You can’t produce a foreign resident card when you’re not a foreigner.

As mentioned prominently in travel guides, foreign visitors are technically required to carry their passport with them at all times while in Japan. The requirement only changes slightly for foreign residents who are here on work or student visas, who’re instead required to have their foreign resident card (zairyu card, in Japanese) with them whenever they’re out and about.

In over 15 years living in Japan, I’ve been asked by the police to produce such identification a grand total of one time. Nevertheless, the cops do have the right to ask foreigners to show evidence that they’re in the country legally, and it’s likely something they’ll ask for if you’re involved in some kind of incident or if they’re just performing a random stop on you as you walk down the street (something that even happens to Japanese natives on occasion). So when Zain ul Aladdin (@zainulabaden) was recently stopped by a pair of police officers during the day in a residential neighborhood, they asked him to show either his residence card or passport.

The problem? He doesn’t have the first, and he’s not required to have the second, since he’s a Japanese citizen.

In his tweet, Aladdin says:

“I am a Pakistani-Japanese. My nationality is Japanese. My face might look like this, but I’m a Japanese person.”

“I cooperated with the officer and answered their questions. But I don’t like how, from the very start, they say ‘You have your foreign resident card?’ ‘You have your passport?’ ‘If you don’t, we’ll have to arrest you.’”

“The appropriate thing to say is ‘Please show us your identification.’ Even though I look like this, I’m a Japanese person.”

Aladdin went on to clarify that the Nissan El Grande minivan seen in the background of his photo, which has had its front grille and headlights removed, has no relation to why he was stopped by the police, as he wasn’t involved in any sort of traffic accident prior to being asked to show his non-existent foreign resident card and non-required passport. He also points out that this wasn’t the first time he’d spoken with police officers who used the same choice of words.

“This wasn’t a one-time thing. I’ve had the same thing happen to me at least four times. Every time, the first thing they say is ‘You have your foreign resident card?’”

Aladdin doesn’t mention what, if anything, prompted the officers to make their request, not does he say whether he was born and raised in Japan or acquired Japanese citizenship after moving to the country. In either case, though, his experiences highlight the fact that while their numbers are increasing, non-ethnically Japanese people have long been a statistically small portion of the Japanese citizenry, and remain enough so that unless you look ethnically Japanese, odds are many people in Japan will initially assume you’re not a citizen.

Source: Twitter/@zainulabaden via Hachima Kiko
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