To those who are considering applying for refugee status
LAST UPDATED 00/05/16
An explanation of the refugee application process in Japan
and advice to those wishing to make an application
Introduction; what is a refugee? jump
Things you need to know before applying jump
Amnesty International Japanese Section Document for Refugee Status Recognition Published by Amnesty International Japanese Section, Refugee Team 1996, September. Version 1.0
Amnesty International Japanese
Section, Tokyo Office
Sky Esta 2F, 2-18-23, Nishi-Waseda, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo,169
TEL:+81 3-3203-1050 FAX:+81 3-3232-6775
Amnesty International Japanese
Section, Osaka Office
3-17-5, Kita-ku, Osaka,531
TEL: +81 6-376-1496 FAX:+81 6-376-1340
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To those who are considering applyingfor refugee status
of the refugee application process in Japan
and advice to those wishing to make an application
Introduction; what is a refugee? top
A refugee is someone who needs protection. Every government has a duty to protect their people. However, many governments commit horrible human rights violations, and persecute their citizens. In other states, there are strong rebel groups which terrorise the people, and the government is not strong enough to do anything. Yet other states have completely collapsed, leaving no government at all. The people of these countries have lost the protection of their government. Therefore, it is the duty of the rest of the world to protect these people, to ensure their human rights.
To get this protection, you must apply for "asylum" or "refugee status" (nanmin). In most countries, it is not the United Nations (UN) that you must approach; it is the government of the country you are in (or trying to enter). Each country has its own different procedure to recognise people as "refugees" and each government makes its own decision on each individual case. It is not automatic; you may think you are in danger of persecution, but the government you apply to may not agree and they may not give you refugee status. You must convince them (make them understand) that you are in danger and that you can not return to your country. It is important to keep this in mind. In order to get protection, you must explain to people, make them understand that you need it. To get refugee status, you must show people that you need protection.
Things you need to know before applying top
Obtaining (getting) refugee status in Japan is very difficult. The procedures are complicated and secretive, and the decisions are very strict. The authorities will not speak your language and you will probably find it difficult to communicate with them.
However, everyone has the right to apply for refugee status. If you are truly afraid of returning to your country, if you really can not go back, than you can and should apply for refugee status. It is the duty of the Japanese government to protect you.
It is important for the asylum seeker to be strong and determined. You must pursue your refugee status application with a lot of energy. You are the only person who can really show that you really need asylum. You are the only one who really knows the necessary facts and can collect the necessary evidence. You must do everything in your power to persuade the government and have yourself recognised as a refugee. Lawyers and NGOs will do all they can to help you, but in the end, it is you who must make the Japanese government understand you can not go back.
1. The Refugee Recognition System (nanmin nintei seido) in Japan top
1. Overview of the Refugee Recognition System in Japan top
Japan is a party to the Refugee Convention and therefore has a duty to recognise refugees. Japan's refugee recognition system (nanmin nintei seido) is part of the immigration law:
the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (shutsu nyukoku kanri oyobi nanmin nintei-hou). The process goes like this:
1. Application (shinsei)
3. Result; decision
2. If you get refugee status top
If you are recognised as a refugee, the following are the examples of the rights or benefits which you are entitled to enjoy.
It is very hard to obtain refugee status in Japan.
People who want to apply for refugee status must present the required papers to the Regional Immigration Bureau (chihou nyukoku kanri-kyoku; or, for just "immigrations", nyukan), either within 60 days of arriving in Japan, or within 60 days of learning that they cannot return to their country. In exceptional (special) cases where early application was impossible, the application may be accepted even after 60 days.
5. Interview with the refugee inquirer (nanmin chousa-kan) top
After you apply for refugee status, you will be called in for an interview by the Refugee Inquirer (nanmin chousa-kan), who is an immigrations officer. After that, you will be notified (informed) of whether or not you have been accepted as a refugee. Sometimes this takes an extremely long time. It may be years before you are called for an interview and years before you are notified of the result.
6. Appeal top
If you are notified that your application has been rejected, you can appeal (ask for another review). You must apply for an appeal (igi moushide) within seven days of you being notified of the first decision. If the first decision is found to have been wrong, you will be given refugee status. However, if it is not, the process is over; nothing more can be done within the procedure.
Sometimes, if your appeal is unsuccessful, it is possible to take the matter to court; that is hold a trial (saiban). This is sometimes also possible if you do not receive the decision of your appeal after several years.
2. What you need to be recognised as a refugee in Japan top
To get refugee status in Japan, you must show the following:
a) You have suffered persecution in your home country, or were in danger of being persecuted when you escaped. top
"Persecution" (hakugai) can mean many things. It is hard to define but is the most important thing in trying to get refugee status. You must show the government that you are in danger of persecution if you went back to your country. If you were persecuted in the past, it would make your claim even stronger; however, you do not have to have been persecuted to get refugee status. The most important thing is that you would be persecuted if you return to your country.
Persecution could include any of the following:
Danger to your life, security, or freedom
Relating to the safety and freedom of economic activity and property
b) You were persecuted because of one of the following reasons.top
c) You can prove or explain from a personal standpoint, why you were and would be persecuted if returned to your country.top
This is probably the most difficult. You must explain to the Japanese government why you specifically are at danger. It is not enough to say that your government violates human rights, or that the general situation in your country is horrible. You must explain why you could be targeted, why you are in danger.
For instance, just saying:
"The government of my country violates human rights. There are no human rights in my country. All men suffer from the oppression of the security forces; there exists no freedom or respect for the fundamental rights of human beings ... etc."
is not enough. You must be specific. For example:
"The government of my country is killing all members of a certain race. I am of that race and am therefore in danger. The government destroyed my village and killed my family. My friends and I escaped to the city but the security forces arrested and tortured us. I managed to escape by paying a soldier a bribe ... etc."
The government will not give you refugee status just because the general situation in your country is bad. It will not even give you refugee status because your government is oppressive. You must show how that affects you. You must show with concrete examples what has happened to you and what you think will happen to you if you go back. You must show why you are in danger, not anyone else.
3. What you need to apply top
1. Necessary Documents for Submission, two copies of each (one original and one photocopy is OK) top
Your statement is the most important thing you submit (give in), more important even than your evidence materials. In your statement, you must state why you must get refugee status, why you are in need of protection. As described above, this means:
Your statement must be very detailed. It should start when you were born and go up to the present (now). The most important part is the part about your persecution. Names, dates, facts; these are all important. Remember; you must show what happened to you specifically and why you specifically are at danger. For example:
|BAD:||There are no human rights in my country. The government has no respect for human rights.|
|GOOD:||As you see from the Amnesty International report, the government of my country has long since tried to oppress all political opposition with violent means. I joined the secret political party XXX when I was XX years old, attending XXX University...|
|BAD:||All people who dare speak out are persecuted.|
|GOOD:||Like all political opponents,
people from my party were often detained and tortured. I was arrested by the security
forces in an unmarked car on the night of XX.XX.XX.
I was detained until XX.XX., during which time I was subject to torture such as...
Do not worry about the statement being long. It must be detailed; some statements have been over 30 pages. The most important thing is that you explain why you need protection. Every asylum claim is different and needs to be written in a different way. Amnesty will give you advice and help you on how to write an effective statement for your particular situation..
Be sure to keep a copy for yourself of your statement. It is the basis of your claim and the most important document.
2. Materials that prove you are a refugee
You must try to substantiate (prove) your claim for refugee status; that is you must try to get evidence that you were or would be persecuted if you go back to your country.
Naturally, this is very difficult. Most refugees will have very few documents, and in many cases, it is difficult to get hold of such materials. However, it is very important that you do your best to get as much documentation as possible to prove what you say. Even if it seems like something small and irrelevant (not important), it is important that you give it in as proof. Every little thing counts; no matter how small, if it in some way proves what you say, you should give it in. Do not wait for the immigrations officer to ask you for anything; you must look for and give in as much documentation as possible on your own accord (by yourself).
For example, you should give in:
Not all of your documentation has to be about yourself specifically. For example, a letter from your organisation should state your name and preferably what happened to you in your country. But a newspaper article does not necessarily have to mention you in it; it can be about persecution of people in the same organisation, for example. The same goes for human rights organisation reports; do not think it is not important just because you are not mentioned in it by name. If it talks about persecution of people in a similar situation as you, then it is important you give it in. These materials will help show that you can not go back to your country. Even if there are materials which you can not get translated, it is important that you give them in. It doesn't matter if the materials are in English or in your own language. The most important thing is to give them to the immigration officers.
NEVER give the immigration people originals of important documents. ALWAYS give them only photocopies (xeroxes). Take the originals when you go to apply for refugee status and show them to the officer, so he can see that the originals and the photocopies are the same, but DO NOT give them the originals as there is the small chance they could get lost and you may need them someday later.
3. Refugee status application form
Do not worry about writing in the spaces on the form about why you can not go back to your country etc. The spaces are too small. Rather, you should write simply "as in statement" or "please see my statement".
2. Documents to be shown top
* Passport or Certificate of Status of Residence
* Certificate of Alien Registration (gaijin card; gaikokujin touroku shoumeisho); if you have one.
* Special Landing Permits, if applicable.
* Certificate of Provisional Release (kari houmen) if applicable.
4. Questions and Answers top
Since you may have many questions and worries, we have listed a number of points for your reference below. If, for example, you have overstayed and it is difficult for you to go to the immigration bureau, please contact Amnesty International or a lawyer (bengoshi).
1) How do I get an application form?
Application forms are available at the Regional Immigration Bureau (chihou nyukoku kanrikyoku, or nyukan) in Otemachi. If you tell them that you want to apply for refugee status, you should be able to get one from the Refugee Inquirer (nanmin chousakan) or another officer. If for any reason they do not give you one, please contact Amnesty.
If you have been in Japan for a while, you have probably heard that the Immigration office is at Jujo. There are two offices and the one you must go to is Otemachi. It is very important that you do NOT go to Jujo (see question 3).
2) Who do I give my application form to?
Give it to the Refugee Inquirer at the Immigration office. When the application is accepted you will be given a "Certificate of Receipt" (juri-hyou), which is usually stapled in your passport. This receipt will have your number on it. You MUST make sure you receive this paper. Even if the officer takes your papers, your application is not formally accepted if you do not get a receipt.
3) What should I do if they tell me to go to Jujo / Adjudication Division (shinpan-ka)?
If you have overstayed, the Immigration officer may tell you to first go to the Jujo office. He might say that since you have overstayed or "broken the immigration rules", that you must have an interview (ihan chousa) with the people there, who are called the Adjudication Division (shinpan-ka). He might say that after that he will accept your application for refugee status. It is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that you are firm and ask the officer to accept your application right then and there (NOW). Promise him you will go to Jujo without fail later. Sometimes he will even telephone Jujo for you to make an appointment, which is OK, but it is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that you do not go unless your application is accepted AND YOU GET A RECEIPT. You have the right to apply for refugee status. There is no reason you have to go to Jujo first. You must insist on getting your application accepted.
Jujo is where deportation (kyousei taikyo or kyousei soukan) is processed. If you have overstayed, you will have to go to Jujo anyway; this is no problem if you have already applied for refugee status. When you go to Jujo, the deportation process starts, but as long as you have applied for refugee status first, it will be frozen (stopped). You will NOT be deported until you receive a decision for your refugee status application. If you go to Jujo before applying for refugee status, the deportation process will start and once it has started, it is VERY DIFFICULT to stop it later by applying for refugee status. You could even be caught and deported on the spot. It is ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE that you apply for refugee status BEFORE you go to Jujo.
4) Do I need my Alien Registration Card (gaijin card; gaikokujin touroku shoumeisho) for application?
Again, if you do not have a gaijin card, first finish your refugee application, then take the receipt for your application to your local ward or city office (kuyakusho in central Tokyo/Osaka or other major cities, shiyakusho elsewhere) and register.
Ward offices are run by the local government and therefore will not catch or deport you. But they COULD contact the immigration officers at Jujo about you, and they could come and catch you. Local governments have different policies towards foreigners; some are very strict and do not give gaijin cards to overstayers, while some are very kind and helpful. It is best to be safe and apply for refugee status first, and then try to get a gaijin card.
5) Can I apply for refugee status even if I have overstayed (chouka taizai or fuhou taizai)?
YES. As long as you are in Japan, ANYONE can apply for refugee status. Even if you have overstayed your visa, or if you came on a fake passport (illegal entry; fuhou nyu-koku), or if you came on a fake passport and threw it away, it doesn't matter; you have the right to apply for refugee status and the Japanese government MUST review your application.
6) What about the 60 day-rule?
If you read this document and you entered Japan less than 60 days ago, you must make your application as soon as possible. If you make your application after 60 days, the government will accept your application, but will usually refuse your claim; that is, you will not get refugee status. The law says you can apply after 60 days if there are "unavoidable circumstances"; however, this means you were sick in hospital etc. and is useless.
It is very rare for someone to be given refugee status if he applied after 60 days. This is government policy which many people, including Amnesty, are working hard to try to change; however, at the present moment, it is still extremely difficult.
This must be YOUR decision; you must decide. Applying for refugee status in Japan is a long and difficult process, and many people get discouraged during their long wait. It is also scary, as you are coming out into the open; the Japanese government knows who you are and where you live. Some people feel it is not worth the effort; many of them overstay and go underground, waiting for their country to get better so they can go back. You could try this too. However, if Immigration catches you during this time, you will be sent back; it will be almost impossible to apply for refugee status then, no matter what you do. Even if you manage not to get caught, there is no guarantee that the situation in your country will improve soon. Many people come to Amnesty after overstaying for years; they realise after much time has passed that their country is not getting better and that they have no choice but to apply for refugee status. It is that much harder to get refugee status then, because they have already overstayed.
Some people, for example at NGOs, might strongly encourage you to apply for refugee status. They feel it is the Japanese government's responsibility to review your claim, and the only way to change the government is to make sure many people apply for refugee status and campaign. They are right; however, remember it is not your problem whether the Japanese government changes or not. The NGO people will help you as much as they can, but they are not at risk of being sent back to your country; you are. You must decide what is in YOUR best interests; what is good for YOU.
We must say there are no easy answers. Your choices are limited. You must weigh all the factors and decide what you should do.
7) I'm not sure I have all the necessary documentation for my application. Should I wait until I gather them all?
It is not necessary for all your materials to be perfectly complete from the beginning. It is much more important to give in your claim early (before 60 days if possible). Just include as much materials as you can when you give in your application. It is possible to give in other materials afterwards, as many times as you like. The time between your application and the government's decision is usually very long, so you can and should use this time to collect evidence material and background material.
8) What happens if I can't translate all of my material?
The government tries to make it your responsibility to translate your statement and all your documents. Needless to say, this is impossible, as translating is very expensive. Even if you give in your application in English or your own language, the government should, and probably will, translate them when they review your case. However, it would be good if you could give them translations for as much as you can. Please ask friends or other people you know to help you with translating your documents.
The most important thing is to give in your application as quickly as possible, and to give in as much documents as you can. Even if you can not get things translated, be sure to give them in. Again, you can always give in translations later.
9) Do I need a lawyer (bengoshi)?
You can make the application for Refugee Status on your own, without a lawyer. However, in the course of the process, some legal advice will probably be necessary. There are lawyers who volunteer to support refugees, so you can ask for a consultation. However, there are not many, and not every refugee will be able to get one. You should be prepared to go on with your application by yourself if necessary. NGOs such as Amnesty will of course always be there to help you.
10) How will the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; kokuren nanmin koutou benmu-kan) help me?
You may be able to go to the Tokyo Branch Office of the UNHCR, the UN agency which helps refugees. The people there will interview you and review your claim, and in some (but very few) cases they might get you a lawyer. However, their review is totally different from the Japanese government's, and even though the UNHCR might think you should get refugee status, the government does not always listen.
When you go to the UNHCR, go prepared. Take all your documents and go over your statement again. The UNHCR are your friends; however, they will help you only if they think you need refugee status. Therefore, it is important that you explain to them and make them understand that you need protection.
Do not try to go to the UNHCR without calling first and getting an appointment.
11) I didn't want to come to Japan. I heard Canada (or the US, Australia, etc.) is good to refugees. Can I go there?
It is practically impossible to go to another country as a refugee now that you are in Japan. Almost all countries go by what is called the "country of first asylum rule"; that is, you must apply for refugee status at the first country you escape to. If you go to an embassy (taishikan) and say you want to go to their country as a refugee, they will most probably tell you to apply here in Japan. Some countries MIGHT review your application after your application is refused by the Japanese government. On the other hand, most will probably say that "Japan turned you down, so you don't need a protection; you aren't a refugee." In any case policies of governments are changing all the time, so you should go to embassies and ask them directly.
The other option is to go to the embassy and ask for a tourist visa, thinking you can apply for refugee status once you get there. Again, this will be very difficult. All countries now are trying to let in as few people as possible and it will be very difficult for you to get a visa. Even if you did manage to get there, they might point to your stay in Japan, say "why didn't you apply for refugee status in Japan?" and send you back here.
12) What will the interview be like?
The interview with the Refugee Inquirer will be quite hard. He will ask you many questions, and will often ask you the same question many times in different places. This is to see if you are consistent; if you say the same thing. You may get the feeling that he is asking trivial (unimportant) questions, and that he thinks you are lying. It is important that you stay calm and answer his questions as truthfully as you can.
There SHOULD be an interpreter for you who speaks your language. The interview is extremely important and detailed, and it is vital that you get all your points across without fail. Therefore, even if your English (or even Japanese) is quite good, you should ALWAYS request an interpreter and MAKE SURE you get one. The Immigration officer's English might be far from perfect, and the same goes for you. Without a good interpreter, there is a chance that there will be misunderstandings which could hurt your case.
The Refugee Inquirer will be taking notes during your interview in Japanese. At the end, he will show the interview statement (kyoujutu-sho) to you, and the interpreter will explain to you what it says. You will then be asked to sign the statement.
Lawyers or NGO people will almost never be able to attend the interview with you. The Immigrations officers do not allow it. You must do it alone, by yourself. That is why it is extremely important that you go prepared. Take all your documents and most importantly, look over your statement. The Refugee Inquirer will be asking you questions from your statement; he will be looking at it and asking you things. If you say something different from what you had written, even if it is a small, unimportant thing, it will hurt your case. Remember that the most important thing is for you to make the refugee Inquirer understand you need protection. If you say things different from what you wrote in your statement, he will think that you are lying, making it all up and that you do not really need protection.
13) How long will it take until the decision for refugee status?
If the application is rejected, you may be notified in about 6 months. In some cases, however, people are kept waiting for 2 years without receiving any result.
14) What will the situation be while I am in the process of application?
If you make the application while you still have your visa, then your three month visa will be renewed until you get your decision. This is true even if you applied after 60 days; as long as you have one day left on your visa, it will be renewed. Go to the Immigration office and show them the receipt of your refugee status application, and it will be no problem. You have to pay a fee every time you get your visa renewed; roughly \4000.
During this time, if you find a job, you will get a permit (permission to work; shu-ro kyokasho). You must first find someone who will employ (hire) you; then go to the Refugee Inquirer at the Immigration office, who will give you the necessary forms. Your permit will be valid for that job only; it is not a permit for you to do any job you like. When you change jobs, you must tell the Refugee Inquirer and do the whole thing over again.
If your application is rejected, your visa will no longer be renewed EVEN IF YOU APPEAL. You will become "illegal", and there is a possibility that you will be deported. The chances of this are very slim, as you are still appealing. However, in certain cases, it has happened.
If you make your application while you are illegal, you will stay illegal for the entire process; you will not get a visa simply because you applied for refugee status. In practice, you will not be sent back, and officially, you are still illegal. Even if you find a job, you will not get a work permit, and officially, you will be working illegally. Do not worry about being caught for this, as even if there is a raid, the Immigrations people will let you go when they realise you are applying for refugee status. However, your situation is obviously difficult as it will be hard for you to find work.
Please understand that Amnesty can not help you find a job. We can work only on getting you legal protection; to make sure you are not sent back to your country. Amnesty simply doesn't have enough people or money to look for work for you; we have limits on how much we can do.
15) Will there be any aid from the government during my application?
There are very rare cases where people applying for refugee status receive a small sum of money, and sometimes even an apartment, for a number of months. You should talk to the Refugee Inquirer and to the UNHCR about this.
However, you should not expect this to happen. Most cases, no matter how desperate, receive nothing. You must be prepared to live without any aid, on your own, for the duration of the process.
16) What if I get sick? What about school for my children?
Both national health insurance (kokumin hoken) and education are the responsibilities of the local government. You have to go to the ward or city office (kuyakusho or shiyakusho) to ask about these.
Again, it really depends on where you live. Some local governments are very understanding; some are not. If you are legal, insurance should be no problem; however even then school could be difficult. You should talk with your lawyer or even the UNHCR if you have problems, as they might be able to help you.
National health insurance is a health care system run by the government. If you join, you will receive a card (hokensho; more like a small A5 document); you take this card to the doctor or to hospital when you are sick and you will be able to be treated very cheaply (though not free). Insurance is not free; you must pay a little bit depending on how much money you make. Having it could be important, though; even if there is an accident at work and you are taken to hospital on an ambulance, some hospitals may even refuse to treat you if you do not have it. This is very rare, but if you can afford health insurance, it might be good to have; seeing a doctor without it will be extremely expensive.
Even more than insurance, schools will depend on where you live. Some wards have a very big community of foreigners and are open to "overstayer's" children; some are not. If you have children, it would be a good idea to ask around. You will probably be in Japan for years waiting for a decision, so it is important that your children go to school.
Applying for refugee status in Japan is a
very long and difficult process, and it will often be very hard. All the people at Amnesty
are here for you. We are your friends and will help you in any way that we can. Please
call us if you have any questions or need any help.
5. Appendix 1. Addresses top
1) Immigration Bureau top
Tokyo Immigration Bureau
1-3-1 Otemachi Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100, Japan
Tel; +81 3-3286-5248
2) Related Organisations top
If you have queries regarding your refugee application or if you are treated unjustly, please contact one of the below.
Amnesty International Japanese Section: An NGO working for human rights. Can provide general advice to asylum seekers.
Sky esta Rm 201, 2-18-23 Nishi-Waseda, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo, 169
Tel: +81 3-3203-1050 Fax: +81 3-3232-6775
8-4-14, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107
Tel: +81 3-3475-1615
Legal Aid Association: An organisation for legal consultation and aid.
1-1-3, Kasumigaseki Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Tel: +81 3-3581-6941
LAFLR (Lawyers for Foreign Labourers' Rights): An NGO for foreign labourers' rights.
Fujiei manshon, 12-banchi Aizumi-cho, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo, 160
Tel:+81 3-3357-5506 Fax:+81 3-3357-2207
Appendix 2. Some helpful Japanese words and phrases top
I am a refugee -- watashi wa nanmin desu
I can not go back to my country -- watashi wa jibun no kuni ni kaeremesen
It is dangerous -- kiken desu
I want to apply for refugee status -- nanmin nintei shinsei wo shitai desu
refugee -- nanmin
refugee recognition -- nanmin nintei
refugee recognition procedure -- nanmin nintei seido
application form -- shinsei youshi
receipt -- juri-hyou
Immigration Office -- nyukoku kanri-kyoku or nyukan
Regional Immigration Office -- chihou nyukoku kanri-kyoku
Tokyo Immigration Office -- Tokyo nyukoku kanri-kyoku or Tokyo nyukan
Refugee Inquirer -- nanmin chousa-kan
I was persecuted -- watashi ha hakugai saremashita
persecution -- hakugai
torture -- goumon
detention -- koukin
human rights -- jinken
human rights violation -- jinken shingai
government -- seifu
political party -- seitou
religion -- shukyou
race -- jinshu
family -- kazoku
lawyer -- bengoshi
UNHCR -- kokuren nanmin koutou benmu-kan or simply UNHCR
refusal of refugee status -- funintei shobun
appeal -- igi moushi-de
trial -- saiban
deportation -- taikyo kyousei or kyousei soukan
Amnesty International Japanese Section Document for Refugee Status Recognition
Published by Amnesty International Japanese Section, Refugee Team 1996, September. Version 1.0
Amnesty International Japanese Section, Tokyo Office
Sky Esta 2F, 2-18-23, Nishi-Waseda, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 169
TEL:+81 3-3203-1050 FAX:+81 3-3232-6775
Amnesty International Japanese Section, Osaka Office
3-17-5, Kita-ku, Osaka,531
TEL:+81 6-376-1496 FAX:+81 6-376-1340
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