We’re all terror suspects now
Every air passenger is treated with suspicion since 9/11, regardless of appearance. Global traveller Pico Iyer has had to put up with it all his life
Sunday 28 August 2011
I’m sitting in the expansive spaces of Renzo Piano’s four-storey airport outside Osaka, sipping an Awake tea from Starbucks and waiting for my bus home. I’ve chosen to live in Japan for the past 20 years, and I know its rites as I know the way I need tea when feeling displaced, or to head for a righthand window seat as soon as I enter a bus. A small, round-faced Japanese man in his early 30s, accompanied by a tall and somewhat cadaverous man of the same age, approaches me.
“Excuse me,” says the small, friendly seeming one; they look like newborn salarymen in their not-quite-perfect suits. “May I see your passport?”
When I look up, surprised, he flashes me a badge showing that he’s a plainclothes police officer. Dazed after crossing 16 time zones (from California), I hand him my British passport.
“What are you doing in Japan?”
“I’m writing about it.” I pull out my business card with the red embossed logo of Time magazine.
“Time magazine?” says the smiling cop, strangely impressed. “He works for Time magazine,” he explains to his lanky and impassive partner. “Very famous magazine,” he assures me. “High prestige!”
Then he asks for my address and phone number and where I plan to be for the next 89 days. “If there is some unfortunate incident,” he explains, “some terrorist attack” (he’s sotto voce now), “then we will know you did it.”
Six months later, I fly back to the country I love once more. This time I need to withdraw some yen from an ATM as I stumble out of my trans-Pacific plane, in order to pay for my bus home.
“You’re getting some money?” says an attractive young Japanese woman, suddenly appearing beside me with a smile.
“I am. To go back to my apartment.”
“You live here?” Few Japanese women have ever come up to me in public, let alone without an introduction, and shown such interest.
“May I see your passport?” she asks sweetly, flashing a badge at me, much as the pair of questioners had done two seasons before.