Kim Myong Shik v. Japan

Korean could be deported for refusing to give fingerprint

By William Wetherall

A version of this article appeared as
"Case against fingerprinting: Korean could be deported for resisting alien law" in
Far Eastern Economic Review, 133(30), 24 July 1986, pages 43-44

Blue phrases were cut from the FEER version.
Purple phrases were added to the FEER version.
Other phrasing may also differ from the FEER version.

Kim Myong Shik, a 42-year-old graduate student in Japan, became an illegal alien on 20 June. He has been summoned to appear before the Control (Police) Section of the Immigration Bureau, which began interrogating him on 24 June. Although he has not yet been detained, his arrest and deportation seem imminent.

Kim is a South Korean poet, theologian, and human rights activist who has been jailed in Korea for his dissident views. He has lived in Japan for three years with his Japanese wife and 4-year-old daughter.

Kim's visa expired on 19 June. The Immigration Bureau decided not to approve his application for an extension, because he has refused to give the fingerprints which the Alien Registration Law requires of all foreigners who reside in Japan for more than one year.

There is a growing protest movement against the regulation. About 2,000 foreigners in Japan are currently refusing to give their fingerprints, up from 500 a year ago, and 50 two years ago. Most refusers are Koreans who either settled in Japan when Korea was a Japanese colony between 1910 and 1945, or were born and raised in Japan as the children or grandchildren of such immigrants.

Toshiyuki Tanigishi, Chief of the Immigration Bureau's Status Inspection Section, said when asked why Kim's visa was not renewed: "The decision whether to extend a fingerprint refuser's visa is based on many factors taken together. The family situation and the substance of the refusal are the most important."

Tanigishi denied allegations of sexual or ethnic discrimination in the bureau's different handling of Kim's case. Kathleen Morikawa, an American who is married to a Japanese citizen, got a visa extension this March despite her refusing to be fingerprinted since 1982.

Yuriko Yano, Kim's wife, believes that the Justice Ministry is abusing its "discretionary powers" to discriminate against not only Kim but herself. "I am the economic mainstay of my family" in Japan, she wrote The Japan Times. Yano holds a lectureship at a Japanese university. "By denying my husband a visa while extending Morikawa's, the Justice Ministry in effect dismisses my job as insignificant", she argued, "and also denies my constitutional right to live in my own country with my spouse and child."

Asked what the Immigration Bureau expected a woman in Yano's position to do, Section Chief Tanigishi replied: "She should persuade her husband to obey the law."

By the "substance" of the refusal, Tanigishi seems to have meant the "manner" in which Kim has refused and the "effect" of his refusal on other foreigners in Japan. Kim's "conscientious objection" to being fingerprinted posses a threat to the Japanese government's "law and order" posturing toward the nearly one million aliens who reside in Japan, a country of 120 million people.

There are nearly 1 million aliens who live in Japan, a country of 120 million people. Most of these foreigners are Koreans and Chinese who were born and raised in Japan as the descendants of former colonials who settled on the islands before 1945. They are linguistically, culturally, and socially indistinguishable from most Japanese. Yet Japan's laws and policies discriminate against them because they are foreigners.

The fingerprint law applies only to aliens. Japanese are fingerprinted, by policy rather than law, only when they become criminal suspects. The Immigration Bureau claims that fingerprints are necessary to control illegal aliens. Refusers reply that this is unlikely, since most illegal aliens are people who have gone underground after entering Japan on short term (especially tourist) visas and would not ordinarily be fingerprinted.

Kim points out that his objection to fingerprinting is mainly symbolic. The real aim of the anti-fingerprint movement, he says, is to force the Japanese government to abrogate laws and policies which discriminate against resident aliens as ethnic minorities. The Ministry of Education, for example, does not permit foreigners to teach in public schools. First they must become Japanese. But the Ministry of Justice requires foreigners who apply for Japanese citizenship, especially Koreans and Chinese, to adopt Yamato names as proof of their willingness to totally assimilate and pass as ethnic majorities. Japanese education is based on a "monoethnic nation" ideology of "one race, one language, one culture".

The Republic of Korea South Korea has its own reasons for not wanting Kim to return to Korea just now. But it has advised the Japanese government that deporting Kim would exacerbate the anti-Japanese sentiments already aroused by the textbook controversy (REVIEW, 26 June). But Immigration Bureau Director General Shunji Kobayashi insists that Japan cannot tolerate civil disobedience as a means to express opposition to its laws.

Says Kim: "My conscience does not allow me to obey laws which rob my compatriots and other minorities of their ethnic dignity."


This is the only article I filed through FEER's Tokyo Bureau as a straight news piece, hence it's appearance in the news section of the magazine. All my other contributions were features or book reviews, which I filed directly with Ian Buruma or his successor Margaret Price, who edited the Arts and Society pages at FEER's Hong Kong office.