Prison in Japan: Part 4 “Processing”

Gaijin in Japanese Jail Part 4This is stippy’s fourth part in a series (see also part 1, part 2 and part 3) 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). Below is the continuation of George’s story, and how he was processed in the Japanese legal system. I strongly advise reading the first, second and third parts of this series before continuing on with this fourth installment of George’s jail journal. Once again, while reading the following, think how you would act, and how you would handle his situation. His story certainly changed my way of living in Japan (at least a little bit) for the better. Let us know if it changes yours.

From here, is the fourth part of Prison in Japan – “Processing” in George’s actual words:
The trips to Kasumigaseki (霞ヶ関) started on Sunday – my 3rd day. I was off to see the prosecutor at the Tokyo Metropolitan Courts. The prosecutor (or kensatsukan, 検察官) was the guy who would decide whether my case warranted further investigation and therefore a “necessary” 10-day extension of my detainment. It did. He even added a restriction order on communications so no visits by anyone were allowed other than my lawyer or the embassy staff. No letters were allowed in or out for at least the 10 days and possibly more. Prior to making his decision the prosecutor asked me again to agree or disagree to the facts of the case. As with my DIC friend, the facts were laid out as if my intention was to rob the driver of his (owed) money and his phone, resulting in me pushing him to the ground where he was injured. I again agreed to the results but not the nature of the incident or the motive. Shit these guys were persistent. It seemed that they were playing games with me and once again it was stated that I was best off if I just agree with the prosecution and be less “self assertive”. I started to wonder if I truly was being belligerent, as it was not be the first time for me to be accused of this and maybe I was genuinely overdoing it. I shut those thoughts out though as, upon reflection, the truth was the truth and this was too important to back down on.

Tokyo Metropolitan Courthouse, KasumigasekiPic: The Tokyo Courthouse and Kasumigaseki Prosecutors Building
The day at the prosecutor’s office was just as long, tedious and physically draining as Wajima had explained to me when he was helping me prepare for it. It started with myself, and a nondescript Chinese fellow being cuffed and led by ropes to a bus in waiting. Down two flights of stairs with an entire Police Station staff in procession or watching from the sidelines. One or two of them shouting “ni mei ouji!” or something that I never really worked out, but meant something like “2 prisoners leaving” and reminded me so much of the “dead man walking!” scene, from the movie of the same name. We were roped into our seats and immediately headed off to who knows where, in one of those big blue and white police buses with cage over the windows. The destination turned out to be the very same Police Station that I had turned myself in to. We picked up another couple of guys, one of whom sat next to me. I then realized we were only halfway through the rounds as our bus was now full down one side of seats and half the back row. The guy beside me was one of the worst looking men I’d seen so far. He had a thick brow, with dull eyes that seemed unfocused and unseeing, a protruding lower lip and chubbiness that reminded me of some of the “special needs” kids from my High School many years before. He looked dangerous in the way that it was highly likely he would murder me if the guy next to him gave him $10. He just did not seem to have much processing power in his rather dim looking skull. In fact my PC could probably tell right from wrong quicker than this guy, and I did not like sitting next to him but what could I do. Then I laughed as I wondered if he was thinking the same thoughts about me. One of the guards told my friend here that his “medication” was at the front of the bus and that he should not worry. Yikes! It seemed to me there were quite a few prisoners carrying small envelopes containing “medication” when they got on the bus. Maybe mental illness was highly common I the world of petty crime. So, what was my excuse?

In general there were three types of “suspect” that traveled on the bus and spent that day with me and around 150 other guys in processing at the prosecutors office. There were a few guys who I thought were much like me; typical type-1 suspects. They were obviously “normal” and in here for the first and likely last time. Guys who probably have steady girlfriends or wives, and probably have quite steady jobs. On my bus that first day there were at least 2 Japanese guys who looked like quite successful salary men – one around 35 and another around 45. Well kept haircuts, good looking and with perfectly respectable faces. Their eyes were bright and had a spark of intelligence and comprehension. They wanted to get home just as much as I did. A western guy shared our bus that day on the way home and he looked like any one of my mates from back home. He and I both had closely cropped hair, wore shorts and shirts, looked sporty or dare I say even “athletic”. We only made eye contact once and almost laughed, as we each recognised by looking at each other just how so out of place we both looked. He kind of nodded in agreement. On another bus trip there was a well-dressed westerner who I saw 3 times in all. He looked like a banker and his “station” was Kayabacho (茅場町), so I assumed he was a broker or some sort. He looked intelligent and like he really had just made a stupid mistake, probably a drunken one, much like myself and the other westerner, I assumed.

The type-2 suspect on the other hand, was the kind that was not at all stupid and more of a working class guy, with pride and intelligence but more than likely a lack of education. I thought of Wajima in this light, as I did my friend Snoop. I wasn’t sure whether Hakamada was in this one but even after hearing of his previous history I figured he was more a type-2. Type-2′s were guys who had made conscious decisions to commit a crime. On one or several occasions they had broken the law but they were not necessarily doomed to a life in the system. These were guys with essentially a good heart but either a taste for the wild side (see Snoop and Hakamada) or a lack of opportunity (see Wajima) and education (seen all around me) to climb up and away from trouble. Snoop was probably on his way down. He was a good guy but I could tell he was a danger to himself. He seemed to like me from the first day he met me and nodded to me. We sat next to each other at exercise and chatted the usual intro about my home country and rugby. He then compared biceps and exclaimed about my height, saying that he wished he were taller. In the bath one day he got me talking about the finer things in life. For him they were beer, marijuana and Snoop Doggy Dog. I assumed he had a girlfriend in there somewhere. Maybe between tokes. He was a fairly good looking, rugged type with a close cropped head, big muscles and a fine multicoloured tattoo across his left chest, shoulder and upper back. More elaborate than Hakamada’s tats, Snoop said he got his in Hawaii, but I thought that it had a strong Yakuza flavour to it. Maybe Snoop was really a type-3 but I liked him, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. The type-2 suspects were the type you could hold out some hope for. Actually chances were that Snoop was just young and reckless. Too reckless to back down from a fight in which he apparently took down 4 guys before the Police intervened and threw him in lock up. It sounded like a cool fight and I’d put my money on my boy Snoop doing the business on most people twice his size.

The third category of suspect, type-3′s, were the dull eyed, slack jowled, scrawny impoverished looking types or just plain stupid types (like Noisy and Scary) and multitude of freaks that I met who were so different to me in so many ways it was an indictment of my own failure to be put in the same room, let alone they same jail cell, as them. Actually I was really lucky as my cellmates were genuinely good guys. Likable and smart and nothing like these sorts. There were older guys who looked like crusty, struggling ramen shop owners or “snack” owners with broken, stained teeth, who live in Shitamachi (下町), the old town or “downtown” as it is known. These were the types you know have had a long and hard life. You can see it in the wrinkles, the semi-blank stare, the “I’ve been here before”, or the “I don’t give a fuck anymore” sort of attitude. They were the defeated. There were old guys who looked like my taxi driver but even my driver had some class to him. He carried a sort of working class pride in him (from my memory of him), so he was far better than the downtrodden shells that I saw in the prosecutors waiting chambers. Sitting with these guys in cuffs for 8 hours a day on our trips to Kasumigaseki, I found that these old fellows didn’t have that, they didn’t have much of anything. They were guys who were so blatantly broken and/or stupid that they were more like comic strip characters than human beings. I know this is rude and high browed to say, but I had spent 3 long days at this stage already, sitting face to face and shoulder to shoulder with these people.

There was one young guy who I was sitting opposite from for 8 hours on our hard wooden benches while we were waiting our turn to see the prosecutor. He was the epitome of a lost cause. Hard to pick his age, he could have been 18 or 22 or maybe 28. His hair was unusually unkempt – long and out of place, he had perpetually “just woken up”. He was tiny. Both extremely short (155 cm at a guess) and as skinny as anyone I’d seen. At least one of the skinnier of the 150-200 suspects being prosecuted on any given day at the Kasumigaseki prosecutors office. He had that thick, furrowed brow with huge black bushy eyebrows nesting above dark but dulled eyes. His eyelids didn’t even open fully and he seemed either semi-conscious or semi-sedated. Scarily this guy would just not stop making eye contact with me as he sat opposite me, eyes flicking to the left, center and to the right, slowly and without any real purpose. His small face included a dark fluffy, wispy teen moustache with slack jowls that indicated to me that he had not smiled since he was a small boy, if ever. His lower jaw had a definite protrusion that seemed more from a lack of musculature than anything else. Tiny dark haired arms that ended in tiny girl-sized wrists, cuffed before his clenched bony hands. His knees were tiny too, below a hunched over body that spelled tragedy. I felt some pity for this kid as his bad luck or failures began at an early age for certain. I could see two seats along, exactly the same kind of old man that this kid was destined to become. Without a doubt. The old guy in the corner was completely defeated and his life looked on first appearance to have been a series of mishaps and mistakes. I could not imagine any woman ever lying down with one of these men and I assumed that even the most menial of jobs would be too much for them to do successfully, even they were given a chance, which they would not.

These were the people I was now spending my time with. This is how far I had fallen, although I knew that it was only a brief and never to be repeated period of my life. This knowledge and those observations put me in surprisingly good spirits during my Kasumigaseki prosecutor’s office trips. Despite the being cuffed, tied together by ropes, the hard wood benches, the communal toilet in front of everyone else, the company, the strict rules on absolute silence, not being allowed to stand and the clock that would never tick quickly enough, I didn’t mind all that much, as I knew that unlike a great deal of the people around me I was never to return. I would never be spending my days in such misery again. I have the love of a beautiful, healthy wife, pure of heart and wild of spirit. I have had a share of women and good friends and happy times over the years, with more happiness to come. I have a job that on the whole I enjoy and which is financially rewarding. I have family that loves me despite all of my shortcomings. Even more important to me than all of these things, I have the unconditional love of two of the most beautiful boys that any man could wish for. My young sons are the most precious and wonderful things I have ever had the joy to be a part of in this life. I am truly a blessed and happy man. Given this, I must ask the Detective and the Prosecutor, why the fuck would I rob and assault a taxi driver over $20 when I had more than $80 in my pocket, my very own mobile phone and a friend asleep beside me at 4 in the morning? Please tell me why I would rob and run from the taxi putting all these wonderful things, not to mention my sleeping friend, at risk? I thought, “that taxi driver had better have a good explanation”, because there was no way I was going to give in to the prosecutor and these jerk-off detectives without a fight!

Let us (and George) know your thoughts in the comments below.

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

24 thoughts on “Prison in Japan: Part 4 “Processing””

  1. You know, I was a bit sceptical at first, but I’m really enjoying this story. Not just for the insight into something you hear nothing about, but because George is a damn good writer. Keep up the good work.

  2. a friend who teaches and has a lawyer student was telling me the other night that in the case of “chikan” sexual harrassment, the lawyer actually advises his client to sign the guilty slip as it will get him “processed” quicker. Wow. He reckoned that in chikan cases you don’t even need to have a witness back up the accusation. That is pretty fugged up as you would have the 23 days for sure.

    Apparently there are lots of normal people who go through the processing (according to my mate’s student). Guess they sign the guilty slip pretty quick and get back to work. According to my mate, everyone is petrified of their work finding out about the associated “criminal” activity as they’d get fired straight out. I assume my boss would fire my ass if I disappeared for 23 days. Even if it was an accident and I did turn myself in like George here.

  3. He meets the Emperor, who mentions that NOVA screws over its students like this every day, and make more money.

  4. Wow. Um. I was just trying to do a report for my Japanese class but then I sat down and read this for quite a long time. It’s really interesting. I can’t wait for the next installment. But I’ll tell you, I wanna go back to Japan- but as a foreigner I think I’m going to be a lot more careful.

  5. Not many stippy.com updates lately. I hope that everything is well with this site and its contributors.

    It would be inaccurate to say that I am “enjoying” this article. Rather, I am very interested in what it has to say, and I want to read the next installment as soon as possible. But the story itself seems quite appalling.

    Granted, I’m probably nowhere nearly as appalled as a Japanese person might be when reading about the U.S. justice system.

  6. Hi Bshock.. Thanks for the concern. One of us just got married a week or more ago, and we had a short break to attend the wedding, and generally have some days with too much beer, and too little sleep. That brought on a bit of a “kentaiki” for stippy but we’ll be back into it soon. Certainly nothing wrong!

  7. Thank you for taking the time to write and post this story. I’ve been in a similiar situation where it could have gone that way and am just thankful that it didn’t. Like the other readers I’m looking forward to hearing more of your story.

  8. Boy, does this story bring back some memories. I’m glad you made it out in one piece!!!

    I was in jail in Gunma prefecture for 59 days before they finally let me out with a suspended sentence. I too kept a detailed journal of my experience, now over 300 pages…

  9. Interesting story, though this guy is kind of a prick. Oh, and a writerly tip: eyes don’t “flick… slowly”. Flicking is a rapid action. This description throws off the reader.

  10. Japanese have a homogeneous and strict culture. For this reason they tend to be weary of Gaijin. What makes it worse is when people go to Japan and act like typical Americans. Even though what he did was illegal in America as well, it’s hardly outside of America’s societal norms to be a belligerent drunken idiot. People in America would be more likely to laugh about it than be upset. But Japan abhors societal malcontents with great prejudice. So when in Rome…

    But seriously, be a good ambassador.

    In any case, this is a really good read. I can say from experience that the American justice system can be a lot worse. Especially here in Texas. Just recently the media uncovered over 700 complaints of guards raping children in the state’s youth corrections facilities. Cops here also play the “trump the charges” game as well unless you can afford a good lawyer. With the harsh sentences, one really has no choice but to plea guilty.

    Now my State is being scrutinized by CNN’s Anderson Cooper who argues that an innocent man was executed. He was found guilty on obsolete scientific evidence, heresay, and a one-size-fits-all motive.

  11. Sorry, bit of a correction. Google listing showed up as “American in a Japanese Prison.” But it was merely parsing a comment which was made as I found out in retrospect. I should have figured it out with “colour” and use of centimeters for measurement. Must have missed his nationality somewhere. The rest still applies. Everyone knows Aussie are fun loving drinkers and damn good fighters. Fine in Australia, not so great in Japan it seems.

  12. what a omplete loser twat this guy is. firstly how irresponisbly stupid is he for drunkenly getting himself into such a mess with a driver who obviously was bored and spoiling for a fight?

    then later hands himself in – doh!

    and after that complains about being treated like a criminal and idiot when he himself acted exactly like one and stupidly went and handed himself in to the police?? idiot!

  13. Krozar – when in Rome… means when in Japan guys should suck their teeth, eat saba, smoke cigarettes and drink canned coffee? Cool. i wanna smell just like those guy’s in my elevator.

  14. I enjoyed reading this until you somehow came to the conclusion that skinny, undersexed men, who have given up in life are somehow the worst type of criminal. I completely fail to see the connection here… does one need to be tall, strong, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed such as yourself to be worthy of respect?

    You obviously don’t understand life in Japan as well as you think you do because a lot of people end up this way at no fault of their own. The education system in Japan is a complete nightmare, children in this country get pushed into cram school at too young an age to know what it is to enjoy life and a lot of them are permanently ruined because of it. But then again you don’t teach in a public school so I guess you wouldn’t know this.

    While the guy that was staring at you for a long period of time does indeed seem like a messed up fellow, by your description at least, which I will take as the truth because I don’t get the sense that you are lying, HOWEVER I don’t see how his having “girly wrists” is relevant in any way. Maybe you are going to tell me that Ghandi was a pussy because he too was skinny?

    I’m glad that you at least admit your own fault in the incident unlike most big proud men such as yourself, but I question your ability to make sound judgments above your PC’s. As it was said before the taxi driver was obviously trying to provoke you, and if you had behaved in a manner half as smart as you classify yourself, you would have paid him the fair up to that point and proceeded to find another driver. Being drunk isn’t an excuse.

    The next time you decide to write about such an important issue, stick to what is actually important and not how malnourished people are somehow malcontents.

  15. Very interesting story George.

    But I cannot stop thinking that you are a condescending son of a b*tch. You write very poetically, but with the poetry, you catalog, discriminate and denigrate people left and right.

    You side with the “intelligent”, “employed” and “educated” people, and judge a lifetime by looking at a person and not even talking to them. And I love your discriminatory descriptions of the Chinese prisoners. Wow. You are a prejudiced type. You even try to demean the police officer who tried to help you out, as “overplaying his GOOD cop role”. Crap, maybe he was trying to help your gaijin ass. What an arrogant prick.

    And now matter what you say, try to rationalize, or look for good excuses, you took the cell phone, left the cab without paying and pummeled a skinny 58 year old cabbie. You are a drunk bastard, and no matter how you try to justify it, you committed a crime. I know you admit to it, and you apologize for it, but you still try to demean the experience “as if this should not be happening to such an educated chap, with a family, a job, and money in the bank”.

    I hope this was a humbling experience, and I hope you do not beat on people who try to take you home at night, in your drunken an violent way.

  16. George, I think you have a real gift for writing. I look forwards to reading more of your work. My only issue with it is the way you appeared to judge others rather harshly (usually), and look down your nose at them. You seemed overly keen to divide everyone up into groups. To classify them. Almost like an old fashioned, anthropologist would write about a newly discovered African tribe. Often belittling their lives, and even predicting their future behaviour or life when he or she did not even seem to understand their present. Deeming their ways primitive and lacking compared to his/her own. When, actually, it was often his/her culture or behaviour that was lacking and primitive.
    However, given that this appeared to be your first time at close quarters to people who, on the whole, were from very different backgrounds to yours. People with much less luck/blessings, I do think that many of us, had we had a similar background to you, would have made similar mistakes, perhaps even much worse ones. So I think it would be wrong of me to judge you on that aspect of your reaction. I simply hope that future instalments will show a change in perspective towards your fellow prisoners.
    But change or not, as I said above, you surely do have a gift for writing, so I hope you continue to do so and develop your talent further. And I thank you for what you have shared with us so far. Regards, (from a fellow) George.

  17. Man I can’t read this, your friend is a moron and as a westerner myself i hate his obvious biases and lack of ability to objectively describe something. Fuck this.

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