Michael Q. Todd released from detention: “I never did anything wrong”

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    In late September, social media guru Michael Q. Todd visited the Japanese town of Taiji, a place famous for its dolphin hunts. When police asked him for ID, he showed them his Alien Registration Card. Based on what they saw, the police concluded that Michael was breaking the law, so they arrested him. He was subsequently sent to an immigration detention facility. After a 41-day investigation, he was released.

    During his detention, Michael’s friends used social media to spread the word about the incident and raise money to “free” Michael. According to Jackie Bigford and Steven Thompson, Michael was detained because he was in Japan on an expired visa. In other words, it appeared he was illegally overstaying in Japan.

    They claimed that Michael’s Japanese fiancee had traveled back to their apartment to get his passport. After apparently checking the passport, it was discovered that Michael’s visa had expired. Based on the wording used in Bigford’s post, it sounded like she was fairly certain that these events had taken place.

    However, the details of the story changed a few days later. The passport could not be produced because it had been allegedly stolen.

    On November 8, Michael announced Facebook that he is now a free man, and has married his Japanese fiancee:

    I was arrested by the Japanese police on 16 September in the infamous “Cove” town of Taiji and held (without any charge) by them for 11 days due to misleading information supplied to them by the Immigration service. After being cleared of any wrong doing the last 42 days have involved an investigation by Immigration and as far as I can see the Osaka Detention Center where I have been held has yet to communicate with the Tokyo office which was where I was granted an extension on my visa (or at least I thought I was). They are in 2 words a xenophobic nightmare.

    Things reached a total nadir last Thursday during my “admistrative hearing” where the Tokyo case officer failed to appear as a witness due to not being notified by Osaka. Keystone cops stuff but I did learn of the possibility of bail which I was promptly granted.

    I harbour no harsh feelings towards japan merely warn people not to expect any form of reasonable treatment from their Police force nor Immigration Service. Their mindset and systems are firmly stuck in the dark ages unfortunately.

    I will go into details later but will just say that….

    1. It has been an awesome learning experience about gratitude, Japan, what is real and what matters.

    2. I did not overstay nor commit any breach of any law of Japan.I could perhaps have asked one or two better questions and been less trusting but basically I have been caught in a trap of suspiscion of foreigners and incompetence of bewildering proportions. In essence a case officer in Tokyo failed to record details about my application correctly and also failed to email me and sent me a letter asking for more details to an incorrect address. She is the one who failed to turn up for the hearing.

    3. I am healthy and well both physically and mentally. My Japanese both spoken and written is at a whole new level.

    4. I miseed you all like crazy!

    5. I owe several of you a huge amount of thanks and will will now begin work on paying you back.

    6. 4 more years! (Obama AND a visa in Japan for me lol)

    7. I am fired up and ready to tweet and post and share.

    Much love


    I e-mailed Michael and asked for a few more details, particularly concerning the the conflicting accounts that his friends provided during their online fundraising efforts. He informed me of the following:

    • I had a visitor visa. It was my first for 3 years.
    • I had an Alien Registration Card (ARC) it expires December 15 2012
    • Was not working in Japan. My now wife was to do some interpreting of some Japanese right wing guy in Wakayama ken and I went there with her.
    • I guess I “proved” that I was not violating rules when the police checked the actual law and realised that you can carry a passport OR an ARC. Took them 7 days.As for overstaying when the Osaka immigration office finally talked to the Tokyo Office (took about 40 days) they realised that I had a live application for an extension to my visitor visa that they had yet to decide about. I had been in regular almost weekly contact with the Tokyo Office for some time. I had made both things clear from minute 1 but no-one bothered to listen. Presumably as they have little to do.
    • You see I never did anything wrong.
    • Getting married was irrelevant as I did it after I was realesed in any case.

    So your headline saying “Caught Overstaying” is grossly incorrect. I do not even know where you got this idea. If my “friends” told you that perhaps I need better friends.

    In response to a few follow-up questions, Michael stated:

    • Visitor visa expired 26 July. So in that respect Jackie was correct. She neglected to say that I had applied for an extension. I guess Jackie just presumed it because as a Canadian you would not be allowed to be detained unless you had done something wrong. No contact between Jackie and my wife as far as I know.
    • I needed to get a visa extension as my passport was stolen. I could not leave Japan without a passport.
    • Never knew that ARC card was useless just because visa date on it had passed. Seems to be a grey area with cops as cops in Tokyo have stopped me twice and accepted it in lieu of a passport.
    • I handed my ARC to the Immigration Office in Osaka.
    • They asked me to show a ticket out of Japan when I applied for an extension. I had tickets for Hong Kong and said so on the application. I requested an extension till 26 Sep in case the flight was delayed due to bad weather (typhoon season you see). Was told by Immigration tin Tokyo that this was acceptable

    Other online comments from Michael stated that the Tokyo immigration office had made a mistake with his address, so he was not properly informed about the status of his application for a visa extension. A letter demanding that he produce further documents was apparently sent to an incorrect address. So on September 16th, Michael was walking around Taiji with an Alien Registration Card that would not have contained any information about a visa extension application. If that was the only identification that Michael could produce, it’s easy to understand why police arrested him. The card would have showed that quite a lot of time had passed since his previous visa had expired. With no evidence to the contrary, police assumed that he was illegally overstaying that visa.

    Even after reading all this new information, the account is still a bit confusing. But it does look like there are some steps residents of Japan can learn to avoid experiencing similar trouble. First, and foremost, one should take steps to renew visas before they expire. If a visa application is still in process when a previous visa expires, be sure to carry around a document that states that the application is in process. It is also extremely important to keep your passport in a very safe place. Making a photocopy of the visa page of your passport might also be helpful (but probably is not necessary, because Japanese immigration authorities keep computer records of your visa status). And finally, if you aren’t carrying a document or ID that proves you have a valid visa, avoid encounters with the police.

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