History of fingerprinting in Japan
Identification inside and outside national borders
By William Wetherall
First posted 1 August 2007
Last updated 1 January 2008
Your life is a fingerprint which cannot be duplicated
so make the best impression of it.
Memorial to Dr Henry Faulds, Beith, Scotland, 2004
Friend or foe
1880 Faulds in Japan
1880 Herschel in India
Faulds memorials in Tsukiji and Beith
| Faulds as fingerprint refuser | Palm prints in Konjaku monogatari | MPD expert matches 6th-century haniwa prints | AFIS and Japan
Through World War II Finger seals | 1908 Prison Law | 1911 Metropolitan Police Board | 1912 Chosen | 1924 Manchuria
After World War II 1945-1952 Occupation | 1949-1952 Fingerprint registry | 1955-2000 Alien registration | 2007-2999 Immigration control
Friend or foe
Identification Friend or Foe -- better known as IFF -- was introduced during World War II to identify an aircraft as friendly or enemy. Allied aircraft carried transponders that, when triggered by a burst of radar or radio beacon from a friendly aircraft or ship, automatically transmitted a signal that also identified it as friendly. A closing aircraft which failed to respond was challenged and, if thought to pose a threat, destroyed.
Fingerprints are like this. You are prompted for prints, which establish your position on either side of a line. You are, or are not, the person you claim to be. Or you are, or are not, on a list of suspected persons.
Patterns of ridges
The patterns of friction ridges on fingers, palms, toes, and soles are unique for every individual, even identical twins. Ridges worn down by work are regenerated in new growth. Scars are also regenerated.
Print patterns are formed during fetal growth. Prints are matched by comparing patterns of ridge formations in terms of arches, loops, whorls, and other specific traits.
Imperfect data and human error mean that reliability (repeatability) and validity (predictability) are not perfect. However, cautionary use in the age of digital imaging and computer-aided classification and matching make fingerprints an increasing attractive and economic means of biometric identification in all manner of non-forensic applications.
Fingerprinting in Japan
Today, in Japan, people are increasingly using their fingerprints as locks. All manner of devices are available which restrict access to persons whose fingerprint matches a pre-registered print. Such devices include car ignitions, digital door locks and safes, computer mice and memory devices.
Most new ATM's also have fingerprint scanners to accommodate accounts which can be accessed only by those who both know the pin number and have a matching fingerprint.
In some other countries, fingerprints are used in lieu of library cards and meal tickets (cashless catering) at schools.
Fingerprinting is being increasingly used for personal identification of aliens at ports of entry, as in the United States and Japan.
The gods have been leaving their fingerprints on civilization since antiquity. Humans, too, have left impressions of their feet, hands, and fingers -- intentionally and otherwise -- for as long.
Not until the 19th century, however, did fingerprints become an object of scientific study with widespread use in mind.
A number of classification systems were developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for use in solving crimes. By the start of the 20th century, several police departments, from Calcutta and London to New York, had established fingerprint bureaus to facilitate criminal investigation.
Japanese prisons began fingerprinting some inmates in 1908. Tokyo police began using fingerprints in crime investigations in 1911.
First fingerprint debate
The world's first fingerprint debate began in Japan and India in 1880.
William James Herschel (1833-1917), a British officer in the Indian civil service, is credited with being the first to use handprints and fingerprints as signatures on contracts and other legal documents, and to some extent in the identification of criminals, from about 1858 to 1878.
Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose were the first to develop fingerprinting as a forensic tool during the 1890s, at the Calcutta Anthropometric Bureau, renamed the Fingerprint Bureau in 1897.
Francis Galton (1822-1911), the English explorer and scientist, is generally considered the first person to put fingerprints and their classification on a scientific footing, beginning with a series of reports in 1888.
However, both Herschel and Galton recognized that the first person to observe, in print, that fingerprints could be used as a forensic tool in criminal investigation was Henry Faulds (1843-1930), a missionary physician in Japan.
In 1880, Faulds published a letter in the science journal Nature, in which he described his own study of fingerprints, and made a number of claims about the scientific potentials of prints. The very next month, Nature ran a letter from Herschel, in which he doubted some of Faulds' claims, based on his own work, which went back twenty years earlier.
The letters from the two men speak for themselves. What needs some amplification is the nature of the "prehistoric" Japanese pottery which started Faulds thinking about fingerprints.
According to other accounts, Faulds came across fingerprints on shards found while accompanying his friend, the zoologist Edward S. Morse (1838-1925), on an archaeological dig at the Omori shell mounds, which Morse began excavating shortly after his arrival in Japan in 1877.
The Omori mounds straddle present-day Shinagawa and Ota wards in Tokyo. Faulds participation their excavation would have been around 1878-1879.
Henry Faulds on skin-furrows of hand
Henry Faulds (1843-1930), from Scotland, was in sent to India in 1871 and worked in a hospital there for two years. In 1873 he was sent to Japan to set up a medical mission. He married on the way and arrived in January 1974. He returned to Britain in 1884 and was last in Japan in 1886. Failing to interest Scotland Yard in his work, he went into practice as a police surgeon.
Faulds resided in the Tsukiji Foreign Settlement in Tokyo. Though Tokyo was not a port, a extraterritorial settlement was established on the grounds of the Tsukiji Cannon Works in 1869 to accommodate foreigners who needed to be in the capital. A number of mission schools and Christian universities, and foreign embassies, originated or were at one time located there. The settlement was abolished when extraterritoriality ended in 1899.
Faulds established Kenkōsha (健康社), a health clinic, in 1874. Its English name was Tsukiji Hospital, which inspired the name by which the clinic came to be known in Japanese ((築地病院). The hospital was the forerunner of today's St. Luke's International Hospital (聖路加国際病院) and associated medical center, still located in Tsukiji.
The Faulds/Herschel/Galton controversy
Here are the full texts of Faulds' letter, "On the Skin-furrows of the Hand", from the 28 October 1880 issue of Nature (Volume 22, Number 574, page 633), and of Herschel's letter, "Skin Furrows of the Hand", from the 25 November 1880 issue (Volume 23, Number 578, page 76).
Galton published his classic article, "Personal identification and description", in the 21 June 1888 issue of Nature (Volume 38, pages 173-177, 201-202). The articles contains "The substance of a Lecture given by Francis Galton, F.R.S., at the Royal Institution on Friday evening, May 25, 1888" (pages 173 and 201).
In his article, which set off a chain reaction of fingerprint studies and applications, Galton gave two sentences to summary of Herschel's use of fingerprints in India as described in his letter to Nature -- then mentions in passing, as though to dismiss it no commentary, "a paper by Mr. Faulds in the next volume" -- which is a mistake, because Faults' letter appeared the volume preceding Herschel's letter.
Galton He failed to mention that, in 1880, his cousin Charles Darwin (1809-1882) had forwarded him a letter from Faulds about fingerprinting. Some Faulds biographers have claimed that Faulds deserves the title of the founder of dactylography if not dactyloscopy, the science and methodology of fingerprinting.
Tredoux, a Galton biographer, claims that the Herschel/Faulds/Galton dispute has been "caught up in the bluster of Scottish Nationalism". Tredoux dismisses the large number of Faulds "partisans" on the Internet as being overly influenced by biographies based more on secondary than primary sources.
Tredoux acknowledges that Darwin received Faulds' letter and forwarded it to Galton because of his failing health. Galton, as busy as Darwin was sick, "forwarded it to the Royal Anthropological Society, who took no interest in it" -- and "the letter would later be returned to a surprised Galton, who had evidently forgotten all about it, in 1894" (Tredoux 2003, source described above).
Such disputes are common in the world of science, where at any given time many unlike minds are running in like directions.
While clear that Faulds had a firm understanding of the forensic potentials of fingerprinting, it is equally clear that some of his predictions were premature, given his commonplace preconceptions about national and sexual differences, and the limited period and scope of his own observations.
Herschel had superior data, which gathered and studied over a longer period of time had led him to view fingerprints as having no national, sexual, or even family traits.
Most of the finer details in the above summaries of the roles played by Faulds, Herschel, and Galton in the history of fingerprinting come from Gavan Tredoux, "Henry Faulds: the Invention of a Fingerprinter", December 2003, posted in the "Fingerprints" section of www.galton.org.
Tredoux's extensive bibliography includes links to pdf files of scans of many primary documents related to the early history of fingerprinting. The following texts of the letters by Faulds and Herschel are based on an examination of such files. Some of the bibliographic details, however, have been pieced together from other sources, including antiquarian book dealers selling original copies of older issues of Nature.
Herschel on skin furrows of hand
See the above section for discussion and source.
Faulds memorials in Tsukiji and Beith
Enthusiasts in Japan and Scotland have few reservations about who discovered fingerprinting, hence where fingerprinting was discovered. Chuo Ward in Tokyo memorialized the site of Faulds' home in Tsukiji in 1961, and in 2004 the Dr Henry Faulds Society dedicated a memorial to him in Beith, Scotland, where he was born.
Chuo City on Faulds
Tsukiji is located in present-day Chuo City, a ward of Metropolitan Tokyo. The Chuo City Tourism Association has an Internet feature on Henry Faulds (ヘンリー・フォールズ).
The feature begins with a blurb that summaries Faulds' contributions to Japan. The blurb ends with the remark that his "scientific fingerprint methods" are still in use by the Metropolitian Police Board (MPB).
The last of the three paragraphs in the feature is dedicated to the story of Faulds' report to Nature in 1880. The feature concludes with this observation (viewed 4 December 2007, my translation).
The [present] Metropolitan Police Department, which boasts the world's highest clearance rate, adopted Faulds' fingerprint methods from 1911, and is [still] using [them] in stopping crime.
The banner across the top of the memorial stone that marks the site of his residence in Tsukiji reads 指紋研究発祥の地 (Shimon kenkyū hasshō no chi) or "Place where fingerprint research originated". The testimony briefly describes his life, refers to the 1880 article in Nature, and ends with the observation that police in Japan adopted fingerprinting from 1 April 1911.
The English blurb on the memorial states only that "DR. HENRY FAULDS / PIONEER IN FINGERPRINT IDENTIFICATION / LIVED HERE / FROM 1874 TO 1886".
MPD on Faulds
MPD's website also boasts (viewed 4 December 2007) that fingerprinting started in Japan. The publicity section of its website narrates Faulds' story, shows the Tsukiji memorial, and observes that the centennial of MPD's adoption of fingerprinting in 1911 is quickly approaching.
However, MPD's website does not claim that MPD adopted Faulds' fingerprint methods. Nor does it otherwise link Faulds with its adoption of fingerprinting in 1911.
Despite all that Faulds wrote later in his life about fingerprinting, he did not develop a notable classification system. MPD adopted the system developed by Gustav Roscher, the Police President of the State of Hamburg (see fuller story below).
On 12 November 2004, forty-three years after Chuo Ward dedicated its memorial to Faulds, his home village in Scotland followed suit.
The Dr Henry Faulds memorial in Beith is very low key. With respect to his work on fingerprinting, it says only this (viewed 4 December 2007).
From 1875 to 1885, he worked in Tokyo, Japan, where he founded the Tsukiji Hospital in 1875. It was during this time that he made his breakthrough in fingerprinting, being recognized as the first person to publish a detailed report on the conception of fingerprints in criminal investigation in the scientific journal, NATURE in 1880.
The dedication ceremony was attended by Yoshihisa Tsukida, a National Police Agency official serving as a Second Secretary in the Political Section of the Japanese Embassy in the United Kingdom at the time. The Japan-UK Exchange section of the embassy's website features an article called "Dr Henry Faulds - Pioneer of fingerprint science and medical missionary to Japan is honoured".
Tsukida reportedly made the following remarks in a short speech at the ceremony (posted 16 December 2004, viewed 4 December 2007).
I am certain that if we all share the spirit of pioneers like Dr Faulds, who over a century ago successfully conducted innovative research in a different cultural atmosphere, we will be able to cooperate with each other, and be able to tackle, not only crimes but also every other issue based on mutual understanding, friendship and confidence.
Also attending the Beith ceremony -- and standing next to Tsukida in one photograph -- was Edward German, a fingerprint expert at the US Army Crime Laboratory. German has posted a web features on the Tsukiji and Beith memorials. In one of his Tsukiji features, he states that he "worked in the Tokyo area as a fingerprint expert for the US Army's Pacific area crime laboratory during 1977-80 and 1989-92."
German is the "webservant" of onin.com, which features many articles on fingerprints and biometrics.
"The man who discovered fingerprints"
Tredoux (see above) severely pans the following work by Colin Beavan.
Fingerprints: The Origins of Crime Detection and the Murder Case that Launched Forensic Science
New York: Hyperion Press, 2001
232 pages, hardcover
Beavan maintains, in Tredoux's words, that "the true inventor of the fingerprint method is really Henry Faulds, who was cheated of his claim by a conspiracy among the leading scientists of the day" and that "Galton stole Faulds' research, passing it off as his own" (Tredoux 2003).
The title of the Japanese translation is even more insistant that fingerprinting began with Henry Faulds in Japan.
コリン ビーヴァン Colin Beavan
茂木健 (翻訳) Mogi Takeshi (translation)
Shimon o hakken shita otoko: Henrii Fooruzu to hanzai kagaku sōsa no yoake
[The man who discovered fingerprints: Henry Faulds and the dawn of forensic science investigation]
Tokyo: Sufu no Tomo Sha, 2005
287 pages, hardcover
The colonial origins of fingerprinting
The definitive work on the origins of fingerprinting in India was published in 2003 and came out in a Japanese translation in 2004.
Imprint of Raj: How Fingerprinting Was Born in Colonial India
Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 2003
256 pages, hardcover
Pan Macmillan paperback, 2004, xv, 234 pages
チャンダック・セングープタ Chandak Sengoopta
平石律子 (訳) Hiraishi Ritsuko (translation)
Shimon wa shitte ita
[The fingerprints knew]
283 pages, paperback (文春文庫)
Chandak Sengoopta has been with Birkbeck College, University of London, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, since September 2003. His principal research and teaching interests include the history of medicine and the life sciences in modern Europe, the cultural history of imperialism, and the history of Victorian and Edwardian Britain.
Sengoopta gives considerable space to the work of Francis Galton in England and Edward Henry in India, in addition to the earlier activities of William Herschel in India and Henry Faulds in Japan.
The most interesting chapters, though, are those which examine the development of fingerprinting within the field of anthropometry as a medical science that flourished in the colonies of European empires.
Henry Faulds as fingerprint refuser
In 1990, the "Yoroku" (余禄) column featured on the first page of the morning edition of Mainichi shinbun pressed Faulds into the service of editorial opposition to fingerprinting aliens when registering as residents at local offices.
The exposition of the article is typical of this and similar columns in rival papers. It makes points by laterally sliding from one topic to another -- the art of telling one story through many.
There is no spoiling the story with distracting facts. Just hops, skips, and jumps from one vignette to another until their threads converge in a more focused statement.
The following translation of the column was published in the Mainichi Daily News on 20 November 1990 (page 2). The original appeared the morning edition of Mainichi Shinbun.
Faulds would lament being fingerprinted (Mainichi Daily News, 20 November 1990)
'Yoroku' (余禄) Sidelight
Shell Mounds and Fingerprints
When two accidents occur one on top of the other, they take on the aspect of inevitability. It was sheer accident that American zoologist Edward S. Morse boarded a train at Yokohama for Shimbashi, Tokyo, in 1877, and that shortly after the train pulled out of Omori Station he spotted mounds of shells on the left side of the track.Residents of the neighborhood believed that the shells had been left by a legendary giant which had eaten the shellfish. Morse returned to the site time and again and unearthed cord-marked pottery of the Jomon Period as well as tone implements. The important discovery of what came to be known as the Omori Shell Mounds, which marked the start of archaeological studies in Japan, led to another discovery, this time by an English physician, Henry Faulds.
Faulds, who had come to Japan in 1874, was working as a surgeon at Tsukiji Hospital in Tokyo when he heard of Morse's discovery of shell mounds. He went to Omori, partly to kill time and partly out of curiosity. Soon his eyes were attracted to finger marks on the pots he found by chance, and he began to study them.
From ancient times Japanese had used their thumbs and nails as seals on documents. Faulds had no shortage of material to work on. In 1880 he sent a paper to the British scientific journal Nature, suggesting that fingerprints could be useful in crime detection.
Had Morse not found the shell mounds at Omori, Faulds' discovery might not have occurred. Computers are now used for checking fingerprints, but the principle that individuals can be identified by the pattern of lines on their fingers still stands. It was a fingerprint that led to the arrest last Friday of a man suspected of killing the wife of a company executive 15 years ago.
The police are to be congratulated for apprehending the suspect a mere 40 days before the statute of limitations was to expire. Fingerprints have always been associated with crime investigation, and this is why the system of fingerprinting foreigners has been a subject of controversy. The government should take some other measure instead of arguing that there is no alternative. Faulds would lament being fingerprinted.
Palm prints in Konjaku monogatari
National newspapers generally sided with fingerprint refuser aims if not with their civil disobedience. Some editorials and columns were exceptional in the way they put the refusal movement in a global perspective.
The foregoing article was not the first to invoke the name of Henry Faulds and censor Japan's fingerprinting of aliens. In the fall of 1984, the same "Yoroku" (余禄) column criticized a Tokyo District Court ruling which found fingerprinting constitutional while conceding it could be humilating.
The following translation of the column was published in the Mainichi Daily News on 5 September 1984 (page 2). The original appeared in the 1 September 1984 issue of the morning edition of Mainichi Shinbun (page 1).
Palm print leads king to wife's abductor (Mainichi Daily News, 5 September 1984)
'Yoroku' (余禄) Sidelight
Court Ruling On Fingerprinting
Mahatma Gandhi, father of Indian independence, was jailed countless times in his lifetime. It was while in prison that he wrote his autobiography. His illustrious career of repeated imprisonment began in Johannesburg in South Africa.
In 1907 the South African government enacted a bill which required all Indians living in the country to register their fingerprints. They could reject it on pain of a fine, imprisonment or banishment. Gandhi, who had gone to South Africa in 1893 to practice law, spearheaded the campaign against the humiliating law. Soon jails were chock-full of Indians, including Gandhi, who refused to obey the law.
After being released, the Indians held a rally, collected their identity papers and set them on fire. It was the campaign against fingerprinting that marked the beginning of Gandhi's lifelong movement of civil disobedience. Halfway around the world the Japanese Ministry of Justice took the fingerprints of all prison inmates in 1908, the year after Gandhi went to jail. This was the beginning of the history of fingerprinting in this country.
An English surgeon by the name of Falls [sic: Faulds] published the first research paper on identification of individuals on the basis of fingerprints. The surgeon, who came to Japan in 1874 to work at the Tsukiji Hospital in Tokyo [sic: Faulds founded the hospital], started to do research in fingerprints when he became interested in the Japanese practice of sealing documents with thumb-prints.
"Konjaku Monogatari," a collection of tales in India, China and Japan that was compiled in the 12th century, contains this episode. The spouse of the king of a certain country was spirited away every night, taken in the woods and allowed to return the next morning. No one knew where she was taken or who the abductor was. The king had the palm of her hand painted with India ink and told her to print her palm on the paper sliding door of the house she was taken to. The king's retainers fanned out with copies of her handprint and finally caught the abductor.
Handprint and fingerprint have long been associated with crime. It is hardly surprising that foreign residents of Japan have shown a strong aversion to having their fingerprints taken. in its ruling on Wednesday the Tokyo District Court conceded that fingerprinting gives a sense of humiliation, though it declared to be constitutional the Alien Registration law, akin to the South African law that sparked Gandhi's protest. Can't the law be replaced by the kind of identification method that doesn't hurt the feelings of foreigners? (Sept. 1)
MPD expert matches 6th-century haniwa prints
A feature in the evening edition of the Asahi Shinbun on 28 October 1995 (page 9) reported that fingerprints on two haniwa -- clay cylinders -- were of the same person, indicating they had been made by the same potter.
Making the report was the archaeologist Sugiyama Shinsaku (杉山晋作), a professor at the National Museum of Japanese History (国立歴史民俗博物館). Assisting in the identification was Tsukamoto Uhei (塚本宇兵), an identification expert in the Criminal Investigation Division of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.
By way of explaining Tsukamoto's participation in the project, Sugiyama is quoted to have said that "Fingerprints cannot be taken by amateurs, and their differentiation was also difficult."
Tsukamoto reportedly stated that the odds of a fingerprint of two individuals being entirely alike is about one in one trillion. He had never thought that fingerprints could be applied to archaeology. The image of fingerprinting is dark, said, but he decided to help Sugiyama because he thought it was "a good opportunity to have people in general understand the essential value of fingerprints, which are [equally valuable] on identification certificates [status certification documents] also."
Haniwa were used the middle centuries of the first millennium to mark tomb mounds. They are fairly large cylinders that stood around the perimeter of a tomb to protect it. The tops of the cylinders were often ornamented, some with figurines.
The matching fingerprints were found on tomb cylinders discovered in Hitachinaka city in Ibaraki prefecture. Sugiyama and his team had examined about 10,000 such cylinders which had been excavated in Chiba and Ibaraki over the years. Fingerprints were found on several hundred. Two of the cylinders found in Hokonomiya Tomb No. 1 in a group of burial tumuli dating around the 6th century, during the so-called "old tumulus period" of Japanese history.
Sugiyama tells the fingerprint story in the following publications.
杉山晋作 Sugiyama Shinsaku
埴輪こぼれ話 Haniwa koborebanashi
[Overbrimming stories of haniwa]
歴博ブックレット ２６ Rekihaku bukkuretto 26
History Museum booklet 26
Foundation for Museums of Japanese History, 2003
杉山晋作 Sugiyama Shinsaku
Tōgoku no haniwa to kofun jidai kōki no shakai
Tokyo: Rokuichi Shobō, 2006
170 pages, hardcover
Tsukamoto (b1936) became an MPD patrolman in 1955. In 1967, after working several years in the criminal investigation division, he joined the fingerprint group of the identification section. He is the author of two books on fingerprinting as a forensic tool. He retired in 2002 from his post as head of MPD's Criminal Investigation Laboratory (警視庁科学捜査研究所).
Tsukamoto 2003 
塚本宇兵 Tsukamoto Uhei
Shimon wa kataru: "Shimon no kamisama" to yobareta otoko no jikenbo
[Fingerprints speak: The incident book of the man called "the god of fingerprints"]
Tokyo: PHP Kenkyujo, 2003
219 pages, hardcover
The above hardcover was reissued in the following bunko edition.
塚本宇兵 Tsukamoto Uhei
"Shimon no kamisama" no jikenbo
[The incident book of "the god of fingerprints"]
Tokyo: Shinchosha, 2006
261 pages, paperback (新潮文庫)
[Paperback reissue of 2003 hardcover]
塚本宇兵 Tsukamoto Uhei
Kuro no moyō: Keishichō shimon sōsakan repooto
[Patterns of black: Report of MPD fingerprint investigator]
Tokyo: Shinchosha, 2007
205 pages, hardcover
AFIS and Japan
Advances in computer sciences -- data processing speeds, memory capacity, and programming -- have enabled technological revolutions in all fields of forensic identification.
The National Police Agency began to use computers to attack fingerprint comparison in 1973. A decade later, NPA became the first police agency to install and operate an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (指紋自動識別システム).
Japan was the first to develop a successful AFIS, according to Tsukamoto Uhei, and NPA began using an AFIS in October 1983 (Tsukamoto 2003, page 48).
AFIS was pioneered by NEC (Nippon Electric Company) in 1982. NEC continues to be the leader in the development and deployment of AFIS hardware and software. The company has installed AFIS systems in law enforcement facilities around the world.
California's AFIS system, for example, was installed by NEC in 1985. Circa 2000, the California Identification Network (CAL-ID), maintained by the state's Department of Justice, had over 10 million records. About 1.6 million arrests every year required some 400,000 new records.
CAL-ID shares its records with local, state, and national law enforcement agencies. It is the hub of the Western Identification Network (WIN), a consortium of identification bureaus in seven states of the western United States, which had about 17 million print records circa 2000.
WIN, like other identification networks, allows member systems to search and share one another's fingerprint data. Like many other such networks, is heavily dependant on NEC hardware and software.
In 1997, NEC installed its first Latent Examiner Workstations (LEXS) at the FBI in Washington, DC. This allowed the FBI to network with WIN and other fingerprint databases and gain access to over 30 million prints.
NEC's global reach
NEC Corporation's website features "Biometrics ID Solutions: Secure solutions for personal identification" (www.nec.com, viewed 23 December 2007).
"Biometrics ID Solutions" involves Fingerprint Identification and Facial Recognition. "Solutions" apply to Law Enforcement AFIS and Identity Management. Identity Management -- for government, civil and commercial users -- covers National IDs, Voter IDs, Driver Licenses, E-Passport, and Border Control.
The Law Enforcement AFIS page makes the following boasts (Home > Solutions & Services > Biometrics ID Solution > Solutions > Law Enforcement AFIS).
NEC is the leader in the biometrics solutions market, enjoying over 60% of today's market share. More than 65 percent of the world's fingerprints are stored on NEC's AFIS, helping solve more crimes from latent prints than all other systems combined.
* About 40 NEC AFIS systems are currently in service with the police agencies in Japan.
* Over 100 NEC AFIS systems have been deployed in the worldwide law enforcement organizations and are operating in more than 1000 agencies.
AFIS in Japan
Tsukamoto writes that Japan's AFIS contained about 6 million fingerprint records circa 2003 (Tsukamoto 2003, page 49). Identification technicians deal with about 10,000 prints annually (page 54). Some 100 records are added daily (page 55).
Prints of convicted persons are destroyed when the person becomes 75 years old. Prints obtained from persons cooperating with an investigation are destroyed after comparison of their prints with crime scene prints. Crime scene prints related to an unsolved case are disposed of when its statute of limitations runs out. (Ibid., page 49)
History through World War II
Fingerprinting of the kind used to facilitate identification in law enforcement and other government matters began in Japan in 1908. However, various kinds of "finger seals" have a much longer history.
Some writers have stated that Japan's fingerprinting of aliens after World War II was inspired by the 1940 Alien Registration Act in the United States. However, Japan had considerable experience in the bureaucratic art of fingerprinting people for identification and social control purposes.
Almost everyone in Japan who is old enough to have a bank account has at least one personal seal, showing their family name, for use in formal matters.
A registered (legal) name seal, custom-carved on materials like boxwood or ivory, is carefully protected and not used casually. Hence most people have one or two cheap ready-made seals to use on less important documents like delivery receipts, post office change of address requests, and rental-video applications.
However, various kinds of impressions of fingers, also inspired through Chinese practices, have been used in lieu of name seals, in early times and today.
The general act of affixing or "impressing" (捺 natsu) anything that serves as a signature or "seal" (印 in) was called "natsuin" (捺印). A fingerprint could also be impressed as a seal.
The general term for a print of the tip of a finger used as a personal seal or signature is "shiin" (指印). Some involve only the pad of a finger, others also part of the nail.
Influenced by China, the practice of "tsumein" or "sōin" (爪印) -- literally "nail seal" -- was used in Japan from around the 9th century in lieu of carved seals. As the word implies, a person would make an impression of a the side of finger, including the edge of the nail, on a document to signify that one had written it or read it, and certified its correctness or agreed with it, as implied by the kind of document. The tip of the finger was usually daubed in black, red, or at times another color of ink before making the impression.
The term "tsumeban" or "sōhan" (爪判) refers more specifically to a nail seal made by a criminal on a the transcription of an oral statement or confession called a "kuchigaki" or "kōsho" (口書), to certify that it was true. This use of a finger seal, during the Edo period, was limited to common soldiers, farmers, and townsmen, as higher ranking people were expected to affix a carved seal to their written name.
The term "boin" (拇印) refers more specifically to a thumb seal. Generally the right thumb is used to make such an impression in lieu of a personal seal. This is the kind of finger seal most likely seen today.
A "keppan" (血判) -- also "ketsuban" and "chiban" -- is a blood seal made by pricking a finger and either writing one's name in blood or making a finger impression. Sometimes an entire document was written in blood. Several color woodblock prints show people making such blood oaths (see the News Nishikie website at www.nishikie.com for examples).
Edo practices alive and well
Finger seals gained in popularity during the Edo period, especially among women and others who did not have personal seals. Today, too, nail seals generally, and thumb seals in particular, are still considered legal signatures on contracts and holographic wills.
More casual use of finger seals is also still in evidence. Many people keep a cheap family-name seal near the front door, to sign off on deliveries or neighborhood circulars. But a thumb print -- or increasing a written signature -- will do.
During the decades I made frequent use of the National Diet Library, I routinely -- like most other users -- put my thumb print on forms for requesting copies of materials. There was a place for a name seal, but instructions said that a finger impression was also acceptable. The counters for filling out such forms had red ink pads, and most people -- not just college students -- would seal the form with their right thumb.
Prints differ from seals
Finger seals, while used to signify an individual, are not regarded in the same manner as fingerprints, which are used to differentiate and identify individuals.
The term for fingerprint in Japanese is "shimon" (指紋) -- literally a "finger pattern" -- an image of the pattern of ridges of part of a finger. The term applies only to a finger pattern in the abstract -- not to the use of a pattern as a seal or signature as such.
In Japan, as in other countries, "fingerprinting" is closely associated with criminal investigation and forensic identification. While most Japanese think nothing of providing a "boin" when needed, the idea of allowing their "shimon" to be taken for whatever reason meets with considerable resistance.
Convergence of seals and prints
Seals and prints converge, however, in the world of personal identification. If the impression of a finger is used to "lock" access to funds in a bank account, then a scan of the same finger by a fingerprint scanner on an ATM will unlock the account and permit withdrawal.
Fingerprint scanners are increasingly visible on ATMs in Japan today. They offer additional protection against the risk of a thief cashing in on a stolen card and PIN number. It is relatively difficult to steal an identity that has been sealed with a fingerprint.
1908 Prison Law Enforcment Regulations
On 16 October 1908, the Prison Bureau of the Ministry of Justice (司法省監獄局) instructed wardens of prisons throughout Japan to collect fingerprints from convicts nearing the end of their terms.
Newspaper reports published on 2 October, two weeks before the start of such fingerprinting, disclosed that the classification system to be used was the "Hamburg style of Roscher" or Roscher system.
1 October 1908 marked the start of a new age of law enforcement in Japan. The second Meiji Penal Code, and its enforcement regulations, came into effect from this date.
The first Prison Law (監獄法 Kangokuhō), promulgated by the emperor on 28 March 1908, also came into effect on this date (Law No. 28 of 1908), as did the Prison Law Enforcement Regulations (監獄法施行規則 Kangokuhō shikō kisoku) promulgated by the Ministry of Justice on 16 June 1908 (MOJ Order No. 48 of 1908).
Artcile 20 of the enforcement regulations empowers prison wardens to photograph and fingerprint inmates.
The Prison Law was abolished when replaced by a new law on 1 June 2007. The enforcement regulations are still in effect.
1911 Metropolitan Police Board
The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Board (MPB 警視廳 Keishichō) -- the forerunner of the present Metropolital Police Department (MPD 警視庁 Keishichō) -- began systematically fingerprinting persons under investigation from 1 April 1911.
In 2005, Okada Kaoru (岡田薫) -- former male chief of the Identification Section at the National Police Agency (警察庁 Keisatsuchō), not the actress of the same name -- made the following observation about its early effectiveness, in a recent overview of past, present, and future issues in biometric authentication (pages 9-10 in source below; structural translation is mine).
|28. Finger-Prints of Convicts
As for the results [of MPB's introduction of fingerprinting], the the October  issue of the Police Association Journal writes as follows. "MPB fingerprint cards from their implementation in April exeed 5,000, and though [utilization] has not yet gone far enough to see remarkable effects, till now there have been several times that [police] have secured criminal evidence with fingerprints of criminals impressed at scenes of crime; and by matching fingerprints, not stopping at the discovery of an alias and previous conviction, there were also several formerly convicted persons who had often received an adjudgment for a first offense using an alias . . . ."
岡田薫 Okada Kaoru
Other prefectural police departments also adopted fingerprinting but standards varied. On 17 August 1932, the Ministry of Justice issued an instruction which unified fingerprinting procedures and records throughout Japan.
Hiranuma Kiichirō (平沼騏一郎 1867-1952), Japan's prime minister in 1939, was instrumental in the early introduction and standardization of fingerprinting in Japan.
Before becoming a politician, Hiranuma was a Ministry of Justice bureaucrat and prosector. As the director of the ministry's Civil Crime Bureau (民刑局) from 1906-1909, he participated in a committee which studied ways to differentiate and identify criminals and keep track of convicted offenders, on the occasion of revising the penal code and implementing related laws in 1908.
MPB's decision to introduce fingerprinting in 1911 was apparently influenced by a report written by Hiranuma, who had visited Germany to study its police system.
Hiranuma was the prime minister of Japan in 1939 during the Nomanhan Incident and president of the Privy Council at the end of World War II. Tried and convicted as a Class A war criminal, he was sentenced to life but released due to illness.
Hiranuma's adopted son is the Liberal Democratic Party politician Hiranuma Takeo (平沼 赳夫 b1939). He adopted Takeo after Takeo's father, his older brother's son, was killed during World War II.
See "Hiranuma Kiichiro and Nomanhan" in section on "1939 Special Kenpeitai" below.
MPB adopted a modified version of a system established in 1903 in the German state of Hamburg. The Hamburg system is better known as the Roscher system, after the superintendent of police who developed it. The Roscher classification system also found application in Germany and Russia.
MPD presently uses what some refer to as the "Japanese system" of fingerprinting. This system integrates the advantages of the Henry classification system into the modified Roscher system.
The Henry classification system was developed in the late 1890s in India. It is named after Edward R. Henry (1850-1931), who supervised the work of Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose at the Calcutta Anthropometric Bureau.
The Henry system came to be used in Scotland Yard, the United States, and most other English-speaking countries. The Roscher system was adopted in Germany and Japan. Russia adopted a combination of the Roscher and Galdon systems. The Vucetich system, developed by Juan Vucetich (1858-1925), an Argentine police officer, is widely used in South American states.
Tsukamoto on introduction of fingerprinting
Tsukamoto Uhei, Japan's "god of fingerprints" (see above), has summarized the introduction of fingerprinting by Japan in his publiciations.
In 1905 Ōba Shigema (大場茂馬), then with the Prosecution Division of the Tokyo District Court (under the system at the time), and in 1907 Hiranuma Kiichiro, then head of the Civil and Criminal Division of the Ministry of Justice, went abroad to anthropometry and fingerprinting. Ōba studied at his own expense in Germany, and Hiranuma surveyed these subjects in Euroamerica in an official capacity. (Tsukamato 2003, page 44)
Consideration was first given to the need to deal with repeat offenders who moved from one jurisdiction to another and used aliases. Hence the start of fingerprinting first in prisons in 1908, then in police investigations in 1911. (Ibid., pages 44-45)
Fingerprinting was introduced after studying the information Ōba and Hiranuma had brought back to Japan. The Roscher system was adopted because it appeared to be an improvement on the Henry system. (Ibid., page 45)
Tsukamoto appears to have drawn this historical information from a a publication called "The course of the police fingerprint system" (警察指紋制度のあゆみ Keisatsu shimon seido no ayumi), published in 1961 by the National Police Agency, Criminal Investigation Division, Identification Section（警察庁刑事局鑑識課 Keisatsuchō Keijikyoku Kansatsuka).
This book is sometimes attributed to Ōba Shigeo (1869-1920). Its publication in 1961 marked the 50th anniversary MPB's (MPD's) introduction of fingerprinting.
A "Fingerprint master card repository agency" (指紋原紙保管庁 Shimon genshi hokan chō) was established in 1934. This agency's mission was to receive and preserve fingerprint records from prefectural police, which until then had been using various formats of master cards. (Tsukamoto 2003, page 46)
The agency, under the Ministry of Home Affairs, had three branches -- Metropolitan Police Board, Osaka Police Department, and Fukuoka Police Department. The fingerprint agency was disbanded, along with the Ministry of Home Affairs, in 1945 by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Power. (Ibid., page 46).
Today, fingerprint data compiled by prefectural police departments are integrated by the National Police Agency -- which does not have powers of investigation (Ibid., pages 47-48).
1912 Fingerprinting in Chosen
No sooner had Korea been annexed, and its name changed to Chosen, that Japan began fingerprinting inmates in prisons in the new territory. Publicists saw this as part of the order that the rule of Japanese law would bring to penninsula.
The following overview of fingerprinting appeared in Government-General of Chosen (compiler), Annual Report on Reforms and Progress in Chosen (Korea) (1913-14), Keijo: Government-General of Chosen, July 1915 (Section III, Justice, page 32).
See Korea reports for an overview of all annual reports from the Resident-General of Korea and Government-General of Chosen.
|28. Finger-Prints of Convicts
In order to facilitate recognition of prisoners, should they again resort to crime after their release, prints of their fingers are kept. This finger-print method has been employed in the Peninsula since August, 1910. On April 1, 1912, the Regulations dealing with Finger-Prints were issued by the Governor-General's Instruction to Prison Governors No. 47, by which two sets of finger-prints of those undergoing penal servitude, imprisonment, or flogging should be taken; one to be kept in the prison and the other in the Judicial Department of the Government-General During the year 1913, copies of finger-prints of criminals submitted to the Judicial Department numbered 11,647, out of which 404 were those of offenders guilty of a repetition of their evil-doing.
Fingerprinting in Manchuria and Manchoukuo
Fingerprinting was carried out by various Japanese authorities in parts of Manchuria under Japanese control from as early as 1924 for the purpose of labor management. Fingerprinting related to control of labor migration, and as a countermeasure to subversive activities, spread after 1932 when Manchuria became Manchoukuo, an independent state largely created by, and tethered to, Japan.
After World War II
While fingerprinting for purposes of identifying people in criminal investigations, or for social control in limited areas in specific areas, was not new to Japan, nationwide registration and fingerprinting of resident aliens had never before been attempted. The main problem for the municipal officials who had to carry out fingerprinting from the mid 1950s was the willingness of the aliens -- most of whom had been Japanese until 1952 -- to comply with the fingerprinting requirement of the Alien Registration Law.
It is often pointed out in studies of the Occupation that the incorporation of fingerprinting with the registration of aliens in postwar Japan was modeled after the US Alien Registration Act of 1940. While the US law, aimed at subversives, may have inspired the application of similar measures in Japan, Japan had far more experience than the United States in use of registration as a tool for controlling the residence and migration of its population.
All Japanese -- inlcuding resident Chosenese, who constituted the vast majority of the alienated cohort for which the fingerprinting was mainly intented -- were familiar with family and resident registration as a part of life. The only difference was the purpose of the registration, the collection of photographs and fingerprints, and the issuance of a certificate -- a handbook with a photograph and a fingerprint -- which had to be carried at all times and shown to police on demand.
These were, of course, significant differences. And the nature of these differences gave credibility to the claim that such treatment of aliens -- particularly those who had been Japanese, and their descendants -- was discriminatory.
During the Occupation of Japan following World War II, some ordinary persons were fingerprinted as a means confirming identity in connection with controlling residential migration within "Japan" as defined by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), as well as "repatriation" between the prefectures and other parts of the former empire.
Such fingerprinting was carried out sporadically, and locally, beginning in 1946 in Osaka, where it was limited to Chosenese, who were Japanese by law but "non-Japanese" in the eyes of SCAP.
For details on related laws see Alien control laws in Japan: The regulation of entry, stay, and residence.
1949-1952 National fingerprint registry
Between 1949 and 1952, the judicial affairs committees of both houses of the Diet considered introducing a bill for a 国民指紋法 (Kokumin shimon hō) -- or "national fingerprint law" that would have established a register of fingerprints of all nationals.
During this period, the Superintendent-General of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Board publicly gave his own fingererprints to promote the idea of a national registry.
For a detailed story see National fingerprint registry: The 1949-1952 bid to fingerprint all nationals.
1955-2000 Alien registration
From 1955 to 1993, most aliens were fingerprinted as a matter of alien registration. Such fingerprinting was required by the 1952 Alien Registration Law, but the provision was implemented until 1955. Fingerprinting was carried in accordance with ancillary Alien Fingerprinting Regulations, promulgated and enforced in 1955.
Aliens had to provide fingerprints and photographs the first time they registered if fourteen years or older (sixteen years or older from 1982), and everytime they renewed their registration, which was generally every five years.
Fingerprinting ended for all permanent residents in 1993, when the ancillary regulations were abolished. Other aliens continued to be fingerprinted only when first registering if sixteen or over, or when turning 16 if registered when younger.
Fingerprint ended for all resident aliens in 2000. Instead, all aliens were required to provide signatures on both their alien registration certificate, and on registration records.
For details on related laws see Alien control laws in Japan: The regulation of entry, stay, and residence.
2007-2999 Immigration control
From 2007, fingerprinting as a matter of immigration control begn to be required of all aliens, whenever entering Japan, except diplomats, aliens under 16 years of age, Special Permanent Residents, Status of Forces Agreement personnel, and a few others as provided by 2006 revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law.
For details on related laws see Alien control laws in Japan: The regulation of entry, stay, and residence.