Hokkaido Shinbun Editorial and article on NJ Fingerprinting Debacle


Hi Blog. Finally got around to translating this, sorry for the wait. Two articles from the Hokkaido Shinbun, Japan’s largest regional newspaper with near-monopoly readership in Hokkaido. Despite trying to sit on the fence when it came to The Otaru “Japanese Only” Onsens Case (1999-2005), this time they come out quite clearly with misgivings about the NJ Fingerprinting thingie. Editorial first, article second–the latter depicting the Korean media giving Japan a lot of stick.

Why do I get the feeling that the editors are reading Debito.org? Ki no sei? Debito in Sapporo

The new Immigration procedures
Hokkaido Shinbun top editorial Tuesday, November 20, 2007, Morning Edition page 3
Original Japanese at https://www.debito.org/?p=821
Translated by Arudou Debito

Starting from today, a system requiring fingerprints and facial photos from Japanese coming to Japan comes into effect.

The goal is to stop terrorism. The fingerprints and photos will be instantly checked against a blacklist of terrorists and criminals, and if there is a problem, people will be refused entry at the border.

We understand the point of refusing terrorists at the shores. However, questions still remain about human rights, particularly privacy, when fingerprinting most of the 7,000,000 non-Japanese annually who come to Japan as if they were criminal suspects.

The bureaucrats in charge must not make decisions arbitrarily or on political grounds.

The system is grounded upon the amended Immigration and Refugee Control Act. We call for prudence when carrying out this policy:

First of all, there is nothing in the law which says how long these fingerprints or photos will be saved in a database. Immigration explains that “If we say how long, terrorists will wait until the end of the time limit and come in then.”

Although Japan is only the second country to create this biometric data program, after the United States, in America at least the time period for data storage is set at 75 years. That’s a person’s lifetime.

It is not inconceivable that the Japanese police will use this data in their criminal investigations. Chances are high that personal data will be leaked. We say that after the data is instantly checked against the database, it should be deleted immediately.

Second, the new powers granted the Minister of Justice under this amended law, to force people seen as “potential terrorists with the ability to easily carry out terrorist acts” (tero no jikkou o youi ni suru koui o okonau osore ga aru) to leave Japan’s borders, must be used properly.

Justice Minister Hatoyama Kunio said in a speech about these new regulations that a “friend of a friend of his is a member of al-Qaeda”. He was allegedly warned that there would be a terrorist bombing in Bali, Indonesia, two months before the event, and told to stay away.

But it is far too careless to assert that this person was indeed a member of al-Qaeda just based upon hearsay from a friend. If the Minister on this basis alone wishes to use his power to deport people, this is an abuse of his powers.

Third, the accuracy of this Blacklist they are putting together. In America, one out of every 500 citizens is now recorded on their blacklist as a terrorist suspect. It is said that even Nobel Peace Prize recipient Nelson Mandela is on it, and won’t be able to enter the United States.

All foreigners entering or leaving Japan [sic], except the Special Permanent Residents and children under 16, are to be targeted under this new system. That means 70% of all foreigners in Hokkaido. It won’t do to have our residents [shimin–meaning the editor is including NJ] mistakenly put on this list.

On the other hand, last month as an amendment to the employment laws, employers are now required to register the names and visa statuses of all their foreign workers gaining or changing employment. Now there is a systematic legal apparatus for administrating foreigners and all their personal information from entry through employment.

This apparently aims to reduce the number of illegal entrants, but having this strong an administration system is quite likely to increase foreigners’ ill feelings towards Japan. We must make sure that this inspection doesn’t result in violations of human rights.


Hokkaido Shinbun November 21, 2007
Translated by Arudou Debito

SUMMARY: A new Immigration system was brought on line on Nov 20 “for barring terrorists from entry”. In principle, this applies to foreigners over the age of 16 coming into Japan, where they will have their fingerprints and mug shots taken. Several vocally irate tourists were spotted at the international entry port at Chitose Airport. Korean media, the source of many of Japan’s tourists, was critical in its reporting, and the trend of public opinion may create the danger of a diplomatic flap.


Over the course of the day, 9 flights, including charters from Korea and Taiwan, brought about 1000 foreign tourists into Hokkaido. Korean tourist Kim Yong Gyun (65), who flew in from Pusan to Chitose, said with a bewildered look, “It’s not as if I feel good about having my fingerprints taken.” Machines were also breaking down, causing some consternation.

A semiconductor engineer from Seoul (37) did not contain his disdain. “This isn’t for catching terrorists. It’s for tightening the noose around overstayers. There’s absolutely no explanation whether or not they’ll protect our biometric data.”

Sapporo Immigration dealt with this with an emergency beefing up of inspection staff at Asahikawa, Hakodate, and Obihiro airports. Even then, at Hakodate Airport, a Korean Air flight of about 150 people were held up for an hour and 15 minutes, reckoned at about twice the usual duration. An airline staff member expressed his worry about the weekend, when the planes would actually be full.

On the other hands, the governments of their respective countries are withholding comment on the new system. Last year, of all the 410,000 total entrants into Hokkaido, the top group, at 134,000 people were Taiwanese, with Koreans coming in second. Both these countries have deep-rooted dislikes of Japan.

The Ministry of Justice sent representatives in October to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and asked for their understanding. Both Japanese and Korean diplomats were advising prudence towards possible ill-feelings.

The Korean media on Nov 20 all reported in unison this state of affairs. The online edition of The Hankyoreh Shinbum reported an angry arrival at Narita Airport saying, “Foreigners are being treated as criminal reinforcements; this is a violation of human rights.” Kim Dae Hyung, Tokyo correspondent, reported, “Korea is still relatively unaware of what’s going on over here, but as far as human rights are concerned, this is very problematic. The Korean Government might be holding its tongue for the sake of good relations, but in reality they are watching public opinion.”


Several people trigger alarm for having history of deportation
Obihiro, other places have trouble reading fingerprints.

A new system was brought online on Nov 20, where foreigners over the age of 16 must have their fingerprints and mug shots taken. As of 5PM Nov 20, according to the Ministry of Justice, several people have tripped the database for having fingerprints matching those of previously deported people, which has raised several questions (gimon ten ga shoujiru).

These people were asked more details later, and there is a chance they might be deported.

In addition, the Justice Ministry announced that at Obihiro, Narita, Chubu International, Fukuoka and Hakata, a total of 21 people were unable to have their fingerprints scanned. They say their fingers were too worn down, as they were elderly people.

3 comments on “Hokkaido Shinbun Editorial and article on NJ Fingerprinting Debacle

  • Osama bin Laden (R.I.P) HIMSELF could have come through this sytem as his prints are not on file!
    Today it’s the foreigners. Tomorrow it will be the Japanese themselves.

    Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do when they come for YOU? (And they WILL!)

  • Dear David,

    Have you seen the last nUmber of Kansai Time-OUt (KTO)? My friend has just told me that there is a large article on Japan-Visit system and why’s and who’s, so I thought it’s worth looking at. (I don’t have the Magazine myself, so I cannot upload or send it to you, sorry!)


  • My friend buys it in Kinokunia in Tokyo, I guess you have one in Sapporo too, maybe you could check it out? Or surely some of the friends from Kansai area could help? Well, I have no doubts that you will find the article, and if I get my friend to fax it to me I might be able to send it to you too, I’ll let you know in this case! THanks for your interest!

    Best wishes for the coming year.



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