NATURALIZATION PART ONE:
FIRST STEPS TO BECOMING A JAPANESE CITIZEN
(Originally sent to Fukuzawa, ISSHO, and Friends Sept 14,1998, and presented as an annual Autumn Roundtable talk, "NATURALIZATION (kika)--THE HOWS AND WHYS", for ISSHO KIKAKU on Sept 21, 1998)
This URL is organized thus:
MOTIVATIONS FOR TURNING JAPANESE
PROCEDURES: ROUND ONE
I went down to the Sapporo Ministry of Justice (Houmushou) on August 7, 1998, to start the ball rolling. I thought I'd better get the discretionary powers of the powers-that-be positively predispositioned, so shortly before arrival I telephoned MoJ in Asahikawa, where I had a personal contact (one of the friendlier bureaucrats who appeared at my Jinjiin Speech last November), and asked him to give me a shoukai. Within minutes, the Asahikawan called Sapporo, and when I walked into the office the "person in charge of nationality" (kokuseki kakarichou) was all smiles and cordiality. He spent two hours--even delaying his lunch break--just to pull down a few law books, walk me through the procedure, and get a lowdown on my family records. Off to a good start already.
WHOA, DAVE! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?
I am getting ready to become a Japanese. That's right--taking on a Japanese passport, a Japanese name, the whole enchillada. A white-skinned green-eyed brown-haired Nihonjin in a sea of beige, brown, and black. A...
AND WHAT THE HELL FOR?
Y'know, it's funny. There's no single compelling motivation. But I can tell you what it is NOT due to: "Japan-headedness"--where I've fallen hook, line, and sinker for the "Japanese Way". I don't see myself coming to extol the virtues of geta and byoubu as I baldly slurp my noodles through a Chaplin mustache (my friends are joking that if I *really* get Japanized and start asking them if they can eat natto with chopsticks, they'll scrag and splifficate me).
I don't see myself becoming a rabid defender of Nihonjinron, or, conversely, a person stressing my uniqueness; quite the opposite, as I shall show below. I don't even see it as a change in identity, as if I'm shedding one skin and donning another. I definitely do not feel like Lafcadio Hearn, sharing a oneness with Japanese society and wanting to fully meld with it. I'm not that naive.
Instead, to me naturalization is just an obvious extension of what somebody in my position would desire anyway--the right to vote and to LEGALLY participate in society the same as any other citizen. I am already as entrenched as any other citizen: I have a house and land with a debt of a quarter-million dollars; with a thirty-year loan I really *cannot* leave Japan.
More to the point, why would I want to? Despite the doom and gloom projected by the overseas mass media, life in Hokkaido is very pleasant, with a standard of living probably as high as any OECD country, and arguably far more comfortable than any other urban area in Japan.
To be sure, everyone around me is a Japanese, with all the occasional culture shocks. But there are buffers: I have been around long enough to pick and choose my friends, I have enough language to get what I want in just about any situation, enough experience to anticipate the results of my actions, enough precedent to preserve my mental integrity, and enough capacity for self-justification should things get weird.
Even more fortunately, I have a great job which enables me to use and develop my language and communication skills, I get mental workouts on a daily basis, and have enough personal space at home or in the back yard to shut the whole goddamn world out if necessary. Furthermore, the wife and kids are for now healthy, happy, and settled--with forseeable domestic alternatives should that change.
The bottom line: as there is neither guarantee nor likelihood that things would be better anywhere else, why leave? It's not just inertia--it's recognizing one's lot for how good it can get and seeking ways to tweak it better. Naturalization is one way.
Moreover, naturalization has knock-on benefits that suit a person with my personality. It will enable me to stand on my rights (yes, more than I do now!) with renewed vigor--because I will indeed HAVE more rights, as well as a firmer ground to demand even more (I can except myself from, say, this "as a foreigner, you are a guest in our country so shut up" bullshit). And--dare I say it?--I would be able to participate in politics as a *candidate* if I so choose).
In sum, it will empower me to contribute and change society for the better, by demonstrating that it is possible for a Nihonjin to exist without having a drop of Japanese blood. That Japaneseness is a matter of legal citizenship, not race.
The rubs? Yes, as Japan does not allow dual nationality, losing my American citizenship is one major mental hurdle--the biggest one for anyone who links their passport with their identity (I know I have in the past, but the more I've talked with truly internationalized people, like Tony Laszlo or Ishimaru Shintarou, the more I've realized that the individual can remain pretty much the same regardless). It may seem like a journey of no return, but there is a solution (outlined amidst my original essays on this subject, written Nov 1996) that provides some breathing room.
Essentially, naturalization--unless you are a known felon--is not nightmarishly difficult. As we will see below with procedures:
PROCEDURES: ROUND ONE
(The following is similar to my original essays URL above, but with more details on only one segment this time. See URL for more on other segments. I encourage *any* lifer to access it, then inquire with the MoJ if at all intrigued. If you would like to compare the hurdles here with those for naturalization into the US, also visit the above URL.)
Back to the cordial bureaucrat amidst the law books. We went into the same conference room I visited two years ago (when I was merely on a fact-finding mission for Fukuzawa and facing a frumpy grump) where he pulled out a couple of forms and started talking.
"Donburi-san up in Asahikawa says you're okay with Japanese, so would you please fill this out? Name, age, address, occupation, nationality, and the same for your parents in the US."
I said sure, and asked the basic questions (name in romaji or katakana, last name then first or vice versa, date in Shouwa or Seireiki?), and he gave ready answers (katakana, last then first, date fine either way) like a person who was used to questions like these. I had some trouble katakana-izing my parents' names (Herbert and Bernadine), so I said the names in English and let him write them phonetically.
After making copies of my "Gaijin Card" (nothing sinister: this is to establish when I had first entered Japan, how long I had been here since my last entry, and my current visa status--Permanent Residence (eijuuken)), he brought out a document with a family tree, where he wrote my name and birthday in a bubble in the middle and prepared to etch in my folks.
This was going to be the roughest part of the interview, so I took a deep breath. Japan requires all citizens to have a completed family registry (koseki), and my case is pretty hairy. Records for Japanese families (with the comparative infrequency of divorce or, say, bastard children) don't have to absorb as much social turbulence and relativity as occurs in the rest of the OECD.
So I steeled Mr Cordial for a very leafy tree: "Hang on a minute. You'd better listen before you write. Things are a little complicated."
He started with my mom, the only fixed star in these heavens. "She goes here..." he said, writing. "Fine, now your father is..."
Me: "Do you mean my birthfather (umi no oya) or stepfather (sodate no oya)?"
Mr C: "Which is your father?"
Me: "It's not that simple. They both have been at some time. My mom married John S. and had me, David S.."
He wrote in Bernadine and John S..
Me: "But when I was two, they got divorced, and three years later my mom remarried Herbert Aldwinckle."
Now with long strings of katakana names, that bubble of the family tree was getting full. He made do. "So then you were David Aldwinckle, right?"
"No. For three years after that I was still David S., since by American law you must have both parents' permission before adopting a child (youshi suru). For those years spent in litigation, I had a separate last name from my parents." There was a pause as he pondered how to record this.
Fortunately, Mr Cordial was not fazed: "Yes, things like this happen, and the official records differ from country to country. This may be difficult to record in our system but let's press on. Now, you are all Aldwinckles now from age eight, right? And Herbert is your only father now, right? And your parents are of course American citizens, right?"
Me: "Um, not always. My dad--meaning Herbert--is a naturalized Brit, born in England."
Mr C: "But he was an American at the time of marriage, right?"
Me: "Well, um, he formally got his US citizenship after the marriage."
Now he was starting to get fazed, so I said, "Sorry, but America is full of extenuating circumstances like these, and they aren't recorded as crisply in the registers over there."
Mr C: "I understand. That doesn't bother me. The problem is that I have to figure out what sort of papers you have to get from the US to prove all this went on."
Things got easier. When we got to the Japan side of things, everything fell into place.
"The MoJ needs a copy of your marriage certificate, which we should be able to get ourselves. You need to bring in a copy of your wife's koseki, showing you, your wife, and your two kids as all legally related. We need you to bring in a full copy--not an abridged one--of your Gaikokujin Tourokuzumi Shoumeisho showing date of Japan entry, at least five years' continuous residence, birthplace, and visa status. And of course your wife and kids' Juuminhyou to establish that they are resident Japanese citizens. And your passport for photocopying." He brought out a checklist of forms and began circling items on them to avoid mistakes.
"No problem," said I. That required at most a day of milling about the government offices.
"As for the other stuff," he continued, "you need as many official forms as possible sent over from America to show that things happened as you say."
"Your birth certificate. Both of your mother's marriage certificates and her one divorce certificate. Your adoption papers. Something to show that your married parents have some relation to you. Hopefully that will be on their marriage certificate, but check. If not, you'll have to find some sort of document to establish all links to all people." Helpfully, he wrote all this down for future reference and continued:
"Of course, all these documents will have to be translated into Japanese. You can do that by yourself. You do not have to go to a third party for official transcripts."
That was convenient. Translations of, say, overseas drivers' licences must be done by an authorized translation service--like an accredited English school. And they charge 3000 yen and up a page. Self-translations would mean substantial savings.
"And that should do it for now. Any questions, Debito-san?"
Of course I had some: "How about documents that don't exist in the US? For example, I have no brothers or sisters. Japanese documentation would prove that. Yet as far as I know there is no American documentation that specifically proves NONexistence. How much proven detail do I need of my family status overseas?"
I had the right guy helping me. "Debito-san, you needn't make it more complicated than it already is. The MoJ can be flexible if there is no documentation possible. Just do the best you can and we'll do the same. It shouldn't disqualify you for citizenship."
"Now, please realize that this is only Round One of the documentation, to get the foundations of your family tree in our records. Once you have brought all these documents in and Tokyo has processed them, we'll proceed to Round Two. But before I ask you to take the trouble to get these documents, I have to make sure there is nothing else that disqualifies you. Tell me frankly please: do you have a police record?"
Me: "Yes I do. Last year I lost my driving licence (menkyo teishi) for speeding etc [which you read about in my recent essay], and I was told that would cause me great troubles."
Mr C: "Not necessarily. Have you had another run in with the cops since?" No. "Alright, then probably no problem. But what you'll have to do is run to a police box, get an application form for your driving records (unten kiroku shoumeisho), take it to a post office and send it to the Automotive Safety Center. It'll take about ten days for the records to be processed and sent to you, at which time you can forward us a photocopy. I'll FAX you the details on how to do that later on today. Then I'll FAX the photocopy to Tokyo and they'll tell me in a day or so whether or not you can apply now or should wait a couple of years. I'll let you know."
Next question from me: "How many people up here in Hokkaido naturalize every year?" Last time I was here the grump wouldn't impart with a single stat, but this time around I was confident that Mr C wouldn't be so stingy.
Mr C: "I can't tell you exactly, but around twenty people or so."
"Yes. Usually people of Japanese or ethnic Korean extraction."
"Any Whites or Americans?"
"None in recent memory. In fact, in all my years working here, you're the first American I've ever seen inquire, out of about a hundred inquiries every year." There was a hint of pride in his voice, as if he was personally interested in making me a Japanese. His frequent phone calls afterwards to appraise me of my application status would reinforce that.
"But anyway," Mr C concluded, "after all your documentation is in and we've done Round Two and Three, Tokyo will need at least a year to deliberate over your case. Be ready for that."
That was fine. I would need that much time myself to deliberate over what I was getting into.
I walked out of the building with a very favorable impression. Not once did Mr C sound discouraging, say, by asking me why the hell I would even want to become Japanese (when Americans have it pretty good already), acting as if I was out of my tree for considering it (as if the term "White Asian" is an oxymoron), or feeling "kawai-sou" for me (from probable public nonacceptance of my new status). Even if I was an unusual case, he treated me like I was sane and that matters. It shows a degree of maturity in a fairly insular and quite rigid bureaucracy.
EPILOGUE ONE) I just got my driving records from the Automotive Safety Center. They state for the record that I have had a spotless driving record since May 23, 1997, when I was reindoctrinated as a Safety Driver by the Sapporo DMV. And as proof, I even got a special wallet-sized "SAFE DRIVER" card from the cops, stating "Proof of no accidents, no violations" (mujikou muihan no shou). I photocopied the records, blowing the SD Card in particular up to B5 size, and sent them off.
The next day, Mr C telephoned to say that Tokyo had approved me for Round One. I guess I shouldn't have been so bitchy about the MoJ in my Speeding Essay.
EPILOGUE TWO) "You shouldn't do this, Dave."
This was being said by a friend of mine in the US State Department.
"You shouldn't give up your American passport. America is the greatest country in the world. Full of opportunities you'll never have here in Japan. You were lucky enough to be born with an American passport. Enough people in other countries are ready to die for one."
I told him about the loophole I found, where I could keep both passports.
"Dave, that's risky. And that loophole vanishes if you want to get involved in Japanese politics. By American law, election to public office in a foreign government is suitable grounds for the US government to revoke your citizenship. Be advised that there will be no turning back at that point."
"Naturalization not a fashion statement, Dave. You don't need to do it. Don't do it."
And here I sit and deliberate. I've got time.
I've a favor to ask: Readers of this URL, could I trouble you to make the strongest argument possible against my naturalizing--because I need to consider all alternatives and counterarguments before taking the plunge. I want no surprises, no regrets in retrospect. Email me, if you would.
Meanwhile, I will collect the documents and prepare for the next round of the process. I'll let you know how Round Two goes in a later installment.
Click here to go on to NATURALIZATION PART
MATTERS OF LOSING AMERICAN CITIZENSHIP
EVEN ON THE OFF-CHANCE THAT YOU WOULD WANT TO RENOUNCE IT,
IT AIN'T ALL THAT EASY.
IN FACT, YOU GET PENALIZED BY THE USA IF YOU TRY.
Copyright 1998-2005, Dave Aldwinckle, Sapporo, Japan