Aliens In Japan, Kiss Your Gaijin Card Bye Bye

After over a decade in Japan, this week I got a letter from the Japanese government. It said that the alien registration card (外国人登録証明書), or informally "gaijin card", was vanishing.

Starting this summer, the credit card sized i.d. will be replaced. This is a card I've had since I've been in Japan, and one that I've legally required to have on me at all times. It's the card that clearly marked foreigners — even Zainichi Koreans — "alien".

For all the controversy on Japanese microaggressions (which is, in many ways, taking one's eye off the ball), the gaijin card has been a part of daily life for expats since the early 1950s. It's been a requirement for those staying in Japan longer than 90 days. Every few years, you need to renew it, and every time you move, the government writes down your new address (doing so often in ball point pen) on the back.

But it's also been something that people are hotels, video stores, and even real estate agencies often demand to see before you can do business with them. It's been something that has made many foreign residents feels "others" them. And this July, it will be no more.

Japan is a sovereign country. It can handle immigrants and foreigners as it sees fit. The U.S., and other countries, does likewise. However, that still doesn't mean their methods are without fault. In Japan, foreigners have reported unpleasant experiences with the gaijin card, such as random police officers demanding to see it.

To date, I haven't had any unpleasant experiences with the police, save for speeding traps, which are universal (and annoying!). The police, though, was totally cordial as I paid the ticket. Likewise, my experiences with immigration have been pleasant and helpful — and more importantly, welcoming.

As for microagressions, living in Japan for all these years, my gripes really haven't been over inconsequential questions like whether I can use chopsticks or eat nattou. If I let those types of questions get to me, life here is going to be difficult. What's more, getting offended by such questions might cut you off to interesting people — people who've lived abroad, people whose kids married foreigners, or people who are simply interested in life outside Japan. Those silly, and repetitive questions, will gradually fad over time as more and more Japanese have daily interactions with non-Japanese.

What have been problematic are things outside of the government and, largely, out of the daily interactions with people. These are things like paying higher prices to rent apartments — or not even being able to rent apartments for fear that I might suddenly leave Japan and not pay my rent. It was particularly depressing to be told that I couldn't sign or co-sign for an apartment and that my wife, who was pregnant and not working at the time, would have to sign. Foreigners were apparently no good. I remember a real estate agent — who was a super nice guy — telling me, "Japan is an island country" and apologizing for the way things were run at his company.

Other gripes have been video stores who would not rent videos to you, even if you had a gaijin card. Instead, many used to demand that you have a home phone number, which is something that many foreigners do not have. Cell phones do not suffice. Then some cell phone carriers used to illegally require an alien registration card to purchase a card.

Not every aspect of the country is like this. I'm happy to say that once you move beyond renting and into buying an apartment or a house, things do get way easier dealing with real estate companies and banks (note: you probably need a permanent resident visa). Buying a place or a car and getting a car loan have all been less painless than renting an apartment or even getting a video store card. More banks, which used to require foreigners to have a Japanese style enkan (stamp), are accepting signatures as binding.

Yet, even as things have been getting bettering, one of the most divisive things is how the alien registration system legally separates families. That will change this summer when the alien registration system ends. As The Wall Street Journal explained, the new system will now allow Japanese with foreign spouses to registered under the same system and be registered as in the same household. All residents — foreign and nationals — will get new identification cards. The difference between the foreigners' cards and the citizens' cards is that there is a marking that separates them, marking the holder's nationality.

Things in Japan move slowly — especially regarding immigration and internationalization. The changes are might not even be noticeable. Yet, they're there, bit by bit. Eventually.

Cheers to Japanzine's NagMag for the amazing alien registration card image (above). Be sure to check out Japanzine for the nitty gritty details about the new resident card. More here.

Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome — game related and beyond.
(Top photo: NagMag)


    This is both intriguing, but also sort of disturbing.

    It's a perfect example of why Japan is considered so xenophobic and isolationist, with what is essentially institutionalised discrimination against foreigners. Glad to see they are trying to do away with it, somewhat. I mean, if we had such a policy here in Australia, there would be uproar, once again, about how "racist" Australia is. Yet here is a country that has done it for decades, and this is one of the rare times we will read about it.

      One problem is that immigration is handled in Japan by the Department of Justice; it isn't even considered important enough to be stand-alone.

    Wow, Japan is still light years in front of Korea in handling foreigners. In Korea it took six months for an intra-company transfer visa. The office has been raided twice by immigration in the last year and the visa has to be renewed each year. Koreans just do not want to do business, unlike the Japanese

    Cor blimey it's that gaijin card what Mark Serrels was talkin' about in the Gamecube article he was!

    Did you guys know that Brian Ashcraft lived in Japan?

    "Yet, even as things have been getting bettering"

    I don't know about that Hoff, from what I hear, you can do some of your alien registration over the web in Korea. In Japan, you're still required to go from place to place stamping documents and suchlike. In Kobe, where I would renew my visa, I was required to purchase a 5000yen stamp or something like that, to attach to my renewal documents, because they were concerned about grift and people putting a little extra into their payments to make sure they got approved. Some things they do make sense, others are terribly archaic and old-fashioned.

    As for xenophobic and archaic rules, there are plenty. You need to submit to fingerprinting to enter the country on a work visa, I think, i know it was required of me. I was able to convert my Australian driver's license to a local one without taking a test, but I was required to watch an informational video... in Japanese only. I speak Japanese well enough to understand it, but it's the sort of thing that is lagging behind and desperately needs to be brought into the 21st century.

    Overall it's a great place, but not nearly as wonderful as daydreams make it. If only the wages and economy of 25 years ago existed in the internet capable world of now ;D

    "It’s been something that has made many foreign residents feels “others” them."


      "The Other" - a concept of being an outsider, discriminated against. It's psychology/literary theory/social theory etc.

      Generally something most arts students will have heard at some point or another, especially if you study colonial/post-colonial theory.

    I've never had any issue with my gaijin card, to me it's just been ID for things. Something with my address on it. Also means that I only have to carry a card instead of a passport to stay in some hostels.
    But, to some people, needing the card for the simple things is restrictive as Japanese won't even need to show anything.
    I wonder how many issues there might be from people stuck in there ways and not knowing of the changes, asking to see an alien registration card, and then refusing to deal with the person when they explain how the cards don't exist any more.

    That's the price you pay for being a weeaboo loser.

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