Tuesday, February 22, 2011

on identification

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 do tote my gaijin card, though, because it's required by law (even though a cop supposedly needs a legitimate reason to ask me to see it). But more often then not, when asked to produce a piece of identification, I whip out my DL.

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.


  1. that's funny. This morning I got a call from some chick at our General Affairs Dept.

    "Hey Biggie, it's Chick. Can you tell me your alien registration status?"
    Me: "Huh, what's that all about?!"
    "Yes, we are submitting all data of the foreigners working with us to the local Police and Immigration Offices."
    Me: "No, we are not."
    Chick: "???"

  2. Yeah - hard to appreciate the feeling when you don't experience it. A very different feel here in Australia... and I can't help but feel this just shows up that weakspot in the Japanese psyche. Fear of the unknown - and wanting to have people nicely categorised.

    I am sure that if I were living in Japan I'd be getting pretty steamed up about it.

    I really don't understand the whole paper driver concept in Japan. Especially given that licences are so expensive to get in the first place.

  3. PS - looking forward to Sapporo posts... come on, don't hold out on us.

  4. If you have an ARC, they can't ask for your passport just because you're a foreigner. They can only copy tourists' passports.

    Go here for info (in English and Japanese). Print out the law and show it to the next idiot who gives you grief.


  5. Biggie - what the hell for? Can they do that? I'm glad you said no, would like to know how that turned out. Did she just give up or are they pursuing it?

  6. Ben, I'll get to that next, promise~ I don't mean to be a tease.

    Yeah, almost everyone goes to driving school, which costs anywhere from 15 man (with discounts for being a student or whatever) to 30 man and more.

    As for me, my dad taught me in the parking lot in an old Volvo.

  7. Thanks Rose. I don't carry my passport, so it's easy to refuse. I just say NO I don't have it and point to whatever form of ID I do have and they usually let it go. I haven't encountered anyone yet who didn't back down when rebutted with a valid address and DL.

    Good to know the law, thought it still steams me that J customers (or customers that can pass for J) usually don't get asked for ID period.

  8. No, of course J customers never get bothered for ID. Didn't you know that Japanese people never commit crimes?