Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Prabin Shrestha’s anecdote of police investigation (“Night trip to the police station,” September 10) is interesting and not atypical of the foreign experience in Japan. It seems fairly benign, though, compared to the horror stories that some foreigners can and do tell. And, in any event, stories of frustrating or unhappy encounters with Japanese police contribute to an inaccurate picture of the nice, friendly, intelligent, understanding and patient people that most Japanese
- including police officers - are.
But I have to point out the statement “It is not unusual to have to show one’s alien card many times to many people including police.” I would say that it is noticeably unusual indeed. Oh, the alien registration card is a handy piece of identification because it bears our photographs, passport numbers, addresses and other personal information. So many people are prone to flash it about when identification is needed - applying for bank accounts, video shop membership cards, etc. What is more, Japanese know that we have them, so when identification is required they might be prone to ask to see it.
But by law, the only people entitled to see and request to see our alien registration cards are those with “police powers.” These include police officers and magistrates, of course, plus Customs and Immigration officials, elected city officials, and penitentiary officers if it comes to that. The list is fairly short, and it does NOT include your landlord, your video shop guy, the post office clerk, hotel staff, your travel agent, or the staff at the airport check in counters. But if we point out to these people that they are not entitled to see our cards and that other identification is suitable we are first met with assertions that we are wrong, followed by observations that others do it so why are we being so stubborn? We come across as belligerent and suspicious, not to mention just plain strange.
Published on Sunday, September 17, 2006 as, “Alien card not for everyone’s eyes.”
It is so commonplace for foreigners to use their alien registration card, and for certain Japanese businesses to ask to see it as identification that my pointing out the legal issues that arise form such casual use is mis-taken. My objections are simply incomprehensible. The problem is that many - shall I say most? - Japanese that require identification require photo ID. And not only that, they require photo ID from a Japanese source. So one’s foreign passport is rejected as acceptable identification when buying a cellular telephone, for example - which I experienced in February 2009 when I got my first “keitai” cell phone. My argument that my foreign passport was good enough for the Japanese government - both the Immigration and the Justice Ministries - so why not for the cell phone company, or the bank is rejected and serves primarily to paint me as a difficult, argumentative foreigner. Of course I am right, but being right or in the right is not actionable. It gets me nowhere against the inertia of society. To overcome the problem we need a re-definition of what constitutes an acceptable source of photo identification. One might say that it is parochial Japanese insularity that only accepts a photo ID issued by a Japanese source.