Prison in Japan: Part 3 “Bad Cop, Good Cop”

Prison in Japan: Gaijin in CellThis is stippy’s third part in a series (see also part 1 and part 2) about one foreigner’s experience of being put in a Japanese prison (留置場 or “ryuchijyo”, a prison for locking up people for as long as 23 days until they are convicted, or cleared of a crime), for a misdemeanor – a self-admitted moment of stupidity. Our friend George (all names have been changed) knew he had done the wrong thing, but never imagined it would end up like it did. Below, he describes in depth his relationship with not only his cellmates, but in particular with two detectives, and just how corrosive on one’s nerves the “Good cop, Bad cop” scenario can be, even in Japan. While reading this, forget about what he did, and imagine being in George’s shoes, in Prison in a foreign country, where they can keep you for more than three weeks, without giving you any contact whatsoever with the outside world – and that is in Japan! I shudder to think what it must be like in other not-so-developed countries.

I strongly advise reading the first and second parts of this series before continuing on with this third installment of George’s jail journal, that he has kindly let us publish. We share this not to tell you what George did, or why it was bad (he already knows that!) , but in the hope that it sheds some light on what happens in the first weeks of “the process” of being incarcerated in Japan, and how to cope with it – in case, just in case it should ever happen to you. From here, is the third part of Prison in Japan – “Bad Cop, Good Cop” in George’s actual words:

Prison in Japan: “Good cop, Bad cop”Bad Cop:
As I had turned myself in to the police with my head bowed in shame, I kind of assumed I would be treated nicely as a ‘good’ guy, or at least as a not-so-bad guy. That assumption lived hopefully inside me until the DIC (Detective in Charge) entered the room. As soon as he started talking (with or without the translator) I knew that my assumption was hopelessly wrong, and it dawned upon me that I was in some serious trouble. The first conversation we had revolved around how I had “robbed” the taxi driver for his money and had beaten him up and run away. My version of events was far from his, and it seemed that he was going to run me, the translator, and himself ragged before letting me express my feelings of the matter on the written report. I was already in a highly anxious and strung out state at this stage, but it did not help when the explanation of events that I gave had all been dictated/recorded in utterly different words and context than I had originally told them in.

Though I had never once mentioned the price of the taxi, he wrote in the draft statement that I had been angry about the high price of the fare and tried to smash the guys navigation system in my rage, stole his mobile phone, got out and ran away from the cab. As I fled, apparently the 58 year old driver caught up to me as I had dropped the phone and taxi fare that was owed (three one thousand yen bills). Apparently I was quick enough to “snatch/grab” (“奪った” rather than the reality which was “picked up” or “拾った”) the money, but the driver beat me to the phone, so as he tried to call the police I tackled him and pushed him into a concrete wall and re-stole the phone, running away into the darkness leaving the old man bleeding from his head. The definition of all this was robbery causing bodily injury. Three things: injury, stolen phone and unpaid cab fare. I agreed sadly they were all true but as I explained, the motive and circumstances were very different. The result was unfortunately was the culmination of a series of actions on my part, this is why I myself had come to the police in the first place: to state my guilt and to make amends for such shameful and dangerous behavior. It seemed that this DIC was not going to believe me at all, though after hours of haggling over definitions, terms and events and hours of rewriting the statement, we finally produced something that was vague but at least resembled the truth as I saw it.

I was truly beginning to panic as the DIC seemed incompetent as he typed painfully slowly, blatantly forgot key points I had made and refused to agree to my definitions. For example, as I stated that I grabbed the taxi driver’s mobile phone as he dialed 110 (Japan’s “911″), I said in clear Japanese (and demonstrated physically) how the driver held the phone in front of his chest and dialed. The key point was that I came at his phone from his side – the driver’s right hand side (右横). Despite me standing up and demonstrating this by standing to the side of the other (translator) cop, that was for about 15 minutes defined by both the translator-cop and the DIC as “from behind” (後ろから). Eventually the two detectives admitted that the side is indeed the side and they used the word “yoko” (横). Wow.

Prison guard at a ryuchijyoAlmost every detail and definition was fought out in that painful and tiring manner. I had grown used the fact that Bad Cop (the DIC) was an arse-hole and that no matter how nice the young translator-cop was trying to be, he too, with his halting broken English, was a prick unworthy of my trust. I felt like I was in NYPD Blues or some cheap cop rerun. It got to the point where I refused to sign any statement or document until I had the chance to talk to a lawyer first. They bullshitted that lawyers came after the signing of the statement and the arrest being made. It seemed to me they hadn’t fully read me my rights until I was ready to sign either, so I was by this stage highly agitated and mistrustful of these authorities in charge of my case. I just wanted to go home. Finally after the umpteenth rewriting of the script, I signed the vague but less damning statement, had my rights read to me and signed my arrest warrant, all promptly followed by a cold bento as a reward. Oh, and some handcuffs and a rope. At least I had the grim pleasure of making them follow me to the toilet where I squeezed out a constipated turd for them. Small, sad victory to me I smiled, as they stood outside my cubicle door tied to me by the rope.

Good Cop:
After the Chinaman’s heart attack, Day 2 began with further interrogations. It turned out the DIC and the translator-cop were both off today, so my interrogator and translator were different. The interpreter was a young female cop who spoke good English and even had an electronic dictionary. I had not seen the translator lady the day before, but the detective who was with her was a kindly older gentleman who had come into the room to offer me tea the previous day, and had also approached me immediately prior to my being lead to my cell. At that time he provoked a swelling of tears from me as he came slowly around the table, laid his hand gently on my shoulder and said softly, “XXX-さん、今回やり過ぎちゃったね”, which translates as, “this time you over did it, huh”. I simply replied “そうですね” and automatically responded by feeling the weight of the situation close in around me. The regret for my family, my friends, my colleagues, my bosses, and of course my victim. I was touched and glad for that action by the older detective.

On that second day it was explained to me that the DIC who had tried his best not to accept my version of events was busy on another case, and he Detective Kudo was filling in. The truth (I found out from my wife after everything was over), was that Kudo was the key man in charge of the entire robberies department. As he started his interrogation I very quickly felt that this was a classic good-cop, bad-cop routine and that he was over doing the good cop thing a little too much, almost obligingly accepting my version of events. He said he had been troubled by my refusal to sign the statement without a lawyer and he made every effort to restore my faith I the judicial process.

Before going into details of the crime and the charges, we started with a confirmation of who I was, where I was from and my complete background. He went through the document made the previous day by the DIC. It took an hour to delete the errors in the document and to change a number of facts about me that were wrong. I was meticulous in getting the facts 100% straight, even if they seemed completely irrelevant to the case. Examples included my part-time job as an English teacher rather than as a “university professor” as the DIC had put, the term of study as a short term student rather than having been at the university for 4 years as was written, the fact that I had a significant amount of money in the bank and deleting the “living on the breadline” (ぎりぎりな生活), the year I met my wife, the amount of time spent in a company, the type of visa I had worked on in the past. I was damned if I was going to let them paint some scary picture of me that was not close to reality.

Bad Cop had pulled it out of me in different parts of his questioning that I was a rugby and basketball player whose favourite food was steak. Of course he had not included the other things like sushi, okonomiyaki etc. It had become clear what he was aiming to do. He had even pressured me to state that I was a very good rugby player based on the fact that I first played the game at age 6. It was all too easy to see that they were trying to make me look like I may have subconsciously tackled the driver and knocked him down, so they could form anything that offered them the chance to present me as a run-of-the-mill gaijin thug. This obviously needed to be put into perspective and Good Cop generally went along with it. Quietly I was thankful, as I had come to realize just how easily a man could be tied to an assault and robbery via subconscious actions from a sport he played for fun since childhood. I wished I had played grass-hockey and liked eating lentils.

A Japanese PrisonKudo let me go at lunchtime so I could have the two bread rolls and jam with the others. I was not able to get my daily lunchbox (bento) yet as I was still officially in the first 48 hour period where you basically don’t get any privileges at all. After my lunch I got down to what all inmates like doing best: sleeping. I was awoken by a call from the guards that I had a benkai (visit from my lawyer, 弁解). Good Cop Kudo had told me that my wife had visited in the morning and she had explained that our family lawyer (her uncle being a well known partner of a firm in Yokohama) was incapacitated with cancer and I was being appointed a lawyer from the Lawyer’s Association – the on duty guy for the weekend. Apparently my wife’s uncle had suggested this was the best course of action, as I would get a competent guy. Thank God this man had arrived, I thought as I went to the visiting room, which again was just like in the movies. Everything should be fine now, even if he were not the guy I had had in mind.

I met the lawyer with his translator and gave him all the details of my case. I accepted him as my lawyer as I thought he seemed competent and my case was not the most complex in the world, so even the fact that he could not speak any English at all was not overly daunting. Good Cop Kudo had previously explained to me that I would not be allowed any visitors other than my lawyer as there were so many parts of the case that required further investigation and my lawyer confirmed this. I did not really want my wife to see me in jail so I was not so upset about this.

I told him I had no secrets to hide despite his suggestion that I was free to tell him anything I did not want to reveal to the police. I told him about Bad Cop and Good Cop and asked if maybe I should stop cooperating with them and he replied that I should cooperate as much as possible and that he would speak with the department chief. The important thing for me he said, was to maintain the same story all the way through and just tell the truth. I explained how the detectives kept telling me that things would proceed much faster if I just went along with them more, but my lawyer adamantly explained that I must not agree to anything that is not true as I see it. At least he was confirming my fears and it was nice just to hear that I was doing okay so far. He explained his fee, which I promptly forgot as it was not relevant to me at the time, signed his papers to hire him and went back to my cell. My only request was for some photos of my wife and kids and he left me repeating that I should not give in.

Chikan in Japan - many people confess without even doing it…I later heard the story from Wajima-san about a kid who had been in cell #6 before me. That kid had “given in” to the prosecutors, pleaded guilty and been allowed to go home with a fine. The guy was only 26, out of college, newly married and in for the first time. His charge was “chikan” (feeling up a girl in the train) but he swore till he was blue in the face that he was innocent. As you would! The poor chap had only been married for a year and some drunken girl on the train starts calling him “chikan” as they alighted from the car. Apparently her friend had acted as the witness even though she had been standing to the front of the girl, back to our young friend. He had no witness to defend himself and things looked bleak. He had the initial 48 hour interrogation period, a meeting with the court, where he received the almost obligatory additional 10 days detainment for further investigation, followed the maximum addition of another 10 days. On the 15th day he cracked, pleaded guilty and went home to his wife who would probably never really be comfortable with the charge no matter how much he pleaded innocence to her. Wajima was confident the kid did not touch up the girl and had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Poor bugger. I was not planning to give in like that even if by around Day 12 I was getting very depressed and stressed from the tension and uncertainty as to what was to become of me.

If you have any comments on part three of “Prison in Japan”, please let us know in the comments. Oh, and by the way, Happy Valentines Day!

Update: Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 and Part 10 of the “Prison in Japan” series are now available.

16 thoughts on “Prison in Japan: Part 3 “Bad Cop, Good Cop””

  1. I wonder what it takes to become a translator (or where they find them) at one of these police stations. Strange career path…

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  3. I just finished a 16-day stint in a ryuchijo detention center in west Tokyo, after me and my buddy (believe it or not he’s a porn actor!) got arrested trying to run out of a karaoke parlor without paying for the bill. I know we acted stupidly, but 16 days! The penalty far exceeded the crime, and while in lockup I met a lot of Japanese criminals who received more lenient sentences for what I would consider worse offences (for example, molesting women on trains.)

    Anyway, it all ended up okay, but it was touch and go there for a while. In a way, I am kind of glad I got to see a glimpse of another side of Japan — the side of Japan they try to keep secret (the control by the bureaucracy, for example, the lack of democracy and accountability in the bureaucracy.) I just reckon that Japanese police would love to be able to bust gaijin more often, but they are not allowed to (for example) stop foreigners walking down the street, thanks to the work of Debito and others. However, if you are a gaijin and you do something technically illegal, the police are then free to throw the book at you. And they will throw the book at you — repeatedly. You have just given them the lucky break they have been waiting for — the chance to take out a gaijin!

    Take it from me, if you are arrested in Japan, assume that you are going to be lockup for at least a week or two. Don’t answer any questions asked by police on your first day at the police station — exercise your right to silence. After 2 or 3 days your lawyer will arrive and it is then you have to decide what angle you should take vis-a-vis explaining your case to the police. If you are threatened with violence (or have violence inflicted on you in lockup), inform your embassy straight away — they will come in to bat for you. The most important thing to remember is, they can keep you in lockup for up to 23 days — deal with that, accept that as your fate, and instead of trying to get out early by being cooperative, exercise your right to silence. Your lawyer knows best, and he or she will be on your side.

  4. Rob, Thanks for the words of warning. For reference, how come they let you out after only 16 days and didn’t make you stay the full 23 days like George? You (or your porn star friend) must have a great lawyer?

  5. Trying to understand why the police decide to do the things they do is unfathomable, and when you are in lockup in Japan, confusion reigns. Looking back on it now, I have a theory what happeend in my case. While me and my friend were arrested, the other two members of our group managed to escape. I was taken to the police station at about 5am, thinking that after a bit of questioning I would be allowed to go home. After about 10 hours of questioning, this hope collapsed, and I realized me and my friend were actually in a lot of trouble. Anyway, the police were trying to charge us with fraud, which is a serious offence (penalty up to 10 years in prison.) On my first day of questioning (and on subsequent days) I maintained that the reason we ran out of the karaoke parlor was not to save money, but just to have a bit of drunken fun. The police didn’t buy it and they were convinced that we had planned running out in advance (thus the act was premeditated and fraud, under Japanese law.)
    On the 2nd day of imprisonment we were taken to a big building in downtown Tokyo (I still don’t know what the building is, maybe the central police headquarters or something.) On that day we were questioned by the Public Prosecutor who basically called us a bunch of evil gaijins who were a threat to Japanese society, and then extended our detention by 10 days. When that 10 day period ran out (on the 11th day), she gave us another 5 day extension. About this time I noticed a change in her manner and attitude towards us — the anger and disgust was gone, she started smiling and laughing at things that I said and so on. I started to get a sense then that she finally believed our story, but I didn’t know why.
    Now I know why — a few days before that, my Australian friend who had escaped the karaoke parlor went to the police station, and gave himself up. He told the police that running out of the karaoke parlor was all his idea and that me and the porn actor didn’t know anything about it until he drunkenly said: “Lets run!” Ironically, the police didn’t arrest him, even though he was begging them to put on the cuffs (I guess he had a guilty conscious.) However, he did explain the situation to the police, and it was at that point they realised that we were not professional fraudsters, but merely drunken jackasses. There is a big difference between the two. They gave us another 5 days inside to teach us a lesson, and then they let us go.

  6. Mr. Mori – my wife is a translator. It is a part time job, just a few hours here and there. Her career is teaching English in public school. Translating for a lawyer isn’t really a peculiar thing to do, just a good paying part time job, which is also interesting and hopefully helpful. As for requirements, she is a licensed translator and tour guide, so has had to take courses and exams. To find a translator, the lawyer looks at a list of people who have signed up with the city to offer their services.

  7. Rob Sullivan

    You guys sounds like bunch of Jackasses. they should have given you guys serious ass whopping in Japanese prison to straighten you dummies out.

    either way I’ve been locked up in Federal prison in states, your so called mistreatment is nothing compared to what American Prison have to offer. you would have a book to write and cry about. and if you hate Japan so much why are you dumb Australians still there. I’m sure Japanese would love to see you guys go back to your sorry as country anyways.

  8. I have been there, good cop bad cop and beatings on the side to get me to sign the confession. Clearly one must insist on writing, I reading and signing an original Japanese language copy of any statement. I, fortunately, can read Japanese. In my 23 days in the can, I must have rejected over 100 ‘statements.’ My Japanese only lawyer was proud of me. On day 21 I signed my last statement and was let out on day 24 (day 23 being a Sunday).
    I checked out of jail and put my next address as the Prince Hotel Tokyo, and I am sure very few prisoners check out from jail to there.
    My ‘bad cop’ met me at my departure and told me not ‘to do bad things again.’ I told the dirty bastard to drop his piece right there and fight me. He was the one doing bad things. The little wimp refused to drop his piece and fight me. Fucking faggot. I would have easily beaten him to death with my two pounders.
    US UK Canada Japan China. The only good cop is a dead cop.

  9. It is actually impossible to get an independent translator during questioning. The translator provided is always a member of the National Police. If you speak and read Japanese properly, always deny the use of a police translator. They will simply write up a confession for you to sign. I received perhaps 100 translations on my 23 days on the inside. None of them reflected my statements. I only signed Japanese statements that reflected my rejection of any guilt. I got beaten pretty bad many times for that.
    What I found interesting is that once, a DI Namiki who had studied in UCLA had translated my statement. He is considered a serious suspect in many child rape incidents in East LA when he was a student there in the 80′s. Namiki, child rape, potential serial rapist, now a DI in Japan. Look him up and make sure everyone knows about him. He is a very serious criminal.

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