A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Foreigners NOT WELCOMED in Minami Nagareyama! Non-Japanese are Stopped on the street, Questioned and Asked to Provide ID and Phone Number by Local Police


The KOBAN (police box) in front of the Minami Nagareyama Station

By Avi Landau


The policemen at the Minami-Nagareyama Koban ( police box) just outside the TX and Musashino-Line Stations do their best to give  directions, help people get their lost objects found, and most importantly, enforce the law and maintain order and peace.

It seems that there is one officer in particular stationed there who is especially vigilant- or should I say zealous- in carrying out his duty of serving and protecting the public. This veteran of the force, is also very alert and extremely sharp.

I realize this about him, since despite the fact that I am no taller than the average citizen of this country and was wearing a cap over my clean-shaven head ( which means no brown hairs), he was able to notice, in the second or two that it took me to pass by his quaint, white-washed office, that my nose and eyes were slightly different from those of the rest of the people around me.

That was enough to alert him to danger and set him into immediate action.

He approached me as I was standing in front of  the convenience store next to his koban. I was contemplating going in and getting something to drink- as soon as I had finished the piece of cheese bread ( my lunch) that I was munching on.

Assuming that I could not understand Japanese, he used the thumbs and forefingers of both hands ( despite the fact that he was holding a clipboard) to form a small rectangle (indicating an ID), and asked me to show him my Alien Registration Card, using the expression KA-DO misete kudasai ( Please show me your card).

I have to admit that I was caught a bit off-guard. Not only was this because I had never been confronted in this way before in Japan, but also because I was holding my cheese bread in one hand and my jacket in the other, while my mouth was full.

Nodding “SURE” with my head, and going into a fast-chew-quick swallow- mode, I flailed my arms in a flustered way trying to indicate that first I would have to get rid of my bread and put down my jacket.

He eyed me suspiciously, yet patiently and politely.

Fumbling for my wallet, swollen with unneeded receipts, myriad meishi ( name cards) and various membership cards, I shuffled through the lot trying to find my Alien Registration Card. I muttered an embarrassed yet polite chotto matte kudasai ( just a moment),while he responded with a sympathetic: “You`ve got a lot of cards there”.

With a feeling of relief I found what he wanted to see and handed it to him. And since everything was in order, I was confident that that would be it, after he had checked my status validity.

But that was NOT it. Instead of just handing me back my card, he started to write down my personal details on his clipboard.

Then he started questioning me. ” What are you doing around here?” Where are you going?” “What do you do for a living?”

If you (dear readers) had been looking at me, you would surely would not failed to have seen my jaw drop and eyes open in disbelief.

I thought about saying something sarcastic or refusing to answer, but KNEW that the best thing to do was cooperate. I have heard that it was possible that things could get much worse if the officer felt I was ressisting.

I told him why I was there. I had to be at Minami Koshigaya Station at 2, and the only way to get there using the TX Line would be to change trains at Minami Nagareyama. And since it was lunch time and I was early, I thought I could have a look around the neighborhood, one which I had never visited before. I also told him that I was going to Koshigaya to  record the narration for a DVD detailing a new neurosurgical technique, using a text which I had translated.

I took the original Japanese manuscript for this text out of my bag and showed it to him. He seemed very impressed with my Japanese ability, but that did not stop him from questioning me further, and writing down everything I said.

To top it all off, he asked me if I had a cell-phone. When I told him I did, he asked me to give him my number !

My eyes nearly popped out of my head in disbelief ! Still, I complied. When I finished giving him my number, though,I told him that he could check the number I gave him, by calling me from his cell phone, which to my amazement he did! So now I have his number,too!

When he was finished with his questions and seemed to be satisfied that I would not be a danger to the public ( at least for that moment), he told me that he thought all the foreigners had gone back home after the earthquake and nuclear accident ( so I guess he was disappointed- or perhaps excited!- to find one still in Japan). He also said that there were many bad foreigners in Japan ( but I thought he had said that all the foreigners were gone!), and that I should cooperate with the police.

When I asked him if all foreigners are checked and questioned at Minami Nagareyama, he proudly responded- “when I`m on duty, they are “!

Read more about what you should do ( cooperate!) if you are stopped for no reason by the Japanese police here:


And no. I will not be going back to Minami Nagaryama, any time very soon.


  • Hanamizuki says:

    Maybe the police are worried about terrorism after the death of Bin Laden. Sorry for your experience.

  • sue says:

    On the lighter side, I went to the bakery I often frequent for lunch the other day. Since I work in the governmental district of Tokyo, there are usually a lot of foreigners out and about. These days, however, I have noticed there are not as many expats on the street as before. It used to be that we would see the nursery school baby carriages going by with about six youngsters of varying international hues.
    To make a long story short, when I went in to the bakery to get my lunch, the chef came out to talk to me. He was so happy to see that I was still in Japan and explained how he had lost so many customers in the foreign exodus out of Japan. He was so thrilled that I was staying on that he loaded me with an extra loaf of bread and various of the ‘kashi-pan`, dessert style breads. My family was quite happy with me when I came home later that evening bearing his gifts.

  • Avi Landau says:

    You are not going to believe this, but on the very next day after having been questioned by the police in Minami-Nagareyama (Chiba Prefecture), I was stopped and questioned AGAIN, in the same manner, in Narita City (Chiba Prefecture). Maybe its part of a new prefectural policy. And since this happened just BEFORE the news of Bin Ladin`s death, there was probably no connection between what happened to me and new terror alerts. So now I guess, the police have even more of an excuse for stopping non-Japanese.
    Anyway, as you can imagine, Im feeling a bit paranoid now and dont want to step outside of Tsukuba!

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    Avi-san’s case attracted my interest and reminded of some historical events. On September First 1923 Japan, and especially the Kanto Area experienced a big earthquake called the Great Kanto Earthquake which resulted in the loss of more than 105 thousand lives, mostly by fire.

    After the earthquake false rumors arose that some Korean people (at the time they had Japanese nationality) were said to riot or poison wells, and there were around 200 who were caught and killed by vigilante groups.
    Also some anarchists were arrested by the army-military-police or the special-police and were killed. A famous person killed was Ohsugi Sakae, later the captain of the military police whose name Amakasu was arrested, court-martialed and had been sentenced ten-years penal servitude, ( he served three years) he became a civilian fixer for set-up of the Manchurian Empire 10 years later in 1931. It was the beginning of Japan`s road to to WW2. (There was no relation between the earthquake and the war.)

    Anyway with the recent big earthquake and the ongoing nuclear problem at the Fukushima nuclear plant, and the on going war against Terror it is not so strange that some police officers possibly became sensitive about foreign terrorists. He might had been watched such TV movies as “24”.
    Not only him but most Japanese thought almost all foreigner run away from Japan and almost no tourists are visiting Japan, especially the eastern part of Japan now (Embassies of Many countries suggesting not to have travels in North-East Japan).

    As you know there is Japanese law “Law about duty enforcement by police officers”, by this they can stop and make questions to any person whom he thinks strange, even to a very gentle looking person or infant.

    When I was a college student, first year in 1961, I went to join a demonstration against the amendment of that law to be strengthened someway which I don’t remember, that was the first and the last I joined demonstration because I became to know that joining demonstration tend to make people part of a mob psychology.

    After 9/11 and 3/11 something has changed. We have to expect that public security will become tighter after Bin Ladin’s assassination by Executive Order. It is a pity aspect for me living 21 century afraid of Radiation and Ladinaton.

  • Erizabesu says:

    Wow, I had such a different experience recently. When I arrived at Narita Airport in the first week of April, I was waiting for a bus and took a seat inside arrivals area. A policeman was carefully approaching every foreign-looking person, asking for their foreign registration cards and noting details. The cop specifically asked if I was a tourist or resident. I thanked him for his vigillance and for checking on all non-Japanese arriving, and that I was glad to be checked.

    I don’t see the police as villains necessarily. I’ve been approached and helped by police in other countries before (and got a free ride to my hotel from Edinburgh police who offered, but did not order, me into their patrol car!).

  • Justin says:

    By the way, police in Japan are not allowed to stop you for no reason. They require “suspicious activity” in order to stop someone. I’ve confirmed this with 2 former public prosecutors and a private attorney. Next time you’re stopped, demand a reason. If he won’t give you one, file a complaint and ask for the reason why you were stopped. As a free person in a free country, don’t you think you deserve a reason for being stopped by the police?

    • Louis says:

      Ahh yes, but Justin, you forget that wanting to know the reason for being stopped is, itself, suspicious enough to justify being stopped. Or at least, that’s how they’ll play it…