The immigration office
Design fiction by Lars Erik Holmquist and Hamed Alavi
This is a true story.
The place: Japan.
The year: 2020.
Oh no! Time to renew my Japanese residence card!
I don’t want to even think about it. Last year, I did it at the small ward office in Honmoku.
It was horrible. It was raining and cold. It took the whole day as I was shuttled between different cramped offices without ever encountering anyone who spoke English. By the end of the day, I was amazed that they actually gave me a new card - I had no idea what had happened.
I lost one day of work and 3 litres of my body weight in sweat because I was so anxious.
A few months ago I moved to a bigger city. My colleague told me about the new system that is being implemented in Shinjuku ward. It’s supposed make everything much easier using neural networks or something. I can not really believe it.
Today is my appointment. I already sent my preliminary application. They gave an appointment slot that is supposed to be optimal for me by looking at my calendar. It even includes the projected total waiting time - 93 minutes. I doubt it!
When I walk to the subway station, it starts raining, but not as bad as the last time. Is this a good or bad sign?
As I arrive at the ward office, I am met by a nice gleaming machine. As I approach it automatically switches to English. Amazing! Maybe this will work!
The machine even seems to know why I am here! It says “Residence Card” and a small round token pops out. I pick it up. It feels nice, almost like a small warm stone.
On the token is a number - this is the first desk I am going to. There is a small map to help me find the way, and even a blue blip showing where I am right now. There is also an estimated waiting time - 4 minutes and 34 seconds. Exactly the time it will take me to walk over there!
I arrive at the desk just as the previous customer is leaving, and hand over my documents, including the old residence card. The clerk takes them, makes a quick check, and nods.
My token changes.
This time it shows another location and a much longer waiting time: 68 minutes. I turn it over. On the back are some useful Japanese words that I would be able to learn in this time! I start learning first Japanese kanji sign. “Niji” – rainbow. It is pretty complicated.
But soon I notice something else: The token has detected one of my colleagues who is also waiting. I walk over to a lounge area in the other end of the building. Was this by accident or did the system actually match us up?
In any case we have a nice chat and before I know it the token buzzes. It shows a time of 3 minutes and 12 seconds, exactly the time it takes to get to the next counter.
I arrive at the next desk. The clerk actually seems to know a little bit of English! “Welcome” he says. He asks me a few simple questions, and it all seems to check out.
Before I know it, the clerk gives me my new residence card. Two more years approved! AWESOME!
“I wouldn’t mind coming back in a month instead of two years”, I joke. I’m not sure if the clerk understands.
As I leave, I am asked to drop off my token. There two choices. Either I can be completely anonymous and have all my data wiped. I see someone putting there token there - it gives off a weird sound, like it was shredding paper!
The other option is to give away all my data forever to everyone to contribute to make my experience even more AWESOME the next time. Of course I choose this option, safe in the knowledge that nothing bad can ever happen to anything that stored on a computer server.
Exactly 93 minutes after I arrived I walk out. The rain has stopped and the sun is shining! I use my new Japanese word: Niji ga arimasu - there is a rainbow!