Excellent Japan Times roundup on debate on J Nationality Law and proposed dual citizenship


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Hi Blog. Here’s an excellent Japan Times roundup of the debate which came out of nowhere last year regarding Japan’s loopy nationality laws, which were once based on what I would call a “culture of no”, as in rather arbitrary ways to disqualify people (as in babies not getting J citizenship if the J father didn’t recognize patrimony before birth). A Supreme Court decision last year called that unconstitutional, and forced rare legislation from the bench to rectify that late in 2008.  Now the scope of inclusivity has widened as Dietmember Kouno Taro (drawing on the shock of a former Japanese citizen getting a Nobel Prize, and a confused Japanese media trying to claim him as ours) advocates allowing Japanese to hold more than one citizenship. Bravo. About time.

The article below sets out the discussions and goalposts for this year regarding this proposal (using arguments that have appeared on Debito.org for years now). In a year when there will apparently be a record-number of candidates running in the general election (which MUST happen this year, despite PM Aso’s best efforts to keep leadership for himself), there is a good possibility it might come to pass, especially if the opposition DPJ party actually takes power.

2009 looks to be an interesting year indeed, as one more cornerstone of legal exclusionism in Japan looks set to crack. Arudou Debito


Debate on multiple nationalities to heat up
Diet battle lines being drawn in wake of law change and amid Kono effort to rectify dual citizenship situation
The Japan Times: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009

First in a series

The issue of nationality had never been discussed more seriously than it was in 2008.

News photo
Big decision ahead: Students of an international school in Tokyo gather for an event. Some will have to choose their nationality in some 10 years if the current Nationality Law prevails. THE JAPAN TIMES PHOTO

In a specific legal challenge in June, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to deny Japanese citizenship to children of unwed Filipino mothers whose Japanese fathers had not acknowledged paternity before their birth. Lawmakers quickly went to work to pass a revised Nationality Law in December.

Now, Taro Kono, a Lower House member of the Liberal Democratic Party, the larger of the two-party ruling coalition, is trying to iron out another wrinkle in the law that became apparent in October when it was learned that Tokyo-born Nobel Prize winner Yoichiro Nambu had given up his Japanese nationality to obtain U.S. citizenship.

People like Nambu follow the letter of the law with respect to the Constitution’s Article 14, which requires that Japanese renounce other nationalities by the age of 22 if they wish to keep Japanese citizenship. Yet, according to Kono, there are 600,000 to 700,000 Japanese 22 or older with two nationalities, if not more. In other words, fewer than 10 percent of Japanese with more than one nationality make that choice by the time they turn 22, Kono said.

“The current system puts honest people and those who appear in the media at a disadvantage,” Kono said. In November, he submitted a proposal to an LDP panel he heads calling for the Nationality Law to be revised to allow Japanese to hold other nationalities.

The Justice Ministry acknowledges there are Japanese with other nationalities but does not press them to choose only one.

“Technically, the justice minister can order us to crack down on multiple-nationality holders. But none of the past ministers has,” said Katsuyoshi Otani, who is in charge of nationality affairs at the ministry. By law, someone ordered by the minister to choose a single nationality has a month to do so before Japanese citizenship is automatically revoked.

Lawmakers are divided on Kono’s proposal, which also requires that royalty, Diet members, Cabinet ministers, diplomats, certain members of the Self-Defense Forces and judges hold only Japanese nationality. Liberals stress the need for Japan to globalize, while conservatives express concern that opening up too much will diminish the country’s sense of unity.

Shinkun Haku, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, supports the proposal.

Born to a Japanese mother and a South Korean father, Haku became a naturalized Japanese citizen in January 2003 and won a seat in the Upper House the following year.

Kono’s multiple citizenship plan

• The government allows Japanese nationals to be citizens of other countries.

• Japanese holding other nationalities must declare this to the local authorities where their Japanese residency is registered. Those who fail to do so may be fined or lose their Japanese citizenship.

• Japanese can obtain citizenship elsewhere, except for locations Japan does not recognize, and continue to hold Japanese nationality as long as the other countries allow multiple nationalities.

• People from countries other than North Korea or other areas lacking Japanese diplomatic recognition can obtain Japanese nationality without losing their original citizenship as long as their home countries allow multiple nationalities.

• The Imperial family, Diet members, Cabinet ministers, diplomats, certain members of the Self-Defense Forces or court judges can only hold Japanese nationality.

• Japanese who become presidents, lawmakers, Cabinet ministers, diplomats, soldiers, court judges or members of royalty of other countries will lose their Japanese nationality.

• Japanese who have a Japanese parent and hold multiple nationalities will lose their Japanese citizenship if they have not lived in Japan for 365 days or more by the time they turn 22.

• If Japan goes to war against a country, Japanese public servants cannot hold citizenship in that country.

• Japanese holding other nationalities will lose their Japanese citizenship if they apply for and join the military of other countries.

He was not allowed to have Japanese nationality at birth because the children of a foreign father and Japanese mother were barred from having Japanese nationality until the Nationality Law was revised in 1985.

Multiple-nationality holders were also then required to choose one nationality before their 22nd birthday. Before then, Japanese could be citizens of other countries as well.

Those with multiple nationalities who were 20 or older as of Jan. 1, 1985, were supposed to declare a single choice to local authorities by the end of 1986, and if they had not, it would be assumed they had chosen Japanese citizenship and abandoned any others. Those with a Japanese mother and foreign father who were under age 20 as of Jan. 1, 1985, had until the end of 1987 to settle on a nationality.

Japan is the only developed country that does not automatically grant citizenship to babies born within its territory, allow its nationals to have multiple citizenship or let foreigners vote in local-level elections, Haku said.

“I am not criticizing Japan for that, but now we have 2 million registered foreigners, and one in every 30 babies born here has at least one foreign parent. We are in the midst of globalization whether we like it or not,” Haku said. “We have to discuss very seriously how we should involve foreign residents in building our society.”

He is urging Japanese to change their outlook. “For example, we shouldn’t think we ought to give foreigners local government voting rights out of pity. We should think Japan can become a better country by doing so,” Haku said.

Other lawmakers oppose Kono’s proposal, especially those troubled by the revised Article 3 of the Nationality Law. It previously only granted citizenship to a child born out of wedlock to a foreign mother and a Japanese father if the man admitted paternity before birth, but not after.

LDP lawmaker Hideki Makihara fears that granting nationality easily will bring more problems than benefits.

“I think the immigration policy of many European countries has failed as they have had some serious problems” regarding foreign residents, Makihara said. “We need to be very prudent.”

Makihara also noted that citizens who gave up their non-Japanese nationality will feel cheated if Japan allows multiple nationalities, because “there is no guarantee they will regain their renounced citizenships.”

The proposed revision has also stirred nationalists to action. During Diet deliberations on the bill in November and early December, anonymous bloggers posted messages expressing their concern that foreigners may approach Japanese men to falsely claim paternity in illicit bids to gain citizenship.

Although the bill cleared the Diet on Dec. 5, LDP lawmaker Takeo Hiranuma established a lawmaker group scrutinizing the Nationality Law to prevent bogus claims.

While the LDP is divided on the revision of Article 3, the party is also busy dealing with other important issues. This could mean Kono’s proposal will not be deliberated seriously anytime soon, political scientist Hirotada Asakawa said.

With Prime Minister Taro Aso’s approval rate declining and the global economy in serious recession, Aso wants to impress voters by swiftly passing bills on the supplementary budget for the current fiscal year that would finance a ¥2 trillion cash handout program during the Diet session starting later this month, Asakawa said. The LDP then has to pass the budget for the next fiscal year during the same Diet session.

“These issues are enough of a handful. The LDP will also have to prepare for an anticipated Lower House election, which could happen who knows when,” he said. “In such a crucial time, the LDP will not want to discuss Kono’s proposal, which is likely to divide the LDP.”

Nevertheless, many lawmakers seem to agree that the current situation, in which many Japanese unlawfully hold multiple nationalities, needs to be fixed.

The case of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, born to a Japanese couple who emigrated to Peru early last century, is an extreme but forceful example. Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) asked Fujimori, who holds Peruvian and Japanese nationalities, in June 2007 to run for the Upper House election when he was detained in Chile. He ran in and lost. After Fujimori fled to Japan in exile, Tokyo declared he has Japanese citizenship, because of his parental roots.

What if he had won a Diet seat?

“Japan escaped by a hair’s breadth as Fujimori lost the election,” Kono said. “I have no idea what lawmakers would have done (if Fujimori had won). Legislation was a step behind the reality.”

To be sure, the proposal has a long way to go to be legalized. A typical process would be that the panel deliberates, finalizes and submits it to LDP executives, who would then decide whether to create a bill to be submitted to the Diet. However, it is unknown if Kono can sway his party.

“I have created a draft for everybody, not just lawmakers, to discuss the nationality issue,” Kono said. “I want to tell Japanese nationals, ‘Let’s discuss it.’ “

The Japan Times: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009

9 comments on “Excellent Japan Times roundup on debate on J Nationality Law and proposed dual citizenship

  • It would be nice if we could do something similar here in China, as well. Not having the right to two or more nationalities is quite inconvenient (though over here it might be because of some population issue).

  • Many European countries don`t allow dual citizenship. Japan is not the only one. However, there countries like US or some European which do not recognize dual citizenship, however they do not forbid to hold other nationalities by its citizens. It means you will be always treated as own native and cannot look for help in Embassy of another citizenship you hold in your own country. I think in Europe only Sweden recognize by law dual citizenship.

  • In Europe it’s a little bit more complicated, all the countries of Europe allow dual nationality, but you are always recognized from the nationality of the country you are living, for example if you got dual nationality French/Spanish and you live in France you will be considered as a French citizen, if you go for holiday in Spain and break the law you will be judged as a Spanish citizen.

  • First lesson of debating in public: know the facts and present them properly. Shinkun Haku apparently never learned this, as he is seriously mistaken: “Japan is the only developed country that does not automatically grant citizenship to babies born within its territory, allow its nationals to have multiple citizenship or let foreigners vote in local-level elections, Haku said.”
    Most developed countries, including South Korea, do not recognize Jus Solis. Many, again including South Korea, do not allow dual citizenship. And many do not let foreigners vote in local-level elections, or if this is allowed, it is decided at the local level only (in other words, the state, prefecture, province or national government has no law concerning the practice).

    One thing that concerns me about Kono’s proposal is that it effectively creates “castes”, for lack of a better word. A dual-national can be a lawyer, but not a judge. A dual-national can serve in the SDF, but be denied promotion to certain posts. A dual-national can vote, but not stand for election. I am not sure how this can be made to fit with Article 14 of the Constitution, which bans discrimination against citizens.

    And @Kingofpunk: it is even more complicated than you state. For example, there can not be a Dutch-Austrian dual-national, as both countries are signatories to the Convention on the Reduction of Cases of Multiple Nationality. And pretty much anywhere in the world, if you are entering a country you claim citizenship from overseas you must use that country’s passport.

    I think the big question that needs to be addressed, and this article doesn’t do so, is: What is the benefit to Japan and Japanese society of allowing dual nationality? Simply arguing for something because “lots of other people are doing it” is not a good argument. In the 1930s, “lots of countries” were turning fascist. In the late 1940s and 1950s many were turning communist. Japan started fingerprinting all foreigners entering the country under pressure from other countries that were doing so. If something is beneficial to the country, it needs to be explained why and how, not “but all the other lemmings are doing it…”

  • Murphy, Article 14 doesn’t cover discrimination on the grounds of second nationality. Read it again.

    The benefit of allowing dual nationality is pretty simple: It provides an incentive for people to naturalize in Japan and make their lives here, thus saving the country from a slow death by depopulation.

  • Joe, I can read just fine:
    第14条 すべて国民は、法の下に平等であつて、人種、信条、性別、社会的身分又は門地により、政治的、経済的又は社会的関係において、差別されない。
    All citizens are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.

    Allowing dual-nationals to vote but not run for office would count as “discrimination in political relations”, would it not? And not allowing dual-nationals to hold certain jobs or positions would count as “discrimination in economic/social relations”, would it not? And both would go against “all citizens are equal under the law”, would they not?

    Article 14 may not specifically say “because of race, creed, sex, social status, possession of dual nationality or family origin” but I would think “possession of dual nationality” would fit under “social status”. Even if you disagree with that, the “all citizens are equal under the law” would cover the issue. Without somehow modifying Article 14 (a Very Bad Idea), you can’t have two groups of citizens, one with more legal rights than the other. The other option would be to remove all the restrictions and allow dual nationals to hold the office of Prime Minister, or be a cabinet minister, or be free to take the top ranks in the SDF with full security clearances, and that is probably not going to be acceptable to most people for the obvious reasons.

    I would also be curious how extradition would be handled. Japan does not extradite its citizens in most cases, but if a dual national committed a crime within the jurisdiction of their other nationality, and returned to Japan, would they still be a
    “Japanese national” only (as Japan would normally consider them), or when the other country says “S/he is one of our nationals”, and the Justice Ministry confirms that in the city records where the person lives is s/he suddenly going to become a “foreign national” and be extradited?

    Oh, and I also can’t believe that here, of all places, no-one is complaining about the registration requirement of Kono’s plan. Did you all miss it? “Big Brother” and all that?

    Fianlly, I don’t see how allowing dual-nationality would be a significant incentive for people to naturalize. If one naturalizes and is living in Japan, one is a Japanese citizen. Period. The other nationality means nothing. It only means something when the person leaves Japan and goes back to their original country, in which case they are a national of that country, period. I suppose to employers it might be attractive to have Japanese who also hold EU or US passports, as it saves them the hassle of finding qualified staff overseas or getting visas and such, but somehow I don’t think that would be a boon to the person being hired. As a “Japanese employee” they would probably not get the better pay a foreign employee might. I admit, I have seen foreigners elsewhere say they will never naturalize in Japan if doing so means they have to give up their current citizenship, as they “want that secure ticket out of Japan if things go bad”. People like that shouldn’t naturalize anyway, IMHO. No-one needs “citizens of convenience”.

    — How little you know about dual nationals…

  • Murphy,
    Your last paragraph is filled with contradictions. You state that allowing dual nationality wouldn’t be an incentive for people to naturalize, and then later you give the main reason why foreigners don’t naturalize: They don’t want to give up their original nationality. I certainly would naturalize if I didn’t have to give up my other 2 nationalities. At the very least, I wouldn’t have to be fingerprinted and taxed every time I go on a holiday.

    And you say that employers might like to hire such people, but this wouldn’t benefit the dual nationals. If employers are more likely to hire you, that’s a nice benefit right there!

    Personally, I’m OK with having to give up other nationalities to naturalize, but I think children who are born to Japanese and foreign parents shouldn’t have to choose between (or among) their inherited nationalities, just like they wouldn’t have to choose among the cultures they have grown up in.

  • I am not sure about the proposed requirement to have lived in Japan for 365 days or more before they turn 22. Would that have to be a continuous period of time or would 12 stays of 30 days each also qualify? How would the authorities know when you have clocked up your 365 days worth? People should be eligible for citizenship or not and I can’t see how living in Japan for 1 year would make you “Japanese” if you had lived the other 21 years of your life outside of Japan. This may be hard for many people to acquire by the age of 22 so it shouldn’t be a reason to deny them citizenship. Sample timeline;
    high school education up to 18 or 19 + 4 years university already = 22 or 23. Also those needing the 365 days would have not lived in Japan and therefore presumably don’t have a lot of Japanaese language skills, so how are these people supposed to support themselves for 1 year in Japan to satisfy the residency requirement? People from first world countries would have a better chance of getting the money but many third world country people would also have claim to Japanese heritage and this would discriminate against them because if they couldn’t afford to stay in Japan for a year they would lose their citizenship.

    — I think you’re missing the point of this requirement. It’s precisely to weed out those Nikkei who have blood but no real contact with Japan. This is no doubt a concession to the critics who said, “just coming here and camping out for a few months total doesn’t make you Japanese”, and wanted a measure taken against it.


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