This series of drawings chronicles the true story of my time in a Japanese detention center when I was arrested in December 2015.
A new version with improved illustrations will be released on the Longshorts app and crossposted on the Twitter account @Chappy979 on January 12, 2018, in a tweet format that feels like you’re following the events as they happen.
Click here for the story trailer on Longshorts: https://www.readlongshorts.com/stories/chappy-979
Please click on the thumbnails for the full image.
Dec 5, 2015 I was stopped by the police at the Minami Senju bridge at around 2:20 am (which actually happens fairly often because for some reason I look suspicious on a bicycle at night). But this time I had a crowbar sitting in my basket so I was brought to the police station for questioning. Upon inspection of my backpack, they also found a knife that I was carrying for protection (I just came from a long bicycle trip from Chiba, which has a lot of long dark roads and bosozoku gangs). Apparently it’s against the law to carry a knife with a blade longer than 6 cm without just cause. So at 3:30 am, I was officially arrested. I only saw my mugshot once, so that’s all I could remember from my mugshot number. 3066 and H 😛 Did you know that in Japan, you aren’t entitled to any phonecalls upon arrest? You could very well just die in prison without anyone ever knowing where you went.
Upon arrest, a rope was tied around my waist with handcuffs attached to it. However, I only wore the handcuffs when I had to walk to the bathroom (and the rope is attached to my escort). Most of the time I was tied and cuffed to the chair in a comfortable way that I hardly even noticed it. My arrest happened at 3:30 am but there was a lot of cataloguing (of my belongings), biometrics, and paperwork to do before interrogation, plus we had to wait for Police Chief Yamada to come in. Before my interrogation the Chief noticed it was 7 am and told them to get me a breakfast bento before we begin. They also let me have a lunch break and I was given a lunch bento as well. I could drink all the green tea I want. Even in the middle of interrogation I could stop them and tell them I was out of tea and I would get a refill 😀 Luckily I could also go to the bathroom as much as I wanted, ahaha. I liked the cop who was assigned to watch me while I ate. He seemed kind of shy, though.
I’m going to address a question by Eloisa: ” I wonder if they treat criminals as nice as they did you -are they as pleasant?” I can’t say for sure, but I do think that my kind treatment at the police station was due to me being pleasant and cooperative from the very start. Also, my arrest was a result of them being so Japanese in the way they do things: by the book. No matter how harmless I seemed, I was carrying a knife, so I need to be arrested. They were almost apologetic when they were arresting me. I was at the station for over 12 hours, so we had some time to get to know each other. The more they interrogated me, the more ridiculous everything seemed: I was riding in Chiba for 22 hours on a friggin’ mamachari, playing in wild beach waves and running around in wet boots. It was clear I was just a quirky girl with strange hobbies. Perhaps if I was more dangerous they wouldn’t have been so personable. I’m sure I still would have gotten the bathroom breaks, tea, and food, though. Before I was hauled off to the detention center, Police Chief Yamada and Mr. Honda, the interpreter (I needed one for the difficult words), gave me very nice farewells.
At around 5 pm, I was transferred to the women’s detention center at Nishigaoka. Jail reminded me a bit of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in that we were all given a small towel that we had to take with us everywhere we went. We were always reminded to take it. No matter what happens, don’t forget your towel. They took my clothes, and after a full body check where they wrote down minute details like which parts of my body had stretch marks and cellulite, as well as taking note how I got each of my scars, I was given a grey shirt and sweatpants to wear (and a fresh pair of panties, thank goodness). They also kept a grey sweatshirt for me in my locker, which I could ask for whenever I felt cold. Then they took 1000 yen from my wallet to pay for my soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, towels, and pantyliners. They asked if I also wanted to purchase other things like lotion and lip balm, to which I declined (and later on found out that it was a big mistake to do so — the air in there was dry). I was assigned the number 979 (pronounced kyuu-nana-kyuu), which was written on my slippers, and it was how I would be addressed the whole time I was in there. Never by name. We called the guards “Tantou-san”. They wore cute hats and vests, and each of them carried a small ruler in their chest pocket. They spoke to us affectionately, with elongated “ne~”s at the end of their sentences. They sounded more like big sisters than jailers.
I was assigned to cell #13. I arrived at my cell right at dinnertime. One of them cried out loud excitedly when they saw they were gonna have a new cellmate and another yelled “YOUKOSO!” (welcome!). I had four cellmates: -Emi, who is Russian, but judging from her Japanese it seems that she grew up here. -Anri, of Korean descent, although is pretty much Japanese in her demeanor as well. -Momo, Chinese, who moved to Japan when she was of high school age. -An old Japanese lady whose name I never learned, but everyone called her “okaasan” which means “mother”, so I did the same. They immediately made a place for me at the dinner mat, handing me my bento and giving me tea. Emi yelled at the guard to get me some chopsticks. At first I was wondering why the guards never bothered to teach me the facility’s procedures, like how to prepare for meals, how to answer to roll call, how to hand items back to the guard, etc., and it turns out that it was expected that my cellmates would take me under their wing and teach me. Which they did.
Emi friggin’ loves American music. And she loves Lady Gaga. She asked if I knew the song Bad Romance, and I responded by singing the “Ohohohoooo” part. It was met by applause and exclamations of “Erai, erai!” (You’re good!). When asked to sing more I said that since we were in jail, Telephone was more appropriate. Within seconds, a 3-woman jail dance party happened. Anri, no matter what, always moves like a street thug, but Emi could bust some sexy moves. Okaasan was worried that we were getting too loud and asked us to tone it down, but none of the guards stopped us, so it must have been okay 😛 By the way, they both constantly sing Poker Face with the wrong words (“Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful Poker Face!”) which drives me a little nuts, haha.
Our cell was a simple rectangular room with a carpeted floor, long enough for five futons to be laid out comfortably side-by-side at night. You can cartwheel in it if you wanted to. I did 😀 We remove our slippers and keep them right outside the cell, so inside we’re either barefoot or wearing socks. The sink was a simple metal sink, with a sensor-type faucet that dispenses drinkable water. A mirror hung above it. On the wall next to the sink were two windows, a big one and a small one near the floor, so the patrolling guards from the hallway on the other side can look in on us anytime. Everything was squeaky-clean. What took some getting used to was the glass window that looks into the toilet. Plus the door, when closed, didn’t really touch the edges of the door frame. It was too embarrassing for me! I held everything in until I couldn’t hold it anymore. Okaasan was the one who encouraged me to use it. “But… But… What if I… you know… have to be in there for… a long time?” I asked her as I felt my face getting red. “Then you sit in there for a long time,” she answered. “But… what about the smell?” “The smell won’t come out, don’t worry!” “I don’t want to go!” “Just go!” Of course, Emi and Anri found it hilarious that I was so embarrassed, so for my toilet debut, Emi kept waving at me happily and Anri would squat and grunt like she’s forcing something out. And they kept warning me that if I duck and hide, the guards will reprimand me for doing so, as all inmates are to be visible at all times. Waaaaah.
One thing you must remember if you are arrested in Japan: You are entitled to a lawyer that is provided by the Japan Bar Association. If you have under ¥500,000 (around US $5000) in your bank account, your lawyer is free of charge. However, they don’t tell you that. When we were processing my paperwork back at the police station they told me to tick a box, and upon closer inspection, the box stated that I did not need a lawyer. Immediately I shook my head and said that I did want a lawyer. However, you cannot have a lawyer present when you are giving your statements. You do those alone. So what is a lawyer for then? Your lawyer is your liaison to the outside world. Remember when I mentioned that you’re not entitled to any phonecalls? Only through my lawyer could I tell my company that I won’t be coming to work, as well as let my family know what’s happened to me. My lawyer arrived at the detention center at around 7 or 8 pm on my first night. We didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye regarding what should be revealed or not. I told him to call my mother and to tell her where I was, and his response was, “You want me to tell your mother you’re in jail???” He was also reluctant to tell my company what happened to me, even after I insisted that they need to know where I was. I asked him to send an e-mail to a certain person who was important to me, to tell them where I was and what happened to me. Later when I got out, I learned that the e-mail simply said that I was “involved in an unfortunate incident involving unmentionable circumstances.” Oh wow. Talk about secretive. Lawyers are also there to arrange depositing money into your account, if you’re staying there longer and need to purchase stuff inside. I’m not sure what else he did. Honestly, I only saw him twice. Once on the first night, and once just before my hearing. He wasn’t even there during the hearing itself.
Meanwhile, outside. Before I was arrested, I was out on a haikyo/urbex outing, which is the hobby of exploring abandoned buildings. I usually go about these alone, so I liked updating my Facebook and Instagram throughout my day so that my friends can sort of join me in my solo adventures (as well as know where I am, for safety purposes). On the 22nd hour, I posted this last picture before my feed went silent: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153696144771061&l=6c6d4118ca
It was my view from inside a squad car. My friends Samie and Herb, worried that no one had heard from me since, started looking for me. Herb is a university professor, and it’s already happened more than once that a student of hers has gone missing for a couple of months or so, only for her to find out later that they had been in jail that whole time, but with no way to contact anyone. Samie called every police station in Adachi Ward, since that was the location that was indicated on my status update. Every station simply said I wasn’t there, until she got to Minami Senju Police Station. They weren’t allowed to tell her I was there, yet they can’t lie either, so instead she got a very roundabout answer.
People have been asking about my cellmates. I’ll start with my favorite, Anri. Anri is a proud junkie. She’s got heroin scars all over her arms and is probably only sober when she’s inside. This isn’t her first time in jail. She’s been to the Philippines before and her dream is to run away there someday. Although something tells me it’s not the white sand beaches she’s after. When I told her that the reason my hair was full of dried seawater was because I was frolicking in the waves in full clothing the day before, she asked if I was doing it because I was high. And I was like, “No, I was having fun!” And her eyes grew big and she said out loud, “NATURAL HIGH???” (in English!) as if just laughing and having fun by yourself without any substance was the weirdest thing in the universe. So you can probably guess that she’s in here for drug charges. Say what you will about her, though. I think she’s a very sweet person. Before bedtime (and before breakfast), everyone is given a turn to have access to their regimen products, like lotion, lip balm, face cream, etc. Remember when I said I didn’t buy any? It was a mistake because the air in there was so dry and my lips were in such bad shape. My skin could use some moisturizing, too. But the next buying opportunity wasn’t until Tuesday (and it was Saturday). There was also a strict no-sharing rule. So what Anri would do, is she would go out of the cell and slather as much lotion, cream, and lip balm on herself as she can without it showing that she had a floating layer of the stuff on her. Then she’d come back to the cell and transfer everything to me while Okaasan kept watch so we wouldn’t get in trouble.
Emi has trouble pronouncing “Yapi” so she decided to call me “Chappy” instead. I didn’t mind. I mentioned her love for Lady Gaga before. When I told her I was bisexual, her first reaction was to compare me to Lady Gaga (then Anri happily piped in that she was bisexual as well). I don’t know much about Emi, but from the fact that she has the luxury of firing her lawyer and is searching through private listings for a new one (that is good at handling foreigners’ cases, she said), that she either has a lot of money or there is someone with money who is taking care of her legal fees. Personally I knew I wasn’t in any real trouble so I just took the first lawyer that the Bar Association tossed at me, paid for by the government. The truth is that I hardly even saw my lawyer since you’re not allowed to have your lawyer with you during interrogations. She’s usually pretty cheery a little boisterous, but during the period when we’re allowed writing materials to write to our lawyers she loses that smile and becomes really serious as she pours over her papers. I’m guessing she’s probably in some deep shit.
“Lights out” was at 9 pm. I put that in quotations because they keep one pair of flourescent lights on in each cell (each had six pairs of long tubes) during sleeping hours so the guards could keep an eye on us. Me, being the most junior cellmate, was the one who had to sleep under it, much to my silent dismay. I’m used to sleeping in complete darkness, but Okaasan warned me that I’m not allowed to cover my face when I sleep. I didn’t listen and put my towel over my eyes anyway. All through the night she kept removing it. I kept putting it back. Okaasan and I were battling over my blanket as well. I refused to put it on, but she insisted that I would catch a cold if I didn’t. I said I was warm enough but everytime I kicked it off, she put it back on me, saying that it’ll get colder as the night progresses. At around 4 am, I woke up and noted that it was indeed a bit chiller. Luckily Okaasan won by putting the blanket back on me when I was finally sound asleep. I was grateful. The next morning, a guard called me over and reprimanded me for covering my face when I was sleeping. Okaasan gave me an “I told you so” look. The next morning I tried to ask Okaasan what she was in for, but she dodged the question. She said she’ll tell me later. On the second night, when everyone else had fallen asleep, she opened up to me and told me how everyone in her life had already died. Her husband was dead. Her daughter, who studied biology and was such a smart and sweet girl, was also dead. All her friends had also grown old and died. She was the only one left, and she was lonely and friendless. And this loneliness seemed to be connected to the reason that she was in there. And it was then that I really felt frustrated that we were being so closely watched, that I couldn’t even write down my cellmates’ contact details. I wanted to see Okaasan again when I got out. I wanted to visit her at home and have tea with her and be her friend. But I don’t even know her name.
And finally I’m going to talk about Momo. Depressed Momo 😦 I’ve only mentioned her once so far, and she doesn’t appear in the story much because she’s often out of the cell for questioning. When she is in the cell, she rolls up on the floor and just lies down quietly, sometimes cocooned in a blanket that she asked the guard to bring her. The most common question I’ve been asked in there by everyone I met was “Tsumi wa?” (What are you in for?). Being new, I was afraid to ask that question myself. Whatever Momo did, though, it involved her entire family. We try to respect her space and help her keep comfortable as much as we can. Once in a while she would feel like talking. In one of our conversations, I learned that she hasn’t seen her family in a while and she really misses them, but they can’t come and see her because they’ll be arrested, too. Sometimes she’s in questioning past lights out, so we would lay out her futon for her. At night I can hear Emi giving her advice on what to do and how to answer the cops during questioning. Her time in there was definitely taking a toll on her. What makes it even more difficult is that in Japan, you are not allowed to have your lawyer with you while you’re in questioning. You’re there by yourself, answering without legal counsel. Sometimes we speak in Chinese (with what little Chinese I remember), even though you’re actually not allowed to communicate in any other languages other than Japanese. You get yelled at when caught speaking a foreign language.
Roll call comes right before we lay our beds out at night and right after we fold them in the morning. To get ready for it, everybody kneels facing the front of the cell with our mini towels laid out in front of us, and hands on our knees, palms up. Then we quietly wait for the tantou-san to come, accompanied by the only male guard in the facility (who we call “aniki” — which is the gangster way of saying “big brother”). Tantou-san yells out our numbers* and we have to prompty respond “HAI!” Then she gives us the cue to greet and we bow deeply as we yell “good morning” or “good night” along with Aniki. When roll call is done, we take turns bringing our futons back to the futon storage room then they start bringing us our toiletries to our cells so we can wash our faces and brush our teeth smile emoticon Then it’s time for Anri to sneak in some lotion and lip balm for me again! *The only correct numbers in the picture are 979 (mine) and 913 (Emi’s). I don’t remember the rest, so I made them up 😛
Ah, prison food. Pictured here was my first breakfast: scrambled egg roll in the shape of a sakura flower and dyed pink (how much more “ladies’ prison” can you get??) with a meatball on some pasta, Japanese pickles, and a LOT of rice with some black sesame seeds on top. We also get a bowl of miso soup and after we finish it we can refill our bowls with either hot water or green tea. For lunch and dinner, the largest compartment will have some kind of fried meat or fish, and the rice will be given in a separate container instead. We’re given two bottles of condiments: soy sauce and something that is simply called… “sauce”. You should use them because otherwise the meals hardly taste like anything. You only have one go at it so once you give it back to the guards, there’s no turning back. I doused my rice with sauce until it was a black soppy mess. There is actually a vegetarian option but they don’t tell you about it! On my second evening I was having dinner with a girl from another cell and she only realized that she could get vegetarian because she saw someone else’s veggie meal. However, the guards refused to switch her meals to vegetarian, stating that she ate the meat from her past meals anyway. Since she didn’t die or get sick from eating the meat, there was no reason to change her meal options. Boo.
After breakfast you pretty much just kill time in the cell however you can. I gave Emi and Anri what they said were their first massages ever. It was met with much appreciation with them loudly proclaiming how much better their muscles felt, and Anri bowing low and giving me the title of “sensei”, which is used to refer to teachers and doctors. After that, the conversation took a different turn, and before I knew it, I was reluctantly watching a very vivid demonstration of Anri and Emi’s favorite sex positions. Laughing nervously, I tried to remind them that Okaasan was also in the room. Okaasan, however, didn’t even care; she was just quietly reading her book in the corner. There was also a moment where Anri discovered that by tumbling several times in a row, she could give herself a dizzying headache which made her feel that she was drunk. Emi followed suit and soon we had two girls tumbling all over the room saying, “I’m drunk! I’m druuuunk!” with me facepalming on the side and Okaasan urging them to stop before they break their necks.
A hour or so after breakfast they start gathering the ones who need to go to their hearings. They do a quick body check then we get cuffed and roped. Japanese handcuffs have a hoop in the middle where a rope can be weaved through. We stay roped like this in the bus all the way to the courthouse. I was quite disappointed that my handcuffs were the standard grey ones and everyone else had cute electric blue ones that had a nicer shape (eventually you start noticing what’s cute, like how Okaasan showed me how cute the colors of her little towel was, and how Emi and Anri whined out loud when they saw that my toothbrush was a lovely pinkish-peach color). I was told that those cuffs were only for smaller-sized wrists. Boo! These 15 minutes of preparation for transport was one of the only two chances I had to freely interact with the girls from the other cells. Everyone greets each other with a pleasant hello and we chat a little, giggle a little, and smile a lot. Overall the atmosphere was quite pleasant. One thing I noticed was that all the foreigners that I saw in the facility had at least the Japanese ability for basic communication. Don’t quote me on this, because I’m not sure how true it is, but according to Okaasan, foreigners get sent to this cell block if they can speak Japanese AND can behave well enough to fit in with other Japanese people. Foreigners whose behavior are too difficult and/or cannot communicate at all in Japanese are sent to a different section of the facility. Again, I don’t know how true that is, but based on what I experienced, it seemed believable. Perhaps someone can confirm or correct me on this one.
And now here comes, in my opinion, the worst part of being in detention: waiting for your hearing. Our prison bus arrived at the courthouse in Kasumigaseki, near the Ministry of Justice building. The detainees’ waiting area was a windowless room that was divided into three cells with jail bars that had benches on either side that seated 5 people each. We were to stay there for hours and hours and hours, but there was no clock and the guards weren’t allowed to tell you the time. We stayed handcuffed the whole time, except when we need to use the toilet. At the back of the cell is a toilet and a sink that you can use anytime. Just tell the guard you need to go and she’ll undo your cuffs from a small window. By this time I was already peeing in front of an audience like a champ. Didn’t think I’d get used to it that quickly! Lunch here sucked so bad. It was empty two hotdog buns and four tiny packets that contained chocolate sauce, mayonnaise, cheese, and peanut cream (which is the bland, tasteless bastard cousin of peanut butter), and a small box of juice. No hot tea either, just hot water that you drink from a bowl. There was no talking allowed, but there was no real punishment other than the guard sternly saying “Hanasanaide (no talking)!” Most of us complied, except for this Chinese girl, Hu, number 959 from cell number 19, and a Filipina woman, whose name, number, nor cell I remember. She was pretty jolly, though. Hu was brought in for shoplifting and the Filipina got in a fight with her taxi driver and it escalated so much that the police had to intervene, which resulted in them discovering that she didn’t have a proper visa. They could just not stop themselves from talking. Which would get the other girls talking, too, until our whispers got too audible. Then we get yelled at. 10 minutes later, they start again. I was surprised to find out, though, that a lot of them didn’t really know what was going on. Hu didn’t even know she could get a lawyer. I guess it really paid off to get along with my translator at the police station, because he gave me information that these girls didn’t get. Basically, the police can hold you for 23 days without a charge. You tell your story to the prosecutor on your 1st or 2nd day, and on the 3rd day they have to make a decision. There are 3 possible outcomes: 1) You are released with no charge and no criminal record 2) They hold you for another 10 days for further investigation 3) They start formal court proceedings If you’re held for another 10 days, rinse and repeat. After 23 days, they can no longer hold you legally without proper cause, so then it’s down to two choices. Either: 1) They let you go, or 2) They start formal court proceedings. The jail veterans, meaning the girls who have been through this many times, called me “Yonpachi”, meaning that they expect that I’ll be gone by the 4th day.
By the time we returned from the courthouse, dinner was already finished, so they had us set up our dinner mat in an empty cell away from everyone else, and aniki watched us eat. Next to him was a giant kettle of green tea, in case we needed refills. He also made sure that none of us spoke any other languages to each other apart from Japanese. After dinner was leisure time, and soft classical music was playing through the PA system. When I returned to the cell, Okaasan was reading her book, Emi was reading a western celebrity magazine, Anri was sitting next to her, and Momo was out for questioning again. I joined Emi and Anri as they read the celebrity magazine, but we always had to watch out for the guards, and turn around and pretend to be minding our own business when they come along. Apparently the no sharing rule also applies to your reading material. Normally I don’t really read celebrity magazines, but when your other option is a blank wall, well… You tend to give things a chance. And thanks to random stuff you come across your Facebook feed, I was able to entertain them with the story of Nicki Minaj vs. Miley Cyrus, and the line “Miley, what’s good?” —– It’s been a long time since I updated this album! Sorry, I lost access to the sketchbook where I was making the doodles, and other stuff happened. This drawing has actually been sitting in my iPad for a couple months now.