The Cruelty of Japan

There’s a horrible story going around about a Canadian residing in Japan. When returning home (home in Japan that is) after a short visit abroad, he was detained at Narita Airport, allegedly treated very harshly, and finally forced to return to Canada.

I’m glad the article doesn’t accuse Japan of racism. If the story is true, and having lived here 23 years I suspect it is, it points to a different problem which I believe is pervasive in this country: cruelty.

Japanese people can be extremely cruel to one another.

Compare what happened to the Canadian reporter at Narita Airport to the story depicted in the Japanese movie “I Just Didn’t Do It” by director Masayuki Suo.  In this film, based on a true story, a young man is falsely accused of molesting a high school girl on a crowded train. The young man is arrested and questioned.

While the camera moves through the police station, we witness the questioning of a (presumaby guilty) molester, a suited businessman who caves in and apologizes immediately, signs a confession and pays his young victim 50,000 yen (about 450 dollars in 2007). The entire incident ends by only slightly embarrassing the perpetrator.

On the other hand, the innocent young man is bullied by his interrogators and warned that things will go very badly for him. Yet, he stubbornly refuses to confess to a crime he did not commit. He is no hero, he is not noble, he’s just an ordinary kid who won’t say he did something he knows he did not do. The system eventually finds him guilty.

In the meantime, his treatment in custody is not so different from how the Canadian reporter claims to have been treated at Narita Airport. The young man was interrogated at all hours for 23 days without any legal representation. His first lawyer urged him to confess because he had no idea what lay ahead, guards were incredibly rude and coercive. They were also corrupt charging 1500 yen (12 dollars) for a cup of bad coffee, money which they are allowed to pocket.

If you play along with the system, things won’t go too badly for you. If you don’t follow the rules, including the unspoken rule of playing along, then things can go very badly for you indeed.

When Japanese officials treat a foreigner harshly they are not being racist, they are in fact treating him like a real person. The problem is that Japanese officials can often treat real people very very badly.

Copyright 2012, Vincent Poirier

Explore posts in the same categories: Japan, Opinion

One Comment on “The Cruelty of Japan”


  1. [...] wrote earlier about how cruelly Japanese people can treat each other. The prison system is harsh, but it is fair. Japan has no Club Fed. Even a high level aristocratic [...]


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