Last week I went to renew my driver's license. The process is a big hassle, but it got me thinking about forms of ID that I use.
Lots of people in Japan don't drive at all, are what is called a "paper driver". They're scared to get on the road, don't own cars, yet have the "gold" license, the reward for a longstanding excellent driving record. But people use their driver's licenses as ID cards.
Often when I travel domestically, hotels ask me for my passport. Not only do they request it, they want to photocopy it too. This pisses me off, because Japanese citizens aren't asked for a passport when they go to a hotel, and are often not asked for any identification at all. And I make a point of NOT carrying my passport unless I am traveling overseas – I don't need another excuse to lose it. In fact, domestic flights don't require any kind of ID at all – when I went to Sapporo a few weeks ago, I showed zero ID when checking in, going through security, and boarding the plane. So I leave it safely locked up at home.
I find that I get a different reaction using my DL than using my alien card. Using the alien card, people speak English to me, want to make copies, request my passport, and generally act befuddled. Using my DL, people tend to speak Japanese and take it in stride. I get fewer awkward interactions and fewer invasive requests. I chalk this up to a few things:
a. people are more used to dealing with driver's licenses, they know what to do with them
b. people see a DL and figure I'm not a tourist
c. without the big flashing GAIJIN sign (my face aside), people feel more able to treat me normally
d. people probably figure that if I'm able to drive, I can understand how to fill out a GD hotel check in form
Any other guesses? What's your experience? I definitely prefer using my DL as ID, it makes me pissed off quite a bit less.