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Hi Blog. It seems the GOJ is up to its old tricks: Reinterpreting the law to pick on “foreigners” again. This was seen previously on Debito.org to encourage racial profiling at hotel check-ins, and now with the new Minpaku Law affecting AirBnB-style private homes opened for public accommodation (minshuku), it’s more of the same. Read on from Debito.org Reader MC:
Subject: An experience with the new minpaku law that might interest your readers
Date: February 11, 2019
This might interest you and your readers. Feel free to post it if you think it might be appropriate. Sorry for the length, but it’s a bit of a complicated story.
I had an experience recently that raises a new aspect of the recurrent hotel registration problems that some people have. I have to admit I’ve rarely had problems at Japanese hotels, and on the few occasions I’ve been asked for ID, my polite refusal (aided by Debito’s very useful legal information -thanks Debito) has always been accepted. However the recent experience was a little different.
I was catching an early flight from Kansai, too early for the trains from home, so I decided to stay the previous night at a minpaku close to the airport, PLUS 9 Station Inn in Izumi Otsu, booked through booking dot com. They emailed information before check-in, among which they said “This is a staff-less guest house. You have to get your key at the accommodation and check in yourself.” No problem. The instructions for getting the key were clear. A later email, though, told me that there was an ipad in reception, and could we please scan and send copies of our passports, or in the case of Japanese people, driving licences (no mention of resident foreigners). Obviously realising that not everyone carries a driving licence, they asked for people without photo ID to photograph themselves on the iPad and upload the photo.
It was close to our departure day, and not having time to argue and possibly be asked to find somewhere else, I decided to simply ignore this. Arriving there, we retrieved the key from the key box, and stay went fine, with no contact from the company to ask why we hadn’t checked in through the iPad.
Afterwards I wrote to them with an explanation of the problematic nature of their system in regards to Non-Japanese customers. I also put a similar comment on their booking dot com page. First, they had no right to ask for photographs of anyone, resident or not, Japanese or not. The idea of requiring guests to upload a scan of a driving licence or passport, or even just a face shot, is just asking for identity theft, and is certainly illegal.
I explained the law on this as follows: “The Japan Hotel Laws are quite clear on this: If the guest is NOT a resident of Japan you DO have the right to ask for a passport number (not a copy of the passport). But if the guest IS a resident of Japan, on the other hand, whatever the nationality, they have no responsibility to provide any kind of copy of an official document or any photograph. It’s a gross invasion of privacy.”
They replied, saying that the new Minpaku Law of 2018 allowed for online check-in, and required photographic ID. The former is true, but I didn’t think the latter was. However, I checked out the wording at the Minpaku system portal on the MLIT (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism) site, and it looks to me as though there is some cause for worry.
I’m not sure whether these pages quote the actual law, or whether they are simply guidance for owners regarding the effects of the law. The main MLIT portal site is here: http://www.mlit.go.jp/kankocho/minpaku/business/host/responsibility01.html
(The page links to an English translation, but only of part of this section.)
[Ed: For the record, the MLIT portal page is a reinterpretation of the legal writ in plain language. For example, one of the main subject headers from MLIT is（１）本人確認の方法, or “Method for Confirming Identity”. Yet nowhere in the actual text of the law did I find the word “本人確認”. To check for yourself, here’s the actual text of the Minpaku Law in Japanese, word-searchable here online and here as a .txt file.]
Section 4 of the MLIT reinterpreted version deals with the requirement on minpaku owners to keep a register and to be able to provide it to the police on request. There’s no ambiguity in the first paragraph. Owners have to keep a record of the name, address, occupation and dates of stay for all guests. If the guests do not have a Japanese address, the owner also needs to record the nationality and passport number. All good so far.
Part (1) of this section, though, is a bit more worrying. First (A and B) it says that a photograph of the guest’s face or passport should be clearly confirmed to be accurate, and that this photograph should be identifiable as having been taken at or close to the premises. It suggests that a video phone or tablet in the minshuku could be used for this. There’s no mention here of Japan residency. Or of what sort of ID would be suitable for ALL guests (not just foreign guests), since not all guests carry passports.
Then (Part (1), 2) is where it seems to require, or at least suggest, photographing the passports of non-resident foreigners. (Here it does specifically mention residence.) It even suggests that this photograph can be submitted as an alternative to filling in the guest register columns relating to nationality and passport number. (Part (1), 3) says that in cases where the guest refuses to provide a copy of their passport, they should be told that this is a government requirement, and if they still refuse it is possible that they do not have the passport on them, and therefore the police should be informed.
[Ed: Which means that if a NJ resident of Japan (who is not required to carry a passport; that’s why Gaijin Cards exist) shows up without a passport, under these directives he’s likely to have the cops called on him by careless or overzealous clerks. And as the Carlos Ghosn Case shows quite plainly, you do not want to be detained for questioning by the Japanese police.
[Moreover, after doing a word search of the actual text of the law, I CANNOT find the word 本人確認, or the words passport パスポート/旅券 or even photo/image 写真/画像. What section of the Minpaku Law (or of any law — the Japanese police have lied about the nonexistent photocopying requirement before) is the MLIT-reinterpreted version referring to?]
MLIT’s official English translation of the law is:
Private lodging business operators need to verify identity according to the following contents:
1. Keep an accurate record of guests on the guest list.
2. For foreign guests who do not have an address in Japan, accurately record the name, nationality and passport number in the appropriate column for each guest, request that each guest present their passport and save copies of each passport together with the guest list. By saving a copy of the passport, you can accurately record the name, nationality and passport number on the guest list.
3. If a foreign guest who does not have an address in Japan refuses to present their passport despite the request of the private lodging business operator, explain that the measures are based on national government regulations. If the guest continues to refuse, and there is the possibility that the guest is not carrying a passport, take the appropriate action such as contacting the nearest police station.
More worryingly, there is a link from this page to a model of a guest register. It’s here: http://www.mlit.go.jp/kankocho/minpaku/business/system/regular_report.html
The model has a list of categories that need to be filled in: name, date etc. The last two are ‘nationality’ and ‘passport number’. Under ‘passport number’, it clearly says “If the nationality is other than Japanese, passport number must be entered.” There’s nothing, though to say a) that Japanese nationality does not need to be recorded, and b) that neither does nationality for foreigners with Japanese addresses.
[Ed: As MC notes, this is misleading. In the opening part of Section 4 of the MLIT-reinterpreted version, it says, as is proper, that “lodgers that are foreigners without addresses in Japan need to give nationality and passport number”: 宿泊者が国内に住所を有しない外国人であるときは、その国籍及び旅券番号. So why is this not continuously pointed out in this section? Again, as before, this encourages racial profiling of all guests who look “foreign”.]
So there are several inconsistencies here. On the one hand the guidance (if that’s what it is) confirms the requirement of the hotel law to date, namely that passport numbers (not copies) are required from non-resident foreigners, and only from them. On the other hand since they clearly want to allow for places to operate without any check-in staff, the distinction between providing a passport number and providing a copy of the passport, and the distinction between resident and non-resident gets blurred, and it’s easy to see how owners trying to keep up with this legislation will not be too conscientious about it.
I haven’t yet replied to the minshuku about this. I’d appreciate any advice, or any information anyone has about the new law, that I might have missed or misinterpreted.
COMMENT: Interestingly enough, and on the plus side, there’s a special section in the Minpaku Law that specifically says that minpaku accommodations must aim for the comfort and convenience of “foreign tourists”. Clearly, none of these damned refusals of NJ reservations on the grounds of “we only have futons, not Western-style beds” or “we don’t speak any foreign languages” (as has happened to me on various occasions, even when I’m speaking Japanese).
Now, on the MLIT plain-language site, this is reinterpreted more clearly as follows:
Boldface added to item (3) because it includes information from a different clause (such as the one just before it on disaster information):
which says nothing about rendering it in a foreign language. Commonsensibly, this would be nice to do. But portraying translation as something required by law is another stretch.
So this seems to be a freewheeling interpretation of the law being made by MLIT (as keeps happening by Japanese officialdom, particularly the Japanese police, over-interpreting the law for their convenience to target foreigners). Again, I’m not sure where MLIT is getting the bit about passport numbers (and by extension and hotel interpretation, passport copies and mugshots).
But where is this going? Towards more rigmarole, policing, and official harassment of NJ-resident customers who just want to get a berth for the night. And I have been hearing (thanks SC) of other Japan-lifers now finding it harder to check-in while foreign.
Bottom line: The new Minpaku Law hasn’t fundamentally changed anything in regards to NJ resident customers. You are still not required to show ID, passport, or photo if you have an address in Japan. Debito Arudou Ph.D.
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