Olympic Tangent: US-born Reed siblings skate for “Team Japan” despite one being too old to have dual nationality


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Hi Blog. Olympics are the topic du jour, so let’s bring up something that relates to Debito.org.

Debito.org Reader JPS sent me a comment yesterday with some links (thanks, see below) pointing out how once again in Japan, citizenship and dual nationality are political issues, not legal ones. We have dual nationals (in the case below, the Reeds, two Japanese-Americans) skating for Team Japan.

For the record, I’m fine with that. Participate however you can in whatever team you choose as long as you’re doing so properly under Olympic rules. The problem is that under Japan’s rules, legally one of the Reeds should not be a dual national anymore — she had to choose one by age 22 and didn’t.   But for the sake of politics and medals, we’re bending the laws yet again — claiming people as ours only when it suits us.

Let’s just face reality, and allow dual nationality in Japan.  Period.   Then we have fewer identity problems and conflicts of interest.

Arudou Debito in Calgary, finding that Canada is pressuring their athletes almost as much as Japan does (Team Canada has never won a Gold on home soil; oh dear, so what.)


Hi Debito,

Hope you are enjoying Canada. So I was reading the top stories on Yahoo today and found this gem.


So Cathy Reed and her brother are dual nationals (according to the article) and will be representing Japan in the Olympics. The problem here is that Cathy is 22 years old, almost 23.


1987 + 22 = 2009. So the grace period for choosing a nationality has lapsed. So if this is correct, she is in violation of Japanese law, but it seems that it isn’t a problem here. I wonder why? JPS



Three American ice dancing siblings won’t be skating for Team USA

By Trey Kerby
Yahoo Sports blog, Wed Feb 10, 2010 11:40 am EST


A few weeks back we told you about the curious trend of ice skaters finding partners in foreign countries. That was unusual, but not too surprising. Skaters need partners, and if they can find them in other places, why not? But the story of the Reed siblings? Well, that’s weird.

Born to an American father and a Japanese mother in Kalamazoo, Michigan, all three Reed siblings – Cathy, Chris, and Allison – will skate in the Vancouver Olympics. None of them are members of Team USA.


Because of their mother’s Japanese citizenship, Chris and Cathy hold dual citizenship in the United States and Japan. They’ll be skating for Japan.

Allison, meanwhile, is taking advantage of the new rules to skate for Georgia’s national team, home of her partner, Otar Japaridze.

Growing up, the Reeds lived in Kalamazoo, Hong Kong, Cincinnati, Australia, and, finally, New Jersey, where Cathy and Chris met up with coaches Nikolai Morozov and Shae-Lynn Bourne. As the duo trained with their new coaches, they quickly flew up the ice dancing ranks. However, due to the depth of the American team, the Reeds began skating for Japan. In a country where ice dancing is not terribly popular, they almost immediately became the team to beat.

Little sister Allison’s story is even more fortuitous. She began the sport because of her siblings’ success but could not find a partner due to her small stature. Then she found Japaridze in – where else? – New Jersey. In their first competition together (Allison’s first international competition ever), the duo nabbed the very last Olympic spot.

Just your typical three-siblings-from-the-United-States-finding-international-success-for-other-countries story that’s pretty amazing. No biggie.

22 comments on “Olympic Tangent: US-born Reed siblings skate for “Team Japan” despite one being too old to have dual nationality

  • these siblings are probably as american as apple pie.. and chose japan for sporting reasons. It has to be for political reasons that japan “allows” them to be dual.. whereas America has no problems with this. if anything, it reinforces the unfairness and lunacy of the current system in Japan

  • April 18, 2009 Yomiuri
    “Cathy Reed (21) selected Japanese citizenship in order to participate in the Olympics for Japan.”

    I don’t know the accuracy of the Yahoo Sports blog, but often western media seems to often state someone has dual citizenship when it is not the fact because it would be the “normal situation” in those countries. The reporter could be using old information from when she was young enough to legally have dual nationality. The two news sources are contradicting each other.
    Interesting that her official profile on the Japan Skating Federation website (in Japanese) shows her given name + surname, rather than the other way around in which Japanese both native-born and naturalized state their names.

    日本は4位に 国別対抗戦




    (2009年4月18日 読売新聞)

  • could well be perfectly legal.

    if you take dual citizenship after the age of 20 you have 2 years to give up the other passport

  • sorry for double posting but heres what j mo justice says
    Persons holding both foreign citizenship and Japanese citizenship (dual nationals) must, before reaching age 22 (or, if having acquired dual nationality after age 20, within two years of acquisition) choose a single nationality.

    If you do not choose a nationality, you may lose your Japanese nationality. Because of this, it is important to consider this issue carefully.

    For additional details, please consult the nearest city, ward or town office, the Legal Affairs Office (Homukyoku) or Japanese Embassy or Consulate abroad.

    This information sheet is published by the Japanese Ministry of Justice.

    — Please send link for completeness’ sake, if not imbedded in cover page site.

  • Michael Weidner says:

    I have to do some research, but as far as I understand, especially in the figure skating world, you are allowed to skate for any team you so choose, as long as that country accepts your bid to skate for their team.

    It happened in the past with a Canadian-born Ice Dance team who while born, lived, and trained in Canada, skated for Team France.

    Since I’m at work currently I can’t look up all that much, but I will comment again once I have my resources in order.

  • Michael Weidner says:

    This isn’t the first time this has happened in the world of Ice Dance. In 1985, The Ice Dance sibling team of Isabelle & Paul Duchesnay swtiched from Team Canada to Team France while they were both born and Raised in Canada. Their only tie to France was their mother’s heritage (according to wikipedia).


    According to Elegibility rules (as listed on wiki),
    “Skaters must be older than fifteen as of July 1, 2009 and must be a citizen of the country they represent to be eligible for the Olympic Games. Unlike qualification rules for International Skating Union events, in the case of a pair or ice dancing team, both skaters must be citizens of the country they represent in competition. In addition, International Olympic Committee rules requires that at least three years have passed since the competitor last represented another country in competition.”


    So as long as they are both citizens and haven’t skated for the US in the last 3 years, then they are allowed to compete. If you think about it though, Ice Dance in Japan is not really competed in, so it would make sense as a competitor to join a team where you could easily go to the Olympics. If they had joined the US team, they would have had a much harder time going to Vancouver in the first place.

    While I don’t agree that people should be so eaily given citizenship in order to win that country medals at the Olympics, this certainly isn’t the first case of this happening, nor will it be the last. I just wish they would hand out citizenship more easily to us people who actually want to live here ^_~

  • JL sends me this about Kokubo:


    I guess you ve seen this on numerous sites, but here is one:

    Fri Feb 12, 2010 10:30 am EST
    Unsuitable — Japanese snowboarder busted for bad fashion
    By Trey Kerby Yahoo! Sports

    Pay no attention to the foreign characters or language unless you understand them. Instead, focus on the dreadlocked gentleman on the left. You’ll notice his outfit looks just a little different than his teammates’. That’s snowboarder Kazuhiro Kokubo. He’s apologizing at the end of the clip because Japanese officials aren’t too happy with the way he wore his suit.

    With his sagging pants, untucked shirt, and loosened tie, Kokubo looked like any sloppily dressed 21-year-old. But that’s not going to fly. According to one Japanese Olympic Committee official, “It is not the way the Japanese delegation should dress themselves while taxpayers’ money is spent on them.”

    Kokubo, who is expected to contend for a medal, was banned from a welcoming ceremony in Vancouver after there were complaints about his clothes. The snowboarder followed that up by saying the Olympics are “just another snowboarding event,” and that they are “nothing special.” Uh-oh again.

    The anti-authority stance permeates snowboarding, but there are certain times when you have to play nice. One of those times is the Olympics. Your country is paying for you to represent them. You get the chance of a lifetime to do something hardly anyone else gets to do. And it’s all free. Pretty sweet deal. So just go with the flow.

    Plus, if you’re wearing a suit, wear it like a suit. It’s basically the easiest way to look good.

    As soon as I read it at yahoo.uk, it struck me as a microcosm of the social and economic problems of Japan, and follows on from the double standard of accepting people as Japanese/bending the rules if they are likely to win a medal:

    1.Talented youngster who won’t play by the rules and who is too much of an individual is almost banned by the more conservative generation, who seem to value the rules more than success


    2. They’ll grudgingly let him compete, because he is likely win a medal.

    To add insult to injury, he is not that assed about taking part in the Olympics in a wonderful slacker generation stance, and he even said so!

    If I were him, I d “grudgingly” take part this time, win a medal, and then refuse to compete at Olympic again or take part in the award ceremony. He can make more money on the prefessional circuit.

    The only thing I fear is that because of this incident, he ll be ostracised in Japan by more conservative elements. J

  • thanks for injm for posting the link above.
    regarding cathy reed,she has chosen japanese nationality as reqd by law.as the link below and someone elses link show.
    you need to really severly edit this entry as she is being accused of crimes which she hasnt to anyones knowledge commited..





  • furthermore,michael weidners point about them being given j nationality to compete is completely wrong.
    they are/were dual nationals they have always had j citizenship..

  • @Adamw

    If you reread what I sent to Debito in the beginning, you would see that I noted “if this is correct”, meaning the yahoo article. The yomiuri article that you refer to only says that she chose J nationality. It does not say anything about her relinquishing her US citizenship which is a requirement under J law. So to reiterate, if she has chosen Japanese nationality and not relinquished her other citizenship, she is in violation of J law.

  • JP,

    The law (国籍法) says that a dual citizenship only needs to choose a citizenship (第十四条). Upon making that choice, one only needs to _make efforts_ to renounce other citizenships. (第十六条) Making efforts and actually accomplishing something are two entirely different matters. Also, there does not seem to be a legally defined time period in which those efforts must be completed.

  • キャシー・リードが日本国籍

    Actually as posted by Chris, it clearly states that they did (past tense) hold duel nationalities, but chose Japanese nationality.

  • I know they seem like ‘kids’ but Cathy is technically an adult in any country.

    Mentally adult or not, I assume they are old enough to realise the pride that comes with representing your country and with what honour the uniform should be worn.

    This and Kokubo’s case, whilst on different scales, seem to be thumbing their nose at their national team uniforms(even though one is a tracksuit and the other a formal suit) and what they represent.

    As a proud Japanese citizen, does this not concern you Debito?

    — Nope. Power to them. I’m not a big fan of rabid nationalism infiltrating sports, and especially not when it puts pressure on our athletes to perform not for themselves, but for the entire country. That’s why so many of our athletes choke.

  • I don’t think we can really know, with information from the Japanese media anyway. I am sure that she turned in the paperwork saying “I hereby choose Japanese nationality and will renounce my other nationality.” Who knows if she actually went to the US embassy and DID it? It’s undoubtedly the better choice for them as ice dancers, but they don’t seem to speak a lot of Japanese (either that or are just really shy on TV?) so I doubt living here forever is her plan either.

    It could be an interesting case if we knew one way or the other. But we probably never will.

  • I think as so often when this issue is discussed, we don’t seem to be much closer to understanding how dual nationality works here. People are quick to confidently state something is “illegal” based on not very much knowledge at all – though some of the comments look to be on the right track.

    The best discussion I’ve seen that examines all this in detail is posted by William Wetherall on his website. That for me is the reference, until someone actually challenges anything he says or suggests a better presentation of the issues in English.

    I have no interest in either of the Reeds, sorry, but the issue of dual nationality in Japan important to me because it will affect my children.

    To anyone who brings up the word illegal in reference to adults beyond a certain age maintaining Japanese dual nationality: how many instances do you know of where someone has had their Japanese nationality revoked? Through official channels – not by being coerced or tricked into going through the renunciation process. If you have examples, do not hesitate to give them. If you can’t, at least take some time to consider why that is so, and whether the Reeds might not fall into the same category as any other person holding both Japanese and foreign nationality.

    Because, to start with, whatever the law says, if Japanese nationality is never (or rarely) revoked _in practice_, then it is _possible_ to maintain dual nationality. And if the law doesn’t even forbid it, then it is probably _legal_ to maintain dual nationality. At which point, it matters little if you, the local policeman, or indeed the lady at the Narita immigration desk, believe otherwise.

    Once you know the details concerning the law, and the real-life application of the law, you _still_ need to know in detail about the individual, whether it’s the Reeds, Christopher Savoie, or anyone else. That can be hard, because you won’t see their documents, you’ll hear what the AP story says, as someone noted above, or perhaps what the person in question claims (which may or may not be true – see the Savoie case).

    Another point: I think in many (if not all) countries, nationality and immigration issues are quite discretionary. The countries in question do this for a variety of reasons, not all of them sinister. A couple of high-profile cases in point to illustrate such selectivism: Mohamed al-Fayed, an Egyptian, has consistently been refused British citizenship despite seeming to tick all the boxes (and then some) to qualify. Broadly, Britain is an advanced country, devoted to freedom of speech, and has made good progress officially opposing racism. It has welcomed immigration and there is no shortage of people from very humble backgrounds who cannot function in English but who have qualified for and received citizenship. Al-Fayed has a massive headstart on such people (wealthy businessman, longterm residence, marriage to UK national etc etc) yet _cannot_ become British, despite having tried hard to do so. In the UK, it remains within the power of the highest authority (in effect the Home Secretary, who would have been directly responsible in Fayed’s case) to withhold citizenship even from those who would seem to qualify. You can ascribe whatever reason you wish for this (racism, distaste for al-Fayed’s combative views, the strong possibility that he is actually insane, or anything else you like), but it wouldn’t change anything. From the other end of the continent, South African athlete Zola Budd was fast-tracked to British citizenship, again, a decision that would have been made at government level.

    I don’t believe Japan is so unusual in applying immigration and nationality rules in a discretionary manner. I know people who were refused tourist visas for short trips to the United States, even after providing (as required) details of their bank accounts – again for the same reason we keep coming up against: it’s actually discretionary, not a right.

    — But we’re talking about countries which allow dual nationality and grant it at their discretion, compared to Japan which does not grant dual nationality at all (yet exercises discretion). I prefer Japan also grant dual nationality with those discretions. It’s more open and less hypocritical.

  • [snipes deleted]

    William Wetherall says on the subject, while long and detailed, is beautifully clear…

    A crucial point that Wetherall makes [snipes deleted], is this:

    “Contrary to what is often stated in news reports and op-eds, dual nationality has never been illegal in Japan. Like the common equation of Japanese nationality with race or ethnicity, the belief that Japan prohibits dual nationality is nurtured by misinformation, ignorance, and preconceptions.”

    The first sentence in particular cuts right through a lot of the nonsense people talk about dual nationality. The point: it is NOT illegal in Japan.

    [snipes deleted]

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Harris, William Wetherall’s essay is a very informative resource; thanks for that. Bookmarked.

  • I guess it was a good thing that i brought this topic up. It seems that Japan does permit dual nationality by simply not requiring someone to renounce other nationalities. It only requires one to “make efforts/ endeavor to renounce”, which is not legally defined. Is this how the law is practically applied in all instances? So anyone who has been putting it off for this reason, should go and start the application process.

    I had read somewhere online (can’t find the link) that someone who had nationalized was required to show proof of their renouncement, before being granted J citizenship. Has anyone heard this before? I stopped my application precisely for this reason.

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