New Japanese driver licenses now have IC Chips, no honseki


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Hi Blog.  Related to yesterday’s posting:  While looking up other things for my thesis, I noticed that a significant new change has happened from 2007 with Japanese driver licenses.  They’ve been getting IC Chips as well.

Here’s a screen capture excerpt from the NPA website:


(there’s a lot more text below on the site as explanation, see it at

The reasons I find this perturbing (as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog entry comments discussing this) are:

1) There is no standardized form of ID that Japanese MUST carry 24/7 or face criminal punishment, unlike the Gaijin Cards discussed yesterday.  The Driver License is the most typical, followed by the Health Insurance Card (which is not even a photo ID), the controversial Juuki-Net card, koseki touhon and juuminhyou (also both not photo IDs) and passport.  Which means this most-used form of ID (many people spend thousands of dollars for drivers’ ed classes just to become “Paper Drivers”) is now getting Gaijin Cardized.  People are going to be trackable in future the same as the NJ.

2) For “privacy’s sake” (gee whiz, suddenly we’re concerned?), the honseki family registry domicile is being removed from IC Chipped Driver Licenses.  That was ill-thought-through, because once I get my license renewed, short of carrying my Japanese passport with me 24/7 I will have no other way of demonstrating that I am a Japanese citizen.  After all, I have no Gaijin Card (of course), so if some cop decides to racially profile me on the street, what am I to do but say hey, look, um, I’m a citizen, trust me.  And since criminal law is on the Fuzz’s side, I will definitely be put under arrest (‘cos no way of my own free will am I going to the local Police Box for “voluntary questioning”, thank you very much) as the law demands in these cases.  I see lotsa false positives and harassment in future Gaijin Card Dragnets.

And this after all the pains I took to make sure my Driver License had my honseki on it in the first place eight plus years ago when I naturalized.  See one of my favorite funny stories about that here.  (You just gotta love the vigilance of the cops that day, tracking me down for congratulations and offers of protecting my rights.)

One bit of good news, if you can call it that.  The NPA site shows exactly where the IC Chip is on your license.  Ready your hammers…  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

PS:  I just checked my Driver License.  As it says above, this IC program was inaugurated from January 2007, but I renewed my license back in January 2008.  Wonder why I didn’t get chipped.  The IC Chip machines hadn’t made it up this far north yet?


31 comments on “New Japanese driver licenses now have IC Chips, no honseki

  • I’m also a naturalized Japanese citizen, and had my driver’s license renewed in September in Osaka last year. It has my honseki printed on it and I don’t see any changes as far as the IC chip is concerned….I wonder if this program is still in the experimental stages?

  • Hmm Debito,

    That’s really a situation for you.

    I would like you to think a few options or may be you already have one to ponder at…!
    1. You can Tattoo on visible parts of your body “Watashi wa Gaijin Jya Nai desu…” etc. (Hmm, but in cold winter days, you cant display your body parts, ne.. Even in sunny days, I remember you told once in past that they dont like Tattooed Gaijins around…komatta mon da ne)
    2. Call a police and press conference together and meet ALL the local police once for all. (But umm, again, let me see, it wont help if you go out of Sapporo.)
    3. Ask the Driving License issuing authorities to write on its Uragawa that “this gaijin looking man has no AR Card and as we checked out his Honseki, carrying this License alone is OK and put their Inkan on this statement..” (But again, some superior cop may smell rats…)

    No matter what you find as a way out, I am waiting to hear from you on that solution…! Other zainichi blogger friends may pour in thoughts too..!

    — Tattoo? Then I can’t get into some onsen and they’ll really have a case for refusing me. Yeesh.

  • I got my J-license last June for the first time and it doesn’t have a chip either. Perhaps it hasn’t been propagated throughout the whole country yet.

  • Debito…according to the link you provided above regarding the new licenses, the honseki will be removed from the surface…


    I may be wrong, but I am assuming the actual chip will retain the hoseki information. Now this is where the naturalized like yourself will run into a quandary; Either (A) you introduce your new license to Mr. Mallet, or (B) you throw your principles to the dogs on this issue in order to avoid imminent harassment of which you are quite familiar with.

    Another suggestion I have is to buy a RFID reader off of ebay. You can pick them up for as cheap as eight bucks. See what’s on these chips before you introduce them to Mr. Mallet.

    — Eight bucks??!! Off ebay??!! Now that’s reassuring! Chances are we’ll have more random people with RFID readers and less likely cops on the beat with them. In any case, even if I did see what’s on those chips, I have little choice but to show something anything or plead or be arrested. That’s the quandary created by this new system for people like me.

  • As the licence is protected by a password, I doubt you would be able to read it with a simple RFID reader. A police officer, however, would be able to verify that you are Japanese because they have the card readers necessary.

    Regarding getting rid of the honseki, my understanding is that this is supposed to protect people who have traditionally suffered discrimination in Japan. If your honseki is in certain areas, you are likely to belong to a certain caste, which can apparently affect your chances of getting a job among other problems.

    The elimination of the honseki also offers protection to zainichi and others using their Japanese “tsuumei” on their licence. Because the nationality is no longer written, without reading the IC card you would never know the card holder is not Japanese.

    Of course, why people have to hide like this is the real issue.

  • Just a word of advice.

    Do NOT hammer your cards if you are interested in verifying your identity at any point in the future. The process may not be fully implemented right now, but those getting the new IC chipped cards will have to set a personal password to retrieve the honseki information from the card, and if the chip is damaged you can’t verify your identity.

    I recently tried to get Japanese relatives on to Yokota AFB, and one person was refused entry because their ‘new’ IC-card was damaged. Yes, that’s right…the AFB was using number-entry pads and swiping the cards to make sure that the owner could retrieve the honseki information. In this case, 30% of my guests didn’t actually know their passwords so had to call home and verify the paperwork, and 1 person knew their password, but the card still didn’t work with it.

    When people receive these new cards they are not being clearly told the importance of the password and the potential troubles that this system will create. And if the US Military is already taking advantage of this new IC system, you better believe it’s only a matter of time before the Japanese government makes it the standard.

  • Actually, the “tsuumei” can’t be used on your driver’s license or other official things. If you are not Japanese, you have to use the same name on your passport or ARC. I know because I used to use a tsuumei before I naturalized into Japan, and I had to have my license name changed after I naturalized.
    By the way, as I’m one of the few (but growing number of) people like Debito who is a naturalized Western-Japanese, I’m also concerned about the honseki being taken off licenses. However, as much as I dislike dealing with the police, I’ve been waiting for them to stop me on the street and ask me for my ARC. Hopefully I can bring some “enlightenment” as in the case in Saitama a few years ago where a “foreign-looking” Japanese woman was falsely arrested for not carrying her ARC. The police were forced to make a public apology.
    Unfortunately no policeman has even looked at me since I naturalized…I wonder if the naturalizing process gives you a special “Japanese aura” to ward off the police?

  • just got my licence renewed here in hiroshima and it didn’t have my honseki on it and it had a chip in it. you choose a 8 letter password and this has to be entered before the honseki shows up. there was a machine in the licence centre where you could test this out. though I am not sure in what real-life situations this would be used. the police will be asking for your password?! perhaps they have some override.

    I think Alexander is on the mark when he says the reason is to protect people who have traditionally suffered discrimination in Japan.

    I also naturalised so have the same potential “but how can you prove you have japanese nationality” problem that debito has, but as my name and, I assume, his, are written in kanji then the obvious conclusion is that we have kokuseki.

    — Mine is rendered in kanji, of course. Given my experiences with the natural-trained suspicion (and often obduracy) of J-cops, I still think it a bit hopeful that they will take that at face value.

  • I had heard about this, not having a license myself I had to check with folks who did to confirm. Indeed, new licenses do not have the koseki information (or country of nationality info for foreigners) listed anymore. One would assume that data is now on the chip.

    On the one hand I agree that having “foreign-looking” Japanese nationals stopped for gaijin card checks is a problem, but then again if people start getting profiled and hauled in for not having ID, in the long run things will probably have to change. Granted, this still makes things unpleasant for those citizens, but there have already been such cases (I think you reported on one, Debito? An ethnic Japanese and citizen who just happened to “look” foreign and got nabbed in Akihabara?) and the cops always end up apologizing and making public statements that they will try not to do this again. I would think that it would be possible to find a sympathetic lawyer who would be happy to help one sue for false arrest. So I think in the long term taking a “I’m a citizen, I don’t have to show you squat” approach will pay off for everyone in the long term. Legally, as a Japanese national you would be in the right, and the cops would be dead wrong. If a body of such cases started to build, and citizens were bringing lawyers and perhaps their elected representatives, the cops would be forced to change their methods. As I said, it would be a huge pain for the person hauled in, but by being able to go public with a “This is happening!” as opposed to a “Theoretically, this could happen…” argument, you’d get the attention of the mass media, police, lawyers, politicians, John Q. Public… in short, everyone who needs to be involved to make things really change. And also, if the cops were forced to change, than it changes the whole status of foreigners (or at least those with rudimentary Japanese ability). If anyone can just say “I’m a Japanese, I don’t have to show you anything” and walk away, the whole dynamics of the “whack a Gaijin” game changes. The cops either risk calling the bluff and possibly getting eggs all over their faces or just throw up their hands and stop trying to check.

    Again, a huge pain for “foreign-looking” Japanese in the short term, but then again, the Blacks didn’t get to sit at the front of the bus by saying “Well if we tried it, we might get arrested…” They stood their ground, took the heat, and made defending the status quo untenable for those trying to defend it. That is really the only way to get things done, unfortunately for those getting their chops busted.

    — Well put. Thanks for this.

  • Oh, and an afterthought. While I don’t recommend taking hammers to your driver’s licenses, passports, credit cards and anything else with an RF chip in it, I would recommend getting a shielded wallet and passport cover. The technology is out there to scan those chips from a distance, even if the reader may not be getting 100% of the info. I believe Tokyo (municipal government, not national) already floated an idea to have readers at public buildings and stations to “track” foreigners’ movements. That is easy to do, and do today. Shielded wallets are not too expensive, or even just stick some folded-over aluminum tape (available at any home center) in the billfold section of your wallet to make a Faraday cage.

    Just don’t make a hat out of the stuff – real tinfoil is more comfortable.

    — If you can find a source for that Tokyo Govt proposal for readers at public buildings, that would be most helpful. Thanks.

  • “If you can find a source for that Tokyo Govt proposal for readers at public buildings, that would be most helpful.”

    Having trouble tracking that down at the moment, I think I saw something in the news about 6-7 months ago. I did find this Japan Times article from 2005 that talks about an LDP proposal to do basically the same thing:
    “The ‘IC You’ Card”

    — I know that article. Look at the author.

  • My tsuumei (in kanji) is on my drivers’ license, in brackets after my name.

    My health card and pension book only have the tsuumei, and I still enjoy the reactions when receptionists call me Mr. Tanaka at hospitals 😉

    Alien Registration Card has tsuumei in brackets under name.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Regarding tsuumei on driver’s licenses: my alien card, for some reason, has the transliteration in katakana listed as the tsuumei. I use plain katakana, surname then given name, for all my affairs, including banking, and want that to be what’s on my driver’s license if I ever get one. Are you folks saying that you would have to use Roman letters!?

    If someone’s driver’s license has only Roman letters where the name should go, it’ll be obvious that they’re not Japanese, which means that the removal of their nation from the honseki area of the license doesn’t do much to stop discrimination against them. Anyone who sees it knows that they’re an alien, because Japanese names can’t officially be in Roman letters, nor can they be in simplified mainland Chinese, or hangul, both of which are also allowed on alien cards.

    I long ago decided to use the same katakana name for all legal contracts, to keep things simple. It can be a hassle to insist on not using Roman letters, and keeping my pesky useless middle name out of it. (I have the hardest time explaining to Japanese people that many westerners never use their middle names for anything at all, and that it only gets in the way.) Can a driver’s license have only katakana in the “name” field? Bad enough that the Japanese language sets aside one syllabary just for foreign words and names, but if they won’t even let us use that

    — My driver licenses before naturalization all had my name in Roman alphabet, all caps. That’s some time ago, but I don’t see what that would have changed. Certainly claims of privacy issues would have fallen on deaf ears concerning NJ.

    As for J names being in Roman alphabet, yes, it’s possible. Naturalized Nagano resident and Japan Times columnist C.W. Nicol has his name rendered as precisely that on his passport: “C.W. ニコール”, salad of romaji and katakana. Special case, but possible.

  • Driving licenses:

    Driving licenses must have your ‘legal name’ (本名), with any alias in brackets; you cannot register only an alias. This is because an alias can be changed at-will.

    The legal name can be in kanji if you can get a document from your country of citizenship with that name. Otherwise, you are stuck with the romanization in your passport. People with middle names they don’t want to use any more can have their passports reissued by their countries of citizenship and change their ‘legal name’. Easy.

    A name in kanji is suggestive of Japanese citizenship especially if the owner of the license isn’t Asian, but if you can get the name written in the right section of your passport, you can register it; in other words, if you are Taiwanese and change your name to 日本 太郎, you can have your name exactly like that on your license.

    Nobody except the government will be able to swipe your honseki data by irradiating you as you walk by. The chip in the card will lock after three attempts at the code and needs to be reset at a police station (as detailed in the instructions you get when it’s issued). Of course, I’m sure the government have the keys to read that data with or without your co-operation.

    Maybe the police should consider allowing the honseki back on the licenses for people who want it, or changing the field to ‘kokuseki’ instead (not that it has much relevance anyway).


    What people have on their passports is largely up to them, and you can write anything you like in the signature field (the only place there could be kana or kanji).

    Furthermore, there are special cases for people with dual citizenship and people who have naturalized. I can dig them up if you like. One thing that does seem to happen is that once your ‘passport name’ is set, it is difficult to change; ie, you are locked in. You cannot freely move between Arudou/Arudoh/Arudo, etc., just by paying the new fee for a passport.

    Portable proof of citizenship, if you want it:

    Juki card (住民基本台カード) for 500 yen.

  • Mark in Yayoi,

    > It can be a hassle to insist on not using Roman letters, and keeping my pesky useless middle name out of it. (I have the hardest time explaining to Japanese people that many westerners never use their middle names for anything at all, and that it only gets in the way.)

    I can really relate to the issue regarding middle names. Before coming to Japan, I had probably used my middle name less than five times in my whole life. However, as it was on my passport and hence my alien card, no matter how much I protested, I was asked to always use it for official documents. As the “middle” name somehow comes last in Japan, Japanese people either 1) interpreted it as my last name or 2) being clever assumed it was my first name written in Japanese order…

    [Then my first name is officially an abbreviation for a much longer one that I have never used; I didn’t even know how to spell it when I was younger. Another problem. That and I have insisted on writing my name in kanji for about 15 years now. Another problem.]

    Anyway, with the exception of city hall and immigrations, I long ago solved all problems with a tsuushoumei. If you wish to rid yourself of those endless conversations about your middle name, then just register a tsuushoumei without it. It need not be in kanji if you prefer katakana.

    > nor can they be in simplified mainland Chinese, or hangul, both of which are also allowed on alien cards.

    Thanks for the info. I had assumed that simplified kanji were permitted, but was unaware that hangul was allowed. Not sure how much use it would be in Japan, but I will pass that on to a few friends.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Shinsakan, so your “legal name” has to be in Roman letters? Shouldn’t something be done about that? In Japan, I want my legal name to be something that’s expressible in the Japanese language. (I wonder if I legally own my bank accounts and home; all the documents for these things use my katakana-ized name, and I didn’t have to make any special request for this; it was the default.)

    Come to think of it, my national health insurance card contains katakana only. That’s a legal document, isn’t it?

    It seems paradoxical that a country would have its own writing system (and have pride in that system), yet forbid people from using it. Does Russia forbid non-Russians from writing their legal names in Cyrillic? How about in Greece? Israel? The Arab world?

  • Mark,

    In Japan, your legal name has to be both recognized by your country of nationality and representable on an alien registration card; ie, your legal name is ‘owned’ by your country of nationality. Since that country issues you with a passport in roman letters, that will always suffice; all passports need to have roman lettering in the machine-readable zone.

    Some countries issue documentation in kanji, and you can use that; China and Taiwan both include kanji in passports. I don’t think hangul is permitted on an ARC; instead, most ward offices have a thick book that Koreans can use to ‘convert’ their names, or they can use their old Korean koseki – a system that has now been abolished.

    As for other countries, it’s irrelevant – every country decides for itself. Taiwan in some circumstances requires you to adopt a Chinese name, but they don’t really care what you choose (unless you naturalize). Russia used to issue visas with your name written in Cyrillic, and may still do.

    The issue of ‘ownership’ of bank accounts, etc., is largely moot because the account is a contract between you and the bank, and the government does not tend to involve itself; if the bank is happy with your kana name, it’s fine, but perhaps there could be probate issues should you die and someone else need control over it. It’s better to cover yourself by registering your bank account name as an alias. You can see a parallel in that the bank will happy accept anything as a 届印 but the government is much more specific about what constitutes a 実印 and who can register them.

    Ultimately, if you want your legal name to be expressible in Japanese, you need to get your own koseki, which means naturalizing. Otherwise, you are stuck with your foreign ‘koseki’, whatever form that takes – usually, what’s written on your passport.

    Finally, for those who really wanted to know what’s in your IC driver’s license on a byte-by-byte level, and how to read it, look no further than here.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Shinsakan, you might be right about not being able to use hangul as your legal name; I thought I’d seen something on Debito’s site about Zainichi Koreans pressing for being able to use it, and being allowed to, but I could be wrong. There are younger Koreans whose names have no kanji; what do they do? Is that what that book is for; choosing an appropriate one?

    I know for a fact that mainland Chinese can use simplified characters that would not be legal for a Japanese-born baby — a guy I know named 许 didn’t have to change it to 許; I’ve seen his card myself. (C. W. Nicol would fall into this category too, wouldn’t he? You can’t put a “C” in a Japanese child’s name.) But other people, such as Europeans with umlauts, haceks, tildes, etc., get all those things stripped off, and end up stuck with something that’s not even close to their “real name”.

    I guess the point I want to make is that there are some big differences in how you can express your name depending on where you come from, and “kanji for Asians, unaccented, capital-only Roman letters for everyone else” is a pretty poor standard. I’d like to see a system come into place where the Japanese system (surname followed by given name; no middle names, patronymics, etc.) and Japanese writing system (kanji and kana) is used for everyone, and you set your “legal name” when you arrive in Japan and register for the first time.

    — Sorry Mark, nothing about Hangul on It wasn’t me.

  • furthermore if you get a tsuumei in kanji of your actual surname(ie a transliteration) if you have a japanese family they cannot use the same tsuumei in kanji ,they would have to put your surname in katakana(assuming that wife/husband/kids have taken your surname)

    regarding the whole name thing it just seems bizarre to me and another form of racism that foreigners real legal name has to be in katakana until they naturalize.just seems another form of exclusion to me.can you imagine countries in the west saying you are a foreigner you have to use a different alphabet to us??

    (and by the way you can change the name on your passport after its been issued,my family have done it-though you need a good reason)

    random question,could cw nichol have had his whole name in alphabet?

  • I said exactly the same thing last May when I renewed my licence in Tokyo – no honseki means no proof of nationality, should it become necessary to prove so. It is however on the chip (which basically contains what looks like a low res JPEG scan of the card WITH the honseki printed on it) which is password protected, so my understanding is that if stopped, the police can scan the card and you enter the password so they can see it. Great.

  • Adamw – your legal name has to be valid in your passport country, since it is your documentation from that country that establishes your name, date of birth, etc., and it was to that identity that Japan issued your visa.

    If your country recognizes kanji names, no problem. If not, you are stuck with whatever is on your passport. Also, for this reason, a katakana name cannot be your legal name, but unfortunately a lot of systems are not able to deal with anything other than kanji or kana, so your name gets mangled. It’s annoying and often a pain, but it’s all about the color of your passport, not your skin.

    Coal – get the 住基カード for proof of nationality.

    Also, have a look at the PDF link and you’ll see that the license doesn’t just contain some crude image; it’s a structured filesystem. The honseki data file and the photograph file have special additional protection (ie: an additional PIN just for that data).

    Have you actually been asked for ID since you naturalized? If so, how did it go?

  • @ Shinsakan
    I’ve been asked for an alien registration card twice by police since naturalising. Both times I’ve said I’m a citizen, and that’s been the end of that. There’s always the possibility though that one may choose not to take me at my word. Wonder how you go about getting one of these Juuki cards?

  • Reading all the comments, naturally I too had to see what is printed on the driving license. No kouseki or nationality, and no IC-chip as far as I can see. Got my driving license in May last year.

  • @ Blimp
    There’s no indication on the card itself that there’s a chip installed, other than that the honseki is left blank. It also appears to bend normally and doesn’t have any bulge. Before we start on the emporer’s clothes though, we were shown how to use the chip readers at the license centre which confirmed there was definitely information stored therein. It sounds a little odd they didn’t run you through it when you renewed though.

  • Hi, Debito. I came across this unbelievable government announcement in Kanpo (Gazette of Government of Japan) dated March 4, 2009, in which a Japanese citizen was mistaken as an illegal Chinese immigrant, indicted, and convicted guilty. After the conviction was finalized, he was found indeed a Japanese citizen, so they reopened the case and declared him not guilty at the retrial. Proving Japanese citizenship can be a real nightmare.

    The above link will expire soon. Below is a link to a cache.

    — Diabolical. Thank you very much for this, HO.

    I guess this is news because it’s one time a conviction is overturned! Things have to go this far before they are? Wow. Love the bit about “because he has Japanese citizenship, the chances are high that his presence in Japan would not qualify as a crime of illegal overstay”. Who says Japanese bureaucrats have no sense of sarcasm. Wait, maybe they’re being serious…

    No news there if he was compensated for his ordeal. Again, thanks. Debito

  • Just a follow-up…

    I happen to catch this story. My girlfriend (japanese) just renewed her license today (April 10th, 2009). I remarked at how easy it looked to forge, and she admitted that they are quite easy to forge… but that they’d be implementing IC chips in the coming months. So, as of April 10th 2009, still no IC chips here in Osaka.

  • dereknobuyuki says:

    I recently renewed by license in Osaka.
    I didn’t even notice until I read this article that the honseki field was blank. It is on the chip though, as confirmed through the IC readers at the licensing centre.

    >> “My tsuumei (in kanji) is on my drivers’ license, in brackets after my name.”

    How long is your name?

    I don’t like to use my ARC if I can avoid it, so I always use my driver’s license as identification.
    Since I am Nikkei, I have a tsushoumei but they wouldn’t put it on my driver’s license.

    Already, my couldn’t fit my full name in the space provided.
    I have two middle names but only one of them is listed.
    I didn’t see why they couldn’t just include my first name and family name to have space for my tsushomei.

    However, with approximately 20 character max, I am stuck again with my alias NOT being listed on my license and being forced to use my ARC in the variety of situations where I want I don’t want to be using it.

    People who have had their alias listed in parenthesis on their licenses, how many characters was your “legal name” ?

    On my card, visually it looks like it can fit maximum 7 more characters.
    (ABCD) six character plus 1 space seem like enough space to fit my japanese alias and parenthesis. Do they add an extra space somewhere just as between your family name kanji and first name kanji) ?

    Is there any recourse at this point?
    Can I ask the police station staff to add my alias to the back and stamp it?


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