New Alien Registration Law – Foreigners with a Japanese Name

White Face, Japanese Name

I mentioned in a previous entry that I adopted Sawa’s last name after our marriage. We wanted to have the same last name and, of the two, I thought “Senzaki” would flow better in both of our native countries. (Besides, had we adopted my name, “TransGram” would not have been nearly as attractive as a translation company.) To an extent, I was correct, but I have also encountered a number of situations where having a Japanese last name, when I am clearly not of Japanese descent, has proven slightly or humorously inconvenient. For example, the Sagawa Delivery man (the same guy, mind you), always looks suspicious when I sign for packages under the name “Senzaki” and repeated asks me if that’s my real name. I have also been ignored by taxi drivers, whose services I reserved under “Senzaki,” because they didn’t think it possible that they were looking for a white guy. I consider that a complement to my Japanese pronunciation over the phone.

These issues I can deal with, or laugh off. However, I made one miscalculation with my new name that repeatedly causes headaches when it comes to official paperwork: I thought that changing my legal name in English to “Senzaki” would allow me to register my legal name in Japanese as in kanji 先崎 rather than in katakana センザキ. In some places, it has been allowed, but in others it has not. Additionally, most official documents (driver’s license, etc.) will only list my name in romaji (English letters). However, I was able to get my name recorded in kanji as a legal alias, in order to register my personal seal. So, I have at least four different legal names with IDs for each. What’s my name? Say my name!

Who’s the Boss?

Adding to my registration woes is the matter of the “Head of Household” or 世帯主. Under the old Alien Registration Law, I could be the “Head of Household” for my own registration purposes, but as a foreigner, I could not be Head of Household for a Japanese national- such as my wife or daughter- since foreigners were not part of the 住民票 (Juminhyo) system. In cases like mine, the foreigner is listed as Head of Household on his own records and the Japanese spouse as listed as the Head of Household on hers- with a footnote to the effect that “The actual Head of Household is . . .” Ours is a bureaucratically confused marriage of equals, I suppose.

The Importance of Footnotes: Changes accompanying the New Alien Registration System

Effective July 15th, the old Alien Registration System will go away. While we foreigners are not required to immediately exchange their Alien Registration Cards for the new 在留カード (Residence Cards), we will officially be entered in the Juminhyo system. For most foreigners, I assume this is a relatively painless process but, for people like me who accidentally made everything more complicated than it needs to be, the process is not so simple. Here is what I have been able to determine so far:

仮住民票: Provisional Juminhyo (for verification purposes)

Beginning last week, City Halls across Japan began sending these forms out to all registered foreigners to verify their information before it goes into the Juminhyo system. The form itself is fairly simple- just check the data and contact your city hall if there are any errors. Unfortunately, regarding my other concerns, the explanation sheet that I received left more questions than answers, so I’ve had to do some digging.

印鑑登録 Registered Seals

If you have registered your hanko under a Japanese name, you need to make sure that the Japanese name is written on the 仮住民票 in parentheses as a legal alias. Otherwise, your seal registration will become invalid on July 15th, and you will probably have to get a new 実印 official seal, with your name written exactly as it appears on your Juminhyo, before you will be allowed to register again.

*This does not apply to lower-level hankos, just as the Bank Seal (銀行印). It only appeals to the big, formal one- it likely has your first and last name on it- if you have it registered.

Head of Household

According to documents that I found on a Fukushima prefecture website, multi-national families’ Head of Household issues should resolve themselves automatically.

In cases where the foreign spouse is the “real” Head of Household, as noted in their current Alien Registration and in the footnote of the Japanese spouse’s Juminhyo, then once foreigners are merged into the Juminhyo system, the “Head of Household” entry in all Japanese spouses and Japanese children should automatically change to the foreign spouse’s name. (Some municipalities may not list the foreign “real” head of household in the footnotes, so if it doesn’t appear there, you may want to check with your City Office).

Of course, I do not believe in trusting any bureaucracy to take care of the things it should do, so I will be checking my wife and daughter’s Juminhyos immediately after the change! I’ll let you know how that turns out, later.

In cases where the Japanese spouse is the “real” head of household, no change should be necessary. The Japanese spouse’s name should already be filled in the the foreigner’s Alien Registration as the “Head of Household.”

The Disappearing Digit: Alien Registration Number

If you’re really checking the data on your 仮住民票, you might have noticed that your Alien Registration Number is different from your card number. This is an intelligence check to make sure you’re really reading it carefully! Actually, the last digit just refers to how many times you’ve had your card issued. Since that’s not relevant to the Juminhyo and, under the new system you won’t be getting new Alien Registration Cards issued, so it’s not important anymore. Kind of like that pinky on your left hand.

Just asking, but. . .

if the Alien Registration system is going away, why does my Juminhyo have a space for my Alien Registration number?

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