Letters to the Editor,
The Daily Yomiuri,
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8055
Japan is my home. I have permanent residency. I live here and work here. I pay taxes here. The questions why I decide to live here, work and pay taxes here and have permanent residency in this country are few people's business. But these facts mean that anyone in Japan who draws a public salary, public benefits, or a public allowance is my employee, and I am their employer: public school teachers; doctors and nurses; policemen and firemen; Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara; Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Even the Emperor is my employee, although most Japanese probably never imagined thinking of the relationship like that - not least of all because I am a foreigner.
Why is it, then, that whenever I see police officers on the street my first reaction is to cringe and immediately reach for my pocket to make certain I am carrying my alien registration card? I mean, my first reaction is not to rejoice that I live in a safe country where I can trust my employees, the police, to work for me and keep the public order, and be of service to me, but to rue that I live in a country where my face makes me a target of the armed power of the State. I believe that the Japanese police, who are partly funded out of my pocket, do not so much serve my interests as they threaten public order, the rule of law, a greater humanitarian society, and me personally.
But not only to me. Japanese citizens as well. I refer to the story "Man dies in custody; police seek accuser" (February 22, 2004) which reports on the death in police custody in Mie Prefecture of a 68-year-old detained on suspicion of theft on the basis of an anonymous public accusation. The speculation now is that the man was innocent after all, and that the shock of wrongful arrest led to fatally high blood pressure in detention. The accuser, who fled the scene, is now being sought by the police.
A police officer is quoted saying, "There is a strong possibility the man was innocent." Well, of course he was innocent! He had a legal right to the presumption of innocence. Contrary to the custom in Japan which holds that a person must be guilty (after all) if the police make an arrest, the law in this country does actually declare the presumption of innocence until a reasonable demonstration of guilt. It is an unsurprisingly American legal provision, because it was written into Japan's post war constitution and legal code revisions by the Americans themselves. But like a lot of things in Japan, the technical truth cannot stand up to the force of custom - which in this case is an almost blanket presumption of guilt of any suspect. The Japanese police appear to do little to preserve our legal (and our human) rights, which is something to be feared by all residents of Japan - citizens and foreigners alike.
Yet Deputy Police Chief Seijiro Maegawa of the Yokkaichi-Minami Police Station defends actions by police and citizens in detaining the man, claiming that they either acted in good faith, or that they did nothing other than what was called for. The fact that they acted wrongly, in error, and without intelligence or right reason is destined never to be mentioned in the publicity about the case. Japanese police are really scary. Civil society perseveres only by the weakest of tendrils that are even under direct assault from those whose job is to safeguard civilization. This is a lesson not just about police power in society, but about the behavior of all those who suppose they act with authority in society.