You’ve arrived in Japan, you’ve moved into your new home, you’re starting to make friends, but you’ve got one more, rather large hurdle to face, a trip to the ward office in Japan. This is an important trip and one of the biggest challenges you’ll face when it comes to everyday life in Japan, even if you’re a fluent Japanese speaker. It’s not impossible though, and with a little guidance, you’ll make it out alive and be a stronger person.
What is it and how to navigate it?
The ward office (区役所 kuyakusho) is like your local council office or local government office. Similar to other countries, they serve several purposes, registering addresses, births, deaths, marriages, paying bills, finding information and so on.
The ward office in Japan is different for each ward depending on the size of the area but is usually split by several sections and when you arrive for the first time you will need to go to the main information/registration desk where the staff will point you in the right direction. Each service has different staff, so be prepared to visit several different parts of the office on your trip.
It’s important to remember that not all ward offices will have staff that speak other languages or even English as a second language. However, they will have some type of guidance system in place. Whether it’s English printed guidelines for the forms or translators available on the phone, some even have volunteer staff in the building that can help with translations. Remember to be prepared and most importantly be polite and patient.
What can you do there?
The most important reason to visit the ward office is to register your address when you move into your new home. This must be done within 14 days of arriving in Japan. You will need to complete a form with your personal details and your new address. This will then be processed and printed on the back of your residence card.
If you move houses, you will need to visit the ward office to update your address. If you move ward as part of this process, you will first need to visit your current ward office to notify them. They will issue you with a leaving certificate. When you go to your new ward office to register your new address you will need to take this with you as part of the process.
If you are a full-time employee or plan to become one, then do take note that you will likely need to pay a residence tax once you’ve moved into your new home in Japan and this is covered by the ward office too. It is dependent on your location of residence on the 1st January and is a flat % rate and calculated against your income from the previous year in Japan. You will need to make a declaration of this income between February and March each year at the office. Fortunately, students do not have to pay residence taxes at all.
National Health Insurance
Depending on your circumstances you may need to enrol for Japanese Health Insurance. If you aren’t covered by other insurance such as from an employer or if you are a student, then you will need to do this at the ward office in Japan. When you register your address, it is likely you will then be directed to the Health Insurance Department. It will be a similar process with forms and presentation of your residence card.
You will receive a medical insurance card that you will need to present to staff when you go to the doctors or the hospital. You will also be given a series of payment slips to pay the insurance premium. This is a monthly payment that means when you do need treatment you will only pay 30% of the cost instead of the full amount. Payments are calculated on your previous years’ income in the country so they will be low for new residents.
As with your address, you will need to notify the appropriate department when you move wards as payments are made relative to the ward.
As with both your residence card and national health insurance, you may need to register for your My Number early on. While you will be sent a form to register for this after you’ve visited the ward office, you are able to use the local office for support or if you have any queries about the process. Applying for My Number is not compulsory, but it is recommended. It acts like your Social Security number for bank accounts, etc.
As you may be aware, individuals more regularly use seals to sign/authorise documents rather than a signature. While some banks and organizations will let you sign it may be worth obtaining your own seal. Once you’ve done this you will need to register it and you guessed it, the ward office is the place to do this. It will either be the family registration department or the residence department depending on the office, but you will need to bring your new seal and you residence card with you.
One of the main functions does focus on registration. If you’re lucky enough to get married or have a child in Japan, then you will also need to register these at the ward office.
Depending on the size of your local ward office in Japan, there will be several support services available to you as well. Of note, is the employment support that many offices provide. Whether it’s searching for a job or help to prepare for interviews. Unfortunately, this may often be only available in Japanese so it’s worth doing some research on your local office’s website before you make a trip.
Something you may not think of a ward office for is advice. Actually, you’ll find that each ward office has different services but most offer very useful information about life in Japan. Many will keep a list of local group classes for Japanese language study, a more casual approach that is a great supplement to your formal Japanese lessons. Others have local clubs and groups that you may not be able to easily find elsewhere. On a more serious note, they will have local disaster preparedness advice and other useful info to make sure you know what to do if anything does happen. As well as these they’ll have details of local facilities such as libraries, sports centres, parks and so on.
There’s a lot that you will need to do at your local ward office in Japan but also a lot that you may not have thought about that will help you settle into your new life in Japan. Head down there soon and see what you can discover about your local area!