Prison in Japan: Part 9 “Light at the end of Tunnel”

Prison in Japan: Light at the end of the tunnelThis is stippy’s ninth part in a ten part series (yes, that’s right, only one to go! See also parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8) 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 that he wrote in his diary while in the Japanese ryuchijyo. He goes into the final stage of his story, telling us when he finally felt wiped out by a wave of emotion in the courthouse, and how eventually after all that he had been though, he was found guilty of only what he had first admitted to when turning himself in to the police. For context, you should read the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eigth parts of this series before continuing on with this ninth instalment of George’s jail journal.

From here is taken directly out of the journal (only tenses changed for readability):

The Light at the end of the tunnel came in a blinding flash on Day 19. Hakamada and I both boarded the bus to Kasumigaseki where we would again meet our respective prosecutors. I had met the Chief Prosecutor once already and I had felt a certain connection, despite the cold, judgmental exterior. My prosecutor was in fact a she. The first time to meet, I had entered the room and been confronted by a very official looking guy sitting in front of a type writer and a phone, sitting adjacent to the seat I was lead to. There was a girl sitting in the seat opposite and she simply had a file I front of her. She was dressed fairly casually and I was confused when I realized that she was in fact the Chief Prosecutor. She was younger than any expectation, around my age in fact. That day I actually had tears in my eyes as I explained to her that I just wanted to do whatever I had to in order to go home and to answer her question, the whole reason for me coming to the Police was because I was sorry for what I had done. It was fairly obvious to her I felt afterwards, that I was not a repeat offender and I was genuine in my outburst. Actually, it was one of the more emotional scenes in my life so far.

The second time to meet her was the day I found out the direction my case was taking. It was Day 19. Until that day I really had no idea how things were proceeding or where I stood in terms of the accusations made against me. Once again the bus trip was a chance to study the native criminals, as was the painful 8 hours of sitting on the hard wooden benches awaiting my turn to meet the prosecutor. Nothing to do but to dream, fitfully sleep, or glassily gaze at the other people on my bus or in my cell. Again on the bus there was an assortment of people young and old, and also the big European guy I had seen once before. He was wearing shoes, which was a sign that he was getting out. We only ever wore slippers with our numbers on them. There was also a sealed paper bag with his name on it at the back of he bus, which meant for sure he was on his way home. Or, I thought grimly, perhaps to another detention center. “Noisy”, my Chinese friend, was also on our bus and wearing shoes as he was, according to Hakamada, to be transferred to another detention center at the immigration bureau. He would have a chance to reacquaint himself with my old cellmate. I was glad he was leaving as we were all getting tired of his constant chatter and smartarse routine. Though it was at times genuinely funny, it was tiresome when it would continue through the afternoon, even when everyone was silent and trying to have a snooze.

One of the other fellows on our bus was an older guy aged around 60. He came on the bus with a snarl on his face grumbling something to a guard. As the guards had assumed from his unsteady walk that he had a bad leg, they offered him a seat with more legroom but he hissed and muttered that he would be okay where he was. He never looked at the guards once and it came across that he was not just rude; he was also quite a nasty man. Looking at him I immediately categorized him as a bad human being. He had hunched shoulders and a mean face that it would be hard for anyone to trust. A high nose that could have almost been Western, with the high bridge between two dark eyes that I could not describe with any other words than “beady”. They were cold and sunken with dark rings around them. A slack jowl and unsmiling, thin lips also gave the image of a bitter man. Although I did consider giving him the benefit of the doubt and allowed the potential that he was just having a very bad day. Maybe he had back pains or had spilled his instant prison-miso soup on his favourite clothes. Hence he was forced to ride our bus wearing the matching white Versace sweat pants and sweater combo that made his cheap ass “chinpira” gangster look complete. But no, I assumed these cheap sweat clothes were probably his favourites and that he probably wore them on weekends. He was a bad man. And then I saw it. His little finger on his left hand had been cut off at the middle, around the knuckle. Fitting the stereotype, I guessed him to be some middle level Yakuza. A Yakuza who had done something bad to his gangster friends, and as a punishment, had his pinky removed. As only one hand was in my line of sight on the bus, it wasn’t until later that day that I realized that actually both his little fingers had been cut off. The guy shared the same waiting chamber as me and it was here that I made my conclusion that yes, he was a bad-arse – even his own team had chopped off not just one, but two of his little fingers. I considered what he may have done and that evening Hakamada suggested it could have been anything from having ripped off his boss by cutting his own slice of a deal or by fucking someone he shouldn’t have. Maybe he had botched up a crime that resulted in a lot of people getting busted or maybe he had “ratted” on someone dear to the boss. He could have stolen something from someone from the gang or any other misdemeanor that was harsh enough for him to lose face and some fingers. Ouch.

Tokyo Metropolitan Courthouse, KasumigasekiRight: The Tokyo Courthouse and Kasumigaseki Prosecutors Building
The 19th day was my 4th trip to Kasumigaseki and as I was getting close to completing my 22 days of what seemed mandatory incarceration, and I was hopeful I would hear what the next step would be. Hoping that it would be to go home to my family and back to work. As with the previous trips I was summoned early. I assumed this was to make the translators time more efficient – get all the translators out in the morning. I had the same translator as the first 2 trips. He was sincere and made a good effort to make things clear. On the 3rd trip I had a female translator who also did a very good job. Far superior to my detective translator-cop, who forced me to do a lot of negotiating and explaining in my fairly average Japanese. I sat down and the prosecutor asked me if I had paid the taxi fare to the company yet. I replied that I had requested my lawyer to pay this the previous week and had not been able to see him since. All I could assume that he had made the arrangements. I explained that he was in settlement talks with the driver to get a “jidan” (示談) and unlike earlier on, we were getting hopeful of a successful conclusion in these negotiations. Initially the driver had refused this discussion on the phone and in person with my lawyer but after receiving a heartfelt letter from my wife the driver had contacted my lawyer to go ahead. I had a tinge of doubt in my lawyer’s ability, as it had been my suggestion to have my wife write a letter and send it to the taxi company to be passed on. My lawyer had initially not agreed this was the way forward but eventually had decided it was worth a try.

On Day 19 the charges of Robbery and Assault were dropped. Instead I would be charged with a lesser misdemeanor of causing bodily injury. The prosecutor had come to my side of the argument and agreed that I had not been trying to steal money or rob the driver of his deserved fare, but that I had acted in such a way that caused an injury to another party. The driver also held some small accountability for persisting in his confrontation and not having dealt with his much larger, drunken passenger more sensibly. But the bottom line was, as I knew, that I had caused injury. Even if it was an accident, it was an injury caused by an aggressive action on my part. I, as I had done so 19 days earlier, agreed with these charges. It was why I had come to the Police Station in the first place to clear up. I had never protested my innocence on that part as it was plain as day. It immediately dawned upon me that the result of questioning my friend (the only witness) must have led quickly to the dropping of the charges and discounting of the drivers stories as fabrications or confused allegations. The prosecutor read out the next steps that would lead to my likely release. It was not guaranteed as it still needed clearance from the judge but her recommendation was that I be free to go after paying a fine to the courts. She also sounded surprised to hear the size of the settlement being negotiated with the driver at 1.5 million yen. If I could arrange for this settlement to be paid, along with the taxi fare of 3,000yen and a fine from the courts, as yet unknown but expected to be somewhere between 300,000 yen and 500,000 yen, I was 99% sure to go home on the following Friday. As soon as I got back to the Police Station, I requested the guards to contact my lawyer by any means possible and for him to arrange all of this.

Update: Part 10, the final part of the “Prison in Japan” series is now available.

4 thoughts on “Prison in Japan: Part 9 “Light at the end of Tunnel””

  1. As I said, a great read but also a slightly misleading title because it’s not exactly Prison in Japan. It’s Dentention Center. Far from splitting hairs, once you’ve been sentenced to prison the real “reform” starts if you believe any of the stories from Nick Baker’s site. There are a litany of rules from how to sleep to how to eat your food and a total silence rule apart from 30 minutes per day. Any infringement of these rules can result in punishments from restraining belts to adopting the seiza postion while staring at a wall for anything up to 3 weeks

  2. I feel like I am nearing the end of a great book, that took me ages to read, but I am so “into” it now that I never want it to finish (Anyone else get that feeling? Maybe it’s just me). Is there really only one more part to go?! I just had the same feeling when I watched the last episode of “Prison Break” season 2 the other day ironically. (Do you even get that show in Japan? maybe not..)

    When I was reading the first entry about George’s ordeal (seems quite a while ago now), I was skeptical about this guy, and thought that he was just going to give another white guy’s version of his “weird japan” experience, you know, those ones that are not really interesting for anyone else?

    But I have to hand it to George (and “blue” I guess?) for letting us into what is very much a personal heart wrenching experience – or at least it must have been, as I assume George got out after reading this installment.

    Mixed feelings about the last part of this story, I want to read it now, but I know when I do, it’ll all be over dammit. I’ll likely never meet George, but whoever you are, thanks for the story, I hope it was good to get it off your chest. Oh, and… get the next one up soon!

  3. hey, do u have a reference for the tunnel pic? love it! and would like to use it for an e.p cover. get back at me. thanks!

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