Friday, September 10, 2010

Walking while foreign

I had to get a re-entry permit today and that, of course, required a trip to the Immigration Office in downtown Utsunomiya. I didn’t need to get it today, because I’m not going anywhere until December (yay! Malaysia!), but since I had time and the weather was nice (read: not hot and muggy, just pleasantly warm and breezy), I thought it would be a grand idea to walk from Takiyacho all the way downtown.

So, I’m happily walking along and taking photos here and there, mostly of old dilapidated buildings, and suddenly a police car stops next to me. I was just taking a picture of this building.

And yeah, it looks like someone actually does indeed live there.

A nice policeman got out and approached me very cautiously. He wanted to know what and why I was photographing in this neighborhood and asked for my ID.

And here I did something that I always do in awkward situations – I make them even more awkward by pretending not to understand a word of what is being said to me. Easy to do in Japan. The policeman wasn’t prepared to speak English to me, and I, sure as heck, wasn’t going to willingly give him my personal details. I wasn’t committing any crime, I was careful not to stand on anyone’s property, and he had no reason to ask for my ID. He would have had to take me to the police box (a small, local police station, a.k.a. “koban”) in his big, shiny police car, if he really wanted to see my passport or alien card. And I’m not going to hand over either one to anyone without my husband being present and without documenting the whole incident on video. Hey, I haven’t committed any crime, so they shouldn’t mind, right?

This was the first time it happened to me in Japan – to be stopped by a cop while WALKING and minding my own business. I’ve read about such incidents before, but I always thought they happened to burly, scary-looking foreign men. Not to dainty, almost middle-aged ladies.

 And this is what I was taking photos of - hardly alarming.

The cop proceeded to ask me questions, still very pleasant and smiling, and I proceeded to be a stupid foreigner, still very pleasant and smiling. He pointed at my camera and asked why I was taking pictures around here. I pointed at my camera and said in English “hobby”. I waved my arm around and said “Utsunomiya pretty”. And then I took out my name card (still better than a passport) and pointed out both blog addresses to him.
“See? Brog writing. In Engrish. And here, Tochigi photo brog. I rub Tochigi.”

The cop didn't quite know how to react, he smiled, took the card, got in his car and drove off utterly defeated. I felt sorry for him. He was young and cute and so polite, and if I were 15 years younger and single, I would have asked for HIS personal details.

The sad part is, that if I were Japanese, he never would have approached me in the first place. Because a nice Japanese lady taking photos on a Thursday afternoon - that's nothing usual.

But as Japan doesn’t have laws against racial profiling, and I was very obviously of a different race, walking around in a very non-touristy, back street neighborhood, engaging in a potentially suspicious activity – taking photos, the cop felt that alone warranted asking for my ID.
Or maybe he just wanted to chat with a foreign woman, or thought I was hot. (Yeah, right...)

See? Such is my lousy luck. I get stopped by a good looking guy who is almost young enough to be my son. Why couldn’t it be a handsome older cop, preferably one looking like Ken Watanabe, huh? At least then I could find out if I still remember how to flirt. Racial profiling notwithstanding…


 But this is Japan, someone's always watching. Even on a quiet pedestrian street.


  1. Boo indeed. Now, a Ken Watanabe look-alike can profile me any day ;)

  2. Hahaha Cara! Oh yes, it would be nice. Then them ladies would be throwing more than just their IDs at the poor cop.

  3. How interesting to read ... even though being from another European country, am forced to have a resident permission, which lasts five years.
    Various times that police did check my ID and asking my where abouts. Sadly didn't have my camera with me, while being in the police station for foreigners ... Always a safe step ahead for you ! and a nice Friday as well.

  4. If it was indeed a handsome policeman, and If I were you, I'd tell him: come on, you've pulled! :)