Racial Profiling

Does it still count as racial profiling if they admit it?

Last night, the police stopped me on the street (again).  Reason?  They told me that I don’t look Japanese.

Does this happen so overtly in other G8 countries?  Are you subject to search on the street in full of other pedestrians for ‘not looking American’ or ‘not looking German?’

For the first time, I did not present my identification.  I just said my Japanese last name.  He was surprized (Police here have mistake me for Arabic).

‘Are you Nikkei-nissei (second generation Japanese) ?’

‘Actually, fourth generation.’

He paused, confused.

‘So you don’t need an alien registration card?’

Actually, that law only applies to third generation or under – he’s targeting immigrants and doesn’t even know immigration law.

‘Yes (This is a potentially ambiguous answer, a trick I learned to exploit in Japanese).’

‘What is your country?’


And for the first time, they let me go with out searching my belongings.  The terrible thing is is I has said I was second-generation Japanese-Brazillian, or if had been Russian, Chinese, Korean, or Arabic, I might very well have been taken to the police station for refusing to produce my ID.  Depending on how things went there, I might have even been arrested.

The law is foggy on this point, I find.  Foreigners in Japan are required by law to have identification on them at all times – a passport or an alien registration card.  What is unclear is under what circumstances the police can demand to see that information.  I have been a good gaijin for a long time, but last night was too much for me.  It was a stupid gamble, but I fought the law and the law confused itself, ran in circles, scratched its head, and finally backed down.

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