Living in Japan/Dealing with Trouble
You can reach the police at any time by dialing 110, and fire and ambulance services by dialing 119. Dispatchers may not speak English. However, because they can trace the phone line you are dialing from, you really only need to know two words:
- kaji = fire
- kyu-kyu = emergency
It's also a good idea to keep the number of your home country's embassy so that they can notify your relatives or other contacts overseas in the event of an emergency.
Japanese law is very employee-friendly. In most cases, it is very difficult for your employer to fire or demote you unless you have been warned well in advance and have had opportunities to improve your problematic behavior. Even if you are fired, you are generally entitled to advance notice or equivalent severance pay.
The government provides labor consulting offices in every city (list in Japanese) which you can visit if you need help.
A married couple in Japan can divorce by agreement at any time: all that's required is a divorce application, which is available at city hall. However, if you are unable to agree on the terms of your divorce, it is very difficult and time-consuming to get a divorce: hearings in the Family Court move at a glacial pace and may take years of hassle and legal bills. As a result, many Japanese couples end up living separately but remaining legally married.
Child custody is a major problem for foreigners who marry in Japan. Although both parents have the right to custody of their children in principle, disputes generally result in custody being awarded exclusively to one parent. Due to oddities in the family registration system, it is almost impossible for a foreigner to be a single parent in Japan, so custody is most likely to be awarded to the Japanese spouse, particularly if that spouse is the mother.
However, because court enforcement mechanisms are very weak in Japan, divorce has very few financial repercussions.
A police officer may stop you in public to ask you some questions. The best strategy is to cooperate, as police officers expect cooperation from Japanese citizens. Some key points to remember:
- As a foreigner, you must carry your alien registration card at all times.
- You must show your alien registration card to any public official if they ask for it. However, you are entitled to see their ID before showing yours in order to ensure that they actually are a public official. You have no obligation to show ID to anyone who is not a public official.
- Finally, you do not have to go to a police station unless you are arrested. If the police want to ask you questions, you can talk to them on the street or in any other convenient location.
Getting arrested in Japan can be a very traumatic experience. Under Japanese law, the police may detain you for up to 23 days without a trial. They use this time to try to coerce a confession out of the suspect.
Criminal cases rarely proceed in Japan until the suspect confesses. Generally, if you do not confess to a crime while in police custody, the charges will be dropped or (if the evidence against you is strong) the police will detain you again. A form of "plea bargaining" often occurs through this process, where a suspect agrees to confess to a lesser crime in exchange for release and a lenient punishment (a fine or deportation).
If you are arrested, you are constitutionally entitled to the assistance of a lawyer. Local bar associations provide a "lawyer on call" (toban bengoshi) to assist anyone who is arrested. You can contact this lawyer by asking the police, or by calling the hotline for your local area. These attorneys are generally volunteers; you have no right to a government-appointed attorney until you are actually indicted (i.e., after you confess).