Scrutinized by police in Shibuya

The dreaded day I feared has arrived. I was stopped, searched, probed and embarrassed in a crowded Shibuya 50 metres from the Hachiko statue with what felt like thousands of pairs of eyes looking on. My friend and I were enjoying our multi-day trip to Tokyo. I have been to Tokyo many times and we have similar interests so I was showing him the geeky sights. We had already spent most of the day is Akihabara then had a late lunch at a Jamaican restaurant in Shibuya. The next stop was to enjoy the evening in Odaiba and watch the lights come on at the lifesized Unicorn Gundam as the sunset.

Aloof in Shibuya

So there we were among the crowds, just through the famous Shibuya scramble crossing. I gestured to him to do his touristy thing and snap some shots of the famous Hachiko while I stood away from the crowds plotting our train commute to the Unicorn Gundam via Google maps. I look up and my eyes made four with those of a police officer, but I thought nothing of it and went back to my phone poking. My friend returns and we start rushing to cross the road a few metres away before the crossing light turns red. That’s when we are surrounded in the crowd by three officers. Before coming to Japan I read about the experiences of other expats via there blogs or watched their videos on Youtube extensively. So many black males have that post/video about how they have been stopped by the police in Japan and felt unfairly targeted. I guess it was my turn.

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Sniff all the things!

The policemen surrounded me and my friend and I protested. Why are you stopping us? Apparently, we looked suspicious and we are told that there has been a lot of drugs in Shibuya, Shinjuku and other areas so they need to check us. I inquire if it’s because we are brown? They look at each other and LAUGH. I ask for the name of the one talking to me and express how uncomfortable this is. Meanwhile, a big bubble with the 2 black men surrounded by police opens up on the busy street as onlookers point and whisper as they pass by. He taps me down and when checking my pockets acts startled when he feels my f*ck*ng lip gloss. A great Japanese policeman startled by organic black cherry lip balm. He moves on to my bag and opens every compartment and I kid you not; starts taking out and smelling everything. That package from Yodobashi Camera? Sniff. That power bank? Sniff. That packaged piece of pastry left over from my Burger King breakfast? Sniff. All while the crowds parted around us and the eyes continued to focus on us. They then checked my hat AND MY DAMN SHOES. They found nothing and sent us on our way.

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I felt so violated. I was so scrambled mentally that we started going in the wrong direction looping back around towards the Jamaican restaurant we had lunch at and guess who we run into? The same group of three officers patting … down … another … black … man.

My whole Tokyo experience was soured. So many things running through my mind. Was it how we were dressed? Was it my red, gold and green cap. Why us, why then? In all the time I’ve been in Japan every time I have been offered drugs in Japan it has been from Japanese people. Maybe I am naive, maybe I was too happy-go-lucky. One thing I do know is this experience has changed me. Another thing and maybe the only positive is that I spoke Japanese during the ordeal; I guess we can add “emotionally compromised” to the list of times when my Japanese ability peaks, right under “drunk”.

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11 thoughts on “Scrutinized by police in Shibuya

  1. Whoa. Like you said, it’s something you know to expect in the back of your mind – but it’s still shocking and disgusting when it does happen.

    Really sorry you went through that.

    1. Hummy! Long time. Good to see your still around. I havent seen you comment in a while, you are a longtime reader!

      It was a really terrible experience!

  2. It really sucks that you guys had to deal with something like that. It’s a global scale situation unfortunately, I’ve read a lot about Japan and I think I had this fantastical idea of how being there would be for a long while. However, when I got a bit older and really paid attention to the animes I watched, commercials etc I realized we’re heavily ridiculed by these people and quickly came to realize the idea of this polite, fair and ideally respectable to everyone Japanese person was pretty much just an illusion I had. They’re just as ignorant as everyone else. What was a dream destination for me is pretty much crossed off that list. It’s a sad world we live in when simply because of the color of your skin you’ve got to keep in mind people will treat you worse than garbage.

  3. I’m appalled and saddened. I have always wondered what my reaction would be when faced by such a situation. I have been fortunate to have been able to escape same, even during my years living in the USA and UK. Was there a rights violation though? Do the police just stop and search random persons or must there be a reasonable suspicion of something…not sure what Japan’s laws allow. I don’t know if I could stand it without protest so good on you

  4. To think Japan was above all of this was indeed a fallacy, I empathize with you my friend, no one should ever have to experience this. Thanks for the the eye opener, each day I see or hear more experiences like these, it brings a renewed sense of appreciation for my homeland.

  5. Jah know bredrin. Really sorry to know about your experience. I don’t know if it’s luck or what but in 11 years I’ve never been stopped anywhere in Japan by police except once at the airport in Osaka but just to check my passport. Never been searched in all these years. It is quite unfortunate and I’ve heard these stories way too often.

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