense Forces, the Japanese military) personnel live. The fliers urged the SDF members and their families to oppose the SDF deployment to Iraq.

Technically, the protesters were trespassing; while the complex is open and unguarded, there is a sign prohibiting unauthorized access. However, no one pays attention to it. Like all other apartment buildings in Japan, the complex is visited daily by many part-time workers paid to stuff mailboxes with ads for pizza, real estate, and escort services, amongst other things (in Japan, it’s legal for anyone to put things in your mailbox). The protesters as well had visited the complex many times over the years. But when they tried to oppose the Iraq deployment, they were arrested for trespassing. The difference was not the crime committed compared to that committed by others, but in the message they were delivering. People are always annoyed by the pollution of their mailboxes with ads–but the people who deliver the ads at the SDF complex are never arrested for trespassing. (I wish they were in my building!)

But it gets worse: after being arrested, they were then detained for 75 days on the ground that the police “needed more information,” despite the fact that the protesters had confessed to all charges and all information was fully understood. The detention was purely for harassment, driven home by grueling 5-hour interrogation sessions. The police also confiscated the defendants’ computer, searched their homes, and notified their workplaces, where the protesters were suspended and docked pay beyond the time lost while incarcerated. The state aggressively prosecuted the case, demanding six months imprisonment, and when a lower court dismissed the case on the grounds that it was politically motivated, the state spent a great deal of money appealing the case. The Tokyo High Court later reversed the lower court, completely dismissing any consideration of freedom of speech.

Priests have also been arrested for the heinous crime of distributing fliers. One priest was distributing anti-war fliers outside an air base in Okinawa, completely legally. The police stopped him and handcuffed him to their patrol car–and then started to drive off with the priest still handcuffed to the vehicle. When the priest objected, he was arrested for police obstruction and held for 21 days.

And if arresting protesters on bogus charges isn’t Bush-like enough, Japan is going to start photographing and fingerprinting all non-Japanese who visit or live in the country. Want to come over for a visit? Better ink up your index finger first. But the real impact of this is that Koreans living in Japan, Koreans who were born and raised here and are Japanese all except for the ancestry and citizenship (refused on principle, usually as their grandparents were brought here as forced labor), they will be fingerprinted yet again. They used to be fingerprinted before, but fought for decades to have that stopped, and finally, just a few years ago, were successful. The fingerprinting stopped–but not for long, as it seems that Japan’s “anti-terror” movement is now a convenient excuse for the conservatives here to reinstate the fingerprinting, which brands generational Koreans in Japan as outsiders and makes them feel like criminals.

In short, the War on Terror™ is used as a political tool for social regression and oppression not just in the U.S., but in Japan as well.

Categories: Political Ranting Tags: by
  1. ykw
    March 9th, 2006 at 04:44 | #1

    I like finger printing of everyone, since it helps us fight crime and terrorism. I don’t see how it hurt the honest people.

  2. Brad
    March 9th, 2006 at 13:49 | #2

    When in America it amazed me that everyone meekly accepted their being fingerprinted by the Transport department (whatever it’s called) when obtaining their licences. I would have thought that the civil rights types would have been dead-set against that sort of thing from the beginning. Yet every driver in America has their fingerprints stored in a database somewhere I believe. Along with mine :-(

    As ykw has commented, even though I myself have a mild knee-jerk reaction against being fingerprinted if not necessary, I can’t see how it would hurt. Like I wouldn’t mind too much if big brother was listening in on my telephone conversations. In a prior blog entry you stated it was a matter of principle; if you agree to a mild degree of state oversight then you must, ergo, agree to storm troopers razing your home in a storm of blaster fire. All or nothing. I don’t think I agree with that.

    But I do concur that some of the other things you’ve mentioned here are wrong and a case of going too far. Never realised that cops would resort to such an artificial ‘release/re-arrest’ cycle but I guess it’s obvious in hindsight.

  3. Kathleen Kelly
    March 9th, 2006 at 14:19 | #3

    Sorry, this is off topic. I read your blog using Safari 2.0.2 and all the information that should be on the right (links, archives, etc.) is down on the bottom. Any suggestions?

    Thanks. I love your blog.

  4. Luis
    March 9th, 2006 at 15:40 | #4

    Brad: the bad thing about fingerprints is that it is selective, applying only to foreigners, which creates the impression that only foreigners are potential dangers. If the fingerprinting were universal, that would be OK. It’s the singling out that’s not acceptable. Of course, by this time, Koreans in Japan have such bad associations with fingerprinting that even a universal apoplication might not be greeted warmly.

    Kathleen: not at all off-topic–there’s no special place to comment about that. Probably the issue is your window size. If the window is made too small, the right-side panel jumps to the bottom. Expand the window to take up the whole screen, and if your screen is big enough, the linkbar should return to the right.

  5. March 9th, 2006 at 20:02 | #5


    Talking about Japan using external attacks to frighten people into submission. Two days ago I went to a party at a friend’s place in Kameido. While waiting for her to pick me up in the station, I noticed one of those signals about “pay attention to suspicious objects in the train”.

    Nothing special in that, right? Except that the sign read something like this: “Precautions due to the subway terror attacks that started in London”.

    I guess someone forgot about those sarin gas troubles that happened a few years ago. The funniest thing about foreign fingerprinting is that all the terror attacks in Japan so far have been performed by japanese.

    Oh well.

  6. Shari
    March 9th, 2006 at 23:29 | #6

    This is more FYI than to comment on your story. The young man who replaced me when I quit my job (an Englishman) was involved in an altercation at a soccer game in Yokohama around Christmastime. All the involved parties were arrested and he was held for 20 days without charges being filed. At the end of his detention, the charges were dropped based on the eyewitnesses support of his story (he had been provoked).

    He did say that the entire experience was pretty traumatic though he was not beaten, vigorously interrogated, or denied food. Mainly, the problem was the uncertainty of his situation and denial of any materials in English to occupy himself. He was also in a cell with a drug-running yakuza. He was allowed to consult a lawyer as well as contact his family though he decided not to let his new employer know his whereabouts and left them in the lurch for 3 weeks (I covered for him in part). They were on the verge of replacing him when he was released.

    Because he was not at fault and was held for so long (this was partially due to the holiday), he was given 3,000,000 yen in compensation for being held. That’s not a typo – that’s the correct number of zeroes. My successor didn’t ask for the compensation nor did he threaten to file suit. They just gave him the money. That means that the taxpayers (that’s those of us working in Japan) are paying for the Japanese police’s ability to hold people without filing charges and for their sluggish progress in dealing with cases.

  7. Luis
    March 10th, 2006 at 00:21 | #7


    That is bizarre. I don’t mean how he was arrested, or that he wasn’t beaten, interrogated, or denied food or legal counsel–I would naturally expect variation, and in this case, there seems to have been no impetus for the police to hold anything against him, to seek to give him any special punishment as harassment, warning, or retribution.

    It’s the compensation which is bizarre. Extremely bizarre. You hear of people filing decades-long litigation against corporations and the government for incredibly serious matters and they don’t get that much in the settlement or the verdict. Hell, people whose lives were destroyed and even got killed by the infamous Minamata disease got only about twice as much as your friend got. Why they would pay this guy without him even asking for it is astounding to me. Did they violate some blatant law that he wasn’t aware of and paid him off out of fear? Did the police simply assume that foreigners always sue and they had some special reason to avoid an embarrassment at that time? Or do the police regularly do this for a lot of people they hold for so long? I’m flabbergasted.

  8. yagi
    March 10th, 2006 at 05:08 | #8

    From the linked article, it sounds like they’re at least considering waivers for minors and ‘special permanent residents’. I don’t really have a leg to stand on though as a visitor to Japan. Decline to be finger-printed and it’s right back onto the plane.

    I guess Bush’s response to his idea that “They hate us for our freedoms” is to reduce or remove those freedoms until they are at a level that is acceptable to the “evil-doers”.

  9. Matt
    March 10th, 2006 at 13:18 | #9

    Cindy Sheehan was not the only one removed from the State of the Union address. The spouse of a Republican Representative was removed for wearing a shirt with either a flag or a support the troops message. I’m sorry I don’t recall which. Ms. Sheehan was escorted out same as the representatives wife, but no charges were filed. It is true she did not have the opportunity to disrupt the State of the Union, however I would consider that to be terribly inappropriate regardless of the party in power. Your freedom of expression does not give you the right to interrupt scheduled speakers that others, including the rest of the nation, intend to listen to. That would deprive everyone else the opportunity to debate the issues raised by the President, or hear them in a widely broadcast format. I once attended a speech by Dick Cheney at the Univ of MN, at which a small number of protestors yelled until he gave up and left. They accomplished nothing but depriving those of us selected to ask Mr. Cheney a question the opportunity to grill him in person. I was not selected, but the college republicans were not the ones in charge. There were many political persuasions given that opportunity. What is the point of freedom of expression if those who exercise it do so with the intent of stifling other speech?

    I don’t believe I have ever been fingerprinted, certainly not while getting or renewing my drivers license. Perhaps it was done at the age of 16 and I don’t recall. Is this something nationwide or state by state?

  10. Luis
    March 10th, 2006 at 13:38 | #10


    Where did you hear that charges were not filed against Sheehan? The moment she removed her jacket and the t-shirt was visible, she was forcibly dragged out–she was not asked to leave politely, or asked at all. She attempted to leave on her own power, and would have immediately complied if asked to put her jacket back on. But the guard simply yelled “protester!” then grabbed her and pulled her out, forcibly enough to cause bruises and muscle spasms. I don’t know where you got the word “escorted” from. She was arrested on the charge of unlawful conduct. It was reported here among many other places.

    The wife of the Republican representative was asked to leave, not dragged out. She was escorted (correct use of the word) outside where she was not arrested despite royally cussing out the guards.

  11. Matt
    March 10th, 2006 at 15:48 | #11

    I watched on the news as they outlined what happened to Cindy, and she was not charged with a crime despite having been arrested. Again, perhaps the state of the union address inside the chamber of the capitol is not the appropriate place for making protest statements. Considering her history with the President I believe it was probably reasonable to assume her attire indicated her intentions. Like him or not, the occasion deserves respect and you don’t wait for her to create a scene given her history. According to accounts of the representatives wife she was asked to leave the chamber and did not understand why until already outside. If she made a scene it was out there. Considering a lack of any history of protesting and her position as the spouse of a representative I can see why she was upset. Her removal was the extreme of political correctness; because Cindy Sheehan was previously removed. Had Cindy Sheehan been dressed in something not making a blatantly anti-Bush message at the state of the union I would say she should be welcome.

    Cindy may have a perfectly valid point, but she shouldn’t be allowed to make a mockery of 200+ years tradition. Everyone knows what Cindy Sheehan has to say, they aren’t tuning in to hear her. They want to hear what Bush has to say. Considering the relative lack of communication from the white house it should be taken advantage of. If for nothing else, more ammunition against him. It is like the protestors at the U of MN. They had nothing to say, but only wanted to deprive the rest of us the opportunity to hear what Cheney had to say.

    I believe Sheehan and her history have made it rather difficult to give her the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the liklihood of her behaving herself. Since she had no active role in the event, and in fact the goal was to deprive her of one, and she could easily watch the address at many other times, she was removed to prevent her creating a scene. She doesn’t have the right to do that. She can go outside and do it, but it isn’t her right to do it in the chamber.

    With regard to Bush arresting protestors, I see protests all over this country every day. I see and hear to most vile things imaginable being said about our President. They do not promote or further the debate, they do not solve the problem, they do not bring troops home, they do not stop torture or free prisoners, they quite often are not based on fact but are designed to embroil a crowd. The net effect of much of this is a polluting of the real issues that could be used to further the debate, attack Bush on legitimate grounds, end the war and straighten out our politicians. And few of them are ever arrested. Freedom of speech abounds in America for everyone, especially Cindy Sheehan. But freedom of speech does not equate freedom from the consequences of our speech. And sometimes there are consequences, there have to be. It’s your decision to make, as it should be.

  12. Luis
    March 10th, 2006 at 16:07 | #12

    Um, beg to differ, but Sheehan was charged. The charge was unlawful conduct and the charge was later dropped. Can’t drop a charge if it doesn’t exist. Maybe you mean she wasn’t booked, but a charge was made. Here’s another source in addition to the one I showed above. Your TV reporter may not have had the facts straight.

    True the scene made by the rep’s wife was made outside, true the t-shirts were different, but I didn’t say otherwise. But it is also true that what Cindy Sheehan did was not illegal–in fact, t-shirt speech on government property was already judged as a constitutional right by the Supreme Court (Cohen v. California).

    There is no evidence that Sheehan would have misbehaved or made a mockery of anything. She has protested before, but I find it almost impossible to believe that she would start shouting and waving in the middle of a State of the Union speech.

    As for the point you make about Bush protesters: do you see this happening within view or earshot of Bush, or even of his motorcade route? I’m not suggesting that every protester in the country has been shut up, never did. But your freedom of speech does not end where the president’s presence begins–quite the contrary. Try openly protesting Bush where his route will go and cameras can see you. You’ll find out what handcuffs feel like pretty quick.

  13. Matt
    March 10th, 2006 at 16:23 | #13

    I’m sure you are right about the charges being dropped. My mistake. With regard to Sheehan not doing anything at the state of the union, I don’t find it impossible to imagine. Still, they control the venue. They have the right to control who is there. I have the right to say what I want, but you have the right to control my access to your blog. If you don’t like what I say or it is disruptive you have the right to block me (not that you would, you have been very fair). I have the right to control access to my public clinic. If a patient comes in and uses profanity in front of my regular patients and children I kick them out. I don’t care what their needs are. There are rules to polite society and they must understand and follow them. It is not my responsibility to educate them about those rules.

    Public spaces are for everyone, and public speeches are for everyone. No one has the right to disrupt that for others in attendence. The reason you can’t protest within earshot of the president has more to do with security protocol than anything else. They are not about to allow an openly hostile demonstrator near the president during a time of war. It is dangerous enough already, without allowing access to the president to people who openly oppose him. The same would apply to Clinton, as it should. You will note that Clinton was recently heckled by two students at a speech he was giving. They made several comments about his military record I believe. And appropriately so were removed. So Bush isn’t the only one who has protection from the opposition. It just isn’t safe. Slightly off theme, since you seem to know about computers, what causes my mouse icon to scroll across the screen on its own. And another off theme subject, are you following the two dentists from Cuba being detained in Nassau, Bahamas after trying to get to Fl?

  14. Shari
    March 11th, 2006 at 16:05 | #14


    I’m guessing my successor was given compensation for two possible reasons. First, they held him over the New Year’s holiday and perhaps the fact that they didn’t bother to investigate until the holiday was over compelled them to pay him for the loss of vacation (he was held from late December to the end of the first week in January so he also missed Christmas). Second, it is quite possible that the police routinely pay off people who are arrested, held and later found not to be responsible but people don’t talk about it because they do not want to advertise their incarceration or perhaps they are asked to sign something which says they won’t discuss the settlement. Either way, I doubt this fellow’s pay-off is rare.

    The thing that makes this more galling is that I was told he responded to provocation, not that he was attacked and responded in kind. That means he probably was partially responsible for what happened in that he could have walked away rather than give in to his emotions. However, I was not told all of the details so I may be wrong.

    I can assure you though that he is not a person of particular import nor did he represent any sort of threat in terms of public humiliation or exposure. This had to be SOP.

  15. Victor
    April 7th, 2010 at 20:21 | #15

    I think fingerprinting is obviously making the image that
    all foreigners are potential suspects. Universal fingerprinting
    isn’t approapriate cos it is against of human rights.
    If you never haven’t been caught by police,
    they don’t have your fingerprints records. even someone was taken by police as a suspect, it’s not the obligation to take the fingerprints.
    Now there is a modern technology how to forge fingerprints!
    It can be potentially used against innocent people!

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