E-Japan? Forget it.
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Last weekend, I went to a local bathhouse in Tokyo and laughed at the notice. Elderly people were eligible for discounts and should apply at the ward office. The last line of the notice said: Please bring an ID and a registered seal. A registered seal was required to get a discount at a bathhouse. Is there anything that can’t be done without a seal in this country?
I learned how the seal was frequently used when I first arrived in Japan three years ago at the ward office. A corner of the document for resident registration had three boxes for seals. I waited over 20 minutes for the representative to get seals from his bosses and issue the paper.
In Korea, the agent could complete the transfer registration with a few clicks, and in terms of time and manpower used, the efficiency is tremendously different. In Korea, you can actually do transfers online, so Japan is quite backward when it comes to administrative efficiency.
The Covid-19 response clearly showed how Japan’s administrative service hinders people’s lives, rather than helping them. So many people were mobilized to round up positive cases using fax, and the authorities still failed to survey accurate infection statuses. It took several months to distribute disaster relief funds.
The Suga government is advocating administrative reform overcome the backward government system. Taro Kono, minister of state for special missions, is initiating breaking conventions and digitization. As soon as Kono took office, he pressured all ministries to stop using seals, asking them to provide a reason to use seals. He said he would also eliminate analogue items such as fax and paper.
But even in Japan, people are skeptical whether the deep-rooted analogue administrative practices can be changed. Only 7.5 percent of government administrative works can be completed online, according to the Japan Research Institute. People are concerned that the government may control personal information through digitization. Notable proof is that only 15.5 percent have received My Number, an equivalent to the resident registration number in Korea, as of March 1. As Japan aims to establish a digital agency to oversee digitization by early 2022, it is expected to take a long time.
In 2001, the Japanese government announced its “e-Japan” strategy to make Japan the world’s leading IT nation in five years. Nearly 20 years have elapsed, yet Japan’s current situation is the opposite of the government’s plan.
Paper documents pile up on my dining table, I wonder if they will disappear in 20 years.