Reader AS voices concerns re Softbank regulations and Japanese Language Proficiency Test


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi Blog. Finally got done with my marvelous class (a joy from start to finish, we went several hours overtime just discussing the issues), and been too busy to revise my blog every night revising my powerpoints to reflect the threads of our conversation. So let me forward this germane email and open a discussion about issues regarding Softbank and the JPLT.

Arudou Debito in Nagoya, tomorrow Saitama, then Nagano, Sendai, and Iwate on successive days…


Dear Mr. Debito Arudou,

Hello. My name is AS. Currently, I am living in Gifu Prefecture. I am long time reader of your blog and a great admirer of you and your work for the foreign community in Japan. I have two concerns that I would like to dicuss with you. If you want, you have my consent to publish these comments on your blog for an open discussion.

1) Questioning the request of the Japanese Proficiency Test to show a passport or a gaikokujin card as an ID. When a person applies for the JLPT, they recieve a manual regarding the way of applying for the test, how to take the test, and other various guidelines and rules that may apply to taking the test. One of these guidelines is that you must show either a passport or an alien registration card as a form of I.D. To quote the manual, under the topic of what to bring to the test.

  • 1. Test voucher
  • 2. Writing Instruments
  • 3. Lunch.
  • 4. Identification (passport or alien registration card)

I have no problems with numbers 1 to 3, but with number 4, I have a major problem. Why do they ask only for either a passport or an alien registration card? Why do I have to show either one of these to prove my identification? Isn’t either a Japanese driver’s license or a Japanese insurance card a form of valid I.D.? Also under Japanese law, isn’t illegal for someone to ask you for a alien registration card or a passport that isn’t a police officer or an immigration officer? I am just wondering about these questions because the JPLT is targeted to towards foreigners who want to measure their Japanese comprehension in form of a test. In my mind, it looks the NPA deputized another group of people (first one being hotels and their front desk) to gather information about foreigners. I am wondering what is your take on this and any advice to an individual that is more willing to show their insurance card instead of their passport or their alien registration card to the proctors of the test.

2) Questioning the policy at Softbank requiring long term foreign residents to pay a lump-sum payment for a cell phone if their period of stay in Japan is less then 27 months. Here is my story: Yesterday I want to a Softbank shop in order to get a new plan and cell phone. I wanted a new plan and cell phone for a while and current 2 year contract was about to expire. I want to shop and was looking at various cell phones. A sales associate came over to help with decide in choosing a new model. I choose a cell phone that I wanted to get and the sales assoicate with very helpful with decribing the current price structure for the phones. If I wanted a new phone, I would have a pay a x amount for over 24 months, the lenght of the contract. I said that was fine with me. She continued to laid out the cost of the phone over the 24 month period and the cost of the monthly phone bill in relation to my new plan with cost of the mobile phone. Up to this point, I was happy and pleased with the service of Softbank. When processing my order, the sales associate asked my lenght of my visa. I was surprised by this because I have been a customer with Softbank for over the lenght of stay in Japan ( a little over 4 years now) and I have never been asked once the length of my visa. So, I told here that my visa is going to expire next July. I have a currently a three year instructor visa that is going to expire next year in July. I am planning on renewing my visa next year and continue to live in Japan. At this point, I was surprised and little bit frustrated and angry at the sales associate. However, this is where things become surprising and frustrating for me. Before when discussing my the cost of my phone and the plan that I was going get, the sales associate informed that my cost cell phone is zero. It will cost me nothing. Howver now with the information of the current lenght of my visa, she informs that I will have to buy my cell phone for 40,000 yen. I was completely shocked and gobsmacked by this. She informed that since my visa is less then the lenght of my contract I will have to provide a lump sum payment of 40,000 payment in order to recieve my phone. I have never paid for my cell phones (currently 2 different models within 4 years and the last change happening about 2 years ago). I was not happy to put down 40,000 yen for a cell phone. It is a lot of money. At the end of the experience, I did not get a new cell phone but I got my plan.

My question to you: What can be done to make Softbank realize that their policies are downright racist and bias against foreigners that do not have a visa of 3 years or more? Of course I am assuming that marriage visas of any length are fine. Many of my friends and acquaintances have a visa of one year. My one friend who has been living in Japan for 3 years but is always getting a one year visa from immigration. What can my friend and I do in a situation in that we have to pay a lump sum payment for a cell phone now but in the past we could get a cell phone with no questions asked or paying for a cell phone? And also, when did Softbank (a company that has large long term foreign residents as customers) entacted a policy of asking the term of one’s visa lenght and requesting a lump sum payment for a cell phone if the customer a lenght of Japan under 27 months. Why 27 months and not 24 months (the lenght of the contract)? Why they have contract lenght of 24 months and not 12 months (the lenght of lot of visas issued by immigration)? What can be done about this?

Thank you for reading this lengthy e-mail.

Sincerely, AS, a 4 year long term foreign resident of Japan


25 comments on “Reader AS voices concerns re Softbank regulations and Japanese Language Proficiency Test

  • Now after reading this I wonder for example how many foreigners have been admitted to Todai university, and how many to the other top universities in Japan which is where all the bureaucrats come from that make the laws in Japan. Laws that regard racism and select judges to sit on the supreme court.

    Debito, you must, you are compelled, it is your duty! to wage a war not just against racist businesses or foreigner segregation you must wage a war against the system of Japan itself! Speak to the administrators of Japan’s highest universities and if they won’t listen then sue. Sue Todai! Wouldn’t that be a huge statement? A japanese national originally from California suing Todai.

  • I can’t speak to point 1), although part of the point may be to confirm your nationality, which wouldn’t show up on other forms of domestic ID.

    I think the best solution to point 2) would be to get rid of expiration dates on working visas. Since visas are so easy to renew, the expiration date really serves no useful purpose other than causing bureaucratic headaches for foreigners. Try explaining that to a front-line Softbank employee, though.

    The quick fix which “just works” is to use a credit card. Yes, it’s hard to get one in Japan, so if you have to, get one in your home country and keep some savings there which you can use to pay the bill.

  • My question to you: What can be done to make Softbank realize that their policies are downright racist and bias against foreigners that do not have a visa of 3 years or more?

    This is a really easy question. Simply tell them how you feel about the policy and then take your business to either AU, Docomo or any of the other companies. The moment you walk out the door they lose 40,000 yen and a customer.

    To be honest, if you are against their policies, you shouldn’t have signed up for a contract, either. Just be polite, explain yourself, and then walk away. You can even thank the salesperson for being helpful, but also say that due to the circumstances you can’t make a purchase with Softbank.

  • Clearly it is reasonable for the JLPT to ask for photo ID, given the risks of people taking the test in place of others, but it seems strange that they don’t accept Japanese driver’s licences as acceptable ID.

    When I first took the test, it was described as ‘外国人のための日本語能力試験’or Japanese test for foreigners.

    When I took it again in 2004 it was then described as something like ‘日本語は母国語としない人のための能力試験’or test for non-native speakers of Japanese.

    What that suggests to me is that they will be receptive to any suggestions that we have.

  • As a Vodafone/SoftBank user of three years and I had no problems at all upgrading recently(機種変更) from my two year old 3G phone to the iPhone. I even got my iPhone in Shibuya even though my accounts had been set up in Wakayama.

    A good friend of mine had trouble getting his iPhone, he had to produce his FRC (Foreigner’s Registration Card – I just coined that acronym, sounds much better than Gaijin card dont you think?) but he was coming from another cell phone company. He describes his difficulty getting his phone in detail on his podcast the Kobe Beef Show episode 71 if anyone wants to compare experiences:

    I am quite surprised and disappointed by AS’s experience. I was thinking that this kind of thing only happens when joining SoftBank as a new customer, even that is a bit irritating, but to know it can happen to customers of several years is quite annoying. I wonder if sending an email of protest would be as effective as a letter of protest…

  • Regarding JLPT, I suspect it is related to the test qualifications. Current driver’s licenses do not show your nationality (unless the IC chip reader is used to extract the data). If I recall (from years ago) the JLPT application forms do not include any proof of citizenship, so maybe producing ID at the test site is the only way for them to confirm.

    That being said, foreign citizenship is actually NOT a requirement for the JLPT. The qualification is that you cannot be a native Japanese speaker. The JEES site indicates even naturalized Japanese citizens may take the exam as long as Japanese is not their native tongue (Debito, interested in taking a silly exam??). In theory, a US citizen who grew up speaking Japanese at home would be disqualified, too.

    But I imagine it’s virtually impossible for the examiners to confirm your mother tongue. So citizenship is probably the best proxy, and I think passports or alien registration cards may be the only reliable documents to certify citizenship.

  • Can’t comment on Softbank, as I haven’t spoken to them recently, but I believe that Japanese nationals are not eligible to take the JLPT. That MAY be why they ask for passport/ARC.

  • I’d like to give my experience about number 2, as I bought an iPhone successfully on Softbank back in July with a 2-year contract despite having just 7 months left on my (pre-student) visa. I didn’t have to pay a lump sum (and in fact I walked out of the store with the phone having paid absolutely nothing), and am instead spreading the payment over the 2-year term. The store said there was no problem with this as I was paying with my (foreign) credit card (therefore they guarantee payment), and didn’t even question the length of my visa despite asking me about it.

    That said, the next day a friend and I went to a different Softbank store, and that store demanded the 2-year visa. I showed them my new phone and they just said that I wouldn’t have been able to buy it at that store. The biggest surprise though was that they wouldn’t even accept his spouse visa because it was due to expire next year. The woman kept suggesting that he should get permanent residency as it would be a lot easier. (He has been in Japan less than 3 years so we can probably guess how successful such a PR application would be.)

    My point anyway is that, certainly at that time, the Softbank experience seemed to be wholly different depending on the particular store you happen to visit. However they may well have tightened up on this since.

  • I was in Japan for a month this summer, having a short-term visa and of course no ARC. I got myself a Softbank prepaid phone, and the staff at Sapporo ekimae Yodobashi was very helpful. I was even able to register the phone using my foreign passport (although it says on Softbank website that one would need ARC, health insurance or driving license for identification purposes).

    When I was visiting Japan in Vodafone days, the clerk (I was buying a phone somewhere in Yoyogi, if memory serves me) explicitly demanded an ARC, and I had to ask my friend living in Japan to register a phone by his name.

    So in my experience Softbank was friendly, and got better since Vodafone.

    Apparently the process of applying for contract plans is different, but I don’t think that they’re doing it because they don’t like foreigners or something. They want to ensure a foolproof way to get paid. So to manage their risks, they are assuming worst case scenario–that the customer will leave Japan when his/her visa expires and they won’t get money for the phone from him/her (I hope no one here thinks that cellphone really comes for free–its price is distributed among monthly payments).

  • Softbank’s website shows that a credit card coupled with a health insurance card is one of the acceptable ID combinations. Has anyone done this? My birthday is coming up and an iPhone is at the top of my wish list 😉 but frankly, I don’t want Softbank digging through my visa status and whatnot.

    It would still be absurd if I could walk into a Softbank store with my credit card and health insurance card and be accepted for a payment plan, and yet walk in with my passport and alien registration card and be denied for the same plan. The same person with the same visa status and length of stay being approved or rejected based simply on the type of ID s/he has — another case of pure bureaucracy trumping logic.

  • Oh please.

    Come on dude, if you have been here for this long you would know the term “常識(じょうしき)” by now, which means “common sense”.
    After that long letter to Debito you can get a simple answer:

    Because people leave this country sometimes (possibly a lot) and never end up paying the money they owe to Japanese companies (i.e-people leavin Japan for good without paying fully for the phone they purchased). This is just the company covering itself, you don’t like it: either do nothing or lodge a complaint.

    As for the JLPT, have you even taken it yet? When my friend took the JLPT they had the same requirement, but he showed them his driver’s license instead and they were fine with that.

    I’m surprised people getting bent out of shape over a couple 万円。。。

  • AS,

    A spousal visa which I have, despite the ease of renewing it, will not get you around the rules by SoftBank regarding visa length.

    I am still supposedly on the unofficial waiting list for an iPhone at one of local SoftBank shops. I was told that I was #50 on the list. I have yet to get a call… I also made a fuss and demanded an answer about how they can be requiring foreigners to show passports to get a phone and service and alas no response from corporate other than a boiler plate e-mail response to an e-mail enquiry.

    I was lucky enough however to get one from another SoftBank shop but had to go through my wife or I would have faced the same upfront payment demand (over 80,000 yen), passport request, etc.


  • First, I have taken the JLPT test before and the proctors only check the picture in the application form with the picture in the ID, they don’t collect any sort of data. The only data gathered is in the application form that the person VOLUNTARILY fills in. If this person doesn’t feel like showing the alien registration card, that’s fine, just show the passport. I really don’t see any big deal with this. But then, what’s the point of having an alien registration card anyway, if not as an ID card? Besides, he is NOT been forced to take the exam, and is NOT been harassed to show ID like some policeman would do.

    Second, I really hope that Softbank change this bad business practice. But they probably come up with this because cases of foreigners ‘buying’ 0 yen phones and leave the country without paying bill. So, others might have screw up for us, just my guess…

  • I can’t really accept that this is a “downright racist and bias against foreigners” because Softbank believes a 2 year cellphone contract should, at the very minimum, match the legal right of the purchaser to be in Japan. This is only reasonable business, and maybe Softbank has been having problems with some foreign customers leaving the country prematurely(visa not renewed, decision to go home, etc.)
    Please remember that most visa residents in Japan are not from N. America, and pursuit for payment on a Japanese contract is just not practical for Softbank. The days of easy credit seem to be ending all over the world.
    I can, however, suggest three courses of action for you:
    1/ Have your visa sponsor and/or employer sign as your guarantor
    2/ Check out the other cell phone companies, its a very competitive market
    3/ Pay for your phone up front instead of 24 easy payments, and only pay for actual usage on each month’s bill
    Please don’t confuse tight credit with racism. Japanese are very often asked to provide guarantors if their credit rating is not long enough or good enough. Credit is not a right.

  • Does anyone actually realize after all this complaining that Yes, some NJ must pay 80,000yen up front but that softbank pays you back 1900yen or so a month for 24 months to cover the difference in price over the 2years?
    So the actual cost is the same for everyone. I agree with the posts that this is just softbank protecting themselves.

    Imagine; “I’m leaving japan in 2 months will anyone lend me 80,000yen, I promise I’ll pay you back. I’ll even sign a contract with you!” ( ps: if anyone will lend me this money contact Debito and I will provide him with my bank details. and of course I promise to pay you back.

    I also think that while taking a JPLT it would be a good idea for the local government to make sure that the person taking the test is actually not a native speaker and the quickest way (maybe not perfect) to check is nationality. how do you check nationality… passport or other document showing it. (I only know a few people who have their national flag tattooed on them)
    Now on with my rant cause this whole Gaijin card issue is annoying to me:
    I am a 14 year veteran of Japan, I have lived in 7 different cities and 3 different prefectures. I love the Gaijin card, it is my all purpose undisputable ID.
    need ID
    me “here you go, mate”.

    asst ” can I make a copy of this?”

    me “No.”

    asst “But we must make a copy”

    me “show me where it is written you must copy a Japanese nationals ID, please”
    #1 scenario
    asst “here sir”

    me “ok, please go ahead”
    #2 scenario
    asst “hmmm, ummm, hmmm”

    me “just a moment while I call the police cause you are trying to steal my private info”

    asst “oh no,we can compleat the purchase”

    me ” no I am ok thanks I will go to another shop.”

    99% percent of the time when I am asked for my gaijin card I will provide my Drivers license. 90% of those times I am never questioned. On a rare occasion I am questioned I will ask “is ID needed or proof of my nationality?” “does a Japanese need to show their passport?” “no, then stop being an idiot.” 9 times out of 10 they question me no futher. of course I am smiling the whole time and being nice.

    When you move house have you ever been to the city office with your Japanese spouse at the same time to change your info.
    I have 4 times now.

    We take our seperate queues. I fill out my info, they take my card write on the back of it and 5 mins (10mins if they are busy) later hey presto done.
    Then I go over to my wife… and sit and wait as she bitchs and moans about how many things she has to write, how many documents must be gotten and changed. I say I am finished, she tells me to shut up or she will hurt me (usually I say yes please)
    1 hour later I am bored stiff, probably made 10 trips to the toilet, smoking area, and drinks machines and then maybe she has finished the address change. next comes the other stuff…

    I broke my gaijin card in half last winter trying to clear ice of my windscreen (did not work) I took the 2 halves of my card to the local city office and asked for a new one. The lovely old gentlemen proceeded to ask me for my passport, to which I replied “why the hell would I be carrying my passport I have a wonderful (although slightly broken) gaijin card, all the info is on that”. he smiled and asked me to fillout the correct forms, gave me a slip of paper to say my card was being processed which was promptly destroyed in the washing machine a few days later.
    When I went back to get my card 2 weeks they asked for the paper, I told them I had lost it.they said ok, name. checked my photo against me and said thank you very much.

    Need proof of address (jyuminhyo for locals) give them your gaijin card 99% of the time it is accepted. My poor wife must go and get her jyuminhyo…

    Yes there are many things I don’t like here, many things out dated and prehistoric but overall we have it pretty easy. others countries make life much more difficult, the above complaint I am sorry to say is rehtorical and naieve.

    All in all, my advice is learn the system. how to bend it.
    The Japanese is NOT half as bad as the British one.

    ps; yes I have an iPhone the only ID I gave was a drivers license and exisitingphone number. when I asked (about half way through) if they needed my gaijin card the shop staff looked shocked and said “um,ok.”
    The only bad rules I ran into when buying an iPhone were at a few shops that refused to change for an existing customer, they only accepted new contracts. This applied to my wife too. we were told that we would have to cancel our contracts and start new ones. (even at the softbank shop in funabashi lalaport they said they only sold new contracts, when I told them that I was a 5 year customer and the rule was stupid business they said “ok, we will do it”… But I decided to walk out anyway.)

  • 2/ Check out the other cell phone companies, its a very competitive market

    Except for the iPhone, where Softbank has the monopoly. 😉

    I think the point is that the policy is arbitrary and illogical, rather than racist. Softbank’s homepage says you can get an iPhone, for example, with just a driver’s license. This means that a foreigner whose visa expires tomorrow can walk out of the store with an iPhone if s/he uses a driver’s license as ID, whereas the very same person would be rejected if s/he chooses to go the foreigner card/passport route. It just makes no sense.

  • Wow! I am surprised by the number of comments left. I have a few responses to the some of the questions asked.

    1. Yes, I have taken the JPLT last year. The proctors only ask for an I.D. when I was entereing the test building. After that, I did not have to produce my I.D. again. I was just commenting on the rule that is written in the test application itself. It specifically asked for the alien registration card or a passport. If you could produce any other type of identification, then why the adminstrators of the JLPT do not mention this in their application book.

    2. For the various replies regarding Softbank, I would like to say thank you for the those posters supporting me. To some of the negative posters, why I am bent over a few 万円? Yes, I understand that their policy is measure against non-payment of a phone. I knew a few of these people that did not pay their phone bills when they left Japan. Softbank does certainly take a hit when someone does not pay for their services but that is business. There is certain risk involved. I have read that you can get a cell phone with relatively no problems if you have a credit card. However, I do not have credit card. 40,000 yen for me is a lot of money at the moment for a new phone.
    When I conducted business with Softbank before (first time, four years ago and the second time about two years ago), I recall that I was never asked about my visa lenght. There was no problem with me getting a phone with a one year visa -> my first time conducting business with Vodafone. At the second time, I was never asked about my visa lenght. I am just asking when the policy of asking the lenght of one’s visa came into being?

  • I am confused by the problem AS is having.

    The first part of the complaint talks about wanting to use a drivers license or health insurance card as ID for the JLPT. The second part of the complaint talks about being refused for a Softbank loan (yes that’s what it is) because of visa length – but this is only a problem when someone tries to apple with an alien registration card.

    Has anyone actually presented a drivers license or national health insurance card and still been asked for visa length? Also let us remember that this silly visa thing is just the start of the process. After that you will be subjected to a credit check just like Japanese are and may be refused for the loan just as Japanese are. And as others have pointed out, by being refused for the loan you will just pay more up front. The total cost of the phone will be no different.

  • Has anyone actually presented a drivers license or national health insurance card and still been asked for visa length?

    Yes, this morning, actually — although it was sort of the other way around. The clerk asked me if I was going to be in Japan for a long time. I told him “yes” and he told me about the requirements for visa length. I simply told him I’d be applying with my health insurance card and credit card and he said “ah, no problem”. Ridiculous, isn’t it? I could cancel my credit card and leave tomorrow morning for all he knows.

  • I presented my drivers license and was not asked about my status at all until I brought up the subject (honestly I think the data was on the pc record).

    The day before I went to a softbank shop to change my monthly “conbini” payment scheme to the bank transfer, so that I would not have to use my credit card. althought that was a painful experience. I bought my iphone from K’s denki in shin urayasu mainly because I know they have a good stock of all the models.

    Just a quick comment for AS, the upfront price I heard is the full 80-87,000yen, then they give you rebates for the difference over the26 month period of the contract. I could be wrong though.

  • Re: Softbank

    Check out Yahoo Japan auctions. “New” phones (less than 6 months) are pulled regularly, but most sellers will post them with a “kibou rakusatsu” price so you can win instantly. For the most part, they are brand new, and much cheaper. I got my last Softbank Phone (911SH) there for 36,000 yen, when it would’ve cost me 50,000 from Softbank.

    The phone I got before that was a couple of years ago, and was not a freebie to begin with, so of course, I had to fork up the dough.

  • Minority Reporter says:

    Debito posted my letter to him back in July about my Softbank experience with the iPhone. In my case, I happened to have just renewed my 3 year spouse visa… It had 34 months remaining on it! And *still* I was relegated to paying a lump sum of 8man or some such figure up front. When I asked what criteria they used to disqualify me from the advertised payment plan the lady replied that Softbank honsha won’t disclose that information, even to her. After I had already purchased the phone, I tried my closer-to-home Softbank shop. The man first went in the back and whispered to his boss (apparently). When he emerged he gave the same answer, that the honsha will not disclose the reasons for disqualifications. I asked this back in July, and I’ll ask it again — Are there any of you with enough knowledge of Japanese law to tell me whether or not that is legal? (disqualifying a customer and refusing to explain why).

  • Miklos Klaar says:

    I also got an iPhone the other day. I used my insurance card and credit card and had to pay the 80,000. I was never asked for passport, ARC, drivers license or anything else. No mention was even made that I was a NJ.

    They guy said they are becoming quite strict – he also said it happens quite a bit. He was seeing 1 in 10 people turned down for the plan regardless of nationality. I still got the 24 month’s discount though….

  • 1) about phones:
    AU by KDDI acepted my Japanese driver’s licence. Never asked about my visa status.
    GENERAL ADVICE: You are more likely to be harrassed in downtown areas with a high NJ population. EX: Wanted to open a UFJ bank account in central Osaka. Got asked for my ARC. Walked out. Walked into a UFJ branch in suburban Osaka and, big surprise, a driver’s licence or health insurance card, whichever I prefered they said, would be perfectly fine.
    CONCLUSION: Try services of the beaten track (by foreigners) and you get the same service as Japanese because they are less likely to have any special internal precedures applicable to NJ.

    2) about that test:
    First of all, Japanese driver’s licences DO show your nationality. It comes under 本籍(HONSEKU). Because you are not Japanese you will not have a HONSEKU (registered domicile) your home country’s name will be filled in instead. Therefore, I think they should accept a driver’s licence as well.

    The reason why they ask for the nationality could also be either that they just love statictics and every year publish how many people took the test and their nationalities in percentages. The other reason could be (don’t know for sure, never done the test myself), that during the test two guys with the same nationality will not be seated next to one another (maybe to prevent cheating).

    Hope that helps.

    — For the record, it’s honseki.

  • @The Shark: Any driving license issued since June 2 2007 does not list the Honseki; there’s an empty space there (for J and NJ alike). Presumably the coppers can read it if they have a reader that reads the RFID chips in the driving license card, though… But for regular people there’s no way of knowing. I must admit that since there’s now no easy “proof” of non-Japanese-ness, I’ve been known to fib about my nationality at video rental stores to staffers who insisted on seeing my gaijin card.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>