Alien registration in Japan

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Alien registration (外国人登録, gaikokujin tōroku) was a system used to record information regarding aliens resident in Japan. It was handled at the municipal level, parallel to (but separately from) the koseki (family register) and juminhyo (resident register) systems used to record information regarding Japanese nationals.

Foreigners staying in Japan for more than 90 days (excluding military personnel under a status of forces agreement and diplomatic personnel) were required to register[1] within 90 days of landing in Japan.[2] The applicant was required to provide a completed application form, passport (for applicants 16 years old or older) and two identification photos. The system was voluntary for shorter-term visitors.

Alien registration was a prerequisite to many activities in Japan, such as purchasing a mobile phone, opening a bank account or obtaining a driver's license.[citation needed]

As described below, the alien registration system was replaced with a foreign residents' registration system on July 9, 2012. The new system of foreign resident registration was passed from the local municipal level to the national level.[3][4][5][6][7]

Registered information[edit]

The information stored in the alien registration system included:

  • Date of registration
  • Name (including any legal alias)
  • Date of birth
  • Gender
  • Nationality and place of residence in home country
  • Place of birth
  • Employer/school, work/school address and occupation (if any)
  • Passport number and date of issuance
  • Date of landing in Japan
  • Status of residence and duration of stay
  • Residential address
  • Information regarding household members (including name, date of birth, nationality and relationship)
  • Information regarding parent(s) and/or spouse residing in Japan.

This information was recorded in a physical document called a tōroku genpyō (登録原票), kept by the municipality in which the subject lived. Any changes in registered information had to be reported to the municipal office.[8]

If a resident alien moved within Japan, they were required to report their move to the new municipality of residence, which then took possession of the tōroku genpyō. The tōroku genpyō was closed when the alien left Japan without a re-entry permit, and was then kept in an archive at the Ministry of Justice. Any subsequent entry to Japan by the same person required a new registration which was kept on a new tōroku genpyō.

Alien registration card[edit]

After a person registered as an alien, they were issued a photographic identity document called a Certificate of Alien Registration (外国人登録証明書, gaikokujin tōroku shōmeisho), abbreviated (as is common in Japan) to gaitōshō (外登証), and colloquially referred to in English as an "alien registration card" ("ARC") or "gaijin card". All aliens in Japan were required to carry their passport or ARC at all times. The issuance of an ARC generally took about two weeks from the filing of the application.[9]

Alien registration could also be evidenced by a certificate of matters in the alien registration records (外国人登録原票記載事項証明書, gaikokujin tōroku genpyō kisai jikō shōmeisho), which is an A4-sized printed copy of the information currently on file, similar in form to the residency registration certificates used by Japanese nationals. Because this form of certificate did not contain the subject's photograph, it was not as widely accepted as the ARC for identity verification purposes, and was mainly used as a temporary certificate when an ARC was unavailable.

The ARC had to be surrendered when the foreigner left Japan unless they had a valid re-entry permit in their passport.[5]

Legal alias[edit]

Registered aliens are allowed to adopt an alias (通称名, tsūshōmei) or 通名 as a second legal name. This resembles the 通称 that Japanese are allowed to use — for example, to continue using a maiden name at work and on bank accounts after marriage. Foreigners who are long-term residents of Japan, particularly ethnic Koreans whose families have lived in Japan for generations, often adopt Japanese names as aliases in order to integrate within society. Ethnic Japanese who live in Japan as resident aliens may use a legal alias to reflect their ancestral name. Legal aliases are also used when registering a seal in a different script than the applicant's legal name (e.g., in katakana rather than Latin script).

A person is generally required to use their alias in public relations before registering it. The exact criteria vary by locality, but the most common evidence is mail addressed to the alias name. One common technique which applicants use to create this evidence is to label the post box at their registered residence using the alias, and then mail themselves a postcard or letter addressed to the alias. One may also pay one's NHK television fee under the alias, and then receive official bills using that alias.

Aliases may be registered upon initial alien registration. If the alias is registered subsequently, upon registration of the alias, the registrant receives a handwritten notation indicating the legal alias on the reverse side of their alien registration card. Any registration certificate which is subsequently issued will show the alias in type in parentheses just below the holder's name.

A registered alias may be used on credit cards, health insurance, bank accounts and other documents. However, such documents may cause difficulties in foreign countries where the holder does not have personal identification showing their Japanese alias; thus documents in the registrant's foreign name may be preferable in non-Japanese speaking locales. Foreigners may obtain a Japanese credit card with a photo.[10]

Japanese nationals often use aliases for non-official purposes. For example, women often continue to use their maiden names following marriage, even though they are required to adopt the same family name as their husband for their legal name. However, Japanese nationals are not permitted to use an alias for legal purposes: their name on any official document (e.g. domestic use Japanese identification) must match the name appearing in their family register and resident register. Japanese passports may contain alternate names in parentheses next to the family name or the given name if the Japanese can show a legal connection and use of these names overseas. Multiple alternate names are separated by slashes. Non-standard non-Hepburn romanization may also be used for the main names if one can show a legal connection using these spellings.[11]


Fingerprinting debate[edit]

From 1952 onward, alien registration required the applicant to provide fingerprints from all fingers. Resident Koreans and other groups opposed this provision as a human rights violation. Kathleen Morikawa saw fingerprinting as violating the Golden Rule and fought for a level playing field. The fingerprinting system was repealed for Special Permanent Residents in the 1980s and for other aliens in 1999.

The fingerprint law was described in an Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights report, Prevention of Discrimination: The Rights of Non-Citizens (final report of the special rapporteur David Weissbrodt), as follows:

"An amendment to the Japanese Alien Registration Law recently abolished a fingerprint requirement to which all non-citizens had been subject. The revision of the law relieved about 600,000 residents from having to register their fingerprints. Instead, they will be asked to file their signatures or the names of their family members. Although the fingerprint law (was) repealed, foreigners are still required to carry their alien registration cards at all times and violators face heavy penalties including incarceration for up to three years or fines of up to 300,000 yen. This requirement (was) widely condemned abroad."

— Prevention of Discrimination: The Rights of Non-Citizens[12]

The Japanese government has since introduced fingerprinting and photographing of foreigners, claiming that this is a terrorism control measure. Fingerprinting is conducted at the immigration checkpoint when entering Japan and is only conducted using the two index fingers. Japanese nationals and Special Permanent Residents are exempt from the procedure; long-term residency holders are requested to give fingerprint scans regardless.

When enforced, 95 people out of 700,000 who had entered Japan in one month were refused entry.[13]

Relation with other registration systems[edit]

The alien registration system was similar to, but completely separate from, the koseki system used to record Japanese families and the juminhyo system used to record individual residents. If a household contained any non-Japanese members, those people would not appear in the koseki or juminhyo alongside the Japanese members. However, both Japanese and non-Japanese members of a registered alien's family appear in the alien's registration certificate; therefore one alien registration certificate can be used to prove their familial relationship.

One side effect of this situation was that it was impossible for an alien married to a Japanese national to be registered as the head of their household on a koseki or juminhyo. It was possible, however, to add a footnote to the Japanese spouse's records indicating that the alien is a de facto head of household (事実上の世帯主, jijitsu-jo no setainushi).

Foreign residents' registration system[edit]

The Japanese government passed a law replacing the alien registration system with a residents' registration system. This new system started from July 9, 2012.[3][4][5][6][7] The changes see non-Japanese residents recorded alongside Japanese residents in the jūminhyō system.[14] (Note the distinction between the koseki system, which has not changed, and the jūminhyō).

Under the new system, foreigners are issued a new identification card known as a "Residence Card" (在留カード, zairyū kādo) by immigration authorities. Local city officials stopped issuing Alien Registration Cards and all foreigners are now issued Residence Cards by immigration authorities. Use of the old card was permitted until 8 July 2015, or when the resident's current status expired, whichever came first.

With the system, the maximum length of a status (other than statuses such as eiju long-term residence or teiju special long-term residence) for foreign residents was extended from three to five years, and shorter periods for Students and dependent statuses are permitted; the maximum length of multiple re-entry permits also has been extended to 5 years (eiju status) or 6 years (teiji), in addition for stays of up to one year, a special re-entry permit can be applied for at the point of departure at no charge rather than having to apply to an Immigration bureau in advance.[15] Residency status renewals are automatically reported to City Offices. Immigration Dept. penalties for failing to promptly report changes in address to the City Office may be quite severe.[5][16] As was the case for Alien Registration, penalties for not carrying registration cards at all times are still likely to be heavy.

Special Permanent Residents such as special Korean residents of Japan have a Special Permanent Resident Certificate instead of a Residence Card.


  1. ^ "Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan; A Guide to Japanese Visas XIII. Procedures After Entry into JapanAlien registration". Archived from the original on Apr 10, 2008.
  2. ^ "The Alien Registration Law (PROVISIONAL TRANSLATION) Article 3".
  3. ^ a b "New Immigration law takes effect in July". Japan Times.
  4. ^ a b New Residency Management System — Immigration Bureau
  5. ^ a b c d "出入国在留管理庁ホームページ".
  6. ^ a b Changes "to the Basic Resident Registration Law — Internal Affairs Dep't".
  7. ^ a b "Internal Affairs Department booklet on new resident registration system" (PDF).
  8. ^ "Resident card (required to carry all the time) | Tokyo Intercultural Portal Site".
  9. ^ "ドメインパーキング".
  10. ^ "三井住友VISAカード".
  11. ^ "Passport Hepburn and alternate name rules". Archived from the original on Oct 30, 2012.
  12. ^ Prevention of Discrimination: The Rights of Non-Citizens (final report of the special rapporteur David Weissbrodt)], Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.[dead link]
  13. ^ "Foreigners denied entry for refusing fingerprinting". Archived from the original on 2012-09-12. Retrieved 2010-06-19.
  14. ^ "The Japan Times; Foreigners may be logged in resident registry". Archived from the original on 2009-04-01.
  15. ^ "Guidelines for new residency management system". The Ministry of Justice, Japan. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  16. ^ Japan Times Many foreigners not at (registered) addresses July 3, 2012. Retrieved on July 11, 2012 Archived July 6, 2012, at the Wayback Machine

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