Japanese Form Fetish

One of the infuriating things about living in Japan (admittedly, there are not many) is the obsession Japanese seem to have with filling out forms. Not only filling out forms, but making sure every last t is crossed and every last i is dotted (metaphorically speaking, as the forms are rarely in the Latin alphabet). And Japanese forms are not simple; they tend to have dozens of fields, in extremely small font.

Here is an example from personal experience.

My wife and I applied for a train card that required applying also for a credit card. We went to Osaka station to fill out the forms. I can’t write in Japanese, so my wife had to fill out the forms for us. We would hand in the forms to the lady, and promptly get them back because some field was not filled out properly. It took several iterations until the lady agreed the form is ready to be processed. Furthermore, she would not make any changes on the form herself, not even correcting one digit, even though we told her we trust her with our valuable form. No can do. We had to do it ourselves.


So far, no big deal. This is very common here. But now the fun begins.

I have a middle name on my passport and on my residence card. In Japan, there are no middle names. Also, my name is obviously not Japanese, so it is written out in katakana, which is an alphabet used to write foreign words in Japanese. There is no one way to correctly spell a foreign name in katakana; being a phonetic alphabet, and because no Japanese word can end with a consonant (except for n), one can write a foreign name in various ways, depending on how it is pronounced. My name can be spelt as asha, asha-, assha, assha-, asheru and probably some other variations. Same goes for my middle name and family name.

Unsurprisingly, we received a letter from the credit card company a few days later, asking us to “confirm” (the word for confirm in Japanese in kakunin, which is a big deal in Japanese culture; but no time for that now). So we copied out the name again in katakana, and also attached copies of my residence card and business card, just in case. We also had to get confirmation from the bank that says it’s OK with/without the middle name. The bank confirmed, but the credit card company wasn’t entirely satisfied. A few days later, another letter, another “confirmation”. And then another one. In total, four letters to date.

The last letter was the best of them all. They seemed to be satisfied with the katakana spelling of my name, but asked, “just to confirm” of course, the furigana spelling. Now, furigana are the phonetic alphabets that are added on top of the kanji, typically for children to be able to read as they haven’t learnt all kanji symbols yet. But my name isn’t Japanese, so it’s not written in kanji, so there is no furigana for it. Catch-22, Japanese style.

We just sent out the reply letter again, so no happy end yet. Not to worry, it’s only been a month since our original application. Early days yet.

Confused? Angry? You shouldn’t be. To survive this Japanese pedantic fanaticism for filling out forms – let’s call it “form fetish” – one needs to enter a different state of mind. Maybe Zen meditation can help. Hang on, maybe this is why Zen has developed in Japan in the first place! If one does not take these things calmly, I can definitely see how “form rage” could have led to undesirable consequences.

Serenity now.


7 thoughts on “Japanese Form Fetish

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    • You think we didn’t write it in Hiragana as well, man? But even if not, this further proves my point. If you have a name in Katakana, you can easily write it in Hiragana, right? Asking the customer to write it down himself proves my point about this crazy form fetish.

        • Dennis, that’s not the issue. I already have 2 Japanese credit cards. But this particular train card (EX-IC) requires you to apply for THEIR credit card. I would have happily used one of my existing credit cards if it were possible.

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