Home > Focus on Japan 2003 > New Gaijin Card

New Gaijin Card

July 7th, 2003

Every five years, you have to renew your Alien Registration Card (aka Gaijin Card, or Gaikokujin Torokusho); I just got mine renewed today. (Image at left–sorry for all the distortion, too much personal info there.) For those of you not in the know, all non-Japanese are required to carry these gaijin cards at all times; if a policeman stops you and you don’t have it on you, then by rights he can take you in to the police station, where you must write a “gomen nasai” letter. You also have to get someone to bring in your gaijin card before you can go. If there is no one to bring your card in for you, you must give the police the keys to your place, and they will get it for you–unless they are kind enough to escort you home while you get your card out for them (happened to me once). Foreigners don’t get stopped just for being foreigners as much as we used to, but it still happens from time to time.

Another infamous point about these cards is the fingerprint. Now it is no longer required (it was done away with chiefly due to protests by the sizable Korean-Japanese community), but it was necessary until just a few years ago. A lot of people did not like this, not only because it made people feel like they were being treated like criminals, but also because the print was prominently displayed on the card. In an early attempt to appease card holders, they provided a plastic slip case with a Ministry of Justice logo positioned to cover the print. Rather lame, really…

They fixed a few other things over time, as well. One was the size of the thing–it used to be an actual booklet, many pages long, too big to fit into most wallets. A huge pain, that was…

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  1. July 8th, 2003 at 15:37 | #1

    Don’t show your card just because they ask for it. Ask them WHY they want you to show it. By law, they have to have a reason. Otherwise, that means the police can get away with assuming that Japanese race = Japanese citizen, and vice-versa.

  2. Luis
    July 8th, 2003 at 16:43 | #2

    I suppose I would feel better about doing that today, but the 80’s were a different time. The police really got on foreigner’s butts a lot back then. I would be stopped every few months just for Riding a Bike While Gaijin, and I got the feeling that if I asked for a reason they’d just make one up. If you gave them talk-back, they’d probably assume it was because you didn’t have it and they would just press harder.

    That was during the trade war and they were a lot more antagonistic. You’d hear stories of cops badgering foreigners every day. One I remember was in a newspaper (letters to editor), where a foreigner observed a policeman completely ignore a rowdy, noisy, helmetless bosozoku–and then walk up to the foreigner and demand to see his gaijin card.

    Nowadays the cops seem better about the whole thing, and racism in general is toned down quite a bit.

  3. July 26th, 2003 at 00:15 | #3

    Whoa, I didn’t know such thing was actually existed. What happen when someone is already acquired a Japanese citizenship? Does that person have to carry the card still?

  4. Luis
    July 26th, 2003 at 00:21 | #4


    If you’re a citizen, then no–“gaikokujin” officially means someone who is not a citizen. Of course, socially, you would remain a gaikokujin, or gaijin; but legally, you would be a nihonjin and therefore exempt from the card business.

    However, there are a great many Koreans in Japan who never accepted Japanese citizenship, though they are multi-generational Japanese residents. Their descendents were mostly Koreans brought to work and live in Japan as forced laborers during the first half of the 20th century.

    In the U.S., on can become a citizen simply by being born in the country; since in Japan one cannot acquire citizenship that way, the Koreans stay “gaikokujin” legally as well, and so they must carry the cards with them all the time.

  5. Jess
    October 11th, 2003 at 23:36 | #5

    I’m an american student studying Japanese in college. I plan on moving there one day and attempting to gain citizenship eventually. If/when I do become a naturalized citizen, I will still look like a gaijin. If the police stop me and ask me for my gaijin card, but I am a citizen and I tell them so, what if they don’t believe me?

    How can I prove to them I am not legally a gaijin?

  6. Luis
    October 11th, 2003 at 23:55 | #6

    Good question. Apparently, you’d use your driver license, which would show you were naturalized. If you didn’t have one, then I suppose it would be up to the police officer to figure out whether or not to believe you.

    This page deals with that a bit:


    This page also has some good info:


    Technically, the police are not supposed to ask you for I.D. unless they have reason to think you’ve committed a crime, but then again, it is against the law to discriminate against foreigners in housing, and look at that market.

    You will also want to check out David Aldwinkle’s page; he’s a naturalized professor, and has a lot of very interesting stories, covering many immigrant issues. He’s at:


    Hope that helps!

  7. KageTora
    February 3rd, 2008 at 09:10 | #7

    This card never presented a problem to me. I was there for ten years, and was never stopped once by the Police. I carried the card only at times when I needed it (i.e. when I needed my wallet). Friends of mine were stopped occasionally, but they were either escorted home to find it or the Police would call his company to make sure. Sure, this is an invasion, but, who cares? Carry the card. It’s not like it’s a hassle to do what is required by law.

    It is true that the Police do not have the right to stop you arbitrarily and ask, and you can defend your rights until you are blue in the face and sitting in the Police Station waiting for something to happen. But is it really worth being late for work or late for your date? Carry the card and show it upon request. It’ll be more hassle trying to explain to your boss or your date why you ended up in the Police Station.

    Fingerprinting has just come back in. It’s not shown on the card, but it is still done at the airports. But, hey, they are only copying the US.

    Finally, don’t listen to Debito Arudo. He’s just a freak who wants to be special by taking Japanese Nationality and then complaining about it. If it was better when he was American, go home, little boy! Can’t eat your cake and have it!

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