Diplomatic Bluebook 2022
Japan's Diplomacy Open to the Public
2 Consular Service and Assistance for Japanese Living Overseas
(1) Improving Consular Service
With the aim of providing quality consular services to Japanese nationals overseas, MOFA conducts a questionnaire survey every year on services such as consular staff's attitudes in over-the-counter and telephone responses as well as work implementation status at diplomatic missions overseas. The survey conducted in January 2021 covered 145 diplomatic missions overseas and received valid responses from 18,349 people. The survey results suggested that respondents were for the most part satisfied with the level of consular services provided by diplomatic missions overseas. Nevertheless, some respondents also submitted views calling for improvements in consular staff's attitude to users, including that staff seem to adopt matter-of-fact attitudes and terms of speech. MOFA takes such user feedback seriously, and will continue its efforts to enhance services and make improvements so as to provide better consular services that are oriented to the perspective of its users.
In addition, MOFA will further digitalize consular procedures, including online application of passports, visas and certificates, as well as introduce cashless payment approach for fees in order to increase user convenience.
(2) Passports: Maintaining trustworthiness, enhancing convenience and making administrative tasks more efficient
The issuance of Japanese passports has continued to slow down since 2020, due to the global decline in overseas travel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of passports issued in 2021 was 630,000, falling by 53.1% compared to 2020. In addition, there were approximately 24.4 million valid passports in circulation as of the end of December, falling by 11.9% compared to 2020.
In July 2021, municipalities began issuing paper COVID-19 vaccination certificates for overseas travel that conform with Japan's own specifications. Since December, Japan has also issued certificates with a 2D barcode (electronic version) for overseas use. The barcode adopts the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Visible Digital Seal for Non-Constrained Environments (VDS-NC) standard, which uses a system that authenticates genuine passports.
On the basis of the “Digital Government Execution Plan” that was amended in December 2020, MOFA has been working closely with relevant ministries and agencies, including the Digital Agency, to prepare for the launch of online passport applications by the end of March 2023, taking into account the opinions of diverse stakeholders received at regular consultations with prefectures and from expert study groups. Specifically, a website for online applications will be created on the My Number Portal (a government-run online administrative service). Applicants in Japan will be able to take a photograph of their face and create a signature and submit them via a smartphone or other devices. In principle, this will make it unnecessary to appear at the counter in person when applying to switch to (renew) passports that do not require submission of a transcript or extract of the family register. At the same time, MOFA will use digital technology to make passport operations more efficient and engage in legislation development for this purpose.
As applicants will be able to refer to electronic certificates of the family register from FY2024, MOFA will make efforts to eliminate the need to appear at the counter in person in principle for new applications as well. In addition, in order to better prevent passport forgery and alteration, MOFA will introduce next-generation passports with laser printing on thermoplastic material. MOFA has also begun considering the possibility of issuing passports that can be delivered upon request, in preparation for the development and design of a system for safe and secure issuance of passports through means such as identity verification using the Individual Number Card (My Number Card).
In a passport index (number of travel destination countries not requiring visas) that was announced by a private-sector UK company in January 2022, Japanese passports ranked first out of 111 countries, the same as Singapore. MOFA will continue to engage in maintaining the trustworthiness of Japanese passports while enhancing convenience for applicants and making passport administrative operation more efficient.
(3) Overseas Voting
The overseas voting system allows Japanese voters living overseas to vote in national elections. In order to vote through the overseas voting system, it is necessary to be registered in advance on the overseas voter directory managed by the election board of the city or town government and to obtain overseas voter identification. Starting in June 2018, in addition to the conventional method of applying through a diplomatic mission overseas after moving there, Japanese nationals can now apply at their municipal service counter at the same time as filing their notice of moving overseas. As a result, there is no longer a need to appear in person at a diplomatic mission overseas after moving outside Japan, which simplifies procedures. Voters 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 spread the overseas voting system and to increase the number of registered voters by publicizing the overseas voting system to the territories under their jurisdiction and carrying out a visiting service for the registration of Japanese nationals living in remote areas. In addition, whenever an election is held, diplomatic missions overseas are responsible for voting administration, including PR prior to elections. In 2021, for the 49th general election of the House of Representatives, voting at diplomatic missions overseas was conducted for the 15th time involving 226 diplomatic missions and offices. Ahead of the regular election of the House of Councillors to be held in 2022, MOFA will continue its PR and other activities to increase the number of registered voters and promote voting at diplomatic missions 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 provides assistance to Japanese Schools (partial assistance for school building rental fees, remuneration for locally hired teachers, and safety measures expenses) so that the overseas school children at the age of compulsory education in Japan can receive a level of education equivalent to that in Japan. MOFA also provides the same assistance for Japanese Schools to Supplementary Education Schools (educational institutions established to maintain children's academic ability, such as Japanese language proficiency) mainly in areas where Japanese Schools are not located.
In 2021, additional assistance was provided to Japanese Schools and Supplementary Education Schools whose school operations were affected by the decrease in students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. MOFA also provided assistance until March 2022 to Japan societies and Japanese Schools that offer e-libraries and online learning services, so that children aged 3 to 18 living abroad can study while taking measures against infectious diseases.
B Medical/Health Measures
MOFA gathers information on outbreaks of infectious diseases overseas and provides this information to a broad audience through the overseas safety website, websites of diplomatic missions overseas, emails and other means. Furthermore, in order to provide health advice through consultations to Japanese nationals residing in countries where the medical situation is poor, MOFA dispatches medical teams with the cooperation of domestic medical institutions (not implemented in FY2021 due to the impact of COVID-19). MOFA also organizes health and safety virtual lectures by medical specialists for regions where infectious diseases or air pollution are becoming serious issues.
C Support for Japanese Nationals Living Overseas and Japanese Descendants (Nikkei)
Between March and December 2021, in order to support Japanese nationals living overseas and Japanese descendants (Nikkei) whose lifestyles are being disrupted by the spread of COVID-19, MOFA carried out the Program to Strengthen Livelihood and Business Foundations for Japanese Nationals Overseas and People of Japanese Descent (Nikkei), which supported projects that are being implemented by Japan societies, Japanese chambers of commerce and industry and Nikkei groups overseas. The projects included PCR testing, distribution of masks and disinfectants, and other awareness raising in order to halt the spread of infections, as well as legal and tax consultation services to nurture business environments. Until March 2022, MOFA also carried out a program that provided medical and psychological counseling to Japanese nationals living overseas.
D Responses to Other Needs
In order to eliminate the complexity of various procedures for Japanese nationals living overseas (such as converting Japanese driver's licenses, obtaining residence/work permits) and to make living abroad more comfortable, MOFA continues to engage with the authorities in the respective countries where Japanese nationals reside.
For example, when converting driver's licenses issued in foreign countries to Japanese driver's licenses, all persons with driver's licenses issued in a foreign country are exempted from taking certain sections of the Japanese driver's license examination (theory/practical), when it has been confirmed that they have no problems with driving vehicles. On the other hand, as it is mandatory for Japanese nationals to take driving tests when converting Japanese driver's licenses to local licenses in some countries and states, MOFA is calling for those countries to simplify the procedures for license conversion to the same degree as in Japan.
MOFA also supports victims of atomic bombings living overseas in applying for the authorization of Atomic Bomb Diseases and for the issuance of Health Check Certificates, via diplomatic and consular missions. Furthermore, for Japanese nationals struggling with loneliness and social isolation, MOFA offers referrals to groups with consultation services (see the Column on page 367).