Prison in Japan: Part 1 “The Taxi Ride”

Japanese Taxi DriversBeing 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 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!

Update: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 and Part 10 of the “Prison in Japan” series are now available.

130 thoughts on “Prison in Japan: Part 1 “The Taxi Ride””

  1. the gaijin deserved it, japans handling of this type of behavior is rightfully strict. Japans
    strictness is what keeps its society so civilized and ordered. The japanese have all of my repect for the society they’ve created. Don’t be idiot gaijin and behave like uncivilized morons. Yes ,the legal system isn’t perfect but the behavior was still improper. Have some respect, learn more about japanese culture and how the japnese think to avoid any further trouble (or ,if you want, just continue to be oblivious).

  2. fortcher:
    As a foreigner (Australian) living in Japan, it actually comforts me to know that the police have these powers to hold people without reason for up to 23 days. This would have to be a major deterrent for idiots (foreigners or not) to commit a crime of any sort, or even be associated or close to it. This is an all round great deterrent for “Just stay the general hell away from trouble, crime, problems, conflict in general” wouldn’t it?

    Yes, George screwed up BIG TIME here and as a foreigner these are the kind of gaijin that really disappoint me. I go out of my way to fit in here, studying up hard on their culture and practices so that I try to fit in as much as possible and not be yet another “stupid gaijin”.

    I wish Australia had the ability to hold idiots for up to 23 days without any conditions. It would sure deter a whole lot more crime from being committed. We have so many heroin junkies, general thugs and drug/alcohol fueled trash it’s not funny. These people constantly damage other peoples’ property as well as performing random acts of violence and bashings.

    “A wise man stays away from trouble” – My Father was a cop for 23 years, I grew up having this preached to me first hand, as he saw the trouble in our society on a daily basis, I was well aware of avoiding trouble even by a very young age, because I’d heard all the stories from him as cheap “lessons” for me so I didn’t have to be a George and learn the hard way.

    – Stay the hell away from people who can’t handle their liquor.
    – Don’t get smashed/drunk and think “that’s ok I was drunk”. No it’s not ok.
    – Don’t insult another human being, especially someone in a service job, just GET OUT, PAY THE FARE to shut him up, WALK AWAY. The $10 fare is nothing, just be the bigger man and pay $10 and walk away. Don’t get into a sh1t fight with someone who is fluent in their own country, while your language isn’t the best (plus you’re drunk).

    Good on Japan for taking crime seriously and holding people who were closely involved with it for no reason for up to 23 days while they sort it out. We need to adopt this in Australia, but Australia is way too soft in giving the crims and suspects first class treatment when in fact we know they are guilty and screwed up, the police have no powers. Oh sh1t, don’t potentially put a single scratch on a “suspect” or a “criminal”, we don’t want to breach their precious rights or upset them so they don’t sleep at night!!!

    Way to go Japan!

    (PS – Japan is not perfect, but overall, you usually only find trouble if you screw up like this story, most Japanese are awesome and yes I have been spat on by Chinpira mafia, but they are 0.01% of Japanese people – I ignored it and moved on).


    I agree, completely.

  3. poor george….so many comments.
    I spent quite some time in Kosuge. I know what it is to go beyond the 22 days the pp gives you. My guess is that most of you commenting know absolutely NOTHING about what you speak. You are wankers…making statements on a subject you know nothing of. The Jap prison system is FUCKING HARSH !!!! I have lived it. Solitary. 24hrs a day. Food through a slot in the wall…15minutes twice per week to get outside for “undo”…=excersise. You have not. !!! If the western world adopted the same rules, crime rates would drop massively. I guarantee.
    If I were in charge of a prison….I know what to do if I wanted no repeat offenders. Fuck the liberal attitudes ….fuck the social side of jail…thats where the germs multiply.
    Serious solitary might break the prisoner… I fell asleep many times after hearing another human screaming mad, insane,lost the plot, crazy screams…..abruptly cut to nothing. Silence. I always hoped those voices would regain their sanity…but didnt dwell on the thought, I had to maintain my own… I had to. KOSUGE. !!!!!!!
    Have your fun pretenders…. I am sad to confess I was in that desperate and massive house of abject misery.
    I HAVE NOT RE-OFFENDED a fucking grasshopper or its rules.

  4. John,

    I think that’s the point of many of our comments. You call us wankers. How about calling YOURSELF a wanker for doing something stupid and getting arrested? Tell me, was it worth it? It sounds like it wasn’t.

    Sounds like you’re the leader of the wanker pack, dude. Glad to hear you won’t re-offend. Now you can (almost) join the ranks of us who never offended in the first place.

  5. John,

    At least you had fifteen minutes outside for exercise. Luxury! Bastards kept me locked up (solitary and incommunicado) in cell so small I could hardly walk when they finally deigned to release me. Seriously. More:

    What John says about the bumps in the night is true. More:

    Doing time in Japan, however short, is no “pikkunikku”, let me tell you. It might not be as bad as in some places–my family’s driver did 3 years chained to a wall in a Syrian prison–but then again, there aren’t many “developed” countries where a person can be thrown in jail just because they smellt fishy and then kept locked up without legal representation until they confessed to a crime they didn’t commit. There’s a 99% conviction rate in J-land for those indicted; their confession under duress often the sole piece of evidence. It’s a flawed system with a criminally indifferent judiciary. More:

    That said, punishment in Japan is surprisingly light: Suspended sentences are the norm.

    Baby’s crying. Gotta go. Peace!

  6. Aonghas,

    Question; it says on your page in Japanese after the jail comments that the work is fiction. I’m confused — did you actually spend time in jail or not?

    Just askin’

  7. First ..John..your earlier post about everyone being wankers..let me say..I bet your post is BS to start with to be frank..regardless Get a life john and stay off the post here if you have nothing decent to contribute..please!!!!!!!!!.

    Another recent experience..a friend of mine recently was driving and was surrounded by a loser ( J-guy in this case) whom was a “bosozoku” or otherwise motorcycle bum or loser kicking up hell..the guy hit my friends car of the highway with a chain..yes..seriously..he was a real bum on a bike kicking up merry hell because he could get away with friend..driving a porsche..raced off but only after the guy got in front and started burning in sinwave curves across the my friend overtook the guy suddenly sinwaved in front and he nicked the bike at 50km/hr I note and the guy fell friend was in the right..phoned the cops.ambulance..the guy on the bike was a known bike hell raiser/gangster known to the cops and drunk..but my mate had to spend 11 nights in jail because he had done “wrong” . Note the guy was banged up pretty bad..but claimed he was attacked by my mate..the cops did not believe him..but claimed the “law protects the weak” so had to get the gaijin driver..later my friend got out..visited hospital . saw the guy..cheered him up..he had 2 broken legs..broken ribs etc..lucky to be alive..but his own silly fault.After many sick jokes, bringing grapes,giving gifts of cash up to 1.5 million jpy and many apologies the J gangster dropped charges (much against the police wishes..yes the cops hate and want to punish gaijins..especially wealthy ones..the cops in Japan by majority are nasty losers..) and the case was dropped. My friend, a fluent J speaker left the country and headed to HK as soon as he got his passport back..the J cops still wanted to have him up for up to 3 yrs prision term for abusive driving and were trying to get the case revisited..these cops are real bad boys…..My friend was stunned..he did nothing wrong and was 100% the end the cops even tried to get the biker to not drop story is..these guys are dangerous, racial and very not cross them!! If you do something silly just drive on!!

  8. It is not fiction. Only the names have been changed. (First time for me to take a look at comments in more than a year!!)

  9. What a thoroughly backwards country Japan is..

    And John, big man in the big house, doesn’t make you a gangster in Japan, just another outside person not playing by the absurd rules of this godforsaken country..

  10. Great informative story

    Remember you NEVER want to get into ANY trouble when visiting another country, you may think america is free but they can throw u into a rusty jailcell and keep u for months like that if they think you are doing something illegal in that country

  11. Ummmm… I think the people saying everyone’s missing the point and the point is ‘George’ was being an idiot are the ones actually missing the point….
    It doesn’t matter whether or not ‘George’ did anything wrong himself, which he admits he did. The point -is- how an advanced society like Japan has such a horrible system in place. With the way this is all set up, someone COMPLETELY innocent can be put in jail for 23 days without even a charge presented to them. And that lawyer that doesn’t speak english… So many human rights being broken, I don’t even!
    And the people who say he ‘deserved it anyway’ really tick me off. That’s not how the legal system is supposed to work! Even a murderer deserves fair legal representation because he’s not legally a murderer until he’s proven as one: Innocent until proven guilty! The law must protect -everyone- equally until they are -proven- guilty! That’s how civilized countries are -supposed- to do it.

  12. What a fucking moron, deserves everything he got, he could have killed that man, being drunk is no excuse, fucking idiot.

  13. Akin, tensigh, etc- you’re fucking retards. You’re like those Muslims who blame women for getting raped. Japan’s system is bullshit. It is a case of guilty until proven … guilty but sorry. If you’re a foreigner who has done nothing wrong but a jap accuses you of something – you will spend 10 days in jail. ESPECIALLY if you’re innocent. Because if you’re guilty maybe you’ll apologize and pay the bribe right away. But if you’re innocent you’ll argue against the charge and they’ll lock you up for 10+ days while they investigate your case. Japanese people are a bunch of racist, xenophobic cunts and their country will continue it’s downward spiral because of their close-minded, bullshit ways. Fuck japan and good riddance.

  14. I hate it when foreigners complain about the japanese and the way they do some things. It obviously works because there isn’t a lot or hardly ANY crime there. Being drunk is no excuse for doing bad things, I can get really drunk and STILL HAVE COMMON SENSE. It’s amazing how stupid people get when drinking and get so damn violent.. Look at the american prison system you think that’s working? They treat them to tv’s and allow gangs to be gangs in their prisons. It’s a joke..

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  16. I think what he did is in a way commendable, but in a way very unwise.
    Regarding the “punishment”; in every country the Police has some leeway, and it can be perceived as a form of “power to punish”. Although technically this is an abuse of power, it’s like this everywhere (to some degree) and there’s not much the general population can do about it (I think), except expecting the worst and be psychologically prepared for it.

  17. fortcher, i hope the japanese always group you with the rest of the crazy gaijin, especially with that holier than thou and judgmental attitude.

  18. That George is an asshole and deserved it. I can’t imagine myself doing even 1/10 of what he did. Don’t you know you’re not in your country you dick ? It’s because of assholes like you we foreigners have such a bad reputation.

  19. Yeah jail in Japan ain’t so bad. I’m surprised that some guys report getting bail, because the usual for a foreigner is to be held completely incommunicado for the full 23.
    First, if you are not guilty and speak Japanese, get a good lawyer and not a ‘bilingual’ one suggested by your embassy.
    Second, fight back in fluent Japanese if you speak it during questioning. The most they can do is act foolishly and put visible marks on you. You won’t die, so just tough it out and fight back if they are man enough to take off your cuffs. If they don’t, just take the punches.
    Third, always agree to read the ‘statements’ that they put before you, but never sign them. Do that for about a week while waiting for your lawyer and embassy rep.
    Fourth, as you are into your second week, say sincerely that you would like to write your own statement of what happened. You can sign that if you want so long as it is far from a confession, but best to say you want to have it translated and see both copies. That will take you into the end of week two and into week three.
    Then they present you with two copies, that will be nothing like what you wrote. Refuse to sign both and slide into day 23 if you are innocent.
    You might get beaten a few times by the cops, but the jailers and fellow ‘lads’ in the jail won’t be all that bad. With the exception of no bail and no ability to flee, I think overall it is not all that bad.
    The exception is if you really think you are guilty of something, then just plead it. You won’t get out otherwise, and the Japanese will allow foreigners to plead whereas Japanese nationals have to serve at least minimum terms.

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