Reuters on skater Yuko Kawaguchi: How Japan’s lack of dual nationality brands her a “traitor”


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Hi Blog.  Here’s another case of how Japan’s lack of dual nationality causes unnecessary hardship and sacrifice.  Figure skater Yuko Kawaguchi has to give up her Japanese nationality in order to skate — and she reportedly gets branded a “traitor” for her trouble.

Japan puts enough pressure on its athletes to be world-class (sometimes demanding no less than a gold medal), and this lack of a “personal-best” culture (i.e. Japanese athletes have to become the pride or shame of the entire nation in any international competition) means many Japanese choke and crumble under the stress.  Or in this case, give up their legal ties to Japan entirely.  Silly.  Then again, if Kawaguchi DOES get the Gold, we might claim her all over again (like we did the emigrant “Japanese” who got Nobel Prizes recently).

It’s time to get governments off their 20th-Century war footings (as in, “If we grant dual nationality , what if we go to war with that country?  Which side will you choose?”) and allow individuals more options and identities.  And nationalities.  Because, again, the state of modern international migration warrants that.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


FEATURE-Olympics-Kawaguchi braves taunts to skate for Russia
Reuters, on Yahoo Sports Oct 14, 8:02 am EDT
By Gennady Fyodorov

MOSCOW, Oct 14 (Reuters) – Yuko Kawaguchi was branded a traitor in her native Japan when she changed nationality to pursue her childhood dream of competing in the Olympics.

Since Japan does not allow dual citizenship, the figure skater was forced to give up her Japanese passport in exchange for a Russian one, enabling her and partner Alexander Smirnov to represent her adopted country at next year’s Winter Games in Vancouver.

“It was a very hard choice for me to make. But since I was a little girl I wanted to compete in the Olympics so in the end I had to make that choice in order for me to fulfil my childhood dream,” the Aichi native told Reuters in an interview.

While competing internationally for Russia required approval only from the sport’s governing body, the International Skating Union (ISU), she had to obtain Russian citizenship in order to take part in the Olympics.

Kawaguchi, who turns 28 next month, made her international debut for Russia at the 2007 world championships in Tokyo, where she and Smirnov finished ninth.

They have steadily improved in each of the last two seasons, coming fourth in the world in 2008 before taking bronze at this year’s world championships in Los Angeles.

While switching countries is common among athletes nowadays, Kawaguchi’s decision met with angry reaction back in Japan.

“I’ve read some nasty comments on the Internet. Those who don’t know how international rules work in sports even called me a traitor but I don’t get angry at them,” she said.


“People who follow sports understand that I’m not a traitor. I still consider myself Japanese. I chose to compete for Russia because I didn’t have a (good) partner in Japan.”

Japan have regularly produced world-class skaters in individual events for men and women but struggled to find top-level performers for pairs competition.

Russia have dominated Olympic pairs skating for nearly half a century, winning gold at every Winter Games since 1964.

Despite the fact that Kawaguchi and Smirnov represent their best hope for a medal in Vancouver, there was some resentment towards the Japan native among Russian sports officials who felt the country should develop their own skaters.

The pair’s coach, Tamara Moskvina, disagreed.

“Unlike some nations who pay millions to lure top athletes, we didn’t buy Kawaguchi,” the renowned trainer, who has guided three different pairs to Olympic titles, told Reuters.

“It was strictly her own decision and she paid her own way to come to Russia and train here. It was her perseverance and hard work that made her a top skater.”

Kawaguchi’s resilience was the main reason she ended up in Russia in the first place.

Inspired by watching Russia’s Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze compete at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, Kawaguchi wrote to their coach Moskvina, asking if she could also train her.

“I enjoyed watching Yelena skate. She was the most graceful skater; she was also very small, just like myself, but with a very big heart,” said the 1.57-metre tall Kawaguchi, who looks even smaller skating alongside the powerfully-built Smirnov.


“She was very persistent, so I finally agreed to take her aboard,” Moskvina recalled. “She also had to come to America as I was working in Hackensack, New Jersey, at the time.”

After spending several years in the United States, Kawaguchi followed Moskvina to St Petersburg when she returned home after leading Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze to the 2002 Olympic gold.

Kawaguchi and Smirnov, 25, each had two different partners before deciding to work together. She first skated with Russian-born Alexander Markuntsov, representing Japan.

“We had a good working relationship,” said Kawaguchi, who became the first pairs skater from Japan to medal at an international competition when she and Markuntsov won silver at the 2001 world junior championships.

“But it was very difficult for Alexander to acquire Japanese citizenship, thus we couldn’t represent Japan in the Olympics so after a while we decided to break up.”

Kawaguchi then teamed up with American Devin Patrick.

“It was a different story with Patrick. We had problems on the ice; we weren’t getting along too well,” she said.

St Petersburg-based Smirnov, who had skated with Alexandra Danilova and Yekaterina Vasilyeva before teaming up with Kawaguchi, was quick to pay compliments to his new partner.

“We often trained at the same rink and I could see how hard she works,” said Smirnov. “I thought I was a hard worker but after watching her I was really amazed by her work level.”

Moskvina said: “The combination of Japanese discipline and work ethic together with Russian artistry and elegance is what makes them unique.”

Asked to asses their Olympic chances, she was cautious, however, saying: “Don’t forget they have only been together for three years.

“Winning any medal in Vancouver would be a great success because time is on their side.” (Editing by Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story email


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20 comments on “Reuters on skater Yuko Kawaguchi: How Japan’s lack of dual nationality brands her a “traitor”

  • How do you prevent either the second citizenship or the first from becoming a “passport of convenience”. That’s the thing I think the old Japanese government worried about.

    A passport of convenience would be citizenship status that a person keeps as long as it works for them. Then, if they want to break laws for example, they do it and flee. Of they forget their duties back to their home country and their fellow citizens there. (That happens with non-duals of course, too.)

    — Sooo… you’ve just said that citizenship (singular or multiple) is irrelevant to the point you’re making, no?

  • If I were to choose an issue to work on, this would be it. The other side of this is the difficulty of the path to becoming a Japanese National, just part of the same issue.

    Why this first? Because then the legal and more importantly social frameworks would exists to deal with everything else.

  • The problem here is the rabid nationalism that surrounds the Olympics . There’s no reason at all why an individual should have to compete under any country’s flag.

  • Debito said: – Sooo… you’ve just said that citizenship (singular or multiple) is irrelevant to the point you’re making, no?

    No, I mean with the passport of convenience, the dual holder just picks up and goes to the other country.

    The single passport holder really only has one country in the end.

    I think this is the point the Japanese government was focusing on in the 1980’s.

    — That’s not the point being made nowadays (given the Alberto Fujimori Case, it’s a bit rich to make now). It’s usually, again, the potential for collaboration and spying (and what if there’s a war!!??). Let’s update and deal with real arguments being made.

  • I have heard similar arguments but, essentially, even if one were to get Japanese citizenship under the current system they could still commit the crime and flee back to their country of origin as you aren’t forced to hand in your old passport, tear up any documents, etc.

    Another fear I have heard from politicians is that people from other countries, read China/Korea, will come here and work their way up the systems and then support policies that don’t have Japanese interests in mind. Additionally, if and when Japan starts to sink (Nihon chinbotsu) Japan needs a united people to work together, blah blah blah. This argument is illogical on many fronts: if Japan were to ‘sink’, people of all nationalities, including Japanese nationals, would still flee to greener ground. Preventing this bleak future from happening in the first place is what should be on politicians minds rather than fear mongering.

    — Besides, if the fear is of former foreigners “not having Japanese interests in mind”, then you have to eliminate the naturalization process entirely. There’s no way to safeguard against that.

    (And it demonstrates blind faith in the socialization process that Japanese citizens by birth also have matching interests. As you say, it’s completely illogical with no basis in fact or science.)

  • Funny, the reason I’ve heard given is that if a person has dual citizenship, they exist as two seperate people and the potential exists for that person to, say, marry one person in Japan and another in the US, despite the fact that neither country allows polygamy.

    Which is also completely ridiculous… at least if we’re talking about international marriage. You can get married in Japan by filling out a form, and there’s no process of FORCING anyone to report it to their embassy, at least not on Japan’s side. I imagine a person could quite easily marry two people in two different countries, if they really wanted to and researched loopholes carefully enough. I also imagine that the number of people who would want to is so insignificant that it should have no effect at all on this particular law.

  • I’m not so sure that this situation makes the case for dual citizenship. Why not copy other countries and grant immediate citizenship to high-level athletes instead? Changing a fundamental law because of only a few people in any decade seems a bit of a stretch. The US hasn’t changed the law about children born of illegal aliens being US citizens, even though the numbers or costs are immense, so it seems hard to change over just a few.


    re: passport of convenience
    This is what many of us want: to not be the property of any one government. If you have multiple passports, and bank accounts/property in different countries, you have a certain amount of freedom. This is the old three flags theory of the PT philosophy. And the Japanese government, like most others, is not very keen on this kind of freedom.

  • This is a terrible article about a non-issue. There’s no evidence that any real person actually feels she betrayed Japan. The only ‘source’ it cites as having called her a traitor is the internet, likely 2ch. So what? 2ch posters are mad at just about everything. If I used 2ch as my barometer for how Japanese society feels, I could write a much more interesting article than this.

  • Yuka Kawaguchi is not the first Japanese figure skater in this situation. Rena Inoue, another pair-skater (with an American John Baldwin), had to get her U.S. citizenship in 2005, making the pair eligible to compete for the U.S. at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

  • “This is a terrible article about a non-issue. There’s no evidence that any real person actually feels she betrayed Japan. The only ’source’ it cites as having called her a traitor is the internet, likely 2ch. So what? 2ch posters are mad at just about everything. If I used 2ch as my barometer for how Japanese society feels, I could write a much more interesting article than this.”

    well put

  • It’s my take that after ww2 Japan is not allowed to have a standing army or to declare war. And with so many American military bases that basically allow Japan to use the American army as protection, and the constant harping that Japan is a country for peace, that strives for peace, and always wanted peace, (see the museum in Hiroshima) why is an argument about possibly Japan going to war even brought up, not only as a reason to deny dual citizenship, but any topic.

    Indeed, a very poor argument against dual citizenship.

  • Hong Kong

    At least someone mentioned it. We indeed are treated as “property” and sources of revenue for governments.

    Debito san’s discussion on giving up his US citizenship is a good example that readers of this board can access or relate to, especially the comments about taxation and wealth confiscation. There are countless others.

    Unfortunately I think the world the future has in store will be more control and more surveillance.

    Good for Ms. Kawaguchi…hope she does well! She is not the property of Japan or the Japanese race, she is an individual (oops bad word over here) with freedom of choice, which she rightfully exercised. A passport of convenience? Who cares?

    I for one no longer feel loyalty to my RFID chipped passport. With the formulation of global governance those days are long gone!


  • I fail to see how carrying the passport as a citizen of a country makes one “property”.

    I fail to see how owing a duty back to fellow citizens of a country makes someone into “property”, either.

  • I quote Brian Martin from ‘Freedom’ vol.57 #15
    “The Games are an arena for power politics. The usual rhetoric is that sports and politics don’t mix, but actually the Olympics have been political from the very beginning. It is precisely because sports seem to be neutral that it is so effective to use them for political purposes. At the Olympics, competition between athletes is turned into competition between states. Athletes can’t participate if their country doesn’t. Victories by individuals and teams are treated as national victories, symbolised by flags and anthems and beamed around the world. Media coverage in particular countries is often biased towards the country’s own athletes, reflecting and reinforcing nationalism”.

    At this stage in our history it is time to rid ourselves of such ridiculous concepts as ‘love of country’,’respect for the flag’ or ‘treason’. The state uses, abuses and kills people. I’m yet to be convinced of its usefulness or legitimacy. My allegiance is to people who have similar ideas and values to me across arbitrary ‘borders’, not to any brutal power structure. I have no idea why people would want two{or more}passports when I don’t want even one.

  • Hoofin,

    The US government says all US passport holders need to file tax forms and pay taxes, even if they haven’t lived in the US for years. This absurdity comes from the mindset that the citizen is property. After all, if you don’t live in a place, why should you be expected to pay taxes? And, of course, different countries make laws saying it is illegal to visit Libya, North Korea, Cuba, and God knows how many others.

    Bobby Fischer found out what holding a passport represents.

  • By the way, Russian nationality law requires an applicant to renounce their former citizenship, too (but allows to keep Russian citizenship when applying for a foreign one). So may be the problem is not only with Japanese laws.

    — Everyone else in the G8 allows some form of dual nationality. Even Germany now. Not Japan.

  • Hong Kong,

    No no. You are just wrong on that. The passport identifies you as a member of a larger community. And the community sets the rules.

    In the case of America, it was decided that taxes are based on citizenship, not residence. But to ameliorate double taxation, Congress provided generous exemptions.

    The exemptions got politicized, and so as a result, if you live in a low-tax country and make a high income, then, yes, there is a problem.

    But for most overseas Americans their tax liability to back home on money that was earned elsewhere is ZERO.

    They just don’t feel like filling out the form.

    Sorry, you’re not going to convince me that filing a tax form makes me property. That’s a silly argument.

    — This discussion is going far beyond the original topic of this blog post. Bring it back or take it outside.

  • Oscar_6,

    Yuko Kawaguchi was granted the Russian citizenship on January 15th, 2009. At that moment the Japanese passport was the only passport she still hold. It is not mandatory to renounce the former citizenship to get a Russian passport (article 13, The Citizenship Law of Russia).

  • Via my Japanese wife I have been inducted into the clan of Japanese figure skating fandom, somewhat against my will. At any rate, in attending competitions, I can tell you that Ms. Kawaguchi is quite warmly received by the Japanese audience. I find this whole dust-up hard to believe. It sounds like one of those pieces where the journalist cooked up the hook and then sought out people to support his thesis. I myself deal with the major U.S. media from time to time, and I’m familiar with this dance.

    I don’t think you can really complain about the lack of multiple citizenship in Japan. That’s the way it is in most countries, including the United States, although enforcement is lax. What a mess it would be to have some people who could pick and choose which laws they were subject to, or worse yet, would be subject to the worst common demominator.

    — Need a source for the claim in the second paragraph. I know from personal experience (my stepfather, British and naturalized American) that dual nationality is perfectly permissible in the US.

    And everyone is subject to the laws of the land (diplomats and SOFA etc. notwithstanding) in which they currently are present in regardless of citizenship, so this claim that multiple citiizenships leads to lawlessness is just alarmism.

  • Montanan in Japan says:

    As for american policy no one can force you to renounce your citzenship. My understanding in Japan you have to go to city hall fill out a form and renounce your citizenship there. But guess what? It means nothing as only going to a overseas US embassy and renouncing your citzenship means anything.

    Hence you can have both US and Japanese citzenship. Just follow the japanese rules, lie to them cause they are morons then your done.

    One other issue I heard is when entering the US use your american passport or immigration may take your japanese passport. I assume when going to japan use your japanese passport as well but not sure, but seems the safe idea.


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