Questions and Answers: Legal information for temporary visitors to Japan 1

Questions and Answers: Legal information for temporary visitors to Japan 1

1. General information for everyday life

Q1 Do I have to carry my passport with me at all times?

Yes. During your stay in Japan, you must carry your passport and show it to police officers, security police officers and drug control officers etc., whenever they ask. If you do not have your passport with you or if you refuse to show it to a police officer, you may be subject to fines or detainment. You have the right to demand to see a police officer's ID, but even if a police official does not comply with your
request, you still are not entitled to refuse the demand to show your passport in return.

However, a police officer can only ask you to show her or him your passport. If she or he starts writing down the information in your passport, you should protest strongly and demand that the officer destroy her or his memo.

Furthermore, if non-Japanese without domicile in Japan want to stay in hotels and other accommodation facilities, they must show their passport to the manager and let her or him photocopy it.

Besides, it is a crime to enter false name, address, profession or other information into a hotel register when checking in. Please be careful because even such a minor crime will give the police an opportunity to arrest you or to carry out other repressions.

Q2: Is the drug control strict in Japan?

Yes! Japan pursues a zero-tolerance policy regarding drug consumption (Slogan: „No. Absolutely") and controls drug crimes very strictly. For instance, the possession, handing over or receiving of cannabis is punishable with up to 5 years imprisonment, and the importation of cannabis to Japan is punishable with up to 7 years imprisonment. In Europe and the US, criminal prosecution against the possession and consumption of small amounts of "soft" drugs maybe very mild, but not in Japan. Please do not expect the Japanese authorities to be generous with you, just because you come from a country which has good diplomatic relationships with Japan.

Furthermore, drinking and smoking is prohibited for people under 20 years.

2. Police conduct

Q3: In what circumstances would I be questioned by the police?

If a police officer believes someone is behaving strangely or if the police officer has reason to suspect an individual of having committed or of trying to commit any crime, or if a police officer has reason to believe someone has knowledge regarding crimes which have been committed or which are going to be committed, the officer has the right to stop and question the individual. This is called "police questioning," or shokumu-shitsumon in Japanese. (Police Code of Conduct, Article 2, Paragraph 1)

As staying illegally in Japan is a crime, there is always the possibility that non-Japanese people could be subjected to police questioning simply for being "foreigners." Because police questioning can be carried out in public spaces, such as railway stations, you should be careful.

The police officer is allowed to ask you to follow him to a nearby police station if it is disadvantageous for you to be questioned at the place where you are being stopped, or if the questioning disturbs the traffic. (Police Code of Conduct, Article 2, Paragraph 2)

Q4: Do I have the right to refuse to be questioned or to be taken to the police station?


The police can question or take people to the police station only on a voluntary basis. They cannot force people to answer questions or to go to the police station. (Police Code of Conduct, Article 2, Paragraph 3)

Therefore, you can refuse to answer questions or be taken to a station. However, the police question Non-Japanese often in order to know whether they are staying illegally in Japan. So, they are often satisfied when you show your passport and the resident status (which is marked in your passport and determines the purpose of your stay), something you must do anyway (see Q1). So it may not be really useful to refuse to give answers to the police questioning categorically.

If you refuse the questioning, a police officer may call other police officers via transistor and ask them for support. Then, it is possible that several police officers will arrive, surround you and not let you go until you answer the questions.

Q5: If I refuse the questioning and try to walk away, is it possible that the police officers will use physical force to make me stay, such as grabbing my shoulders?


Police questioning happens only on voluntary basis, but according to the Japanese Supreme Court, in some cases, it is legal that the police use physical force to prevent you from walking away, if the questioning is immediately necessary and appropriate in the respective case. For instance, the Supreme Court decided in one case that holding the wrists of a person was legal to convince that person to answer to the question. (Supreme Court, Third Circuit Ruling of March 16, 1976)

If you use physical force against the police officer or threaten her or him to stop using physical force against you, you can be arrested immediately for obstructing official duties.

It happens also sometimes, that the police officer falls on the ground intentionally during the questioning and that she or he arrests the questioned person immediately for using "violence" and obstructing official duties.

Please be aware that you can be arrested for obstructing official duties, if you touch or body check the police officer.

Q6: Does a police officer have the right to search my bag during questioning?


There is no express provision in the law, but there are certain situations addressed by a Japanese Supreme Court decision. (Supreme Court, Third Circuit Ruling of June 20, 1978)

According to the Supreme Court, the police have the right to search bags in connection with questioning if it is appropriate with regard to the legal interests of the person being searched on the one hand and the public interests on the other.

Therefore, in cases of minor crimes, it is not lawful for police to search your bags, so you should refuse any search verbally and clearly. If you do not refuse explicitly, the police officer can interpret your behavior as tacit consent, so it is necessary to refuse the bag search explicitly.

Q7: Do I have to let the police search my bag, when I want to go into a building in order to attend an assembly, and when the police have set up a checkpoint at the entrance?


Unfortunately, the police carry out such entrance controls. But it is not lawful to search bags of participants of an assembly generally and against their will. Therefore, you should refuse the bag search strongly, but be careful not to touch or body check or use any kind of force against the police officer.

Q8: What shall I do if a police officer asks me to go with him to a police station?


Voluntary compliance with such a request is truly voluntary, and a police officer cannot force you to go to a police station. (See also Q2)

Therefore, you can unambiguously and firmly refuse the request.

It is advisable that you quickly consult with an attorney if you do refuse, because police can obtain a court order and try to arrest you.

Q9: What can I do if a police officer keeps following me while I am moving from one place to another?


Tailing (following) a person is considered to be a legal manner of investigation with the voluntary consent of the person concerned. Be aware that he is following you in order to learn whom you meet and where you are staying. Legally, it is difficult to make the police officer stop following you, so please be conscious that you can be followed at anytime when moving from one place to another.

Q10: What should I watch out for if the police come to search my house?


It is not uncommon for home searches to be carried out around 7 a.m., so please be careful in the morning. Before searching your house, the police officers need to ask a judge for a written permission for house search and seizure of objects. In most of the
cases, the judge issues the permission.

Normally, police search the house of a person suspected of a crime after she or he has been arrested. But it is also possible for the police to search a home in order to collect information about organizations, movements, and relationships among activists on the grounds of investigating a suspected crime committed by "unknown persons" as a form of preliminary repression.

When the police officers arrive, they first have to show you the written permission issued by a judge for house search and seizure of objects. In this permission, items are listed such as the name of the suspect, the charge, the place to be searched and the objects to be seized. Please ask the police to translate and to explain to you properly what is written in the permission. In order to be able to file complaints against the police afterwards, it is recommended to write down or read aloud and record the information given in the permission.

After the house search, you have the right to receive a list of seized objects from the responsible police officer. If no object has been seized, ask for the certificate of house search.

Q11: Do the police have the right to search my body during the house search?


The police have no right to search your body if they only have a permission for house search and seizure. But with a written permission of a judge for personal searches, the police can search people who are named in the permission or who are at the place being searched. Women are searched physically by female police officers.

The police officer usually looks inside your bag or inside your pockets, makes you take off your jacket or your shoes, or touches your trousers, but there were also cases where people had to take off everything except their underwear.

Q 12 What should I do if my belongings have been seized in the course of a house search?

You can file a complaint regarding illegal seizures by the police at the District Court at the place where the seizure took place. (Criminal Code, Article 430)

If you file a complaint, and provided that the seized objects have apparently nothing to do with the allegation, the police may return them immediately without a decision by the court.

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