Just a quick update here as to what I was talking about regarding the area office. Well, as a foreigner, if I move, I have to inform the local City Hall. In Tokyo it’s the ward office – Tokyo being split into 23 Wards (‘ku’). I moved from Katsushika-ku to Setagaya-ku, so I went to the Setagaya Kuyakusho (Setagaya Ward Office) and re-registered my address, and they wrote it on the back of my alien registration card (gaikokujin torokusho or ‘gaijin card’), which I should carry at all times. I’m guessing this is pretty much the same for residents everywhere in the world. Certainly the Ward offices all look pretty much the same!
The gaikokujin torokusho used to cause a stir as all foreigners were fingerprinted and that was put on the front of the card, near your photo (and usually neatly hidden behind an official seal inside the plastic wallet). I was fingerprinted twice by employees who were very apologetic (in Japan, as in many countries, being fingerprinted is a sign of being a criminal, which is how a lot of Japanese still view foreigners). Now, the fingerprint is gone, thanks mainly to the work of ethnic-Korean rights groups, many of whom, despite being born and raised in Japan are denied citizenship…but that is a whole different blog post!