JAPAN TIMES, MARCH 8, 2005
THE ZEIT GIST
(Update April 27, 2005: US Govt apparently reads article and asks Japanese Government for clarification.)
Creating laws out of thin air
Revisions to hotel laws stretched by police to target foreigners
By ARUDOU DEBITO
[PHOTO OF HOTEL SIGN]: This notice, pasted on a wall outside a Tokyo hotel, reads (from top) "No Entrance (for) foreigners, drunks, and gang members/thugs." However, while the hotel's policy is clear, it's also illegal.
Photo Credit: http://www.debito.org/roguesgallery.html
With terrorists striking fear into governments worldwide, Japan too is currently considering its own version of America's Patriot Act, to be passed in a year or two.
It makes for interesting reading, particularly in terms of Japan's internationalization and legal treatment of foreign residents.
Approved by the prime minister's Cabinet ("Kantei") last December, the "Action Plan for Pre-empting of Terrorism" ("Tero no Mizen Boshi ni Kansuru Kodo Kikaku," available at http://www.kantei.go.jp/jp/singi/sosikihanzai/kettei/041210kettei.pdf ) essentially depicts terrorism as a phenomenon imported by foreigners. Never mind, of course, that Japanese have a history of domestic terrorism themselves (Aum Shinrikyo and the Red Army easily spring to mind).
Already debris from this approaching asteroid of a law is falling to earth.
This week's column will focus on one hunk as a cautionary example: where a recent legal amendment, specifically designed to target foreigners, stretches existing laws to the breaking point.
On Jan. 24, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare issued "Shorei (ministerial ordinance) 4018," to "clarify" a passage within the Hotel Management Law ("Ryokan Gyoho").
The section that requires all hotel lodgers to note contact details in guest books, has now appended (author's translation): "If the lodger is a foreigner without an address in Japan, (hotels must record) passport number and nationality."
As such, this isn't any problem, as it conforms to standards in developed countries regarding tourists. After all, management must be able to contact all lodgers and those lodgers must be kept accountable for their stays, and the best way to do that with tourists is through passport numbers.
However, as written, this revision is not being implemented.
Hotels are now asking all foreigners, including non-tourists (i.e. foreign residents with addresses in Japan), for their passports.
Registered foreign residents of Japan, as readers know, do not have to carry passports. That's what the "gaijin card" is for.
So in lieu, hotel clerks are demanding to see, even photocopy, gaijin cards. Even though, under the Foreign Registry Law, only officials endowed with police powers may do so.
Foreigners who refuse to comply, as happened to a friend at the Sapporo Toyoko Inn last November, are being refused rooms.
This is, however, illegal. The same Hotel Management Law Article 5 states that hotels may only refuse lodging if: the person in question is sick with a certifiably contagious disease; there is a threat to "public morals" (i.e. engaging in acts with minors, filming pornographic movies, etc.); or there are no empty rooms.
Thus a registered foreign resident merely unwilling to reveal a passport number cannot be refused.
Japanese guests, I might add, are not required to display any verifiable ID whatsoever. Why not?
Enforceability problems, for one. There is no universal ID card in Japan, save perhaps a drivers license. But of course not everyone drives. Or gets a passport. And with the failure of 2002's Juki Net system, this situation will not change anytime soon.
This means hotels will not apply extra checkpoints if you have an honest face -- i.e. one that looks Japanese.
So what happens to the residents, moreover citizens, with foreign features (such as this writer) who show up to claim their room?
Rigmarole. I have stayed in hotels as a Japan resident for over 15 years. Yet this winter for the first time (and several times at that), I have been asked for my passport number, even after signing in with a Japanese name and a domestic address in kanji -- and mentioning that I am a Japanese citizen. This is happening to foreign faces nationwide.
When managers were asked why all this third degree, they have said the local police have ordered them to record and report all "foreign guests" in their midst. This is even though reporting, or even photocopying, "foreign guests" is not part of the original above mentioned MHLW ordinance.
Moreover, the ordinance states that it will not take effect until April 1, 2005. Clearly the cops are not wasting any time.
Nor is the press. Kyodo News erroneously reported nationwide on Jan. 21 that the MHLW will require all hotels to retain photocopies of "foreign travelers" ("gaikokujin ryokosha") passports, neglecting to mention the exception for those with domestic residences.
Noncomplying hotels allegedly face possible loss of their operating licenses.
Yet this push for extra tracking for foreigners is on shaky legal footing. This MHLW shorei ministerial ordinance is not a law. It is merely a bureaucratic clarification of a law -- not something passed by the legislative branch. According to lawyer friends, it has no legal status or enforceability, meaning neither you nor the hotel can at this time incur any specific penalty if not enforced. "Laws" are thus being created out of thin air.
SO WHAT DO YOU DO IF...
Even though you are a registered foreign resident of Japan (as opposed to a tourist), a hotel threatens to refuse you service for not divulging your passport number?
* Say you have a domestic Japan address. Write it on the guest card. Just being foreign is not grounds for suspicion or scrutiny, regardless of what the police say.
* Tell them you are not legally required to provide either a passport or gaijin card to a hotel. Ask to show the same ID (if any) being demanded of Japanese guests.
* Tell them that under Japanese laws governing hotels, you cannot be refused entry unless customers are sick or rooms are full.
Just remember that laws are different for hotels than for any other private business in Japan (as opposed to, say, onsen). All customers, regardless of nationality, are clearly protected against refusal, for a change.
If you're worried, print up the hotel law in Japanese from the Web link at the bottom of the story and carry it with you.
One does not expect readers to become activists overnight. It certainly would be an unpleasant start to any stay to stand at the Front Desk, waving laws at a clerk playing with newfound police powers.
But people should also know their rights and not let themselves be pushed around, because things are going to get a lot worse for foreigners in Japan if they do.
If this new treatment of hosteling foreigners is any guide, the antiterrorist asteroid currently in orbit will soon wreak havoc on Japan's civil liberties. This is why the Japan Federation of Bar Associations is gearing up for a critical stance in a couple of months.
More on that later, but for foreigners, there will no doubt once again be targeting and unsophisticated enforcement by the police: A lumping together and scrutinizing of anyone who looks foreign regardless of status, acculturation, or citizenship. Perhaps some more laws created out of thin air.
So, it may seem a small thing, but demanding improvements on everyday things does make a difference. At least let your hotel know that as long as you have a domestic residence, they must treat you like any other paying customer. It's still the law. Abide.
For more information, see http://www.debito.org/whattodoif.html
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The Japan Times: March 8, 2005
April 27, 2005:
US Govt apparently reads above article and asks GOJ for clarification.
1) GOVT OF JAPAN STILL BENDING LAWS THROUGH UNCLEAR DIRECTIVES
2) US STATE DEPT REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS 2004: WE ARE BEING LISTENED TO
As I wrote in my March 8, 2005 Japan Times Community Page Column ("Creating laws out of thin air: Revisions to hotel laws stretched by police to target foreigners") the Japanese Police are stretching "laws" to deputize hotels, demanding photocopied passports from foreign lodgers (even though recent anti-terrorist measures only cover foreign tourists without fixed addresses in Japan; registered foreigners in Japan need not comply).
Well, now Japan's Foreign Ministry is getting into the act, advising the American Embassy to warn their nationals about the fact they will from now on have their passports photocopied at hotels (due not only to terrorism, but also "infectious diseases"! Japanese must be considered antiseptic!)
Fortunately, the US Embassy seems to have read my Japan Times article, and asked for a clarification. Here is USG's report, forwarded by two friends (thanks Mike and Mark!):
Subject: American Community Update - May 2005
Registration Procedure at Lodging Facilities in Japan Change
The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced that "as of
April 1, 2005, foreigners in Japan will be required to do the following
when they check in at lodging facilities such as hotels and inns in
Japan for the purpose of effective prevention of infectious diseases and
"To fill in their 'Nationality' and 'Passport Number' in addition to
'Name', 'Address' and 'Occupation', which are already required, to
the guest registration form.
"To present their passports to be photocopied (The proprietors of
lodging facilities will be obligated to keep the photocopies)."
After we sought clarification, according to the Environmental Health
Division, Health Service Bureau, Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare,
the new registration procedure at lodging facilities does not apply to
foreigners who are residents of Japan but only to tourists and temporary
visitors. If you write a Japanese address on the check-in sheet, hotels
are not supposed to ask for your passport.
If your passport information is recorded, the Government of Japan has
requested hotels to retain the record for three years, though the law
itself does not mention how long records should be retained. The
authority to decide the period of retention actually resides with the
local government. So, some local governments might enact an ordinance
to set a specific retention period. If not, the period is three years
as advised by the central government.
While I'm at it:
2) US STATE DEPT REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS 2004:
WE ARE BEING LISTENED TO
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2004 JAPAN
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 28, 2005
Section on National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities (excerpt)
A controversial Immigration Bureau website launched in February allows informants to report the name, address, or workplace of any suspicious foreigners for such reasons as "causing a nuisance in the neighborhood" and "causing anxiety." In the face of protests from human rights groups, the site was amended in March to remove the preset reasons, but remained operational at year's end.
In 2001, Hokkaido police investigated death threats made against a foreign-born naturalized citizen who had sued a bathhouse for refusing him entrance on the basis of race and the Otaru Municipal Government for failing to take measures to stop discriminatory entrance policies. In November 2002, the Sapporo District Court ordered the bathhouse to pay the plaintiff $29,000 (3 million yen) for subjecting the plaintiff to racial discrimination. The court rejected the claim against the Otaru Municipal Government, saying that the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination does not require local governments to institute ordinances to stamp out discrimination. In September, the Sapporo High Court rejected the appeal.
By law, aliens with 5 years of continuous residence are eligible for naturalization and citizenship rights, including the right to vote; however, in practice, most eligible aliens choose not to apply for citizenship, partly due to fears that their cultural identity would be lost. Obstacles to naturalization included broad discretion available to adjudicating officers and great emphasis on Japanese-language ability. Naturalization procedures also required an extensive background check, including inquiries into the applicant's economic status and assimilation into society. Koreans were given the option of adopting a Japanese surname. The Government defended its naturalization procedures as necessary to ensure the smooth assimilation of foreigners into society. Alien permanent residents may live abroad for up to 4 or 5 years without losing their right to permanent residence in the country.
Lots more up on the State Dept site. Point is, these are all things we have reported extensively upon in the past, and people are taking notice. So keep it up, everyone! Thanks for your help.
Bests, Arudou Debito in Sapporo
April 27, 2005