Archive for the ‘knife’ Category

If you visit Japan, leave your pocketknife at home; if you bring it, certainly don’t ask the police for directions!

August 28th, 2009 No comments

Visitors to Japan beware:  in the U.S. we’ve got the Second Amendment that protects citizens’ rights to protect themselves; but under changes of law that have recently come into effect, in Japan it is now clearly illegal to carry around a knife with a blade of longer than 5.5 cm (2 1/4 inches, measured from hilt to tip), including a penknife or pocketknife, or practically any type of double-edged knife, including an oyster knife. This prohibition would apply to Swiss Army knife and many other multi-tool devices. (The police apparently also have discretion under another ambiguous law to confiscate smaller knives.)

The change of law was brought to foreign residents attention in a fairly appalling set of circumstances, confirmed by a reporter for the Japan Times, that landed a 74-year old tourist in jail.  Such an arrest of a foreign tourist is notable precisely because it is relatively rare, so it`s hard to know what exactly motivated the arrest and subsequent detention. My precis of the news article:

– An elderly (74 years) American tourist who was making his first visit to Japan (to visit a son presently living here), asked some officers at a police booth near a busy train station for help finding a nearby bookstore.

– Much to his surprise, the tourist received not directions, but a challenge as to whether he was carrying a knife! Replying honestly that he had a pocketknife and presenting it to the officers, the blade was measured and found to exceed the limits of a new law.

– To the further surprise of the tourist, when he failed to sign a statement in Japanese offered by the police, he was arrested and held in detention for 10 days!

– When his son was informed several days later of his father’s arrest and came to visit him, he was instructed to speak Japanese to his father, as the police did not have an interpreter available to help them understand English!

– He was then released without being charged, and without explanation or apology.

– Apparently the U.S. Embassy tried to help this gentlemen, as well as two other younger Americans who were also arrested the same day for the same offense at or near the same police booth.

– Neither the father nor the sun seem interested in rocking the boat or making public statements.

There is considered speculation that the the officers were trying to meet a quota for busts of one kind or another, and that the lengthy detention may have been due simply to the tourist`s inability to speak Japanese (and lack of English competency by the police), as it appears to be the practice here that, unless the violation of law is a very serious one, that the police release people who have been arrested as they soon as they sign a statement recognizing and apologizing for their breach of law.  In this case, the elderly tourist spoke no Japanese and was apparently unwilling to sign something in Japanese that he didn’t understand, which may have flummoxed the officers who detained him and made them reluctant to simply confiscate the knife and warn and release him. Thus the tourist may have been inadvertently (and absurdly) complicit in his own detention.

The news article quoted a number of lawyers who were surprised at the police behavior, but said that, unfortunately, once someone has been arrested that a 10-day detention is a typical holding period for prosecutors to determine whether they wish to prosecute.

Takeaways?  Do NOT bring a pocketknife to Japan (you can buy kitchen or other knives here, but keep them wrapped up and in your suitcase in your hotel).

I’ve just measured all of my pocket knifes and figured out which ones are seem to be small enough to carry around, and which I need to keep at home – or inaccessible to me in the bottom of a backpack if I`m travelling on my way to go hiking or fishing.  (More investigating will be needed to figure out what I need a permit for.)

By the way, the the Japanese prosecutorial and judicial systems are certainly not without their flaws, including the ability of police and prosecutors to put intense pressure on a suspects to confess, and a pronounced penchant by police, prosecutors and judges to treat people who do not confess as criminals. This has produced a number of cases where persons who have insisted on their innocence have been railroaded completely through the system, and prompted a recent Japanese film on precisely this problem, in the context of a mistaken prosecution for groping, called “I Just Didn`t Do It“.「それでももボクはやってない」.

But at least the police here aren’t running around with tasers!

More reporting and speculation here: reader Brian reports on Shinjuku Police 9-day incarceration of 74-year-old tourist for pocket knife (UPDATED)

and a similar story:

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