Prof. Kashiwazaki Chikako: Japan’s Nationality Law and immigration policy deviates from current international legal norm


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Hi Blog. Something I came across during my readings. Thought you might find it interesting.

Over the years I have gotten from many corners (particularly from people who have not researched things too deeply) how “jus sanguinis” (law of blood) requirements for Japanese citizenship are not all that far from the international norm, and how Japan’s Nationality Law (which requires blood ties to a Japanese citizen for conferral of Japanese nationality) is but one example of many in the community of nations that confer nationality/citizenship by blood.

Well, I knew both from experience and in my gut that there was something wrong with that. I felt that Japan’s method of conferring nationality/citizenship was quite specially exclusive (for example, we’ve had half a million Zainichi former citizens of Empire excluded from full “Denizenship” (see below) in Japanese society for three Postwar generations now, and only a tiny number of people becoming naturalized Japanese citizens every year).  This exclusion (which every nation does when deciding national membership, but…) has been done in ways unbecoming of a country with the reputation of being a legitimate, competent, advanced Western democracy — one Japan has had since its emergence as a “rich society” in the 1980s — and thus expected to take on a greater role in international cooperation (such as acceptance of refugees) by accepting international legal norms (such as signing and enforcing international treaties).

Now I’ve found something in writing from someone who HAS researched things deeply, and she too finds that Japan’s policies towards the outside world are outside the international norm.

These are excerpts from Kashiwazaki Chikako (Associate Professor of Sociology at Keio University). 2000. “Citizenship in Japan: Legal Practice and Contemporary Development.” In T. Alexander Aleinikoff, and Douglas Klusmeyer, eds., From Migrants to Citizens: Membership in a Changing World. Washington DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, pp. 434-74.

Regarding trends in immigration policies for Japan’s developed-country brethren:

Comparative research suggests that citizenship policies might be effectively employed for the integration of immigrants in a democratic society.  Citizenship policies in a broad sense include rules for not only the attribution of full, formal citizenship but also the admission of legal migrants and the extension of “partial” citizenship for resident aliens.  The Japanese case is similar to other advanced industrial countries in that recent labor migration represents south-north migration or migration from developing countries to developed countries.  Experiences of Western European countries in particular provide useful points of comparison when studying the case of Japan, because Japan in its modern national state form was constructed by an indigenous majority group rather than by immigrants, as in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Contemporary debates about citizenship policies in Western European countries have their roots in immigration in the post-WWII era.  In response to sharp increases in the immigrant population, governments of these countries restricted admission and encouraged return migration in the 1970s.  The result was the settlement of former “temporary” workers and an increase in family reunification.  As immigrants were becoming a permanent feature of the society, host countries in Western Europe turned increasingly toward incorporation.  Over time, foreign workers and their families obtained a greater scope of citizenship rights.  Referred to as “denizens”, resident aliens with permanent status enjoy extensive civil and social citizenship rights, if not electoral rights on the national level. 

Denizens, however, do not possess full citizenship, notably full political rights.  For fuller integration of immigrants into a democratic political community, it becomes important to give them the opportunity for them to obtain full citizenship, not just denizenship.” (435-6)

Regarding the claim that Japan is “not an outlier” in terms of conferring nationality by blood ties, and the frequent defense that “other rich countries, such as Germany, also do it”, consider this:

“In the 1980s and 1990s, laws regulating nationality and citizenship were revised in immigrant-receiving countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland, where nationality transmission was mainly based on jus sanguinis (by parentage). These revisions eased criteria for acquiring nationality by first-generation, long-term resident aliens as well as by the second and subsequent generations. Major types of legal administrative changes include introduction or expansion of the as-of-right acquisition of citizenship [Japan has no “as-of-right acquisition” system; i.e., anyone who was not attributed Japanese citizenship by birth must go through the process of naturalization]; double jus soli, by which the third generation obtains citizenship automatically; and toleration for dual nationality… [On the other hand], there is no unified, coherent policy that could be called the Japanese citizenship policy.” (436-7)

Regarding the GOJ’s intolerance of dual nationality:

“The current international trend in coordinating nationalities is to have a greater degree of tolerance for the incidence of multiple nationality than for statelessness. The principle of “one nationality for everyone” is therefore increasingly understood to mean at least one nationality, rather than “only one,” for each person. Furthermore, migrant-sending countries have tended to support dual nationality, which would allow their nationals to retain close relationships with their country of origin while enjoying full rights and protection in the host country. Outside Europe, Mexico’s recent move to allow dual nationality for those who became naturalized U.S citizens is another example. Insisting on the desirability of “only one” nationality, the official stance of the Japanese government, therefore deviates from the current international norm.” (451)

Regarding official policy for migration and integration:

“The system of naturalization is not designed to transform foreign nationals promptly into Japanese nationals. Restriction on naturalization corresponds to the government’s stance on border control, namely that Japan does not admit immigration for the purpose of permanent settlement.” (443)

The justifications, when proffered by the Ministry of Justice all the way back in 1959, still resonate today as current:

“Since Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, policies of controlling both population growth and immigration are strongly called for. It should therefore be a government policy to severely restrict the entry of foreigners into Japan. This is all the more so because there are undesirable foreigners who would threaten the lives of Japanese nationals by criminal activity and immoral conduct.” (MOJ Shutsunyuukoku Kanri, 1959, pg. 3) (441).

So there you have it, from another researcher. It has never been policy in Japan, despite all the promises we heard in the “Kokusaika” 1980s about “getting in, making the effort to work hard in Japanese companies, learning the language and culture, and ultimately becoming Japanese like everyone else”, to let immigrants stay or make it easier for them to stay.  So it’s not going to happen (no matter what recent flawed GOJ Cabinet opinion polls claim about the public’s “no longer rejecting” NJ), because of official government policy not to let people settle, and because policymakers don’t trust foreigners to ever be “Japanese”.

In any case, it’s not a matter of being “socially accepted” by our peers — friendships on the individual level can happen.  The problem is more a matter of allowing NJ to take our place in the hierarchy — allowing for NJ and former NJ to have some transference of power and rights to them (such as letting them become sempai) in Japan beyond alien status, beyond mere “partial citizenship” and “Denizenship” through increasingly-tougher Permanent Residency, but into granting full citizenship with extensive civil and social citizenship rights while allowing them to keep their ethnic identity.  But no.  NJ are not to be trusted, because they might, unlike Japanese, commit crime or engage in immoral conduct.  As Kashiwazaki indicates above, those systematic and persistent exclusionary attitudes are outliers amongst Japan’s developed-country brethren.  Arudou Debito

UPDATE:  Okay, one more researcher weighs in, pithily.  From the same book, Part Four Introduction, pp. 383-5, by Aristide R. Zolberg, who writes in comparative perspective:

“Japan and Israel surely stand out as the ‘odd couple’ of the comparative citizenship project, each of them being an outlier in which one element of citizenship policy has been extrapolated into a dominant feature.  In short, Japan comes closer than any other economically advanced constitutional democracy to retaining a fundamentalist version of jus sanguinis, and the ‘blood’ involved is the immediate and concrete one of family or lineage, rather than merely the usual ‘imagined’ national community.” (385)


20 comments on “Prof. Kashiwazaki Chikako: Japan’s Nationality Law and immigration policy deviates from current international legal norm

  • “Experiences of Western European countries in particular provide useful points of comparison when studying the case of Japan, because Japan in its modern national state form was constructed by an indigenous majority group rather than by immigrants, as in the United States, Canada, and Australia.”
    Not exactly sure I’d say Japan in its modern national state form was constructed by an indigenous majority group. “An indigenous majority group being told by an occupying Western power to sort its situation out and get with the program”, sure, that I could get behind, but I’m not nearly naive enough to believe that if left to their own devices the Japanese would have constructed a postwar Japan that in any way resembles the current form.

  • Just the discussion of blood status turns my stomach…in the US, there was once a racial jus sanguine, classified into mulattos quadroons octoroons etc… Gross. That any modern industrial country in the world can still abide by this nonsense is disturbing to say the least.

  • @ Welp
    Yes the formal structure of modern Japan could well be argued to have been imposed externally rather than developed by an indigenous majority group .


    It now seems that the “indigenous majority group ” is now reinterpreting the role and function of the formal structures to be more in line with/return to familiar historical cultural values and beliefs.

    But nostalgia can return uncritically to any society .

  • Debito – excellent post.
    you said “…advanced Western democracy ” – Why is it relevant that Japan be referred to or judged as a “western” democracy? I feel that just calling Japan (or any nation) a democracy should be enough.

    As a democracy, much of the behavior cited above is unacceptable, period.
    Note: Most Japanese people (yourself excluded?) judge themselves to be superior based on race – this alone is unbecoming a democracy (western or not). The policies, institutionalized discrimination, barriers to entry, etc. are also unbecoming a country that wants to be treated like an equal on the international stage.

    Great post, keep them coming!

  • “allowing for NJ and former NJ to have some transference of power and rights to them (such as letting them become sempai)”

    I have been in “sempai” posiitons, but was never given the respect that a Japanese sempais gets, so I just went about being myself. I never liked the system anyway; I feel somebody should learn themselves instead of having a baby siter sempai teach them, or more like, control them. I feel the whole sempai/kohai thing is a waste of time from a bygone era.

    — I would agree. But it exists and will continue to be an important factor in social relations in Japanese society.

    You chose to opt out, which is your choice. But NJ should be offered that choice of being slotted in social hierarchies. They generally aren’t: it’s very unusual to find NJ in any meaningful position of power or authority. By design, not only at the individual or micro-social level, but also systemically (from the Nationality Clause on down — which is why the Nationality Law plays such an important part here) as part of public policy.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Locohama #2

    I agree with you.
    All this talk of ‘blood descent’ is so 19th century bad science, and too readily associated with nazi eugenics for my liking.

    I don’t understand why it’s so bloody important to be part of the ‘Japanese race’ (whatever that is), or any other bloody group. Why is there so much fear of being an individual, and the need to be associated with a group for self-worth? ((((((>_<))))))) Too much insecurity. Like Echo and the Bunnymen said 'self doubt and selfism were the cheapest things I ever bought'. The Japanese (not exclusively, but this is a Japan site), have certainly been buying that up.

    Case in point of an attitude that drives me mad is the comments on the JBC this month and last calling Debito a foreigner. Why the refusal to admit his recognized by the government of Japan legal status as a Japanese? Ah, must be the 'blood', like when one of those American scientists wins a Nobel Prize, but despite not holding a Japanese passport, the J-media gush over a 'Japanese' prize winner.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Glad that some Japanese scholars are very astute and do not hesitate to address the problems affecting the foundation of national system. In many industrial countries, public stigma is casted primarily on gypsies and migrant workers who are usually treated as criminals, but not all immigrants are being treated like bugs–certainly not for law-abiding foreign residents. The way Japanese public discourse frames citizenship based on race, ethnicity, and blood is simply disturbing. It puts Japan somewhere in-between Jim Crow and Brown v. Board of Ed (1954). They do not seem to be aware that racial jus sanguine has its historical precedence in the West, and I don’t even know for sure when Japan will ever learn from other countries for its national improvement.

    — Regarding your last sentence about jus sanguinis being a Western affectation, I’m not sure Kashiwazaki would agree. From same article:

    “[T]he legal principles of jus soli and jus sanguinis developed before the emergence of modern national states. Although the rule emphasizing descent rather than birthplace appears to fit well with the image of the ethnically exclusive nature of contemporary Japanese society, the initial codification of the principle of jus sanguinis dates back to the late nineteenth century. The Meiji government codified nationality law in 1899 in response to the external press to modernize the regulation of nationality. The principle of jus sanguinis was a logical choice for two reasons. First, it was compatible with previous legal practices, in particular the family registration system that had been used to define the subject population. Second, the principle was prevalent in continental European countries, where many of the advisers to the Japanese government came from. Consequently, one cannot assume that the goal of ethnic homogeneity led to the descent-based attribution of nationality.” (438)

    So she is speaking to a different point (homogeneity was not the guiding principle back then, especially given a Japan with colonies), but I’m not sure it’s quite as simple as one might suspect (it never is, is it? ;)) Anyway, for more on how the first nationality law was codified, see Kashiwazaki, Chikako. 1998. “Jus Sanguinis in Japan: The Origin of Citizenship in a Comparative Perspective.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Vol. 39, No. 3, pp 278-300.

  • It’s not a secret that Japanese demographics are going to hell in a hand basket, aging population/low birth rate.. How on earth do they expect the country to function in the future? (not to mention gov’t debt 230% of GDP but that’s a different discussion)

    Japan needs immigrants but the politicians will NEVER allow the large scale movements like what that happened in the west/Australia – New Zealand. And the social environment of the country is not conducive for fairness, ie.foreigners don’t belong in this country, they have no rights, etc

    And not to mention the outright racism from many institutions putting up walls for foreigners here: employment issues, no renting to NJ, ID checks, etc

    So given this environment, and change isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, why on earth would anyone want to live this life?

  • #7 JDG

    You may find this article on blood groups and their “importance” in Japan interesting:

    “..It was also adopted by Japan’s militarist government in the 1930s to train better soldiers, and during World War II, the Imperial Army is reported to have formed battle groups according to blood type…”

  • #6 Mike2: Your comment leaves me wanting. You have been in sempai positions… what does this mean?
    Were you a supervisor?
    Were you a kacho or bucho?
    Were you directly in charge of Japanese male subordinates?
    The reason I ask is that I have NEVER heard of a NJ supervising Japanese male employees in Japanese companies (foreign companies, yes).

    #8 Loverilakkuma: The people who run Japan have been quite skillful in choosing the argument that best suits their needs and goals. They don’t want foreigners getting established in Japan? Easy – spread the rumor about “dangerous” foreigners, and everyone will agree that keeping foreigners out is most important. As the decades pass, the argument changes, but the goal remains unchanged – whatever the reason, Japan is not open to NJ.

    #9 Peter: Many people who graduate from college just aren’t thinking long term. For the ones that move to Japan, it takes years for them to get established, and by the time they do, many think they have too much invested to throw it all away and move, essentially starting over.
    I believe as word gets out, more graduates will pass over “dead end” places like Japan, and opt for situations with more potential.

  • debito, if you’re interested in comparative studies of citizenship and rights for foreigners, you might read kristin surak’s paper “convergence in foreigners’ rights and citizenship policies? a look at japan” in the international migration review (2008, vol 42, issue 3).

    let me know if you can’t get past the firewall to get the paper.

    here’s the abstract:
    Citizenship laws and immigrant rights in rich, democratic countries are widely understood to be converging. Since most accounts of convergence are based on Western examples, Japan is an important test case. I distinguish three theoretical accounts of convergence: global-institutionalist, liberal- democratic, and problem-solving perspectives. I then examine trends in foreigners’ rights in Japan since World War II in three domains: entrance, rights of residents, and citizenship. I find that convergence is occurring in the expansion of rights, partially in access to the territory, but not in formal citizenship. While the liberal-democratic perspective fails to account for trends, a combination of global-institutionalist and problem-solving accounts provides the most powerful analytic insight into convergence processes.

    — Thanks very much for this!

  • dude Says:
    The reason I ask is that I have NEVER heard of a NJ supervising Japanese male employees in Japanese companies (foreign companies, yes).

    I’ve worked in a few companies in Japan where senior management has been non-Japanese, all of them foreign companies. The most noticeable feature of them all was the anti-foreign undertone I always felt beneath the veneer. Some of this was deserved, especially with two German companies, who exploited their Japanese workforce in a way they would never dare do in their own backyard, However one of them was a Danish pharmaceutical company. Who can ever dislike Danes, I ask you?

    In the end I concluded that there was something in the Japanese mindset which results in impersonal interaction with non-Japanese in a working environment only being achievable and successful, when the Japanese are interacting from a position of strength and authority. All else quickly takes on a tone of insecurity and ethnocentric mystique.

    I gave up working at these types of companies… way too much hassle.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ John K #10

    Thank you very much! There’s nothing like nazi bad science to fire up my blood pressure! Except maybe random ID stops and checks.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Scipio and Dude,

    Yet strangely enough, several of the Japanese ‘friends’ I made at university here, went on to work for western companies in Japan after graduation, and I quickly learned to avoid them thereafter; they became without exception strangely arrogant and began to develop a kind of superiority complex because they worked for a western company (e.g. P&G), and started banging on about how ‘international’ their lives had become whilst I ‘only’ taught at a Japanese university (how mundane!).

    This attitude neglected to acknowledge that firstly, since I was a foreigner living and working in Japan, that from my perspective, my daily life was far more international than theirs. Secondly, their office life was complete with all the Japanese cultural baggage (sempai/kohai relationships, OL’s making the tea and doing the printing, enforced first year of employment as company induction training in things like keigo and bowing, and compulsory ‘getting to know your peers’ weekend bonding trips to onsen, not to mention inescapable nomikais with superiors).

    What struck me as strangest at the time was that even though we had graduated from the same university, I had suddenly become (for them) an ‘inferior’ type of NJ compared to the NJ at their company who had been parachuted in from abroad for a couple of years, couldn’t speak any Japanese, and had a 20 year head start on us with which to climb the corporate ladder. I was being directly placed in a separate ‘gaijin hierarchy’ without my consent, that consisted of people I would never meet, and whose lives were only in the most vague of senses connected to mine.

    It is interesting that between Christmas and New Year last, whilst strolling around town in the daytime, I bumped into one of these former ‘friends’, and asked her how her job in Tokyo was going, and when she would be heading back after the holidays. She told me with disgust that her foreign employer had decided to close it’s japan offices as part of a cost cutting measure, and that she had been fired. I faked concern and said ‘Really?’, to which she elaborated that the company had offered her a position in their US office, but she had turned it down, because it’s ‘so difficult for a Japanese to live outside of Japan’. She said that she thought it was a nasty trick to force her to quit, and rounded up by telling me that she would soon start job hunting for a ‘safe’ job, in Japan, in a Japanese company, because foreign companies don’t treat Japanese workers like people.

    I wanted to call her out on pretty much everything she said, point pout that she was likely to be in for a real shock, and rub her face in losing her job, but since it was the season of goodwill and all, I just smiled and told her to ‘ganbattekudasai’.

  • @Scipio

    I supervised a small team of Japanese people (10-12, male and female) in a Japanese company once. One young woman in particular got easily rankled if she had to follow any directive given by me. After a time she would just flat out say “no” when I asked her to do something. I could have had her fired, but I had enough to worry about without adding to my headaches.

  • @ Jim, all the employees of P & G act like that, be their background be Chinese, western or Japanese. Basically they are on an expat deal and expect everything for free, i.e. at the company’s expense, and make the most bizarre demands to the company I currently work for (not in Japan). Sachs of Gold (name changed to protect the innocent) is another company I could mention who seem to work on credit and trade on their name, only occasionally actually deigning to pay their suppliers.

    I find it laughable that they are so demanding and picky about costs when they aren’t paying a cent themselves.
    The slight Japanese twist to this you may find in that is

    1. the acceptance that Japanese execs crave, i.e. membership in the western club, i.e. an expat deal with a western firm
    2. Acting superior is an old Japanese battle tactic/bluff which people have referred to on this site before, source from an anthropological/sociological study done in the 60s and before.

  • @ Jim, continued

    but it is very interesting about your former “friend” -she is like a microcosmic example of trends in Japan.

    When she had one bad experience, being laid off by P & G, she quickly reverted to belief in the cliches, the myths;

    a. Japan is safety country (the return of that pre Fukushima cliche)
    b. Japanese should get more “rights” than NJs (implied)
    c. The “Utada Hikaru” complex, i.e. cry racism because she cant make it in America
    d. Nationalism, Japan can only be fixed by the Japanese themselves, disappointment with America when they cannot use America to achieve their goals
    e. Paranoia,”what a nasty trick” etc.

    Why doesnt she try to get a job with Samsung? Only kidding.

  • ShauninMiyagi says:

    @Dude & Scipio
    I suppose that I have been lucky in my workplace (or unlucky depending on your viewpoint). I work at a Japanese auto-parts manufacturer, one of the main suppliers for a major Japanese automobile manufacturer. For several years up to April last I was assistant manager (Kakakricho) in the Intellectual Property & Legal Division. Towards the end of 2011 I was recommended to take 3 days of training & exams with about 40 other employees for promotion to managerial level. All the training & exams were in Japanese and during the course there is a daily interview with an instructor. During the first interview, I was asked by the instructor how I was coping with the exams being all in Japanese. I wanted to reply that if I wasn’t proficient enough in Japanese, I wouldn’t be there in the first place. But I held my tongue and said that I speed-read agreements in Japanese on a daily basis so I was finding no problem at all, thank you.
    I the end I passed the exams and was promoted to Manager of the Intellectual Property & Business Law Dept (part of the Division above) where I’ve been for the last year. I’ve looked after 3 sections (Kakari), the Intellectual Property Section 1, Intellectual Property Admin Section 2 and the Business Law Section, with a total of 11 people, both male & female, below me.
    It has been a good year of working with these people, and I’m happy to say that I get on well with all of them, barring 1 person who has been a problem for the company for years before I came on the scene.
    Unfortunately, as my wife has become very sick, I am stepping down from Manager from April, as the company is giving me lighter duties so that I can look after my wife. I did say that I was prepared to quit, but by boss wanted me to stay. even with lighter duties.
    I have been with the company for nearly 21 years, during which time I have been able to build up a fair amount of trust, although there are still people there who are prone to point out my “gaijin” ways.


  • SuperBucho says:

    “The reason I ask is that I have NEVER heard of a NJ supervising Japanese male employees in Japanese companies (foreign companies, yes)”

    It’s not common by any stretch…but certainly not unheard-of; I know of several non-Japanese staff supervising Japanese staff, yes even at ‘Japanese’ firms. I myself am a bucho at a major (i.e., TSE-listed) Japanese company here in Tokyo. I manage over 60 staff, 80% of which are Japanese seisha-in; 10% are haken and 10% are on one-year contracts (mix of Japanese and non-Japanese). I have 4 kacho’s under me, 3 men and 1 woman.

    In my experience language ability isn’t the biggest hurdle facing non-Japanese staff when it comes to being given managerial responsibilities…

    — What do you think is?


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