Thursday, July 19, 2007


After checking on the internet, I know I am definately not the only non-Japanese resident living here that has a problem with names, but...... today I was again reminded how difficult things can be. The problem stems from the recording systems they have here in Japan. For anyone interested here is a quick rundown (those who are not interested please come back another day!).
There are two main ways that Japanese people are kept track of:
  1. Koseki - this is a family register which lists all the members of a family - the head of the family and then all other children etc. in that family until they are married off and start their own family. One problem.... non-Japanese cannot be entered into this. Therefore, I am officially not a part of this, although I do get an honourable mention on it as the mother of my children and in the comments column I am noted to have married my husband. My name here is recorded as my maiden name.
  2. Juminhyo - this is a registry of current residential addresses maintained by the local governments. When you change addresses you must register again. It is possible under this system to be recorded in two locations at once - one for the family register and one for the current residential address. Unless of course you are non-Japanese resident in which case you can't be listed on the juminhyo either (well this is slowly changing, but until recently this wasn't possible).
So... reading the above you might think "hey, foreigners in Japan don't exist" and in a sense they don't according to the official Japanese documents. But to counter all this they have a different way of registering us - that is with an "Alien Registration" card. Even long term residents married to Japanese citizens are considered aliens. Of course you could apply for Japanese citizenship and then all these problems are resolved, but... in Japan after the age of 20 you can only have one country's citizenship, therefore I would have to say goodbye to my NZ citizenship.... something I don't feel like doing!

Anyway, back to the name problem... the big problem arose today when we tried to change my "cancer insurance" to a cheaper "family" plan. My Alien Registration card claims that I am Jo Sukimoto (sorry - still not fully comfortable putting all private info on the web!). The comment on the family register claims that I am Joe Bloggs. My health insurance card claims that I am Joe Sukimoto (note the subtle spelling changes). My drivers licence claims that I am Jo Bloggs. So I have 4 names here in Japan..... each one is needed for a different thing. The main problem with the insurance today was that if I wrote my health insurance name down, I would have no problem claiming money if I was admitted to hospital, but if I died it would be difficult for my husband to claim the money - as he would need to use the name on the family register. Of course the reverse then becomes possible too - money if I died, but not if I was admitted to hospital. Of course this put the insurance people into a flap and it still hasn't been fully resolved, but it makes me feel better having put the frustration down on paper.
Thanks to anyone who has read this far - I don't think I have made it very clear, but it is pretty confusing for me too!

Just as aside... there was a case in 2002 where a seal (yes the one that lives in the ocean) was given an honorary juminhyo (the thing foreigner residents are not allowed to have), which prompted protests from foreign residents who painted whiskers on their faces to prove their point. I think things have changed a bit since then!

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