Say chee-zu!

Pursuant to a recent rant regarding my status as a foreigner in Japan, where I boldly claimed to be an active and contributing part of society regardless of the status the Japanese themselves and some very deluded foreigners may lend me, the government here has made it a policy to distrust foreign nationals as a matter of course. As of this November 20th any person who is neither Japanese nor a diplomat must have his fingerprints and photograph taken when entering the contry, in pretty much the same way America treats its visitors with a dose of hostile suspicion and demeaning examination.

Fingerprinting foreigners in Japan was a custom that was thankfully done away with before my time here, yet it has now reared its ugly head again. The Japanese themselves cannot be printed unless they are suspected of a crime, but foreigners’ civil liberties must take a dive if they have the temerity to visit or live in Japan. Any future plans my readers may have of coming over here had better include a lengthy wait at Narita airport customs, as you will be queuing up with the masses so they can make sure you’re not a terrorist or criminal or, well, Japanese.

Funnily enough it’s domestic terrorism that is the bigger problem in Japan, though in light of today’s increasingly paranoid and hostile nationalism evoked by illegal invasions and terror attacks, it was predictable Japan, like many other countries, would fall for this placebo tactic. Let’s face it, it’s not so much about protecting the public but handing more power and information to the rulers, whom, in Japan, I have no power to elect.

Preceding this new policy by a few weeks was an initiative by Hello Work, Japan’s cutely named governmental employment services, who put out a request to companies to register their foreign employees. This, I had presumed, was usual, as I’ve worked in other countries where at the very least a photocopy of your passport and vise should be registered to make sure you’re not there illegally. But what struck me as patronizing was the idea that it was for my own protection as it was an initiative to “make sure employers aren’t exploiting foreign workers”. Sure it was. I would have had much less of a problem with it if they had just stated they wanted to take a census and keep an eye on all us dirty foreigners in Japan, which it most obviously was.

Some more conservative scaremongers may claim that fingerprinting and having to show your foreigner registration card on demand shouldn’t be an issue for law-abiding citizens. As a lefty I claim it’s a slippery slope and an unnecessary, xenophobia-inducing one at that. Still, compared to other countries immigrants in Japan don’t have it that bad. But saying it’s worse elsewhere is no excuse to condone the slow disintegration of our already slim civil liberties as citizens living in Japan and contributing to Japan’s society, culture and economy.

A final tip for future tourists: though Japan’s attitude to service and customers is superb, second to none, true to a global tradition airport customs staff are hand-picked from that specific grouping of morose, humourless sociopaths, and any attempt to, jokingly or not, sabotage the mugshot and fingerprinting process or any vocal protestation on the day is not advisable! I recommend taking the traditional appearance of a bumbling, friendly, polite, attentive and accommodating fool that so many travelers adopt at airports as it is the easiest way to get through the whole sorry mess and start your holiday in earnest. Keep the complaining and bitching, that air travel so richly deserves, for the pub and an audience less inclined to bang you up for days for not cooperating with the humiliating and dehumanizing process of proving you’re not a terrorist.


  1. The practice of fingerprinting individuals without a direct link to a criminal investigation is outright wrong and bad. So much for privacy concerns and wishful protection of citizens from their all-powerful governments.

    You can only hope that the next dictator in a country with such practices is not due during your lifetime, for misuse of the all-embracing private data that is being collected is so easy and would be overarching anything you did and are likely to do.

    As you rightfully point out, the US has fully embraced this practice and I just had to go through the process four months ago - gives you a tickly feeling ... in not exactly the best sense.

    What happened to civil liberties and people voicing concerns - or at least having any?

  2. I don't know why I feel compelled to comment off topic but...

    "Japan’s attitude to service and customers is superb, second to none"

    Um, No. Let's see, In Japan I can't return anything for any reason like I can at most large American retailers. In Japan, trying to order something "your way" is practically forbidden at most restaurants. So yes, while they will fawn over you with politeness most of the time (but not always) their actual service leaves a lot to be desired.

    As for the fingerprinting, all American's are fingerprinted in America not just foreigners. We don't get finger printed at customs, we get finger printed when getting our drivers license (or ID card) :-(

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