www.debito.org
THE JUUMINHYOU MONDAI:
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE "LEGALLY NONRESIDENT" IN OUR COUNTRY OF RESIDENCE

(originally sent to ISSHO, Fukuzawa, and Friends Sat, 27 Sep 1997)
(published in the New Observer, October 1997,
JALT's Journal of Professional Issues, September 1997,
and in revised form for Xene Magazine, February/March 1998)


Japan has two systems of paper chase, the "Family Registry" (koseki touhon, in kanji: ŒËÐ“£–{), and the "Residence Form" (juuminhyou, in kanji: Z–¯•[), which establish and clarify a Japanese's status re citizenship and domicile. When two Japanese marry, they alter their koseki. When they move, they register at their new address, and get a juuminhyou locally. With me so far?

However, if you are not a citizen, by law you are not accorded the right to have a koseki. This may sound like par for the course, but keep in mind that as a foreigner, you are put down on your spouse's koseki not as a married couple, under the heading "wife" or "husband" like any Japanese, but as a "remark" (bikou, in kanji: ”õl) on the form. The marriage is treated differently--as a footnote--which is by definition discriminatory.  For example:

But so what, right? The law recognizes you as married anyway, and you have rights to insurance and other benefits that befit citizens (unemployment insurance, loans for purchase of land with Permanent Residence, but of course not voting rights in referenda or elections). The issue is this:


YOU ARE NOT A CITIZEN, THEREFORE YOU ARE NOT A RESIDENT. T.S.

The major loophole in this law is that foreigners are legally invisible, and that can lead to abuses. Get your spouse's juuminhyou and look at it. Looking at mine, my wife and our two children are listed, but I am not. By tautological law, I cannot be a resident because I am not a citizen.

Despite the fact that I pay residence taxes and contribute to social systems like anyone else. Instead of a juuminhyou, I get a "gaikokujin touroku zumi shoumeisho" (in kanji: ŠO‘l“o˜^ÏØ–¾‘), or a "Proof of Registration as a Foreigner" form, which does the trick for bank loans. But in the eyes of the bureaucrats and their powerful official records (which can be accessed by a surprising number of people), my wife publicly remains unmarried, and my children are bastards.

Okay, this is aggravating, betraying a surprising amount of disrespect towards the institution of marriage. But are there legal externalities involved here? Yes.


1) EMBARRASSMENTS CAN HAPPEN

There have been cases of zealous welfare officers who, accessing their computer and finding the "single" mothers or fathers out there, drop by their apartments or houses to inform them of their possible benefits--only to find the hapless extraneous spouse in residence. One extreme example I heard of is where some equally zealous chounaikai kaichou (block association chairman) told the foreign spouse that without aa legal basis for residing here, s/he must vacate.


2) WITHOUT THE MARRIAGE LICENCE FORM, YOU COULD CONCEIVABLY LOSE YOUR FAMILY

Let's take another extreme example. Say you marry a fruit loop who divorces you, and decides to destroy all records of your marriage (gaijin card notwithstanding). With no clear records at the Ward Office, s/he can legally claim that you had no connection to your children and deny visitation rights. Sounds far-fetched, but something like this apparently has happened (and is being haggled over in the Nagoya High Court).


3) REALITY IS LOST IN THE LOOPHOLES

Okay, enough lawyerly horror stories. The biggest problem I can see in the short run is not just affrontery. It is that legally, non-citizens cannot be the "head of household" (setai nushi, in kanji: ¢‘ÑŽå. In my case, my wife raising the children and me being the dai-koku bashira (breadwinner), I am (and want to be recognized as) the head of the household. But I cannot because I legally do not live here. Other non-Japanese, particularly women I have talked to who work and even support their husbands, want the same right, but face an even steeper uphill climb--with the double jeopardy involved in being both the wrong gender and nationality. So much for kisei kanwa (deregulation) or kokusaika (internationalization).


WANT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT?
LEGALLY, YOU CAN

I went to Sapporo Minami-ku Yakusho two days ago and asked about having my name put on my wife's juuminhyou in the "remarks column" (bikou ran, in kanji: ”õl—“). They said that this was not possible. I said that they should check their records. In 1967, Government Ordinance (seirei@­—ß) Number 292 was handed down by the appropriate ministry which indicated that yes, gaikokujin could be recorded in the "remarks column" as "married" and "in reality the Head of Household" (jijitsu jou no setai nushi again, kanji: Ž–ŽÀã¢‘ÑŽå. They researched it and called me yesterday morning, and--happy news--they amended my wife's juuminhyou to show that I exist.


Now, if you'd like to do the same thing, please access my web page at:

http://www.debito.org/juminhyoseirei292.jpg

to download a copy of the ordinance in Japanese (it is a public document, purchasable at any government publications store, but Minami-ku Yakusho kindly photocopied it for me)

And if you'd like to see how my wife's juuminhyou was amended (to put me at the bottom), please access:

http://www.debito.org/juminhyo.jpg

You may notice that my wife's name "Arudouinkuru Ayako" has been crossed out. Some people have asked whether that was our decision or the government's. There is nothing sinister here--it was ours. My wife just took my last name when we first got married, found it unwieldy for living in Japan, and had it changed back to her maiden name. Although Japan frowns upon married couples with different surnames (fuufu bessei), since she doesn't legally have a husband, there is no problem--a dubious benefit of the loophole. Click here to see the full story of this name game.

Also, all of the data that is not relevant to this case (Aya was particularly adamant about having her birthday kept secret) has been excised from the juuminhyou. But anybody looking at this will know that this is from a real document, and the power of precedence will be on your side.


A FINAL NOTE:

It may seem like the law too is on our side, but remember that a seirei is not a law. It is essentially only a suggestion, and whether it will be taken seriously is up to that particular Ward Office. However, this ordinance has been around for thirty years, and the main reason I can see as to why it has been left unenforced is because people like us haven't enforced it. Minami-ku Yakusho said that I was the first person in Sapporo to get amended like this--so they have to spend a couple of months designing software to activate the bikouran section (meanwhile, they wrote in my data by hand).

However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Fellow non-Japanese, claim your rights. If you want your legal status to more closely reflect reality, get on your bike and get amended. Do what you can to get residence. Even a "remark" is better than nothing.

Dave Aldwinckle
Sapporo


FOR AN UPDATE ON THIS ISSUE, CLICK HERE


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