Compared to the Western world, Japan has an efficient and comprehensive bureaucratic apparatus for determining individuals’ legal identities:

The koseki is Japan’s family registration system. All legally significant transitions in a person’s life — births, deaths, marriages, divorces, adoptions, even changes of gender — are supposed to be registered in a koseki; in fact, registration is what gives them legal effect. An extract of a person’s koseki serves as the Official Document that confirms to the Rest of the World basic details about their identity and status.

Need to prove when you were born? Koseki extract. Need to show you have parental authority to apply for a child’s passport? Koseki extract. Want to commit bigamy? Good luck; the authorities will refuse to register a second marriage if your registry shows you are still encumbered with a first.

Compared to “event-based” Official Documents (birth certificates, divorce decrees and so forth) that prevail in places like America, the koseki is more accurate. An American can use a marriage certificate to show he got married on a particular date in the past but would struggle to prove he is still married today. A koseki extract, on the other hand, can do just that.

Part of me wants to say, “Now throw it on a blockchain!”

But actually what I should talk about is how much of my life is not Officially Documented at all. Who knows what the NSA and the rest of the alphabet soup have in their sneaky little archives (actually massive archives) but I’m insignificant so information about me wouldn’t be catalogued anyway.

When it comes to Genuine Official Documents, I exist and that’s just about it. Birth certificate, driver’s license, and… expired passport? What else do people even have?

On the internet it’s a different story. Some pundits talk about social media as a kind of performative sousveillance. I think “sousveillance” is an unnecessarily loaded word, but it’s true that many of us compulsively self-document. Facebook even has a “major life events” feature (that I personally never use, but it pops up on my timeline frequently).

The vast majority of posts are inane. People grip about this — “I don’t care what you had for breakfast!” — but it also ensures that there’s plenty of material to sift through. Insights can be gleaned, my friends, especially if you cross-reference separate feeds. You could learn so much about me by combing through my 16k+ tweets! Especially when combined with my Instagram.

Maybe we should throw all these social networks on a blockchain and use that as our universal record? If I’ve learned anything from heartfelt Medium posts it’s that anything you could possibly put on a blockchain should be formatted that way.


Header photo by Ryuichi Miwa. It probably doesn’t depict anything related to koseki.

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