On April 18, my friend and fellow Singaporean, Joyce Tok Mui Ling, and I were outside Shinjuku station, specifically right outside the Toei-Oedo line entrance (where the train ticket gantries are), around 11:30 p.m., when we were stopped by two Japanese men, dressed both in blue shirts who flashed a badge at us that said "Police" and who repeatedly said "Passport" to us.
Doubting the authenticity of these supposedly plainclothes "Police," we tried to ask them if they spoke English and we tried to walk to the nearby train control station which was about 10 steps away from where we standing to ensure that these suspicious men were not posing as officers.
As we took a step away, one of these "officers" grabbed my friend by the arm and tried to walk her away. She tried to get him to take his hands off and so did I. We repeatedly told them to take their hands off her, and when I tried to take the man's hands off my friend, the other "officer" grabbed me and tried to lead me away.
Feeling quite threatened at this point, I started shouting at them to let go, and there was a mild tussle between us, as we had to repeatedly get them to let go of both of us. We literally had to drag and shout ourselves over to the station control where I asked the station control officer whether they spoke English and whether they could help us because these two men were trying to grab us.
The station officer looked confused and the two "police officers" started their spew of Japanese at us. One of the "police officers" once again grabbed me by both hands and tried to drag me into the station control room and I physically refused and asked them for the umpteenth time what they wanted. They kept asking for "Passport" and when i asked WHY, they simply repeated clearly the only English word they knew -- "Passport."
I asked one of the "police officers" to get on the phone and get someone who DOES speak the English language to speak to me, at which point my friend said just show them the passport. I then opened my bag and showed them my passport while asking them "Do you read English? My passport is in English, if you can't even read it, why are you bothering to look at it?"
One of the "police officers" saw my passport, then asked me for my visa. I informed him that as a Singaporean, I did not need a visa to enter Japan. All of a sudden, their attitudes changed and I heard one word I did understand -- "Arigato."
The ridiculousness of the situation really hit me; these men who just man-handled us, were thanking us?? And before I could ask them for their police badges again to note their numbers down, they disappeared. My friend did catch the name of one officer: "Yamashita."
We have no idea even now what the whole incident was about. We would like to know and more importantly, we would really like some form of apology for the way we were physically handled. This incident was extremely disturbing and I cannot believe that the Japanese police acted so aggressively, like thugs in such a public area, without any ability whatsoever to explain themselves.
It has marred the image of Japan for both of us, and for all I read about the polite and courteous culture of Japanese, we are now left to wonder if that only applies to non-governmental situations.
A few burning questions that arose from this incident:
1) Are these police officers authorized to request our passports as they wish? 2) Under what circumstances can these officers exercise this authority? 3) Without any resistance in any way from us, other than just asking why they require our passports and trying to walk to the station control, where we feel safer, are they allowed to use physical restraint? 4) Are these male officers allowed to use physical restraint on females like us? Should they not have waited for a female officer? 5) In such a predominantly tourist area like Shinjuku, where these officers are checking for foreign passports, should they not have received some form of language training so that they can explain why they need to see my passport? I do not believe that expecting them to be achieve a basic level of communication skills in the English language which is spoken in most of the rest of the world is unreasonable in anyway. What kind of training DO these officers receive? 6) What in the world did my friend and I do that warranted the passport check and the physical restraint?
Editor's note: This commentary was submitted by the writer. Japan Today contacted the Shinjuku police but a spokesperson declined to comment on the incident.© Japan Today