Anonymous on NJ Fingerprinting: Pre-registering in Shinagawa a farce.


Hi Blog. Just sent to me by a friend. It’s important enough to deserve its own blog entry. Arudou Debito


Ah, human rights. I have just come from the Shinagawa Immigration office where I went to pre-register my fingerprints and photograph pending my upcoming Christmas trip to the US with my children. Here are my few observations with some venting, I fear, in between. Is the US this bad about this process?

1. Process is disorganized. A makeshift area has been set up at the counter where people apply for re-entry permits. The area is closed off by privacy screens, so it is impossible to find the machine where you are supposed to take a number. Many people, including me, mistakenly took number cards from the machine reserved for re-entry applicants. Eventually they stationed an immigration officer with a fistful of number cards in the vicinity, but they neglected to paste onto his forehead a sign that says “get your numbers here”, so there was confusion whenever someone stepped up to the area to start the process.

2. None of the officers in attendance can speak English, even though many people had questions.

3. The fingerprint machines were not working. Some people had to wait and then redo their fingerprints. They could not read my index fingers with the machines and eventually had to read my middle fingers. One woman standing next to me could not read any of her fingers despite repeated attempts with both hands. I have no idea how she will re-enter the country.

4. There was not an excessive wait.

5. The officers in attendance do not have any idea how the process will work for the exit from Japan or the re-entry. There were maps of the Narita immigration area pasted up on screens, but the attending officers did not seem to know what the maps meant and responded Shirimasen when asked questions in Japanese. And even more helpful, these maps were pasted on the INSIDE of the screens, not on the OUTSIDE where they could be examined by the hordes of gaijins who presumably need to know where to go when they get to Narita.

6. Most important, it seems that if parents residing in Japan wish to use the automated gate process when leaving Japan or when returning, they will have to be separated from their children. Children are not required to give finger prints, but at the same time, at the automated re-entry gates there will be no human beings to inspect the passports of the children. Thus, for re-entering families, it appears that the adults can go through the automated gates but the children, if they have re-entry permits, must stand in the line like we always did for returning Japanese and re-entry permit holders and will enter Japan separately. Except that, obviously, if the child is a baby or not experienced enough to do this alone, then they have to come in through the tourist line with a parent. So at the end of the day, if a family wishes to stay together, or has to stay together because of the age of the child, they must go through the tourist line (Yes, I know, it seems obvious that we need fingerprint taking capability at the re-entry permit line). This question was asked many times by parents who came to immigration to get their re-entry pre-registration, but none of the officers in attendance could answer the question clearly, and there is no information available in English to explain this. They could not even answer when asked in Japanese. I found out because while I was standing in line I asked my secretary to call the Ministry of Justice to find out the procedure. And of course, I let it be known to the gaijins around me what she had learned. Boy, let me tell you, there was a ton of frustration among these parents who had taken time to come all the way out to Shinagawa to pre-register themselves thinking to spare their family and tired children the agony of the tourist line only to find out that it was a complete waste of time.

7. Another confusing point in the process relates to the distinction between passports that are machine readable and those that are not. US, UK and other countries issue machine readable passports. Philippines, Pakistan and many other countries do not. For those countries, the immigration office has to put a bar code sticker onto the passport so that it can be read by the machines. This resulted in the creation of two separate application lines, one for the star belly sneetches and one for those who have none. Unfortunately, there was only one fellow holding a fist full of numbers. So the result was that he would call a number, determine whether the applicant was a star belly sneetch or one who has none, and then would allocate people to separate sub-lines. Then there was the comedy of calling out numbers in apparently random order to deal with the separate lines. Number 30, number 16, number 33, number 17. Very confusing, and they did not explain to people why they were treated differently, until I asked in Japanese and explained to a Philipino in the line, so that the information about the bar codes was thereafter passed down the plain belly sneetch line among the Philippinos and Pakistanis.

So, in conclusion, it appears that the much touted automatic gate line is useful only for returning businessmen, single residents of Japan and families with children over the age of 16. Otherwise, brace yourself.

Enough said? not sure what I will do when I come home from the states. Have a great day.

7 comments on “Anonymous on NJ Fingerprinting: Pre-registering in Shinagawa a farce.

  • Thanks for the report, sadly, not surprised at what you wrote have come to expect that sort of treatment.

    I don’t mean to hijack this thread (maybe Debito can move this post elsewhere), but I have a question — is anyone planning or aware of anyone planning to refuse to be bio-processed? Either leave and come back to make the refusal, or else leave for good if the FP of foreign residents scheme does not change?

  • Jason Topaz says:

    I am having a hard time reconciling point #6 with what I have heard. Why can’t the whole family just use the brand new re-entry permit holders’ lane? This is separate from the automated gate lanes, but more importantly, it’s also separate from the temporary visitor lanes. By all accounts, wait times so far are exceedingly short.

    In the case where one parent is Japanese, the MOJ has already announced the family can enter the citizens’ lane together as a single group.

    It sounds like one of us has some facts wrong.

    On the other hand, I don’t dispute that they have done a terrible job of distributing this information and training their own staff; it’s a disaster. I had to make several phone calls in Japanese to the immigration information centers at Shinagawa and at Narita to figure out what’s going on. If you speak Japanese, the folks at Narita (0476-34-2222) really seem to know the details. After talking to them, I realized going to Shinagawa would be a total waste of time.

  • I’m really confused now. If there is an automated gate at Narita for reentry, does that mean we DON’T have to be refingerprinted if we’ve already done so at narita? (If so, may I copy the bar code they’ve pasted into your passport for distribution to every NJ in the country?) If we DO have to be refingerprinted every time, what is the point of the automated gate?
    Jason: from what I understand, the special lane for reentry permit holders is not open all the time, only for some flights. When it’s closed, you queue for 90 minutes with all the other unwashed barbarians who have the bad taste to lack any Japanese blood.

  • Jason Topaz says:

    Kimpatsu, very interesting. I didn’t know the reentry permit lane is not open all the time. That complicates family travel a lot if it’s true. Just out of curiosity, where did you hear that? The Narita immigration office didn’t mention it is not full-time, and the post on Debito’s blog with a description of the lane ( also reads like it’s always available. So I’m a little surprised.

  • “In the case where one parent is Japanese, the MOJ has already announced the family can enter the citizens’ lane together as a single group”

    The above is what the USA does (although we’ve had airline employees separate us only to find the immigration officals say it is fine to stay together).

    What about young kids with Japanese passports? Can I join them in the citizen’s line

    Can a foreign preregistered parent use the express line (assuming it is open) and send the kids to the J-citizen line unescorted?

    I’m thinking of sending my 3 year old through on his own-he and his brother (who have a tendency not to listen to instructions) have been known to get through all the immigration checkpoints unscathed/unchecked in the past.

  • Well, I am one of the ones whose fingerprints couldn’t be read by the machines at Shinagawa when I tried to pre-register and – on the basis of my recent experience at Narita – agree that pre-registration may anyway be a total waste of time. I arrived at about 7.30 a.m. to find long queues for Japanese and foreigners. I showed my Re-Entry permit to one of the staff, and he directed me to 2 lanes with a total of 3 people waiting. There wasn’t an automated gate in sight, but the whole process (the machine apparently read my prints on the 2nd attempt) was done in about 90 seconds (significantly longer than it used to take). Actually, I half suspect that the machine couldn’t read my prints, but that they let me in anyway (which might explain why it took rather longer than usual).

    By coincidence, I also had to have my fingerprints taken when applying for a US visa last week (since my passport doesn’t have a barcode), and the whole process took nearly 2 hours (and cost me US$100). They put a barcode on the visa, and I wonder if I can use that if I apply again for pre-registration.

  • “In the case where one parent is Japanese, the MOJ has already announced the family can enter the citizens’ lane together as a single group.”

    Does that mean I still can go through the citizens line with my Japanese wife?


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