LDP proposal to computer chip foreigners has great potential for abuse
By Arudou Debito
Column 26 for the Japan Times Community Page November 22, 2005
Draft 7 and Final Draft ("Director's Cut" with links and original document references)
Published version at
Feedback from readers on this (published in the same JT column Nov 29, 2005) at
Asked for your passport number despite being a resident of Japan?  Fill out a survey at Olaf Karthaus's website at


People are still reeling from September's LDP landslide election, realizing that Koizumi can essentially legislate whatever he wants.

For foreigners, that brings some bad news.

One of Koizumi's platforms is economic recovery through tourism and increased contact with outsiders ("Yokoso Japan" and all that).

Yet his administration can't shake its preconception of foreigners as potential terrorists and criminals.

Koizumi's previous cabinet bore no fewer than three ministers who mentioned, in their introductory speeches, the alleged foreign crime wave (even though the media, including this column (October 7, 2003), has long debunked this).

In December 2004, the cabinet released its "Action Plan for Pre-Empting Terrorism", explicitly stating the terrorists to be targeted are essentially foreigners (Community Page, May 24, 2005).

Now Koizumi the tour guide wants to institute high-tech tracking of every foreigner he invites. On June 16, 2005, the LDP's Political Affairs Research Committee (seimu chousakai) issued their "Proposal for a New Immigration Control Policy" (arata na nyuukoku kanri shisaku e no teigen--click here to page down to entire LDP proposal in Japanese).

Their plan: Issue "IC Cards", or credit-sized identification cards, containing computer chips to track people.

One form of IC card (the shutsu nyuu koku card) will be issued to anyone (Japanese or not) crossing the Japanese border, upon request and at their expense.

The other, the zairyuu card, is obligatory and replaces the Gaijin Card. All resident aliens (except the generational "Zainichi" ethnic "foreigners", who remain unchipped) must still carry it 24/7 or face arrest.

This Gaijin Chip will contain data such as: "name, nationality, birthday, passport information, visa status, address, workplace, educational institution if student etc." (page 3, item 1.1.2(3))

Fingerprints will also be encoded "if the person wants". But just in case, fingerprinting will be reinstated to imprint foreigners both entering and leaving the country. (page 1, item 1, particularly page 2 (2) 1)

The LDP sweet-talks the reader by insisting the system is for people's "protection" (hogo) and "convenience" (ribensei). They mention benefits to both foreigners and society by tracking alien visits to, quote, "museums, consultative government bodies, national art museums..." (page 3, item 1 introduction, and page 4, item 1.4 (1))

It still amounts to central control of untrustworthy elements, and treating foreigners like criminal suspects.

Some expressed goals of Gaijin Chipping are, "strengthening control of residency information", "ease and precision of collection, analysis, and practical use of data for Immigration", and, more colorfully, "smoking out the invisible (aburi dasu) illegal aliens". (page 3 item 1.1-2 , particularly page 4 item 2 introduction)

All data will be stored for a vague amount of time (perhaps indefinitely) in an interestingly-named bureau called (in katakana) the "Intelligence Center".

Through a joint Immigration/National Police Agency "task force" on foreigners, this data will be issued to cops and bureaucrats everywhere "so they can better service each individual foreigner as a resident without obstacle." (page 4, item 1.4 (2), and item 2.(1))

Orwellian overtones aside, consider the policy in practice:

Workplaces, schools, hotels, etc. will be legally required to report any changes in foreigner employment, domicile, visa, etc., through swipes of IC Cards at strategically-positioned machines.

Which means foreigners will now find it difficult to, say, make an anonymous inquiry at a ward office without having their data swiped.

Likewise if you frequent love hotels. The proposal specifically considers swiping stations for gaijin apartments, weekly mansions, and other categories of lodgings.  (page 4, item 1.3, particularly (3))

Which means, this expands Japanese prison conditions nationwide.

If an inmate asks for, say, a pencil in a Japanese prison, he has to give a fingerprint. A roll of toilet paper? Fingerprint.

Now, go see some Basho etchings in a museum as a foreigner? Swipe.

Not that I'm advising it, but why aren't they doing this for everyone in Japan? Japan still has no universal ID system.

Because they can't. Last time the government tried to pull a fast one on the public like this, through the Juki-Net system, there was nationwide protest and local governments refusing to participate. Issues of privacy, especially since laws insufficiently protect people from government abuse of privileged information, of course were brought up.

But non-Japanese, apparently, don't have the same right to privacy. Unlike Japanese, foreigners might commit crime, you see.

There is a pattern here. We already know the Foreign Registry Law was set up in 1947 specifically to track the alien in our midst.

But even the only law protecting foreigners from refusals at private-sector businesses, the Hotel Management Law, required all people (including Japanese) to write down names and addresses on registry books "for the control of infectious diseases".

But now, the government states, this law has become insufficient due to terrorism. So, naturally, they are targeting foreigners. As of April 1, regulations stemming from the Hotel Management Law were revised to empower clerks to demand and copy passports from all foreign tourists.

However, as this column discussed (October 18, 2005), it is being applied to ALL foreigners.

This is not only against the law, but also--more damagingly--a breach of trust.

Whenever you give more powers to any government, you trust them to enforce them responsibly.

However, ministerial misinterpretation has in this case been a concerted effort.

On February 9, 2005, the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare's Health Policy Bureau clarified the recent hotel regulation changes through internal Directives 0209001 and 0209004 (click here to page down to them), issued to all prefectural governors, city leaders, and local MLHW branches.

After justifying the revision in the name of "securing the safety of guests" (i.e., being kept safe from foreign customers?), the second directive erroneously states "foreign lodgers" are to be targeted.  (001, page 1, item 1; then 004 page 2, item 3)

Sloppy. Surely these people know how to write Japanese?

It also states that a foreigner not showing his passport should be reported to the police, because, quote, "there is a chance he isn't carrying it" (004 page 1 item 1).  On these grounds, he or she may actually now be refused lodging (004 page 2, item 2).

Hang on. This in itself is not illegal. Laws state that foreign residents do not have to carry passports if they have Gaijin Cards.

What an administrative mess. Plenty of opportunity for misunderstandings, arrests of innocents, even denial of the right to accommodation hitherto guaranteed by law.

Not to mention racial profiling and criminal treatment, by people legally unentitled to police powers, on the increasing number of multiethnic Japanese citizens. This will only increase as the IC Card swipers proliferate.

My point is that no matter how sweet the LDP may make its Gaijin Chip proposal sound, there is no telling what will happen when bureaucrats get their hands on it.

Their enforcement has been most unscrupulous this year, and given the urgency of the policy putsch (and the vulnerability of foreigners), I foresee great potential for further enforcement abuse.

Not to mention policy creep.

Think IC Carding will be confined to the gaijin? Historically, unpalatable policies have been foisted on the foreigners first and then quietly introduced to the Japanese public.

For example, look what happened to Japan's lifetime employment system, where full-time work (especially in academia) meant lifetime work.
That was replaced, after a century of guinea-pigging the foreigners, with contract employment, in the form of laws such as 1997's Sentaku Ninkisei Hou.

Employers, realizing that they can hire and fire at will (simply by refusing to renew the contract), and enjoy weak labor law enforcement and a sympathetic judiciary (see http://www.debito.org/acadapartupdate05.html), soon adopted the system.

And how. According to the National Union of General Workers, contract labor now makes up 20% of all Japanese men, 50% of all Japanese women, and 90% of foreign labor in the Japanese workforce.

I usually like to finish a column advising what readers can do about this, if only to offer psychological solace.

But I'm afraid this time there isn't much. Foreign residents cannot vote (even though half a million of them would have suffrage in any other developed country), and thus mean little to politicians. And these days with the opposition greatly weakened, there is a lack of balance of power.

Koizumi will probably get away with this. All we can do is wait for the pendulum to swing back.

It will. But probably not in time to save foreigners from constant digital fingerprinting, or foreign-looking Japanese from being hassled for not being controllably foreign enough.

1310 words
Feedback from readers (published in the same Japan Times Community column Nov 29, 2005) at
Want to do something about this?  See Olaf Karthaus's survey on hotel refusals at
Also, see debito.org's "What to do if..." page, at

LDP's Political Affairs Research Committee's (seimu chousakai) "Proposal for a New Immigration Control Policy" (arata na nyuukoku kanri shisaku e no teigen)  (Four Pages Total)


Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare's Health Policy Bureau internal Directives 0209001 and 0209004 (four pages total)


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Portions Copyright 2005, Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan