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Identification in Japan (Part 1)

July 22, 2009

Just as I did in Brazil, I am going to be looking a little at the way in which systems of government information and identification work in Japan.

One of the immediately obvious things is that Japan has no national system of ID cards. Instead, as in the UK, the Driving Licence is used as a de-facto ID. The Japanese Driving License until recently was rather like that in Brazil, in that it connected to individual strongly to the family though carrying the honseki, the address where the koseki (family registration) was registered. However, this section can now be left blank and may be removed altogether in the future. The current driving license has a photo but no other biometric data, and whilst being a plastic card with a credit card form factor, is not any kind of smart card. There’s a really nice photo-essay on the process of obtaining a Japanese driving license on super-otaku, Danny Choo’s site.

The koseki is a very traditional way of registering people based on their family’s place of origin or residency and can often stretch back many generations with details of parents, grandparents etc. The individual is no more than one name on this register. The koseki is simply a computer record these days, although paper print-outs are used in more formal identification procedures, but very few people carry a copy of their koseki around with them.

In addition to the koseki, there is a jyuminhyou (Residents’ Register), a current address register, which every local authority keeps. As with the koseki, there was an associated old paper certificate for many years. In 1999, the old Resident Registration Law was updated and came into effect in 2002 and this included a provision to introduce a voluntary Resident Registration Card. This is a smart card, and is supposed to make access to local services easier, though some see it as a precursor to a full national ID-card scheme, especially as from 2004 the card could also be used to do other things online, like tax-returns. The suspicions are also because of the way in which the card as introduced along with a new system for connecting up all the local authority residents’ registry systems in Japan, juki-net. I’ll write more about this tomorrow as we are going to talk to the official responsible for the implementation of the card and juki-net at Lasdec, the Local Authorities Systems Development Center.* On Friday afternoon, I will also be meeting up with Ogasawara Midori, a freelance journalist who specialized in covering the juki-net controversy and is also a former student of my future boss, Professor David Lyon.

There is of course an exception to the lack of national ID. Foreign residents often get very upset that they are forced to carry the gaikokujin touroku shoumeisho (Certificate of Alien Registration). This is seen as discriminatory and it is particularly so in the case of families who are identified by the state as ‘Korean’ or ‘Chinese’, whose increasingly distant ancestors came from those countries. The gaikokujin touroku shoumeisho was also particularly controversial as it included fingerprinting requirements for Koreans and Chinese that were seen as a product of the colonial period, but which were only removed in 1999. But then, following on from reactions to 9/11, and G8 plans for standardized biometric passports and visas, they were reintroduced in 2007 along with fingerprinting and facial photographs of all foreigners at the border. In one small progressive step however, permanent Korean and Chinese residents would not have the ‘colonial stigma’ reintroduced.

Foreigners are also not included on the jyuminhyou except at the discretion of local officials, although indications are that they will be included from 2012 when the system in further rationalised, although it is probably down to the campaigns for change from naturalised and long-term foreign residents like Ardudou Debito.

*Although as I am also going ‘out on the town’ with an important figure in Shinjuku urban planning (and regular in the Golden Gai stand-up bar neighbourhood), I might not get round to writing this sequel up until Friday morning.

Resident Registration Card

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