If you're American, you probably don't think filling out forms is a big deal. If you misspell something, check the wrong box, or don't fill in a field, it's fine -- they'll figure it out.
This is NOT TRUE in Japan. Case in point: I just returned from a Japanese post office after spending far too long trying to mail in my passport renewal. I had to include an international money order with my application, and the lady at the counter scrutinized every single line to ensure absolute correctness. Address written in English? Nope, needs to be in Japanese. First name first? No, last name first. Business address on the form? Need to see your business card. If you make a mistake, you need to cross it out with two horizontal lines, then put your name stamp (hanko) or fingerprint -- on the original and the two carbon copies. And so on. All told, it took me 45 minutes to mail one letter with a $75 money order.
I had a similar experience trying to do a bank transfer at Shinsei Bank (bank transfers are used instead of checks in Japan), one of the most English-friendly banks in Tokyo (the other being Citibank). Not only did it take forever to get the form "just so" I had to come back again later because I had incorrectly categorized the destination account as Regular (futsuu) instead of whatever the other kind is. And no, they couldn't just check the other box for me; I had to come back to the branch to correct it.
So, to the Japan form-filling ProTips:
- Follow instructions completely literally. If it says, "fill out the name as it appears on your ID card," fill it out exactly in the order and character set it appears in on the card. Form fields in Japan may specify that you use roman characters, kanji, furigana (hiragana/katakana), or just katakana.
- Cross out mistakes with two horizontal lines
- If you're not sure about the right way to fill out a field, don't use common sense -- ask, because there is only one Right Way to fill out the field and it's a pain to make corrections. (see above)
- If you can't write Japanese and a form requires Japanese, you can ask the person at the counter to help you out. But it's less embarrassing if you come with a friend who can do it for you.
Anyone else have tips to share?