The red tape behind a simple address change in Japan. Aka: Why people have high blood pressure

More RED TAPE in Japan

Last year I moved to a new apartment. So last week I went into the Department of Motor Vehicles in Japan to change my car registration address. A simple task? I think not. This is, after all, Japan. The red-tape capital of the world.

I’ve written before at length about the amazing amount of useless forms that dominate institutions in Japan. But there are still those times that succeed in making your jaw drop. This was one of those times.

Having moved to a new apartment last year, I had to change the address on my car registration. Why? Because if you don’t, then you cannot sell your car. Changing your address can be done in 3 easy steps:

STEP 1. Go to the local police central station to apply for a shakou shoumei (車庫証明). This is essentially a proof that you have a parking spot. To get it, you need to get a special form from your land agent, have a map of the area, a detailed map of where your space is, your car registration, you personal stamp and some money. This takes a few days, so you have to return to pick it up…and pay again.

STEP 2: Go to city hall and get a formal document showing your last officially registered address and your new one. You need your stamp and money for this, too. The official residency card I carry with me already has all the information I needed, but they still employ 3 people to print out the unnecessary document and take my money. I just love to see my tax money at work!

STEP 3: Go to the branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles that is only for car registrations. And here’s what I had to do:

a) Go to Window 1 to get 3 forms. Here is an example of one of the forms.

One of the DMV address change forms

One of the DMV address change forms

b) Go to Window 8 — in a separate building, no less — to pay the 375 yen charge (about $3.80).

c) Have a cerebral aneurism and suffer writer’s cramp trying to fill out the forms.

d) Submit one form at Window 2.

e) Wait at Window 3 until your new car registration paper — your shaken 車検証 — is ready. There is a woman working at Window 3 whose sole responsibility is calling names and giving back documents. An important and necessary service if ever I’ve seen one.

f) At Window 3, you get the completed registration form with the new address. This would seem to be the end. But no. Next is Window 7 in another building. At which point you have to submit the final form. Every bit of information on that form is already on their computer, so it’s entirely redundant. It’s a good thing tax payers are giving the 4 people chatting behind the counter about $40,000 or more a year to provide this useful practice to my Japanese writing skills. I finally handed in the completed form (below, with some info blanked out) and my registration — which I already got at the last window — was now official.

A lot of unnecessary writing

A lot of unnecessary writing

On the same day that I went in to do this, the Japanese prime minister, Fukuda, reinstated a highly unpopular gasoline tax, bringing the price up 35 yen to almost 160 yen a liter ($1.60). He said that this money is necessary, because Japan no longer has enough tax revenue. I guess he forgot that all of the gasoline tax is used exclusively to fund (mostly unnecessary) road construction projects. So this tax won’t help the general tax base.

But one thing will help it.

Instead of having the total of 11 people employed to change my address, living off tax-payer’s money, just have one. Have one person at the customer service counter. I show them my change-of-address information, they enter it into the computer right in front of me, hit “print,” and say “375 yen, please.” It would take all of two minutes. And it would allow more Japanese people to actually do some productive work, instead of having to take hours out of their work day to go and get this kind of needless, time consuming and inconvenient shit done.

Actually, this problem seems endemic in Asia, regardless of the strength, size or relative development of the economy. I guess first prize in the race for development will go to the country that can figure out the simple trick of cutting back on the red tape. It might even help reduce red-tape-induced road rage. I could feel my blood pressure drop 20 points just walking out into the sunshine with my new shaken, knowing that I had just experienced another rite of passage into the world of Japanese bureaucracy.