Adventures in Japanese Digital Transformation

June 20, 2023

This is about having a non-Japanese name living as an immigrant in Japan and trying to get a SIM card with UQ Mobile.

My name on my 三井住友 (SMBC) credit card is written like this:


So, if you are Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., your name would probably be written like so


On the other hand, if Joseph Robinette has a residence card in Japan (在留カード), his name would most likely be written as


This is where we head into troubled territory. When signing up for a mobile phone provider in Japan, you have to identify yourself with your full name and provide a government-issued ID for verification.

In the case of UQ mobile, you would have to give them two pieces of data: your last name (性) and first name (名). So if you are Joseph Robinette, you would give them the following:

Note the lack of lowercase characters or punctuation. There are probably wacky Japan reasons for that.

Unfortunately, this led me to be declined by UQ Mobile. Trying to truthfully provide your data is not enough. You need to make your circle-shaped name fit into a squared hole: the hegemony of naming convention for people born a Japanese national. I was told:


God forbid someone accidentally deviates from the norm. This has been a recurring experience for the last 6 years of living here. Over and over, I’m told that my name is too long (more than 4 characters last/first each), or my name has too many ゥ, ィ or ヴ, or spaces between first names confusing those poor machines that are still running on SHIFT-JIS.

Of course, neither UQ Mobile nor my credit card number provides phone support, so I’m back to walking into a physical store and getting an appointment to get a phone number.

It sucks because I need a phone number and SMS-based 2-factor authentication has invaded our personal lives, when

Those who spend too much time on specific living-in-Japan forums (or subrxxxits) know this issue too well. Who likes being told their name is wrong, doesn’t match, or is invalid? After all, don’t you or I know our own name the best?

Japan has had Minister for Digital for the last 3 years. The issue of names being unspellable has been known for much longer, probably with Francis Xavier, or, on his residence card: XAVIER FRANCIS, and according to SMBC: F XAVIER

How can this country attract foreign talent, foreign startups, and foreign investors if a simple thing like signing up for an eSIM card online does not work?

I would be thrilled to hear from you! Please share your thoughts and ideas with me via email.

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