The Friday, December 9, 2011 Daily Yomiuri newspaper story “‘Alibi firms’ get away with it,”introduced me to something new about Japan that I didn’t know before - the existence of “alibi companies” whose sole purpose is to produce fake ‘official’documents for people who want to disguise their income, their place of residence, there place of employment, their visa status, etc. There is no law prohibiting or regulating such firms which, using only a computer, a printer and a copy machine can reproduce all manner of official paperwork operating just from an apartment room.
About the legality of their work, or the chance of their work being used illegally one alibi company president is quoted saying, “We just sell documents that meet people’s needs. ... We ask our customers to sign a written consent form that states they won’t misuse the documents.” It’s shocking to read such drivel. Are these businesses run by five-year-olds?
It’s a common Japanese conundrum: many things that in the West are covered by regulating or prohibiting laws here are covered only by social conventions that advocate a certain polite consideration for others. In other words, often laws here are received more as suggestions than as rules. In extreme cases, like bribery of politicians, we might fairly observe that the real crime is getting caught and causing “inconvenience.” Inconvenience and shame are the greatest wrongdoings in Japan. At a macro-sociological level we might say that the Western practice is based on a Judeo-Christian ethic wherein people are considered to be worthy of punishment due to our fall from grace. The West - especially the United States - has always been a bigger fan of punishment than the East, which has no moral legend of the depravity of mankind.
In many instances here we all know that a crime is being committed, but the police are powerless to do anything citing the lack of a specific law regulating, prohibiting or punishing the activity. In the case of alibi companies it is the phenomenon of businesses that forge official documents to facilitate their customers skirting, or even brazenly flouting the law. I understand the police dilemma if currently there is no actual legal framework plotting a clear-cut solution. But the Daily Yomiuri article seems to reveal a glaring loophole in Japan’s law code, creating a perfect opportunity for responsible politicians to mend it and in the process build good, civic reputations.
One thing I do not understand, however. It seems probable that at least some of the forged documents - records of employment and salary, withholding tax statements, etc. - are precisely the sort of things that require authorizing and notarizing seals, stamps, hanko. Seals are very important here, like a signature in America. Official seals are registered with the government. A seal supersedes a signature. Can the police not pursue a case against alibi firms on the basis of forged seals, or misuse of seals? I suppose I am wrong to think so, otherwise they would be doing it already and I would read about it in the paper. I mean, if I can imagine it then someone else cleverer that I must have thought of it first. Right?