The Passbook Law - South Africa is not Alone
Number 1 Shimbun, December 15, 1978




I believe that since the McLean Case we are supposed to be concerned about the rights of gaijin to join political street demonstrations. How about the right simply to ride a bicycle? Some time ago I bought such a machine. I knew at the time that it would be foolish to expect any thanks for this small contribution to reducing Japan's traffic problems and pollution. But I did not expect I would be- come an object of suspicion, subject to interrogation by every policeman I happened to pass.

Recently, though, matters came to a minor head. Since it has been reported in the Japanese press, I might as well give my version. Someone might even take up the cause.

Around midnight I am making my way carefully from the Press Club, headed for home - Yotsuya - by way of the Palace. A mawari-san steps abruptly out of the Sakurada- mon police box and I get my umpteenth demand to say where I am going, and to produce my passport. I do in fact have my alien registration card, having suffered some bitter experiences in the past. But this time I decide to play it strictly according to the letter of the law - their law.

I say I am not carrying a passport, and that because I live in Japan (the conversation is in Japanese) I am not required to carry one. I say that I am also not required to state my bicycling destination, but my name and address I supply, and suggest it may not be entirely accidental that this also happens to be the direction in which my bicycle is pointing. Finally, I point out that my bike carries a large police registration number, for which I paid five hundred yen, and which, if he cares to check with headquarters, he will find is in my name.

My friend is not interested in this other date. He just wants to know why I don't have my passport on me. He is also busy with a walkie-talkie report to headquarters on his success in finding a passportless gaijin.

I urge him to check with headquarters just what it is that gaijin are required to carry. But this, too, is ignored. He has made his catch for the night and he needs help to deliver it.

Help turns out to be an ugly pair of wallopers (Australian slang. "To wallop" is to hit lustily and enthusiastically.) in a police car. The leader has clearly emerged straight from the karate stables where they sharpen up by destroying concrete effigies of passportless gaijin.

He too repeats the passport de- mand, but in much cruder language. I repeat that I am not carrying one. He demands I get into his police car. I ask him to identify himself. He refuses, and the next thing I know they are trying to frogwalk me into the car.

As they say in the court reports, a small fracas ensued.

As both sides survey the standoff, I make my points. First, he has made a demand not in accordance with Japanese law. Second, he has shown no interest in checking the police registration number of my bike (the official explanation for my be- ing stopped was that bike thefts were on the rise). Third, he refuses to identify himself.

Clearly there is something suspicious about his behaviour. I suggest I would be most obliged if he would accompany me to the Marunouchi police station where we could get to the bottom of the matter. However, he does not have to go on my bike. I will ride there and he can follow in his police car.

This time a larger fracas ensues.

To cut a long story short, the "good" cops finally arrive on the scene from the Marunouchi station. I am asked to produce my Alien Registration Certificate (which I happen to have), and the wallopers realise they have boobed badly and quickly disappear. There are apologies all round.

But when I get home and discover I have been bloodied in the ankle and that I still do not know the names of the karate experts, I telephone, but find the Marunouchi people have turned very bureaucratic. They insist, as we talk by phone, that no policeman in Japan is required to identify himself, regardless of what injury he may cause you.

By now it is 5 am. At 10 am I have to give a public lecture on my Japanese Tribe theory. I decide to relate a few new ideas on the subject based on recent personal experience. A Sankei Shimbun man is in the audience and the next day the paper comes out with a big headline "The tribulations of Clark-san". As I explain to the Sankei man (unfortunately, he gets it wrong), the problem is not so much the behaviour or ignorance of the police as the way the alien registration system is applied.

Other countries register aliens. But, apart from South Africa, they do not demand the document be carried at all times. So far I have accepted the system, albeit reluctantly, since the Japanese say they have a Korean problem, that registration is the only way they can handle it, and it would be racially discriminatory to require only the Koreans to register. But is a Korean on a bicycle or strolling on the streets likely to be stopped at random? Not if he has anything resembling a Japanese face, which most do.

Nor is a white-skinned gaijin polluting the atmosphere and jamming the traffic likely to be stopped. But if you happen to be quietly going about your own business on foot or pedal and you have a non-Japanese face - then you are fair and certain game. The pretence at avoiding discrimination results in a quite arbitrary and reverse discrimination. One takes a great deal of irrationality from bureaucrats around the world. But this is surely going too far.


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