Reader SW writes:

“I lost my alien registration card last week. According to the law, I must have the card on my person just to put one foot outside the door. Dilemma: How could I go and look for my card — without the card?

“Phoned the town hall. They said to come in person and apply for another. Was this legal? I went, by car, driving for a while beside a police car, and then behind a police bike, opening myself to arrest and detention.

“At town hall, I was asked if I had searched for the card. I told them I hadn’t because it’s illegal to go out without it. Is there anything else I could’ve done?”

You’re right, according to the Alien Registration Law (provisional translation), Article 13: “The alien shall receive the registration certificate issued or returned to him by the mayor of the city or the head of town or village, and carry it with him at all times.” No exceptions — unless you’re under 16 years of age. Getting caught without your alien registration card can result in a hefty fine of ¥200,000.

So what to do if your card is lost or stolen?

The Ministry of Justice says to apply for a reissuance within 14 days of the time you realize the card is missing. This would, of course, imply that you must go to city hall to do so.

However, some prefectural and city websites recommend first reporting the loss or theft at your local koban (police box) or police station. The police will file a report and give you a “proof of loss or theft” document to take with you to city hall when you reapply for the card. Some city halls may require this document (or a document such as a “statement of reason”), so it is best to check what your local municipality will ask for.

Is it illegal to go to the police station or koban without your card? Will they slap a huge fine on you on the spot? Not necessarily. The local police in my area said if they stopped a foreigner without their alien registration card they would most likely either a) escort them home to locate it, or b) escort them to the local police station and call the city hall where the foreigner presumably lives to confirm their registration. In most cases, they said, they wouldn’t immediately issue a fine — though it’s up to the discretion of the officer.

In reality, the chances of being stopped by an officer are quite low — unless you are breaking the law or acting suspicious. If you are headed to the local koban or city hall to report the loss and you are stopped by a police officer en route, politely explain that you lost your card and want to report it. As mentioned above, they may escort you to the police station to call city hall, or let you off with a warning to return to the koban or station after you have reapplied for the card at city hall to confirm that you actually went.

However, in the case that you don’t have your card and you’re headed out for whatever reason and haven’t yet reported the loss or theft or applied for replacement, carry your passport with you. At least a passport can confirm your identity and whether you have a legitimate visa or not.

Also, it’s a good idea to make copies of your alien registration card (and passport) and file them in a safe place. If your card goes missing, the copies can prove to an officer you did indeed have one. Presenting a copy at city hall may also speed up the reissue process. These examples aside, copies of your most important documents may come in handy in many instances, so you may want to add them to your emergency kit as well.

Ashley Thompson writes survival tips and unique how-to’s about living in Japan at www.survivingnjapan.com. Send queries, problems and posers to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp.

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