Interesting tidbits from the U.S. Consulate in Osaka

Don’t worry, I haven’t managed to get myself into any trouble (yet). Our group of language students had a scheduled “security briefing” at the U.S. Consulate General in Osaka this past Friday. The contents of this meeting were mysterious to all of us until the moment we arrived, but it turned out largely to be an information dissemination session. Consul General Ed Dong gave a few remarks encouraging us to use our time in Japan wisely, and some of the other consulate staff reminded us not to become victims of natural disasters or crime–or to commit crimes ourselves.

The most interesting part of the meeting was probably the session where the person in charge of American Citizen Services told us about the typical experiences of Americans arrested in Japan. Apparently, there are a couple of dozen American citizens currently “enjoying the hospitality of the state” (as he repeatedly termed it), most of whom are in for drug possession, mostly of marijuana. Marijuana possession (and of course, dealing) is a serious crime here in Japan, and the police don’t mess around with it. If you’re arrested in Japan, the police can apparently hold you for three days without letting you contact anyone. At that point, they can extend your stay for two 10-day periods. In practical terms, this means that anyone who is arrested typically stays in jail for at least 23 days. If at that time, the authorities decide to prosecute you, you spend another 2.5 months in jail awaiting your trial. That may be less or more than you’d expect, depending on the judicial system that you come from, but it does amount to quite a lot of time.

Besides drugs, there were apparently several arrests made earlier this year of Americans who had forged JR rail passes and who were also held for similar amounts of time.

In any case, the presentation lacked much gravity, mostly because Japan is such a (relatively) safe place. According to the speakers, the main threats to our security are likely to be natural disasters, rather than crime. If we lose our passports, they recommend that we wait because such things generally get returned to you–even wallets left on trains often come back to their owners, money intact.

There are definitely worse places to be.

As a side note, the security at the Consulate General seemed particularly intense, perhaps because they have been the target of a number of protests as of late, mostly over the controversial Futenma naval base issue.