Set off the main corridor in Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, the CIQ Info Plaza puts a nicer face on the harsh realities of baggage inspection. Ed Weinberg passes his layover with the cute little customs dog who’s always frowning

 

Set on a corner near the security check and on the way to the Haneda Airport gate area toilets, the CIQ Info Plaza is a decent place to kill five minutes. With a friendly yet watchful cartoon dog mascot, displays of confiscated items, and an interactive click-screen explaining the rationale behind their prohibitions, Japan’s put more effort than usual into putting a nice face on customs.

 

The first thing that catches my eye is the display on intellectual property — with haphazardly displayed consumer goods piled on top of each other, it stands in sharp contrast to the engaging shop displays elsewhere. On closer inspection, I see they’re well-made fakes: Gucci glasses, Levitra 20mg tablets, a North Face bag with matching tags, a few of those fitted New Era baseball caps with the shiny sticker that used to be fashionable to leave on. At the bottom, the stern-looking customs dog holds up a hand.

 

The next display, on items prohibited for other reasons, is a bit more exotic. Painted ostrich eggs sit beside crocodile jerky, and ‘Dermatologist Tested’ caviar skin masks warn beauty enthusiasts, “Although caviar is a food item, it is regulated due to being the eggs of sturgeon.”

 

On the clip art-ornamented info boards above, the cartoon dog is starting to get angry.

 

 

I watch the area for a few minutes. Children on their way to the washroom stop by the bright interactive display, touching it until they end up on one of the scrolling picture screens of specific seizures. Once they clear out, I check the lists.

 

There are wads of cash and pieces of ivory. There are bags of cocaine lying next to busted-open coconuts. Next to the non-obvious contraband, there are common-sense explanations, like that explaining the prohibition on cattle jerky from the US and Canada. It’s been regulated since 2003, when mad cow disease broke out in North America’s cattle population.

 

I leave after a few minutes to get some udon before my connecting flight. But I’ve learned something — and even if it’s not strictly useful knowledge I do appreciate the gesture. From just a few minutes spent in a random corner of a stopover airport, I’ve gotten the sense that Japan’s customs department is out to help me, and wants me to understand — even if it does take a little ankle biting by an overzealous mascot.

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