Friday, May 18, 2012

Turning Japanese; or, Accepting the Uselessness and Futility of Japanese Bureaucracy

We decided to make today the day we would finally change Mia's last name to Gardner for convenience sake, and the sake of Baby-To-Be. Mia has kept her family name, even since we married nearly 7 years ago, because it just seemed like too much trouble to change her name on everything like passport, marriage license, etc...

We were right.

I don't mean to bash Japan... just it's bureaucracy!

I certainly didn't expect this to be done in one day.

In the words of Alex Kerr (see my previous blog on his insightful book: 'Dogs and Demons; Tales From the Darkside of Japan'): "Japan's bureaucracy has been much studied, mostly with admiration, by Western analysts, who marvel at its extremely subtle means of control (my emphasis), its tentacles reaching downward into industry and upward into politics".

The Japanese bureaucracy (kanryoseido) is extraordinarily sophisticated, complex, often shady, and actually kind of ritualistic. It seems that in order to accomplish almost anything in Japan one must first fill out paperwork to obtain a certificate from a clerk at one office, bring said certificate to another office (often in another part of the city, requiring a train ride plus expense and time) where you take a number, fill out more paperwork, wait until you are told that the certificate or paperwork you have is insufficient, OR it requires a type of official postal stamp of a certain cash value one must buy at a convenience store next door (because government offices do not accept cash) where, after getting said stamp and returning to the clerk one must produce ones personal signature seal ('hanko') which is used as a signature. You make your little red stamp with your hanko and are given more paperwork telling you to return on such-n-such day when.......

You get the idea. It's a never ending circle of paperwork madness that ultimately means nothing but the destruction of millions of trees.

Mia checked the Osaka courthouse website, knew what was required for applying for a name change, and we decided to go there. I even brought my gaikokujin card (legal alien resident card) and passport.
First, we stopped at the local city office branch at our train station for Mia to fill out a paper stating the reason she wanted to get a copy of her family registry. After a few minutes she got a fresh "official" copy of her family's 'koseki tohon' (family registry, including dates of birth, our marriage with my name in katakana scrpt etc..) printed on it's "official" watermarked, and decorated with roses Toyonaka City document paper by the ubiquitous, artificially over-obsequious clerks (there were two, one man to do the work and one old woman to hover next to him, breathing down his neck, whose job seemed to be nothing but to repeat "I'm sorry" and "excuse me" and to answer the phone to say "I'm sorry" and "excuse me".

Next we took the subway to the Osaka courthouse, (changing trains once), where we took a number, Mia filled out the change of family name application form. When our number came up we sat with a man who told us that we needed first to go to the Toyonaka City main office and get a document, the name of which is so long Mia can't remember it so he had to write it down, that states that I can legally reside in Toyonaka City.

Of course I had my gaikokujin card (legal resident alien card) and my passport with my spouse visa (which both had been updated just over a month ago) with me. However, I knew without even asking that offering these useless little votives unto the altar of Japanese Bureaucracy would be totally futile. The clerk would have simply apologized profusely and stated the officially approved statement stating that all required documents must be submitted together for consideration of approval. In other words, The Beast must be fed and it's sacrifice of choice is endless reams of paper;  paper that has been specially printed, stamped, sealed, approved and won by hours of pursuit and waiting.

This is how things are done here and it doesn't surprise me anymore. But it does piss me off a bit.
This endless game of collect the stamps is deeply imprinted onto the Japanese psyche. Nothing seems worthy of pursuit here unless you get an officially sealed document for your trouble. Education, Career, Sports, Hobbies... everybody needs to seek validation, to show a piece of paper that says: "I DID IT!". I PERSEVERED! I ENDURED! GAMBARIMASHITA!
Everybody is so used to it here they know of no other way. Schools teach children not to speak out; hence activists are rare. As a result, nothing changes... especially Japanese Bureaucracy.

"The real purpose of education in Japan is not education but the habit of obedience to a group"
                                                                  Alex Kerr       'Dogs and Demons'

Everybody in Japan has at least one 'hanko', a signature seal like a mini rubber stamp, but usually made of wood, stone or horn. I just got mine recently. It is made of horn, has my name in katakana, the script used for foreign words and names because it seemed easier than finding kanji characters to make my name.

Its official. I think I'm turning Japanese.

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