Japan: Fingerprints, mugshot, welcome to Japan

Despite protests from human rights organizations and the foreign community, new immigration procedures, which require all non-Japanese citizens over 16 years of age to be fingerprinted and photographed when entering Japan, will come into effect on November 20, 2007. Fingerprinting of foreign nationals in Japan is not a new affair, however. Japan used to fingerprint foreign residents until, following protests mainly organized by “special permanent residents” of Korean and Chinese descent, the system was abolished in 1999. But this time, it came back under the name of the war on terror.

Illustration: Flickr user stbeck CC-BY-NC-SA

To many Japanese, the introduction of the new system, let alone the passing of the bill, is still unknown. futureeye points out to the fact that the new system has been put in place without most Japanese even knowing.


What's most problematic about this time is that, there was no debate between pros and cons. The majority of Japanese don't even know when it was that the bill was passed. I would guess the government's excuse would be “this is a fingerprinting and verification system targeting foreigners and the bill does not concern Japanese people; therefore, the kind of debate we had in the case of the Juki Net (Resident Registry Network) is not necessary” or something along those lines. As I mentioned earlier, however, the principle of reciprocity is common sense in international politics. Japanese people will have to pay for this. How did this kind of bill make it through without us even knowing about it?

Blogger Danny Choo writes:

I'm not exactly sure how fingerprinting somebody is going to stop evil intentions. If a person wants to blow him/herself up then a fingerprint is not exactly going to stop them from doing so.
I can see how it can play a part in preventing overstay – photos of overstayers can be published as soon as their permitted stay has exceeded for example.

As Japanese blogger oheohehe puts it:


Considering the current situation, this is a matter of course.
Only those people who have an evil conscience complain about this.
For example, North Koreans and members of the Social Democratic Party, and some lawyers…

This blogger gives his version of explanation as to why foreigners should be fingerprinted.






This is how the fingerprinting system should be explained.

Unlike Japanese citizens, foreigners do not have koseki.
Therefore, treating foreigners in a different way is not unfair discrimination.

Because foreigners do not have koseki, there is a certain necessity for foreigners who have entered Japan to be kept track of.
Also, the intensity of crimes committed by foreigners is increasing.

Just matching photos is not enough to verify that it's the same person.
Fingerprinting is the most efficient way of identifying an individual.

Therefore the fingerprinting system is necessary.

On the other hand, there are many bloggers who express their criticism of fingerprinting. Blogger Odoru OL writes:



When I travel abroad, it's not very pleasant when I am photographed and fingerprinted when entering a country because it makes me feels like I am seen as a would-be-criminal.
On top of that, leaving aside the immigration officers, people who look like security guards and guide foreigners lining up at immigration counters very often have bad attitudes.

So, even though I understand that it is a part of the anti-terror measures, when I get sick and tired of being in a long line, I have to agree with those who complain: why do good citizens have to deal with this even though you can never completely prevent terrorism? (The fact that you are allowed to pass through [immigration] in cases where you are close to your boarding time and [being checked] would take too much time also raises questions.)

Welcome to Japan
Animation by Nick Wood, posted at debito.org

Tako expresses his disappointment and criticizes the Japanese government for focusing on the wrong target.






From this coming November, apparently foreigners entering Japan are going to be fingerprinted and photographed at immigration control (with some exceptions). This is the second country to do this following the United Sates.

Some time ago, they stopped fingerprinting foreigners in Japan. I was thinking [at the time]: “Japan has stepped closer to becoming a decent country”, since Japan had stopped automatically treating foreigners as if they were criminals. Oh am I disappointed.

You can watch a video explaining the immigration examination policy, so check it out if you're interested.

They say they are doing it in the name of anti-terror measures, but it sounds sketchy.
Many recent cases of terrorism were carried out by individuals who held citizenship of the country (the terror incident in England at least was done by British nationals). And speaking of cases in Japan that you could all terrorism, we have for example the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, and that after all was done by Japanese nationals.

Rather than suspecting visitors, I wish they would instead keep an eye on the actions of suspicious organizations in Japan.

For comprehensive background and up-to-date information in English, see the fingerprinting NJ archive at debito.org.


  • It’s not really what the government is doing, but how they’re doing it: condescending videos with downright idiotic actors, a flimsy pretense for reestablishing such procedures (foreign terrorists in Japan), the “I have proof that a terrorist entered Japan” speech uttered not too long ago by a top official…


    Thanks for the well written BLOG. I am amazed at the number of people who are unware of this policy going into effect. Every Japanese National I talked to seem to be surprised that I will be subjected to this policy. What a well hidden secret.

    I am appalled to be subjected to this treatment. For 20 years I use to fight and support the rights of the American and Japanese Citizens. I put my family last and Armed Forces career first. My thinking was; I was doing an honorable deed that everyone should be obligated to do for his/her country and the world. To fight for these rights and to protect a land which I considered my second home this issue has become painful. I am no longer looked upon as a defended but a terrorist. I have accepted being a “Gaijin” for my lifetime, never being accepted as the part of the society and having to prove that the “Gaijin” can learn to be part of a Japanese society. Being treated as a normal criminal every time I go thought the airport has gone over board. Japan needs to wake up and see the “Gaijin” is here to stay. We are marrying and deciding to stay in our spouse’s homeland. This will not go away. As the years pass I see more and more mixed marriages. With travel and internet opening the world this keeps on spreading like wildfire. Change now or face a bigger problem in the future.

    • Basar

      Actually many people are pretending to be un aware of this new system. They do not want their country to pointed by the foreigeners.

      • sasebo

        To Basar: Exactly who is pretending?

        This policy was a surprise to those of us who watch NHK-TV news daily.

        So, for people who are at work, commuting, or otherwise engaged during the news broadcasts, or who don’t watch much news at all and don`t read newspapers regularly, this policy really is surprising. (Incidentally, TV and newspapers are falling by the wayside due to Internet news.)

        So many people remain as ignorant as I was until the fingerprint and mug shot policy came into force.

        But remember, the native born people of any country can go through an entire lifetime without knowing the immigration policies and practices in their own countries.

        If you never immigrate and never meet an immigrant, or if your immigrant friends are too polite to tell you about their bad experiences, you will never know about them.

        Take Canada. It is very difficult for ordinary people to get through Canada’s very difficult immigration system. Yet, according to the Government of Canada, 89% of Canada has no permanent settlement.

        Canada is the second largest country in the world, smaller than Russia and bigger than China. Canada contains 10 million square kilometres and has only about 30 million people.

        Even doctors immigrating to Canada end up driving taxis instead of practicing medicine.

  • Shocking by the Japanese government, and a topic I’ve written a couple of articles on myself. It’s not going to stop anyone who wants to conduct a terror attack in Japan. It should also be noted that no terrorism in Japan has ever been conducted by non-Japanese.

    And nice that the Koreans and Chinese who were kidnapped and originally brought to Japan are being given special dispensation…

  • Daniel

    I recently canceled a four day holiday to Japan because of this, what a ridiculously fascist thing to do.
    Why on earth don’t more people stand against this kind of unnecessary information gathering of ordinary people? Why allow the globalist government to have this kind of information? Don’t we realize what it’s leading to? Will we just stand idly by when they step it up more levels, requiring traceable id chips to be placed in our hands?

  • yokoso_tee

    The “Yokoso Japan 11/20 Commemorative Tee” protest t-shirt that you may have seen in protest marches or people wearing around town can be found at:


    or email:

    Sign the petition, and get the word out…we can make a change!

  • A reader

    Some further reading here:
    I am surprised GV didn’t mention it

  • […] Global Voices Online: Japan: Fingerprinting, Mugshots, Welcome to Japan hasanhujairi[dot]com: hurray for racial profiling Spiegel Online: Grenzkontrollen: Japans Furcht vor dem Fremden […]

  • […] Global Voices Online: Japan: Fingerprinting, Mugshots, Welcome to Japan hasanhujairi[dot]com: hurray for racial profiling Spiegel Online: Grenzkontrollen: Japans Furcht vor dem Fremden […]

  • Re-entry Japan http://reentryjapan.blogspot.com/ is a collaborative blog site which offers information and discussion on fingerprinting of non-Japanese nationals in Japan.

    The site has a protest leaflet (in different languages) which people can put in their passport when they go through customs.

  • Jason

    Glad to see that the blogosphere is carrying this story. The main stream media has forgotten about it. Japan needs to backtrack not only on this, but on their random stop and searches of foreigners too. Maybe when visit numbers plunge enough, they’ll get the message. Meanwhile, Ni hao ma. Japan’s stupidity is China’s gain.

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