IN TAMA-CHAN'S WAKE

Foreigners seek same rights as seal

by

YOKOHAMA — A group of foreign residents and their supporters demonstrated in Yokohama’s Nishi Ward on Saturday, demanding the same rights as a stray seal known as Tama-chan.

The seal was awarded a resident registry card by the ward earlier this month and the demonstrators were calling for local governments to recognize other non-Japanese residents.

In seal costumes or with whiskers painted on their faces, about 20 protesters said residence ID cards should be granted to long-term foreign residents so they can enjoy the same rights as Japanese when, for example, they apply for drivers’ licenses or housing loans.

The campaign was conceived after Nishi Ward granted Tama-chan a residence ID card. The seal has made the banks of the Katabira River in the ward his home for the last five months. The male seal was last spotted in the river early Friday morning.

The Law of the Basic Resident Registers excludes foreigners — including those with permanent residency, such as many ethnic Koreans — from residence registry. Instead, foreigners are required to carry a certificate of alien registration at all times under the terms of the Immigration Control Law.

This system is unique and discriminatory, the demonstrators said, adding that it causes problems for foreigners when they have to deal with officialdom at public offices or financial institutions.

“I thought Nishi Ward’s action was interesting because a usually inflexible local government took such a step,” one of the protesters said. “But then I had mixed emotions, given that I am not eligible for the ID even though I have been here for longer than he (Tama-chan) has.”

In March last year, the home affairs ministry issued a written notice recommending that local governments include, if requested, the names of foreign spouses on the part of the residency card for Japanese family members that is set aside for other information.

The proposal was intended to avoid causing “unnecessary problems” for the families, ministry officials said. Many local governments, including Nishi Ward’s, are adhering to the proposal.

Debito Arudou, a lecturer at Hokkaido Information University and one of the organizers of the campaign, said that step is still dismissive of permanent or long-term foreign residents who have no Japanese relatives.

“Also, it seems wrong that a name of a partner, who is legitimately engaged, is mentioned only in a reference column,” said Arudou, who is a naturalized Japanese.