December 18, 2005

Chapter 23 (A Thousand Leagues of Wind)


The Tokugawa regime (1603-1867) used a similar system to regulate travel between the domains (prefectures), and to strictly regulate travel into and out of Japan. The draconian "closed country" policies applied most strictly to the European (Dutch) contingent at in Nagasaki. Trade and travel between Korea and China was considerably more liberal (though of course not by today's standards).

Vestiges of this system survive today. Most notable is the koseki (戸籍), or local census record, where demographic information is recorded and constantly updated. Births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and criminal convictions are recorded in the koseki. A marriage is not legal until it is recorded on the koseki. Everything else is window dressing. To be sure, most governments do the same thing, albeit not so deliberately and meticulously. In the United States, when you move to a new state, you must register your car, register to vote, and pay property taxes to the local government.

But there isn't a government system that consolidates all that information into a single authoritative database that is stored, maintained and accessed at the municipal level. The koseki is based on the family unit, not on the individual, and thus functions as an detailed genealogy as well as a demographic database. For example, in the manga Kioku no Gihou by Sakumi Yoshino, Karen discovers that she was not an only child when she gets a copy of her koseki to apply for a passport and finds on it her dead brother's name listed above hers.

I'm referring to public databases. Your credit card company sure does know what it needs to. But credit card information has historically been more secure than the koseki. In the mystery novel All She was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe, the murderer easily assumes the identities of her victims by means of the koseki. Koseki security has been tightened considerably over the last two decades, both in terms of the kind of information listed and who may access it, but because koseki records are so widely dispersed, they remain vulnerable to "human engineering."

For foreign nationals living in Japan, the rules are far more strict. An internal passport known as a "gaijin card" must be carried on your person at all times (I carried one for three years). You must register with the local municipal office whenever you move (this database is actually separate from the koseki). In a typical "homeland security"-type overreaction, the Diet is considering digitizing these internal passports, so that your location will be tracked whenever you do business with any public institution (hotels, for example).

The police can demand to see your "gaijin card" at any time for any reason, and failure to produce it is grounds for arrest.

The guarantor system is also alive and well, the bane of any foreigner wishing to rent an apartment in Japan. However, this is less an historical artifact than the unintended consequences of "consumer's rights" legislation. Namely, housing laws that make it very difficult for a landlord to evict a tenant. It's turned into a running joke in the anime, Hand Maid May, but as a result, landlords not only demand outrageous security deposits, but also secure the rent the same way a bank secures a loan. It is practically impossible to rent an apartment if you can't find a Japanese citizen to sign on the line as your guarantor.

Filling the need instead are real estate agencies that buy blocks of apartments and sublet them to foreigners. Many target high-end business types, but in Tokyo and Osaka, you can usually find "gaijin houses" that rent studio apartments at quite reasonable rates.

令巽門 [れいそんもん] Reison Gate, lit. "command southeast gate," one of four entranceways to the Yellow Sea

巽海門 [そんかいもん] Sonkai Gate, lit. "southeast sea gate," the narrow straits between Kou and the Yellow Sea (unlike the Reison Gate, not an actual gate)

四令門 [しれいもん] Shirei Gates, lit. "four command gates," where each of the four headlands or capes on Kyou, En, Sai and Kou almost touches the Yellow Sea (which is not a sea but an island surrounded by impassable mountains).

烙款 [らっかん] rakkan, sort of like an ATM card
永湊 [えいそう] Eisou, port city in Sai on the Kyokai
順風車 [じゅんぷうしゃ] junpuusha, a wheel-like talisman affixed to the top of the mainmast of a boat that ensures smooth sailing
奏国 [そうこく] Kingdom of Sou
舜国 [しゅんこく] Kingdom of Shun
没庫 [ぼっこ] Bokko, port city in Sou on the Kyokai
清秀 [せいしゅう] Seishuu, lit. "pure excellence"

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