Dear Ministry of Justice,
How many people have daydreamed of walking away from it all, picking up a new identity and starting life all over again?
I had that opportunity handed to me recently by a most unexpected source — you — the ministry charged with accurately identifying, registering and certifying Japan’s foreign population. You’re lucky I’m pretty content with my current identity, because someone who wasn’t might have been tempted to take you up on the offer or devise a way to profit from it.
As you may recall, the alien registration card and I have a long and highly humorous history spanning four decades (see “Following in our Fingerprints,” Zeit Gist, Jan. 8, 2008). But my recent run-in with the system was the icing on the proverbial cake. In the irony department, it just doesn’t get much better than this.
The saga began back in December.
Scene 1: The Early Bird Doesn’t Always Catch the Worm
My old card said “Renew within 30 days of Jan. 14, 2009,” but when I arrived at the city office, I was told I was too early and should come back on my birthday or within 30 days thereafter.
“Then you should put that in English on the card,” I sniffed as I trudged away.
Scene 2: Strolling Down Memory Lane
On my next visit, the clerk was holding my gempyo, the official registration file you require them to keep at the ward or city office including all my data, previous photographs and, in the past, a lineup of my fingerprints. This allowed me to ponder all the fun we’ve had together over the years and, for entertainment, to muse over the photos chronicling how I have morphed and aged while she processed the forms.
Scene 3: Nyet, nyet. It’s Ekatrina
The icy roads were a perfect skating rink the day of my third visit, but undeterred I set off in pursuit of your requisite, officially verified Japanese proof of my existence. With no other aliens in sight, the clerk appeared immediately. She took my receipt form, gave me a number, told me to wait and soon returned to reclaim that number.
“Here’s your new card,” she announced cheerfully as she placed it in my hands.
I was just about to quickly stash the dang thing in my purse and never look at it again until 2016 when I noticed your shiny new holographic image technology seemed to have given my fading auburn hair a youthful glow again. I did a double-take and — wait a minute . . .
Even without my reading glasses, it was obviously not my smiley face under that shiny hair. Closer examination revealed my name had also changed to a Russian one beginning with the letter P.
It wasn’t my card at all that I was about to pocket with your blessing. Before my brain could absorb any more data on my new identity, my mouth blurted out a shocked “Watashi janai desu” (“That’s not me”).
Obviously someone needed a little refresher course on Article 4-2 of the Alien Registration Law: “While the registration cards are in the safekeeping of the office of the city, town or village, the mayor of the city or the head of the town or village shall take the necessary measures for equitable control of the registration cards to prevent the leak, loss or damage, etc. of registration data” ( www.moj.go.jp/english/information/tarl-03.html ).
A few minutes later my true identity was retrieved. My time as a beautiful Russian half my age was over. Fortunately for P and me, I discovered the mistake before either of us had to make yet another trip to the city office to act out Scene 4 (and probably Scenes 5 and 6 too). But I just wanted to write and thank you for the new, improved translation. The new card reads: “Renew within 30 days starting from Jan. 14, 2016.”
Sure will, if I live that long. Because we all know how extremely important it is to accurately identify Japan’s foreign residents, don’t we? And with an identification system as foolproof as this one, we don’t have a thing to worry about. Do we?
Submissions to Hotline to Nagatacho should address issues that affect your life in Japan or be in response to government policies. Please imagine you are actually writing to a government official — be it a local school board head or the prime minister himself — to bring attention to an important matter. Send submissions of between 500 and 700 words to email@example.com