The soft arm of the law
When I woke up on the morning of Wednesday, October 8th and read the morning English-language newspaper my eyes immediately fell on a story about a middle aged, male Spanish tourist who went for a nude swim in the Imperial Palace moat in downtown Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward the previous morning, before lunch time on Tuesday, October 7t, 2008. After reading the story in the paper I then saw it on TV as well. He was full on swimming, not just wading out, not just trying to climb out having accidentally fallen in: climbing the stone ramparts of the palace on the far side of the water and then diving back in, throwing scooped-up rocks (the moat is fairly shallow) at policemen in a skiff, etc. It took the Tokyo police and fire departments almost two hours to capture the man. I thought that in Canadaor Americait would have taken only a few minutes, because the police would have Tasered him in no time. (Or, maybe not, because the man was in and out of the water, teasing police on the sidewalk before jumping over bushes and back into the water. That means he was all wet, and so for that reason even aggressive American police might have hesitated delivering the electric shock of a Taser. In Canada, after Tasering a Polish tourist to death at the Vancouver International Airport last year, police might be a little Taser shy.) But none of that in Japanwhere police do not carry Tasers. It was great fun for lunchtime strollers near the palace moat who were shown on TV using their cell phones to take pictures of the incident. My first thought was not that the water must be terribly cold now, but that it is so dirty that a Tetanus shot would definitely be in order once he was pulled out. Additionally, I thought how ill-advised it was to dive into the water from any height considering how shallow it is. After that, I thought about how many Japanese men and boys - and women, too - could be scarred for life at the sight of a middle aged, naked white man.
Later in the day I talked about the story with some Japanese people. They told me that the man was not arrested, only deported. Deported so soon! They don’t waste any time here, and of course there are no human rights attorneys to contest the deportation. Well, he was a tourist here on just a short-term tourist visa, so what’s the difference, right?
I think that Japanese law enforcement is generally a lot softer than North American law enforcement. By that I mean that they are much slower to be moved, or to move towards strong force, or deadly force. Of course, they have a long record of fantastic over-reactions to events and they have a well-demonstrated capacity for strong-arming. But in the mundane matters of everyday life they try to counsel citizens who are in conflict with each other, or with the law, and their first course in minor matters it usually the soft approach. By simply ignoring a lot of complaints or petty crimes they hope to preserve the myth of social harmony. So instead of jumping and bagging the streaking Spaniard in just a few minutes they chased him around for almost two hours until he was too tired to flee anymore. (I saw on the television that as soon as officers had their hands on him they strong-armed him remorselessly to get him under control and keep him that way.) As soon as the police have a suspect, that’s when the fun starts because Japanese police can detain a person without charge almost indefinitely on the strengthof court-issued detention orders. I remember the case of a British national arrested for scalping tickets during the Korea/Japan World Cup a few years ago. The man admitted scalping tickets and he was detained for 60-days - much longer than the duration of the event itself - before finally being deported.