Dan's Encounters With Japanese Police
I dinged a guy's car last night in a conbini parking lot. There is nothing like a visit from the police to put your Japanese to the test. I don't think I will forget the word "menkyojou"(vehicle registration) or "hoken"(insurance) again. It wasn't a serious incident, so I don't think I will get in much trouble. Fortunately, I went through the hell of getting a real Japanese license and had all my papers in order, so it was treated as though I wasn't a foreigner. Well, that was going to be the case, until they decided to do the "is he legal" check. Allow me to explain.
Japan, especially the government, has been pushing this idea that most crime(and problems in general) within Japan is due to foreigners. The so called "rise in foreigner crime" is a huge issue and basically accepted as fact. The real facts are this, removing Visa violations, foreigners are significantly less likely to commit crimes. Over half the reported crimes are simply them overstaying their work visa and such. The real "problems" in Japanese society are much deeper, and deal more with a disillusioned youth generation, a disconnect from the culture of old, a rapid modernization of culture, and such.
This foreigner check is a combination of the belief that foreigners are always suspect and more likely to be criminals, combined with a police force that is, in my opinion, simultaneously ineffective and without anything better to do. Whenever they encounter a foreigner, which around here is probably a bit rare, they immediately feel they have to do practically a full background check. I mean, I had a Japanese License(not easy to get for Americans, and it looks the same as a normal Japanese persons. I also had a vehicle, registered in my name, along with information on my address and place of work not a mile away. Still they had to take my foreigner card, check all the dates, compare it to the license, call it up to make sure it was legit, and then started badgering me with questions about how long I had been in the country, if I had moved, if it was legal. All of this, of course, was in Japanese. But to be honest, this incident alone isn't the problem.
Last year, I was in Matsuyama(capital city of bordering prefecture). After a great night with great music, I was driving home around midnight. I had 3 girls I met at the music event driving in front of me to show me the way out. Then came the problem. For the first time ever, I saw a Japanese checkpoint(for drinking, I guess). I couldn't avoid it, so I pulled up at the right moment, documents in hand. At the time, my Japanese was significantly worse and I only had an International Driving Permit, though legal. After about 3 minutes, I knew this was going to be a problem. He decided that I was holding up the line, and had me pull over completely. Then began the fun.
He asked me for my passport, which I didn't have. Why? We were told that with the exception of leaving the country, our foreigner ID cards were as good as passports. In fact, it was a good idea not to keep them together in case you lost both. He tells me he needs to see my passport. I tell him I was told, by the government, I didn't need it. He tells me it is too late at night to call my prefectural office, so they can't verify it. They need the passport. I tell them I don't have it. Then they say that they haven't seen an IDP like this before, and ask me where I got it. I point to the various AAA seals stamped on it and explain that it is the American version of JAF(Japanese Automobile Federation). I tell him that this is the standard American IDP. He starts examining it, and I can tell instantly that he has both never seen an American IDP before, and can't read any English at all. Yet he proceeds to check it as though he knows what he is doing. He literally pretended to read using his finger as a guide. I might have believed him if his wasn't trying to read from right to left.
So things are getting sticky. He tells me that I should get a license. I tell him I probably will, but I don't have one now. He says it's easy to get and that it IDPs are often fakes. I am not getting his point. At some time, one of the girls came back to help me. Her English was not so good, but better than my Japanese at the time. She starts telling me that the problem is that without my passport, they can't tell when I entered the country. I tell her it is right on my foreigner card. The policeman says that for a IDP to be valid, you have to come to japan, then leave for 3 months, then return. I tell him that he misunderstands the law, and that the rule is you must leave for 3 months to renew an IDP. You can't just stop at home and get another year of driving. He doesn't understand. I found out later from a friend that this discrepancy is actually common, that most police didn't read the memo about it carefully enough.
Anyways, things start to escalate, and I am starting to worry he is going to take me down to the station. We are arguing heavily, and even though I know he is wrong, he won't budge an inch. He says that until they can clear it up, I can't drive. Now it is around 1AM, and I got a 2 hour drive ahead of me. He is telling me I can't drive at all. I ask him what I am supposed to do, but he just reiterates that I can't drive. Finally, I get one of the girls to drive my car to the city limits, then I switch back and hope that I don't get pulled over again.
I know it sounds anti-climatic, but this has given me a quite negative view of Japanese police and such. The fact was that he was pulling people over to check for drinking, which I obviously wasn't, and then used the excuse to mess with me because I am a foreigner...Okay, that is the end of my rant.
PS: I should mention that while these were both negative incidents involving police, in the interests of full disclosure, I will admit that I have asked them for directions a few times and they have been helpful. They also act as a lost and found for cell phones, bags, etc. One time, a few of us guys, fairly drunk(this one of the rare occasions that I decided to drink), were walking around Kanonji looking for the next bar. We had heard of one from the place we left(it had closed), and so we set off. Navigating the city wouldn't be so bad if we weren't drunk or knew where the place was, but after 45 minutes of walking, we decided to find somewhere to ask directions. We happened upon a police station, and the sole officer sitting there bent over backwards to help us find our next drinking establishment. Pulling out all kinds of map books, making copies, etc. I think we could have gotten a police escort if we had asked. So in this case, the police worked in our favor.
Here is a copy of what I wrote my supervisor at my school last night afterwards:
I had a little problem.
A little while ago, I hit a stopped car while backing up in ***'s Family Mart. Don't worry. He and I are fine. Also, my car scraped his car just a little bit. Therefore, tomorrow he will call *** Junior High School. I told him to speak to Mr. *** about insurance. I'm sorry for the trouble.
さっきOOのファミリーマートの駐車場でバックさせた時に止まってる車にぶつかりました。心配しいで下さい 。私と彼は大丈夫です。そして、私の車を彼の車にちょっとだけ擦りました。だから、明日に彼はＯＯ中学校に 電話します。私はOO先生に保険について話して下さいと言った。しつれいします。