New Revisions to Alien Law Harshly Criticized

Norwegian missionaries say anti-fingerprinting issue not addressed


OSAKA — Norwegian missionaries in Kansai claim the revisions to Japan’s Alien Registration Law, which take effect June 1, won’t begin to solve the anti-fingerprinting issue among foreign residents.

“We want to express deep regret that Japanese authorities have not been willing to listen to the many voices protesting” the obligatory fingerprinting issue of foreign residents, the missionaries said in a recent public statement.

The announcement was signed by 32 members of the Norwegian Missionary Society and 12 members of the Lutheran Free Church of Norway.

One of the signers, the Rev. Alf Idland, considers the fingerprinting law an outdated, useless one that only creates bad feelings among Japan’s foreign residents.

The 44-year-old pastor of the Rokko Lutheran Church in Kobe wants to see the fingerprinting system abolished by the Ministry of Justice.

“I think they could have dropped fingerprinting as a practice,” he said.

“With the technology and the developed computer systems here in Japan, it shouldn’t be difficult to keep necessary registration of foreigners without having their fingerprinting” taken, Idland said.

While mandatory fingerprinting remains under the new law, some aspects of the recently approved revisions appear to take foreign residents’ complaints into limited consideration.

Starting in June, foreign residents aged 16 or older who live in Japan more than three months will be required to imprint their left index finger only once during their stay in Japan, instead of every five years as the law now states.

Also, a 13-page “certificate of alien registration” booklet containing a foreign resident’s fingerprint, photograph and personal information will be scrapped under the new rules. A computer-coded, laminated card will be issued instead.

But overall, the revised law clearly allows Japanese immigration officials an even tighter reign over foreign residents than before.

Critics say the amendments are the most sweeping changes since the Alien Registration Law was enacted in 1952.

Foreign residents refusing to be fingerprinted under the new law, for instance, face a shortened renewal period from the usual five years to two years. Protesters see that provision as the government’s attempt to squelch the estimated 1,000-person fingerprinting refusal movement, beginning with youths who must first register and fingerprint at age 16.

Other parts of the new law maintain the status quo under the old system: Foreign residents will still have to carry the identification cards with them at all times and present them immediately if asked by authorities.

But the “criminal connotation” of mandatory fingerprinting itself is what Idland and other foreign residents in Japan say they are most concerned about.

Like others opposing the regulations, the Norwegian missionaries are also concerned about how the system affects Koreans in Japan — many of whom are required to carry alien identification cards even though they were born in this country.

“If I’d been a Korean I would have probably felt the same way” as they do, Idland said. “As long as the Koreans feel that this is an expression of the discrimination against them, all of us understand and sympathize with their viewpoint.”

Idland said that dropping the fingerprinting requirement completely would be a first step in reversing the long-held discrimination of Korean and Chinese residents in Japan.

“Why is (fingerprinting) necessary? That’s my question,” he said. “I can understand why it developed, but I can’t understand why they have to stick to it now.”

Idland said that with the new law starting soon, the Norwegian missionaries decided the time was right to take a public stance.

The group, he added, also wanted to show its support to foreign residents who are fighting the fingerprinting mandate in court. One such fingerprint refuser, Japanese-American missionary Ronald Fujiyoshi, presents his case against the Ministry of Justice today in Osaka High Court.

Idland says that while none of the Norwegian missionaries are fingerprint refusers themselves, they nevertheless feel an obligation as religious leaders to speak out.

“It seems to be an issue related to what we are here to preach: reconciliation, understanding…but also responsibility (by) the Japanese for what they have done,” he said.