An Alien Registration Card (gaijin toroukushou) is issued by city governments to aliens living in Japan. The card has a picture of the gaijin, the gaijin's name, address, date of birth, place of birth, nationality, and fingerprint.

Foreigners are required to carry their alien registration cards at all times, and must produce them on demand if asked by a police officer. If you want to buy a keitei denwa (mobile phone), you need to show the shopkeeper your card.
Formally called the Certificate of Alien Registration (gaikokujin tourokusho), and not to be confused with the gaijin license (more on that below), the "gaijin card" is carried by all legal foreigners in residency in Japan for more than the 90 days given by a standard tourist visa.

Applying for the card is easy. Simply travel to your local city-hall-like government office and request the proper forms. Among other things, you will have to provide a country of origin, contact information, and contact information for a real Japanese citizen who will be notified if and when you get into trouble.

Go fill out the forms, and then get two pictures of yourself measuring 3 cm x 4 cm (no purikura). You can't be wearing a hat, or making a face, and don't be smiling too much either. These pictures better have been taken within the last 6 months, too.

When you've got your completed forms and your photographs, get back to that government office. If you are over 16 years of age, they'll fingerprint1 you. You have to comply with this, or no gaikokujin tourokusho for you. If it helps, try to think of it as a way to prove you weren't involved in something Japan's Finest try to pin on you. You will then pay 4000 yen in processing fees. Should you lose your card, you have 14 days to apply for a new one.

Should your resident status change while you are in Japan (say, extending a working visa by another year), you must go back to your local city hall or ward office within 14 days and notify them personally.

If you have a child while you are in Japan, and the child is not born into Japanese citizenship (that is, the father of the child is not a Japanese citizen), you are required to get them registered with a card within 60 days of the date on the birth certificate.

In the inevitable event of your untimely demise, please see to it that your bereaved loved ones return your gaikokujin tourokusho within 14 days. This is to prevent unscrupulous foreigners from stealing your card and masquerading as you while they commit all sorts of atrocious acts.

Once you get your card, you will no longer be required to carry your passport, so long as you keep your card somewhere on your person at all times. You may be stopped by a police officer and asked to show your card or passport, but only if you look suspicious, violent, or foreign. When this happens, be sure to politely ask the officer for their official identification as well.

Having a card is a prerequisite to getting a bank account, a keitai, or a National Health Insurance policy. Also, some nightclubs will ask to see your card or passport before you enter. This is not to see whether you are of legal age, but to prevent violent US marines, who do not have cards or passports, from getting in and tearing the place apart.

The gaijin card differs from the gaijin license in that the gaijin license is not a physical object. The gaijin license is the magical alien aura that surrounds you and allows you to get away with cultural faux pas. As a perpetual outsider, you may find that the gaijin license occasionally cuts the other way (when you are asked whether or not you can use chopsticks for the 100th time), but more often you can use it to wander into places you're not supposed to go, only to leave with only a sheepish grin and a slap on the wrist when the authorities tell you to get out.

1 This just in from gn0sis: Since 2000, most gaijin are no longer fingerprinted. I cannot personally vouch for this, as I'm fairly certain I remember being fingerprinted when I got my gaijin card at a Kansai city hall in September of 2000, but he may well be correct.

Okay. pi also tells me that people are no longer fingerprinted when they get a gaijin card, so it's probably true. Maybe my memories were just a bad dream brought on by bad sushi?

With thanks to for help with filling in some of the details I had forgotten

An Alien Registration Card (or "Gaikoku-jin Touroku Shoumei Sho, 外国人登録証明証) is a form of identification issued by Japanese local governments to persons of foreign nationality who reside in Japan. Anyone who plans to stay more than 90 days in Japan must apply for an alien registration card, but those with Temporary Visitor visas may also apply for the cards.

To apply for an alien registration card, you must present your passport, and submit 2 passport sized photographs and an application form to the office of the city, town, village, or ward in which you reside. Two weeks later, you'll be asked to return to pick up your card. There is no fee to have a card issued.

The alien registration card carries your name, date and place of birth, passport information, occupation, status of residency, and address in Japan. Until 1999, a fingerprint was also required for non-permanent residents, but the law has since been revised, and the card now has your signature (except for temporary visitors, whose cards have neither.) There is also a unique alien registration number at the top of the card consisting of an alphabet letter followed by a nine digit number. Changes to any of the information on the card are written on the reverse side of the card.

A lot of foreigners in Japan call them "gaijin cards", and see them as another form of discrimination, and it did feel like your were being treated like a criminal when they took your thumbprint, but since that has changed, I don't think its so bad. A lot of things in Japan (like buying a mobile phone) require such forms of ID, and without it, I think things would be a lot more inconvenient for foreigners. Although the police can technically stop you and ask for your card, it has only happened once to someone I know in my five years here. Don't forget to take it when you go out though: some clubs and bars require you to show a gaijin card if you are a foreigner, and will refuse you entry if you don't have one. This is to keep American soldiers, who are not issued the cards, out of the clubs.

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