Japan’s new amended immigration laws (改正入管法) kicked in today, making it the second country in the world after USA to implement a compulsory fingerprinting system for foreign visitors.

Image shamelessly stolen from Stippy.com

This is a particularly unpleasant development in my opinion, not because I am a strong advocate of individual privacy (I am not), but because it really brings out the uglier, nationalistic, racist and ignorant side of Japan.

As of today, all foreigners entering Japan above the age of 16 have to have their fingerprints and photos taken or face immediate deportation. The interesting thing is that fingerprinting a Japanese citizen is specifically prohibited by law unless the individual is suspected of having committed a crime.

Supposedly this is done to fight terrorism, but can you really think of any instance of a terrorist attack in Japan that was executed by foreigners? The high profile sarin gas attack was perpetuated by the Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese cult. Japan’s infamously closed society already makes it next to impossible for any Islamic fundamentalist groups to operate there with any success, so this new measure is clearly an overkill in fighting terrorism.

Apparently, the fact that a high-ranking Japanese official claims to have friends in al-Qaeda who managed to enter Japan with various passports is enough justification for tighter immigration measures. This would have been just a really terrible joke if it were not actually true.

The reality is that all this talk about terrorism is just for the foreign media. The real reason for this measure is because foreigners are perceived as the cause of crimes and social problems in Japan. This racist attitude is so pervasive in right-leaning media outlets that it legitimizes itself and influences the thinking of people in a way that is not immediately apparent and very, very sinister. For example, magazines supposedly detailing the criminal acts of foreigners can find shelf space in regular convenient stores.

Hive of Villainy

One look at Itai News’ article on the latest fingerprinting scheme gives you a glimpse into the mindset of xenophobic Japanese who have probably never interacted with a foreigner in their lives. Most of the comments are along the lines of:

  • Japan needs to maintain its good public safety records
  • Most crimes are committed by foreigners
  • Only criminals would complain about being fingerprinted
  • America is doing it too

Itai News does coverage on the latest hot topics on 2ch, so you can say that it’s not that reflective of mainstream Japan. But still, it’s mind-boggling just how ignorant some people can get when they refuse to see beyond their immediate surroundings.


In Japan, foreigners can be stopped for questioning for the “crime” of riding a bike. Bicycle theft is a very common offence and foreigners are likely to be criminals, right? Police officers are also known to randomly stop foreigners to ask for identification and detaining people who do not have the proper papers with them. How do they tell that you are a foreigner? By looks of course! Permanent residents, naturalized citizens and Japan-born citizens with foreign parents are thus screwed both ways. Not only do they pay taxes, they still get treated as foreigners. Of course, there are the ever-infamous no pets no gaijin signs.

Once again, it seems that my post has become too tangential. Let’s go back to fingerprinting.

Fingerprinting can be good

As mentioned, I am not a huge fan of over-emphasizing on individual freedoms. I think that a nationwide fingerprint database can probably do wonders for crime-fighting, provided that the right instruments are put in place and they are properly scrutinized for potential abuse. For example, I won’t advocate such an implementation in a country suffering from rampant institutional corruption because it would just be another tool for mid-level bureaucrats to profit off.

But I think that if proper procedures are followed, there is really no harm in a central fingerprint database. It would certainly help solve a lot of serious crimes where fingerprints actually come into play. (I doubt that they get any prints to work with in the case of a bicycle theft.)

What I do have problem with is the current implementation. Why is the fingerprinting of Japanese citizens restricted by law? Clearly the existence of such a law implies that there is something unpleasant about being fingerprinted. And yet we have a bunch of racist Japanese net commentators saying “only criminals are afraid of getting fingerprinted”. Well, if that is true why not fingerprint everyone then? This is just pure discrimination, nothing more and nothing less.

We didn’t start this!

And the argument that the USA is already doing it is even more laughable. Firstly, it implies that foreigners “deserve” it for starting this whole thing. Well, newsflash! Not all foreigners are American! Moreover, I don’t think the US is that great an example to follow right now.

According to Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek, the number of Japanese tourists travelling to the US each year dropped from 5 million in 2000 to 3.6 million in 2006 and the number of Britons travelling to the US decreased by 11% but increased everywhere else.

Declines in the number of tourists since 9/11 cost the US $100 billion in spendings and taxes. Overall, global travel is experiencing continuous healthy growth, except to the US. Why? I think the possibility of being anal probed at the customs may have something to do with it!

Clearly, today’s United States of America is a shitty example to follow as far as immigration policy is concerned. I don’t think Americans are any safer today than before 9/11, just a whole lot less free (and less rich thanks to the spiralling dollar). If al-Qaeda really hated freedom (and not years of being screwed over by America’s asinine foreign policies), then they have really succeeded in a big way. But I digress again.

To conclude…

I guess that in the end, getting fingerprinted isn’t that big of a deal. But what is disgusting is how discriminating against foreigners is taken as a given by so many Japanese, and how valid concerns like security are used to manipulate public opinions for such an insidious agenda. It’s the vile combination of ignorance and protectionism that paved the way to Star of David badges more than sixty years ago.

Fingerprint everyone or fingerprint no one!

Ultimately, I just hope that I don’t have to wait for an hour to enter Japan when I fly there next month. (More details about that at a later date.)

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