Busted! (Oct. 1999)

Healthy Insurance Options
(Aug. 1998)

Keeping Your Yen, Growing Your Yen
(June. 1998)

Having a Baby
(April. 1998)

Dealing with Legal Discrimination
(Feb. 1998)

Lines of Help
(Aug. 1996)

Tip to the Doctor
(Feb. 1996)

Dealing with Japan's System of Justice
(Nov. 1995)

Busted! (Oct. 1999)
by Alfredo Varela

No-one expects to have a run- in with the police, but fore warned is forarmed in a system that aliens can find alien.
Although the postwar Japanese constitution and legal system were modeled on those of the U.S., the system as it is implemented today differs in important ways from other countries'. Do not to expect the same rights and privileges you enjoy in your home country, but do not immediately assume you are being treated differently from Japanese nationals.
As with the U.S. citizens found guilty of anti-government activism in Myanmar (Burma), most nations would rather avoid international incidents. But do not count on leniency, which varies with the crime.
Nothing to Hide
If you are suspected of a crime that you did not commit, the quickest way to clear yourself is to co-operate with the police. Though Japan's constitution provides certain rights to the "accused," the term is reserved for those officially indicted, which may occur as long as 23 days after you are placed in custody.
If you give the police reason to suspect you were involved in a crime, they may hold you in jail for a lengthy period of time. So if you know you are innocent, it is best to provide any information they request. Chances are that you will be allowed to go on your way.
One foreigner living in Sapporo was mailed a very small quantity of marijuana by some "friends" back home. Customs reported this to the local authorities and the police greeted her at her door. Because the quantity was so small and the foreigner co-operated, allowing police to search the apartment, the incident was resolved within a few days and the person was allowed to remain in the country.
Basic Protections
If you find yourself taken into custody, it is best to keep the following protections in mind. These apply to everyone in pre-indictment custody.
You have the right to speak with an attorney. You can either hire a lawyer or request one from the local lawyer's association (touban bengoshi). The service is not automatic; you must make the request.
You have the right to remain silent. This does not mean the police cannot question you. "Wearing down a suspect" is time-worn tactic both here and elsewhere. Just keep in mind you do not have to answer any questions.
You have the right to have a competent interpreter present during questioning. Again, you must request this. If you are not satisfied with the one provided, you may request a replacement.
You have the right to have a relative or your nation's consulate notified of your arrest. But depending on the crime, you may not be allowed to communicate with them while in detention.
The police do not have the right to use physical violence against you. They may claim, however, that your behavior forced them to resort to force. Do not provoke them.
Other cautions
Your statements can be used as evidence against you, so carefully check any written transcripts before signing them. Your lawyer is not allowed to be with you during questioning until you have been formally accused. As stated before, the police can hold you for as long as 23 days before officially indicting you. As happened with the members of the Aum cult, you may be arrested on a one crime, held for the maximum time, then rearrested on a different charge, for successive 23-day periods.
Finally, be advised that these cautions are by no means comprehensive. It is wise to consult a lawyer or other trained legal counsel from the organizations below.
Sapporo Keiji Bengo Center
phone: (011) 272-1010
Sapporo Horitsu Sodan Center
phone: (011) 251-7730

Healthy Insurance Options (Aug. 1998)
by Daniel Tochen

The bubble era and its astronomical salaries are only sweet memories, and the yen continues its plunge into the toilet of international currency trading. Although Japan is no longer the best place in the world to get rich quick, even today there's no shortage of people from all over the world who come here to live and work. There's a good chance that many will pursue activities - snowboarding, mountain biking, and winter mountaineering, for example - that pose a significant risk to life and limb. Even for the more retiring sort, there's always the chance of falling on an icy street, developing a cavity, or catching a cold or the flu. Fortunately, high-quality medical care is readily available, but as you know if you've ever tried to buy a bell pepper here, nothing is cheap in Japan, and medical bills can be a major financial burden. It makes sense to consider health insurance.
Foreign residents of Japan have three options. First, there is kenko hoken, the national health insurance program administered by the government. Second, there are various health insurance plans available from domestic companies, and finally, there are plans offered by foreign insurance providers operating in Japan.
The first thing to know about national health insurance is that if your visa permits you to stay in Japan for one year or longer, and you do not have health insurance through your employer, enrollment is mandatory. A visit to my ward office and a discussion with one of the staff in the insurance section left me with the impression that this regulation is not strictly enforced, but you should be aware that it exists. You can join by applying at your ward office, and kenko hoken provides decent coverage: it covers 70 percent of expenses for treatment (including dental), medicine, and appliances (knee braces, etc.), and also sets a monthly maximum on the amount the patient is required to pay. When the 30 percent share of medical expenses borne by the patient reaches \63,000 in one month for treatment at a single facility, insurance covers all further expenses.
Kenko hoken is ideal for those who will be in Japan for only a single year, but less useful for those who will stay longer. Because premiums are calculated based on the previous year's income, new arrivals (who earned no income in Japan the previous year) are charged the rock-bottom rate of \17,010 for the year. However, after your first year of coverage, your premium will be adjusted according to your actual income: for someone who earned \250,000 per month, the yearly fee would come to about \350,000. That's not cheap, and once enrolled in kenko hoken, you cannot leave it unless you join a plan offered by your employer, or change residence to a different ward. Keep this in mind.
Next is the insurance offered by private Japanese companies, which breaks down into two categories. There is life insurance (seimei hoken), and accident/injury insurance (shogai hoken). Life insurance is available only to long-term or permanent residents, and although it includes some medical coverage, is not a substitute for health insurance. Most people will be more interested in accident/injury insurance, which pays a fixed sum for each trip to the doctor's office, and for each day spent in the hospital. A lump sum payment for death or maiming is also included. At Tokio Marine, a policy offering \5,000,000 in death/maiming benefits, \6,000 per day of hospitalization, and \4,000 per visit to the hospital, costs \9,170 for three months and \14,270 for six months. The policy is also valid for overseas travel.
A similar policy at Sumitomo Seimei, with \5,000,000 in death/maiming benefits, \3,000 per day of hospitalization, \1,500 per visit to the hospital, and \30,000,000 in indemnity insurance, costs \11,760 per year, the shortest period of coverage available. Except for the indemnity insurance, these benefits are also available when the insured is abroad.
The final option is a foreign insurance company operating in Japan. English-speaking staff are just the first advantage of dealing with these companies. Their policies are designed to meet the needs of people who are temporary residents of Japan, and they can be more flexible than their Japanese counterparts. Global Health Care (headquartertered in Tokyo, tel.(03)5724-5100), for instance, offers health insurance by the month, and allows you to pay by credit card. Their "Ultra Care" plan is US$62.17 per month or US$746 per year, and it covers injuries and illnesses, some dental (fillings are not covered), and also covers you when you travel overseas, paying for medical evacuation if necessary. They also offer a "Standard Care" plan, for US$37.25 per month or US$447 per year, which only covers bills if you are hospitalized for more than 24 hours. Both plans have a US$30 deductible per hospital visit.
As with buying anything, think about exactly what you need before you start looking, and remember that it never hurts to shop around before making a final decision.

Keeping Your Yen, Growing Your Yen (June. 1998)
by Alfredo Varela and Barron Yanaga

Money. Everybody needs it and if you are lucky enough you might even have some extra cash you aren't sure what to do with.While foreigners might immediately send any extra money home, this is not always the wisest choice. First, one should determine how much money to send back. If you plan a long stay it's best to consider your future expenses. Sending money back home hoping to change it back into yen at some future point is risky due to constantly fluctuating exchange rates. It's best to take into account your lifestyle and any possible emergencies. With this in mind short-termers should keep from one to two months of cash on hand and long-termers between six months' and a year's worth.
But what are the best options for the spending cash you keep here?
Most banks offer extremely low interest rates compared with banks elsewhere. In Japan you shouldn't expect more than 0.1% to 0.3% on a regular savings account, whereas in the U.S., for example, the same type of account would easily yield 6% to 7%. Most banks also have a number of restrictions, which make certain transactions possible only at the branch where you opened the account . For example, if you lose your ATM card, you can only withdraw money from your home branch until you're issued a new card.
The one exception is the Post Office savings account. Because it's directly tied to the Bank of Japan it offers slightly higher interest rates, and you can conduct all your business at almost any post office nationwide.
Only 0.3%?
If earning less than 1% interest in a regular savings account doesn't sound appealing, here are few suggestions for building a nest egg back home.
Again, before you invest it's best for short-termers to keep one to two months of cash on hand and long-termers between six months' and a year's worth. While some people don't expect to accumulate that much, most financial advisors will tell individual investors that they should make any investment fund a top priority, along with paying off outstanding debts. It's best to set a figure (e.g., \50,000/month) and then religiously send this back before buying that first beer.
There are three main options to get your money overseas. Traveler's checks offer the best exchange rate but are risky. If your overseas letter stuffed with the signed checks gets lost, reimbursement can be an ordeal. International money orders offer greater security, but there are restrictions on how much you can send per transfer. There are also surcharges on amounts exceeding \100,000 or if you want the post office to send it by registered mail. Finally, you can send money by bank transfer. While secure and fast, this is very costly and should be avoided unless you're transferring a large amount or need the money quickly. Traveler's checks and money orders go by mail, so they take several days. Bank transfers can be completed overnight.
Recent financial deregulation allows you, in theory, to deposit money in a bank here and withdraw it in a branch in the U.S. This represents the easiest and least expensive way. However, when we consulted the Bank of Japan they informed us that this service is so new they don't know how to do it and it would be best to consult a bank in the States.
Investing Back Home
Once you have your money back home, then what? First you have to consider what kind of investment to make. Consultants will say there's only one reason to open a stock portfolio: as a retirement fund. If you're planning on getting rich by playing the stock market, you stand a better chance buying lottery tickets. If your broker tells you otherwise, remember he or she earns a commission on every transaction you make whether or not it pays off.
People who expect to dig into their nest egg as soon as they return home should consider other types of investments. For example, bonds, treasuries, mortgages and money market funds (CD's) all generate cash and tend to be less volatile than stocks. Bonds are better if you plan on needing the money in one to five years. T-bills or money market funds are recommended if you expect to return within a year or two and want immediate cash.
However, if it's a retirement or trust fund you're interested in developing, then a diversified stock portfolio is the best. The basic problem with this is maintaining control over your portfolio while overseas. Asking family members to take care of things for you is not recommended. In order for them to do this legally, they will either have to invest the money under their name or you will have to grant them a power of attorney. Either case may lead to problems best avoided.
Instead, thanks to the Internet and a few computer-savvy brokerage houses, you can now trade stocks from the comfort of your own home. You still have to pay a commission on each transaction, but it's usually far less than traditional methods. One of the most popular electronic trading companies, E-trade, has one of the lowest commissions at $14.95 to $19.95 per trade.
Again, resist the temptation to trade vigorously and out-guess the market. Most studies show that a consistent "buy-and-hold" strategy works best in the long run. Of course each individual situation is different, so while you should be wary of letting a broker handle your investment, an initial consultation with an investment manager is well worth the cost ($50 -$100).

Having a Baby (April. 1998)
by Alfredo Varela

A married couple's most joyous time in their life together is when they have a baby. However if one parent is Japanese and the other a foreign national, then along with dirty diapers, 3AM feedings and worries about the future come a host of legal issues regarding nationality. Here I will cover some of the most immediate concerns. (I will discuss these issues as they relate to my situation as a U.S. citizen, though a survey of several consulates indicates that similar circumstances exist for nationals of other Western countries.)
The most immediate question parents of multi-national families have is that of citizenship.
Thanks to an international agreement, children born to a multi-national couple may retain both U.S. and Japanese nationality until age 21. However this does not mean that parents should remain unconcerned. There are several pieces of paperwork that should be completed as soon as possible after the child is born.
The Japanese Side
In order to be recognized by the government, apart from the Certificate of Birth given to you at the hospital, parents must register infants at the local ward office. Newborns must be added to their parent's Family Registry (Koseki) and Certificate of Residence (Juminhyo) within 14 days of birth. Registering your child brings eligibility for numerous benefits including a birthing allowance (approximately equal to the hospital costs), free health care for the first three years of the infant's life, and in some districts a special allowance (\10,000 to 50,000) for new parents.
One should be advised that on these documents your child will automatically receive that last name of the Japanese national. This means if the mother is Japanese and has not legally changed her last name, the infant may end up with an artificially extended name. For example, if a father surnamed Gomez and a mother surnamed Tanaka name their child Maria Teresa Gomez, the child's name may appear as Maria Teresa Gomez Tanaka. One solution is to omit the surname. While this policy may appear feudalistic, as yet there is no way around it. I've even been told by several long-term residents that I should be glad I can register my child at all: 15 years ago, only the child of a Japanese father could be registered.
One more note. After registration, it is a good idea to request several copies of Koseki and Juminhyo, because they will be needed to get the child's insurance card and passport, and may be requested by an employer for tax purposes.
The Other Side
In order to ensure your child is eligible for U.S. citizenship you should file for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) at your local consulate. One of the parents must present a U.S. passport and the child's birth certificate, and fill out a form. This form asks the expat to account for his or her absence from the home country. If you go prepared, the consulate should be able to provide you with the CRBA in a single visit.
Though you may be tempted to forgo getting two passports for your child, it is not advised that you do so. Officials from both governments have made it clear that problems can result if the child does not clearly maintain de facto dual citizenship until age 21.
The Japanese Side
While you may not have any immediate travel plans, it is best not to wait until the last minute because it will take at least 10 days before you can receive the document after all the paperwork has been turned in. When applying for a passport there are two points to remember. The first is to prepare all documents beforehand. You will need a copy of your Juminhyo, Koseki, photo ID of the parent filing the papers, the same parent's hanko, and a self-addressed postcard. A photo of your child is also required. If your child is still too young to sit for a photograph alone, you should lay the infant on her back and take several shots at varying distances in order to insure you get the proper head size.
The second concern is the child's name. If you have chosen a Western name for him or her, it will be spelled out in romaji (e.g., David will become Deibiddo) unless you request otherwise. To get your child's name spelled in English you will be asked to fill out a separate form at the passport office.
The Other Side
Because the U.S. consulate has fewer requests, they may be able to provide same-day service. You will need the following documents: a current U.S. passport from one of the parents, the CRBA, two copies of a photograph (of the proper size) of the child, and the form requesting a passport for your child. For the quickest service, call your local consulate and they may be able to mail you the forms. Before you go into the office, call again to make sure your consul general will be available to sign your child's passport. Otherwise you may have to make another trip.
Down the Road
Officially, when your child reaches age 21 he or she must choose between Japanese and, for example, U.S. citizenship. Unofficially, however, neither government is required to notify the other of the child's choice. If done carefully, this allows your child to maintain both passports. In addition, I have been told that once your child's name has been placed on the family registry (Koseki) it will never be removed. This makes it possible for the child to apply for a Japanese passport any time in the future.

Dealing with Legal Discrimination (Feb. 1998)
by David Aldwinckle

Japan's legal view of residency is particularly xenophobic. Unlike other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, Japan requires that all people classified as residents (juumin) have Japanese citizenship-meaning that even a foreigner who lives here forever never formally resides here unless he or she naturalizes.
This distinction between a legal resident and somebody legally residing here may sound semantic. After all, non-Japanese are registered at ward offices, have visas, and pay residency taxes (juuminzei). If they marry a Japanese and/or become permanent residents (eijuusha), they can get bank loans and buy land.
But legal problems arise. Non-Japanese are officially registered under a system that effectively makes them invisible, with potentially dangerous consequences for long-termers.
Japan has two systems of identification: the family registry (koseki touhon), and the Residency Certificate (juuminhyou). The former establishes Japanese citizenship, the latter official residence. When Japanese marry, they alter their koseki. When they move, they get a new juuminhyou from local authorities. Unlike the koseki, the juuminhyou follows a person everywhere, thus it is the primary source of identification.
The problem is that under Japanese law, only those with koseki get juuminhyou, so foreigners (issued a gaikokujin tourokuzumi shoumeisho for identification) are not juumin. In the case of marriage, although listed on the Japanese spouse's koseki, a non-Japanese cannot be recorded on a mate's juuminhyou because, after all, she or he is not a resident. Unnaturalized spouses-including ethnic Koreans and Chinese-not only remain legally separate, but also become invisible in some instances. This loophole has subtle adverse effects.
International Marriages are Demeaned
Having a non-juuminhyou-ed husband makes a Japanese wife appear a single mother with illegitimate children. Cases abound where local welfare officers call to advertise benefits, only to discover an unexpected spouse. Zealous neighborhood association bosses (chounaikaichou) have even demanded that non-Japanese, with no legal basis of residence, vacate the premises.
In one extreme case in the Nagoya courts, an embittered Japanese wife is claiming her foreign ex-husband did not father her children. There is, after all, no record of their marriage on her juuminhyou, thus no link and no visitation rights. She will probably lose her case (due to the koseki), but suffice it to say, under this system, reality is not reflected.
Unreflected Reality
Anywhere else in the OECD, residents (regardless of current nationality) whose incomes support their families are seen as the head of household (setai nushi). Not in Japan; without citizenship, you cannot legally be setai nushi since, again, you do not legally reside here. To resolve this, the bureaucracy proclaimed in 1967 that a gaikokujin who is the breadwinner may be recorded on a Japanese spouse's juuminhyou as the actual head of the household (jijitsu jou setai nushi).
The System is Dangerous
Japan is a land of natural disasters-eruptions, earthquakes, tsunami and typhoons. When calamity strikes, the government must know who is where. However, under this bifurcated registration system, some could fall through the safety net. Japan's refusal to put all residents in one database invites tragedy.
Do Something About It
Government Ordinance () No. 292 was issued in 1967. It indicated that gaikokujin could be recorded in the remarks column as married and "actual head of household" (jijitsu jou no setai nushi). Your ward office may tell you that such listing is impossible, but demand that they check their records. After they research it, you should be able to amend your spouse's juminhyou to show that you exist.
The ordinance, a public document, is sold at any government publications store.

Lines of Help (Aug. 1996)
by Michelle Cook

Need advice but don't know where to turn? Whether you have just arrived and are having trouble getting settled or are a long-term resident facing a new challenge, there are several places you can call for help.
The toll-free Japan Help Line (01-2046-1997) operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Service is available in English and 17 other languages. Staff deal with requests ranging from medical emergencies and immigration problems to information on where to take stray animals. Depending on the severity or nature of your problem, they may refer you to another agency or lend an ear themselves to help you through your difficulties. They also organize phone link-ups for individuals short on cash who need to make emergency calls.
For more serious counseling matters, you can contact the Tokyo English Life Line, TELL (03-5721-4347), which is staffed by trained, certified counselors. Although, this is not a toll-free number, the line is often busy and you have to be persistent to get through.
For AIDS-related matters, the Ministry of Health and Welfare's toll-free AIDS Telephone Service (0120-177-812) operates 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Service is in Japanese but staff can help you find English information and help. The Ministry's Sapporo line (231-4111 ext. 25219) offers information, in Japanese only, on AIDS testing and counseling.
English-speaking volunteers are on call to listen and provide information on test sites, costs, etc. at the Tokyo-based HIV-AIDS Line (03-5721-4334) from Sunday-Thursday, 7-10 p.m.
There are no Hokkaido-based help lines for foreign residents, but several local organizations provide services in English. For job-related matters, the Hokkaido Labour Standards Bureau in Sapporo (709-2311 ext. 3534) can answer questions in English and several other languages Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
The Sapporo International Communication Plaza (1st and 3rd floors of the MN Building, N1 W3, Tel. 211-2105) can refer you to English legal services and English-speaking doctors and hospitals in Sapporo. You can call, or drop by in person. The 3rd floor is open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Tip to the Doctor (Feb. 1996)
by Brenda Hogan

For foreigners living here, a trip to the doctor can be a bit bewildering. So for the scoop on what to expect, read on.
Whereas in North America you would only go to a hospital for a serious problem, to see a doctor for any reason in Japan, you must go to a hospital. They do not take appointments, so you will be seen on a first come, first served basis (emergencies exempted).
Taking into account registration, waiting to see the doctor, having your prescription filled, and paying, a visit to a larger hospital may tie up half a day. At a smaller hospital, it may take an hour or so. However smaller hospitals tend to provide fewer services and are more specialized since they may be owned by a small group of doctors.
As each physician has an area of specialization, you will be asked specifically what kind of doctor you wish to see or what is your particular ailment. If you are unsure, a nurse will advise you. This can be rather embarrassing if your language skills aren't up to par and you have to use sign language to communicate your needs (Anyone know how to say, "proctologist in Japanese?")
Most doctors can speak a little English, so if your ailment is only a common cold, you can probably manage on your own. However, if the problem is more serious it's best to bring a friend who speaks Japanese. Sapporo's newest hospital, Sapporo City Hospital, has volunteer interpreters on hand. In most cases, it's best to contact the hospital before visiting to determine whether you can manage on your own. The Hokkaido-Canada Society (011-261- 7111) has a list of some English speaking physicians. Hospital operating hours and days vary, so check in advance. Some are open Saturday, which is very convenient if this is your only day off.
On arriving at the hospital, you will have to register by showing your insurance card, and if this is your first visit you will be asked to fill out some forms so you can be issued a hospital card. This may seem a nuisance at first but if you have to make repeated trips it will save a lot of time in long run. Should the doctor give you a prescription, you can have it filled by the pharmacy on site.
Before you even consider visiting a hospital, be advised; it's cash up front, so be prepared by withdrawing some cash and taking it with you. A single visit can range from 1,000 yen to 10,000 yen for tests such as X-rays or blood work. If more expensive tests are required, the bill could be 50,000 yen and up. You must pay before leaving the hospital. If you have insurance, keep your receipts, and have the doctor fill out your insurance form so you can apply for reimbursement.
You may run into the situation where, after an examination and tests the doctor has not determined the problem. In this case, you may be referred to another doctor or hospital for further tests. However, one person interviewed was told by the doctor despite several symptoms, "I don't know what is wrong, but there is no real need to worry." Another person was told, "I know North Americans like to know what is wrong, but sometimes we don't know." There are some cultural differences at play here, but if this happens to you don't be deterred from getting to the bottom of your health concern. If you remain dissatisfied, you might consider getting a second opinion.

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