Being in prison in Japan (or any country for that matter) is something that nobody would actually want to experience, Japanese or gaijin alike. But there is something about Japanese prisons, and the system that they have here that has always been shrouded in mystery, and swept into a deep dark corner of Japanese life that few will ever find out about. There is not a person in Japan who watched the whole Livedoor ordeal and subsequent arrest and subsequent incarceration of Takafumi “Horiemon” Horie, without wondering at some stage what he must be going though. We have all seen the western TV dramas set in prison, or may know someone close that has been on the inside in a western country, but the Japanese prison system escapes my imagination.
Being a foreigner in Japan, the process of imprisonment of criminal suspects here was a subject that I was entirely unfamiliar with. Until the other day that is, when a friend of mine wrote to me, and offered to give us a few of articles explaining his terrible experience of being locked up in a Japanese prison for more than three weeks (without being charged for anything, and without any contact with the outside world) – all for one night out on the booze that ended badly. (To make things worse, it was his own birthday party!). He is the first to admit, he did something wrong. But, being locked up for more than three weeks, without any trial or offer of bail for what he did, it is just not fair.
In Japan, suspects for any type of crime, can be held in a type of prison called a 留置場（りゅうちじょう, Ryuuchijyou）, under the “daiyo kangoku” (代用監獄) system of imprisonment without trial (the official political correct term for ”daiyo kangoku” by the way is “daiyo keiji shisetsu”（代用刑事施設）. Prisoners can be held for interrogation for 23 days without charge, without being offered bail, and without proper legal representation. Both Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Committee have condemned the practice, which persuades many prisoners to confess to whatever they are accused of in the gruelling interrogation process. There is an interesting (and quite sad) account about this here.
Amnesty had this to say in one 2000 report on the subject:
“Many detainees confess during this initial detention period. Some have reportedly been beaten and many have alleged that they were tricked into believing that if they confessed the detention would end. The forced confessions have been used in court as evidence”
Below is part one of this new series, where stippy will explore the details of exactly what happened to, lets call him George, and how his situation is one that almost any of us could get into in a bad night on the drink. This first article explains what he did wrong, and what he tried to do to fix it. Follow up articles will explore how his efforts to rectify his situation went terribly wrong, and then we will finish up with the detailed accounts of what happened to him in his three weeks of hell in a Japanese prison.
From here, is George’s account of “The Taxi Ride”:
On my birthday I went out and got hammered with a big group of friends. A few of us stayed out later than most and shared a taxi home as we all live in the same direction.
One friend got out about half way to my place and I woke up at that stage as I was sleeping (it being 4:30am). The driver started asking where to go and I replied in clear Japanese “XXXX station please, just go straight all the way”. He started freaking out and being a dick and again I repeated it and even pointed to the road sign that showed him to go straight. He turned left but this was okay as that road also went to the same place pretty much. Again I told him just to go straight but he slowed down and said that he didn’t know where to go. I was pretty tired and drunk so I didn’t have much patience for this and I thought he was just taking this crap a bit too far. I also noticed that he didn’t have his car navigation system switched on so I yelled at him to use it and called him a f*cking idiot (well, the equivalent) in Japanese. I didn’t give him much chance to turn it on, as I soon reached over and started pushing the buttons to switch it on myself, all the while yelling at him that he was an f*king idiot. My friend was still asleep in the back seat beside me.
Anyway, the guy flipped out even more and started screaming that I had broken the navi panel and he had to call the cops. I tried to calm him down as there was nothing broken and there really was no need to call the police and all he had to do was to drive straight ahead and take us home. He started dialling on his mobile and I suddenly realized that I had not updated my foreign registration card (which needs to be done every few years) which could in theory (but in hindsight unlikely, as my visa was still current) get me in trouble. So I decided in my drunken mind to stop him from calling the cops and I reached over and grabbed the phone from him. He of course started screaming robbery and completely went nuts, my friend woke up and it was complete chaos as I kept telling the guy that he didn’t need to call the cops, nothing was broken etc. I ended up getting out as he wouldn’t stop waving and shouting.
I didn’t go anywhere but just stood on the side of the road wondering what to do as I now had this guy’s mobile phone in my hand. The driver came running around and confronted me screaming and shouting “robbery, help me” and waving his arms around. My friend came around as well and I said to him that it was my mess and he should just go home. He (apparently) stood around for a while then he went off and got a drink from a vending machine and came back.
All this time I was trying to calm the driver down with zero success and eventually another taxi stopped to investigate. That driver looked at the situation, recognized that I was calm and nothing crazy was happening and he took my friend Rob home. That was when it all fell apart.
Basically I am not sure how but I dropped the taxi driver’s phone. I had been telling him I was going to give him his phone but I wanted him to promise not to call the cops. Pretty drunk and pretty dumb, huh? Anyway, I let the guy pick up his phone as I really had no need for it or intention to keep it and he proceeded immediately to call the police. Again, stupidly, I grabbed it back. Only this time he held on and I pulled hard and lost my balance, stumbling and falling over, pulling the guy down with me. He was probably half my body weight and he landed heavily and smacked his head on a guttering block drawing blood. I apologized profusely but he went bezerk at this of course and just came charging at me. I had no option other than to run away or fight the guy (who was 58 and a scrawny little creep with a “punch perm”).
Eventually, I just walked (maybe ran?) away from the scene, and somehow found my way home, and fell into a drunken slumber.
The next day when I came to my senses, I decided to go to the cops and sort it out. Hopefully to make some apology and pay for any damages (i.e. a cut to his forehead but nothing really serious or life threatening). Stupidly as I had run away I threw the guys phone away as well, so I had to buy the guy a new phone. Also, we had not paid the fare of around 3000 yen. I was drunk, but the situation was sobering, and I clearly remember everything that happened. In short, I had done something wrong – and was prepared to pay for whatever damages were done, and apologise for my misgivings to the taxi driver.
However, when I got to the police station, I found out that the driver had told them a very different story. Apparently I had argued about the price and stolen his phone (as I didn’t have one of my own he claimed) and done a runner. Not sure where he fitted my friend into his story but apparently I had dropped the phone as I ran, he caught up and I tackled him to the ground and smashed him into the wall. Absolutely bollocks!
Anyway, in Japan it turns out that you are 100% guilty until proven otherwise and I kind of went to the cops without having thought through the potential outcomes. Pretty naive of me.
I ended up being interrogated for 12 hours straight and having to sign my own arrest warrant that night and spend the night in lock up. In Japan the police have 48 hours with which to decide what to do with suspects and of course they don’t do anything. Then they can hold you for 10 days to investigate the complaint and if still not resolved they can hold you for another 10 days. Of course they didn’t bother interviewing my friend who verified that I was telling the truth until Day 16. Day 19 meant they dropped the charges of assault and robbery, but I still had to handle an “accidental cause of bodily injury” charge which was fair enough. 23 days in the slammer, wow. Had to pay the guy damages to speed up the process and a 300,000 yen fine. Damages were 1.5 million yen, plus lawyers fees of 300,000 yen. So not a very cheap birthday party.
Pretty weird and unbelievably scary. Kind of amusing looking back on it but horrible for family and friends throughout. I wasn’t allowed to communicate with anyone except a lawyer who couldn’t speak English (and the embassy people who came and supported me for one day). (My wife) was freaked out by all the “worst case scenarios” from the lawyer and my work didn’t really know where I was. Funny when explaining to some mates to hear how many had dark secrets they had never shared but none have ever been “inside”.
This is the end of Part 1, but stippy.com will be bringing you more entries from George’s detailed diary that he kept during his trying 23 days. Leave a comment below if you have anything to add!