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Possibly related to this question about carrying passports everywhere.

In preparation for my first trip to Japan, I have my UK passport, which is of course kept on hand at all times when I'm travelling. If the police or airport staff in Japan ask for identification, it is what I will use. However, if I were ID'd in a bar or supermarket for - as an example - buying alcohol, I would think it unlikely the staff could recognise a genuine foreign passport.

I was curious to know if foreign passports (or other forms of ID such as drivers licences) are indeed acceptable in Japan, or is there some kind of travellers ID that can be obtained prior to my visit?

  • FWIW, buying alcohol at the convenience store usually only involves touching the screen to answer "yes, I am over 20". (Which is not in English, either). I can't think of anyplace besides hotels or the tax-free counters at various shops where anyone would ask for your ID; and in both of those cases, the passport is not only acceptable, I think it's required. Maybe banks, if you convert yen? – Kent Apr 20 '16 at 12:10
  • @Kent Thanks for letting me know about those touch screens in stores. I'll look into those further (as you said, I'll have to make sure I could read them!). – Kozaky Apr 21 '16 at 8:56
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    I think it's far more likely that people will recognize a genuine foreign passport as valid ID if you need to show it than a random drivers license. – Zach Lipton May 2 '16 at 2:08
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Legally speaking, there's only one legal ID for foreigners in Japan: your passport. (Unless you're a long-term resident of Japan, in which case your zairyu card is also OK, but these aren't available to tourists.)

That said, ID checks are pretty rare and in practice you can likely get away with a laminated photocopy of your passport's photo page. Do bear in mind that, if the police decide this isn't good enough, they can and will detain you until somebody else can go get your actual passport and bring it up the police station, which can be quite a hassle to arrange.

For non-police ID use:

  • Nightclubs will insist on your passport, full stop. (Again, photocopy may or may not work.)

  • Hotels will insist on your passport. However, this can be trivially worked around by claiming to live in Japan and registering with a Japanese address, in which case they're not supposed to require it anymore. (No, that doesn't make any sense to me either, and not all hotels are aware of this.)

  • In most convenience stores, you need to self-certify that you've of age to buy alcohol, but there's essentially no enforcement beyond this and the staff generally are not paid enough to care. Same goes for most restaurants etc.

  • Alcohol and tobacco vending machines may require local "alcohol cards" (酒カード) or the nationwide Taspo card respectively.

  • A good answer and helpful links. Especially in the case of hotels, I will use my actual details. The police too could easy verify a foreign passport. – Kozaky May 6 '16 at 12:46
  • It is beyond me why so many people say "zairyu card". The correct term residence card does not sound cool enough? Also, here's a link which is actually about the residence card. The basic resident register is a completely different thing, which applies to Japanese and foreign residents alike. – fkraiem May 7 '16 at 12:30
  • @fkraiem Because the official site (linked above) calls it a Residence ("Zairyu") Card? – jpatokal May 7 '16 at 23:53

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