A quick guide to important info sites on Debito.org
(Version 1.28)

This page is designed for people who need help with a situation in Japan, and want a quick guide to information sites on debito.org or elsewhere. Click on a link to page down.

...you are asked for your "Gaijin Card".
...you are asked for your "Gaijin Card" by your employer(s).

...you are stopped by the Japanese police.
NEW! ...you are stopped by the Japanese police for a urine sample (drug test).
...you are arrested by the Japanese police.
overstay your visa.
see a "Japanese Only" sign.
are refused service at a business catering to the general public.
...you are asked for your passport number at a hotel, despite having an address in Japan.
are refused service at a hotel.
 ...you want to protest something you see as discriminatory.
want to take somebody to court.
...you are being threatened with eviction from your apartment.

...you want to get your deposit (shikin) back from your landlord when moving out.
want to get a job (or a better job) in Japanese academia.
are having a labor dispute in the workplace.
are swindled in a business deal.
need a lawyer.
want to get Permanent Residency (eijuuken).
want to become a Japanese citizen.
...you want to register your name in kanji.
...your child is being singled out for "looking different" in Japanese school.
want to run for office.
want to build a house.
want to get a divorce.
want to do some awareness raising.

...various extraneous bits of advice from people in the know courtesy of the Japan Times, September 25, 2007, regarding union support, unpaid wages, Immigration/Visas and employment, redundancies, and unemployment insurance.

Note that these links are not exhaustive. There is lots more on the www.debito.org site and Debito.org Blog, so surf around and see what you can get. To use a search engine: Access Google, type in www.debito.org (I have it at the top of all of my pages), and then the keyword you are looking for.

You can also get more concise, thorough, updated, and portable information on these and other topics (such as how to write a Last Will and Testament, how to found your own company, what sort of visas are out there and which one is best for your circumstances, etc.) in our new HANDBOOK FOR NEWBOOK FOR NEWCOMERS, MIGRANTS, AND IMMIGRANTS TO JAPAN, pubished by Akashi Shoten in March 2008, with English and Japanese on corresponding pages.  More details on what the book is about, what reviewers have said about it, and how to order it here.

Hope this helps! Arudou Debito in Sapporo

...you are asked for your "Gaijin Card".
(the gaikokujin touroku shoumeisho, the wallet-sized card you get from the local Ward Office when you initially register in Japan):

It depends who's asking. Legally, nobody can ask for it unless they have been endowed with police powers by the Ministry of Justice. Yes, that means hotels, video store clerks, sports clubs, and JR platform attendants legally cannot demand it as a condition for providing service.

Of course, many situations need ID when customer accountability is a must--like, say, before renting out equipment. If you have another form of ID (such as a Japanese driver licence), show it instead. Basically, you should request to show the same form of ID being demanded from regular Japanese customers.

If you have no other form of ID and you're willing to show the Gaijin Card--go right ahead. That's your prerogative (that is, if you don't mind it being photocopied and all that). But if you do have suitable ID which should suffice, there is no reason for you to have to show the Gaijin Card in addition. The business's reason for asking for it may surprise you--some places, such as sports clubs and hotels, claim that the police have asked them specially to be on the lookout for visa overstayers or terrorists. However, this de facto deputizing of the general public for Gaijin Card Checks is illegal and you are under no obligation whatsoever to cooperate with it.

Letter of the law on who can ask for the Gaijin Card:
http:// www.debito.org/residentspage.html#checkpoints
Japan Times article on this (July 27, 2004):
http://www.debito.org/ japantimes072704.html
More on this from Olaf Karthaus (Report, January 19, 2005) at

Download wallet-sized version of text of laws regarding Gaijin Card Checks here (pdf format)
Download color-coded wallet-sized version of text of laws regarding Gaijin Card Checks here (pdf format)

By the way, carry the Gaijin Card on your person at all times. If you're caught without it, it is a criminal offense in Japan, meaning you can be arrested. More on that in HANDBOOK and immediately below.

...you are asked for your "Gaijin Card" by your employer(s)

As of October 1, 2007, with the promulgation of the Employment Policy Law (Koyou Taisaku Hou), all non-Japanese workers, excepting people with "Special Permanent Residency" (i.e. the Zainichi generational "foreign" ethnic Koreans, Chinese etc.) and people here on special invitation of the Japanese government (such as Diplomats), must have their visas "checked" (kakunin) by their employers and reported to "Hello Work", the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare's local unemployment office.  Failure to do so may result in a fine of up to 300,000 yen.  

However, as reported in a Japan Times article (Zeit Gist Community Page November 13, 2007), this is being used as a pretense for anyone employing a gaijin even part-time (in one case, for a bit of arubaito which amounted to 500 yen!) demanding their passports and Gaijin Cards physically submitted for photocopying.

Legally, this is unnecessary.  There is nothing in the law that requires physical submission or photocopying of your passport or Gaijin Card, and you are not required to do so for part-time work.  What you should do:

Under the new Employment Policy Law (Article 28) you are under no obligation to say anything more than what your visa status is, and that it is valid.  Say you'll present visual proof in the form of the Gaijin Card, since nothing more is required.

If your main employer forces you to have your IDs photocopied, point out that the Personal Information Protection Law (Kojin Jouhou Hokan Hou) governs any situation when private information is demanded.  Under Article 16, you must be told the purpose of gathering this information, and under Article 26 you may make requests to correct or delete data that are no longer necessary. 

That means that once your visa status has been reported to Hello Work, your company no longer needs it, and you should request your info be returned for your disposal.  Download the law and show it to your employer.

Read a fuller description of the issue (with links to sources) and what you can do about it in
The Japan Times, "'GAIJIN CARD' CHECKS SPREAD AS POLICE DEPUTIZE THE NATION":  Zeit Gist Community Page November 13, 2007.

...you are stopped by the Japanese police.

This is happening more frequently these days, with all the media frenzy on the alleged rise in foreign crime. The police are targeting foreign-looking peoples in public places--in airports, on bicycles, in media campaigns, and in general--through with tax-funded Immigration "Snitch Sites" and through DNA racial-profiling programs in police research institutes. After a couple of questions about where you're going and perhaps what you're up to, many a bored or inquisitive cop will escalate into asking for your ID. Usually demanded is either your passport (which you are not required by law to carry if you reside in Japan--that's what the "Gaijin Card" is for), or the Gaijin Card (see previous heading), which you are legally required to have on your person at all times.

What to do if you face a police Gaijin Card checkpoint:
http:// www.debito.org/residentspage.html#checkpoints
More concise Japan Times article on this (July 27, 2004):
http://www.debito.org/ japantimes072704.html

More at the above links, but the gist is, you had better cooperate--or face search and seizure. However, you may beforehand ask for the policeman's ID (you are legally entitled to do that), and I suggest you make a record of it. Then, if they show, you must show. Unlike citizens, Japanese police do not need probable cause or clear suspicion of a crime in order to stop foreigners and ask personal questions.

If you do not cooperate, they will probably want to drag you to the station house--which they cannot do unless they arrest you. Make sure you know they know that. But be careful--any resistance (a sudden move or a raised voice) means they may decide to arrest you after all, under the Koumu'in Shikkou Bougai Hou, or the "Obstruction of a Public Official in the course of his Duties" Law.

So be careful. Don't get uppity. You don't want to get arrested in Japan. See next heading for more on that.

I recommend you print up the letter of the law and carry it around with you.
http:// www.debito.org/instantcheckpointsbrief.html
It's not obnoxious. It's to show the police that we know our rights and are not just dumb gaijin that can be pushed around.
Download wallet-sized version of text of laws regarding Gaijin Card Checks here (pdf format)
Download color-coded wallet-sized version of text of laws regarding Gaijin Card Checks here (pdf format)


NEW! ...you are stopped by the Japanese police for a urine sample (drug test).

Targeting of Non-Japanese residents by the Japanese police is happening more frequently (see section immediately above).  It has recently, due to the marijuana scares of 2008-2009, led to the police conducting stops and backpack/pocket searches of people on the street for knives and drugs, with NJ being singled out for urine samples.

This is in fact not permitted without a warrant.  Here is the law:

Police cannot search your person, property or possessions without a warrant. Ask for one: “Reijou ga arimasu ka?”

If they threaten to take you to a police box for questioning, refuse and don’t move. Police cannot force you to go anywhere without a formal arrest (taiho).

But be careful. Do not raise your voice. And never ever touch the cop, or they could arrest you for “obstruction of duty.” This is why sometimes you see street standoffs between cops and questionees during which nobody moves or talks until somebody gets tired and goes home.

More on this in Arudou Debito, "Cops crack down with 'I pee' checks", The Japan Times: Tuesday, July 7, 2009.

...you are arrested by the Japanese police.

You are in for a rough time. There is no writ of Habeas Corpus in Japan, which means Japanese police can hold you for up to 23 days (3 days' initial interrogation, extendable by 10 days a maximum of twice if a judge approves. Which he will--judges rarely deny public prosecutors the privilege unless a lawyer intervenes.). There have been cases of extraction of information (signed confessions that detainees could not read) through physical and mental duress (beatings, lack of sleep and basic amenities, denial of outside communication, consular contact, or legal counsel) carried out by chain-smoking tag-team interrogators. Detention by the Japanese police is one of the larger nightmares you can experience in Japan. More on this at http://www.debito.org/TheCommunity/communityissues.html#detention

Japanese criminal law tends towards the Napoleonic (i.e. a suspect is presumed guilty, and must prove his innocence). If you do not continuously assert your innocence, you will become a pelt. Moreover, the right to remain silent (which is, by the way, guaranteed in the Japanese Constitution) will only arouse more suspicion. So answer questions, be cooperative, calm, and friendly, but DON'T SIGN ANYTHING WITHOUT LEGAL COUNSEL. Get a lawyer or suffer the consequences.

Information on how to get legal counsel (ask for the Lawyer on Duty, or touban bengoshi) from the Japan Bar Association (Nichibenren, in English):
http:// www.nichibenren.or.jp/en/index.html
http:// www.nichibenren.or.jp/en/legal/arrest_01.html
http:// www.nichibenren.or.jp/en/legal/arrest_02.html

Also, unless you are fully bilingual in Japanese, I suggest you continue to communicate in your native tongue if under a serious interrogation. Demand that you receive an interpreter. Hold out for one. For if the police feel that your Japanese is sufficient to commuicate in Japanese, they will treat you like any other Japanese suspect, language barrier or not. Don't think that speaking in pidgin Japanese is being cooperative--because there have been many cases of interrogatees being railroaded into situations without their full understanding. More on interpretation problems (in Japanese courtrooms, not police interrogations, but it is still symptomatic of the lack of balance between justice vs prosecution exigency) at

Most importantly, DO NOT SIGN ANY CONFESSION (kyoujutsu chousho), no matter what your interrogators promise. Or you will go to jail. Confession (jihaku) equals conviction in Japan. Full stop. It will NOT be overturned later in court.

Remember that many times, these interrogations are done without arrest, as a "voluntary investigation" (nin'i no tori shirabe)--which means you are technically able to leave at any time. But if you just try to get up and leave before the cops' suspicions are allayed, they will just formally arrest you for the crime of Koumu'in Shikkou Bougai  ("Obstruction of a Public Official in the course of his Duties"). Time it right. But make sure you confirm whether or not you have in fact been arrested (Ask: watashi wa taiho sarete imasu ka) and on what charge (Ask: donna yougi de taiho sarete imasu ka).

More substantiation of these claims here:

JAPANESE JUSTICE:  CONFESS AND BE DONE WITH IT:  The Economist (London), Feb 8th 2007

Japan Times Oct. 13, 2005:  Justice system flawed by presumed guilt
Rights advocates slam interrogation without counsel, long detentions
An excellent summary from the Japan Times on what's wrong with Japan's criminal justice system:   To wit: presumption of guilt, extreme police powers of detention, jurisprudential incentives for using them, lack of transparency, records or accountability during investigation, and a successful outcome of a case hinging on arrest and conviction, not necessarily on proving guilt or innocence. This has long since reached an extreme:  almost anything that goes to trial in a Japanese criminal court results in a conviction.

According to SUO Masayuki, director of 2007 film "I Just Didn't Do it" (sore de mo boku wa yatteinai) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masayuki_Suo), the best thing to do is have a lawyer (get one, like a family doctor) contactable before you get taken into custody.  Put one on your cellphone.  You will need the support, because otherwise with the interrogative process in Japan, you will wink out from contact with the outside world for weeks at a time with nobody the wiser about what's going on, as the Suo movie demonstrates so powerfully.

More information at http://www.debito.org/activistspage.html#checkpoints

Final word: the Japanese criminal justice system, with conviction rates at nearly 100%, is overwhelmingly stacked against the accused.  So don't get arrested in Japan.

...you overstay your visa.

In a word: DON'T. Because chances are you will have a hard time remaining in or coming back to Japan again.

Draconian visa procedures are happening more frequently these days with all the media frenzy on the alleged rise in foreign crime. The police are targeting foreign-looking peoples, in airports, on bicycles, in media campaigns, and in general--even with tax-funded Immigration "Snitch Sites" and DNA racial profiling programs in police crime research institutes. Which means that, chances are, you are more likely to be caught now than ever before.

If you overstay, you will likely be treated like a hardened criminal: put into indefinite detention, if not kicked out quite summarily, fined quite stiffly, and barred from reentry for up to a decade. Too bad if you have a job, a family, or any assets or responsibilities left behind in Japan.

Going down to Immigration to come clean about your mistake may only mean you getting extradited faster. Even if they treat you leniently, you will have to come back to Immigration all over again at a future date--without Immigration giving you any stamped proof in your passport that your pending visa is being processed. Woe betide you if you get stopped by the cops on the street in the interim...

So write your visa expiry date in red letters in your schedulebook, tattoo it on your nose, whatever. The Japanese press and the police have convinced the public that most foreign crime is committed by overstayers, so don't become one.

More information at
http://www.debito.org/ japantimes062904.html (Japan Times, June 29, 2004) with more detailed article at
http://www.debito.org /japanvisapunishments.html

Some examples of people caught in the crackdown (Japan Times, May 18, 2004)

Trivia: If you're going to Tokyo Immigration in Konan--remember that the 7th floor is the "Floor of No Return"...

...you see a "Japanese Only" sign.
(i.e. a notice put up by a business excluding entry to foreigners)

Take a picture of it, plus a second one with the storefront, and send it to me.

I collect them for The Rogues' Gallery website.

Please give me a date and approximate place and I will do the rest. It's all evidence to show that signposted exclusionism is getting worse in Japan.

If you're really ambitious and want to get the sign down yourself (go for it!):

You can ask the manager (calmly) why the sign is up, explain (calmly) why you think the sign should not be up, and offer to write out a non-exclusionary one in your native language. Usually these places have experienced communication problems with "foreign-looking" customers in the past (even though most managers admit that even Japanese customers transgress), and think it's a problem with culture when it may in fact be a problem with making rules and sanctions clear.

You can also contact the local Bureau of Human Rights (Jinken Yougobu) in the Ministry of Justice (Houmukyoku), found in most cities.   Visit their offices and tell them what happened.  Functionaries may contact the discriminator (if they think you have a case) and tell them to knock it off (called keihatsu (enlightenment) in the bureaucratspeak).  They cannot, however, force discriminators to desist, sic the police on them, or refer it to a courtroom--all they can do is frown at them a lot and send a strongly-worded letter.  However, a call from a government ministry has scared many a discriminator into taking a sign down.  Just don't get your hopes up.  More on the limitations of the BOHR in a Japan Times article (July 8, 2003):


If you think you will need third-party intervention (i.e. a lawyer), consider the steps outlined in the following Japan Times article (November 30, 2004):

That's what my friends and I have done in the past. See how we fared (with some successes and failures) by following links to reports from the abovementioned Rogues' Gallery. Or read my book "JAPANESE ONLY" (Akashi Shoten Inc. 2004). More information on the book here.  Also see section immediately following.

...you are refused service at a business catering to the general public.

Ask the management why. Then if you are given a reason you find unconvincing or just plain racist, read the steps outlined in the following Japan Times article (November 30, 2004) in order to consider further action:

But a word of caution before you go off half-cocked: If management requires shoes and shirt from everybody for service, put on the shoes and shirt. If it is a matter of refusing people with tattoos (which is unfortunate for you--you chose to get tattooed, and in Japan it carries the image of organized crime), ask if covering up the offending area would suffice for entry. If not, sorry, but you're going to have to live with the fact that Japanese society considers a tattoo a branding. It's not an issue of race here.

If it is, however, a matter of having the wrong skin color, then there is a problem caused by something that you were born with, something you cannot do anything about--which makes it no longer a matter of volition or free will.

Remember that businesses indeed do have the right to choose their customers. It depends entirely upon what criteria their choice is made. By race or physical appearance is not acceptable--which is why there is an international treaty against it (which Japan signed in 1995).

However, bear in mind that racial discrimination is still not an illegal activity in Japan (it is indeed unconstitutional, but not illegal--due to the fact that there are no laws on the books to ban it). So complaining to the cops will occasion nothing.

You can, however, visit the local Bureau of Human Rights (Jinken Yougo Bu) in the Ministry of Justice (Houmushou). If the bureaucrats think you have a reasonable complaint, they will send a functionary to "enlighten" (keihatsu) the discriminator. However, the BOHR is limited in its ability to actually force the discriminator to cease and desist (they cannot, for example, have the business's operating licence suspended), as witnessed in these cases recorded in the Japan Times (July 8, 2003):
and catalogued here:

However, a call from the BOHR has scared some discriminators into taking down their "JAPANESE ONLY" signs, so it's worth a try. See:

Don't expect your embassy or consulate to assist you in this. They will only intervene in the case of an arrest, not to help you claim your rights protected (or not) by domestic laws.

More on this in my book "JAPANESE ONLY" (Akashi Shoten Inc. 2004). Information about the book here.

And if there is a bonafide "NO FOREIGNERS" sign displayed, contact me to put it up on the Rogues' Gallery.

...you are asked for your passport number at a hotel, despite having an address in Japan.

Hotels nationwide have been erroneously informed by the Japanese government (the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare) that laws now require all foreign hotel guests to display their passports and have them copied for police use (in the name of, quoting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, "effective prevention of contagious diseases and terrorism", as if this only applies to foreigners).

Incorrect.  The law in fact been changed, as of April 1, 2005, to allow passport checks of tourists, i.e. guests without addresses in Japan (which is confirmable when you fill out your hotel check-in card).  This means registered foreigners are in no way required (just as Japanese guests are not) either to carry or display their passport, or divulge their information to non-police authorities such as hotel management.  Moreover, they have no legal right to refuse you a room just because you refuse to show your passport (see next section).

If hotel management insists that the law is different (as they have been erroneously informed by the ministries, they can hardly be blamed), print up the letter of the law here:

provided to hotels nationwide by the MHLW.

(Amazing thing is that hotels cannot seem to read Japanese, as the MHLW has issued contradictatory multilingual notices:  One says "check all foreigners", the other says "only those without domestic addresses".)

More on this bending of Japanese laws by the government in Japan Times column: " MINISTRY MISSIVE WRECKS RECEPTION: MHLW asks hotels to enforce nonexistent law" (Oct 18, 2005), by Arudou Debito.

Another Japan Times column on the proposed IC-chipped Gaijin Card, with incidental documentation of how the ministries are deliberately and systematically misconstruing the laws to target foreigners at hotels: "THE NEW IC YOU CARDS: LDP Proposal to computer chip foreigners has great potential for abuse": (Nov 22, 2005), by Arudou Debito.

Asked for your passport number despite being a resident of Japan? Want to do something about this? Fill out a survey at Olaf Karthaus's website at http://www.geocities.com/okarthaus/hotelcheckin.html

...you are refused service at a hotel.

You are on firmer legal ground than if you are refused by any other business. Barring you from, say, a bath or a meal is not illegal (there are no laws against racial discrimination in Japan). But refusing accommodation in Japan is clearly illegal, as it falls under the the Ryokan Management Law.

As Article 5 states:

旅館業法 第五条

営業者は、左の各号の一に該当する場合を除いては、宿泊を拒んでは ならない。
一  宿泊しようとする者が伝染性の疾病にかかつていると明らか に認められるとき。
二  宿泊しようとする者がとばく、その他の違法行為又 は風紀を乱す行為をする虞があると認められるとき。
三  宿泊施設に余裕が ないときその他都道府県が条例で定める事由があるとき。

an establishment cannot turn away lodgers unless there is
1) a health issue involving contagious disease,
2) a clear and present endangerment of public morals, or
3) because all rooms are full.

Letter of the law in Japanese (can't find an official English translation) here:
http:// list.room.ne.jp/~lawtext/1948L138.html#5

You are welcome to print it up and show it to the hotel management. If they remain intransigent, try going to the cops, law in hand, and say that you were refused accommodation. Good luck. Let me know how it goes

Some hotels are trying to claim that the law has been changed, to allow for Gaijin Card/Passport checks.  Yes it has, as of April 1, 2005, but this only applies to tourists, i.e. people without domestic Japan addresses.  See Japan Times article on this at 


and a separate entry on this "What to do if..." page here.

More on this phenomenon from Olaf Karthaus (Report, January 19, 2005) at

Olaf says that next time this happens to him, he will get it in writing or via tape recording that the hotel refused him entry illegally, then take them to court.  If you have the same stamina, go for it.

More on the extralegal measures being used by police to target foreigners at hotels in Japan Times columns: "CREATING LAWS OUT OF THIN AIR: Revisions to hotel laws stretched by police to target foreigners" (March 8, 2005), and Japan Times column: "MINISTRY MISSIVE WRECKS RECEPTION: MHLW asks hotels to enforce nonexistent law" (Oct 18, 2005).  Both by Arudou Debito

If there is a bonafide "NO FOREIGNERS" sign displayed, contact me to put it up on the Rogues' Gallery

...you want to protest something you see as discriminatory.

You'd better have some willpower, because domestic laws will not back you up. Racial discrimination is not illegal in Japan (it is unconstitutional, but not illegal--due to the fact that there no laws exist to ban it). So going to the cops or City Hall to complain will result in nothing but bent necks and advice to take your business elsewhere.

If your dander is really up, consider the steps outlined in the following Japan Times article (November 30, 2004):

You can also visit the local Bureau of Human Rights (Jinken Yougo Bu) in the Ministry of Justice (Houmushou). If the bureaucrats think you have a reasonable complaint, they will send a functionary to "enlighten" the discriminator. However, the BOHR is limited in its ability to actually force the discriminator to cease and desist, as witnessed in these cases recorded in the Japan Times (July 8, 2003):
and catalogued here:

However, a call from the BOHR has scared some discriminators into taking down their "JAPANESE ONLY" signs, so it's worth at least contact them. Make them work a bit for your tax money. See:

If you see something discriminatory or culturally insensitive in the broadcast or print media, you can call (or write) the complaints department within the network.  For television, that would be called the shichou sentaa, and by calling any network and asking for it you will be connected.  For newspapers, call any department and ask to be connected to the reporters section (houdoubu) and say that you have a claim against an article (saikin notta kiji ni tsuite chotto kureim (claim) ga arimasu ga).  Email protests (even large numbers of form letters) have also been effective (you can usually find the network's email easily after a Google search).  See a case which elicited an apology from a news anchor (Kume Hiroshi) over a decade after we protested his anti-"gaijin" comments at
Make your case to the media slowly and calmly, and you will probably at least get listened too.  Don't expect anything more, but apologies and changes in programming have been known to happen.  For example:

If it's something on the Internet (such as a blog), there's probably not a goddamn thing you can do, except ask the administrator to have it taken down.  Even if that doesn't happen, AND you take them to court, AND you win, the courts will not enforce their decision.  Example (of a case of Internet libel, not specifically discrimination, but the result is the same) available at
Internet libel and hate speech is a problem slowly garnering attention in Japan, but not enough for Dietmembers to pass a law against it yet. Grit your teeth.

In any case, don't expect your embassy or consulate to assist you in your protest against discrimination (tell them if you like, but don't expect to get anything more out of it than a polite blow-off). They will only intervene in the case of an arrest, not to help you claim your rights protected (or not) by domestic laws.

You can see a whole case of social protest (negotiations, media campaigns, political lobbying, even a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court) recorded in my book "JAPANESE ONLY" (Akashi Shoten Inc. 2004) More information on the book at http://www.debito.org/japaneseonly.html

NEW! ...you are being threatened with eviction from your apartment.

Tenants have extremely strong rights in this society, which means that if you signed a contract, you are entitled to stay, even if you haven't paid your rent for a stretch of time.  You can even sue (and win) if your landlord changes his or her mind after a contract is signed and money paid.  Stand your ground.  You cannot be evicted without a court order.

This situation has come up in the context of the NOVA Eikaiwa School Debacle, where the company has not paid rents on company-provided apartments and the poor employee has had to face eviction, but stand your ground. Advice from those in the know:

1) [With NOVA Inc.] deducting rent from your paycheck, but not forwarding it on to your landlord, Nova broke the law.  They are in the wrong, not you.  Your landlord can complain, but his contract is with Nova.  Keep your pay stubs and any receipts you have.  Legally, you've been paying rent.  If the landlord changes your locks, removes anything from your apartment, or harrasses you without going to court and getting a court order for your eviction, he is in the wrong.  He can give you all the letters he wants, but he needs a judge to evict you.  Grounds for eviction are normally illegal activity in the apartment or non-payment of agreed rent obligations.  This is why you should hang on to your pay stubs - just in case things get ugly and you have to fight your eviction.

2) Accommodation  "Even if the owner/the landlord/the agency is screaming at you to get out, you don't have to leave-- just keep paying your rent. If the company was supposed to be paying the rent and they haven't, sue the company for fraud or tell the agency: 'Look, the company's supposed to be paying, and I've already paid the company.' You have a right of residency, and anyone who wanted to get you out is going to have to get a court order to do it."  (Bob Tench, Nova union vice president)


As ‘eikaiwa’ giant plans school closures amid credit crunch, some fear the worst
The Japan Times, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007
(Referential information at the bottom of the article)

Korean Woman Wins Discrimination Damages in Japan
Chosun Ilbo, South Korea, October 5, 2007

...you want to get your deposit
(shikin) back from your landlord when moving out.

Adapted from mails by Kirk Masden and Joe Tomei:

Tokyo to clean act of dirty landlords
The Asahi Shimbun

For tenants tired of kissing their maintenance deposits goodbye, the Tokyo metropolitan government plans sweeping changes to the shabby system exploited by greedy landlords. There are no clear rules on how much of the costs to clean or repair apartments should be covered by tenants' deposits.

"Actually, the last sentence is not exactly right. The government has published guidelines:
but the pdf file is 118 pages long.  Here's a couple more in Japanese, from a quick google
http://www.zentaku.or.jp/223/index.htm  (issues 12-14, I think)

"The guidelines (in Japanese) focus on the concept of "genjo kaifuku" (restoration to original condition). According to the guidelines, you are NOT responsible for normal wear and tear. You are only responsible for damage that you did to the apartment beyond normal wear and tear. The guidelines help you figure out what should be considered to be normal wear
and tear.

"When our family left our apartment a few years ago we were asked to pay a lot of money to, among other things, replace all the wallpaper in the apartment to make it as nice as it was when we first moved in (restoration to original condition) -- even though we had been in the same apartment for 10 years! After I did a little research, the government guidelines enabled me to get a more reasonable agreement from the landlord. We had been asked to pay a significant amount of money in addition to the deposit (shikikin) we had paid. Instead, we received a good chunk of the deposit back.

"Sometimes you have to be firm with landlords, who are used to intimidating people and taking more than they deserve. I told the landlord that if we could not work this out between ourselves that I was prepared to have the matter settled in small claims court (kan'i saibansho--see section below). In this respect, the goverment guidelines were a big plus. I also sent explanations about the guidelines and the reasons why we found the landlords claims to be unreasonable by certified mail so there could not be any dispute about what we had or had not told the landlord.

"In the end, we accepted an agreement that was not perfect (we had to pay to replace the tatami -- even though this should not be our responsibility according to the guidelines), but much, much better than what were almost forced to accept. What we did required a lot of Japanese. Still, even if your Japanese is not good enough for you to fight on your own, it may be worth your while to get someone to help you so that you can know your rights and tell the landlord about the government guidelines.

"Here's another related site (in Japanese):

"The idea of taking the landlord to small claims court, especially with the backing of goverment guidelines, is a good one. Take digital pics of everything, making sure the camera's date function is on. You can also take a picture of the 'problem points' with a newspaper to verify the date. Retain everything and keep records of when you spoke to people, who you spoke to and what they said.   I have found that when bullying from the landlord occurs (and this is clearly what it is), the bully is generally strong on the standard fronts, but with something like this, especially when it comes to documenting in meticulous detail in your favor, they never see it coming.  Don't look for the knockout punch--just calmly get all your ducks in a row and be ready to use official channels."

...you want to take somebody to court.

Start reading how to do it here in this Japan Times article (November 30, 2004):

Then get my book "JAPANESE ONLY" (Akashi Shoten Inc. 2004) More information here.

You can of course see my Otaru Lawsuit Site:
but there's a lot there, and it's better collated in "JAPANESE ONLY". Get a copy. That's one reason why I wrote it. To make the path easier to trammel for others.

...you want to get a job (or a better job) in Japanese academia.

Read up on the pitfalls, with case studies of jobs gone sour, at
http:// www.debito.org/activistspage.html#ninkisei

Where NOT to seek employment: The Blacklist of Japanese Universities
http:// www.debito.org/activistspage.html#blacklist

Advice to new entrants to the job market:
http:/ /www.debito.org/activistspage.html#openlettertoacademics

Ten questions you should ask a prospective employer before making any decisions:

An update on the status of contract employment in Japan (with all its loopholes emasculating any labor protections), as of October 2005, by Arudou Debito et al.:

If you have been on a contract, renewed several times, then are suddenly facing dismissal, you can find out more about your rights in this essay by Steve van Dresser, "The Employment Rights of Repeatedly Renewed Private Sector Contract Workers" here (written 1999, previously of the now-defunct Issho Kikaku website).

How your employment experience (in Japan or abroad) counts towards pensions in Japan (kara kikan), by Steve van Dresser and Stephanie Houghton (written 2002, previously of the now-defunct Issho Kikaku website).

Many Japanese universities run rackets with foreign academic employment, creating exploitative revolving-door employment for foreigners only. So be advised. It's great work, if you can land a good position. You'll be better poised to do so after reading the above links.

...you are having a labor dispute in the workplace.

Say, for example, a salary dispute, a contract dispute, an arbitrary dismissal, nonpayment for services rendered, or something not initially part of your work conditions when hired that the company unreasonably springs upon you.

There are avenues of redress to pursue in Japan, of course.

1) Involve the Labour Standards Bureau (Roudou Kijun Kyoku)
That's why it exists.

See the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare's Website in English
There is a LSB in the offices of the MHLW, found in any major conglomeration of government buildings.

Labour Standards Bureau duties and guidelines (English)
http:// www.mhlw.go.jp/english/org/policy/p16-17.html

The Letter of the Labour Standards Law in Japan (English)
http:// www.jil.go.jp/jil/laborinfo-e/library/law1.shtml

Just siccing (or threatening to sic) the LSB on your employer will work wonders if you get threatened. Trust me. It's worked for me.

If necessary, get a Labor Standards Board involved. See what happened in the Prefectural University of Kumamoto Case of 1995-2000 (where educators even went on strike). Select articles at
http://www.debito.org/PALE1298. html
Full roundup of the case on the Japan Policy Research Institute website, working paper dated June 1999
http:// www.jpri.org/publications/workingpapers/wp58.html

Don't be a pigeon to be plucked. Know the law and use it the way it was designed in the Postwar Era--to prevent employee abuses under inhuman working conditions.

Even then, I recommend you read this recent update on how even these labor protections are being emasculated by development in the Japanese labor market:

2) Join, or form your own, labor union.
The employer is not required by law to negotiate with individuals in Japan. It is required by law to negotiate with groups, though.  And unions, as I argue in the link directly above, are essentially the only way left for people to secure their rights under the labor laws.

Information on labor unions for academics and other contracted workers:

For other job markets, there are too many unions to recount here. Find out from your fellow employees what union they belong to (be warned, however, that some are "yellow unions", which means they essentially toe the corporate line, and others will not, unfortunately, allow foreigners to join!). Or contact a union (see link immediately above) to get a referral.

As for forming your own union, read up on how to do it in a 1998 article by Timothy Korst, formerly of The University of the Ryukyus.

3) Get a lawyer involved.
This is their job--to represent you in a labyrinth of legal codes. Go down to the local Bar Association (Bengoshikai) for a referral. There's one in every city, and it will cost you 5000 yen per half hour. Have all your information at your fingertips for an efficient presentation. It will save you money. Take a native speaker with you just in case. Then do all your negotiation with your employer through your lawyer (i.e. always involve a third-party in your dispute from now on--to make sure there is a paper trail should you need to go to court.). More on hiring lawyers below.

...you are swindled in a business deal

You can take things to Small Claims Court (shougaku sosho, part of the Summary Court system, or kan'i saibansho), which handles claims of up to 600,000 yen. You don't need a lawyer to do so, but if you're new to this, I would recommend you have a legal advisor of some sort. If your Defendant does not show up to court on the day of the hearing, you win, according to reliable sources who have gone through this process a number of times, but have since contacted me asking to be made anonymous.  (Sorry there is no third-party for me to refer you to, but this information is important enough to leave up as is.)

...you need a lawyer

Go down to the local Bar Association (Bengoshikai) for a referral. There's one in every city, and it will cost you 5000 yen per half hour. Have all your information at your fingertips for an efficient presentation. It will save you money. Take a native speaker with you just in case. Many lawyers belong to lists of specialty issues, such as international issues/labor issues/etc. Follow their advice and contact their recommended lawyer.

Costs for consulting with a lawyer vary widely from place to place, field to field (starting from 5000 yen per half hour, reaching 40,000 yen per half hour if the matter involves corporate or international law). If you wish to hire a lawyer on retainer, try to get the initial consulting fee lumped in as part of the retaining fee.

All lawyers in Japan must make their fee schedules clear in writing in advance when asked, before payment or consultation, so you know what you're getting into. So ask. If he or she will not, disengage contact with the lawyer immediately, for s/he is a crook. (Trust me--I've gotten burned on this one.)

If the lawyer doesn't share your fire in the belly for the case, find another lawyer. The Bar Association generally allows three referrals (but may allow more--depends on the area). Consider it a sunk cost, and keep looking. It's your money. Buy the service you need.

Once hired, do all your negotiation with the other party to your dispute through your lawyer (i.e. always involve a third-party in your dispute from now on--to make sure there is a paper trail should you need to go to court.)

Lawyers in Japan can be salt of the earth or just plain scum. Just like in any other country. Be prepared to shop around. But don't get involved in a serious negotiation in Japan without a professional's help. Especially since the scales of power here are markedly tipped against the little guy.

...you want to get Permanent Residency (eijuuken).

One stop shopping at:

I recommend getting PR. You don't get the right to vote or hold office, but you get just about everything else.

...you want to become a Japanese citizen.

This is a pretty hard-core decision (I've done it), but all the information you really need is at:
http:// www.debito.org/residentspage.html#naturalization

Again, if you're planning on staying here permanently, and are comfortable with your lifestyle and Japanese language ability, I recommend taking out citizenship. It has certainly changed my life for the better. But it's not for everyone, natch.

...you want register your name in kanji.

If you want to use kanji for your name, simply go to the city hall and ask for a tsuushoumei ("common-use name") to be registered.  If your tsuushoumei (通称名) is in kanji then you can use that kanji name on all your official documents--with the exception of immigration--and even register a kanji jitsuin (official hanko stamp).  My bank accounts, postal savings account, and home loan are all in the kanji that I created to match the katakana I had always been using. 

It's important to mention, though, that Japanese-citizen spouses or children are not able to use the registered kanji tuushoumei as they don't have a foreigner registration card or other form of ID that the kanji could be written on.  (The tsuushoumei is not listed on any of the documents a Japanese citizen uses.) 

It's worked quite well.  I find people often treat me much better when I sign a kanji name.  I often have people ask me if I've taken Japanese citizenship, though I tell them at that point that I haven't.  It's nice though that it seems to take at least one barrier away.--RH in Touhoku

...your child is being singled out for "looking different" in Japanese school.

This is happening in Japanese schools, where blind adherence to "school rules" means that people of differences are getting snagged by the "Hair Police" etc.  Some are even being forced to straighten and dye their hair to black from their natural hair color, for example.

Don't tolerate this.  Hair dye contains toxins and thus is not good for your child's health (let alone emotional development; being constantly singled out and made to feel different just because of genetics is not good for impressionable children).  Simple suggestions:

1. Support your child. Reassure him/her that he/she is as "normal" as anyone else.

2. Seek an understanding with teachers and the principal. Point out that variation is normal. There are plenty of Japanese with naturally lighter, curly hair.

3. Get written proof from your previous school that your child's hair color or texture is natural.

4. Raise this issue with the Classroom Committee of Representatives ("gakkyuu iinkai") and/or the local Board of Education ("kyoiku iinkai"). With all the attention on "ijime," or bullying, these days, the board may be sensitive to your concerns.

5. Be firm. Dyeing hair is neither good for your child's mental or physical health.

6. If compromise is impossible, consider changing schools ("tenkou"). Your child deserves a nurturing educational environment, not alienated by perceived "differences" on a daily basis.

Much of this advice of course is applicable to any situation where you have to talk to a school administration which is making your child unhappy by being unaccommodating of differences.

More information at Arudou Debito, Japan Times Community Page article "SCHOOLS SINGLE OUT FOREIGN ROOTS:  International kids suffer under archaic rules" (July 17, 2007).  Debito.org "Director's Cut" version here.  Scanned PDF version of the article here. A PDF conversion is easy and simple to do.

More information on the background of this issue can be found at http://www.debito.org/index.php/?p=412.

...you want to run for office.

This is, of course, a right reserved for citizens. However, if you do naturalize (and there are naturalized elected officials in Japan, such as Dietmember Tsurunen Marutei, local councillor Anthony Bianchi, and others), or if you want to help out a candidate and learn more about the fascinating Japanese election campaign process, here is an essay which you might find instructive.
http://www.debito.org /nanporo2003elections.html

...you want to build a house.

See how I did it at:

If you do not have Permanent Residency, however, you will find it very difficult to get financing. Few, if any, Japanese financial institutions will loan to you, and this process of "not lending to the gaijin" is judicially backed up by the Steven Herman Court Case decision.

...you want to get a divorce.

Be careful when you marry a Japanese. Be sure the relationship will last. Divorce laws in Japan have not changed for over a hundred years, meaning they establish marriage as a more ironclad bond to keep families stable as a business. Divorce remains very difficult to achieve unilaterally unless one party has committed a crime (theft, embezzlement, what have you). A more complex matter of "irreconcilable differences" is not considered adequate grounds. Thus unless you both agree to put your inkan stamp on a divorce form (rikon todoke) at the Ward Office, you will not be able to get divorced and start a new life. Even legal separations require at least 5 years (used to be 10 years) before annulment will be considered by Family Court (katei saibansho).

Requiring "mutual consent" for a divorce may sound like a nice system, but in fact it has fostered a culture of severed ties and hard bargains driven. It's pretty tough to have an amicable settlement, and if you have to negotiate before third parties, you will have to portray your former partner in public as an enemy in order to convince anyone that you really deserve a divorce.

If you have no children, there is less fallout. But if you do, you (as the foreigner, particularly the male) will probably lose custody of them. And possibly all contact with them. Japanese law, and judicial enforcement of court decisions, do not adequately ensure access to children. Stories of deadbeat dads and fortress moms are Legion, as, again, the expectation in Japan is that the noncustody parent will just disappear. Even Prime Minister Koizumi has that history.

Moreover, if your relationship is intercontinental, and if your kids get kidnapped from overseas and brought to Japan, you will lose them. Period. Japan has not signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and no police force in Japan will help you search and extradite, even if there is an overseas court order demanding it.

Get the lowdown at The Children's Rights Network Japan at:

Consider the following before marriage:

A primer on the problems with divorce law in Japan:

A first-hand experience of divorce from the author of this site:

This is not to deter you from marrying a Japanese--it's very easy to do, and there are plenty of happy unions out there. Just do your best to be sure this marriage is going to last. Because legally you will lose big if there are kids involved.

Finally, remember that if you want to start a new life with a new partner, Japanese law allows men to remarry immediately, but women must wait six months (due to possible pregnancy from the previous partner) before registering a new mate at the Ward Office.

...you want to do some awareness raising.

Like a speech or a public presentation? Power to you. Japanese society may often be quite rum, but people, much to their credit, certainly will listen calmly (even if they disagree with your every word). Borrow their ear and give them some constructive ideas to mull over. It certainly will make you feel better.

My advice about what to expect from a Japanese audience and how to give an effective presentation at:

On that note, here are some "survival strategies", and how you can "make a difference" in Japan:

Finally, if you want to meet like-minded people and perhaps try a little activism as a group yourself, check out internet-based group "The Community":

See who we are at:
You can join us online at


As ‘eikaiwa’ giant plans school closures amid credit crunch, some fear the worst
The Japan Times, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007

Union support

"The general union and Nambu decided on a policy that that we won't take new members if Nova goes bankrupt. What we will have is a question-and-answer site--we'll give all the information necessary to employees to get the government subsidy for unpaid wages, and we'll hold a one-time "setsumeikai" (meeting) for any employee who wants to come. If it goes bankrupt, we will shut the doors on the Nova union, but of course they're welcome to join Nambu separately.

"As for Nova members, we'll be actively pursuing all their wages, not just the 80 percent guaranteed by the government. If Nova has any assets left, in general employees get first dibs, so we'll be fighting for that." (Louis Carlet, deputy general secretary of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu)

Unpaid wages
"If there's unpaid wages, we would have to go to the Labor Standards Office or a court and force (Nova) into paying whatever they have and then eventually when they can't--when the court forces them to pay and they don't have any money to pay--then it could be a long, drawn-out process. In the meantime, a lot of foreigners may not be able to stay in Japan to fight, so at least our union members, even if they have to leave the country, we'll continue to fight for them." (Louis Carlet)

"Your company does not sponsor your visa, even though a lot of companies say so: There is no formal relationship between an employer and the immigration office. When you go to renew your visa at the immigration office, you take your certificate of insurance, your employment contract and your tax-paid certificate. Those are the documents you need * that's it, and your employer is obliged to provide you with those, for whatever reason, on request, within 24 hours."

"If you think (bankruptcy is) gonna happen and, for example, your visa is coming up for renewal in one or two months, apply for a renewal now and present the documents that you have. You can ask for a new certificate of insurance, tax certificate and your current contract, which has an expiry date coming up, and present that to the immigration office saying: 'I'm expecting to be renewed,' and you get your visa renewed. All you have to do is say something like, 'I'm thinking of taking a holiday at the time of renewal, so I need to renew now,' because while your visa renewal is in you're not allowed to leave the country, so it's a perfectly valid excuse. . . . I would advise anyone to do that if they're in that situation." (Bob Tench)

"The union would fight every redundancy and under Japanese law there are quite serious restrictions about when redundancies may be made--certain stringent conditions have to be met by the company and of course the union knows the legal ins and outs of that, so of course the union would fight tooth and nail to make sure that all those conditions were properly met, and if they weren't then we take the company to court." (Bob Tench)

Unemployment insurance
"It's a really complicated formula but there's a limit--roughly speaking, teachers will get JPY200,000 a month. It's not really a percentage of salary--if it's a high salary you wouldn't get 80 percent of that. You would get it for a certain number of months depending on your age and how long you've been enrolled in employment. The minimum is three months and you must get it before one year after dismissal, and if you resign you can't get it for the first three months."

"If (Nova) goes bankrupt, (employees) will be fired officially, dismissed by the receiver, and if they're fired they can get unemployment insurance right away, if you're in Japan and if you have a work visa, so if they're in that situation that's OK." (Louis Carlet) (B.S.)

More to come as requests come in and essays come out...
Thanks for reading, Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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