The Community

Additional information on "Tama-Chan" and "Juuminhyou" Issue


From: Edward Crandall <>
To: "Arudou Debito" <>
Subject: Re: "Friends of Tama-Chan" celebration ("We can be cute too!") -- my column piece on the topic
Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2003 14:44:10 +0900

Dear Arudou Debito, Edward Crandall, writer and columnist for the Saga Shimbun down in Kyushu, here again.

I too have been following the Tama-chan issue and I read with great interest your recent emails on the topic. Please find attached to this email message
the English translation of my most recent column. I very gingerly -- I hope -- took it up so that the Japanese readers of my paper could see the issue from "our" point of view.

A bit of background: in January of this year a seeing-eye dog was given "honorary [town] citizenship" ij in the small town here in Saga Prefecture where he and his owner live. I thought this was a bit much at the time, but not wanting to sound like the "grumbling gaijin" that people already think I am, I brushed the topic aside and decided not to write a column piece about it. However, when the Tama-chan thing hit the news, it was a bit more than I could bear (snip).

I went to the City Hall here in Saga City and spoke to the guy at the "Gaikokujin Touroku Shoumeisho Kakari," and he very nicely and carefully explained the whole legal background to the fact that we foreign-born residents of Japan are denied basic legal paperwork. In very simple terms it goes as follows below (forgive me if you already know all this). But simplified as it is, it is still rather complicated; bear with me:

"A Certificate of Residency (Z[) is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs (ک) and is issued based on information found in the Family Register (). Family Registers are under the jurisdiction of the Regional Legal Affairs Bureau (@т) which in turn is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice (@). Since foreign-born residents of Japan do not have Family Registers issued in their names, there is no legal documentation upon which to issue a Certificate of Residency. Instead, the Immigration Office (ɂт), which is also under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, issues to foreign-born residents of Japan their Certificate of Alien Registration (Olo^춯). So, from the Ministry of Justice's point of view, a person is either Japanese, in which case he or she is issued a Family Register through one of their sub-offices (the Regional Legal Affairs Bureau), or a person is a foreigner, in which case he or she is issued a Certificate of Alien Registration through a completely separate sub-office (Immigration Office). It's an either-or situation as far as they are concerned. And so from the Ministry of Home Affairs point of view, since foreigners do not have a Family Register, there is nothing upon which a Certificate of Residency can be issued."

(NOTE: some of that wording -- especially the imprecise use of the word "jurisdiction" -- may seem strained. The reason is that I was specifically told that in every instance where I use the word "jurisdiction" or "under the jurisdiction of" the
Japanese word "kankatsu," or
ɂ, was the one and only "correct" word).

So, while reading that did you bring to mind certain Kafka stories, as I did while it was being told to me? Ah well, such is Japan.

One other note: As you can read in my column, Saga City is informing foreign-born residents via mail of their right to have their name listed on their Japanese spouse's certificate of residency. The guy at city hall who explained all this to me was proud of the fact that Saga City was so "progressive" in its efforts to "actively inform foreigners about this unique service". I didn't have the heart to point out to him that it only "solves" the problem for those who are married to a Japanese national -- that is, legally connected to a Japanese person -- and that unmarried foreign-born residents are still without the same legal papers that Japanese are entitled to.

You have my permission to post on your webpage: a. the English translation of my column, including the copyright notice, b. a link to and/or the
original Japanese version, and c. the contents of this email message. Of course, if you have no space or desire to post them, I certainly understand.
I simply offer them for the entertainment and possible interest of your readers. (snip) You can find my writings by putting my name in katakana (NŰ_) in the search field on the homepage's database. Here is the link to that:

Keep up the good work.

Edward Crandall
Reporter and Columnist
Saga Shimbun Newspaper

The English translation of my column begins below:


Foreign-born residents around Japan are upset by the fact that the local government of Nishi-ku in Yokohama City has given a "residency certificate" to Tama-chan, the seal that has been sighted in a nearby river since August of last year.

Even though everyone understands that Tama-chan's "residency certificate" is just a joke, it is hard for foreigners to see the humor in an animal receiving a residency certificate when they themselves -- humans -- are legally barred from having one.

Foreign-born residents of Japan are legally prevented from obtaining both a residency certificate and a family registry certificate. In place of these, foreigners are issued a "certificate of alien registration" that serves as proof of residency and the main form of ID.

While it is true that foreigners -- by definition -- do not have Japanese citizenship, a residency certificate has nothing to do with one's nationality and is simply proof of where "residents" reside. That's why foreign-born residents of Japan feel that listing the foreign resident's home country in the "permanent residence" blank of the residency form should be sufficient for bureaucratic needs.

Saga City has been aware of this issue, and last August began mailing to all eligible foreigners in the city information on how they can be listed on their Japanese spouse's residency certificate.

While the efforts of the Saga City government are laudable, it would be better if Japan were to become a country where foreign-born residents' human rights were respected and they were afforded at least the same privileges as seals.

Edward Crandall
Saga Shimbun Newspaper
February 12, 2003
English translation copyright 2003 Edward P. Crandall


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Edward Crandall
Reporter and Columnist
Saga Shimbun Newspaper

ɅAL (Courtesy Edward Crandall)

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Date: Thu, 20 Mar 2003 09:11:24 +0900
From: Arudou Debito <>
Subject: ^}ĭªuSrAgvZ[ھ







Date: Thu, 20 Mar 2003 10:00:32 +0900
From: Arudou Debito <>
Subject: Juuminhyou: now "anime" character gets one

Morning all. A nice little blurb to distract you from all the news on Iraq:
(Japanese link, Translation below by Arudou Debito)

Animated cartoon character "Mighty Atom" (Tetsuwan Atomu) to receive
"Residency Certificate" (Juuminhyou) in Niiza City, Saitama Prefecture

The studio which produces the popular animated feature "Mighty Atom",
created by the late Tezuka Osamu, announced on March 19 that Atom will be
registered as a resident in local Niiza City, Saitama Prefecture.

According to his comic book origins, the fictional robot character was
originally "born" on April 7, 2003, in Tokyo Shinjuku, so in recognition the
special Residency Certificate will be issued on that date. His address will
be listed at Niiza Nobidomari 4-4-14, the studio's address, with inventor
Professor Ochanomizu listed as Head of Household.

Niiza Mayor Suda Kenji asked for Atom to be listed as a resident in his
city, which Matsutani Takamasa, President of Tezuka Productions, Tokyo,
gladly accepted. Mayor Suda added, "We would love for our city to take
after the Mighty Atom, energized by his 100,000 horsepowers" [literally
translated]. (March 19, 2003, 14:35 Kyodo News)

Hum. First a sealion, now a cartoon character. But not foreigners. My
name is not Alice, but I must say sometimes I do feel I'm living in

Arudou Debito


NISHI-KU WARD OFFICE: "As Japan further internationalizes, the [Juuminhyou] system as it stands may be a big problem for our country in future."

BACKGROUND: "Tama-chan" is a sealion which (until recently) has been frequenting an urban riverbed and gaining much fanfare. The Yokohama Nishi-ku Yakusho (Ward Office) issued him a "juuminhyou" (Residency Certificate) last February, causing even more fanfare, since other mammals, particularly taxpaying foreigners, cannot be issued or listed equally on juuminhyou (due to Japan's quirky laws requiring citizenship for formal residency). We at The Community ( took this issue up at the end of February, dressing up as sealions and holding a party on a riverbank in Yokohama, asking for resident foreigners to be held in as high regard as visa-less river-dwellers. We submitted a formal request for the same to the Yokohama Nishi-ku Ward Office on February 24. And the media took it up from there--as one of the most successful awareness-raising campaigns I have ever been involved in.

NEWS: The person in charge, Mr Horie, telephoned me last month with some glum (but predictable) news. He stated that the registration law has to be changed at a national, not a local level, so there was nothing they could do to register foreign residents in their district the same as Japanese residents.

He asked if that was a satisfactory answer. Well, I asked him nicely if he would consider putting this answer in writing, for posterity's sake. Moreover, if the Ward Office were to include just a sentence or two of disapproval, say, "we can't change the system, but nevertheless we believe it deserves to be changed", it would do a power of good. For after all, one of the mottoes on the back of Mr Horie's business card says, "We promise to all Yokohama citizens to : 1) Always view things from your standpoint, and respond with kindness." (tsune ni minasan no tachiba ni tatte, shinsetsu na taiou o shimasu)

Mr Horie laughed and said it would be taken under consideration.

Anyway, I got a letter from the Yokohama Nishi-ku Ward Office last week.
It says:
(Translation by Arudou Debito)

To the "Friends of Tama-chan" Group:

Thank you very much for coming all the way to Nishi-ku Yakusho the other day.

As much as we were put off balance by your sealion attire, we felt a great deal of friendliness with your humorous approach.

Sorry for the delay, but here is our answer to your request:

First, re issuing Tama-chan a "Special Residency Certificate" (tokubetsu juuminhyou): we did so in hopes of making Tamachan the mascot for our Katabira River cleaning and beautification project. We want Tama-chan to be seen as our "Nishi-ku Town Sales Ambassador" (nishi-ku machi no se-rusu taishi), so we made him a Special Resident. Please understand that this certificate is not one based upon the "Basic Residency Records Law" (juumin kihon daichou hou).

By the way, this probably goes without saying, but under the current Japanese system, the Basic Residency Records Law does not apply to people with foreign citizenships. When you took this up with the mass media, you exposed this fact and made it into a hot issue.

As Japan further internationalizes, this system as it stands may be a big problem for our country in future.

Furthermore, the City of Yokohama has abolished the regulation requiring full-time bureaucrats to be Japanese citizens. The City Assembly has also passed an "opinion (ikensho) supporting resident non-Japanese the right to vote in local elections", for submission at the national level.

We at the Nishi-ku Yakusho will, with its "Tama-Chan, Sales Ambassador" character, continue to strive to make our town a nicer place for anyone to live.

Thanks and regards,
Kimizuka Michinosuke,
Yokohama-shi Nishi-ku Yakusho-chou
March 31, 2003

(Original at:

Letters like this do help things. I have already passed word on to my mass media lists. I'm sure the local papers will find this newsworthy. And with a citable archive of support even at an administrative level, it's another block or two paving the way to a system where fewer absurdities exist.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo
April 7, 2003

On sealion "Tama-chan"'s Residency:
On Japan's lack of a "Residency Certificate" for foreigners:

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