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Japan’s Cops: Businessmen with Badges or Judo Experts with Grudges?

“99% of the time.” In general, this is one of life’s unavoidable clichés. In Japan, it’s the ways things are.

99% of the time trains are on time.

99% of the time beer and cherry blossoms are awesome.

99% of the time it is safe.

And 99% of the time you will have no problems with the police.

But if that 1% ever happens… well, it can be a royal B.

japanese police blocking photo

Ever been stuck on a train in between stations for hours because someone couldn’t handle life and deciding on Chuocide?

Or what about the hanami party where you decide to go to Roppongi after an afternoon of binge drinking and your friend encourages you to “go on” and talk with what is clearly a ladyboy pro?

Or the night where you mouth off to the wrong guy (as opposed to usually mouthing off to the “right guy” and getting away with it) and the next thing you know you’re in a  full-on melee at the crossing in front of a koban (交番/police box) (as opposed to just about anywhere else that you could probably get away with it).

If you’re lucky, it was nothing more than chest-puffed douchebags being macho and you escape the whole scene with nothing more than a hyperbolic story to brag to your friends about. If you’re not so lucky, you might have accidentally “mushed” a few faces or gotten rocked yourself and spend the next 5–6 hours sobering up at a police station, trying to explain what happened.

If you really were the victim of anything, for example an attack or a car accident, pray that the culprit wasn’t Japanese. Why? Because 99% of time the cops are going to view you as the guilty party. Foreigners are    even in the case of wrong place, wrong time and even if just nearby and happen to be observing    sometimes held for questioning just until the cops can sort out some matter.

Scuffles between two (or more) foreigners or even two or more Japanese are often just “separated” and “moved along.” This is usually not so in altercations involving a foreigner and a Japanese. This is the case no matter if the foreigner was defending “themselves” or if they did absolutely nothing wrong. As such, it is most certainly the case when the foreigner actually was the instigator.

Accidents where someone went through a red light and hit a foreigner crossing the road have happened and the police actually asked the foreigner to pay for damages to the driver’s vehicle. Not full damages mind you, but at least a percent. Why? Because if the foreigner had not been in Japan the accident would not have happened. Hard to argue with that logic, but there it is.

Japanese police

So, what can you do? Best advice: Don’t cause any problems, be the better person and walk away, and watch out for morons going through red lights. Following those simple guidelines will keep you in the clear 99% of the time. In cases where that 1% does happen, though, here are a few things to be aware of:

  • Don’t be overly aggressive, but at the same time don’t allow yourself to be bullied. At least cops in Japan don’t have/use tasers, pepper spray, and deadly force like it’s a pool party.
  • Don’t speak Japanese at all, as even using a little might quickly turn into accusations that you are being difficult when in fact you have simply reached your linguistic limits.
  • Unwarranted searches are technically not legal in Japan, but if they ask you and you refuse, you would most likely be accused of “acting suspicious,” which then gives them the right to search you anyway. So, if it isn’t already obvious, don’t walk around with illegal paraphernalia.
  • Don’t carry suspicious things, such as pocket knives or even over-the-counter cold medicine, around with you. While not being illegal, they can make you look guilty of “something.”
  • If you do end up in a police station, come to terms with the fact that you’re going to be there for a while, especially if you don’t have a Japanese friend or coworker to call and come get you. Remain calm, and don’t admit or sign anything even if the cops promise to let you go. Insist on someone who can speak English and don’t be too trusting even if they are being friendly.
  • Be respectful on a regular basis when you do see the police and avoid “good Samaritan” behavior especially when intoxicated.
  • Don’t kick that taxi, even when it was asking for it.
  • Same goes for the karaoke box door window.
  • Unless you are under arrest, don’t let them take your phone. In fact, try to stealthily turn on the video camera and record their handling of you, or if you’re feeling violated shove your camera in their face and threaten to YouTube the whole thing (although not highly recommended).

Japan Roppongi nightlife

99% of the time you can talk your way out of a situation and as long as there isn’t video footage of you committing a crime and you really didn’t do anything (that) illegal then you should be fine.

But the takeaway here is don’t be the 1%. You’re living in a foreign country, most likely by choice, and getting paid well and enjoying the culture and nightlife as well. Try to remember that the next time your little bastard demon is whispering in your ear, “Hey, this is Japan, let’s run across the hoods of those taxis!”