Update (3/17/2019): It should also be noted that I was last in Okinawa / Japan in November for another conference, and I had no problems at all. The White House petition came out in December.
Being Detained for 110 Minutes at Immigration at Kansai Airport, February 19, 2019
All time is written in Japan Standard Time.
I arrived at the immigration center in Kansai Airport. The lines were very long. After waiting for a long time, I finally got to the desk where the immigration officer asked for my passport and immigration slip. I handed them to him. He looked at them and at his computer. Then he asked me “Are you really a tourist?”
I explained that no, I’m not a tourist, I’ve come to Japan for a conference. I told him that I’m Uchinaanchu and I go to Okinawa a lot, so I don’t need to do sightseeing. But the conferences are volunteer and I don’t get paid for them, so I just use a tourist visa. I explained that I wasn’t sure which box on the immigration form to check, since I came here because I was invited to speak at conferences and events. He asked me where will I stay. I told him that I’m staying in a hotel in Tokyo for two nights and I’ll be speaking at the Diet to members of Parliament. And I told him that after that I’ll be going to Okinawa and staying with my relatives at an apartment. I had already written the address on the immigration slip.
He called his supervisor, and asked me to wait. The supervisor came and escorted me to the side-room. This was at approximately 6:50 pm. I was told to wait in the room. I asked why, but did not receive a response. I asked other immigration officers why I was being held in the room, but again did not receive any concrete answer. They simply told me to wait. This room had several tables and chairs, along with an immigration officer watching in the back. There were a couple of other “detainees” in the room.
I thought it was very strange. I had been to Japan many times before, but this was the first time I had ever been taken to a different room for immigration.
I took out my cell phone and called Professor Hoshin Nakamura. I told him about the situation. I hung up, then began taking video of myself, explaining the situation on camera in case something should happen to me. The immigration officers saw this and got very angry at me, and began trying to get me to turn off my phone. I asked them why. They said I can’t use a phone in the office. I asked them why I was here, but they wouldn’t explain. They told me that I might be deported back to Hawaii, or that I might have to stay in the immigration center. I kept asking them why. Finally, one of the officers said that they were “checking my passport.” I asked, “Checking it for what?” I did not receive a response. I tried to call Professor Masaki Tomochi, but the line was busy. I pulled out my laptop, and logged onto Facebook messenger and twitter. I told some people on messenger what was going on. I also left posts on twitter to let people know. Later, I called Professor Tomochi again and told him what was happening. He said that Professor Nakamura had just called him and explained it to him. The immigration officer was still yelling at me and he threatened to take away my phone, and even threatened to call the police. So I handed the phone to him and let him speak with Professor Tomochi. They spoke a little, and then the phone was handed back to me. Professor Tomochi told me to just remain calm.
I hung up the phone, since the immigration officers were taking me to a different room. This room was smaller than the first. There was one small desk, with one chair on which the immigration officer sat, and another chair on which I was told to sit. There was a speaker from which an English translator spoke.
A second officer (the supervisor) stood next to the other officer, who was sitting.
I was told to delete any and all photos and videos of the immigration office, and that if I post or share any videos of photos from the immigration office online or with anyone that legal prosecution may be taken against me.
They proceeded to interrogate me. They told me again that I might be deported back to Hawaii or that I might have to stay in the immigration center. They asked me why I came to Japan. I explained that I came to give speeches at conferences and events, and that many people were expecting me. They asked me what type of conferences and events. I told them that it was about Henoko and Okinawa. They asked me where the events would be located. I told them that there were many events scheduled, and that I would be doing an event the next day (February 20) in Tokyo at the Diet. I told them I am staying in Tokyo until the 21st, and then I am going to Okinawa and staying there until March 11. They asked if I have fliers for the events. I showed them some of the fliers. They asked me if I am getting paid for the events. I told them that no, I would not be getting paid, since these were volunteer and non-profit events. I told them that I don’t need a work visa to be doing these events, and that I always use a tourist visa to participate in conferences. I explained that even the Department of Justice of Japan told me that all I need is a tourist visa to do conferences. (I had gone to the Department of Justice at Okinawa Prefecture last year to discuss my visa options.) I asked them again “Why am I here? What’s going on?” They said, “We want to know if you’re working in Japan.” I told them, “I’m not working in Japan. I already told you I’m here for volunteer conferences.”
They proceeded to ask me the same questions over and over and over again. “Why did you come to Japan? What are you doing here? What type of events are you doing?”
I told them that my connecting flight to Tokyo is soon and that I need to get going.
They said, “That’s not our problem.”
Then they continued to ask me the same questions again and again.
At this point I realized that they were probably trying to purposely waste my time so that I’ll miss my flight to Tokyo.
I told them again that I am scheduled to speak at the Diet in Tokyo tomorrow, and that many people including members of Parliament, were expecting me. They didn’t listen. I explained this to them many times, but they didn’t seem to care.
They asked me to write my detailed schedule for them. They wanted to know all of the events that I was going to be doing, and everything I was going to do for every day of my trip. I told them that I was going to be in Okinawa / Japan for three weeks and that I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do for every day.
They asked me where I’ll be staying. I explained to them that I’ll be staying for two nights in a hotel in Tokyo, and then in Okinawa I’ll be staying with my relatives in an apartment in Nakagusuku. I wrote them the address.
They asked me why I go to Okinawa a lot. I told them that I am Uchinaanchu and that I have many family and friends in Okinawa. They asked me why I go to Nagoya a lot. I told them that I usually only go there for layovers, since there are no direct flights between Okinawa and Hawaii.
Again, I asked them why I was being detained, and they said it’s because last year I “came to Japan for six months.” I told them that no, I didn’t come to Japan for six months straight. I told them that my visa is usually a tourist visa, and that a tourist visa is only good for 90 days, and that I’ve never overstayed my visa, so I’ve never stayed for longer than 90 days at a time.
At around this time, the supervisor left and the other officer continued to interrogate me, asking me to write my detailed schedule.
Later the supervisor came back, and he asked me if I know Senator Teruya Kantoku. I said yes. He said that Senator Kantoku had just called them and vouched for me. Suddenly the officers became much friendlier to me. They took me out of the “interrogation room” and back to the larger room. They told me to wait a bit.
The supervisor came back and explained nicely that they didn’t want to do this to me, but that they were simply following Japan’s procedures. He apologized several times about this. I got the feeling that they truly didn’t want to detain me, but that they probably had received orders from above.
Finally, he asked me “Last question – are you going to be part of any demos?”
I said, “Yes, I’m going to be part of the peace demonstrations.”
Finally, they gave me back my passport, and allowed me to leave. Everyone else was already gone.
All together I was detained in the immigration center for approximately 110 minutes.
Thankfully, my connecting flight to Tokyo was delayed, which allowed me to make my flight.
Later, I found out that the police went to the Nakagusuku Village Office to investigate me. They also went to the home of my relatives.
The press asked the police why they did this, and the police stated that they did it for my own safety, since sometimes right-wingers attack anti-base activists. But people in Okinawa find the police’s explanation unbelievable, since if the police really wanted to protect me, they would have contacted me directly, which they never did.
Later, when I had a meeting at the U.S. Consulate, they told me that the treatment I had experienced was “very likely” due to my involvement in Henoko, Okinawa, and the White House petition. I asked them for advice on how I might be able to avoid problems like this in the future, but they told me that they can’t get involved in Japan’s domestic procedures. They basically said that they can only help me if I were to be arrested.