Christopher Johnson: Nightmare at Narita, shorter version of Gulag for Gaijin




(This update on April 5 contains new information from the Justice Ministry, Canada’s department of foreign affairs, and other sources. It also lists private security companies at Narita. Originally posted on Jan. 12, it remains a work in progress)


Nightmare at Narita


Airline passengers, rights groups cite decades of corruption, extortion, rights violations at Tokyo’s Narita airport, once known as “Japan’s Vietnam” for its violent clashes and heavy security. 


by Christopher Johnson

Alberta, Canada — Most travellers find Japan one of the safest countries in the world, even after the March tsunami and nuclear disasters. Haneda Airport in Tokyo Bay has won rave reviews for its new international wing. 

But behind the scenes at Narita International Airport about 65 kilometres outside Tokyo, rights groups say that thousands of foreigners, including several Canadian expat workers in Japan, have been locked up in windowless dungeons under the airport, treated like criminals, separated from their luggage and wallets, and denied the right to immediately call lawyers, embassies or family. According to rights groups and several eyewitness accounts the past two decades, a shadowy group of security guards, subcontracted by airlines and possibly linked to organized crime, have harassed thousands of detainees into paying at least 30,000 yen (400 dollar) “hotel and service fees”. Victims have also accused airlines of charging exorbitant fees, negotiated under duress, for one-way tickets to the US, Canada and other destinations. 

Amnesty International, the world’s largest human rights organization, has released reports over the past decade accusing immigration officials and guards of harassing foreigners and denying them basic human rights at Narita. Ministry of Justice statistics, cited by Amnesty, said more than 7000 foreigners were detained at Narita airport in 2010, an average of about 20 per day. Guards extorting “service fees” of 30,000 yen could thus collect about 600,000 yen (about $8000) per day, or perhaps more than 2 million dollars per year. 


South Korea-based Asiana Airlines, one of the largest carriers in Asia, says they’ve also been a victim of a “third party” accused of rights violations and extorting money from passengers detained at Narita. 

Asiana tweeted: “Asiana does/will not ever enforce payment. We believe we had been victimized. Please understand that this was not Asiana.”


Thorough readings of Japan’s Immigration Control Act find no mention of laws requiring foreign detainees to pay 30,000 yen or more per day for their detention. Thus some observers in Japan suspect a criminal syndicate is involved in profiting from passengers in legal limbo. The US Treasury Department recently announced sanctions on the Kobe-based Yamaguchi-gumi network of gangs accused of illicit trade in drugs, children, prostitutes, brides, pornography, stocks, funds, property and other profitable things. 


The mistreatment of foreigners in Japan is not confined to Narita. Local media reports, citing Justice Ministry figures, say Japan has deported more than 100,000 foreigners since 2005. Japan only accepted 21 refugees out of a record-high 1,867 applicants in 2011, the Justice Ministry said, according to a Kyodo News report Feb. 26. The number of asylum seekers was the highest since 1982, and was 60 percent higher than 2010, when 39 refugees were accepted. The number is a drop in the bucket compared with other wealthy nations. In 2011, asylum seekers included 491 from Myanmar, 251 from Nepal and 234 from Turkey. The report said that 248 foreigners were allowed to stay in Japan on humanitarian grounds. It’s not clear if that means Japan detained those 248 persons, while deporting at least 1,600 persons. 

As of November 2011, a total of 1,064 people were detained across Japan, including 12 minors, the Japan Times reported in March, citing Justice Ministry statistics.

Two people succeeded in taking their own lives at a detention center near Tokyo in 2010, and many more tried, the report said, citing Ushiku No Kai, a group supporting detainees. The Justice Ministry does not release the number of suicide attempts while in detention, but reported 45 cases of “self-harm” in 2010, the report said.

Local media reports, citing volunteers and the United Nations, say foreign detainees spend at least 18 hours a day in tiny crowded cells with no privacy, often for six months or longer, with no idea when they’ll be released or sent overseas. Patients such as diabetics are often given pain killers or tranquilizers rather than proper medical treatment. The detainees often have no previous criminal backgrounds, and would be accepted as refugees or immigrants in most other countries.

The detainees are not only from China and other Asian nations. Canadians, for example, are more likely to run afoul of authorities in Japan than in Mexico, South Korea or Thailand. Japan has deported at least 31 Canadians the past ten years, including 5 in 2010 and another 5 in 2011, according to Jean-Bruno Villeneuve, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa.  As of February 20, at least 27 Canadians were detained in Japan, compared with 11 in Mexico, 9 in South Korea, and 4 in Thailand, he said. China was holding 83 Canadians, including many Chinese-Canadians, he said. 


It’s not clear how many Americans, Britons or others have been detained and deported.


Since 3800 Canadians are registered as living in Japan, the number of current detainees, 27, means that Canadian expats have almost a one percent chance of being detained in harsh conditions in Japanese jails. One Canadian died in an Osaka jail in 2006, and a popular Canadian TV newscaster was found dead the same year after relocating to Japan. 


Most Canadians in Japan are well-educated professionals working as educators, translators, technicians or designers. With strict drug laws and a reputation for a 99 percent conviction rate, Japan does not attract hardcore Canadian criminals. Longterm Canadian expats often complain they lack rights to vote, own land, or even rent apartments. 


While foreigners were volunteering or donating millions of dollars to Japan after the March 11 disasters, Japanese authorities continued a crackdown on non-Japanese, arresting 10,061, including 4,696 cases of alleged visa violations in 2011, Japan’s National Policy agency reported on Friday February 24, according to Kyodo News. The data does not include foreigners with permanent residency in Japan. 


These numbers are unusually high, considering that non-Japanese are less than 2 percent of the population in Japan. Less than 50,000 Americans — the size of a US college town — live in Japan, according to the Justice Ministry. Many expats and travellers fled Japan in 2011 amid aftershocks and explosions at nuclear reactors, while others have avoided travel to Japan.


Does this mean foreigners, even Canadians, can vanish in Japan? Or is it simply another case of Japan’s insularity and lack of transparency? Japan’s embassy in Canada has not replied to email requests for comment and statistics about Canadians in Japan. Narita airport authorities have also not replied to specific requests. 

Rights groups say one of the three large detention centres for foreigners in Japan is in Ushiku, Ibaraki province, less than 200 kilometres from damaged nuclear reactors in Fukushima, site of the world’s worst nuclear meltdown since Chernobyl. It’s not known if detained Canadians are suffering from affects of airborne radiation or atomic isotopes in food. 

An expat Canadian journalist who has been living and working legally in Japan on-and-off since 1989 and covering the nuclear meltdown and other stories for media worldwide, I was denied re-entry into Japan on December 23 after a reporting trip to South Korea. Japanese immigration officials, speaking through their own interpreter, wrongly accused me of lacking proof of having sufficient funds to live in Japan, asked questions about my travels and contacts in Fukushima, and issued an Exclusion Order with no official written explanation. I was detained for 20 hours in a windowless cell underneath Narita Airport, expelled from Japan, and forced onto an Air Canada flight to Vancouver on December 24. 


For 2 months, the Japanese government denied me access to my property, bank deposits, stock holdings, pets, and common law partner, who I’ve been living with in central Tokyo since 2005. I had work visas for Japan in 1989, 1994, 2005, and 2008. In 2011, Japan’s immigration bureau dragged its feet for more than 6 months on my application for a new visa to work as a journalist. I have reason to suspect that powerful persons, unhappy with my critical coverage, complained about me to the Immigration Bureau.  


In March, after more than two months wondering if I could ever return to my home in Japan, I was granted a new work visa, my fifth for Japan, thanks to support or pressure from powerful groups in Tokyo, Washington, Ottawa and Paris. I returned to Japan in March, where immigration officers at Narita apologized and allowed me to enter Japan. Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group defending thousands of journalists worldwide, are investigating recent cases of foreign journalists mistreated in Japan. 


During my detention at Narita, where I was denied rights enjoyed by most North Americans, I feared that I could fall down what activists call a trap door into Japan’s secretive network of detention centres which have housed thousands of foreigners in appalling conditions. Japan’s immigration and detention system has been under fire since Abubakar Awadu Suraj, or “Mac Barry”, a man from Ghana 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 in March 2010. Local press reports say his Japanese widow is suing the immigration officers, who have not been arrested or charged. 


While many foreigners think Japan is a relatively gun-free society, Article 61-4 of the Japanese immigration act confirms that immigration officers are allowed to carry and use weapons to restrain people, force them onto a flight, or injure them if they resist. During negotiations over payment for a one-way ticket to Canada, a uniformed officer showed me a weapon in his holster, and said he had the authority to use it if I refused to go. 


Though most travellers have no problems there, Narita has a negative reputation with many expats who often complain about the intrusive security and the infamous detentions and expulsions of celebrities such as Sir Paul McCartney, world chess champion Bobby Fischer, and Paris Hilton. Observers say Narita’s authoritarian corporate culture dates back to the 1960s when the government forcibly evicted farmers from their land, sparking violent clashes over three decades at an airport dubbed Japan’s “Saigon airport” for its fortress-like security and right-wing suppression of leftist activists and local farmers. 


During my detention, guards, uniformed men in their 50s or 60s who spoke Japanese and another Asian language, demanded a “service fee” of 30,000 yen (about $400) to buy rice balls and cold noodles at an airport store, and later demanded the same amount in a “hotel fee” for a night in jail. When I asked police in a tunnel to help me, they called for reinforcements, and told the guards to stop harassing me over the “service fee”. They said I didn’t have to pay the “service fee”. 


But I witnessed guards extort 30,000 yen (400 dollars) from an American college professor who had just flown in from the United States to spend Christmas with his son in Japan. The middle-aged man, in a suit and tie, was harassed, strip-searched, and detained for 3 days over Christmas in a windowless cell underneath Narita Airport. He had lived many years previously in Japan, and had done a presentation in America about anti-nuclear protests in Japan.

“I thought I could go back and visit my son but apparently not,” he said in a letter after his return to America from what he calls his “non-trip” to Japan. He asked to remain anonymous. “I was not allowed into Japan and it seems that they will never allow me to enter for the rest of my life. I do have a son there and want to find him to see how he is, but I guess I will just have to wish him the best for his life.”


Immigration Bureau documents say that airlines are responsible for hiring the guards at Narita. “Concerning your expenses for being in Japan (meal, lodging, guard etc.) till your departure, the Immigration Bureau cannot take any responsibility,” said an officially stamped notice of the Ministry of Justice Tokyo Immigration Bureau, given to me a few hours before my expulsion. “This is a matter between you and your carrier (airline company).”


Guards allowed me to use a pencil to write down what a sign in the jail said: “This facility is provided by requests of airline companies. Immigration office doesn’t require the expenses about the usage of this facility.”


Asiana Airlines, which flew me to Narita on December 23 after a brief reporting trip to Seoul, said in a tweet that they are also victims of a “third party”, referring to a security company at the airport. “We would like to apologize to Mr. Johnson and his horrible experience. However we had been victimized as well; this was not us. We believe this was a third party’s doing. Please understand Asiana will not do anything to hurt anyone.”


Asiana, a Star Alliance member with more than 7000 employees, was named the airline with the best in-flight service in the world by Global Travelers magazine in 2010. 


Asiana has not said publicly who that “third party” is. 


In an email on Feb. 22, the retail management department of the public relations office of the Narita International Airport Corporation listed six private security companies operating at Narita, including the I’M Company. 


In 2004, the Tokyo District Court ordered the I’M Co, and three guards at Narita to pay damages for assaulting and extorting money from two Tunisians denied entry into Japan in 2000, according to Kyodo News. Judge Takaomi Takizawa said “it cannot be denied they were forced to pay money” and awarded them 2.2 million yen in damages. It’s not clear if the company, or those guards, are still operating at Narita. 


Another company, Global Airport Security, likely employs the guards who took me in a van marked “GAS”. 


In my case, officials for both Asiana Airlines and All Nippon Airways took several weeks to “investigate” claims and answer questions, and both airlines have tried to avoid any responsibility for the actions of private security guards at Narita. 


Jan Sohn, a customer relations officer at Asiana Airlines, wrote in an email on March 1: 


“Because every additional day a deportee is handled increases the maintenance and security cost of the whole detention system, independent of Asiana Airlines, the deportees are required to pay the security fee of JPY38,000 per person, and 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.”


In a follow-up letter on March 9, she said: “The 2004 Tokyo District case you seem to be referring to was a case in which an inadmissible passenger (INAD) had filed a claim against the security company for physically assaulting him to pay the security fee, which is currently JPY38,000. This case depicted a specific instance of illegal extortion, as there had been physical violence and coercion of payment involved, but the case never ruled the collection of the fee itself illegal.”


She also claimed: “according to Article 59 Section 3 of the Japanese Law, the security fee incurred by an INAD 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 yen or other amounts in fees. It’s not known if other countries force detainees to pay “hotel and service” fees. 


Airlines have made millions of dollars off passengers forced to buy one-way tickets against their will. In my case, All Nippon Airways have refused to reimburse my costs. Nao Gunji, a public relations officer for All Nippon Airways, said ANA is not responsible for what happened to me at Narita, although they have charged my credit card about 100,000 yen for a one-way ticket which I was forced to buy. “I spoke with the Accounting Dept about your disputed charge with Visa and was advised that the issue should be discussed between you and Visa only. The name of the security company at Narita Airport is SEI. They work for the immigration office of Japan, not for airlines.” 


Nevertheless, airlines and tour operators in Japan are likely to continue suffering from the negative publicity generated by foreigners detained and expelled from Japan. A story in the Economist magazine about what it calls “the ugly whirlpool” of Japan’s detention system drew at least 700 comments, more than any other story other than the Eurozone crisis for a few weeks in January and February. More than 1000 comments have appeared on at least four online forums in Tokyo since this story first appeared on my Tokyo-based blog Globalite Magazine on January 12. Some say travellers are victims of “gotcha bureaucracy”, where Japanese officials aim to expel foreigners on technicalities, while others wonder if the government is cracking down on foreigners critical of Japan’s response to the nuclear meltdown at reactors in Fukushima prefecture. 


Earlier this year, Japanese police also detained two Tokyo-based French journalists for a week and charged them with entering the forbidden zone around the Fukushima reactors with falsified documents. After being released, the journalists told a fellow reporter in Tokyo that they could face up to 5 years in jail in Japan, which legal observers say has a 99 percent rate of conviction. Recent reports suggest that police raided their home, confiscated equipment, and asked them to pay a fine, rather than spending more time in jail. 


The actions of some police and immigration officers seem to go against government policies to welcome more foreigners into Japan and Japanese society. The Japan National Tourist Organization said it hopes to triple the number of foreign visitors over the next five years. Kyodo News, citing Immigration Bureau statistics, reported that the number of foreign arrivals in Japan dropped by 24.4 percent in 2011 compared with 2010, meaning that 2.31 million fewer foreigners came for work or pleasure. The number of visitors last year, 7.14 million, is less than half the number of tourists visiting Thailand per year, though Japan’s population is double that of Thailand. To counter this trend, the Japan National Tourism Organization has launched a “Yokoso Japan” campaign to welcome tourists from China and other countries to visit rural regions whose stagnant economies need cash infusions from outside.  





Following reports of suicides and hunger strikes at detention centres, the United Nations in 2007 criticized Japan’s long-term detention of foreigners and recommended shorter periods of confinement.

The Justice Ministry, which doesn’t allow journalists to visit detention centres, is starting to respond to the harsh criticism of the UN and local rights groups.


The Ministry said in a statement in February that they have adopted a policy of trying to release detainees, who had overstayed visas or applied for asylum upon landing in Japan, within six months after their capture, according to Kyodo News. They said that 167 foreigners had been held for at least six months from March to August, when thousand of foreigners fled Japan after the nuclear explosions in Fukushima. Another 47 had been held in limbo for more than 12 months. 


The Ministry claims the numbers are a significant decrease from the 612 foreigners who, as of June 2010, had been detained more than six months. The government took more than 12 months, on average, to decide cases in 2010, and 5 months in 2011, according to the report. 


One detention centre, in Ibaraki prefecture, is less than 200 kilometres from a meltdown at Fukushima reactors. It’s not known if the detainees suffer any effects from radiation. The report did not say how many foreigners are currently imprisoned in Japan. 


Foreigners are more likely to wind up in jail than Japanese. In the 1980s, only about 100 foreigners per year would end up convicted and imprisoned, Japanese magazine Shukan Shincho reported on Februrary 23. But those numbers grew to 1600 foreign prisoners in Japanese jails by 2003, and then more than doubled to 3,786 foreigners in Japan’s 12 prisons in 2010, about 4.4 percent of the total prison population. A Japanese TV report in February said that 400 foreigners, mainly from China and Iran, were among the 3200 inmates at an Osaka prison, and these foreigners have longer sentences — 5 years and 7 months on average — than Japanese, with 3 years and 3 months.  

Many foreigners, arrested on visa violations, end up deported before they can land in Japan’s regular prison system. 

Japan’s Immigration Bureau says it doesn’t comment on individual cases. The Immigration Bureau declares on its website ( that it’s motto is “internationalization in compliance with the rules.” It says the bureau makes “contributions to sound development of Japanese society” by “making efforts for smoother cross-border human mobility” and “deporting undesirable aliens”.


The problem, say activists and observers, is their view of who is “undesirable.” People who would become refugees or immigrants in other countries often end up detained for months in Japan. “Japan’s immigration bureau can be extremely capricious and unfair. I’ve had one friend deported,” tweeted Tokyo-based author Jake Adelstein, who covered the bureau for a year for the Yomiuri, Japan’s largest daily. “Immigration has a horrible history of mistreating people seeking refugee status in Japan. It’s a serious problem.”

Gregory Clark, a former Australian diplomat who says he worked on a Justice Ministry immigration reform committee for several years in Japan, has also criticized Japan’s treatment of foreign detainees. “These were the people who in effect answered Japan’s call for foreign labor back in the high growth period and stayed on as their visas expired. Many learned the language and some were settled into Japan with non-Japanese families and children,” he wrote in a comment on the NBR forum which includes many Japanese academics and officials. “Instead of rounding them up for rather cruel deportation, Japan should first of all have been thanking them for helping out during Japan’s period of acute labor shortage, and then should have devised a scheme for some of them at least be able to remain in Japan.”

Clark also told the story of a young US couple who, after studying Japanese language and culture for years at a regional university, were detained, deported and banned from Japan for five years for overstaying their visa by a few weeks mainly because they lived in a remote area without an immigration office. (Other countries, such as Thailand, impose fines for visa overstays, and allow foreigners to return often on the same day.)

Clark said immigration authorities in general tend to be “fairly lenient and keen to avoid trouble” with certain groups of foreigners “partly because there is a deal of yakuza involvement perhaps.”

Activists in Japan have long viewed Narita as a symbol of Japan’s state oppression of individuals. The government chose the site for a new airport in 1966 without consulting local farmers, who fought back with the help of students and activists. Farmers built underground strongholds, tied themselves to trees, and fought armed riot police and their own neighbours with their bare hands. Local media called the Sanrizuka area “Japan’s Vietnam”. In a series of clashes in 1971, 291 citizens were arrested, hundreds were injured, and 3 police officers died in a riot involving thousands on September 16. 

The battle over Narita bitterly divided the area’s farming community between those who accepted compensation money for moving, and those who stood their ground. Many observers believe that bitter dispute created the authoritarian culture that lingers at Narita to this day. 

In February 1968, 73 relocated farmers used their compensation money to form the Narita Airport Security Corporation. They hired a staff of 200 including former police and soldiers, according to author Hiroshi Shimazaki. 

It’s not clear if the Narita Airport Security Corporation continues to directly or indirectly control guards at Narita, though it’s highly unlikely in Japan for a locally-entrenched corporation to willingly give up a profitable enterprise that could net perhaps 2 million dollars a year from detainees. 

Shimazaki’s book 1992 book “Vision in Japanese entrepreneurship: the evolution of a security enterprise,” is one of the few sources online in English which delves into the shadowy world of Japanese private security firms and their alleged links to violent criminal organizations known in Japan as the “yakuza”. 

Shimazaki also cites cases of security guards working with sokaiya gangsters to disrupt the attempts of Minamata mercury poisoning victims to raise questions at the Chisso corporations shareholders meeting in May 1971. “The reputation of the entire security guard industry was further tarnished by the apparent link between some companies and the boryoku-dan or yakuza,” he wrote.

When the Chiba prefectural government decided to take the land for Narita airport by force, the 200 private security guards joined several hundred riot police in attacking protesters, who included their former neighbours and 50 junior high school students and their parents.

According to Shimazaki, the Kyokusa Boryoku Shudan, or “extreme left mob” believed the new airport would become a US military base for the war in Vietnam. They came out to Chiba to support the 55 remaining families and many others in the area concerned about noise pollution from flights. By February 1971, they had constructed six forts, observations towers, communications stations and a 20-bed field hospital staffed by 50 students. Like the Red Shirts who overtook Bangkok in 2010, they armed themselves with wooden shields, bamboo spears, and gas bombs known as Molotov cocktails. It was their battleground to fight right-wing fascists in Japan. 

Attacked by guards and police, protesters set fire to their barricade of wood and old tires, and many were injured on both sides in a week of clashes. On Sept. 16, 1971, three police officers died in fighting involving the guards and 15,000 protesters. “The Narita confrontation brought into question at the national level the functioning and legal standing of security firms whose guards wore uniforms resembling those of the police and who used nightsticks as weapons,” wrote Shimazaki.

Even while the company that built the Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Dome worked on the airport, defiant residents built their own towers to block land meant to be runways. Four days before Narita’s scheduled opening, a group with molotov cocktails broke into the control tower, destroyed equipment, and delayed the opening by two months.  

Though leftists managed to occupy the control tower, the rightists eventually won. The airport opened in 1978 with 14,000 security police guarding 6000 protesters, according to local media reports. A Japanese newscaster compared it to Saigon Airport. 

For years, the airport resembled a military fortress, with barbed wire fences, watchtowers, armed sentries, and much heavier baggage checks and security presence than the much-loved Haneda airport in Tokyo Bay. The Diet legislature passed a special Emergency Measures Act at Narita which passengers notice even today during baggage and passport checks even before they reach the airport’s perimeter by car or train. 

In the 1980s, protesters built two steel towers 30 and 60 meters high to block the approach of aircraft, until a court ordered them removed in 1990. A radical group was blamed for a series of bombings in 1987 at offices of companies expanding the airport. 

Police in 1989 investigated a 74-year old grandmother for allegedly writing too many letters to officials. A decade later, the government again drew flack for building a runway without local consent in time for the 2002 World Cup. Even now, though it’s one of the world’s busiest airports, planes cannot land or take off at night while farmers sleep. 

”It’s like a curse was placed on that site,” Geoffrey Tudor, director of public relations for Japan Air Lines, told the New York Times in 1989. ”It was the wrong site, and we’re never going to be able to forget that.”

Even forums that promote sightseeing in Japan, such as, often draw complaints about Narita. One forum in April 2011, about guards hassling a foreigner who was merely buying a ticket, drew 65 comments with similar complaints. “At Narita, the police check passports of Japanese citizens quite often, too,” wrote a Japanese commenter. “This is because of its long history of facing leftist opposition. Anyone who has landed on Runway 2 (the shorter one) might have recognized the banner ”Down with the Narita Airport!”.”

xxx—–xxxx—–xxxx —– xxxx——xxxx—-xxxx

Several expats and travelers from the US, Canada, the UK and Australia have said privately that they were also victims of wrongful deportation and similar abuses at Narita. The largest number of deportees come from China, South Korea, the Philippines and other Asian nations. 


One of Tokyo’s most popular British expat DJs was thrown out in 1995 for no valid reason, he says, and forced to pay “service fees” and buy an overpriced ticket to Hong Kong. The head of one of Asia’s leading photo agencies said privately in an email that he was once hassled at immigration, on spurious drug charges, even though government tourism officials were waiting for him in the arrivals area.

A Canadian, writing under the name “Chuck Blade” in online magazines in Vancouver and Japan in the 1990s, said he was detained in 1997 on the grounds of having “an illegal phone card,” and robbed by guards on his way back to teach English in Japan after a holiday in Thailand. “So finally, after being threatened with arrest over the illegal phone card, I paid and spent the night in jail with about two dozen other people who were also refused entry into Japan that day. If this was an average daily catch of illegal aliens, then the annual revenues in this profitable trade exceeded two million dollars.”

Another Western male said he was jailed for two weeks, deported, and banned for five years. “I have first hand experience of the blackness of the Japanese immigration authorities,” he said in an email. “I have never felt such isolation and helplessness before or since.” He said his friend from Canada experienced the same nightmare. 

Another person, using the pseudonym “mxlx3” on The Economist’s Banyan blog, said he was barred from re-entering Japan from Guam in 2002 after working legally in Japan for 11 years. He said he lost his $125,000 per year job, all his possessions in his apartment, and his Japanese fiancee, because bureaucrats messed up his renewal for a work permit. “The immigration official [at Narita], doing his best 1970’s TV bad cop impression took me into a room and then started berating me putting his face within 2 inches of my own. This went on for hours.”

He says they “assigned a security guard to me” who demanded 50,000 yen and threatened to jail him for a month. “I was also forced to buy a $2400 ticket to Vancouver.” He was then handcuffed and made to sit down “on plain display” as a warning to passengers arriving for the next three hours. The guards took him onto the plane like a criminal ahead of other passengers. “I have never been so angry and humiliated. I sincerely believe that there is a bad group of immigration officials at Narita that power trip on detaining foreigners entering Japan – and that unfortunate victims are picked at random daily,” he wrote. “Despite all the good things about Japan and all my friends there, I have not returned again after this incident.”

Danny Bloom, an American journalist who came to Japan after a frightening experience on a flight to Alaska, was arrested in 1995 on charges of working illegally for five years at the Daily Yomiuri. He says he was never allowed to appear in court, and he was held in solitary confinement for 41 days in a Tokyo prison. Deported from Japan, he was forced onto a plane, a terrifying experience for victims of agoraphobia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Now exiled in Taiwan, he says he’s not allowed to return to “the police state” of Japan, even though he still loves Japanese people. “Tell your story loud and clear,” he said in an email. “We love Japan and we want to reform it.”







3 thoughts on “Christopher Johnson: Nightmare at Narita, shorter version of Gulag for Gaijin


  2. Pingback: The Great Canadian Air Farce | Globalite Magazine

  3. Christopher Johnson s 100 % correct because Narita Airport immigration did the same thing to me and not once but three times and i wasn’t even alone but with my japanese wife. They do illegal things and forcing you to pay money, they lie and say that they will have to contact to Ministry of Justice but they do not contact for any decision to MOJ while waiting at the airport. if you react and ask questions they call the chiba police and threat you with arrest. i have been set up by them and i know them very well…

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