TOKYO -- Though the Japanese government announced Nov. 26 that it would exempt Korean residents in Japan from providing fingerprints as part of their alien registration, it has made no effort to implement the policy, drawing criticism from both Japanese and Koreans.
The fingerprinting issue has posed a major problem in bilateral relations between the two countries. At issue is the treatment of Koreans brought to Japan under Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula until 1945 and the treatment of their offspring.
All are considered foreigners and have few legal rights.
All foreigners 16 or older staying in Japan for a year or more are required to register their fingerprints with the government.
The registration, though not the fingerprints, must be renewed every five years. Failure to do so may result in a fine of 200,000 yen ($1,550) or imprisonment for up to one year.
According to a survey conducted four years ago by the Justice Ministry, Japan is the only nation that requires fingerprinting for identification of the offspring of its foreign residents.
The Japanese government said in late April that it would exempt third-generation Koreans in Japan from the fingerprint requirement. The announcement of the exemption came just before a visit to Tokyo by South Korean President Roh Tae Woo.
The announcement of exemptions for all Koreans came in Cabinet-level talks between Japan and South Korea last Monday and Tuesday in Seoul. But the Japanese officials said other forms of identification for the Koreans needed to be devised. It gave no date for developing a new system.
Mr. Roh was quoted as telling the officials in the talks that he wantedJapanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu to have the problem solved before Mr. Kaifu's scheduled visit to Seoul in January. But government sources in Tokyo said Tuesday that the deadline would be difficult to meet.
"Common sense tells us that the fingerprint requirement for Koreans who have lived in Japan for decades or were born and raised in Japan is absurd," said Jiro Iinuma, a retired professor of agriculture economics at Kyoto University.
For the past decade, Mr. Iinuma has advocated the abolition of the fingerprinting system and supported protest movements by Korean residents.
"If the [Japanese] government cannot promise a date for abolishing it by the time Kaifu visits South Korea, I'm sure it will have a very negative effect on bilateral relations." Mr. Iinuma said.
The Korean residents are mainly those brought to Japan as laborersand soldiers before and during World War II.
They were unable to return or chose to stay after Japan was defeated and were automatically defined as foreigners even though they had been forcibly expatriated from former Japanese colonies. Their children, who were born and raised in Japan, are also subject to fingerprinting.
Opponents say the fingerprint requirement is discriminatory and akin to treating the Koreans like criminals.
"The problem is not whether we get fingerprinted or not; it involves how the discriminatory treatment of the Korean residents is dealt with," said Kim Chan Jong, a non-fiction writer and Korean resident of Japan. "We would like the [Japanese] government to demonstrate a willingness to improve [our status]."
Korean residents cannot apply for civil service jobs because the government requires its employees to be Japanese nationals, and there is much discrimination against them in employment in the private sector. Also, the Korean residents here have no Japanese voting rights.
The Japanese government has not touched on these issues, on which the Korean residents and government have demanded improvement.
There are about 680,000 Korean residents in Japan, constituting about 70 percent of all foreigners registered in the country. About 330,000 are so-called first- and second-generation Koreans originally from South Korea.
The Japanese government in 1987 revised registration procedures to require foreigners to submit fingerprints only once, at their initial registration. But critics contend the experience is still discriminatory because it brands Koreans born and raised in Japan as foreigners.
Justice Ministry officials contend that fingerprinting is a convenient means of identification. The ministry also says that there is a natural difference between Koreans and Japanese and that the Koreans must abide by the law if they do not choose to naturalize.
Naturalization requires a lengthy, in-depth investigation of an applicant's family. Many foreigners assume Japanese names when becoming citizens to avoid the stigma of still being labeled a foreigner.