I am officially an alien, it says so on the card I have to carry as a foreigner in Japan. You’d think they’d drop such a silly word and switch to ‘foreigner’, but no. Foreigners in Japan mostly call it the ‘gaijin’ card – gaijin is short for gaikokujin, which means foreigner, or literally, outside-country-person. Some people therefore dislike the short version, because it would follow that ‘gaijin’ therefore means ‘outsider’. Personally, I’m not fussed – Japanese often abbreviate things like this, by chopping off the last part of a word. Brad Pitt, for example, is known as Bra-Pi. Odd, but I don’t think any offense is intended. Slightly better than alien anway!
This card is one of the three bits of red tape Japan has that I think of as totally unecessary, simply because we don’t have such things in NZ and we do pretty well without them. The other two are the Family Register and the Residency Register. The Family Register records all citizens, together in family groups. There are two problems – you can only be on one register, and you must have the name on that register – so women can’t keep their name after marriage, they must change it. Both can go on the woman’s register, but that is uncommon. Also, only citizens can go on it, so I am not listed there with the rest of the family, except in a ‘comments’ section. The same problem exists with the Residency Register – I am not listed there either as a member of this household, except in the comments section (and then only if I ask for the comment to be added when I request a copy of the Reigster for official purposes). This can be a problem as it means my husband appears to be a single father. Where am I then? On the alien register of course! I hate this system because it just seems so completely pointless to me. Why not just list us with the Japanese? Another problem is that every household must have a ‘Head of Household’, who is, of course, the man. I cannot be the Head of Household because I am not Japanese, therefore, if Kanji and I had to establish different addresses for any reason, Amy would become the Head of Household!
Anyway, I had to renew my alienity today and get carded for my out-of-spaceness. It was a pretty simple affair for Japanese bureaucracy. The guy at the city office actually seemed to know what he was doing, which is not as common as it should be, due to the practice here in the public sector to swap staff around between sections every two years, so in April you might well get ‘helped’ by someone who has been doing the job for all of two weeks. At least my guy today was not like this, and was able to also help me get the card changed to list my ‘nickname’ or Japanese name, so I can use Yokomatsu, written in Japanese, for official purposes. I needed to do this as I am listed on our health insurance as Yokomatsu Rachel. I tried to tell the insurance broker that my name was Greenwood, but it just did not compute. In her world, that would be impossible, so how could I be right? But my name must be as listed on my passport, which is still Greenwood. I hope this nickname business sorts that out.
Being Japan, the job could not possibly be done in one day, it needs to sit around, gather dust, and be checked and looked at several more times before they okay it, so I am due to come back in two weeks to pick up the new card. So I can get sick now and know I will get that extra $50 a day!