Japan tsunami victims face red-tape and ID worries

OTSUCHI, Japan, March 24 (Reuters): Shingo Suzuki cannot prove he is Shingo Suzuki and that does not bother him, at least not now. Suzuki, living in an evacuee center, is one of thousands of people who escaped the deadly tsunami that hit Japan nearly two week ago with just the clothes he was wearing. He has no identification, no credit cards and no papers bearing his name.
"I don't really live in society now, so nothing feels unusual," the self-employed 45-year-old said. At the center, food is provided and medical help is readily available, but the worries will start once Suzuki leaves and tries to rebuild his life.
Officials estimate tens of thousands whose homes were obliterated by the tsunami also lost their identification, creating headaches for those hoping to take cash out of the bank to buy food or rent a car because their vehicle was crushed in the wall of water that left about 26,000 people dead or missing. The prospect of a cumbersome layer of red tape to restore identification adds to the miseries of people who lost everything and are wondering how to rebuild their lives.
City offices have set up hotlines to help victims obtain new driver's licenses, commercial fishing permits and other papers to help them get back on their feet.
But a centuries' old system may help most in restoring modern records. Japan maintains a detailed family registry system that lists relatives stretching back for generations.
The government has made it easier for people receive their family registry, a basic document that opens the way to other forms of ID, by showing up at a city hall and answering a few questions about themselves and their relatives.
"We need to check the date of their birth, address, relatives and other things that only the person themselves will know," said Hideki Terasawa, a senior Ofunato City official. The system opens the door to fraud and identity theft, but officials are confident honesty will prevail in the midst of the enormous disaster and cheats will quickly be caught. The Japanese postal system, which offers banking services, has dispatched mobile banks to evacuee centers where people can receive quick cash, even without an ID.
"If we can help we will. This is a rural area and people know each other here," said Kazuo Nakamura, a local postmaster. Mizuho Bank, the retail banking unit of Mizuho Financial Group, said even if people do not have IDs, they can withdraw money by filling in their address, birthdate, work address, and current address and by giving their cash card PIN.
Likewise, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp, the commercial banking unit of SMFG, said their customers can withdraw money if the bank can verify their IDs by their answers to questions like date of birth.