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July 12, 2008

How to be a foreigner in Japan

Filed under: Uncategorized — espeed @ 12:55 am — Tags:

I was going to write this awhile ago, but I broke my chair again.  They haven’t replaced it yet, but there’s a second hand shop below my apartment, so I bought a real chair there for about $10.  It’s so amazing.  One of the best decisions I’ve made in my short life.

The title of this post is pretty vague; this isn’t going to be some kind of guide.  Really, I’m just going to describe some of the hoops I had to jump through as a foreigner in the land of the rising sun.  Foreigners are called gaijin in Japan, so I’ll use that term from now on.  Unlike in the US, the term is not considered offensive, and it’s not uncommon for people and signs to address outsiders as simply ‘gaijin.’

The first thing I’m going to talk about is gaijin registration.  Every gaijin who is staying in Japan more than 3 months has to register at their local ward (There are 23 wards in Tokyo, which represent seperate merged cities essentially.  Essentially, this is Japan’s version of a city hall.) office where they’ll eventually be given a card they must carry with them at all times.  In other words, Japan’s version of a green card.  The more astute of you might notice that I’m not actually going to be in Japan more than 3 months (thanks to the slowness of the government) and therefore didn’t need to go through this registration process.  That is true, but it’s about 3000x easier to do anything as a gaijin if you have that nifty little alien registration card.  In my case, I needed to open a bank account, which was enough of an impetus to go down to my ward office.

The process isn’t a horrible one, you take 2 recent photographs and your passport down to the office and they guide you a long in the process.  The person who helped me didn’t know English so it was also a fun time to practice my broken Japanese.  It takes 2 weeks to make your cards so when you’re done they tell you to come back.  If you need certification quickly, you can apply for a “Certificate of Registered Particulars” which is a notarized copy of all your information that you can get immediately.  The entire process takes about 20 minutes and the card itself is free. (The certificates cost 300 yen a pop.)

An interesting part of this process is acquiring passport type photos.  A general rule of thumb is that you should always bring a number of these photos with you whenever you go overseas, but I didn’t.  Luckily, Japan is the capital of automation, and every major train station has one or more photo taking booths.  Some even have English language guidance, which is good if you’re not up on your Japanese photography vocabulary.  It was 600 yen for 6 pictures so it’s pretty cheap and super convenient.

That’s actually the only required thing you have to do to be a foreigner in Japan.  The hard part is doing the things that everyone’s required to do, but that only Japanese people know about.  To help with this, the ward office hands out useful guides which are written in 4 different languages and explain all the things you need to know to survive in this crazy land.

I was also going to talk about opening a bank account, but it doesn’t fit in that well since that was a requirement of my job and not of Japan.  Maybe I’ll include that story in a future post about signing up for Japanese services.  In response to reader Darrel, my next post will be about my living conditions and amenities.  You already know I break their chairs; tune in next time to see what else I break. 😉


  1. Wait–they replaced your chair with the same kind of chair?

    *scratches head*

    Comment by Stephie — July 12, 2008 @ 11:54 pm

  2. To be fair it was a better chair. But it was no match for me. The first one just collapsed one moment. This one slowly bent it’s way to oblivion.

    Comment by Erek Speed — July 12, 2008 @ 11:59 pm

  3. What’s Japanese for “hell on chairs?” Hope you got a “real” chair this time. The registration story is interesting to me since I am
    pretty close to the Mexican immigration problem here. Untravelled Americans are not aware that nearly every “advanced” country has very tight registration
    requirements for foreign visitors. Visitors are carefully watched and privileged activities (right to demonstrate, to petition the gov
    ernment, to be employed or to establish residence via bank accounts etc)are carefully monitored. A lot of people here think unregistered
    Mexicans have some sort of “right” to be excused by the US government. Not much of an international precedent for that sort of thinking.
    Keep real McNeal! D.

    Comment by Darrel — July 13, 2008 @ 4:31 am

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