Diplomatic Bluebook 2017

Chapter 4

Japan's Diplomacy Open to the Public

2.Consular Service and Assistance for Japanese Living Overseas

(1) Improving Consular Service

Aiming at providing good consular services to Japanese nationals overseas, MOFA conducts a questionnaire survey every year on consular services such as employees' attitudes in over-the-counter services and telephone responses, information provision, and Visiting Consular Service (of which survey is only conducted by the missions offering it.) to reflect the voices of Japanese nationals overseas in order to improve consular services by the diplomatic missions overseas. In 2016, the surveys were conducted by 148 diplomatic missions overseas and received about 19,000 responses. The results showed generally high grade of satisfaction with regard to the consular services provided by the diplomatic missions overseas in general as well as over- the- counter services and phone responses. At the same time, there were negative answers, though few in number. MOFA intends to continue its efforts for improvements listening to the voices of the users so as to provide consular services at the diplomatic missions overseas in line with user needs.

(2) Issuance of Passports and Prevention of Illicit Acquisition of Passports

Approximately 3.74 million passports were issued in Japan in 2016. As of the end of December 2016, approximately 30.1 million passports are valid, and all of them are ePassports2.

The issuance of ePassports is effective for deterring illicit use of passports such as forged or altered passports. However, there continue to be cases of illicit acquisition of passports by means of impersonation3. There were cases where Japanese nationals or illegal foreign residents left and entered Japan using passports bearing the name of another person which had been acquired illegally. Also, passports with false identities were used for borrowing money from financial institutions, opening bank accounts for the purpose of selling them to those who plot to commit other crimes, and subscribing to mobile phone services without the real passport holders knowing it. In order to prevent illicit acquisition of passports that may nurture these secondary or tertiary crimes, MOFA has been making further effort to enhance strict identity examination in issuing a passport, for example, by such means as designating a stringent examination period against illicit acquisition of passports through identity theft at passport offices located in each prefecture.

Moreover, while the integrated circuit(IC) chips in Japanese passports contain facial images and other information identifying the passport holders, ePassports with improved security against counterfeiting using biometric information such as fingerprints have become widespread in other countries, and possibilities for more effective use of IC chips are under consideration at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Consignment of passport-related work from the prefectural governments to city/ town offices has been permitted since 2006, such as application and delivery. 818 cities/towns had started passport service by the end of 2016, which make up almost 50% of all the cities/towns in Japan.

Changes in the Number of Issued Passports in Japan

  • 2 An electronically enabled machine readable Passport(ePassport) is a passport embedded with an integrated circuit (IC) chip which contains a digitized facial image (biometric information) and other information of the passport holder to prevent passport forgery and its illicit use by a third party. It was first issued in 2006.
  • 3 The number of illegal acquisitions of passports through identity theft discovered: 54 in 2012, 52 in 2013, 41 in 2014, 31 in 2015, and 22 in 2016.

(3) Overseas Voting

The overseas voting system allows Japanese voters living overseas to vote in national elections. In the elections after June 2007, it was made possible to vote from overseas for the small electoral district election of the House of Representatives and the electoral district election of the House of Councillors (including by-election and recall election), in addition to voting for the proportional representation segment of elections of the both House. In order to vote from overseas, it is necessary to be registered in advance on the overseas voter directory managed by the election board of the city/town government and to obtain overseas voter identification4. Voters with valid overseas voter identification can vote by choosing one of the three methods of voting, a) Voting at diplomatic missions overseas, b) Voting by mail, or c) voting in Japan.

The diplomatic missions overseas have been making efforts to disseminate the system and to increase the number of registered voters by publicizing this system and carrying out a visiting service for the registration of Japanese nationals living in remote areas. At the 24th regular election of members of the House of Councillors held in July 2016, the first election after the voting age was lowered to 18, personnel from diplomatic missions overseas visited overseas educational institutions that had high school departments to encourage the newly eligibles to register on overseas voter directory and vote.

Voting at diplomatic missions overseas

  • 4 In December 2016, the Public Offices Election Act was revised to simplify registration application procedures for the overseas voter directory. When the revision comes into effect, it will be possible to apply at the municipal office when transferring overseas in addition to the existing method of applying through a diplomatic mission overseas after transferring overseas.

(4) Assistance for Japanese Nationals Living and Engaging in Activities Overseas

A Japanese Schools and Supplementary Education Schools

Education for children is one of the major concerns for Japanese nationals living abroad. In cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, MOFA carries out assistance for the Japanese Schools (partial subsidy for school building rental fees, rewards for locally hired teachers and safety measures expenses) so that the overseas school children at the age of domestic compulsory education can receive education equivalent to that of Japan. MOFA also provides assistance (partial subsidy for school building rental fees and rewards for locally hired teachers) for the Supplementary Education Schools (educational institutions established to maintain children's ability, such as Japanese language ability) mainly in areas where the Japanese Schools are not located. In addition, MOFA is further strengthening and expanding assistance related to safety measures in light of the recent changes in the international terrorism situation.

B Medical/Health Measures

In order to provide health advices through consultations to Japanese nationals residing in countries where the medical situation is poor, MOFA dispatches medical teams with the support of domestic medical institutions (one country, seven cities in FY2016). MOFA also dispatches medical specialists to regions where infectious diseases or air pollution become serious, and organizes health and safety lectures (8 countries, 11 cities in FY2016).

In addition, MOFA collects information on infectious diseases outbreak overseas and provides them publicly through the Overseas Safety Website and the websites and emails of diplomatic missions overseas.

C Other Needs

In order to eliminate the complexity of various procedures for Japanese nationals living overseas (such as converting Japanese driving licenses to country of residence, obtaining residence/work permits) and to make living abroad more comfortable, MOFA continues talks with foreign governments.

When converting driving licenses issued in foreign countries to Japanese driving licenses in Japan, all persons with driving licenses issued in a foreign country can obtain Japanese driving licenses without taking certain examinations (written examination and skill examination) if it is checked and recognized that they should have no problem operating vehicles. On the other hand, it is mandatory to take driving tests when converting Japanese licenses to local licenses in some countries and states, such as North and South America . MOFA is calling for those countries to simplify the procedures for license conversion as in Japan.

MOFA also supports victims of atomic bomb attacks living overseas in applying for the authorization of Atomic Bomb Diseases and for the issuance of Health Check Certificates, via diplomatic missions.

150th Anniversary of the Passpor ~Passports Past, Present and Future~

Oldest existing Japanese “passport”, issued
        by the Edo Shogunate in 1866 (Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan)Oldest existing Japanese “passport”, issued by the Edo Shogunate in 1866 (Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan)

150 years ago, on April 7, 1866, the Edo Shogunate lifted the ban on overseas travel by Japanese citizens, issuing an order permitting overseas travel for the purpose of studying and trading regardless of social class. This was 13 years after the Black Ships* had arrived.

*The Black Ships, the fleet of the United States Navy Ships, led by Matthew PERRY, that arrived at Japan in 1853 and they demanded the opening of Japan to commerce.

However, issuing passports was an unprecedented task for the Shogunate, which had kept the nation closed for such a long time. The first passport was created with advice from the European and U.S. diplomatic missions that were stationed in Japan at the time, and was issued on October 17 of the same year to Sumidagawa Namigoro, who would lead the “Imperial Japanese Troupe” to perform at the International Exposition in Paris.

The first booklet type Japanese passport in 1926The first booklet type Japanese passport in 1926

The first passports were made of thick A4-sized Japanese paper. They carried descriptions of the passport holder such as height “on the tall side” and nose “on the small side” since photos were not in common use at the time. Namigoro and his troupe folded them in four, tucked them into their bosoms, and set forth for Europe with a Japonism boom.

At the time, the “passport” was called in several terms such as “gomen no insho,” etc. The term “ryoken,” or the contemporary word for “passport,” was officially used for the first time after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued Administrative Order No.1 “Overseas Passport Rules” in 1878.

Basic design of the upcoming Japanese passports (South Wind, Clear Sky from Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji)Basic design of the upcoming Japanese passports (South Wind, Clear Sky from Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji)

A resolution was adopted in 1920 at an international conference in Paris to unify the information to be written, photo, effect, size and other items in passports. In 1926, Japan changed the passport from a paper form to a booklet, featuring the emblem of a chrysanthemum, and it became the prototype of the modern passport.

However, overseas travel was not yet common at the time. It was in 1964, in the year of the Tokyo Olympic Games, when restrictions on overseas tourism were lifted, that overseas travel gradually became a familiar part of social life. More than 100,000 passports were issued that year. Currently over 3.7 million passports are issued annually. With the number of effective passports reaching 30 million, one in four Japanese holds a passports.

The passport is an international identification certificate, and its history is a history of fighting counterfeits. The passport has evolved over the years as various anti-forgery and anti–counterfeit measures were introduced, including machine-readable passports in 1992 and electronically enabled machine readable passports (ePassports) in 2006.

The current Japanese passport incorporates approximately 20 high-tech features including black and white watermarks and holograms, making the chances of it being forged or counterfeited extremely small. However, most countries renew their passports every few years incorporating new technologies in light of the evolutionary arms race with forgery and counterfeiting technology.

In 2016, it was decided to adopt Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai as the design for the visa pages in the upcoming Japanese passport, which is scheduled to be introduced in FY2019. Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which features Mt Fuji, the World Heritage site, is a representative example of the ukiyo-e woodblock print. The new passport will have the same cover as the current one, but each spread will have a different picture. Having a different design for each page will make the passport that much more difficult to counterfeit.

After 150 years from the birth, the Japanese passports are about to take a new step forward in its history.