Fingerprint refusal movement

A Thoreau wannabe on the brink of arrest

By William Wetherall

First posted 1 August 2007
Last updated 14 August 2014

Moral indignation 1980-1988 Massive civil disobedience | Minicipal and union support | Publicists and media
Refusers Han Jong Sok (1980) | Choi Chang Hwa (1980) | Choi Son Ae (1981) | Ronald Fujiyoshi (1981) | Kathleen Morikawa (1982) | Robert Ricketts (1984) | Kim Myong Sik (1984) | Chong Jong Mo (1984) | Kim Duk Hwan (1985) | Jo Suichin (1985) | Matoba Michiko (1985)
Going the distance 1989 Rejecting amnesty | 1990 Burning AR cards | 1990 Returning AR cards | 1997 Disposal of fingerprint records
Restoring order 1988 fingerprinting one time only | 1993 permanent residents exempted | 2000 signatures replace fingerprints
My refusal 1975-1983 visas | 1983 permanent residence | 1986-1988 refusal | 1992 renewal | 1997 renewal | 2002 renewal

Moral indignation

The indignation that some aliens in Japan have felt toward fingerprinting has not necessarily been informed by knowledge of fingerprinting practices in many other countries, including the United States and the Republic of Korea. The United States had been systematically fingerprinting aliens since 1940, and ROK had been fingerprinting its own nationals since 1970 and aliens since 1978. And in 1949-1950, law enforcement officials in Japan pushed for universal fingerprinting of Japanese as well as aliens.

In Japan, as in other countries, fingerprinting has been strongly associated with criminal investigation and national security, rather than merely personal identification. The pretext for fingerprinting particularly Chosenese in the prefectures after World War II -- during the Allied Occupation of Japan from 1945-1952 when they were still Japanese -- was to augment documenary and photographic identification. Fingerprinting was seen as a means of discouraging illegal migration between Occupied Japan and Occupied Korea, migration and multiple registration within Japan using aliases, and blackmarket and other illegal activities in Japan -- in addition to concern about subversive, especially Communist revolutionary, activities.

Moral indignation, though, stems from discomfort with the appearance that aliens, or Japanese regarded as "aliens" for registration and border control purposes, were being categorically exceptionalized as potential law breakers. The manner in which aliens were fingerprinted for registration purposes was not, in fact, how fingerprints are collected for criminal investigation or criminal record purposes. However, the perception was that alien fingerprinting amounted to treating aliens like criminals.

See "Koreans in Japan" and "Zainichi" for details on changes in the meanings of "Korea" and "Koreans" and "Japan" and "Japanese" before, during, and after the Occupation of Japan.

"Peculiar" fingerprinting law

Tanaka Hiroshi (b1937) -- a professor of the history Japan-Asia relations at Aichi Prefectural University at the time of the anti-fingerprint movement in the 1980s, then and now best known for his advocacy of "human rights" for minorities in Japan -- considered Japan's practice of fingerprinting aliens "peculiar" in the world -- not because Japan was fingerprinting aliens, but because of the kind of aliens Japan was fingerprinting.

In a study of fingerprinting practices in Japan, the Republic of Korea and other countries (Tanaka 1985, pages 27-18, 32-35 , full source citation below), Tanaka reported the details of an early 1980s Ministry of Justice survey which showed that some 24 countries and regions were fingerprinting aliens. At least 10 (and as many as 17) of these entities were also fingerprinting their own nationals for residence registration, ID, or passport purposes, and 9 other countries were fingerprinting aliens in connection with issuing IDs, offering political aslyum, or accommodating refugees.

Japan, though, was fingerprinting mostly alien residents who had been former imperial subjects who had lost their Japanese nationality in treaty settlements without being given a choice. Otherwise, too, Japan's former "colons" were being treated with disregard for what Tanaka considered the "human rights" that France, for example, was extending to Algerians as a result of the Évian Accords of 1962.

Fingerprinting in the Republic of Korea

The Republic of Korea provides for alien registration in Chapter 5 of its 1963 Immigration Law (Law No. 1289, enacted on 5 March 1963). Fingerprinting is covered by Article 38. As of 1978, two years before the anti-fingerprinting movement germinated in Japan, ROK required prints of all ten fingers of aliens of 14 or more years of age who stays one or more years (Law No. 3044 of 1977, promulgated on 31 December 1977, enforced from 1 April 1978). The present requirement is 20 or more years of age.

ROK's 1962 Resident Registration Act (주민등록법 Jumin tŭngnok pŏp) requires its own nationals to provide fingerprints. Since 1970, nationals have had to provide prints of all ten fingers when issued a Resident Registration Card (Enforcement Decree of the Resident Registration Act [주민등록법시행령 Jumin tŭngnok pŏp sihaengnyŏng], as amended by Presidential Decree No. 4914).

The ROK ID card is sometimes referred to in English as "Korean Resident Registration Card" since it is issued only to ROK nationals and serves as proof of nationality. The card has also been called "Korean Registration Certificate" -- reminiscent of the English name of the ID issued by Osaka prefecture to Chosenese in 1946 during the Allied Occupation.

ROK nationals residing in Japan under the terms of the 1966 Japan-ROK status agreement have been exempt from resident registration fingerprinting in ROK, so long as they don't take up residence in ROK. Until the late 1990s, Japan issued re-entry permits for only one-year, hence ROK nationals residing in Japan, when going abroad, had to return to Japan at least once a year to maintain their status of residence in Japan.


Tanaka 1985

田中宏 Tanaka Hiroshi
世界でも得意な%本の制度 Sekai demo "tokui-na" Nihon no seido
[Peculiar-in-the-world (fingerprinting) system of Japan]
Pages 24-35
民族差別と闘う関東交流集会実行委員会 (編)
[Kanto liaison rally action committee to fight racioethnic discrimintion (editor)]
Shimon ōnatsu kyohisha e no "kyōhakujō" o yomu
[Reading "threat letters" to fingerprinting refusers]
東京:明石書店、1985 (第1刷;第4刷 1986 )
Tokyo: Akashi Shoten, 1985 (4th printing; 1st printing 1985)
120 pages, papercover


1980-1988 Massive civil disobedience

The effect of initiating alien registration in 1952, and increasing the renewal period from two to three years in 1956 and to five years in 1982, created a couple of major and several minor waves of registration renewal during 1980s. These waves gave activists an opportunity to rally aliens coming up for renewal to participate in mass refusal drives, which generated media attention.

The extension of the renewal period from three to five years, and the age of first photographs and fingerprints from 14 to 16, in 1982, came after the first small wave of highly publicized refusals in 1980. By 1982, the Ministry of Justice had begun to crack down on some known refusers by refusing to give them re-entry permits. The first arrests and indictments had also been made by this time.

The Justice Ministry's good-cop, bad-cop tactics helped activists gain support. As of the end of 1984, some 82 aliens had refused to fingerprinted. By the end of 1985, over ten thousand aliens, most of them Republic of Korea nationals with permanent residence status, had become refusers, at least temporarily.

To be continued.

Running figures

Asahi newspapers reported both MOJ statistics as well as the results of Asahi's own surveys. Some papers also reported Mindan estimates.

The following numbers comes from clippings of Asahi Shinbun (Japanese), Asahi Evening News (English), The Daily Yomiuri (English), and Mainichi Daily News (English).

Refusers   As of YMD (Source: Paper) [Grace period]

      65   1984 November 30 (MOJ: MDN)
      65        November 30 (MOJ: AEN)
      82        December 20 (MOJ: Asahi, AEN)
     396   1985 June 14 (Asahi: AEN)
     647        July 19 (MOJ: Asahi) [161 grace]
     490        June 30 (Asahi: AEN)
     613        July 26 (MOJ: Asahi)
     901        July 26 (MOJ: Asahi)
   2,227        July 31 (Asahi: AEN)
   1,188        July (MOJ: JT)
   3,038        July 31 (Mindan: JT)
   2,002        August 15 (MOJ: TDY) [1,091 grace]
   6,051        August 31 (Asahi: Asahi, AEN)
   7,409        September 30 (Asahi: Asahi)

Most of these refusers, intending only to protest the law and not break it, waited out the grace period before finally compling with the fingerprint requirement.

A total of 11,019 aliens permanently or temporarily refused to give their fingerprints in 1985, according to Ministry of Justice figures released at the end of the year, and reported in the Daily Yomiuri on 1 January 1986. This was almost exactly three percent of the approximately 361,400 aliens who had to renew their registration in 1985.

Some 2,977 aliens had refused, even after their grace period had run out, and some 1,246 were still refusing within their grace period, as of the end of 1985 (total 4,223).

Of 7,417 who intended to comply by the end of the three-month grace period, 7,315 had complied, 95 had changed their minds and continued to refuse, and 7 had left Japan (total 7,417). This means

The article did not account for the fact that the above figures add up to 11,640 -- which exceeds 11,019 by 641.

On 14 May 1985, the Ministry of Justice issued an instruction to local governments, to allow refusers a three-month "persuasion period" (説得期間) -- then sue those who continue to refuse.

Mindan, which represents ROK nationals in Japan, had advised Koreans to temporarily refuse. However, in October it announced that it would no longer oppose the fingerprint requirement. Mindan's withdrawal came after prime minister Nakasone Yasuhiro assured the Republic of Korea that he would do something about the situation.

Tanaka Hiroshi's refuser figures

Tanaka Hiroshi reported data from the Ministry of Justice, which shows that the number of new and continuing refusers peaked in July, August, and September of 1985. These figures represent only aliens whose refusal were reported to the ministry.

The yearly totals of new refusers in 1985 and 1986 were respectively 3,049 and 270. The figures for continuing refusers take into account refusers who have complied.

Tanaka notes that the number of continuing refusers in January 1989 was 753, which not that much fewer than the 825 still refusing at the end of 1986.

Monthly     New   Cont

1985 Jan     12     94
     Feb     57    147
     Mar     60    201
     Apr     41    232
     May     80    298
     Jun    228    516
     Jul    908  1,387
     Aug  1,101  2,321
     Sep    316  2,304
     Oct    146  1,862
     Nov     55  1,357
     Dec     45  1,182

1986 Jan     45  1,105
     Feb     34  1,066
     Mar     34  1,026
     Apr     14    977
     May     37    973
     Jun     18    940
     Jul      9    913
     Aug     14    982
     Sep     14    866
     Oct     24    879
     Nov     16    863
     Dec     10    825

1989 Jan           753

田中宏 Tanaka Hiroshi
在日・データ・1989 Zainichi deeta 1989
[Japan resident (Korean) data 1989]
RAIK 通信 RAIK Tsūshin [RAIK News]
[Research-Action Institute for the Koreans in Japan]
Number 6, 1989 (15 May)
Pages 24-25

To be continued.


Municipal and union support

Many of the several hundred aliens who continued to refuse to be fingerprinted received some degree of support from the local governments responsible for their registration, and/or from branches of local civil servant unions. A lot has been written about both sources of support, mostly by fingerprint refusers who view the anti-fingerprint movement as something which achieved its aims, and are grateful to the municipalities and municipal workers who supported them.

At the time of the movement, I wrote about both municipal and union support in a favorable light, not wanting to hang the dirty linen of political reality in public. My own refusal experience, though, gave me a closer look at what motivated many local governments to support revision of the Alien Registration Law.

Support from local governments

At one point, over one-thousand of Japan's then three-thousand cities, towns, and villages appealed to the Ministry of Justice to get rid of the fingerprint system. They did so fully aware that the fingerprinting system had fallen out of use.

In 1974, the Ministry of Justice had instructed municipalities to stop sending fingerprint cards to the Immigration Bureau. Some Immigration Bureau officials even testified in judicial committees that no one at the bureau was working with fingerprints.

As it was, about one-forth of Japan's then three-thousand cities, towns, and villages, refused to comply with Ministry of Justice directives to report refusers. This was nothing less than "civil disobedience" on the the part of local governments vis-a-vis the state. And the national government could not do anything about this open defiance of ministerial direction, for the contemporary Alien Registration Law left the pursuit of punishment violations like fingerprint refusal to municipal governments.

Support from local public workers unions

In some cases the "defiance" was genuine in the sense that the elected officials and highest ranking bureaucrats of the "supporting" municipality were truly on the side of the refusers. In at least some (I would hazard most) municipalities, however, the government chose not to report refusers because some of its own employees -- as members of Jichirō (自治労), more fully Zen Nihon Jichi Dantai Rōdō Kumiai (全日本自治団体労働組合), which calls itself "All-Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers Union" (Jichiro) in English -- were holding their bosses hostage to Jichirō's radical human rights agenda.

See Civil servants oppose ARL bill: Revisions would reduce autonomy of municipal governments, an article on Jichiro which I wrote in 1987 for a press-kit distributed at a press conference held by opponents to the government's bill to amend the Alien Registration Law.

This was certainly the case in the city where I refused. The officials who handled my refusal were not unsympathetic to my view that the alien registration system needed reform, beginning with the elimination of fingerprinting -- but it was their job to follow the enforcement regulations, and as far as I could tell they were not inclined to advocate civil disobedience as a means of objecting to either a low or its enforcement regulations.

Reluctance to break rules

Municipal governments and employee unions share a lot in common with disgruntled aliens, in that all are reluctant to break rules. The rules of government and union engagement allow certain actions that fall short of breaking laws.

Local governments that openly supported fingerprint refusers had a lot in common with the aliens that refused their prints only during the grace period, in that their "defiance" of the national government was not illegal. Other local governments, like the director of the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice, agreed that the Alien Registration Law was outdated and needed revision but held that, in a law-abiding democratic society like Japan, people were duty-bound to abide by the law.

Elected heads and ranking bureaucrats of local governments desire, most of all, a conflict-free municipal hall. Giving in to pressure from local unions, threatening action if the government reported infractions of the Alien Registration Law or its enforcement regulations, was favorable to red armbands and rallies.

While fingerprint refusers were breaking the law, however, the "defiance" shown the Ministry of Justice by some local governments was not against any law. The Alien Registration Law was a national law, but the national government had delegated local governments the responsibility to carry out registration, and with this responsibility the obligation to report violations. However, since local governments were permitted to directly issue alien registration certificates, they had a certain amount of latitude in how they dealt with irregularities.

As a matter of legal procedure, the national government could not take action unless the local government initiated an action. Actions related to most registration regulation violations were initiated by a law suit in a summary court, and involved fines of 5,000 to 10,000 yen. However, if a local government chose not to file a claim, then a violation -- though actionable -- never became known to a law enforcement body as a "case" to be tallied in violation statistics.

As autonomous bodies, municipalities and prefectures understandably welcome revisions that simplify their work, as by improving the conditions under which they carry out obligations related to the enforcement of national laws. Local government officials and clerks are trained to expect compliance from law-abiding residents.

It is difficult enough to facilitate compliance by making procedural rules clear. No public servant wants to have to persuade or otherwise compel a hesitant or reluctant resident to comply with a requirement. The last thing a clerk or supervisor wants to witness on the other side of the counter is adamant refusal to comply.

The municipalities that appealed to the national government to end or amend alien fingerprinting appeared to do so on human rights grounds. However, the actions and attitudes I witnessed, on the part of officials in the city where I refused, suggest that officials, while capable of personal sympathy and empathy, are mostly concerned with carrying out their duties. And they are happiest if they can carry out their duties with a minimum of conflict.

Politics within a municipal hall will play out according to the forces of ideology and personality that materialize among its personnel. The play-out is limited only by the means that factions will resort to in order to achieve their ends.

Most unions are like temporary fingerprint refusers in that they flirt with stepping over understood limits of action. The most radical members may advocate a strike or other action that could seriously hurt the employer, but the general membership will avoid such measures by compromising.

The compromise arrived at in the city where I refused was more like a stalemate. The city government wanted my fingerprints, but I wouldn't give them. The branch of Jichiro that represented some civil servants in the city wanted me to lend my case to its movement in defense of a well-known refuser in a neighboring city, but I preferred to go it alone.

I would not have sought the Jichiro's support even had the city government chosen to take me to report me as a violator, which probably would have resulted in my arrest and arraignment. I would just have taken the lumps and made what waves I could in the media. I had not intention of endorsing Jichiro's view of social history.

As it was, the government avoided taking punitive action by granting me monthly extensions, ostensibly expecting to be able to persuade me to comply but knowing I wouldn't. This was entirely within the prerogatives of its delegated powers.

While a couple of the union members I met spoke as though they wanted blood, the others appeared to be satisfied that the mayor was willing to authorize the monthly extensions with his chop. Whatever his actual motives, they could be interpreted as favoring human rights.

The city government and the local branch of the union had, in the course of their collective bargaining, established rules of engagement. With respect to my case, both sides seemed willing to abide by these rules within their stretchable limits on acceptable actions.

To be continued.


Publicity and media




Only three percent of the aliens who had to renew their alien registration in 1985 initially refused to give fresh fingerprints prints. And the vast majority of these would-be refusers complied within the three-month grace period.

In other words, very few aliens were willing to even flirt with civil disobedience, much less cross the line.


Han Jong Sok

Han Jong Sok (韓宗碩 ハン・ジョンソク Han Jonsok 한종석 Han Jong Sŏk) refused to give his fingerprints on 10 September 1980 in Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo.

Han is the subject of the following book.


Han san no shimon ōnatsu kyohi o sasaeru kai
[Association for support of the fingerprint impression refusal of Mr. Han]
Shimon ōnatsu kyohi ga sabaita Nippon
[The Japan that fingerprint impression refusal has tried]
Tokyo: Shakai Hyōron Sha, July 1990
218 pages, softcover, jacket

Han appears to have been born circa 1929 in Chosen. He came to the Interior at age eight when in the second grade of elementary (ordinary) school, according to his own account (Han 1990:8).

Han was therefore born a national of Japan. He made the following remark about his awarenss of losing Japanese nationality in 1952 (Han 1990:20).

When thinking [about] it from now [the present], Chosenese in Japan (在日朝鮮人 zainichi Chōsenjin) too, actually [speaking], until 10:30 pm on 28 April 1952, namely until the moment of effectuation of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, were not so-called aliens. Seen from [their] legal status there was no reason at all for them to effect "alein" registration. But, as for [my] awareness at the time, because [I] thought my own original nationality ought to be Chosen, I didn't think about what my own Japan nationality had become.

Han's remark reflects the sentiments of many Chosenese during the Occupation. The climate was not one in which a Chosenese, as race-proud as he appears to have been , would be likely to give much thought to his or her legal status as a national of Japan.

Most Chosenese would have known they were not "Japanese" as defined by GHQ/SCAP and contemporary laws that reflected GHQ/SCAP directives about the treatment of "liberated" imperial subjects as "aliens" for registration and some other purposes. Intoxication with the news that Chosen had been "liberated" from Japan -- from Japan's control and jurisdiction, from Japan's rule -- distracted them from the realities of their legal status, assuming they understood such realities even when sober.

People are generally inclined to remain ignorant of matters of law until which time they personally confront the effects of laws. Even then, they may understand only the personal effects and not the general causes.

Not a few if not most "Koreans" -- certainly on the peninsula, but also in Occupied Japan, and elsewhere in the world -- apparently preferred celebrating what they took to be "liberation", to taking notice of the legal fact that "Korea" (Chosen) was still formally part of Japan, and that its "Koreans" (Chosenese) were still technically nationals of Japan. Only later did they discover that they had not truly been emancipated from the embrace of history and law -- that Korea had become Chosen, part of Japan -- and that Koreans had become Chosenese, subjects and nationals of Japan.


Choi Chang Hwa

Choi Chang Hwa

Tanaka's article (Tanaka 1987) was introduced in the Asahi Journal as proof that there was a connection between fingerprinting in the Alien Registration Law and Japanese imperialism of yesteryear. Dissenters were attacking the law as reminiscent of the past, and Tanaka's article showed continuity between social control mentalities past and present.

Takara Tetsumi cited Tanaka's article in his own examination of the constitutionality of the Alien Registration Law, in a review of the Fukuoka High Court's dismissal of an appeal by a fingerprint refuser in 1987. Takara argued that Tanaka's report substantiated claims made by the refuser's attorneys that the fingerprinting provision in the Alien Registration Law is a vestige of Japan's imperialism (1988, page 52, and note 18, page 55).

The refuser was Choi Chang Hwa (崔昌華 Ch'oi Ch'ang Hwa), a national of the Republic of Korea and a Christian minister in Japan, who had refused to give his fingerprint when renewing his alien registration in Kitakyushu city in Fukuoka prefecture on 18 November 1980. In January 1984, hearings began in the Kokura Branch of the Fukuoka District Court, where Ch'oe was being tried on charges of violating the Alien Registration Law. In August 1985, the court fined him 10,000 yen and he immediately appealed to the high court.

Ch'oe was the second alien to refuse in 1980 -- after Han Jong Suk (韓宗碩), who refused to give his fingerprint at the Shijuku ward office in Tokyo on 10 September 1980. Two months later, on 9 and 12 January 1981, both of Choe's daughters -- Choe Soen Ai (崔善愛) and Choe Soen Hae (崔善恵) -- also refused, in Kitakyushu city, adding more snow to the ball that quickly built up into the anti-fingerprint movement of the 1980s.


Choi Son Ae

Choi Son Ae (崔善愛) refused to give her fingerprint on 9 January 1981 in Kitakyushu. Choi's younger sister, Choi Song Hye (崔善恵), refused on 12 January 1981, three days later. Their father, Choi Chang Hwa (崔昌華), had refused to on 18 November 1980, a couple of months before his daughters.

Choi's name has been represented various ways. As a Korean name, 崔善愛 could be written in hangul as 최선애, which would be romanized Choe Sŏn Ae in the McCune-Reischauer system.

Most Japanese newspaper accounts at the time of her refusal kanized 崔善愛 as チョエ ソンエ (Choe Son'e). Most English newspaper accounts have romanized her name as Choi Son Ae or Choi Son-ae.

Her father was well-known for his advocacy of the right to insist that broadcasters pronounce his name as he wished, in the Korean way, rather than "Sai Shōka", the Sino-Japanese reading of 崔昌華. His name has been variously rendered in kana, usually as チェ・チャンホァ (Che Chanhoa) but also as チョエ・チャンホァ (Choe Chanhoa), and variously romanized, most comonly as Choi Chang-hwa but also as Chae Chang Hwa.

In the case of the the father's name, kana ン (-n) is meant to represent the velar "-ng", hence "Chanhoa" would be "Chang hwa". In the case of Son Ae's name, kana ン (-n) is meant to represent dental aveolar "-n", but in Korean the name would be read more like "So ne" (ソネ) than "Son'e" (ソンエ).

In the booklet described below, Choi presents her name in kana as チェ・ソンエ (Che Son'e). The back cover also shows a Certificate of Alien Registration valid into December 1999 with the name "崔善愛 LOUIS" on it. The colophon on the back cover gives the copyright information as "© Choi, Sun-Ae 2000".

The booklet includes an image of a 1988 appeal Choi submitted to the Ministry of Justice, on which she has written チョエ ソン エ (Choe Son E) in kana while signing "Choi, Sun-Ae" in roman script (Choi 2000:32).

Choi tells her own story in the following pamplet, which she published shortly after she became a Special Permanent Resident in 2000.

崔善愛 (チェ・ソンエ) (Choi Sun-Ae)
64ページ (岩波ブックレット No. 524)

Che Son'e [Choi Sun-Ae]
"Jibun no kuni" o toitsudzukete
(Aru shimon ōnatsu kyohi no hamon)
[Continuing to question "My own country"
(The ripples of a fingerprint impression refusal)
Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, December 2000
64 pages, pamhplet (Iwanami Booklet No. 524)

The front cover shows a Republic Korea passport over a Japan passort.

The back cover Choi's certificate of alien registration as of late 1999. The information shown on the card is as follows (translation and [bracketed] remarks are mine).

Top left

Name: 崔善愛 LOIS [Readings of three graphs not shown]
Date of birth: 1 December 1959 [Shown as Christian era date]
Address: Yokohama city, Aoba ward [Residence]
[Detailed address obscured]
Householder: [Three graphs obscured]
[世帯主等 Setainushi nado, Household head or other]

Top right

Nationality: Republic of Korea (Seoul)
Place of birth: Osaka city
Passport: 8 June 1995
Landing: 28 June 1988 [上陸許可 Jōriku kyoka, Landing permitted]
Status: Long-term resident [定住者 Teijōsha]
Period of stay: 20 June 1998

Middle center

Occupation: Music instructor
Address: [Obscured]
Issued by: Yokohama city, Aoba ward head

Lower right

Did not impress [fingerprint] [不押なつ Fuōnatsu]

The back cover shows in somewhat subdued print some headlines from Japanese newspaper articles, and the following overhead and headline of an article in English, attributed to Laurie Becklund, who is identified in the by-line as "Times Staff" -- referring to the Los Angeles Times.

All over the world there is discrimination, but at least
in the United States, the laws say there is equality; That is not so in Japan.

Japanese Student in U.S. to Defy
Her Country's Rules for Koreans

The inside front cover shows two images.

The first is of Choi's Permanent Residence Permit Certificate, issued by the Ministry of Justice to her on 1 October 1969, pursuant to a special status of residence law that came into effect from 1966, based on 1965 treaty agreements between Japan and ROK.

The second is of a stamp on a visas page in Choi's ROK passport showing a "Permission for Permanent Residence" stamp dated 3 April 2000, issued under the auspices of Article 6-2 of the supplementary provisions of the 1991 Special law concerning immigration control of those who seceded [separated] from [the] nationality [of Japan].

The caption under the 3 April 2003 residence permit states that this permit represented a restoration of her her permanent residence 14 years after she had lost this status. The caption also states that Article 6-2 of the supplementary provisions of the 1991 law was made for only one person -- namely Choi. She does not cite the article, or tell us anything about the amending law, but these particulars are as follows.

Article 6-2 was added to the supplementary provisions of the 1991 Special order by Article 13 of the supplementary provisions of Law No. 134 of 1999. The bill for this passed the Diet on 13 August 1999. The law was promulgated on 18 August 1999 in that day's Extra Issue Number 159 of the Official Gazette (官報号外第159号). The law came into effect from 1 April 2000, except Article 5 of the supplementary provisions, which came into effect on the day of promulgation.

Law No. 134 of 1999 is titled "Law revising parts of Alien Registration Law". This law includes the provsisions that ended the vestiges of fingerprinting in alien registration. Such revision laws commonly embed revisions to related laws.

Article 13 of the supplementary provisions of Law No. 134 added Article 6-2 after Article 6 of the supplementary provisions of the "Special law concerning the control of the exit-and-entry-of-the-country of persons who based on the Treaty of Peace with Japan seceded [separated] from the nationality of Japan and others" (Law No. 71 of 1991) as follows (structural translation mine).




(Special measure concerning persons were have been residing [in this country] having received permission for permanent residence based on the Old Japan-ROK Special Law)

Article 6-2

A person who, as one who had been residing [in Japan] having received permission of permanent residence based on the Old Japan-ROK Special Law [== 1966 Special status law], exited the country without having received permission of Article 26, Paragraph 1 of the Enter [country] Control Law [== Exit-enter Country, i.e., so-called "Immigration Control Law"] -- and who has been residing [in Japan] with a status of residence in the upper section of Supplementary Table Number 2 of the Enter Control Law on [as of] the day of enforcement of the Law revising part of the Alien Registration Law (Law No. 134 of 1999) [== 1 November 1991] -- when, after the same day [== 1 November 1991], [the person] came to reside [in Japan] with the status of residence of permanant resident of the same section [of Supplementary Table Number 2] -- shall be viewed as a Special Permanent Resident [as] determined in this law [== Law No. 71 of 1991].

Article 6-2 is thus very precisely stated. What, though, does it mean?

Article 26, Paragraph 1 of the Immigration Control Law concerns obtaining permission for re-entry.

Supplementary Table No. 2 of the Immigration Control Law itemizes non-restricted activity status of residence, i.e., status other than visas, which limit activites. Table No. 2 lists five such statuses: Permanent resident, Spouse or other Japanese, Spouse or other of permanent resident, and Settled (Long-term) resident. The "upper section" means the first such status, i.e., Permanent resident.

Article 6-2 thus allows an alien to acquire the status of a Special Permanent Residence, if the alien would otherwise have been qualified as an SPR, except for the fact that (1) the alien had left Japan without permission to return as a re-entrant (or was otherwise outside Japan and failed to receive such permission outside Japan), if (2) the alien had been residing in Japan when the SPR measure came into effect on 1 November 1991, and if (3) the alien had since 1 November 1991 become a permanent resident.

When returning to Japan in 1988 from her overseas studies, Choi found herself treated as a new entrant. Twelve years, on 3 April 2000, two days after Article 6-2 came into effect, Choi became a permanent resident. Under the terms of the article, she qualified as a Special Permanent Resident.

While it appears that Article 6-2 was embeded in Law No. 134 of 1999 with Choi's case in mind, I cannot confirm that she is the only person to have actually beneifited from its provisions. The fact that the article has remained in effect for about a decade suggests that it was also intended to facilitate the acquisition of SPR status by others in Choi's position.

Article 6-2 is now, as of this writing (October 2009), Article 4 in of the supplementary provisions of the 1991 law, as Articles 4 and 5 have been deleted. Article 4, and Article 3, are scheduled for deletion when Law No. 79 of 2009 comes into effect.

"a person who had dug a well"

Choi testified before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Councilors on 20 April 1999 (page 46). One member of the house said what happened to her was like "a person who had dug a well not being able to drink its water" -- referring to the efforts she made which resulted in the elimination of fingerprinting, only to have lost her own legal status (page 47).

In the course of the discussion, then Justice of Minister Jinnouchi, by way of apology, is supposed to have said that [the government] had done an excuseless thing to her. And he seemed to say that should she apply for general permanent residnce it would be approved.

Choi argued that "general permanent residence" is something that aliens who come to Japan and live for a while are able to have. Whereas the "agreement permanent residence" she had once had, had been based on the Japan-ROK agreement, and hence had an historically different nuance. [Permanent residence] wouldn't have any meaning for if it wasn't the "special agreement permanent" which had replaced the agreement-based status. Since she had been deprived of her treaty-based permanent residence by the discretionary powers of the Minister of Justice, why couldn't it be restored by the same discretionary powers? (Page 47).

The Ministry of Justice, however, had won in the courts, which had upheld the government's position on fingerprint refusers. In the end, a compromise was struck (my characterization), according to which if Choi would apply for general permanent residence, it would be recognized as Special Permanent Residence. This, however, would require a legal provision -- hence the addition of Article 6-2 to the supplementary provisions of the 1991 law. (Page 47)

"When you think of the manner of being [the character] of the Ministry of Justice until now," Choi writes, [this gesture on the part of the Minster of Justice] might be called epochal, a miracle" (page 46).

Choi was referring to Jinnouchi Takao (陣内孝雄 b1933), who served as the Minister of Justice between March and October 1999, during the incumbancy of Prime Minister Obuchi Keiz'ō (1937-2000, incumbant 1998-2000).


Ronald Fujiyoshi


1981-11-9 ロナルド・フジヨシ (ロン藤好) Ronald Fujiyoshi Kobe


Kathleen Morikawa



Robert Ricketts


Three fingerprint refusers

The Japanese text is from the June 1987, No. 95 issue of 水牛通信 (Suigyū tsūshin), which ran a summary of a statement Robert Ricketts was preparing for a court hearing in July.

The English text (and three notes) are from the 15-page statement published by Robert Ricketts on the eve of his first hearing before the Tokyo District Court on 6 July.

-- 公判に臨んでの所信


私を含め日本に定住する[在日韓国・朝鮮人の多く]は、日本で生きていかざるをえない、歴史的な背景を負っています。私もまた、今後とも日本で生活する意志を有しています。………私たち………の生活は、法よりもさらに深く、現実の社会と歴史とに根をおろしているからです。 鄭宏溶(在日韓国人押捺拒否者)

私は日本国に問わざるを得ません。偽[満洲]で中国人たちが銃剣とともに[常時]持たされた………指紋付きの居住証と、私たちに強制している指紋、あるいは外国人登録証と、一体どこが違うと言うのでしょうか。何の歴史的総括もされないまま、この指紋を認めることは、妄想を認めることであり、私たち中国人にとってはかつての屈辱の歴史を認めることであり、私自身にとっては、中国人としての誇りを持って生きることを根底から否定することに他ならないのです。 徐翠珍(中国人拒否者)

法律を守れと言われるが、その法律は一体誰が作るのか? 南アフリカでは、黒人の生存権と就労権を認めない法律を制定したのは、白人である。アメリカでは、夫に自分の妻を強姦する権利を与える法律を制定したのは、男たちである。………今日、世界の人々が人権や性の違いによって差別され、反目しあっている余裕はもうない。その正反対が真実とならなければならない。世界の全てのいのちの存続は、このことにかかっている。 アメリカ人の女性拒否者

The Alien Registration System on Trial

Robert Ricketts

Koreans live here not because we originally wanted to but because we were forced to by Japanese colonial policies . . . . Our lives are inseparably tied to Japan's [modern] history; our roots in this society run deeper than the law.

Chong Guan-yong,
Korean Refuser (1)

I ask the government: how are the fingerprint that I am forced to give and the passbook I must carry today different from the residence certificate, complete with fingerprint, that Chinese were forced to carry at bayonet point in the Japanese colony of "Manchuria"? for a Chinese, agreeing to be fingerprinted means condoning Japan's [pre-1945] aggression against China and the national humilitation we suffered at Japanese hands. For me personally, giving my fingerprint means denying all possibility of living here with a sense of pride in my Chinese heritage.

Jo Suichin,
Chinese Refuser (2)

We are told to obey the law, but who makes the law? In South Africa, whites make laws tehat deny blacks the right to live and work where they please. In the United States, men make laws that give husbands the right to rape their wives. . . . We can no longer afford to divide and oppress people on the basis of race or sex. Our survival on this planet depends on our doing the very opposite.

U.S. Refuser (3)


(1) Chong Gyan-yong is a 26-year-old second-generation Korean born in Japan. In March 1986, the MOJ slashed Chon's three-year visa to one year in reprisal for his refusal to fingerprint. (Chong's father was conscripted by the Japanese military during World War II. After the war, he returned to Korea but finding no work entered Japan "illegally." Since then, the Chongs have had only three-year visas.) In March 1987, Chong refused to apply for a new visa to protest the MOJ's arbitrary act. He now faces deportation.

(2) Jo Suichin, a kindergarten teacher, was one of five people arrested in December 1986 for refusal. She is basing her court case on Japan's fingerprint policy in Manchuria, which she says is the precursor of the present system.

(3) The U.S. refuser who wrote this returned to the United States for family reasons last year. Since refusers are denied re-entry visas, she was forced to leave Japan without one. When she attempted to re-enter in September 1986 from Greece, she was kept waiting by the Japanese Embassy for two months, with her husband and three Children (all Japanese citizens), before being allowed back in. Her three-year spouse visa was cut to six months.


Kim Myong Sik



Chong Jong Mo

Chong Jong Mo (鄭正模、チョン・ションモ、Chon Shonmo) [Choung Choung Mo], was born in Chosen in 1919. He refused to be fingerprinted in Kashiwa, in Chiba prefecture, on XXXX

Chong's story is the subject of at least two books, the following of which was published during his fingerprint refusal in the late 1980s.

1988年3月25日 (第1刷)
1988年6月20日 (第3刷)

Hayashi Eidai
Chōsen kaikyō: Fuakute kurai rekishi
[The Chosen straits: Its deep dark history]
Tokyo: Akashi Shoten
25 March 1988 (1st printing)
30 June 1998 (3rd printing)
340 pages, softcover, jacket

The colophon of this book gives and address in Kashiwa city, in Chiba prefecture, and a phone number where Chong refused to provide his fingerprints, and

鄭正模 (チョン・ションモ) さんの強制連行体験と、同胞を訪ねる旅。

Chong is also the narrator of the story told in the following book, which I have not yet seen, which reportedly depicts the activities of youth who served as messengers (orderlies) in an independence underground group.

山下雅子 (著)
鄭正模 (チョン ジョンも) (語り)
走れ! 少年伝令隊
(ぼくら [僕ら] は天皇の国とたたかった)

Yamashita Masako (author)
Chong Jong Mo (Chon Jonmo) (narrator)
Hasshire! Shōnen denreitai
(Bokura wa tennō no kuni to tatakatta)
[Run! Boy orderly squadron
(We fought the tennoō's [emperor's] country)]
Tokyo: Takushoku Shobō, July 1994
165 pages, hardcover



Kim Duk Hwan (金徳煥) refused to give his fingerprints at Ikuno-ku in Osaka on 9 May 1985. The following boook concerns his case.

イギョラ! 이 겨 라 ガンバレ

Kimu Doku Fan shi no gaitōhō saiban o shien suru kai
[Association supporting the Alien Registration Law trial of Kim Duk Hwan]
Igyōra! (Igyŏra Ganbare)
[Hang in there!]
(Tokkan san no shimon saiban)
[(The fingerprint trial of Tokkan)]
Tokyo: Shinkansha, October 1990
318 pages, hardcover

The graphs for Kim's name are introduced in the book with furigana reading キムドクファン (Kimu Doku Fan), which corresponds to the Sino-Korean reading of 金徳煥. The hangul reading would be 김덕환 (Kim Tŏk Hwan).

The subtitle of the book refers to Kim as トッカン (Tokkan), the Sino-Japanese reading of of his personal name (徳煥). The Sino-Japanese reading of 金 (Kim, Kimu) would be キン (Kin). Tokkan (トッカン) would be the usual contraction of Tokukan (トクカン).


Jo Suichin


Jo Suichin [Jo Sui Chin] [Xu Cui Zhen] [Zu Cuizhen] Kobe-born national of China. Refused on 20 May 1985 at the Nishinari-ku ward office in Osaka city.

In 1970 she began working at private nursery school in Nishinari-ku in Osaka after graduating from Mukogawa Junior College. She lost her job in 1971 because of her nationality when the facility was taken over by Osaka city. A year and a half later, after negotiation with the city, insisting that the nationality clause was discriminatory, she was reinstated. At a press conference she remarked that Chinese have the same historical experience as Koreans, in that Japan had forcibly fingerprinted people in the erstwhile state of Manchoukuo. (Asahi shinbun, 21 May 1985, Chokan, page 23; The Daily Yomiuri, 22 May 1985, page 2)

Jo Suichin (徐翠珍 ジョ・スイチン) is usually billed as the first Chinese in Japan to refuse to be fingerprinted. Osaka prefectural police arrested her at her home on 12 December 1986. She made her often-cited statement at an Osaka District Court hearing on 23 March 1987.

Jo and 32 others on trial for violating the Alien Registration Law at the time of Hirohito's death were recipients of a general amnesty. In January 1990, Jo and others filed a suit in the Osaka District Court alleging that her arrest was excessive. She partly won, but the Osaka High Court reversed the decision of the lower court, and she appealed to the Supreme Court.

On 14 August 1990, Kim Songil (金成日), Jo Suichin, and three other alien residents of Japan mailed their alien registration certificates to then prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki (海部俊樹). They were expected to reach Kaifu the next day, which marked the day in 1945 that Hirohito's acceptance of the terms of surrender of the Potsdam Declaration was broadcast. Others have joined this movement.

Jo has told her story in several publications. The most easily available is the October 2001 article in Sekai by Tanaka Nobumasa (田中伸尚), the seventh in his "people who secure the Constitution" (憲法を獲得する人びと) series. His series, with the article on Jo, was published as a book in 2002 by Iwanami Shoten, which published Sekai, a rather liberal opinion magazine.

田中伸尚 Tanaka Nobumasa
Dokyumento: Kenpo o kakutoku suru hitobito
[People who secure the Constitution: A document]
Tokyo: Kawanami Shoten, 2002
273 pages, hardcover

The Sekai feature alludes to the new edition of Tanaka Hiroshi's Zainichi gaikokujin in the Iwanami paperback series as the source of her claim that fingerprinting began in Manchuria in 1924.

Chapter three of the original edition of this book, published in 1991, is dedicated to fingerprinting and the anti-fingerprint movement of the 1980s. Tanaka introduces Jo Suichun's refusal by way of prefacing his story about fingerprinting in Manchuria (Takana 1991, pages 88-89).

Tanaka reports that Jo made the following statement in her court testimony (my translation).


I have to ask the State of Japan. What is the difference between the residence certificate with a fingerprint that Chinese were made to carry (this too was to be carried at all times) at bayonet point in sham "Manchuria", and the fingerprints, or the Alien Registration Certificate, that are forced upon us [today in Japan]?

In his 1991 book, Takaka states that he and a friend visited northern China during the summer of 1987 and talked to a number of people who had experienced fingerprinting. He attributes the 1924 date to a researcher familiar with the history of history of the Fushun coal mines.

Tanaka mentions a 国民手帳 (national handbook) with a fingerprint under a photograph on exhibit at a historical museum in Yanji (延吉) city, in the present Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin province of northeas China (Tanaka 1991, page 89).

Yanji corresponds to the Manchurian city of Yenki (Yenchi) in Chientao, where the "Chosenese Concentration-Village Movement" began in 1933. The history of Korean migration into the Chientao area, however, predates the annexation of Korea by many years. The district, much of it under the control of a Japanese consulate, became all but an extension of the Japanese territory of Chosen, even before the establishment of Manchoukuo in 1932. (SMR Company Reports on Progress in Manchuria)

Jo has also been active in campaigning for suffrage for aliens in Japan.

Matoba Michiko


金甲石 Kim Kapsŏk 김갑석

Matoba Michiko (的場みち子) refused to give her fingerprint in the Sakyo-ku ward office in Kyoto on the morning of 23 [22?] May 1985. Matoba, born in Kyoto, married Kim Kapsouk (金甲石) in 1955. She was a national of Japan and he was a national of the Republic the Korea. Three years later she became a national of the Republic of Korea, which caused her to lose her Japanese nationality.

Newspapers billed her as the first "former Japanese" to refuse (Asahi shinbun, 23 May 1985, Chokan, page 18).









Going the distance



Rejecting amnesty



Burning alien registration cards



Returning alien registration cards



Disposal of fingerprint records



Restoring order

The Ministry of Justice did what any self-respecting bureaucracy would do in such a situation: it sought to revise the law in such a way as to give it the power it needed to do what it wanted.

MOJ knew that fingerprinting, as a matter of alien registration, was useless and wasteful. The refusal issue was not really about fingerprinting, but about law and order

In particular, the refusal issue was about (1) the control of aliens who would dare violate a law, and (2) the control of municipalities that would sympathize with, even aid and abet, willful violations of the law.

If local authorities were unwilling to maintain order, then the Ministry of Justice would take charge of the registration process. And by the fall of 1987, the Diet had given MOJ the power it wanted.


Effects of 1988 revisions

Law No. 102 of 26 September 1987, which came into force from 1 June 1988, revised the 1952 Alien Registration Law in ways that allowed the the Ministry of Justice to achieve several goals.

Immigration Bureau control of registration

One goal was to bring the control of alien registration under the Immigration Bureau rather than entrust it entirely to local municipalities.

This goal was faciliated by computerization of alien registration records at the Immigration Bureau, which allowed the Immigration Bureau to issue laminated registration cards, in lieu of the bulky 14-page booklets which had been issued by local offices.

Head off escalation of fingerprint movement

Another goal was to take the wind out of the sails of the anti-fingerprint movement by continuing to criminalize only the most vulnerable -- namely, first-time refusers.

The vast majority of the about eight-hundred known fingerprint refusers at the time were permanent residents or other settled aliens who had given their fingerprints on one or more occasions before refusing. The 1988 revisions ended the effectiveness of their refusals by recognizing their prints on record as sufficient for purposes of compliance with the law, which eliminated them from the list of punishable violators.

Only registered or registering aliens aged 16 or older, who had never given a fingerprint, would face punishment if they refused or continued to refuse to abide by the law. This left the anti-fingerprint movement with only a few dozen first-time refusers -- mostly young ROK nationals, Chosenese, or ROC nationals who had recently turned 16.

Continuing crackdown

As a result of the revisions, refusers whose prints were on record were generally able to obtain re-entry permits, and statuses of residence were restored to those whose status had been downgraded. However, first-time refusers continued to be denied re-entry permits, which put a damper on the plans of students and others who had plans to travel abroad. And some first-time refusers who were abroad had trouble getting back in the country.

To be continued.

Some fingerprinting of aliens, including some Japanese subjects of the former territories of Taiwan and Chosen who came to be treated as aliens before the conclusion of peace treaties that formally deprived them of their Japanese nationality, seems to have begun as early as 1946. However, the fingerprinting of aliens was first legally mandated by the 1952 Alien Registration Law (Showa 27-4-28, Law No. 125).

The 1952 law, which abolished the Alien Registration Order of 1947 (Imperial Order No. 207), required that all aliens residing in Japan register in the municipality where they were residing, within 60 days [90 days in current law] of their landing if they entered Japan as aliens, or within 30 days [60 days in current law] after becoming aliens in Japan (as through birth or loss of Japanese nationality).

Article 14 of the 1952 law provided that all aliens over 14 years of age, who intended to reside in Japan for more than one year, have their fingerprints taken on the alien registration certificate itself and on two fingerprint cards. However, the article was not enforced until 27 April 1955, when specific regulations concerning alien fingerprinting were stipulated in both the Cabinet Order Regarding Fingerprinting in the Alien Registration Law [Gaikokujin toroku ho no shimon ni kan suru seirei] and the Alien Fingerprinting Regulations [Gaikokujin shimon onatsu Kisoku] (Showa 30-4-27, Ministry of Justice Order No. 46).

Fingerprinting for purposes of alien registration involved the taking of prints of the first digit of an index finger. Police were not authorized to use the prints, or to otherwise examine an alien's registration file, without a warrant. In any event, the prints were taken only for identification purposes. Only full sets of rolled prints are useful for forensic purposes -- as in a criminal investigation, or in the screening of police records for criminal history.

Fingerprint refusal movement

In 1981, Japan acceded to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and the following year it acceded to the 1967 Protocol regarding this convention. In 1981, the Immigration Control Order [Shutsunyukoku Kanri Rei] (Showa 26-10-4, Cabinet Order No. 319) was revised to reflect Japan's new legal obligations regarding refugee recognition. The order was renamed the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law [Shutsunyukoku kanri oyobi nanmin nintei ho], and the law came into effect on 1 January 1982 (Showa 56-10-28, Ministry of Justice Order No. 54).

Disenchanted by the government's failure to revise the Alien Registration Law, especially as it applied to aliens who had been residing in Japan before the end of the war and their descendants, a number of resident foreigners refused to give their fingerprints. While most refusers were Koreans, a number of high-profile refusers and movement leaders were Europeans and Americans -- a showing of support not welcome by all Korean activists, some of whom viewed the presence of non-Koreans as a threat to the viewpoint that Japanese laws should exceptionalize Koreans.

Some refusers were reported to the police by their local municipal offices, which under the laws then in operation had jurisdiction over alien registration files. Reported refusers were generally arrested and some appealed their court convictions.

Many refusers, however, were never subjected to police action, for about one-third of Japan's then roughly 3,000 municipalities refused to comply with a Ministry of Justice directive to report refusers. A number of municipalities, such as Kawasaki, openly defied the ministry, publicly declaring that it was their duty to protect the rights of their alien residents.


Increase in national government authority

1992 revisions in the Alien Registration Law exempted permanent residents from the fingerprinting requirement, but non-permanent residents still had to comply. The 1992 Alien Registration Law Enforcement Regulations (Gaikoku toroku ho shiko kisoku [Heisei 4-11-27, Ministry of Justice Order No. 36] formally rescinded the 1955 Ministry of Justice fingerprinting order, as procedures for taking fingerprints fundamentally changed.

The new law shifted control of alien registration from local governments to the Immigration Bureau. Previously, local governments had processed applications and directly issued alien registration booklets under their own authority. Now they would submit applications to the Immigration Bureau, which would issue plastic alien registration cards and otherwise exercise primary control over alien registration.


All alien registration fingerprinting abolished

The fingerprinting of non-permanent aliens was abolished in 1999 revisions to the Alien Registration Law (Heisei 11-8-18, Law No. 134) which came into effect from 4 April 2000. The law now requires only a photograph and information about family members in Japan for recording in what amounted to a quasi family register -- though it was nothing like a Japanese family register.

A few district court decisions partly sided with defendants who had been prosecuted for refusing to give a fingerprint, finding negligence in the procedures by which law enforcement agencies had obtained arrest warrants or otherwise treated them. However, all judgments which addressed the legality of the fingerprinting of aliens, including ROK nationals with treaty-accorded permanent residence [kyotei eijuken], rejected claims that the Alien Registration Law violated the Constitution.

New "war on terrorism" legislation

Japan has been under pressure from within, and from the United States, to strengthen its ability to prevent foreign terrorists from entering the country. Those in government charged with doing so have come with the idea of fingerprinting all aliens except those that now have special permanent residence.

In the past, the Ministry of Justice has refused to draw a line between general and special permanent residency in immigration and alien registration. Naturalization requisites are somewhat relaxed for people with such status who wish to become Japanese. So long as they remain foreigners, though, they have been treated the same as other aliens in matters of immigration and registration.

Special permanent residents to be excluded

Historically, the fingerprinting of aliens was a matter of alien registration, not immigration. All aliens required to register were obliged to allow a municipal clerk to make duplicate prints of an index finger.

In a bill submitted to the Diet on 7 March 2006, however, a entirely different fingerprinting scheme would be introduced as a matter of immigration. And whereas in the past all resident aliens were fingerprinted, the new scheme would treat special permanent residents as Japanese -- i.e., they would be allowed to enter Japan without scrutinizing the prints of their index fingers.

Authorities are either convinced that special permanent residents pose no greater threat than Japanese -- because most were born and raised in Japan and are totally assimilated -- or they are simply wary of inviting the wrath of ROK activists in Japan if not also the ROK government. Though small in number, Korean voices in Japan are capable of making lots of noise and gaining the sort of public sympathy that would defeat a bill that included special permanent residents.

Ironically, the ROK government has been fingerprinting all of its nationals -- except those domiciled in Japan with special permanent residency -- for many decades. The National Police Agency in Japan is known to want to fingerprint all Japanese as well, but most Japanese are adamantly opposed to fingerprinting, as they associate it with criminal suspicion rather than security or protection.

"ethnic Koreans" do not exist

The new bill is greatly misunderstood, especially in foreign language media, where mentions of "zainichi Kankokujin" in Japanese articles about the bill (and other issues) is commonly mistranslated as "ethnic Koreans". This mistranslation has been encouraged by publicists for Korean ethnonationalism, who have used "zainichi" as a label for everyone in Japan they would define as "Korean" by putative race or ethnicity, regardless of nationality.

However, the term "zainichi" refers only to the condition of "being in Japan". When used as shorthand for Koreans, Chinese, and others who are Special Permanent Residents, it denotes only alien nationality, not race or ethnicity.

One can also speak of "zainichi Nihonjin" in reference to "Japanese in Japan" or "Japan-resident Japanese" -- as opposed to "kaigai Nihonjin" or "overseas Japanese".


My own fingerprint refusal

I refused to give my fingerprint on 4 July 1986 and continued to refuse through 11 May 1988. After this the law changed and I was no longer required to give a new print in order to renew my registration.

I have summarized some of the details of my refusal below. The month or so before I refused, I told my parents what I intended to do, and that I might not be able to visit them for a while.

My mother, worried that I was about to jeopordize my freedom, gave me this advice in a letter dated 7 June 1986.

[ 7 June 1986 ]

Billy, your letter threw us into a tizzy. You didn't explain why the fingerprinting was being done, but I rather think it is a routine thing now in most countries in order to keep track of non-citizens -- and so for us I'm concerned it falls in the same category as swearing the oath of allegiance when entering the armed forces. You can do it with the same "tongue in cheek", and it will not change or take away from your personal freedom or spirit of independence. It will soon be that everyone in the U.S., starting with small children, will be fingerprinted -- partially as a means of identification & for protection in case the child is lost or kidnapped, etc. Anyway -- back to you. I do hope you reconsider. I can't bear thinking that your trips home would come to an end. It is true that we can come to see you, but the time for that is limited, too; and there could well be a real need for you to make the trip home & still be able to get back into Japan. We talked about this when [your brother] and [your sister-in-law] were here last month & all hoped you could find a workable solution. Sometimes it is most important that we take a stand on some issue, but there are so many reasons in this instance to be flexible. I'm not saying this very well, but the whole idea is that we want you to have the freedom to travel wherever you'd like & still return to your home in Japan without causing a stressful situation. Life's too short Billy; so let'm get your prints & forget the whole bit.

My mother, a graceful practioneer of the art of getting along in a graceless world, had generally been very supportive of my run-ins with authority, both in school and in the army. This was one of the rare times I did not heed her advice.

I can't remember how I replied to put her mind at ease. But a letter she wrote a month later included this paragraph.

[ 4 July 1986 ]

Billy, we accept your decision on the fingerprinting issue, and I admire your wanting to try to change the system that does seem to be unfair to so many people who live in Japan. Whatever comes of this, we can handle it. [Your brother] sent us a copy of an article about Roy Takumi. Had you sent that to [him]?

What are mothers for. It was a couple of years before I was able to visit my parents again.

I had not, in fact, sent my brother an article about Roy Takumi. My brother, who was living in Hawaii, sent my mother an article from a local paper, reporting Takumi's support of the anti-fingerprinting movement in Japan, which was coming to a head at the time.

I had some contact with Roy Takumi in Japan, who for a while was affiliated with the Korean Christian Center in Japan, in Osaka. I cannot recall particulars about our contact at this date, over two decades later, but apparently he called me, aware of my writing and activism.

I have a hand-written letter dated 22 April 1986 from Becky Jenkins, representing a committee for the study of the fingerprinting issue at the center, full of information about recent developments concerning the cases of Ron Fujiyoshi, Choi Chung Hwa, and Katherine Morikawa, and other activists. She wrote that "One of our group members, Roy Takumi, talked with you on the phone around the middle of March about the fingerprinting issue."

Apparently I replied to Jenkin's letter, for I have another letter from her dated 26 July 1986 thanking me for materials which it appears I sent her related to naturalization and nationality. In this letter, she prefaces remarks about developments in various cases with this information about Takumi: "You asked in your letter about Roy Takumi -- he's gone back to the States and doesn't plan to return in the near future, but is continuing support from the fingerprinting movement from Hawaii. He returned to Hawaii in April."

Roy Takumi and Ronald Fujiyoshi

In 1986, Roy Takumi, American Friends Service Community, Hawaii, joined an appeal to the Japanese government in support of Kim Myong-shik, a fingerprint refuser from the Republic of Korea whose visa expired on 16 June.

Roy M. Takumi, Democrat, was born in Hawaii in 1952. He was elected to the House of Representatives of the State of Hawai'i in 1992 and is presently (2007) chair of the state's House Education Committee.

According to the Education Commission of the States website, "Prior to his election to public office, Takumi worked as a community organizer in Japan, a union organizer in Hawaii, and for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker-based peace and justice organization."

In November 1989, Takumi made a speech in Okinawa, at the Japan Peace Conference Against Military Bases and Alliances, called "Challenging U.S. Militarism in Hawai'i and Okinawa". Excerpts from the speech were later published in Race, Poverty & the Environment, a journal for social and environmental justice (Volume IV Number 4, Nolume V Number 1, Spring-Summer, 1994, pages 8-9).

Roy Takumi served with AFSC in Japan. He participated in the support of Korean laborers living in Ikuno-ku in Osaka city at the time Ronald Fujiyoshi was working with Koreans in neighboring Kobe.

In April 1986, supporters of Ronald S. Fujiyoshi published a spiral-bound pamphlet called "Japan's Assdimilation and Control Policy". The pamphlet runs 57 pages plus a table of contents. These 58 pages are preceded by an introduction written by Roy Takumi on American Friends Service Committee letterhead.

The contents consist mainly of the statements Fujiyoshi made during his hearings at Kobe District Court. The statements are prefaced by an article entitled "Controlling Japan's Unwanted Foreigners" and a "Chronology of Ronald Fujiyoshi's Trial". The article, by the Committee for the Study of the Fingerprinting System, originally appeared in Vol. 14, No. 4 (1982) of AMPO (Japan-Asia Quarterly Review).

An appendix following the final statement includes three items related to correspondence between Congressman Ron Dellum's and the Japanese Ministry of Defense, and a bibliography.

Fujiyoshi is relatively invisible in todays Internet world. Still, his name pops up here and there, sometimes on committees that include Takumi, sometimes on anti-fingerprint petitions.

Circa 2000, both Fujiyoshi and Takumi were members of the U.S.-Japan Committee for Racial Justice, a organization then directed by the late Reverend Seiichi Michael Yasutake (1920-2001), an Episcopalian priest and civil rights activist.

More recently, a petition called "Abolition of Non Japanese fingerprinting program" since fall 2007" seeks "to abolish the reestablishment of fingerprinting for all foreigners entering Japan - including residents - as introduced by the revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to take effect from November 20th, 2007 in Japan." Signator No. 2305 is Ronald Fujiyoshi, comments: "Stop the slide toward fascism" (iPetitions).


1975 through 1983 visas

My present continuous stay in Japan began in July 1975. Within a month I had found a home in Nagareyama and shortly after that I registered as an alien at the Nagareyama city hall. I do not have a record of this first visit, but of course I gave my fingerprint, as I had in both Urawa city in Saitama prefecture, and Nakano-ku ward in Tokyo, during my 1970-1972 sojourn in Japan.

As I had to renew my 4-1-8 visa for research every year, I made annual visits to the Nagareyama city hall to update my alien registration record. I do not remember the details of the procedures with respect to fingerprinting -- except that a print of the tip of my left index finger was rolled on two cards.


1983 permanent resident

In the spring of 1982, I filed an application for permanent residence (then called 4-1-14). It petition should have been approved within six months, but a year later I received a call from the Immigration Bureau asking why I had not registered my children as aliens. My explanation that their nationality confirmation cases were still under appeal did not travel. On my birthday that year, I was informed that my petition had been denied.

In June 1983 I registered my children, and in August I refiled the same application, updating only the basic petition form and the health exam. A week or so later a regional summary court found me guilty of violating the Alien Registration Law. I was fined 5,000 yen for each of two counts, one count for each child, and paid the fine by mail.

I was granted permanent residence in October 1983 about two-and-a-half months after reapplying. I was therefore a permanent resident when I refused to give my fingerprint in 1986.


1986-1988 refusal

I refused to give my fingerprint on 4 July 1986 and continued to refuse through May 1988. After this the law changed and I was no longer required to give a new print in order to renew my registration.

1986-1987 -- monthly extensions for one year

For the first year I continued to use my previous registration certificate. Each month, for twelve months, a standard form called "Notification of (change of) designated period for delibery of Alien Registration Certificate" was stapled and folded into the booklet to extend its validity another month. The form showed my particulars, stipulated a three day window within which I was to report to city hall for delivery of a new alien registration certificate or face punishment, and bore the mayors seal.

Delivery of new certificate was, of course, conditioned on my willingness to give a new fingerprint. Since each time I refused, I would be given another month to comply.

1987 -- five-year certificate without fingerprint

In the fall of 1987, after one year of receiving monthly extensions, I was issued a new certificate that was valid for five years. A clerk had written 指紋不押なつ (shimon fuōnatsu) or "fingerprint not impressed" in the fingerprint box.

On the particulars page was an entry stating that on Showa 61-7-4 I had "not impressed fingerprint on application of paragraph 1 of article 11 of [Alien Registration] Law". This entry bore the mayor's familyname seal (Akimoto).

As I was still violating the law, I still had to report for monthly conferences.

1986-1987 -- monthly conferences

Once a month, from August 1986 to May 1988, I report to the Nagareyama city hall for a conference with officials of the Shiminka (市民課) or "City Affiliate [Resident] Section" ("Citizen Section" is a mistranslation). I usually met with the head of the section and a registration clerk. A couple of times the deputy mayor joined in the chat. One session was even held in his office. I never met the mayor though he was a familiar figure in the facility.

Everyone was always very cordial. At the first couple of meetings we talked about my refusal after the usual change of pleasantries. In later meetings we talked only about the weather, the season, life in the city, and life in general. We talked for about thirty minutes, sometimes longer, in a small conference room with a large outside window, always over tea in an ordinary cup with no lid or saucer. Once or twice a senbei or two appeared.

The people at Nagareyama city hall knew I was not going to yield. They knew about the nationality litigation, which was still in progress. They knew -- because most likely they had filed perfunctory notices with the regional summary court -- about my "failure" to register my children as aliens.

They also knew what was at stake politically. They knew that the regional union of local civil servants, consisting of the more radical employees at Nagareyama and neighboring Kashiwa city halls, had invited me to attented a meeting talk about my case. They knew the union wanted to link my case with that of a Korean refuser in Kashiwa, who also attended the meeting, and add alien fingerprinting to the list of human rights issues on their proletarian angenda.

And they knew I had declined to join the union's cause -- just as I had declined to allow my children's nationality cases to be co-opted by human rights groups, which didn't really understand the issues but needed a cause to publicize their existence and promote their ideology.

1988 -- last monthly conference before change in law

My last monthly meeting with the people at Nagareyama city hall was on 11 May 1988 -- the eve of 1 June, when the new revisions would come into force. This was also on the eve of my move to Abiko, as a result of my decision to live apart from my family.

At this last meeting, I told the chief of the Shiminka at Nagareyama city hall that I might be moving to Abiko. He promptly provided me with a letter to give to his counterpart at Abiko city hall at which time I decided to change my domicile.

The letter, intended to smooth my transition, briefly explained the anomalies in my record due to my refusal to be fingerprinted. The chief included his meishi with the letter and invited his counterpart to call him if there were any questions.


1992 renewal and laminated card

I did not get around to officially changing my domicile to Abiko until 1992. When I did, though, I passed on the chief's letter, so his counterpart was fully aware of my history of refusal. And my history of refusal became a cause for some levity.

Although I had moved from Nagareyama to Abiko in 1988, I declared the Abiko address to be an office and library, in order to maintain my legal residence in Nagareyama. In August 1992, Nagareyama city hall sent a standard reminder to my Nagareyama address, to the effect that it was time to renew my alien registration.

The notification gave me a window of from 8 September to 7 October 1992 to renew my registration. I was to bring my Certificate of Alien Registration and my seal (if I had one), my Passport (if I had one), and two copies of an appropriate photograph. The postcard also stated that it would take a few weeks to make a new "laminated card type Registration Certificate", so I would have to make another appearance to receive the new certificate.

Having recently divorced, I decided change my legal residence to Abiko. So on 5 October 1992 I applied for both a change of domicile and a renewal at Abiko city hall, and picked up my new laminated card on 23 October.

There was a fingerprint on my card because the 1992 revisions exempting permanent residents from fingerprints --though promulgated on 1 June -- would not come into effect until 8 January the following year. The fingerprint had been scanned from the last fingerprint card on file before I refused, and electronically transferred to the laminated card.

The laminated card was a bit larger than the present plastic cards. It came in a clear plastic protector with a "Ministry of Justice Japan" seal in the lower right corner, placed there to cover the fingerprint in the same corner of the card. Proud beyond words of my pre-refusal fingerprint, though, I carried the new card without the "modesty panel" protector.

A few activists refused to accept a new card with fingerprints. I accepted mine because I figured the war was over. Refusal to accept the card would amount to pissing into the wind. Municipal halls continued to register aliens, but the Immigration Bureau now issued the certificate cards and had direct authority over violators.


1997 renewal

When applying for both renewal and change of domicile at Abiko, I drew a smile from the clerk who handled the application when I joked about the irony of the timing. I would not be able to get a card without a print for five more years.

Pursuant to the 1988 revisions, the laminated card I received in 1992 would come up for renewal on my birthday in 1997. The smaller, credit-card-sized plastic certificate I received that year was the first not to have my fingerprint. It, too, came in a plastic protector with the MOJ seal discretely hiding the place provided for a fingerprint.


2002 renewal

By 2002, when I again renewed this card, fingerprint prints were no longer required as a matter of alien registration. My new card would be good for seven years. It, too, came in a plastic protector with the now trademark blue MOJ seal -- there not to hide anything, but to remind the bearer of who's in charge.