Just a quick thought tonight -- a couple of things today caught my attention as being very different from the kind of citizen/government relationship I grew up with.
A couple of days ago, we got something in the mail that looked important. "Important" means that it is addressed to me, contains lots of paper, and that I don't know what it is. I took it in to work to have one of the administrative assistants look at it. This isn't actually part of their job description, as far as I know; they're just cool like that. It turns out that it was from the Japanese government pension program -- their version of social security. If I understand correctly (which I might not), everyone is required by law to pay into this beginning at age 20, whether they're employed or not. If you're working, your employer picks it up, otherwise you're on your own. They want me to provide evidence (entry stamp on my passport) that I wasn't in Japan on a work visa for a while before my employer started paying, because if you're eligible to work then you need to pay into the pension system. This seems sort of odd to me -- a national pension system that isn't conditional on employment -- and I wonder whether people get some kind of reprieve if they're unemployed.
The other thing was during a discussion about a (female) lab member who had recently gotten married. Apparently, in Japan name changes upon marriage are required by law -- if the woman doesn't want to, the man has the option, but someone has to change. I don't see why this kind of thing needs to be regulated by law. Then again, it could be the kind of thing that is perceived as "strengthening traditional marriage" so that no logical justification is really required. I remember hearing about a similar law in Germany -- apparently they have a list of approved given names for German children and if you want to give your kid a non-standard name then there are a lot of bureaucratic hoops to jump through.