JT: Renho nationality furor exposes Japan’s deeply embedded gender bias


Hi Blog. Colin Jones has come up with another insightful column, with a legalistic spine, in regards to how Japanese nationality has historically been awarded (until 1985, through fathers only, not mothers) until it was challenged. And, true to their nature in Japanese jurisprudence, Tokyo courts sided with the status quo (of discriminating against international children with Japanese mothers), and it wasn’t until the Diet amended the laws before they changed their tune. Yet, as Colin points out, the stigma still remains, especially in light of the debate regarding DP leader Renho’s true “Japaneseness”, a dual-nationality flap that never should have been an issue in the first place, –regardless of whether you are proponent of single nationality or double (I fall in the latter camp). Read the article for a breathtaking tour through Japan’s convoluted legal logic. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


Renho nationality furor exposes Japan’s deeply embedded gender bias
by Colin P.A. Jones, The Japan Times, Sept. 28, 2016

Excerpts germane to Debito.org:

In short, decades after her birth, Renho is still being punished for having a Japanese parent who was female rather than male. Renho’s case thus offers a stark illustration of the deeply rooted structural impediments faced by women in Japan even today.

It also demonstrates the Japanese establishment’s general inability to acknowledge the past. The fact that such blatant government-sanctioned discrimination existed until the 1980s simply disappears into the memory hole, a hole that probably exists because the people who ran Japan back then are essentially the same as those who run it today.


Grossly oversimplified, the [Tokyo] high court found that the Nationality Act provision granting citizenship to children of Japanese fathers but not mothers was constitutional because that is all it says. It doesn’t go on to actively declare that children born to a Japanese mother may not obtain Japanese nationality — that would be constitutionality problematic! In fact, the act specifies the special circumstances in which nationality could be obtained through a Japanese mother (such as when the father was unknown).

The ruling goes on to note that the Diet had a choice of a general rule recognizing birth nationality to children of a) Japanese fathers, b) Japanese mothers or c) Japanese mothers or fathers, and it chose option a). It could have chosen b) too, which would also have been constitutional (though the notion that the male-dominated Diet would have done so is laughable, of course).

Finally, the court turned to its own inadequacies: Even if it found the Nationality Act unconstitutional, it would not result in the plaintiff obtaining Japanese nationality. The law would just be void rather than construed the way the plaintiff desired.

As is so often the case with decisions like these, the courts were at pains to show that there was a layer of kindness and sensitivity between their staid, heartless exterior and staid, heartless center. The high court makes all sorts of comforting statements about how the gender preferences expressed in the Nationality Act may no longer be appropriate. The court also addressed the possibility that the child plaintiff might be left stateless (but did not bother to mention the real-life impact the Nationality Act had on stateless children fathered by U.S. military personnel, particularly in Okinawa). Specifically, it noted that the situation was “makoto ni ki no doku na koto de aru” — truly a regrettable thing. “But,” it continues, “tough luck.” (I am paraphrasing.)

The more decisions I read like this, the harder it is to avoid concluding that Japanese courts at the time didn’t care about people in general, children in particular, equal protection or possibly even the Constitution — at least not enough to actually do anything beyond stringing really complex sentences together. It would have been interesting to see how the Supreme Court ruled on the matter, but that appeal was rendered moot in 1984 when the Diet amended the Nationality Act to allow Japanese nationality to be obtained from a Japanese mother also.

Renho nationality furor exposes Japan’s deeply embedded gender bias


5 comments on “JT: Renho nationality furor exposes Japan’s deeply embedded gender bias

  • Hello,

    I do have always discussion if I say in Jp that I do agree many points of Debito statements.

    So that I also follows Colin P.A. Jones articles to compare, J.P.J are always ending to highlight Japan justice-fully-right unique country .

    Thank you to touch again a sore point, for those writer that always are ending with fireworks about beautiful and uniqueness of Japan.

    As me, a unique nammin application that became an invisible minority, I do appreciate figuring out nihonjiron.


  • Jim di Griz says:

    Anybody hoping that Renho represents a breath of fresh air needs a reality check;


    She says in the Diet that Japan “has become increasingly borderless”.

    Borderless compared to where? North Korea?

    — According to the article:

    Speaking at a regular media briefing Thursday afternoon, Renho said that while she understood the arguments put forward by Arimura, she also wanted to stress the importance of diversity.

    “It’s true that our nation has become increasingly borderless and that international marriage is no longer uncommon . . . ,’ she said. “I think we also need think about how to embrace diversity.”

    I’m not sure how that alone leads to the conclusion that she is not a breath of fresh air. Seems like she is to me.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Dr. Debito #3

    If Renho’s idea of having ‘become borderless’ is the fact that NJ can marry Japanese, she’s setting the bar way too low, don’t you think?

    One Persian living in Nara-era Japan.
    NJ legally marrying Japanese in 2016.
    Oh, this borderless world, where will it end?

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Jim, reminds me of something I read yesterday “Japan’s subway system is far better than some countries”.

    Which countries? India?

    It fares poorly compared to e.g. Hong Kong. The Saikyou and Chuo lines are so regularly late that just to say “saikyou sen dakara” is enough to get a grunt of forgiveness from the supervisor on being late three times a week.

    Typical J- frog in the J well meaningless comparisons.And as I said in my previous post, the Japanese SIGNS refer only to other Japanese signs in their own self contained hype reality.

    And yet if you the NJ point this out, you will be derided or ignored, as you “dont understand Japan” which is code for
    “you havent bought into the enclosed denialism of J reality” which more and more is starting to resemble the domed city in Logan’s Run where everyone dies at 30 “as its natural and no other way exists”.


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