First of all, we would like to thank all the parents who attended Open House last Friday, during which we had an open and honest conversation about some of the issues we face at school and at home. We discussed how we can work together to ensure our kids are safe and making informed decisions. The information below about the laws in Japan as they pertain to our students was provided at that meeting. Please look it over and discuss it with your son or daughter. Some amendments and revisions have made to the original document.

  1. People can be charged as criminals from the age of fourteen. This means that if you are over fourteen and are caught for a crime, you will be treated similarly to an adult, even if you are under eighteen.
  2. From the age of sixteen, foreigners living in Japan must carry a resident card at all times. If you do not have a card, it is wise to have your passport or a copy of the photo page of your passport with you when in public.
  3. Japanese law states that there is a curfew for children under the age of eighteen between 11pm-4am. If you are younger than eighteen and out during these hours you are in violation of this law, and can be held for questioning by the police.
  4. The possession and/or distribution of drugs is treated very seriously. For non-Japanese nationals it can mean deportation (being forced to leave the country). It could mean that you will never be allowed back into Japan. If you are a Japanese national, it will most likely mean jail time.
  5. Shoplifting is a serious crime in Japan. Whether or not jail time is served depends on how cooperative the suspect is during the investigation and the whims of the arresting officer. If a suspect is caught for shoplifting, but then attempts to push his or her way out of the store to escape, the “pushing” counts as violence, so the charge is upgraded to assault and robbery. A few years ago, an Australian university student went to a karaoke box and tried to leave without paying. A staff member there blocked his exit. The Australian pushed the staff member out of the way and knocked him down. The Australian was later caught and was sentenced to eleven years for assault and robbery, and is still in prison despite the Australian government’s best effort to bring him home.
  6. Japanese police can hold suspects for up to 23 days (with a ten-day extension with a judge’s approval) without contact with the outside world, although people under twenty are usually allowed to call their parents. State-approved lawyers aren’t provided until the charge is formally given, which is usually at the end of the investigation and when guilt is already established.
  7. Innocent until proven guilty doesn’t apply here. It’s guilty until proven innocent. The conviction rate in Japan is 99%, the highest in the world.
  8. Police have the right to search you on the street without a warrant or even a stated reason. In areas like Shibuya, Roppongi, and Shinjuku teams of police officers armed with video cameras are often seen searching young people’s backpacks.
  9. Underage drinking is usually dealt with with a formal reprimand, but the use of fake ID’s for the purpose of drinking is more serious. Using other people’s real ID’s counts as identity theft, and creating fake ID’s has even greater legal implications.
  10. The chief inspector in charge of any criminal investigation has the same power as a judge. It is very rare for an inspector’s judgement to be later overturned by a judge (less than 1% of the time). This means that one individual is in a sense the judge and jury, and can decide your fate.
  11. When one person is suspected of a crime, Japanese law enforcement has the right to confiscate phones and to retrieve relevant information from phone companies. You have essentially zero right to privacy under Japanese law.
  12. When one person is arrested for drug possession, all of that person’s contacts are considered “marked” and put on a watch list. This means that if you get in trouble with the law, you are also putting your friends and family at risk.

If you are ever in trouble with the law, be cooperative, but wait for your parents to arrive before speaking about the allegation. If your Japanese isn’t fluent, don’t speak any Japanese at all because you might inadvertently confess to something you didn’t do. Cooperativeness and kindness gets you far in this country. Acting belligerent or rebellious when talking to Police is never a good idea.

Other Dangers
In places like Roppongi, it is not uncommon for date rape drugs to be slipped into people’s drinks by the staff working at bars and clubs. In fact, the US embassy sends out periodic warnings about such clubs because so many Americans have reported waking up on the streets with their wallets stolen (or worse) and no memory of what happened to them after their first drink at such a club. Young, affluent teens with fake ID’s are the easiest and best targets because such teens are unlikely to report such incidences to the police.

Also, young, attractive, English-speaking Japanese and foreigners are at times paid for by Japanese law enforcement to act as undercover agents to entice young people to engage in illegal activity for which they are later arrested.

The low body weight and relative inexperience with alcohol makes drinking teens more likely to have accidents on train station platforms or on streets. Prescription drugs that affect balance or awareness put young people at danger to car, bicycle, and train accidents.

Final Considerations
Remember that groups of international students speaking English tend to attract a lot of attention, whether from shop owners, the police, or predators.

Underestimating the intelligence of everyone around you is the dumbest mistake you can make. Thinking that laws don’t apply to you simply because you don’t understand them is also foolhardy. For your own protection, if not simply for the sake of being good people, behave responsibly, politely, and in accordance with Japanese law and customs. There’s more at stake for you, your friends, and your family than you may realize.

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