Asahi: Japanese living abroad plan unprecedented lawsuit demanding dual citizenship. Bravo!


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Hi Blog. Here’s something interesting and something to support if you are a Japanese living abroad — the maintenance of your legal identity in the form of dual nationality.

The Asahi reports that several Japanese citizens in Europe unprecedentedly plan to sue the government to abolish the law forcing Japanese to pick one nationality if they take another. Some emigres also want to undo the damage and restore their Japanese nationality.

Naturally, wholeheartedly supports this effort.  For too long the embedded binary of “you’re either Japanese or you’re not” (an Ichi-ro or a Ze-ro) has done untold social damage to people of multiple ethnicities and identities.  Nobody in power has ever really listened to them, so now it’s time for the monoethnic Japanese abroad, who want inclusivity for their newfound diversity, to take up the charge.

Here’s hoping they get heard.  Because others who have championed this sort of thing (such as MP Kouno Taro nearly a decade ago) got nowhere even in their own ruling political party.  Enough Japanese already have dual.  Let’s have the law reflect reality (and not institutionalize identity policing) at last.  Dr. Debito Arudou

UPDATE JANUARY 2020:  Plaintiffs lose in conservative Tokyo District Court.


Japanese abroad plan first lawsuit demanding dual citizenship
By ICHIRO MATSUO/ Correspondent
The Asahi Shinbun, February 26, 2018

PHOTO CAPTION: Hitoshi Nogawa, a Japanese-born citizen in Basel, Switzerland, holds his now invalid Japanese passport in Geneva on Feb. 13. The Japanese government refused to renew it in 2015 after he gained Swiss citizenship. (Ichiro Matsuo)

GENEVA–Japanese residing in Europe plan to file a lawsuit demanding the right to dual citizenship, arguing that the Japanese law that forces people to pick only one nationality are outdated, unconstitutional and invalid.

The lawsuit, to be filed against the government at the Tokyo District Court next month, will be the first litigation of its kind, according to the legal team of the eight would-be plaintiffs, who include Japanese living in Switzerland and France.

Six of them have been granted foreign citizenship and want to restore their Japanese nationality.

However, Section 1 in Article 11 of the Nationality Law stipulates that if “a Japanese citizen acquires the nationality of a foreign country at his/her choice, he/she loses Japanese nationality.”

The remaining two want to confirm that they can keep their Japanese citizenship even if they obtain a foreign nationality.

Teruo Naka, a lawyer for the group, says it is unreasonable for Japanese to lose their nationality at a time when they have growing opportunities to live and work regardless of national borders.

“The plaintiffs are hoping to keep their Japanese nationality out of an attachment to Japan and ties with their relatives living in Japan,” he said.

The plaintiffs are expected to argue in court that Section 1 in Article 11 was originally established to prevent the granting of multiple citizenship from the perspective of compulsory military service when the 1890 Constitution of the Empire of Japan was in effect. That clause was automatically passed into the current Nationality Law, which became effective in 1950, after the postwar Constitution took effect in 1947.

Sovereignty rested with the emperor under the previous Constitution, known as the Meiji Constitution. The current Constitution upholds sovereignty of the people.

They will also argue that a wide disparity has grown between the ideal of a single nationality, championed since the Meiji Era (1868-1912), and the current realities of globalization.

The group will also contend that the right to retain Japanese nationality is guaranteed under articles of the current Constitution.

Article 13 of the postwar Constitution, for example, guarantees the right to the pursuit of happiness, they said. Paragraph 2 of Article 22, they noted, states, “Freedom of all persons to move to a foreign country and to divest themselves of their nationality shall be inviolate.”

Unlike in the United States and some European countries, where residents can hold more than one citizenship, the Japanese law still pushes for a single nationality.

Individuals with dual or multiple citizenship, such as children born to Japanese and foreign nationals, are required to select one nationality by the age of 22 under the Nationality Law. Their numbers have increased in recent years with the rise in international marriages in Japan.

If Japanese citizens obtain a foreign nationality through, for example, an international marriage, they are legally obliged to renounce either the foreign or Japanese nationality within two years.

But there is no clause that penalizes those who do not come forward to announce their decision.

“Only those who honestly declare their selection in compliance with the law lose their Japanese nationality,” one of the plaintiffs said.

It is common for Japanese families overseas to acquire the citizenship of their host country for business or employment opportunities.

Hitoshi Nogawa, 74, who leads the plaintiffs and serves as head of the Japanese community in Basel, Switzerland, said he needed Swiss citizenship to enable his company to participate in defense-related public works projects in the country.

Another plaintiff said it is common practice for Japanese expatriates to use their Japanese passports only when they return and leave Japan. Inside their host country, they use the citizenship they have acquired there for business.

It is widely believed that many Japanese with dual citizenship have not declared their status. But not coming forward can lead to problems.

In 2016, questions arose about the nationality of Renho, an Upper House member who then headed the main opposition party. She was born in Japan to a Taiwanese father and Japanese mother, and doubts were raised that she had renounced her Taiwanese citizenship under the Nationality Law. She produced documents showing she did so in 2016.

According to the Foreign Ministry, about 460,000 Japanese with resident status were living overseas as of October 2016. It was not clear how many of them actually held more than one nationality.

Justice Ministry statistics showed that the number of Japanese who renounced their Japanese nationality after selecting a foreign citizenship or for other reasons ranged from 700 to 1,000 annually between 2012 and 2016.
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19 comments on “Asahi: Japanese living abroad plan unprecedented lawsuit demanding dual citizenship. Bravo!

  • Great idea, but…
    Will this only be dual nationality recognition to ‘claim’ Japanese living overseas, whilst still denying dual nationality to NJ who come to Japan and seek to obtain citizenship? After all, can’t have that ‘non Japanese blood’ getting the vote and all…
    Japanese paranoia of the outsider and last century understanding of nationality are not going to change because of a court decision.

    Also, assuming these ethnic Japanese living overseas win and get back Japanese citizenship, how many will keep it when the tax liabilities start to kick-in?
    Japan’s tax burden is only ever going to go in one direction, and it isn’t lighter taxes.

  • This would be a real game changer for Japan if this groups efforts are successful in changing the law.

    However, there is one aspect that I suspect will complicate it. While the law may be traced back to the late 19th century, it is my opinion that the current form of the nationality law is still in place as a means to control the zainichi problem. The original zainichi families were Japanese citizens until the government arbitrarily decided to strip them of it at the end of the war. The government imposes the single nationality clause to their benefit to keep the zainichi in place: either renounce your Korean / Chinese citizenship and join “us”, or we (=Japan) will breed you out over the generations. (Statistics show the later is already happening.) Either way, the zainichi problem will be resolved well in the eyes of the government.

    I have several zainichi friends. They are de-facto Japanese in all manners that count. Many of them only speak Japanese and have never left Japan.
    Unless there is a serious effort to resolve this situation, I don’t think that the government will be interested in allowing multiple citizenship. I would love to be wrong, though.

  • There are a lot of long-term residents who would naturalize in a heartbeat if they could keep their other passports, me included.

    Hope this advances the cause (although I suspect it will not). At least it might raise awareness.

  • It’s not just Japan. Netherlands strips from their own citizenship when they have lived abroad for long time. There are stories when Dutch want to come back home and then find out you are not citizen anymore. Besides, their discriminate too. In Netherlands including European citizens everyone who applies for Dutch citizenship must give up their own except group below:
    1. Those who are married to Dutch citizen
    2. Refugees and everyone from Middle East countries.
    Bravo for the movement. I hope my wife will be able to get EU Passport then

    • Adamus – I find it very difficult to believe that the Dutch government revoke citizenship just for living overseas for a long time. That would leave a person stateless (with no citizenship at al) and United Nations would look very poorly upon that behaviour.

      Did you mean they revoke citizenship for people who take up a different nationality?

  • Nick Mason says:

    Hope the government ditches this ridiculous, outdated citizenship law. It prevents far too many eligible NJ and NJ children from enjoying the benefits of dual citizenship like any other civilized first world country. I myself hold dual nationality overseas, and the only thing to stop me from taking Japanese citizenship is this dumb law.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    All the best with the lawsuit.
    However, I suspect that proposals allowing for duel nationality will either be shot down by the current crop of lawmakers, or will have a clause allowing duel nationality only by those with Japanese citizenship by birth. (That will stop those pesky Zainichis etc. while allowing Team Japan to claim Nobel Prize winners and gold medalists)

    • Totally agree with Andrew. This, ‘What’s yours is mine also, what is mine and mine alone’, has been the Japanese psyche mindset and will remain so. I know a sizeable number of Japanese men who have had US ‘anchor babies’ with their Japanese spouses and in their next breath are totally opposed to Zainichi Japanese having any rights within Japan.

      • Andrew in Saitama says:

        I have long thought that this phenomenon is worthy of some deeper investigation. Look at the number of mid-tier Japanese celebrities who choose to have their children born in the U.S. (And why does the U.S. allow this?)

        — Because people can give birth to children wherever they like. It’s what the place of birth says about their legal status afterwards that is the issue here. But for the record, supports legal citizenship as a birthright, not a bloodright. Japan is a fine example of the latter, and its awful legal and identity externalities.

        • Jim Di Griz says:

          Yep, I’ve been astonished by some of the anti-NJ comment making, self-proclaimed ‘NiPOnjin(!)’ who have packed their families off to Hawaii with a suitcase of cash to get green cards.

        • Andrew in Saitama says:

          Sorry, I was not clear enough. I meant that some middle tiered Japanese celebrities travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth (think of the various TV “news” items about how so-and-so are expecting their first child, and that they will be travelling to the U.S. for the birth.)

          Your point about what the law says about their status is very true (thinking of Zainichi North Koreans who have lived in Japan since before there was a North Korea, etc.); however, what society says about their status is also equally important. (e.g. a Japanese TV program talking to a panel of “foreigners”, each one sporting a national flag badge, yet at least one of them is known to be a naturalized Japanese citizen)

    • Yes. Also a German style legislation where natural born Japanese may hold dual nationality whereas those who naturalize cannot. Taiwan has their nationality law this way so natural born Japanese only will rejoin Team Japan. Mirai Nagasu and Shibutanis better hand their Olympic medals back to Japan, however. Team Japan could also require a language requirement, and unlike the JLPT, the ability to handwrite kanji might be on the exam!

  • ‘Because people can give birth to children wherever they like.’

    Of course they can’t. Bit of a silly statement. Not only because there are visa restrictions that limit the movement of people, but, apart from Pakistan and Kenya, all other countries that practice unrestricted Jus Soli are on the American continent. This is purely due to the relative youth of the countries on the American continent and is sure to change in the future. Most countries that practice Jus Soli have the restriction that one parent of the child is a national of that country, before the child is afforded citizenship from birth. Japan is no different.

    — If people go to a country and decide to have a child, most countries are probably not going to force them to leave the country to have the child, regardless of visa status. That’s generally not how visas are awarded or revoked, and to interpret what I said to mean that anyone can just go anywhere without a visa restriction is the silly statement.

    Meanwhile, if you think “Japan is no different”, please read Embedded Racism pp. 80-87.

  • If the nationality law’s article 11.1 hasn’t been revised since its 1899, there is no way they are going to be able to revise this now. This is because the offspring of those who were affected from this legislation would also be able to sue to be given a chance to register for Japanese citizenship. What is more likely to come of this is a tightening of the legislation of article 14 where the MOJ would strictly enforce article 14 so that one would truly have to choose. Population decline or economic needs would not sway their enforcement decision because they can provide visa opportunities to fix that problem without needing to accept dual citizenship.


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