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"Heaven's Passport" a Ticket to Good Deeds

July 23, 1999

Can filling a passport with stickers make wishes come true?

For the past two years, the number of passports issued by the Japanese government has been dropping as the sluggish economy has caused people to cut back on foreign travel. But a new kind of "passport," which has nothing to do with traveling abroad, has become wildly popular, mainly among Japanese middle- and high-school girls. Each time the bearer does a good deed, she gets to place a sticker in her passport. When she amasses 100 stickers, her wish is supposed to come true. In the first nine months Heaven's Passport was on the market, over 100,000 units were shipped, and some parts of the country are even experiencing shortages.

100 Stickers Away from Happiness
Heaven's Passport is about the size of a regular Japanese national passport, and comes in several colors. It is sold mainly at variety stores. The bearer affixes a photo of herself and writes a wish on the first page of the passport. Then, each time she does a good deed, she adds a sticker to the pages. The stickers, which measure about 1 centimeter on a side, are made by the same company as the passport, and appear alongside it on the store shelves.

To illustrate how Heaven's Passport works, let's take the example of a Tokyo area high-school girl. In the "wish" space on the first page of the passport, the girl writes, "I wish the guy I like would fall in love with me." One day she makes it to school on time. For this "good deed," she puts a sticker in her Heaven's Passport. Then, during class, when the teacher asks a question and nobody answers, the girl raises her hand to help the poor teacher out--and gives herself another sticker. It is up to the passport holder to decide if an action is good enough to merit a sticker. Potential good deeds abound: "I picked up a piece of trash in the street"; "I gave my seat to an old person on the train"; and so on.

Ever since Heaven's Passport hit the market in October 1998, its popularity has been spreading by word of mouth, mainly among high-school girls. Around March 1999, when the mass media picked up on it, Heaven's Passport immediately caught on among middle-schoolers and women in their twenties as well.

Making a Game of Doing Good
The creator of Heaven's Passport is a 23-year-old man, Ryuichi Okita. Okita is one of a breed known in Japan as "freeters"--people who opt out of the nine-to-five life and hop from job to job as they please. Okita got his idea for the passport after hearing that American magician David Copperfield teaches magic at facilities for the handicapped. Copperfield's volunteer activities impressed upon Okita, long a fan of the magician, the need for people to have a moral consciousness.

Japanese people have traditionally visited shrines and temples to pray for what they want, be it happiness in love, a passing grade on a school exam, or what have you. There are a number of traditional beliefs having to do with the number 100 in Japan, such as the idea that you can make a wish come true by visiting a shrine or temple, or by walking around its grounds, 100 times consecutively. As a youth, Okita tried doing 100 good deeds and got what he was wishing for. This led to his desire to extend this tradition more widely into everyday life and use it to encourage virtuous behavior. A manufacturer that had heard about his idea for Heaven's Passport then approached him with a business proposal, and the product hit the big time. According to the manufacturer, "Even young people have the desire to do good things; it's just that they're shy about putting themselves forward. But if we make it like a game, they won't hold back."

Among critics and educators, opinions about Heaven's Passport are divided. Some think this craze for racking up good deeds is admirable; others see it as sad that doing good must be made into a game in order for young people to participate. But for Japanese high-school girls--who have gained an unsavory reputation, thanks to a highly visible minority who dye their hair orange, wear baggy socks, and keep company with older men in exchange for money and trinkets--doing good deeds in any form is a good idea.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.