Michael Q Todd cites rights abuses during his 53-day detention in Japan

After 53 days in jail without charge, New Zealand-born lawyer Michael Q Todd accuses Japanese police and officials of mistreatment. 

Updated Nov. 15 with reports from the United Nations Human Rights Council urging Japan to improve its treatment of foreigners and detainees.

Michael Q. Todd, a former lawyer who says he helped many Japanese settle in New Zealand, considers himself an “ideal citizen” of Japan and a popular “Japologist” who often teaches newcomers how to adapt to Japanese culture.

His friends describe him as a passionate and charming “dreamer” whose attitude is: I love Japan, everybody knows I love Japan (including my 5000 friends on Facebook and 73,000 followers on twitter), and I’m trying to help Japan.

A world traveler who once cycled across Asia and Europe, Todd also loves dolphins. So, as Todd later explained in videos filmed in jail, he went to the western Japan town of Taiji to be a volunteer interpreter and a “bridge” between Japanese dolphin hunters and groups of international animal rights activists, a conflict which draws dozens of police to the area. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151151009098710

At around 11 am on Sunday, September 16, Todd was walking with his partner Yoriko in an area known for a heavy presence of stern-looking police officers. Todd noticed a quirky sign, in front of a police car, saying in Japanese and English: “Keep out except persons related. No photography.” It was signed by the Taiji Fisherman’s Cooperative.

“I took a photo of a sign that said, ‘Do not take photos’,” Todd said in a letter to his supporters dictated on October 3 while he was detained in Osaka. ”I was immediately approached by a plain clothes police officer. He told me not to take photos. I told him it was a public place and I can do what I like.”

“I then walked around the corner and two people dressed in SSCS clothing were taking photos. I took another photo of the boat unloading dead dolphins into the butcher house. We were then approached by two plain clothes police and I was asked for my passport or Zairyu card (new foreigner’s registration card).”

“I showed him my Foreign Registration Card (older version AND still being used during multi-year cross over time till July 2015). I was told it was out of date and that I needed a Zairyu card.”

(Todd later quipped on instagram: “Got arrested for taking this photo LMAO.” http://instagram.com/p/Pnx0XHqqHl/)

The police officers perhaps didn’t share his casual Kiwi sense of humor, or his carefree approach to enjoying life in Japan. They arrested him, and drove Todd and his partner to a police station with holding cells.

From there, says Todd, the “xenophobic nightmare” began. He tells a story of 24 hours without food, “staring at walls for four days”, 11 days without sunlight, 53 days in jail without charge, “40 bureaucratic mistakes”, at least 15 lies by authorities, “flagrant rights abuses”, a tearful Japanese lover put through hell, an online smear campaign against him, and requests from several foreigners in Japan wondering if they are safe from allegedly overzealous, incompetent, and racist police and immigration officers. 

“Police were treating me with willful abandon about any rights I might have. They simply didn’t care,” says Todd, 50, in his first interview since being released last week. “They say ‘You’ve done nothing wrong’ but they still don’t let you go, because ‘you’re still part of our process’. I had no idea it was this bad in Japan. It’s like you put your hand up and give away all your human rights when you enter this country.” 

Japan’s Justice Ministry and police agencies typically do not comment on individual cases, and they often restrict media access to detainees, detention centers, and police and immigration officers on the front lines of applying Japan’s archaic and contradictory policies. Due to language barriers and gag orders on civil servants, frontline officials have rarely been able to tell their side of a complex story, which dates back to Japan’s isolation and wartime ordeals. While their actions might seem harsh or disproportionate, immigration and police officers in any country are often privy to confidential information about alleged networks of troublemakers or cyber criminals using multiple sock-puppet accounts to defraud, harass, or slander people.


Todd, a self-styled “social media guru”, has told his side of the story on several platforms across social media. “You can imagine the horror of being taken away from my friends and work on social media for 53 days,” he says in an interview. “I’m an ideal citizen, and they can do this even to me. I’m part of an aid project helping tsunami disaster victims. I’m on a committee of the JET program alumni association. I spoke in Yokohama to the new JET teachers about how to adjust here. The Education Ministry had just asked me to write a piece for them about my experiences in Japan. Then they turn around and treat me like this.”

Todd says that police in Taiji, in Wakayama prefecture near Osaka, perhaps made a mistake in arresting him because they are used to seeing foreign protesters show their passports, not residency permits or alien registration cards, since many protesters are on 90-day visitor’s visas and wouldn’t have alien registration cards.

Todd says he told them that he has been living in Japan for at least 11 out of the past 20 years, and has two Japanese daughters, ages 9 and 13, living with former wives in Tokyo and Kobe. He says his fiancee Yoriko, who has a PhD from a university in Texas, showed them her business card, saying she’s employed at one of Japan’s largest pharmaceutical makers.

That could have solved the problem, Todd says, since Yoriko was in a position to vouch for him, and he wasn’t accused of any serious crime that would have made him a risk to public safety.

But Todd says that police didn’t listen to them, and forced them into a police car, where they were separated and told to shut up. “They wouldn’t even let me eat the banana in my bag.” At Shingu police station, Todd says he was interrogated in Japanese for five hours, and wasn’t allowed to eat until the next day. He wasn’t allowed to use his cell phone, call lawyers or embassy officials, or to speak with his fiancee, who was separately interrogated for 5 hours, asked embarrassing questions about their relationship and their finances, and released that day to return on her own to Yokohama in tears, without being able to speak with Todd or knowing anything about his fate.

Todd says he was held without charge in a windowless police cell for 11 days, where officers at times denied his requests for food, water, sunlight, medication and calls to lawyers and friends. He says he was denied access to a lawyer prior to meeting the judge who extended his incarceration. When Todd asked the Judge what law he was being charged with, the Judge simply said “Mo ii desu” – I have heard enough of you.

“I wasn’t allowed to write, read, nothing. It was like I had murdered somebody. I didn’t get a chance to talk to anybody until my fiancee visited me for 15 minutes on Day 9. Even the cops guarding me wouldn’t talk to me. It’s a rule. They can’t talk.”


(photo of Wakayama by Michael Q Todd / Creative Commons)

Todd’s detailed account, which cannot be independently verified, echoes reports by Amnesty International, local aid groups, and several detainees. Rights activists have cited examples of immigration officers knocking on doors and taking startled foreigners — often from China, the Philippines and other Asian nations — away from Japanese spouses and locking them up for months or years in a so-called “Gaijin Gulag” of detention centers.

Activists say Todd’s case is the latest in an ongoing crackdown against foreigners accused of crimes and overstaying their visas. Japan’s detention and deportation of more than 100,000 foreigners since 2005, according to Justice Ministry figures, has alarmed many expatriates in Japan, including an estimated 50,000 Americans, who have posted thousands of comments in the past year on web forums.

Japan’s National Police Agency said in February that they arrested 10,061 foreigners in 2011, including 4696 on visa issues. Japan’s Immigration Bureau said 1064 foreigners were detained in Japan as of November 2011. Local media reported that Japanese jails held another 3,786 foreign convicts in 2010, compared with about 100 in the 1980s. With a greying population expected to shrink, Japan accepted only 21 refugees out of a record-high 1867 applicants in 2011, mainly from Myanmar, Nepal and Turkey, the Justice Ministry said in February.

At a recent meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, several nations urged Japan to enact anti-discrimination laws, set up an independent human rights commission, and reform its system of detention. While a 30-member Japanese delegation promised reforms, they also defended their police tactics and detention and deportation policies, saying Japan “has been making continuous efforts to improve its domestic human rights situation.”


In reality, the testimonies of Todd and many other detainees indicate a gap between Japan’s promises of reforms and actual practices on the ground.

In his case, Todd says the officers provided no interpreter, and repeatedly accused him in Japanese of “overstaying.” He says they eventually got a fax from Tokyo saying his 90-day visitor’s visa had expired, but the fax didn’t say he had an application pending, or that he previously held, over a 20-year period, several work permits and a spousal visa for Japan. “I told them ‘I’m waiting for the extension I’ve applied for. Please call the immigration office. I have permission to be here under their rules. But they said ‘You’ve been lying to us. You’re an overstayer.” 

Todd says an officer later apologized to him. “Mr. Todd, I’m very sorry I arrested you. If I had seen this fax saying you had an application pending, I wouldn’t have arrested you. But now that I’ve arrested you, a procedure has to start.”

After the first week in detention, Todd says they showed him the law and said: “You are right. You are allowed to carry an alien card or a passport. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

However, Todd says the initial arresting officer, instead of releasing him, handed him off to a “rookie” who was learning to type out forms. “He interrogated me for 12 hours a day, all in Japanese without an interpreter. They used me as a guinea pig to train this guy for six days, as if I wouldn’t mind. They want to create employment for themselves. If they have nobody in jail, they lose their funding, lose their jobs. They asked for my shoe size, brother’s address in New Zealand, and about my father. I said, “He’s dead.” They said: ‘We’re trying to build a personality profile’.”

Todd says that the arresting officer, an assistant inspector who spoke only in Japanese with Todd at first, later admitted he was fluent in English, and trained with Interpol.

“They asked me about my work with Greenpeace in 1996. They had this on their computer,” Todd says. “They asked me ‘Were you one of the applicants to have a protest in Japan in 1999? Why did you go see the movie The Cove in 2009, and push through a police line to talk to journalists? What is your interest in dolphins? Well, we know a lot of stuff about you’.”

Later, another officer apologized to him. “It’s clear you’ve done nothing wrong. Obviously, we’re going to let you go. But first, we’ll take you in a car to the Osaka detention center. They want to interview you.”

Todd was then transferred and spent 42 days in an Osaka detention center, part of a controversial network of secretive prisons for foreigners accused of visa violations. He says officials in Osaka didn’t bother to sort out his case with immigration officials in Tokyo, who knew about his previous visas, stolen passport, current visitor visa, onward ticket out of Japan, and impending marriage. “I would have to get a gun and hold up a convenience store in order to get 2 months in jail in New Zealand, and I’d be out on bail an hour after committing the offense,” he says. “In Japan, police can hold you 11 days without charge, plus another 11. You are guilty until proven innocent. It’s a system from 80 years ago. Now, with email and phones, they should be able to do an investigation in 2 or 3 days.”

While in jail, he says he documented the cases of 40 prisoners from several countries. He saw an Iranian detainee urinate throughout their room to protest squalid conditions, and witnessed eight immigration officials wrestle down a man from Congo brought to the Osaka detention center. He says a Nigerian, whose family was killed during clashes with Muslims, was put in a cell with Muslims. He says a large number of foreign women, including Asian sex workers, were being held on a floor below his.

He says several immigration officers interrogated him during his ordeal over 42 days in Osaka. They refused to look at the detailed police investigation, which would have answered their questions. “They ask all the same questions again. You are constantly going back to square one,” he says. “All the questions were about money, when asking about our impending marriage. They don’t care about love.”

Todd also questioned why he was held in Osaka not Tokyo. “The Tokyo and Osaka offices did not seem to communicate with each other. If I had been in Tokyo I would have got the chance to ask questions of the two case officers that had dealt with me there.”

On a Saturday, he asked to see a doctor about his high blood pressure due to stress. “It was up to 151. That’s 30 over my normal rate. They said I couldn’t see a doctor until Monday morning. I told them ‘I could die in here, have a heart attack, and you can’t even open the door to let people out.” Todd says 45 hours passed before they even tested him on a cardiogram. “People are dying in Japanese jails all the time.”

Todd says a senior immigration officer, who felt sorry for him, told him: “Why didn’t you ask for bail on day one? You could have been free a long time ago.”

During Todd’s time in jail, Taiji police out of uniform went to Yoriko’s home in Yokohama, and without showing a warrant or court order, “interrogated” her and her parents for two hours, Todd says. “They took a photo of her crying, put it on the file, and searched the place, like I was a terrorist, all because I wasn’t carrying a passport,” says Todd. “It doesn’t help my relationship with the in-laws. What a disaster. They kept telling her ‘He’s a criminal. Why are you with this guy. He’ll be kicked out of Japan, he can’t come back’.”

After Yoriko took time from work to travel to Osaka to show statements from her bank, company and landlord, Todd says he was released last week on 300,000 yen bail. He was ordered to stay in Kanagawa prefecture, where he currently resides with his fiancee, until hearings later this month will determine if he’ll be allowed to stay in Japan, or be deported and possibly banned from Japan for 5 years. It’s not clear why Todd was released, and who paid the bail.

Todd says he plans to go ahead with his previous plans to marry Yoriko. He says one of the arresting officers in Taiji called them on Saturday night this past week, to congratulate them on their engagement. “He was all kind and friendly.”


(a port in Taiji area. Photo by Michael Q Todd / Creative Commons)

It’s not clear what Todd was doing when he was arrested in Taiji, where many foreigners have been arrested and detained for short or long periods. In the days after Todd’s arrest, a Canadian said in a youtube video that Todd was helping him with a documentary about the dolphin hunt. Animal rights activists and others involved in a “Free MQ Todd campaign” claimed that they raised more than $5000 online for his defense.

Steven Thompson, an animal rights activist and US-born English teacher in Osaka, says he visited Todd in the Osaka detention center more than 10 times, and he concurs with Todd’s account of mistreatment and the accuracy of this report. Thompson, who says that he has helped with training police officers in western Japan, said that police in Taiji also detained 13 other foreigners for a day in September, interrogated them for 8 hours non-stop, and seized and damaged their computers and other equipment before releasing them. 

A blog, set up on Indiegogo.com to raise funds for Todd, included a video by a Canadian film-maker, and an unsigned comment about Todd. http://www.indiegogo.com/SaveMQTodd

Throughout Todd’s incarceration, Thompson and other supporters such as Jackie Bigford provided frequent updates on Facebook and other sites dedicated to helping Todd. 


“His case is looking much better,” Thompson wrote on the Taiji Action Group blog on Nov. 8. “It’s not over…Michael still must appear back in Osaka for two more hearings…but it looks much better and is much easier on him and his supporters to look at his case from the outside. It looks like Michael WAS within the law, legally in Japan, when he was arrested. The police jumped the gun on Michael to arrest someone, anyone for any reason like they did with Erwin Vermeulen. The way he was treated so badly and even illegally in Shingu Wakayama by a mean-hearted police officer, is one of the things that has helped Michael get out, yet he paid a heavy penalty: 54 days in jail. Please take care if you go to Taiji. For him, his fiancée, myself, and hundreds of supporters, it is a day to celebrate!” http://taijiactiongroup.blogspot.ca/

We have worked together for 18 months on a Dolphins Love Us Campaign to bring awareness to the horrors that dolphins and small whales suffer in Taiji, Japan at the infamous Killing Cove. Michael was visiting Taiji Japan, on Sunday September 16th, where the infamous killing cove is located where thousands of dolphins and whales are brutally captured and slaughtered every year. Michael was in Taiji on a campaign. The campaign hired Michael as the core Japanese interpreter for a Canadian documentary. He was asked to produce his passport. He is in Japan on a Visa and it has run out. Michael is in the process of trying to get his visa extended. He was arrested Sunday Morning and has been remanded to a Detention Centre until his case is heard. Michael is a causality in the hyper-police atmosphere making up Taiji, Wakayama for the dolphin hunt from Sept to March every year.”

Instead of probing the actions of officials, a small group of online commenters, using real names and sock-puppet pseudonyms, have questioned Todd about his visa status, marriages, and activities in Japan. They point to Todd’s own writings about “going three years without money.” http://www.ecademy.com/node.php?id=163361

Todd’s LinkedIn page indicates that he graduated with a law degree and worked in a New Zealand law firm for about 12 years until 2000, and he’s been mainly self-employed in Japan. Todd says he’s had several working visas and a 3-year spousal visa for Japan.

He says he left Japan for New Zealand in 2010 after an earthquake damaged his mother’s house in Christchurch, and then he went to Australia for more than a year, and returned to Japan in March. Border officials in Japan gave him a passport stamp allowing him to stay in Japan for 90 days, but he says his passport was stolen from his jacket at an Irish pub in Roppongi. He then went to an immigration office in Shinagawa, Tokyo and asked for permission to stay while he waited for New Zealand to send him a new passport, which took longer than expected. He says Japanese officers told him: “You can stay in Japan until a decision is made, I don’t know how long it will take.”

He says he called the Tokyo immigration office twice in July and went there in person in August, and they told him to keep waiting. He says he showed them evidence that he had booked a flight on September 25 to Hong Kong, where he says he was set to be a guest speaker at a seminar on social media. He said he was planning to marry his fiancee Yoriko in Hawaii, and then apply for a new spousal visa. “I thought everything was fine. I still had a pending application. The immigration officer said ‘If you leave then, come back on September 30 and get another visitor visa’.”


(photo by Michael Q Todd / Creative Commons)

Todd says he still hadn’t heard from the immigration office when he went from Tokyo to western Japan on September 16 to accompany his fiancee who was going to help translate Japanese and English in the Taiji area. It isn’t clear who she was working with, or whether Todd was also working with them.

Todd maintains that he didn’t overstay his visa, and has never broken any laws in Japan. He says he suspects police or Justice Ministry officials may have targeted him for his past work with Greenpeace in London and his affinity for dolphins, whales and reform-minded activists in Japan.

Todd’s account of his visa hassles and incarceration, though questioned by some online commenters in Japan, is consistent with several other reports of bureaucrats at various levels making mistakes or giving foreigners confusing interpretations of Japan’s complex set of official immigration policies. Many foreigners claim they’ve been victims of so-called “gotcha bureaucracy”, where officials make it difficult for longtime foreign residents, who would be considered full members of societies with voting rights in other countries, rather than helping them settle or stay in Japan where they have family, friends and income.

Former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, 80, has repeatedly complained over the past 12 years that Japanese people, even gangsters, are afraid of walking among Chinese, Koreans and Africans working in the entertainment districts of Roppongi, Ikebukuro and near Tokyo City Hall in Shinjuku. Mr. Ishihara, who chaired Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympics, said in 2007 that Japan should welcome “intelligent” foreigners, not Africans who “steal cars” and “don’t speak English”.

In 2003, the Justice Ministry, Tokyo City Hall and the Tokyo police department launched a joint policy to arrest, within five years, about half of an estimated 125,000 visa overstayers in the Tokyo area. “An increasing number of visa-less foreigners engage in serious crimes, and it is pointed out that the problem is closely linked to organized crime by foreigners,” then-Justice Minister Daizo Nozawa told a press conference. “Solving the problem of illegal residents is a pending task for regaining public safety in Japan.”

Many Japanese lawmakers and bureaucrats support the crackdown. A small number of western-educated expatriates, commenting on web forums while working at Japanese colleges and corporations, have cheered the incarceration of Mr. Todd, saying he’s giving foreigners a bad reputation in Japan. Todd says that more than a thousand friends on Facebook have sent him well-wishes during and after his ordeal.

The United Nations and Amnesty International have long criticized Japan’s treatment of detainees. Celebrity detainees have included Sir Paul McCartney, world chess champion Bobby Fischer, and Paris Hilton.

US-born journalist Danny Bloom said he was arrested while editing the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in 1995, held in solitary confinement for 41 days and deported for overstaying a visa.

In March 2010, Abubakar Awadu Suraj, a Ghanaian who had been working in Tokyo for 22 years, died in the custody of immigration officers while being bound, gagged and forced onto an Egypt Air plane parked at Narita Airport. Local press reports say his Japanese widow is suing immigration officers, who have not been arrested or charged.

James Rodriguez, a former English teacher in Japan who now lives in Montreal, Canada, has accused Japanese police of forcing him into a van, chaining him to a bed, injecting him with drugs against his will, and holding him in a mental institution in Japan for several months before deporting him.

British Member of Parliament David Anderson told the House of Commons last year that Japanese embassy officials in London refused to meet him and lied about the case of businessman Simon Robertson. Robertson, who says he employed 18 Japanese at his real estate agency in Japan, says he was detained at Narita, coerced under duress into paying officials 40,000 yen, abused by guards in a windowless cell under the airport, and deported back to London without his passport. The official Parliament hansard also shows that a British foreign office official complained about Japan’s delay in returning Robertson’s passport, which is British government property.

Japan has deported at least 31 Canadians the past ten years, and was holding 27 as of February, according to Jean-Bruno Villeneuve, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa.  

This reporter, who was detained for 24 hours in a windowless cell under Narita Airport and expelled from Japan on Christmas Eve last year, witnessed armed security guards, employed by airlines, extort at least 28,000 yen from an American college professor who was strip-searched and detained while trying to visit his son in Japan. This reporter, who has had five work permits for Japan, was also robbed, denied rights, and coerced into buying an expensive one-way ticket out of Japan, which forbid him re-entry for 10 weeks.

Gregory Clark, a former Australian diplomat who has joined a Justice Ministry immigration reform committee, says Japan loosened enforcement of entry rules more than a decade ago to solve labor shortages, then mistreated unwanted workers instead of helping them settle in Japan. “The crackdown hit a lot of harmless people who Japan needed. They ended up expelling a lot of people unfairly. The long detention is inhumane. If they decide they do not want you, then like the US they should show you the door quickly, with the provision you can apply to come back if, for example, you have learned Japanese or have some skill Japan needs.”


The crackdown has affected many US expats in Japan. In 2007, Alisha James, an American teaching English in the Tokyo area, married Chamballa Ally, a Tanzanian who had overstayed his visitor’s visa by three years to do junkyard jobs unwanted by Japanese. “That wasn’t going to change my feelings for him,” Mrs. Ally said from her Indiana home. “But I didn’t realize it would be so hard.”

Hoping for leniency, Mr. Ally surrendered to Japanese authorities in 2008, and had to report to immigration offices every month for three years while awaiting a spousal visa for the US.

In November 2011, two immigration officials and about five police officers knocked on his door, demanding his passport. “I told them ‘I’ve overstayed, but I’ve married an American, I’m waiting to go to America. The process is taking a long time.’ They said: ‘No, you have to go with police. Your passport shows you have overstayed’.”

He was detained in a police cell for 10 days, and then detention centers in Yokohama for more than 3 months and Ushiku, in Ibaraki province for a week. Dwelling in cells without windows, he was allowed outside a few hours a day to play soccer. “In Ushiku, you can only see the high walls around you and the sky above. It’s impossible to escape. The immigration guards have weapons in their holsters.”

Japanese media, citing immigration officials, say at least 120 Ushiku detainees went on hunger strike for 11 days this summer, one of several protests in recent years against conditions blamed for at least two suicides and more than 45 attempts at self-harm. Released detainees have complained about being held in limbo for six to 18 months or longer.

Immigration official Hiroshi Hayashi told the Japan Times that “the main reason for long detentions is that they refuse to go back home.”

Mr. Ally says he shared a cramped room in Ushiku with three detainees from Sri Lanka, India and the Philippines. They watched TV, read, or sat in despair. After making 3-hour trips from Tokyo, Japanese spouses could only visit for 15 minutes visits behind glass partitions, and never on weekends.

“Immigration think the marriage isn’t true, so they try to pressure the wife into giving up, by making her sign too many documents. They want the foreigner to give up and go home. If you agree, and have money for flights, you can go. But these people are married to Japanese. They want a visa to stay in Japan.”

Eventually, Mr. Ally signed an order deporting him to Tanzania. “I was tired. On the plane I felt happy I could finally get out of Japan and be with my wife.”

James says US embassy officials in Tanzania apologized to him for the long wait.  “Foreigners think they’re doing a good thing by surrendering to immigration. But then they call you in, you think you are going to get a visa, and they detain you. It’s a trick. It’s going to hurt Japan in the long run, if they don’t have anybody but Japanese there to build the economy.”

“I’m free now, so I’m happy,” says Mr. Ally, 38 in Indiana, where he hopes to study computer science. “People there are so tired. They are not criminals, but they have no freedom. So lonely. So much stress. It’s not a place to stay for a long time. People don’t know when they will be free.”

The cases of Ally and thousands of others have caught the attention of rights activists and diplomats, who have repeatedly pressured Japan to improve treatment of minorities and detainees.

During an October 31 meeting of the Human Rights Council at the UN General Assembly, diplomats from several nations urged Japan to improve its treatment of foreigners and detainees, according to an unedited draft report, dated Nov. 2.


Myanmar, Tunisia and others called on Japan to strengthen public awareness about the human rights of migrant workers and other minority groups.

Azerbaijan, Senegal and others advised Japan to improve the human rights education of law-enforcement agencies and public servants.

South Africa expressed concerns about “the treatment of migrants, persistent racist and xenophobic attitudes, and protection of children’s rights.” South Africa advised Japan to “consider amending the Immigration Control Act to introduce a maximum period of detention pending deportation.”

Switzerland urged Japan to abolish the daiyo kangoku system or reform it to suit international law. (The daiyo kangoku system, dating back to a shortage of prison cells in 1908, allows police to detain suspects in cells at police stations for long periods in order to obtain confessions from them.)

Norway urged Japan to record the entire interrogation process and ensure that detainees have “unhindered access to legal counsel,” especially during questioning. Spain urged Japan to “ensure that all persons deprived of liberty are brought to justice without delay.”

The United States called on Japan to implement a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, “improve prison conditions to bring them in line with international standards”, and provide foreigner prisoners “with timely medical and dental treatment” and more nutritious food.

Nepal, South Africa, Spain, France, Ukraine, Nicaragua, Tunisia, Burkina Faso and many other nations all urged Japan to speed up the process of setting up a Human Rights Commission independent from the government.

Canada, meanwhile, “praised Japan’s human rights training and services for victims of violence,” and asked for improvements.

Japan’s 30-person delegation, from the Cabinet Office, National Police Agency, and Justice, Foreign Affairs and various others ministries, was headed by Hideaki Ueda, ambassador in charge of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

While promising reforms, Japan defended its policies, saying “Japan has a system that guarantees human rights and appropriate treatment in detention facilities.”

The report said that Japan indicated that: “interrogation of suspects is the most important investigation method to bring out the truth.” Japan said that police holding cells are “usually located in areas accessible to the detainee’s family members and lawyers, allowing them easy contact with detainees.”

Japan said the Act on Penal Detention Facilities clearly states that: “a police officer working in detention affairs shall not engage in criminal investigations against a detainee.” The report quoted the Japanese delegates as saying that: “detainees can further file complaints with the Prefectural Public Safety Commission, which exercises administrative supervision over the police.”

The Japanese delegation noted a number of reforms:

–Japan has “deepened the awareness and understanding” of public servants through regular trainings about human rights.

–there are currently “no limitations for detainees to access Defense Counsel in police detention facilities.”

–Japan is making efforts to reduce cases of prolonged detention.

–Under an agreement with the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, detainees should get free legal counseling by attorneys.

–Japan is endeavoring to deport detainees or release them provisionally for health or other reasons.

–Japan has been “conducting recordings of suspect interrogations under certain conditions and has been gradually expanding its scope, on an experimental basis.”

–In 2010, the Ministry of Justice and the Bar Association reached an agreement to consider more favorable conditions for detainees.

–In September 2012, the Cabinet “adopted a decision confirming the content of a bill to establish an independent Human Rights Commission,” compliant with the Paris Principles, in order to submit them to the next Diet session. “The Government of Japan will make further efforts in making necessary preparations for its establishment.”

–Advisory boards of the Minister of Justice are “currently exploring and deliberating the structuring of a new and up-to-date broad criminal justice system.” The UN report said: “Japan is hoping to receive a report from its boards as soon as possible and realize its institutionalization.”

–Japan indicated that the necessary supplies are provided to inmates, including sufficient drinking water, food, clothing, bedding and other daily supplies, not to mention additional warm winter clothing. “Adjustments are made with due consideration for those with special needs including foreigners. Medical and hygiene services are provided on a regular basis, and treatment is given when required, as appropriate.”

–Japan reiterated that the proposed “national human rights commission” will be “independent and not subject to the control of the government.”

(a temple in Taiji. Photo by Michael Q Todd / Creative Commons)

It’s not clear if Todd, who has threatened legal action, will take his case to the United Nations. Todd says he’s luckier than other detainees, who don’t have his legal training or his broad and powerful network of friends. “When most people get out of the immigration thing, they can’t tell stories about it. At least I can make some noise and try to change things for the better.” 

He says he’s outraged that it costs an estimated $50,000 to keep somebody in prison for a year. “They’re creating bad energy and publicity for Japan. We (foreign residents) should be massive advocates for Japan. They seem bent on sending us the opposite way.”

He says New Zealand embassy officials, who visited him in Osaka, told him their main focus was helping Japanese come to New Zealand for tourism and business. “New Zealand is scared of Japan. They are our biggest trading partner. We don’t do anything to scare Japan off.”

Todd says he still loves Japan, and doesn’t want to leave. “I think of Japan as my country. The guys (officers) kept asking me ‘Where is your home?’ I said ‘Here. I live here, in Higashi-Totsuka in Yokohama. I’ve been here in Japan 11 years. Please get that in your head. My face doesn’t look like yours, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t live here’.”

He says that he missed his kids, and his 13-year old from Kobe was only allowed to speak with him briefly through a plastic window. “I definitely don’t want to see people bashing Japan which is the home of my daughters.”

He says he also feels compassion for people in Taiji, where a paper factory and other industrial closures have left locals, criticized internationally for slaughtering dolphins, with few other viable job options. “They are hanging on to any industry they have, tooth and nail. They are really desperate to hang onto dolphin selling. For them, it’s massive.”

Todd has written a detailed report about Taiji on Facebook. “When you go to Taiji and see the dead dolphins as I did a whole new perspective hits you. You want it ended tomorrow. All thoughts of patience go out the window,” he wrote. “What I am saying is that the people in Taiji are NEVER going to give up hunting dolphins unless they are made to by their government.”

In a lengthy Facebook message posted on Monday, Todd advocated a general boycott of Japanese products to protest the slaughter of dolphins and raise awareness across Japan. He said he spent time “walking around and talking to policeman and other people” who told him that dolphins were used almost exclusively for fertilizer and pet food. “Before my arrest I also got the chance to tour around the neighbouring town of Katsuura and Taiji itself and took about 100 photos. I also have the advantage of over 11 years spent in Japan and over 3 and a half years of studying and “protesting” against the dolphin hunting on a daily basis. Like many of you I have preferred to have faith in human nature and that if presented with facts the people of Taiji and its surrounding area will eventually give up hunting. I now realise that this is a naive dream.”

“This is not about cultural history and not about traditional diet. Not even about ignorance. They know dolphins are special and clever and they know that almost the whole world is opposed to the hunt. Nearly all have them said that they watched The Cove. They know that what they are doing is wrong. The way that the whole operation is hidden from view and that even the local Taiji supermarket demands that you do not photograph their building screams out guilt. For the people of Shingu, Katsuura and Taiji this is all about economic survival,” he wrote. “I now realise that the only way that this insidious practice of slaughtering and enslaving dolphins is to hit these people in the pocket. That is all that matters to them. Recently a boycott of Japanese goods and businesses in China has got massive publicity in the media here. The time is ripe to leverage off this “boycott paranoia” and also the start of the whale hunt in Antarctica.”

On the positive side, he says that jail at least gave him “a rest from a laptop 16 hours a day, destroying my hands and eyes. You have to make the best out of it. I got very fit. Meditated. Read a lot of books, newspapers. My Japanese listening improved over 6 weeks. And I certainly learned more about the Japanese system.”