El Barco co-owner speaks after being released from custody

no dancingRichard Nishiyama, joint owner of the El Barco company, speaks to GetHiroshima about his time in custody and considers how we might move forward. Check below for details of how you can find out more about the situation and how you can get involved in helping make sure it doesn’t happen again.

If you have been reading the GetHiroshima blog or the Barco Raided article you will be aware of what happened at El Barco and Barco Tropical last month. GetHiroshima spoke with proprietor Richard Nishiyama a couple of days after he was released from 10 days in custody at a holding center in Higashi-hiroshima.

Anyone who knows the Peruvian-born Richard will know he is friendly, tolerant and non-confrontational, qualities that have served him well in managing the sometimes fractious El Barco Saturday nights. It seems that they also served him well in handling the interrogation he underwent at the hands of prefectural police. Taken into custody in the early hours of the morning, he was continually questioned and “asked” repeatedly to sign a prepared statement until three in the afternoon. Interrogation continued for several more days, but he remained composed, refusing to be provoked by insinuations made about his sister, who was also in custody, or threats against his family.

Richard is extremely angry and bitter about what he has been put through and he feels it is important to make some kind of stand. Suing the police would bring the case attention, however, it would likely be a very long, expensive and, ultimately, futile fight. Well aware of how important the support of his customers, the local community and the media has been in providing psychological support, Richard is concerned that should the police decide to make an example of other non-Japanese residents without access to such support the experience would be intolerable. To this end he is hoping that, at least, some kind of support network can be established for those who might find themselves in such a situation.

During the last three days of his incarceration, Richard made something like 50 pages of notes recording the events and his anger at his treatment. He has asked GetHiroshima to publish the following statement.

May 25, 2006A statement by Richard Nishiyama, joint owner of the company “El Barco”.

On May 14, around 2am Hiroshima police raided my bar-restaurant with around 60 agents. Among them were the public prosecutor, immigration officers, photographers, translators and agents from the USA government.

At the beginning of the raid, the police and the translator showed me a document which contained an order from the police to raid El Barco for violating the law on public morality. The reason for the raid, that is our violation, was DANCING. In Japan, dancing is considered a violation of public morality. This is something I really did not know, and which I consider to be absurd, but as I am living in Japan I have to obey the Japanese law, take responsibility for whatever I do, and accept the consequences for breaking any laws, whether I was aware of the law or not. If Japan has certain laws, I have to respect them and take responsibility for breaking them, for I live in Japan and so does my family. This is exactly what I told the public prosecutor.

Now, I would like to explain the unfairness of this experience which has been a nightmare for my family and I, because of the inhumane way in which the authorities treated us. The key words that come to mind are humiliation, abuse, racism, falsehood, damage and impotence. I would now like to explain why.

The way the police entered my bar-restaurant reminded me of some of the darkest days of Latin-American history. They came in, in an abusive and authoritarian way, screaming, yelling and pushing our customers into the bar so that no one could leave- as if they were animals or hostages of the police. Then, they took me, along with my sister and two of our employees, into custody at a police station where, using threats, they tried to force me to sign a Japanese document written by the investigator.

In my opinion the police overreacted in the way in which they treated us in comparison with the way they generally treat Japanese citizens. They deprived us of liberty for ten days just because we lacked a license for dancing.

This was obvious from the beginning of the raid. The first thing they did was separate the Japanese citizens from the foreigners. Then they let all the Japanese leave the place, keeping all the foreigners in. They checked all of them, one by one, and only when they were sure that there were no problems with their documents (visas, ID cards etc) they would lead them to the street to let them go – like letting “animals” out of their cages.

I also say racism because of the words carefully used by the investigator while questioning me. As an example of the many things he said;

You and your sister came to Japan many years ago to work for money, that is, because you needed it…?Yes

So, at El Barco you make people dance to earn more money.

I don’t think that way.

If you do not think that way, then go back to your country (Peru ni kaere!)

Then he said that he saw with his own eyes people dancing at El Barco and he even saw a stupid American man dancing with a Japanese girl (baka amaerkajin to nihonjin isshou ni odoteita deshou). These are just two examples of the tone of the interrogation. I felt like a defenseless foreigner being shot at by a heavily armed soldier.The timing of this “investigation” also hints at racist motivation. It came just hours before the start of the trial of the perverted child-killer Carlos Yagi, who unfortunately is also Peruvian- What a coincidence!

It is hard to believe that such a huge operation could be carried out on the basis of lacking a license for dancing.

The damages that they have inflicted on us have affected us in many different ways, but the greatest have been psychological. I couldn’t see my family for ten days and being separated from my 3 year old son was almost to much to bear. I would like to ask the prosecutor, “Was my detention necessary? For what purpose? What did you want? What were you actually searching for?”

I felt impotent because I cannot speak Japanese perfectly; because I do not know Japanese laws, because I couldn’t do anything against the abuses inflicted on me; because I could not speak with anybody, call anybody. I felt alone in that world, without voice, arms or feet; without any rights. I think that nowadays there is some kind of ‘national crusade’ in Japan against foreigners, especially against Latin foreigners, and that because a couple of them break the law, the rest of us are paying the consequences, enduring unfair suspicion and persecution.
I would like to ask the public opinion, what was the intention of authorities. If we only lacked a dancing license, why did the police break into my house and take all my personal documents and my computer? Why investigate the life histories of my sister and I, going right back to the first days we were born? I think the authorities were hoping that they would find something incriminating. They didn’t find anything because their suspicions, whatever they may be, are groundless. We have done nothing wrong or illegal, and we have nothing to hide.

In Hiroshima there are more than 20 places where people dance, some close even later than El Barco, and have more powerful sound equipment. Why then, did they only focus on us? Why did they come along with US agents? Why such a big raid if our only “violation of the law” was not have a dancing license? Was it fair to put on such a show? Why on a busy Saturday and not any other day of the week? By carrying out the raid on a Saturday night, they created a dangerous situation because of the large number of customers present and the aggressive way they entered El Barco.

To finish this account of what happened , I just want to speak my mind and say what I think.

It is very clear to me that some authorities have been abusive. Since that night, I have suffered a lot and I’m still traumatized as a result of being unfairly deprived of my freedom, which is the most precious right a democratic society has… FREEDOM. I ask to the public prosecutor and police department: What have you found? Let me answer that question: NOTHING. The only thing you’ve achieved is to inflict psychological damage and humiliation upon us.

Finally I would like to thank all the people who have supported my sister and I from the beginning of this ordeal, especially to Kiyomi, Mr Joguchi, Natasha, Jamie and GetHiroshima.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this statement.

Richard Nishiyama

There will be an open meeting at Astel Plaza from 2pm, Saturday June 10. Richard and Hideko Nishiyama will talk about their experiences, and there will then be a discussiion as to how to prevent this kind of abuse towards foreigners in the future. We will post further details on the GetHiroshima blog when we have them. If there is anyone who would like to offer their services as an interpreter during the meeting (Nihongo, English or Spanish) please contact me by email.

Also, accounts of the actual raid on El Barco are sparse. If you were there and would like to send in your account of what happened we would be very grateful. We’d like you to include your name and contact information with your accounts, but assure you that we will request your approval for anything we might publish on GetHiroshima before doing so.


Paul Walsh

Paul arrived in Hiroshima "for a few months" back in 1996. He is the co-founder of GetHiroshima.com and loves running in the mountains.