A few weeks ago I received a question from a reader. According to him when non-Japanese check into a hotel in Japan, hotel staff ask to copy their ID. “This is reasonable for a non-resident,” he says. “But for people who have permanent residency like me?” He has lived in Japan for over 30 years. “They do not photocopy a Japanese person’s ID. Why do they copy mine, I’m a permanent resident? Is this a legal requirement?” As I had no idea, I studied this matter. Now, my knowledge has increased a little and I would like to share it with other readers.
Before that, a reminder, that if you have a question about Japanese law, especially topics of interest to non-Japanese residents, please submit it here. I’ll consider it for an upcoming column.
What the law says
The primary legislation for this matter is the Inns and Hotels Act, which states as follows (for the sake of accuracy, I put Japanese original texts first, followed by its English translation):
Inns and Hotels Act 
Article 6 (1) Pursuant to an Order of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Business Operators must keep a list of guests in Inns and Business Hotels and other places provided for by the Order of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, stating the name, address, and occupation of the guests and other matters provided for by the Order of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and must submit this list when demanded by prefectural governors.
The Act does not say anything about taking a photocopy the ID of non-Japanese. It only says that hotels must keep a list of guests, regardless of whether they are Japanese or non-Japanese, stating the name, address, occupation and other matters provided by the relevant agency. The last part (“other matters…”) is delegated to the secondary legislation, which is inevitable for the modern legal system to leave room for changes to the details without going through the laborious process of amending Acts .
The secondary legislation under this Act is the Ordinance for Enforcement of the Inns and Hotels Act, stating as follows:
Ordinance for Enforcement of the Inns and Hotels Act 
(3) The matters provided for by the Order of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare set out in the Act shall be the following, in addition to the name, address, and occupation of the guests.
(i) The nationality and passport number if the guest is a foreign national who does not possess an address in Japan; and
(ii) Other matters that prefectural governors find necessary.
This specifies “other matters” such as nationality and passport numbers, but at the same time limits the subject to a “foreign national who does not possess an address in Japan”.
Now we seem to get closer to an answer. It distinguishes foreign nationals from Japanese nationals and further distinguishes non-resident foreign nationals from resident foreign nationals, by requesting additional information only to non-resident foreign nationals.
As this appears to be legal grounds for a different treatment of previously known facts, the answer to the question is “No, it isn’t a legal requirement. Because you are a resident foreign national.”
It might explain the legal grounds for treating non-resident foreign nationals differently. However, it explains nothing about photocopying an ID which is, in my opinion, different from entering information on an ID in a list of guests (see the wording of Article 6(1) of the Act “[…] keep a list of guests […] stating the name […]”). Before studying this point further, let me explain Article 4-2(3)(ii) first.
For the sake of completion, I will introduce the delegated legislation under Article 4-2(3)(ii), which is delegated from the Ordinance, which is delegated from the Act.
Fukuoka Prefectural Detailed Regulation for Enforcement of the Inns and Hotels Act 
The matters to be stated under Article 4-2(3)(ii) of the Ordinance of the Ministry shall be the dates, age of guests and destination.
This adds the dates, age of guests and destination as information to be included in the list of guests at hotels in Fukuoka, regardless of whether they are Japanese or non-Japanese.
Back to the grounds for photocopying, about which I’ve found several relevant notifications.
A notification (tsūchi) is not a law but an advice from the national government to the local public bodies about administrative guidance (gyōsei shidō) to unify the interpretation/execution of laws. They are not laws and are therefore not legally binding, however, in practice they are extremely important as local public bodies tend to give administrative guidance following these advice unless and until the law is clarified by an amendment or a judge denies such an interpretation at court.
Among other notifications, the notification issued by the Director of the Health Service Bureau states as follows:
Notification issued by the Director of the Health Service Bureau 
3 Matters to be carried out by a Business Operator following this amendment
(1) While address etc. has been registered on a list of guests under Article 6 of the Inns and Hotels Act, after the enforcement of the amended ordinance, if any guest states an address outside Japan, the Business Operator shall request the guest to report the nationality and passport number as well.
(2) In order to secure accuracy when entering the name and passport number etc. in the list of guests, for whom Business Operators shall enter their nationalities and passport numbers in the list of guests following this amendment, Business Operators shall keep a copy of their passport together with the list of guests in addition to requesting them to present their passports. Registering the name, nationality and passport numbers of the said guests in the list of guests may be replaced thereby.
Now we’ve reached the relevant part. This notification advises local public bodies to give administrative guidance that hotels should keep a copy of the passports of non-resident non-Japanese guests, which, in Japan, indicates a photocopy in this context. As a matter of course, they will have to take a photocopy first to keep a copy of their passport. As they are not legally binding, from local public bodies to local public bodies, and further, from hotel to hotel, their practices may differ. However, I suppose that most local public bodies are following this notification, and subsequently, most hotels are following the administrative guidance given by such local public bodies.
Hotel staff cannot take a copy of a resident non-Japanese person’s passport or ID, regardless of whether the person is a permanent resident or not. Therefore, what hotel staff asked of our reader has no legal grounds.
 旅館業法（昭和23年法律第138号）。The Japanese full texts are available on the e-Gov website.
 Inns and Hotels Act (Act No. 138 of 1948). The English (translated) full texts are available on the Japanese Law Translation website (“JLT”), which is provided by the Government.
 Acts are laws established by the National Diet (Kokkai), which is composed of a lower and upper house
 旅館業法施行規則（昭和23年厚生省令第28号）。The Japanese full texts are available on the e-Gov website.
 Ordinance for Enforcement of the Inns and Hotels Act (Ordinance of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare No. 28, 1948). The texts are a translation by the author since the JLT has not yet covered it.
 福岡県旅館業法施行細則（昭和35年福岡県規則第89号）。The Japanese full texts are available via the Fukuoka Prefecture’s website.
 Fukuoka Prefectural Detailed Regulation for Enforcement of the Inns and Hotels Act (Fukuoka Prefectural Regulations No. 89, 1960). The texts are a translation by the author since the JLT covers only the National legislation.
 平成17年2月9日付け健発第0209001号健康局長通知。The Japanese full texts are available on the website of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.
 Notification No. 0209001 issued by the Director of the Health Service Bureau Dated 9 February 2005. The texts are a translation by the author.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information on this article is accurate at the time of posting, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ. If you do require advice or wish to find out more about the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.