Stopped by Officers in Japan? What Visitors and Residents Need to Know

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A foreign resident was stopped by police while riding his bicycle in Japan. According to the resident, he crossed the street on his bike when the pedestrian walking signal was green, but the traffic light was red.

A police officer on a bicycle stopped the resident and said he had violated a traffic rule by crossing while the light was red. The resident tried to explain that the pedestrian signal was green, but the officer stated that bicycles have to follow car traffic rules.

The officer then requested to see the resident’s zairyu card (alien registration card). When questioned why, the officer said it is required to carry ID in Japan. The resident accused the officer of discrimination based on their appearance. More officers eventually arrived, surrounding the resident. There was confusion between the officers over which lanes bicycles can legally use.

The resident repeatedly accused police of unfairly targeting them due to looking foreign. After some time, the resident complied and showed their zairyu card, then was allowed to leave. No citations were issued.

For foreign residents and visitors stopped by police in Japan, it is advisable to comply with officer requests even if they seem unreasonable. Arguing rarely goes in one’s favor, while cooperation allows you to be on your way faster.

Discrimination can happen but is not the norm. Have your alien registration or zairyu card available, as police can request it. Although frustrating, staying polite and following orders defuses the situation. Refusing police carries more severe risks here than in some countries.

While knowing your rights is important, in Japan the smoothest resolution is usually to comply then carry on with your day. Choose wisely when to make a stand. Like this commenter said, “You’re also not going to get killed by police here.”

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