Terrie’s Take on GOJ crackdown on dual nationality


Hi Blog. Although Terrie’s Take this week (yet another excellent essay) concentrates more on J citizens abroad taking NJ citizenships, there is also good mention and argument about J children in international marriages and the pressures upon them to conform to single nationality. As Terrie rightfully points out, this is ludicrous in a country which needs citizens; it shouldn’t be taking this degree of trouble just to put people off possibly maintaining a J passport just in the name of some odd nationality purity.

And dual nationality in itself would resolve many problems… I personally know several long-term NJ (and even some Zainichi) who would be happy to become Japanese citizens if it didn’t mean the sacrifice of one’s identity to having to choose. If you are a product of two cultures, why not have the legal status to back that up? Not half, but double. That’s what I would call the real Yokoso Japan. Debito in Sapporo

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E ‘S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd. (http://www.terrie.com)
General Edition Sunday, February 24, 2008 Issue No. 458

With all the recent goings on for foreigners over immigration entry requirements, it is easy to think that the Japanese Justice Ministry especially has it in for non-Japanese. But that isn’t true. They are just as tough on their own citizens who want to be dual nationals.

After publishing Terrie’s Take 456 about our opinions on why the immigration authorities are tightening up, we received some interesting email from Japanese readers wondering why immigration is picking on them as dual nationals, as well.

Most readers will know that Japan allows only one nationality. However, for the longest time, so long as a person was registered as a Japanese citizen first, whether or not you had gained a second nationality was politely ignored by the authorities. You just had to make sure that you didn’t make it too obvious that you held a separate nationality.

But now it appears that things are changing and the Justice Ministry seems to be conducting checks on Japanese citizens living overseas to make sure that they do not have dual nationality. For a sense of the situation, here is an extract from one reader’s letter:

“…I recently decided, after many years as a green card holder, to apply for US citizenship. This was partly triggered by the increasing tension of the US immigration process, which has understandably changed in attitude since 9/11. The tipping point for me was when a lawyer in Japan advised me that although dual citizenships are technically forbidden in Japan, it is a law that is not enforced.

Before I could complete my application process, however, I was told by another person that things in fact had changed. I confirmed this with the authorities. It seems that if you are Japanese and you renew your Japanese passport at your local US consulate, when you go to pick it up you are asked to show your green card or other residency documentation which allows you to be in the US. If you cannot produce this documentation, and you wouldn’t be able to if you held a US passport, they won’t hand over your new Japanese passport. Apparently this is how they are now catching dual citizens living abroad.

To avoid this, I could renew my passport in Tokyo, but if I do, I have to show them my juminhyo [Ed: personal register of your residency matters]. That means I have to re-establish residency and live back in Japan for a few months — which of course is difficult to do when one has a career to fulfill.

With all the dual Japanese nationals living abroad, it seems to be bad policy to make people have to sneak around the dual nationality issue. Japan needs to maintain and grow its population, not shrink it. And chances are that many of those people living abroad are either decent wage earners contributing tax back to Japan, retirees who take their health care costs with them, or simply good emissaries for Japanese culture…”

Our thanks to the reader submitting this succinct summation of the dual nationality problem. Two issues come to mind: 1) not only people resident overseas, there is an increasing problem with dual nationals back here in Japan, as the children of 37,000 (approx.) international marriages a year start to come of age, and 2) might it be that Japan’s cooperation on fingerprinting databases with the USA and elsewhere will lead to an increased enforcement of the policy as well?

1. As a study by Sean Curtin, a former professor at the International University of Japan in Niigata found, the average number of children had by couples of an international marriage in Japan is 2.9, more than 3 times the average number of kids had by a Japanese-only couple living in Tokyo (national average is higher at 1.23). Further, of the 700,000 or so marriages a year, the 37,000 international ones comprise about 5%-6% of the total. By inference, then, it is likely that somewhere between 50,000 to 180,000 kids of mixed-nationality parents are born in Japan each year.

And each one of these dual national kids, most raised at home in one culture and at school in another, after turning 20 (plus an additional 2 year’s grace) has to choose which parent’s nationality they want to take. We think it’s a morally bankrupt question to force on those kids. It thrusts upon them the cold reality of the Japanese judicial concept of one allegiance, one home — also, we believe, the same reason why there is no judicial acceptance of joint custody of children in Japan.

It’s not hard to imagine that if the child has a parent from a poor country, indeed, most foreign mothers here are from developing Asian countries, then they will choose to be Japanese, despite any personal feelings of discrimination and disadvantage that they have probably been subjected to throughout their lives. If the child’s parent is from a first world country, then the choice is more likely to be for the other country.

And so Japan loses one potential contributor to its future, and gains a less than happy second one.

We interviewed some mixed-nationality kids who are nearing adulthood, asking them about what they thought of being forced to choose. The common response was that they wanted to keep both nationalities, but if forced, those that experienced the most discrimination didn’t want to remain Japanese.

2. According to 2005 government statistics, one third of all the approximately 1m (now probably around 1.1m) Japanese living overseas are resident in the USA. They are joined by an additional 115,000 Japanese who are considered permanent expatriates. Interestingly, the stats come from the Ministry of Justice, and carry the comment that it knows that a large number of Japanese living overseas are in fact dual nationals. One wonders when they are going to start acting over this information.

Perhaps the answer lies with the new immigration fingerprinting system being used on foreign residents and visitors. In implementing this screening system, the Japanese government has started sharing a US fingerprint tracking database, and within the year it will share with other countries as well. Although we’re assured that the data is private, we are equally sure that the Ministry of Justice will be “fascinated” by the opportunity to analyze migration data of Japanese nationals drawn from other countries’ ingress-egress points — something that they’re unable to do in Japan. In fact, this could be happening right now.

The scenario is obvious: a Japanese national uses their passport to exit Japan, then the same person should be trackable as they enter the USA. If they don’t show up, but they were on a given US-bound flight, then clearly they either have a green card or they are a dual national.

But apart from consular checks overseas, it is not clear that the government has chosen to act on a wide scale yet. Indeed, it knows many Japanese are dual nationals and until now has allowed people to maneuver around this inconvenient fact.

So how do people manage to keep both passports?

Firstly, they make sure that they are registered as Japanese first, since other countries allowing dual nationality do not require the new citizen to announce their new status to their original country. Secondly, in becoming a citizen of the second country, the Japanese national ensures that they maintain their juminhyo in Japan. This means that they pay taxes, vote, etc., just as if they are expecting to return to Japan. It is a cumbersome arrangement, but basically this is the price they pay for the flexibility offered by being dual national.

Thirdly, they use their passports in a way that doesn’t challenge the status quo. The rule for usage is important: Japanese passports for entry and departure from Japan, and the other nationality passports for entry and departure from the other country. Never show the other country’s passport when entering Japan. If you do, and if the consequences are followed through, the Japanese government can (and threatens to on its web site) strip the Japanese citizen of their nationality.

We end by saying that this is a crazy situation. On the one hand, we have a possible crack down on hundreds of thousands of people and a deliberate policy of alienating (pun intended) all these potential citizens. On the other hand, we have a government panel that advised back in December the government should spend up to JPY2.44trn (US$22bn) on measures to help counter the declining birth rate!

Since the number of people likely to lose their citizenship amounts to 5%-10% of the birth rate, we suggest that part of that JPY2.44trn outlay be spent on making a phone call to the Justice Ministry to prepare legislation allowing Japanese to do what many have practiced for generations — become law-abiding citizens of the countries of both of their parents.

The remainder of the money could be spent on nursing homes for those loyal citizens who decided to grow old at home…


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17 comments on “Terrie’s Take on GOJ crackdown on dual nationality

  • Terrie makes an excellent case as to how dual citizenship could actually benefit Japan, and how not offering it is to the detrement of Japan.

    This is one barrow we should be pushing a lot more, I feel.

    • Officially allowing dual citizenship for Japanese nationals would have to be restricted in a similar way that Taiwan does. Allowing it for ethnic Japanese only, but not allowing it for the random gaijin. Also, a language requirement would need to be implemented because many Japanese Brazilians were learning Japanese at a lower rate than complete foreigners. Requiring the a language test at the JLPTN1 would be a good place to start, so the overseas Japanese would have to show a strong desire to stay connected beyond merely being ethnically pure. Remember, the Japanese Diet has tons of right wing conservatives so you have to make crazy proposals like them to even stand a remote chance for it to pass. Those who had been cheating with covert dual citizenship will have to pay 300万円 fine. Those who opt in for dual citizenship will have to pay estate taxes on their world asset as if they lived in Japan unlike overseas Japanese who do not reside in Japan for more than 5 years. A dual citizen estate tax condition that one cannot renounce once committed, in addition to paying for heath care even if one isn’t using it. Those who have been covert dual citizens will be billed for it all the years they were gone after acquiring foreign citizenship.
      Make the legislation ugly but give those who will do this a chance because this is no amnesty, it’s got a heafty price tag. Send this proposal to the Japanese diet.

      — Debito.org would not support policy as draconian as this just to appease or pander to bigoted conservatives. Why a priori empower them further?

  • Wow, I totally agree with Johnny here. I know we’ve gone through tons of debate here concerning dual-citizenship, but this issue holds a lot more weight in my opinion. I almost wonder if campaigning to get Japanese people living overseas dual citizenship may be more promising than focusing on multi-racial children living in Japan. If a large number of Japanese citizens started giving up their “native” citizenship to lay down roots in another country the results could be devastating to Japan.
    The side effect of focusing on getting Japanese people dual citizenship would be that those living here could get it as well.

  • Terrie this is excellent. I myself applied for Japanese Citizenship in the past but stopped process in the middle. Reason? I prefer EU Citizenship over only Japanese one, which still will see me as foreigner anyway. There are more reasons but I don`t want to write about it. Anyway, bear in mind that Japan is not the only country who do not allow dual citizenship. Most of European countries don`t allow either, though many of them don`t forbid their citizens to have another one. I give you as example Poland, which do not recognize dual citizenship, but do not forbid its citizens to have another citizenship. Catch here is, when you are in Poland you will be treated as Polish and even with another passport, you cannot go and ask for help to foreign embassy, because you are citizen in your own country. As I`m aware this is exactly the same in US. Furthermore, our constitution (US the same) forbid to take away from you citizenship automatically even though you hold other citizenships. The procedure to renounce one`s citizenship is very, very long and it must be done only in person by applying for this. This case is in most EU countries. Only Sweden has clear law allowing dual nationality. Japan on other hand take away just like that citizenship from people they find to have another one. This is terrible!! This is when GoJ apply so called Japanese “constitution”.
    There was program on JTV a while ago about it. My wife told me they (law makers) said very clear that if they allowed this it would be too many Chinese with Japanese passports, they really afraid of this. So, again we come back to point where Japanese must be “pure blood” Japanese or child born from parents where at least one of them is Japanese. In situation like today we have in GoJ (Hatoyama, Ishihara etc) it won` change quick and I don`t see in the near future.

  • Isn’t sharing my fingerprints with the USA illegal? I’m a British national travelling between Japan and Europe. My movements are none of America’s business. Can I sue the US government and/or the Japanese government over this?
    Any lawyers, please advise.

  • I found something it may add something to this article.




    If Japan makes Japanese and their children as well as foreigners living in Japan with dual nationalities to chose either one I guess we can expect more “foreigners” here. JTV will be stack with propaganda again that more foreign nationals live in japan comparing with…bla,bla,bla

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    A great essay. I too would apply for Japanese citizenship tomorrow if I could do it without losing my original nationality. Aside from the practical benefits of not having to carry an alien card around, and of being able to say “I’m a citizen” when arbitrarily questioned by police, and being able to avoid fingerprinting, it’s a gesture of loyalty to my adopted country, which, for all its faults, is not a terrible place to live and will probably be my home for many years.

    It’s even more unfair to the 22-year-olds who have to choose a nationality just as their adult lives are getting started and they don’t yet know which society suits them best.

    With governments making nationality more of an issue than ever before, dual (or multiple) nationality becomes more essential than ever before.

    Question: what right has the Japanese government to demand a juminhyo rom passport renewers in Japan? If you refused to show it to them (let’s say you live in a burakumin neighborhood and want to keep your address to yourself), how can they deny you the right to travel outside the country? Your previous passport already shows that you’re a citizen of Japan.

  • Does anyone know the Japanese Government’s official position regarding dual citizenship? Obviously, they are against it, but do they list specific reasons that can be debated?

  • keroro gunso says:

    It seems to me that this crackdown is aiming at Jcitizens who have been “connected” to foreigners. I mean in particular those born in international marriages or those foreigners who have naturalized as Japanese and have had to give up on their original nationality.

    Japanese guy in London, late forties, arrived in London in 1989, gained British citizenship after 5 years, never gave up his Japanese citizenship. So he has the best of both worlds.
    He is just one of them. I also know 2 Japanese women who married locals and gained British citizenship and never gave up their Japanese citizenship.

    Of course the J government would never crack down on people like them. Of course, they are Japanese!!

    Oh, and the fingerprinting?
    Heard about a friends university graduation trip. they could choose between China and Japan.
    They chose China as they did not want to be treated as criminals at Narita. Many more examples like this may happen………….


  • From the experience of trying to demand smaller classes in primary school for children (Japanese) and witnessing a part of their signature-gathering activity and response of the Monbusho, the Ministry of Education, to the demands and activity I can say that what they (people in the Ministry) most certainly seem to need is not just any people but obedient people who don’t ask questions etc., therefore it should be clear that any foreign “connection” is highly unwanted because it is not clear whether it is possible, and sometimes very clear that one cannot – expect foreigners to comply with all their “demands” with a sort of abandon that most Japanese people do.

  • A warning to any Japanese citizens living in Canada applying for Canadian citizenship. As a former co-ordinator of immigrant settlement programmes in Vancouver, I have had several clients who have fallen afoul of the overzealous enforcers of the Japanese only citizenship rule. Canada’s citizenship process is very transparent and public, with the individuals’ names and pre-swearing-in citizenships available in public records. The mandarins in the Japanese Embassy in Ottawa, and the consulates in Toronto and Vancouver frequently scour the lists for Japanese becoming Canadian. They are then summarily sent a letter to the effect of “Dear Taro/Tomomi, You’ve just forfeited your Japanese citizenship. Please return your passport etc. etc.” Some of them have had their pensions stopped too. One other case which comes to mind was a Japanese woman who’d married a man from Sarajevo, and had children. She took out Yugoslav citizenship prior to the war, during which her husband was killed. The Japanese embassy in Belgrade’s answer to her plea for help was, “Sorry! You’re not Japanese!” (Don’t know how that ever got resolved.)

    To quote Alex Kerr, *”Obedience to authority, instilled in people from the time they are small children, makes Japanese society work very smoothly, with far less of the social turmoil and violent crime that have plagued other countries.” This would seem to be the goal of the social engineers who want a single homogeneous race. There seem to be no ends to which they will go to enforce their vision. And that includes any Japanese who do not “follow the rules.”

    *Dogs & Demons; Education: Following the Rules, p285 first paperback edition 2002.

  • I think its quite elitist of Japan to demand its citizens only 1 citizenship and recognize nothing else. This does nothing else if only to enforce the “Us and Them, one nation, one people” idea. I think its hurting their continuous effort of globalization and internationalization of the country. I’d almost wager to believe that Japan’s idea for internationalization is “fine, you can come here and work but as long as you forget everything about your culture and accept ours its cool”

    When will this country get with the times?

  • As the father of a bi-national five year-old, I can’t, and frankly have never, thought of any reason why he would choose to stick with his Japanese passport after 2021 (or whatever it will be). Britishness, for all its loutish faults, is far more accommodating of diversity, and the way things are going it doesn’t look like Japanese attitudes are going to get any better.

  • Tokyo’s Minato Ward Hunts Dual Nationals

    Tokyo’s Minato Ward, which probably has the highest percentage of non-Japanese residents of any jurisdiction in Japan, is among the most aggressive in hunting dual nationals. If a Japanese citizen goes to the Minato Ward Office to file the Notice Of Choosing Japanese Citizenship (the official form stating that a Japanese citizen with potential dual nationality has decided to take Japanese nationality before their 22nd birthday), Minato Ward will refuse to accept the form for processing unless the applicant also produces their foreign passport. The official explanation is that “if an applicant does not have a foreign passport, the applicant does not need to file this form.” This is wrong as a matter of law (a person can have a nationality without having a passport from that nation). Also, refusing to accept a form is a classic abuse of Japanese administrative power.

    Since Minato Ward is Ground Zero of Japanese internationalization, this recent reactionary stance by the Ward Office is ominous.

  • Many good points,but one big point was not covered.

    Now that Japan is allowing overseas Japanese to vote in elections, it is important to understand how “TRUE” Japanese vs. “Questionable” (dual nationality) Japanese vote.

    Do “questionable” Japanese vote for LDP or against LDP?

    –Quite. They might vote for Komeito, though.

  • coming to this late but – in late 2006 kouno taro wrote the below:
    anyone know what happened to this taskforce??

    Also, 2007 marks the twenty second anniversary of the Nationality Law of 1985, which says, unlike the previous law that was very male chauvinistic, if either the father or the mother is Japanese, the baby becomes the Japanese National. The dual national baby, however, must choose the nationality when he becomes twenty-two years old. Well, there are about 420,000 Japanese who have the dual nationality because of their parents, and those who turn twenty-two in 2007 will have to choose. The question is if we let the Law into effect or change the rule about the dual nationality as the world is becoming so small so fast. The task force will make a decision on it, too.


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