— a special investigative report by Christopher Johnson —
Three years ago, British MP David Anderson made a stunning speech in the House of Commons in London.
He accused the Japanese embassy, KLM airlines officials, and the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office of evading his queries, lying to him, and trying to cover up and ignore the case of his constituent Simon Robertson. Robertson, a British businessman who says he was a Japanophile from a young age, claims he was detained, robbed and tortured at Narita airport in early 2010, and expelled from Japan without his passport. He says three Japanese women — including his fiancee — committed suicide after his ordeal.
Anderson’s lengthy speeches, ignored until now by media in Britain and Japan, are quoted in the official hansard of Parliament. “The Japanese Embassy was saying to me that it did not want to talk anymore and it believed that it had gone far enough,” Anderson told Parliament on Nov. 4, 2010. “It was refusing to talk to a Member of the House. How it has treated Mr Robertson is not right, and it is also not right to have treated me in that way.”
Letters from Japan’s embassy in London — stating immigration’s case and denying responsibility for Robertson’s ordeal — were read out in Parliament. Pressed by Britain’s Foreign Office for answers in 2010, Japan’s government responded two months later. “Mr. Robertson was treated in line with their regulations and international human rights standards,” Japan’s embassy said, according to the Parliamentary Hansard. The embassy said that Robertson’s claims had “no basis in reality” and that Narita airport officials judged that Robertson’s application to enter Japan was “not found not to be false.”
Robertson and Anderson disputed Japan’s official assertions, and three years later, the case remains unresolved. Robertson, unable to return to Japan, says he still suffers from the trauma of his “nightmare at Narita”.
Robertson says he’s been a fan of Japan his whole life, and has read a large number of books about Japan.
Back in 2006, Robertson was looking to expand his property business, and he thought of Japan because “it seemed safe and had good business laws.”
A friend introduced him to a woman who owned a real estate firm in Japan. They exchanged emails and met in 2007. Her company ran into trouble, and Robertson eventually bought it. He says he injected millions of dollars into the firm to pay off its debts, and he continued to employ her and her employees. The firm later purchased three properties, including a flat in Shibuya, and scouted 250 others.
In early 2008, Robertson met Yuuko Abu in Kobe. She had returned from studies at Concordia University in Montreal, and they shared interests in hockey and playing darts.
During trips to Japan, Robertson often stayed with her family in the Kobe area. Her father, Junji Abu, an executive at a Japanese steelmaker, treated him “like a son,” often asking about the steel bridges near Robertson’s hometown in northeast England between Newcastle and Durham.
Robertson, comfortable within her family, was looking forward to marrying Yuuko Abu and raising children in Japan. Business was also going well. He says his staff enjoyed a Christmas party in 2009, and they looked forward to success in the new year.
But, after a long flight from Newcastle via Amsterdam, his Japanese dream became a nightmare. Arriving at Narita airport on Feb. 5, 2010, Robertson says he was detained, abused, robbed of $1500 in his wallet, forced to pay ¥40,000 in “fees” and deported back to the United Kingdom without a passport. Saying he was a victim of an “extortion scam” at the airport, he contacted his MP Anderson, who then tried to deal with Japan’s embassy and others involved.
Robertson, who has not tried to return to Japan, also accused an immigration official at Narita of harassing his fiancee, who committed suicide months later. He says his business manager and another female employee, distraught over his ordeal and the subsequent folding of the company, also took their lives.
For six months, Japan Times community page editor Ben Stubbings repeatedly asked Robertson, who says he’s still traumatized by the ordeal, to reveal names, addresses and details about Robertson’s companies and the three deceased women. Robertson asked the Japan Times to respect the privacy of grieving families and not release the full names of his two deceased employees due to fears of reprisals against them by right-wing fanatics and so-called Japan apologists who, he says, have harassed him in the past. He says it’s not right to “blame the victims”.
Since last year, Robertson has skyped with this reporter more than five times and sent more than 60 detailed emails, as well as photos and documents, to clarify and prove his claims. He also shared a letter from his fiancee’s father expressing sorrow over her death. Stubbings has seen these documents and letters.
This reporter has spent two years seeking comments from various parties involved in the detention and expulsion of foreigners from Japan. Most decline comment or do not reply. Japan’s immigration department in Tokyo normally does not comment on individual cases or record interrogations at Narita. A Ministry of Justice report signed in November 2012 by Shigeru Takaya, Director-General of the Immigration Bureau, said: “In order to protect people’s lives and public safety, it is very important to unfailingly prevent the entry of terrorists disguised as tourists into the country. Therefore, strict immigration examination at the port of entry continues to be implemented.”
Many foreigners in Japan support the immigration department’s tough stance, and blogs such as http://www.fuckedgaijin.com, http://www.tepido.org, http://www.japologism.com and http://www.japanprobe.com have attacked and maliciously defamed anyone who questions Japan’s official actions.
Other foreigners tell stories of their friends being suddenly rounded up, jailed and expelled without being able to contact their loved ones or gather their valuables, belongings or pets. Most Japanese media have ignored their stories, and many organizations tend to portray foreigners in Japan as perpetrators of crime, not victims. Japan Times editors, especially Stubbings, have been among a small number of journalists to cover alleged crimes against foreigners in Japan.
Robertson has named the official accused of mistreating him at Narita. This reporter, however, has also been unable to contact the immigration official for his side of the story. Immigration officers at Narita, speaking privately, reiterated their department’s official stance that airlines are responsible for what happens to “inadmissible passengers”.
Airlines, meanwhile, blame the government for mishandling their passengers. While KLM media officer Joost Ruempol on Sept. 2 declined comment “due to privacy rules”, Robertson has provided letters from KLM and others showing their side of the story.
Both Anderson and Robertson are making bold claims about serious issues which, if unresolved, could impact the international image of Japan, an island nation dependent on exports and increasing numbers of foreign tourists.
Amnesty International and local non-government organizations have documented similar cases of alleged abuses at Narita, which this reporter witnessed firsthand in 2011 (see below, and also see a link to Amnesty’s records of these similar cases http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ASA22/002/2002/en)
Citing Ministry of Justice figures, Amnesty said in an email that Japan expelled 13,224 foreigners from Japan in 2010.
Japan, which accepts only a few dozen refugees each year, has over the past decade deported more than 100,000 visa overstayers; 67,000 other overstayers remain in Japan, according to Justice Ministry figures.
Robertson, one of about 7000 foreigners detained at Narita that year, says he was a victim of a shadowy extortion scam at Narita airport potentially worth millions of dollars, allegedly involving immigration officials, airlines and private security firms profiting from thousands of detainees in legal limbo. Behind the scenes, guards demanding “security fees” or “hotel fees” of ¥30,000 or ¥40,000 each from an average of 20 detainees per day could theoretically collect at least ¥600,000 (around $6,000) per day, or about $2 million per year, he says.
These are not fines, like parking tickets, with officially stamped receipts, and it’s not clear who keeps the money, say Robertson and other former detainees who spoke with this reporter. Victims also accuse airlines of charging exorbitant rates for last-minute purchases in order to profit from thousands of people detained at airports worldwide.
In 2000, a former security guard told Japanese researchers that airline staff were well aware that guards, hired by airlines and working in locked rooms without oversight, often used violence and torture, such as sleep or light deprivation, to extort money from detainees, particularly those from China, South Korea and developing nations.
(Here is the link to the Japanese version: http://hwm5.gyao.ne.jp/tabunka/nyukan/deny/deny04.htm Their homepage is here: http://hwm5.gyao.ne.jp/tabunka/nyukan/deny/deny00.htm)
In 2004, the Tokyo District Court ordered a security firm, I’M Co. Ltd., and three guards at Narita to pay ¥2.2 million in damages for assaulting and extorting money from two Tunisians denied entry into Japan in 2000. “It cannot be denied they were forced to pay money,” said Judge Takaomi Takizawa, according to Kyodo News.
A month after Robertson’s expulsion in 2010, longtime Japan resident Abubakar Awadu Suraj — who had been detained several months for overstaying his visa — was bound, gagged, forced onto a flight and found dead aboard an Egypt Air plane parked at Narita. Police made no arrests over the death, and it’s not clear if the immigration officers who handled Suraj are working at Narita or elsewhere.
“There are a huge number of people making similar claims as Robertson,” Anderson said in a recent phone interview with this reporter. “There’s been no clear answers, not even an acceptance that it happens. It’s not the way that nations should be behaving. The Japanese government should intervene and stop it happening. I would hope that the reluctance for both governments to engage is not related to putting diplomatic or trade relations ahead of treating their citizens properly.”
Robertson says his Chooch Corp. has assets and ventures in China, Africa and elsewhere, and employs a large number of people in various countries including China. Citing concerns about reprisals, he would not provide the Japan Times with registration numbers and addresses for his businesses.
He maintains he broke no laws during his five previous trips to Japan. “A British citizen is allowed to visit Japan for 180 days (in a year) without requiring a visa, and I was due to be in Japan for less than half of that time. I even had a return flight booked.”
He says his company owned properties through a Japanese subsidiary with proper real estate licenses. He was simply visiting staff, as many foreign CEOs do, he says. “Does Larry Page, the boss of Google, have to have a business visa for every country he goes to, just in case he steps foot into one of the company’s foreign offices and meets his staff?”
Robertson says a Narita immigration officer, whose name he remembers, was shockingly abusive, asking him if his girlfriend was “still a virgin.” Robertson, sober and tired after a 14-hour flight, says he stayed calm. He was detained for hours and interrogated only in Japanese, which he struggled to understand. The official called his girlfriend four times. She corroborated Robertson’s story, he says.
“If immigration calls someone for confirmation, and they receive confirmation that the person knows me and knows exactly why I am here, why call the same person a further three times? It is only to attempt to force a different response, a response which allows my deportation,” he says.
Robertson says Abu later wrote protest letters to the Immigration Bureau, reiterating how she told Narita officials that Robertson was coming to Japan “to date with me” and also “investigate a property in Osaka seeking my dad’s guidance.”
In her protest letter, she said the immigration inspector who called her cell phone was “arrogant, insolent, and overbearing.”
“I was frightened by his tone of voice very much,” she wrote, according to Robertson, who showed the Japan Times her emails and letters. “Frankly speaking, even when I confirmed the information, he was still angry with me. I felt pressured very much by the immigration inspector.”
Robertson says that Abu, disturbed by the immigration officer, collapsed and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. The Narita official then called her father. After that, the official became hostile and repeatedly shouted at Robertson: “Are you going to marry Yuuko?” Robertson replied that it was a matter solely between himself and Yuuko. The angered official then refused him entry.
“I consider this to be an outrage,” Robertson wrote in a letter which was read out in Parliament in London. “It is not a visa requirement of any country that visitors must marry one of their citizens in order to be granted a visa.”
Robertson said his Exclusion Order is “entirely illegal” because it contains only one signature, not two. He says the officer robbed him by taking $1,500 from his wallet and shouting, “This is for your flight home, OK?” before pocketing the money.
Robertson said the inspector also demanded a ¥40,000 yen “service fee” for a night of detention in a locked and guarded room somewhere within the airport complex. He says the inspector and armed guards “marched” him to a bank to cash traveller’s checks. “They all seemed very eager to get the money.”
He kept the Sumitomo Mitsui bank’s time-stamped receipt, which he later presented to Parliament and the Japan Times.
The receipt for the ¥40,000 payment and the Justice Ministry’s exclusion order both list his accommodation as “room 301” at the “Narita Airport Rest House”, which normally charges guests about ¥7,000 to ¥8,000 per night. According to Amnesty and other NGOs, guards often demand payment and take detainees to the Narita Airport Rest House or the “Landing Prevention Facility”, a windowless jail cell inside the airport. It’s not clear where the guards took Robertson.
“I didn’t have a clue where I was going,” says Robertson. “Nobody told me anything about what was happening to me or even why. I was just pushed from place to place without ever knowing what was going on.”
“I was taken to a lift which went downwards. I was then thrown into the back of a van. The journey did not last very long, maybe a minute.” He says they took him through what looked like a basement area, through a door and into a cell with no handle on the inside of a big metal door. “There was a some sort of bed, a toilet. It was not a hotel room, it was a cell. I never knew how long I was going to be in the cell.”
Held for 24 hours, Robertson says he was denied food, water, phone calls and access to his valuables and clothing. “I was in a one room cell on my own with guards walking outside,” he says. “I was exhausted from 24 hours of traveling, starved, dehydrated, sleep deprived, and terrorized to the point of expecting to be killed. The guards also deliberately deprived me of sleep by continually hitting the metal door of the cell and then laughing about it.”
The next day, guards marched him onto KLM’s next flight to Amsterdam. He says there were no negotiations, and nobody told him when the flight would leave. He suspects that the immigration officer stole his $1500 in cash, and KLM simply used the return portion of his ticket, originally set for May 4 from Osaka. He says he didn’t speak to anyone from KLM or another airline until KLM’s pilot and bursar came to talk to him in the departure lounge before their flight.
“They told me that they were told by Japan immigration that ‘I had traveled to Japan with an invalid ticket.‘ Although Japan immigration also stole my original ticket along with my passport, I had a copy of the ticket and showed it to both KLM crew. They confirmed that the tickets was ‘perfectly valid‘, but there was nothing they could do and suggested that I complain when I got home, which I did.”
“I am convinced that he simply stole the money, changed the date of my return flight thus forcing me to ‘pay’ for a ticket that I already owned. This would explain why there were no negotiations.”
Without returning his passport and original tickets, guards forced him onto a KLM flight to Amsterdam, he says. Officials at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport then also detained him — for lacking a passport — before allowing him passage to the U.K.
Robertson says he watched the KLM captain and crew spend an hour in Amsterdam searching the plane for his passport. He said the crew told him they never received it from Japanese authorities. A crew member, seeing his distress, hugged him and gave him water and biscuits.
“In fact, a KLM staff member in Amsterdam called Narita Airport and was told that my passport was still there [at Narita] and it would be sent on the KLM flight on the following day. It was not sent on that airplane,” Robertson says.
He says the airline’s customer care officer, Veronica Espinosa, later confirmed these facts in an email, writing, “Unfortunately, we are unable to advise on the whereabouts of your travelling documents, and I can only suggest you contact the mentioned airport.”
Upon arrival at Newcastle airport, the U.K. Border Agency promptly canceled his passport at 10 p.m. on Feb. 6, and suggested he complain to the Japanese Embassy in London.
Robertson says he did contact the embassy “but it was ignored. I also complained to the U.K. Foreign Office, who covered the whole matter up.”
Stonewalled by Japanese and British officials, Robertson turned to his member of Parliament, David Anderson. Speaking in Parliament on Nov. 4, 2010, Anderson noted reports that “both the United Nations and the U.S. State Department have expressed concerns about some of the things that have happened to their citizens at the hands of the Japanese immigration authorities.”
Celebrity detainees include Sir Paul McCartney, Paris Hilton and chess champion Bobby Fischer, who claimed that he sustained cuts, bruises and a broken tooth during his arrest at Narita in 2004. He claimed his cell was windowless and he didn’t see light for 16 days.
Anderson said the alleged crimes against Robertson included “allegations of physical abuse, imprisonment, verbal abuse, racism, extortion, deliberately or accidentally withholding a passport, and possibly at least, partly some responsibility for the suicide of a young woman.”
In Parliament, Anderson accused the U.K. Foreign Office of “washing its hands” of the matter, and failing to demand Japanese authorities investigate an alleged crime by their immigration officials against a British citizen.
Anderson said the Foreign Office wrote him months earlier, on June 24, saying “sorry for the misunderstanding” but “we do not agree that we have a duty to report alleged crimes to local authorities.” The ministry also suggested Robertson seek legal advice.
Anderson paraphrased the government’s reaction as follows: “We have been told by the Japanese that everything is OK. Therefore, you should forget about it or take advice from a lawyer.”
During the parliamentary debate in November 2010, Foreign Office Under-Secretary Henry Bellingham said that his department had asked Japan to investigate in March, and Japan had replied in May, saying that nothing was wrong.
“The two-month delay seems unacceptable and was inordinately long,” Bellingham said. “Although the KLM flight captain and crew on the return flight were incredibly courteous and helpful to Mr. Robertson, I am not impressed with the follow-up action they took [regarding his passport].”
Robertson spent nearly two years seeking answers. He says a British court in November 2011 forced the U.K. Foreign Office to release a document they had kept since Feb. 10, 2010. The document showed Japan’s explanation for his deportation. According to Robertson, the document said: “The man had been detained because he had written down that he was entering Japan for business purposes, but when they called his girlfriend’s father he said that he wasn’t there for business at all.”
Robertson disputes that. “I supplied all the emails that I had which blew that right out of the water. It was nonsense because I had spoken to Yuuko’s father about my business many times.”
Anderson, in Parliament, said the Japanese embassy sent him a “flow chart of what should have happened” and a statement blaming the airline. “Since the individual remains the responsibility of the carrier, the Immigration Bureau has no involvement in the process,” the Japanese diplomats wrote. “Mr. Robertson’s allegation that he was forced to hand over money by immigration officials has no basis in reality.”
“Mr Robertson’s treatment prior to removal was entirely the responsibility of the airline,” the embassy’s statement continued. “Any inquiries regarding this treatment, the allegation that money was forcibly taken from him or the location of his passport should be made directly to the airline.”
“I find that incredible,” Anderson told Parliament. “The Japanese Government are saying that it is all the airline’s fault, but the airline was on Japanese soil. If it did what Mr. Robertson said it did, surely the Japanese authorities should go to KLM and say, ‘What on earth are you doing in our country behaving like that?’ “
Anderson said the onus was on the Japanese government, not the deportee, to pursue the matter. “The Japanese Embassy was saying to me that it did not want to talk anymore and it believed that it had gone far enough,” Anderson told Parliament. “It was refusing to talk to a Member of the House. How it has treated Mr Robertson is not right, and it is also not right to have treated me in that way.”
Anderson also said KLM officials refused to meet him or respond promptly to his requests. He said the Dutch airline claimed, seven months after Robertson began seeking answers, that his British passport was “mistakenly” put in a wrong envelope. Airline officials said on Oct. 14, 2010, that they “found” Robertson’s passport at KLM offices in Schiphol airport on May 25 — three months after Japanese authorities took possession of it. KLM later sent the passport to the U.K.’s Identity and Passport Service.
“The Japanese embassy and KLM were telling me different things,” Anderson later told this reporter in a phone interview. “It was very clear to me that nobody wants to engage in this debate.”
Why did this happen to Robertson, a karate-loving Japanophile who says he has no criminal record? Anderson says the Japanese Embassy in London eventually gave him documents in English. The embassy claimed, in Orwellian doublespeak, that Narita officials judged that Robertson’s application to enter Japan was “not found not to be false.” The embassy also repeated that Robertson’s claims about being forced to pay ¥40,000 have “no basis in reality.”
Airline officials, however, and several deportees have stated that detainees must indeed pay these fees. No laws proscribe the amount of these “fees,” which Robertson calls “extortion,” and it’s not clear who has kept any money taken from thousands of detainees.
In an email on Feb. 22, 2012, the Narita International Airport Corp.’s public relations office would not provide phone numbers or email contacts for the six private security companies they say operate at Narita, including I’M, which was convicted in the 2004 case. Airline sources, speaking on background because of the sensitivity of their operations at airports, have listed SEI and Global Airport Security as companies working in restricted areas at Narita.
The Geneva-based Global Detention Project report said the immigration bureau in 2012 refused to give NGOs statistics about detainees at Narita. “Information about landing prevention facilities remains limited compared to other immigration detention centres [in Japan],” the report said.
The Global Detention Project, citing Amnesty International and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, said in a report this March that detainees at Narita are sometimes kept in overcrowded and “severe” conditions lacking windows, exercise spaces and proper access to communications and medical care.
This Tokyo-based reporter had a rare glimpse into the detention process at Narita.
Living in Japan on work visas for various periods since 1989, I spent much of 2011 dealing with an array of immigration officers in Tokyo telling me different and confusing things about how to renew my work visa. I made several calls and visits over several months to check on the progress, and I supplied dozens of documents as per their requests. They kept telling me to work in Japan, and leave Japan and come back while my application was in process.
Returning home from Seoul on the Emperor’s Birthday, a national holiday on December 23, I was detained for 30 hours at Narita and expelled to Canada on Christmas Eve, 2011. A hostile official, who interrogated me about my journeys to Fukushima, wouldn’t tell me why I was detained. He said I could appeal his decision to the “Minister of Justice”, which was a sham, especially during a holiday weekend. I was jailed in the “Landing Prevention Facility” — a cramped, windowless cell under the airport. I was denied rights, separated from my possessions and robbed.
In the jail, I witnessed Japanese guards strip-search an American professor who had questioned the government’s handling of the Fukushima meltdown. He said guards forced him to pay ¥30,000 in “service fees.” He shouted at guards: “This isn’t a hotel! It’s a jail.”
I refused to pay those fees, and later made a report to Narita airport police. I was calm and polite throughout the ordeal.
I didn’t want to spend Christmas in jail, waiting for diplomats, bureaucrats and lawyers to figure out my case, and I knew that the lengthy Japanese New Year holidays were approaching. I just wanted my freedom back.
An Asiana Airlines official, perhaps sensing my desperation, at first demanded I pay ¥400,000 for a one-way ticket to Canada. They called my Japanese partner in Tokyo, without my consent, demanding she buy the ticket. She refused and demanded my release. In a room hidden from passengers and police, an armed airport security guard, pointing to his holster, coerced me into buying a one-way ticket on Air Canada for ¥100,000.
Article 61-4 of the Immigration Control Act confirms that immigration officers are allowed to carry and even use weapons if necessary to restrain passengers or force them onto a flight.
I spent 10 weeks in limbo at my parents’ home in Canada, unable to access my money and investments in Japan, and desperate to return to my Tokyo home, partner and our two dogs. I exchanged letters with the professor, who is barred from entering Japan to see his son, and received much support from friends and colleagues.
My story about this for Globalite Magazine and The Economist drew thousands of comments in early 2012. While many were outraged that Japan would treat an expat this way, others refused to believe this could happen in Japan, known for its civility and hospitality. Hundreds of nasty comments online called me “insane” for writing about the ordeal, and many Tokyo-based journalists refused to believe my story, despite assemblage of overwhelming evidence.
Amid pressure from Japanese and international organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, Japan’s Foreign Ministry granted me a journalism visa in March 2012, my fifth working visa for Japan since 1989.
The airlines concerned have denied all responsibility and refused to reimburse me for costs.
Air Canada said All Nippon Airways is responsible, since ANA charged my credit card about ¥100,000 for a one-way ticket on Air Canada. ANA spokesperson Nao Gunji said ANA is not responsible for what happened at Narita. She said I should take up the matter with Visa. Visa countered that the airlines are responsible.
Asiana Airlines said they’ve also been a victim of a “third party” at Narita, which they didn’t name. “Asiana does/will not ever enforce payment,” the airline tweeted in 2012. “We believe we had been victimized. Please understand that this was not Asiana.”
Asiana later claimed the legal right, through their security subcontractors, to bill passengers for detention fees.
In an email on March 1, 2012, Asiana customer relations officer Jan Sohn tried to pin blame on the Immigration Bureau, not the airlines. She said deportees must pay “the security fee of JPY38,000 per person” because “every additional day a deportee is handled increases the maintenance and security cost of the whole detention system, independent of Asiana Airlines.” She said deportees are thus “strongly encouraged to purchase their flight tickets as soon as possible.”
“Please understand that this is a legal system under Japanese Immigration, and the payment of JPY38,000 is not affiliated with an organized crime of any kind; it is a legitimate fee charged to each travellor [sic] that is not permitted to enter Japan,” she wrote.
In a follow-up letter on March 9, 2012, she said that “according to Article 59 Section 3 of the Japanese Law, the security fee incurred by an INAD (inadmissable passenger) falls under the airline’s responsibility; however, reciprocally, the airline has the right to indemnity the related fees to the INAD, ultimately making the INAD the final cost bearer.”
However, a reading of Article 59 Section 3 of Japan’s Immigration Control Act finds no mention of detainees having to pay ¥38,000 or other amounts for their own detention. Thus, Robertson and others call the fees “organized crime” and “extortion,” and it’s not clear who keeps the millions of dollars in “fees” collected over the years.
The Global Detention Project report said that the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) argued in 2007 that there were “no legal grounds for detaining people in landing prevention facilities and that there was an absence of clear rules concerning the treatment of detainees.”
Citing a Ministry of Finance budget review in 2006, the report said the government allocated ¥95 million for managing airport detention cells in fiscal 2007, including contract payments to private security firms.
Ultimately, it seems that foreign residents who pay taxes are financing the detention of foreigners.
Yet these foreign taxpayers in Japan also have no guaranteed ability to enter Japan.
Colin Jones, a legal scholar at Doshisha University in Kyoto, says Japan, as a sovereign nation, has the legal right to “refuse service to anyone” seeking entry at Japan’s borders. “A basic principle of international law is that countries have almost unfettered discretion as to whether and under what conditions to allow foreign nationals entry,” he wrote in emails. “Of course there are various international conventions that Japan is a party to and which arguably apply, but international law doesn’t seem to get a lot of play in the domestic legal system.”
He says the Japanese-language version of Japan’s constitution speaks of “the right of Japanese people”, not all people within Japan. He cites a Japan Supreme Court case in 1978, allowing the government to reject an American expat’s visa renewal application because he joined protests in Japan. In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that Kathleen Morikawa, an American expat with a Japanese spouse and Japanese children, had no constitutional right to enter or re-enter Japan. She was fined and denied a re-entry permit because she refused to be fingerprinted under the alien registration system.
“The constitutional protections of foreigners only exist within the scope of the immigration law regime that governs their entry and stay in Japan, as well as the broad discretion that the immigration laws may grant to immigration authorities.”
This leaves passengers such as Robertson in legal limbo, since they haven’t officially entered Japan, he says. “There is no clear definition of when you are actually entitled to constitutional protections and virtually all the Supreme Court cases dealing with the issue have ended in decision saying ‘no, foreigners aren’t protected in this particular situation’. So even those of us who are here under valid visas are in a kind of limbo if anything bad happens.”
Robertson says he, like other victims, has been too traumatized to seek legal action in Japan. He says his anxiety rubbed off on Yuuko Abu, his fiancee, during daily video chats. He saw her condition worsen. “She was in a terrible state when I saw her. She was really shaking. She was absolutely terrified of the immigration officers.”
Yuuko continued to write protest letters to immigration officials, Robertson says. “At first there was a hope in the background, in both of our heads, that this will get resolved. Your government will ring up my government and say this will be resolved, this can’t happen again, things will go back to normal.”
But with no positive result on the horizon, she began to lose hope. “As soon as it became clear that this immigration official would never be arrested, with no apology, and that the British Foreign Office wasn’t going to help, she just looked absolutely pale. She couldn’t sleep. She looked like a woman who was completely afraid of everything. She just couldn’t take it anymore. That was the last I saw of her. She had a genuine fear that this fellow will come after her and her family.”
He didn’t hear from her for about four days.
Then, he got a letter from her father, written in English and dated May 31, 2010, saying his daughter had committed suicide. “Today is a very sad day. I have to convey an incident to you,” Junji Abu wrote in a letter, which the Japan Times has seen. “That is a hardship for me and for my wife. Yuuko’s life was ended by herself.”
Abu, speaking lovingly about their dog, Yuuta, and philosophically about life, thanked Robertson for their joyful memories shared over two years. “From now on, only Yuuta will be living with us until being invited to Heaven,” he wrote. “Thank you for a wonderful time. I hope you will walk in the true life for your happiness.”
——- xxxx ———
“I sent back a letter expressing my sincere condolences. I couldn’t even go to her funeral,” says Robertson. “After that, I have not had any more contact with Yuuko’s parents. I thought that it would be best to allow them to grieve for their daughter.”
He says he often prays for her in church. “Despite all the brutality, she stood up for me. She would not deny that she did not know me, despite being absolutely terrorized. But she still blamed herself for what happened.”
—— xxxxx ———
At first, he refused to follow advice to shut down his Japan real estate business, but eventually he decided to close down operations and start a venture in China.
“This was not the fault of our staff, this was down to one man’s extremism and the despicable coverup of the Japanese government. I did not want my staff to suffer any losses. To be forced to close this business and fire my hardworking staff was deeply distressing. I started my business and it is like my child. Those who work with us are like members of my family.”
He says his former manager, “Yuko”, told him in 2010 about the death of his former employee “Madoka,” who couldn’t find a new job and took her own life.
Robertson says that when Yuko found out why Japan had expelled Robertson, she went to the government with their tax returns to say, “Look! I manage this business for him. You take tax from us, because we have a business, yet now you are denying that he has a business. Here are the tax receipts as proof, what more do you need?”
Yuko expected a swift resolution, says Robertson, but became frustrated and depressed, and she in turn took her own life in early 2012.
“Yuko was one of the smartest people that I have ever met. I probably bought the whole company just to have her with me,” Robertson explains. “Please try to understand what it was like for Yuko. She went from a good job working 9 until 5 — which allowed her to raise her daughter — to a job that paid only 10 percent of what I was paying, and the hours were much worse. She greatly worried about how she could raise her child on such a small salary. Then she became desperate. Finally, I got an email [from a mutual friend] telling me that she had died.”
Despite all this, he says he doesn’t hold a grudge against the Japanese people, and he donated a shipping container of food and clothing to tsunami victims. “I was investing millions of dollars in Japan and was due to invest more. How can anyone think I hate Japan? It was the Japanese that suffered the most out of the disgraceful extortion racket. I am still here, but three Japanese people died. If I can save one life or stop one person from being attacked, then it will be worth all the abuse that I will receive.”
NOTE FOR TRANSPARENCY:
The Japan Times, founded in 1897, has long championed the interests of foreigners in Japan. The Community Page, edited by Ben Stubbings, often takes risks on stories ignored by other media.
In early 2012, Stubbings tweeted that he did not believe my first-hand account in The Economist about my detention and expulsion from Japan, my home for more than a decade.
While some Japan Times editors were outraged by my expulsion and very supportive, others would not agree to run my story, which originally appeared in Globalite Magazine. A number of Japan Times writers attacked me personally for writing about it and somehow being “anti-Japan”, even though most of my stories promote travel, music and sports in Japan. This smear campaign has continued for nearly two years.
When told about Robertson’s case, Stubbings then commissioned this story on May 9, 2013.
He repeatedly made promises to “run it soon”. This went on for a six-month period, which included dozens of email exchanges and several redrafts, additions, deletions and calls and letters to potential sources, many of whom were not cooperative. Foregoing other paying work, I spent an unusually large amount of time and energy on this story, at my own expense. I worked all hours of the day or night on this, often in extreme Tokyo summer heat. Stubbings would even email me after midnight on a Saturday, seeking revisions which I provided, hoping he’d “run it soon”.
Stubbings finally rejected the story in November, saying his superiors told him not to spend any more time on it.
Stubbings spent more than six months — on full salary perhaps totaling about 3 million yen ($30,000) — scrutinizing this story for any discrepancies. He offered to pay this reporter a 30,000-yen ($300) kill fee for more than six months of work.
Most veteran, qualified journalists, teachers or other professionals in Japan would make 30,000 yen or more per day. This reporter has a four-year journalism degree, 29 years experience, and more than 2000 published articles, including dozens of features for the Japan Times since 1994.
Shares of NIFCO (7988), which owns the Japan Times, have nearly doubled in value the past year, and have tripled since 2009. The Yokohama-based maker of plastics for the automotive and electronics industries has subsidiaries in six countries, according to Bloomberg. The Ogasawara family owns both NIFCO and the Japan Times. Yukiko Ogasawara, daughter of NIFCO chairman Toshiaki Ogasawara, ran the Japan Times from 2006 to 2012. She was replaced by current president Takeharu Tsutsumi.
Stubbings, who graduated in 2000 from Leeds University in England, has declined to provide information about his journalism training and experience before joining the Japan Times in 2005. A google search finds that Stubbings has written at least seven stories (about travel, an ESL school, and other subjects), and edited a number of feature reports and columns for the Japan Times since 2005.
Stubbings also declined to comment about a report in the Mainichi Shimbun, one of Japan’s major dailies, that he was arrested and jailed in 2005 for allegedly being involved in a drunken dispute with a bar owner in Fujisawa. When asked for his side of the story, Stubbings threatened to blacklist this reporter from working for the Japan Times and others.
Japan Times Managing Editor Sayuri Daimon sent this email on Nov. 12, 2013, saying the story was axed because it “still requires a significant amount of work”:
The Japan Times has recently named an advisory board to “improve coverage”. The board includes: William Saito, an expert on encryption and cybersecurity who was a member of a council reporting directly to Japan’s prime minister in 2012; and also Ichiro Fujisaki, a Foreign Ministry diplomat since 1969 who was posted to Jakarta, Paris and London. Fujisaki was Japan’s deputy foreign minister in 2002, ambassador to the United Nations and the World Trade Organization in Geneva from 2005 to 2008, and ambassador to the United States from 2008-2012. He’s currently president of the America-Japan society, and a professor at Sofia University.
Sofia University is the alma mater of Japan Times managing editor Sayuri Daimon and Japan Times columnist Jake Adelstein, who often exchange friendly tweets.
Adelstein recently claimed in the Japan Times, without verifiable evidence, that Tokyo’s Westin Hotel had hosted a Buddhist monk and alleged gangster that Adelstein has accused of murdering at least 17 people, including legendary Japanese director Itami Juzo. Police have denied Adelstein’s claims that he’s “under police protection in Tokyo” due to alleged threats.
Adelstein has led a vicious two-year smear campaign against this reporter involving plagiarism, blackmail, malicious defamation, and police harassment.
The call was made on May 10, the day after this story was assigned.