Nationality Elements of citizenship Status and citizenship

Japan and the United States

2. Rights, duties, and qualities of life (Table)

By William Wetherall

First posted 7 December 2006
Last updated 15 August 2009

Elements of citizenship in Japan and the United States
Conditions Population Land Air Water Food Energy Minerals Waste Shelter Communications Defense Safety Hygiene Relief Happiness
Politics Suffrage Government Legislation Justice
Freedoms Beliefs Expression Movement Privacy
Obligations Registration Taxes Service
Distintions Ability Age Appearance Competency Nationality Race, ethnicity, national origin Sex Gender Family Marriage and divorce
Society Health Health insurance Public assistance Disability support Education Employment Unemployment insurance

Related articles
Japan and the United States: 1. Affiliation and status of nationals and aliens (Article)

Elements of citizenship in Japan and the United States

Countries have somewhat different but essentially similar standards for determining the rights and duties of nationals and aliens who reside in their state and local societies as what I am calling "citizens" of these societies. The following table compares, very generally, the freedoms and obligations of inhabitants of Japan and the United States.

By "inhabitant" I mean any person in a country -- legally or illegally -- national or alien. Other keywords are used as defined and discussed in other sections of this "Status and citizenship" feature with exceptions as noted.

The table of contents at the top of the page shows only the major elements of citizenship. Some are further broken down, in alphabetic order, as follows.

Conditions of life
 | Population
 | Land
 | Air
 | Water
 | Food
 | Waste
 | Shelter
 | Communications
 | Energy
 | Minerals
 | Peace and defense
 | Public safety
 | Public hygiene
 | Disaster relief
 | Happiness
Society and welfare
 | Health
 | Health insurance
 | Public assistance
 | Disability support
 | Education
 | Employment
 | Unemployment insurance
Politics and law
 | Government
 | National suffrage
 | Local suffrage
 | Legislation
 | Justice
Freedoms and liberties
 | Belief
 | Expression
 | Movement (Border control)
 | Privacy
Obligations and responsibilities
 | Residence registration
 | Taxes
 | National service
Status distinctions
 | Ability
 | Age
 | Appearance
 | Competency
 | Nationality
 | Race, ethnicity, national origin
 | Sex and gender
 | Sexual preference
 | Family relationships
 | Marriage and divorce


Elements of citizenship in Japan and the United States
Rights and duties of nationals and aliens as citizens of state and local societies

Belief and expression

Both Japan and the United States would rank very close on any scale of freedom of religious and other belief and speech and other expression, at practically any point in time from about the middle of the 19th century, say. In both countries, past and present, your life could be endangered by doing or saying certain things at certain times in certain places.

Both countries have had zones where you could voice, write, or draw practically anything you wanted. And both countries have also had pockets of extreme legal or social intolerance in which you could be arrested and punished for violating a law, or you could be harrassed, lynched, or assassinated by an individual or group that disliked your deeds or words.


United States

The most dangerous form of freedom of expression in Japan today would be to publically state an opinion that would invite harrassment or intimidation by an ultrarightist organization, or threats or commissions of violence by an individual ultrarightist. Ultraleftists are also capable of collective and individual violence against their distractors. Yet even with delicate topics like recent history and the Imperial Family are open game for critical commentary in mass media.

Freedom of speech in the United States is to some extent hampered by pockets of zealous intolerance toward people who do not share pride in the flag and belief in God. Refusal to sing the national anthem or respect the flag, admission of atheism or even agnosticism, are causes for ostracism. Advocacy of pro-choice is likely to invite the wrath of anti-abortionists. Political correctness now controls the style sheets of numerous publishing houses.


Distinctions and discrimination

Distinctions are made in all societies, some legal, others by the six senses regardless of laws. Unwelcome distinctions may be called "discrimination" -- but "discrimination" is also used to describe acts neutral likes like "pattern discrimination" and positive acts like "discriminating taste".


People are not born with equal abilities. And no matter of equal nutritional and educational conditions during their developmental years or later in life can possibly make people equal with regard to their abilities. In fact, arguably no human society could function if people were not differently abled.

A test or examination, by definition, is intended to differentiate a persons ability to do something -- crawl or walk, keep pace with a treadmill, solve a set of math problems, drive a car, pass an exam for a medical license. Inevitably some people are healthier, brighter, and more skillful than others. And this spread of different abilities gives every society its essentially human characteristics.

The problem is not differences of ability per se, but how a society deals with differences. How do all people in a society, regardless of their differences, learn to respect themselves and each other? And how do societies help people who lack abilities essential for independent survival?


United States

Until recently, Japan has preferred to deal with people with severe physical or mental disabilities in special schools or institutions. Recently there has been more mainstreaming and public accommodation of the needs of physically handicapped people.

In the 1970s practically no public facilities had been built with handicapped people in mind. Today it is mandatory that public buildings and train stations, and apartment buildings and commercial structures of certain classes, have elevators, escalators, toilets, ramps, braille signs, yellow eye and cane guides on walkways to aid people with various physical limitations.

People with physical and mental limitations that require intense personal care are more difficult to deal with outside specialized facilities. Some courts, however, have ordered general schools to accept students that would otherwise have had to attend special schools.

The United States began a bit earlier than Japan in mainstreaming people who, until about the middle of the 20th century, would generally not have been seen in public. As in Japan, the spread of infrastructure to accommodate people with special needs took more time in some places than others and inevitably followed changes in laws and budget priorities.

Some states and localities within states were quicker than others to pass ordinances and allocate funds that made public facilities more accessible. Private enterprises were slower to facilitate handicapped people if doing so would harm their bottom line vis-a-vis competitors who chose not to invest in special facilities.

Eventually building codes were revised to require suitable facilities in most new structures if not also in some older structures. Today companies have learned to turn their accommodations of wheelchair users, nursing mothers, and others with special needs -- to their commercial advantange -- on a par with customers who need places to park their cars.


In all societies, age is a variable that determines various qualifications -- such as when a child is old enough to start school or is culpable for commiting a crime like murder, or can marry without parental permission, or can drive or drink or serve in the military or vote, or is otherwise considered an adult -- as well as when one can be elected to certain public offices, or receive a national pension, et cetera.


United States

In Japan, educators and employers have been more likely to specify age as a qualification, not only for admission or employment, but also for advancement through grades and careers. While there is less so-called "ageism" in some sectors of life in Japan in the first decade of the 21st century, compared to the last decades of the 20th century, lawmakers in Japan have not yet been motivated to ban age distinctions in employment, say, as a matter of principle.

Life tracks and stages

While Japan has generally been kind to its children and elders, the kindness comes at the expense of a rigidity of thinking about stages in life. People in classroom and places of work are more likely to be sorted by age but also sex.

Until recently, life as been viewed more like a single track that one should stay on from cradle to grave. Ideally one would go to school for a certain period, then get a job and work for a certain period, then retire.

Women, if they went to college or got full-time jobs, were expected to marry and then switch tracks to family building. Some might later return to work, but rarely on a par with men. And men were expected to stay on the employment track until they reached retirement age. Women, in their role as wife and mother, never retired.

Boys and girls, and men and women, were expected to act in accordance with their age and sex. And most children grew up to be adults who accepted the practices that bar people from educational or employment opportunitites because of their age. However, attitudes toward age and age distinctions have been changing.

Age cohortism in grade school

Age determines when most children begin attending public schools. Very few children allowed to jump ahead of, or remain behind, their age cohort. In other words, children join an age-cohort and stay there throughout their grade-school years. This is done in the name of "egalitariansim". Tracking based on ability in subjects like math and foreign language is not unheard of, but even in high schools tracking is rare. Age cohortism requires equal treatment.

Age cohortism in college

Most colleges went through periods of expanding their campuses to accommodate two needs. One was to accept more high-school graduates in their main daytime programs. The other was to diversity their evening programs into the continuing education market.

The dropoff in the number of young people, though, has forced some colleges to admit more older people into their main programs. Daytime student bodies, though still more homogeneous in term of age than those at many US colleges, are more likely today to include more people in their 20s, 30s, and even older.

One-chanceism in college

Most Japanese colleges do not encourage changing majors in midstream. Nor are they easily accommodate dropping out and returning a few years later to continue from where one left off, or starting over in a different field. Mobility between colleges has also been difficult.

In other words, education has largely been a matter of tracking based on age. High school students are expected to select a train, board it at its first station, and stay on it to its terminal station. Switching tracks, or pulling off to a side track to rest or for repairs, are seen as character defects that will impair future employment opportunities.

However, more colleges are becoming more flexible with regard to mobility within their own programs, and more colleges are willing to review transcripts from other colleges and recognize equivalent credits. Student bodies, though, remain generally more homogeneous and settled with respect to age and stage of life than in the United States.

Ageism in employment

Employers, especially those that have age-based pay scales, and family-related allowances, are still more likely to recruit from specific age groups. This means that people over 25, or 28, or 35 or 40 or whatever, face extremely limited opportunities when they find themselves "restructured" at middle age.

During the Meiji period, when life expectancies were in the 50s, the age of mandatory retirement in was set at 55. It was still most commonly 55 in the 1970s when life expentancies were in the 70s. Today, when life expectancies are in the 80s, and the population pyramid is top-heavy with postwar baby boomers, most companies now have retirement ages between 60 and 65 -- corresponding to the ages from which people can begin to receive national and other pensions.

In the United States, as in Japan and other countries, women have generally aged better than men. Not only do women on average live longer than men, but as women they learn the essential homemaking and social skills that enable them to live more independent lives -- so long as they have a place to stay, a way to get around, and a source of income.

As in Japan, convalescent homes in the United States are primarily warehouses for aging and dying women -- and more women reach ages at which incidences of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia and debilitating diseases render them highly dependent on care. And, like in Japan, older women who are still able-bodied are more likely to live with their retired husbands, if not with an older child, and may be involved in the raising their grandchildren.

Greater age mobility in education

For many decades, most American schools have been jumping able students ahead and holding less able students back. This has not generally resulted in higher average levels of achievement. Undoubtedly the most motivated students are rewarded with opportunities to advance as fast as they can regardless of their age. But dropout rates are much higher, and average scholastic achievement much lower, compared with Japan.

American colleges, too, have for many years been more open to all manner of students regardless of age or ability. Some colleges have extremely high entrance standards and competition for admission is so severe that only the cream of the crop are able to enter. Other colleges, especially so-called "junior" or "community" colleges, which generally have two-year programs, accept practically anyone, even students who have not graduated from high school, and offer courses and programs to accommodate all manner of needs, from remedial education, to vocational training, and preparation for transfer to four-year colleges.

Not only has there been considerably more flexibility in college education in the United States, but there has much more mobility between departments within colleges, between colleges within universities, and between colleges and universities. Here the "college" means any two-year, four-year, or even graduate institution -- while "university" means an institution that includes two more colleges.

While motivated Americans with sufficient means of support can enter most college programs at practically any age in their life, and change their fields of study at will, far fewer American children finish high school than in Japan, and college dropout rates are also high.

High school and college dropout rates

Japan is better known for higher achievement in grade school education. While very few children are held back because of failure to complete a curriculum of study or because of grades, practically everyone completes compulsory education through middle school, and the vast majority advance to, and complete, high school. As a result, a comparatively high percentage of young people in Japan reach adulthood with sufficient literacy and other skills, including the ability to organize themselves and work in groups, to hold all manner of jobs that require, apart from anything else, a willingness to go to work and commit oneself to a job.

College dropout rates are also very low, partly because students are not generally required to study as hard in college as they did in middle school and high school in order to pass high school and college entrance exams. College students pareparing for careers in medicine or law, higher civil service posts, and engineering and science are are more likely to study harder, but this probably also the case in most countries.

Age discrimination in employment.

Many personnel practices in Japanese organizations and companies would violate federal or state laws in the United States. Japanese companies that establish offices and plants in the United States immediately have to adjust the ways they hire, treat, and fire employees.

It is not that age discrimination related to employment does not exist in the United States, but that it has been driven under the surface by legislation that formally proscribes specifications of age -- especially older age -- as a condition for employment. Human Resources officers in American companies are at wits end to balance the interests of the company -- which may well be better served by younger employees -- with governmental restrictions on age discrimination. And courts are familiar with lawsuits alleging age discrimination.

Age discrimination in employment

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 prohibits employers from discriminating against applicanats and employees who are 40 years old or older because of their age. The law applies to federal and local governments, to some extent to state governments, and to private organizations with 20 or more employees. Court decisions have ruled that even apparently neutral practices and policies are illegal if they result in disproportionaly fewer older workers or otherwise have negative effects on older workers.

The lower threshhold above which it may be illegal to specify age is 18. Generally (but with some exceptions), organizations and companies cannot mandate retirement.

So employers dance around the phrases that would give the impression that in looking for "new blood" they mean "youthful" blood, and the like. While adverting themselves as an "Equal opportunity employer" they place ads in ways that will maximize applications from the age cohort they are most interested.

US courts will not accept home-country customs as a pretect for operation in the United States. As many foreign-owned companies from all over the world have discovered, when they set-up under US federal, state, and local laws, they have to localize their employment practices -- or face litigation by disgrunteld employees or prospective employees.

Japanese companies that set up in the US are usually advised by American attorneys not to be guided by policy in their Japanese headquarters regarding personnel matters other than, say, staff size. For any discovery that age discrimination within the parent company might have inspired treatment within the American branch could be discovered by a defendant in a lawsuit and admitted by the court hearing the case.

In the United States, it is often illegal to solicit information like age or date of birth at the job application stage. Such information may be vital to determination of certain benefit, but any probing by a prospective employer about a candidate's age could be taken as discriminatory.

Even staff that a Japanese company rotates from an office in Japan to an office in the United States may qualify as a defendent in an age discrimination case if the person continues, while in the United States, to be treated under practices in Japan that would be illegal under American laws.


Physical appearance -- whether one is considered attractive or ugly, appealing or repelling -- is another of those aspects of being human -- like ability -- that depends largely on passively acquired genetic traits. However, social paradigms that define what is beautiful or handsome can change over time. And, like ability, there is ample opportunity for nurture to intervene on nature.

Just as one can learn to read and add, or study and train to become an auto mechanic or brain surgeon, or wear glasses to correct an impairment of vision or a false arm to compensate for one that never developed or was lost in an accident or war -- one can improve less desireable physical traits through hygiene and grooming, suitable eating and exercise, clothing and cosmetics, or even plastic surgery. And if personality is a problem, then one can also learn to behave differently.

Everyone, though, ultimately has to accept what they see in a mirror -- and the social consequences of being attractive, ordinary, or ugly. And no one is exempt from the risk that their appearance will be a source of stigma. Some beautiful people have as much difficulty living with their beauty as some beasts have living with their beastliness.


United States

Japan, like most known societies past and present, puts a premium on beauty. Beautiful children -- and beautiful men and women, mostly younger but also middle-aged and sometimes older, are celebrated for their beauty. And beauty -- whether cute, wholesome, or erotic -- has become the number one vehicle for commercial sales of practically everything.

America is arguably the world's greatest defender of freedom and champion of liberty to exploit visual glamour and sexuality -- in film, fashion, and graphic media has had a powerful impact throughout the world. Advertisers long ago discovered that if blondes are shown to have more fun, people will want to be blonde and have the same sort of fun.


Children because of their age are considered wards of a parent or gardian. Adults who because of an incapacity that prevents them from taking care of themselves can be wards of relatives if not a court or other institution.

Corporations that lose control of their financial solvency are placed under the control of receivers who run their affairs. Countries that delegate their foreign affairs to another state are usually not regarded as fully competent states. A country that has been forced to condede extraterritorial rights to another country is also considered to be less than fully compentent.


United States


Nationality, like age and sex, is among the most important status distinctions (see below for others). All states define their own nationality, and inevitably they differentiate their own nationals from nationals of other states. There is now a tendency to downplay the importance of nationality, but so long as there are states, nationality will continue to be a legal cause for legally if not socially treating some people different than others.


United States

Japan has legally defined its nationality since 1899. As defined by the first Nationality Law, being Japanese was a purely civil status equated with possession of Japan's nationality. Even before 1899, affiliation with the Meiji state, and with earlier entities, was essentially a civil status based on enrollment in local population registers.

Acquisition of nationality at time of birth is primarly based on right of blood (family descent), but may also be based on right of soil (place of birth). Some minors can acquire nationality later in life through parental recognition, while some minors and adults are able to naturalization. Nationality, even at time of birth, is acquired only by timely notification.

Race and ethnicity

Race and ethnicity have never been factors in the acquisition or loss of nationality in Japan. No Japanese terms related to "race" or "ethnicity" have ever appeared in Japan's nationality laws or enforcement regulations.

Dual nationality

Dual nationality as such has never been prohibited in Japan. Japanese will generally lose their nationality if they acquire the nationality of another country voluntarity, as by naturalization. However, Japanese cannot generally be forced to renounce other nationalities they have acquired passively, as through birth (either jus sanguinis or jus soli) or through marriage (jus matrimonii).

The United States pressured Japan to revise its nationality laws, first in 1916 (to permit renunciation), then in 1924 (to require Japanese residing in place-of-birth states to file a notification of intent to retain nationality for a child born in the country within two weeks of its birth). The United States wanted to minimize the occurance of dual nationality among offspring born in the country to immigrants who were not eligible for naturalization because of their putative (Oriental) race.

Today, dual nationals are expected to formally declare their intent to reserve [keep] their Japanese nationality and endeavor to renounce their other nationalities, but whether they renounce them is up to them and the other governments. The Minister of Justice has the right to initiate legal action to cause the loss of Japanese nationality should a known dual national fail to reserve their nationality.

Certain acts as a national of another country, including holding a higher office in the country's government or serving in the country's military, could jeaporadize one's Japanese nationality, and the Minister of Justice has the right to take such matters to court.

The United States gradually came to define its nationality as something acquired primarily through place of birth and secondarily through right of blood (family descent).

Subject to jurisdiction

Only since Amendment XIV of 1868 did the US Constitution clearly state that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Not until 1898, however, in US v Wong Kim Ark, did the Supreme Court clearly rule that a child born in the United States could not be excluded from US citizenship -- in this particulary case, since Wong Kim Ark's father and mother, though "persons of Chinese descent, and subjects of the emperor of China", were "at the time of his birth domiciled residents of the United States" and "were never employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the emperor of China."

One factor in the movement to deny Wong Kim Ark his birthright status as a US citizen was the fact that the Chinese Exclusion Act, in force since 1882, specifically provided that "no State court or court of the United States shall admit Chinese to citizenship" by naturalization. Some legalists held that birth in the United States was insufficient cause to be regarded a citzen if there was reason to believe that the child owed allegiance to another state -- which seemed likely if the child's parents were ineligible for citizenship on account of their race.

Not until 1952 did race -- in the guise of "national origin" -- cease being a qualification for naturalization in the United States.

Dual nationality

Historically, the United States was more strongly opposed to dual nationality than Japan, and more aggressively attempted to prevent dual nationality than Japan. In the 1980s, however, some US courts ruled that the US government could not expatriate a US citizen simply because the citzen had acquired another state's nationality.

Today the United States, like Japan, neither prohibits nor encourages dual nationality. Like Japan, it tacitly accepts dual nationality when it occurs as an artifact of its own and another state's nationality laws.

Quite a bit of dual nationality now legally occurs because of permissive laws in bordering states. Canada since 15 February 1977, and Mexico since 20 March 1998, have postively recognized dual nationality.

Race, ethnicity, national origin

These are extremely slippery expressions. All three are likely to be confused or conflated with each other, if not also with words like culture and heritage.


United States

People in Japan enjoy racial freedom from the moment they are born. There are no race boxes in the country. Race and ethnicity are not objects of classification of national government or local registrars. Race and ethnicity are strictly private matters.

The single quasi exception is in Hokkaido. Hokkaido Utari Kyokai (Hokkaido Utari Association), once a prefectural agency, is now a foundation but continues to be closely affiliated with goverment of Hokkaido as a facilitator for Ainu affairs, from cultural activities to community improvement and welfare. HUK limits its membership to people of putatively Ainu descent and their families, principally in Hokkaido. Neither the prefectural nor national government has a say in membership, and both take HUK's headcount of roughly 25,000 members as the official population of putatively "Ainu people" in Japan, though estimates of the actual number of people who might qualify as "Ainu" range from 50,000 to 100,000.

It must be kept in mind that while Japan recognizes an "Ainu minzoku" [Ainu race, ethnic nation, ethnic people] as a "shosu minzoku" [minority race, ethnic nation, ethnic people] within Japan, it does not recognize an Ainu nation as a subdivision of Japanese nationality. Hence being "Ainu" is of little or no legal consequence for individuals who consider themselves of Ainu descent.

Racial discrimination is forbidden by the Constitution. Individuals who feel that they have been victims of such discrimination in the public or private sector are free to seek redress at government offices established to deal with claims of violations of human rights. Decisions in claims that have been taken to court have heavily depended on the ability of paintifs to prove that the way they allege to have been treated was motivated by racial bias.

A number of civil and human rights organizations in Japan have been lobbying for the passage of anti-racial discrimination laws by the national Diet and in local polities, but without much success -- mostly, in opinion, because the proposals would racialize Japan by increasing, rather than decreasing, racial consciousness and tension.

People living in the United States are officially racialized from cradle to grave, as birth and death certificates, national census forms, and all manner of other documents they encounter during their life have race boxes. Race boxes reflect the legacy of official racialism and racism in the federal government, which in 1776 was was founded -- and until the latter half of the 20th century continued to rest -- on principles of racial and other forms of status discrimination.

While older "negative" forms of racism have been criminalized, newer "positive" forms have been legalized in the name of affirmative action in employment, school enrollment, and even school board or city council representation. Though overt acts of racial discrimination in public have abated, multicultural education has nurtured racial consciousness, and race boxes have proliferated to meet the demand for greater consideration of race and ethnicity in public policy.

The 1950s and 1960s witnessed the end of formal "negative" racial discrimination and the start of has been formally banned in federal and state laws since the 1950s and 1960s, some forms of racial discrimination have been tacitly permitted in the guise of affirmative action laws, which became popular from the 1960s. Recently, more courts have been ruling that race-based affirmative action laws are unconstitutional.

Opponents of affirmative action are often also opposed to race boxes. Race boxes encourage people to racialize themselves and others, which cannot help but foster racialist and even racist thinking. Race and ethnicity are private matters, and the government has no business encouraging people to classify themselves beyond, say, their nationality, sex, and age. Where is the moral authority of a government that decries racial discrimination, yet mandates the use of official racioethnic categories on census and other forms?

Some people who favor affirmative action laws argue that policies favoring "people of color" are necessary since color-blind policies favor discrimination against such people. In their view, a "color-blind society" can only be created by not turning a blind eye to color issues. They also argue that race boxes are essential to all manner of social and medical research, in addition to determining racial representations on local school boards, and in student bodies and work forces.

Sex and gender

Whether one is a male or a female -- boy or girl, man or a woman -- is a matter of biological distinction made by all countries in their status laws. Birth certificates state the "sex" or sometimes now the "gender" of a child -- and changes in this status later in life generally require a court decision. Changes may be permitted because of errors made at time of birth, developmental changes that clarified ambiguous sexual traits at time of birth, or changes brought about by surgical procedures and/or hormonal treatments to accommodate a "transgender identity".

Sex and gender

Sex generally refers to the biological status of a person, based on overt traits (sex organs) and/or covert attributes (sex chromosomes). Gender -- though now fashionably used for "sex" as a biological status -- is perhaps better reserved for the sexual identity that an individual acquires as a result of natural development and socialization.

In other words, "sex" as a matter of "M/F" on an application form is not the same as "gender" as a matter of sexual identity. Keeping the "sex/gender" distinction is important because a person of one sex (biologically), but who identifies with the other sex (psychologically) should not be be made to feel obliged to change one's legal sexual (biological) status.

"Transsexual" and "transgender" also tend to be used as synonyms but perhaps should be differentiated -- again, for the reason that not all people with "transgender" sentiments wish to undergo "transsexual" medical procedures.


United States

Elsewhere on this website I have spoken of, say, "genderizing" or "degenderizing" a law -- by which I mean that "sex" becomes or ceases to be a factor in the operation of the law. But in the following discussion, discussion, I will differentiate between a legal status based on "biology" (sex) and a legal matter related to "psychology" (gender). I make this distinction not only to stay close to the metaphorical surface of legal terms in Japanese, which generally speak of 性 this or that -- hence "sex" (性) -- but also to be able to clarify conditions in which "sex" and "gender" are different.

Sex and gender issues are not new to Japanese law. There are number of cases of sexual confusion in childhood and even marriage. The see Boy raised as girl for case that was reported in both newspapers and in news nishikie in 1874.

Japanese terms for "sex" and "gender"

In Japanese as in English, terminology is a highly controversial subject and is subject to all manner of fashions in usage, some driven by ideology.

The term ジェンダー (jendaa) -- a kanaized form of English "gender" -- is becoming more widely used in Japanese by writers who wish to avoid the Sino-Japanese term 性 (sei). While 性 (sei) can be, and is today commonly, rendered as "gender", it it is metaphorically closer to biological "sex" than psychological "gender".

Sino-Japanese terms related to "sex" -- including translationese related to "gender" -- are usually built around the graph 性 (sei) meaning "sex" as a biological quality. Other graphs are added as required to denote something related to "sex" as a biological, social, or psychological condition.

Application forms and such, which solicit a person's "Sex" as a "Male/Female" distinction, typically use the terem 性別 (seibetsu), meaning literally "sex disctinction". The choices are usually 男 (otoko) and 女 (onna) meaning repspetively "man" [Male / M] and "woman" [Female / F].

The graphs 男 and 女 are often combined as 男女 (danjo) meaning "male-female" and the like. The compound is used in numerous terms to mean both sexes separately (compared) or together (mutually). Here are a few examples.

男女別 (danjo-betsu)
"by sex" as when presenting statistics

男性差別 (danjo sabetsu)
"sexual discrimination"

男女共用 (danjo kyōyō)
"for use by both men and women"
(a toilet, for example)

男女平等 (danjo byōdō)
"equality of men and women"
"sexual equality" / "gender equality"

男女同権 (danjo dōken)
"equal rights of men and women"
"sexual equality" / "gender equality"

男女共同参画 (danjo kyōdō sankaku)
"joint [cooperative, collaborative] participation of men and women"
"gender equality" [sic]

男女共同参画センター (danjo kyōdō sankaku sentaa)
"center for joint participation of men and women"
"gender-equality center" [sic]

男女共同参画社会 (danjo kyōdō sankaku shakai)
"society in which men and women jointly participate"
"gender-equal society" [sic]

男女関係 (danjo kankei)
"male-female relationship" (with nuances of "sexual relationship")

The graph 性 (sei) is perhaps most commonly used as a nominalizer denoting a quality, trait, or temperament or the like. This is the sense of the graph in 男性 (dansei) and 女性 (josei), the standard terms for "male" and "female", and in terms like 陰性 (insei) and 陽性 (yōsei) meaning "negative" and "positive" among other things.

Other uses of 性 (sei) as a suffix correspond to English -ness, -ity, and -type or the like. 民族 (minzoku) means a race or racioethnic entity, and so 民族性 (minzoku-sei) is "ethnicity". 同一 (dōitsu) can mean either "identical" or "same" or "identity" or "sameness" -- but 同一性 (dōitsu-sei) is today more likely to be used when meaning "itentity" in the psychological sense of the term as in 民族的同一性 (minzoku-teki dōitsu-sei).

Gender identity disorder

The expression 性同一性 (sei-dōitsu-sei) or "sexual identity" is combined with 障害 shōgai) or "disorder" to create the expression 性同一性障害 (sei-dōitsu-sei shōgai) -- meaning "sexual identity disorder" -- or, more commonly, "gender identity disorder" (GID). The Sino-Japanese expression could be seen as meaning "sexual-identity disorder" -- but is probably best understood as meaning "sexual-identity-type disorder" -- since 性 (-sei) is typically used to qualify a disorder, as in the formula XYZ-性障害 (XYZ-sei shōgai) or "XYZ-related disorder".

As a category of medical and other disorders related to sexual behavior, "sexual disorder" alone would probably be called 性的障害 (sei-teki shōgai).

Name changes on family registers

Under Japanese law, it has long been possible to petition a family court to legally change a personal name that is sexually ambiguous to one that is more clearly "male" or "female" in accordance with one's sexual classification.

Sex change on family registers

On 16 July 2003, the Diet passed and promulgated the "Law concerning special measures for the treatment of the sexual distinction of persons with sexual identity sexual disorders" (性同一性障害者の性別の取扱いの特例に関する法律). The law, also known as Law No. 111 of 2003, came into force on 16 July 2004.

Commonly dubbed the "Gender Identity Disorder Law" in English, this law stipulates conditions under which some people who have been diagnosed as having a gender identity disorder (GID) can petition a family court to authorize change in their sexual status as recorded on their family register. Until this law came into effect, alteration of sexual status on a registere was permitted, if at all, only in cases of judgmental or clerical error at time of birth.

Unlike Japan, which has uniform national family laws, each state in the United States determines its own family laws. Hence very state is different with respect to laws governing sexual classification. However, generally all states require that changes in previously recorded statuses related to birth, death, marriage, or divorce and the like be mediated by a court.

Browsing through the labyrinth of case law in various legal jurisdictions in the the United States -- related to subjects like sex designation on birth certificates and other legal documents, name changes, marriage between people of the same sex designation, sex designation issues related to health care, sex-reassignment surgery, taxation, immigration, asylum, employment, adoption, child custody, prison safety, discrimination and hate crimes, dress codes -- ad infinitum -- is both fascinating and terrifying.

Sexual preference

Countries generally do not regulate sexual behaviors except to proscribe acts like incest (however defined) or bestiality, possibly sodomy. Laws typically forbid sexual acts in public, or with a minor below a certain age, or with a person of age but against the person's wishes, or with a person of age who is incompetent or otherwise not in a condition to say yes or no. Homosexual acts were more likely to be forbidden in the past than today. Some sexual tastes, including homosexuality, may be permitted privately, but if publicly acknowledged may be causes for legal or social discrimination.


Japan is not especially intolerant of homosexuality. Like sexuality generally, it is accepted so long as it does not negatively affect one's work or family.

In other words, discretion is the better part of valor in the conduct of all sexual relationships, condoned or not. The showing of affection between couples, married or not, in public, is generally kept on the cooler end of the spectrum of passion, as anything that would cause a heart to race is supposed to be done in private.

Sexual relationships that also require discretion include any extramarital affairs, premarital affairs despite their tacit (reluctant) approval by more parents, and affairs considered inappropriate because of status differences (supervisor and subordinate, teacher and student, coach and player, pastor and parishoner), class differences (popular singer and bar tender, imperial family member and commoner, national and alien), and age differences (much older and much younger).

United States

Legal attitudes of states in the United States, toward sexual preferences, especially homosexuality, scatter all over the map. Most states that once outlawed homosexual acts have either nullified such laws or no longer apply them. Some states now permit same-sex marriage, some don't.

The United States military services generally practice a "don't ask, don't tell" policy that permits homosexuals to serve so long as no one knows. Some service personnel whose homosexual preferences have become known after enlisting have been discharged.


All countries have laws and policies that facilitate specific classifications of their national and alien populations. The classifications could be based on practically anything -- from age, sex, residence, ability, income, and health to nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, and political affiliation.


United States

"Status" as a legal term in Japanese law relates mainly to registration status. This, however, covers a lot of classifications and related information, including address of primary registration, family name and personal name, age, sex, whether one is an issue of a marriage, or not, or is being fostered or has been adopted, whether one is married or has been married and is again single because of divorce or death, whether one has acquired nationality through naturalization, and of course whether one is no longer living -- et cetera.

Sibling status

Postwar Japanese family law dispensed with earlier distinctions that accorded more rights to husbands than wives, to sons than daughters, and to older than younger siblings. Terms for sex and sibling order of children continued to be used in family registers based on the revised laws, but sibling order terms have fallen out of use, and even when used they have no legal significance other than to designate relative age.

Article 14

Article 14 of the 1947 Constitution prohibits "status discrimination" under law. However, all manner of statuses are causes for legal distinction -- including sex, which is also listed under Article 14 -- along with race, religion, and family origin.


A number of court cases have determined when "distinction" becomes "discrimination" for the purpose of applying Article 14. In the early 1980s, judgments in some nationality law cases were reluctant to conclude that "patrilineality" in the Nationality Law violated the Article 14, as there were conditions that could be construed to rationalize patrilineality. However, in 2008 the Supreme Court found the "legitimacy" condition in the Nationality Law to be an unconstitutional distinction between children whose parents were married and and children whose parents were not married.

In the United States, births, deaths, marriages, divorces, all manner of deeds, and hundreds of other events and actions are causes for legal recording. Certificates and other documents are usually filed at local "recorder" officies. The office of "city recorder" or "county recorder" is often an elected office.

Recorder offices process hundreds of different kind of legal notices related to virtually all kinds of legal events. Most local records are consolidated at the county level. Most states also maintain statewide databases for certain kinds of basic records.

Many kinds of basic records -- particularly those related to birth, death, marriage, divorce, and property matters -- are open to the public. Before the days of electronic databases and on-line access, people drove around the country to local county recorder offices to search for, say, family records in order to compile a family tree. Many recorder offices now facilitate on-line searches of their files and will prepare and mail certified copies for a fee.

Attorneys make considerable use of such records when dealing with trusts, probates, and other inheritance issues. Tracing people, or confirming legal information about them, outside the local area, may require a lot of phone calls, if not travel or consignment to a local attorney or private investigator.


Education and employment


United States



Garbage and waste


United States

In Japan, affiliates of municipalities generally belong to the neighborhood association that includes their address. Membership is not necessarily mandatory but residents of the neighborhood are expected to join.

Neighborhood associations, though regulated by laws, have quite a bit of lattitude with regard to determining their goals and opearting as a collective body. They are guided by their own by-laws.

Associations usually have a few officiers, including a representative who facilitates relations with the municipality if not also with other associations.

They usually collect a nominal dues to cover incidental operating costs. Some have income from recyled garbage. Some finance certain kinds of maintenence, such as street lights. All are accountable for their use of funds.

The associations may be involved in public safety, crime prevention, fire prevention, youth counselling, elderly care, child care, disaster preparation and relief, and local festivals. The main activitues in most associations, however, are related to garbage collection and keeping the streets and parks clean.

Of the three neighborhood associations I have belonged to, the first was the most organized and "compulsory" in terms of expectations in organized weekly and monthly policing of streets and parks for gargbage and weeds. Different blocks were differently mixed to ensure that people rubbed elbows with neighbors two or three streets away. The park detail rotated from block to block.

The second association I belonged to had no group details. Garbage pick-up areas were fixed. Recycling bags for bottles and cans were dropped off by the recyclers. Clean-up of garbage pick-up areas was rotated from household to houself. People took care of the streets in front of their own homes. Cooperation in snow clearance, and sweeping leaves and picking up branches after heavy storms, was spontaneous.

The present association occasionally organizes a fire patrol but participation is voluntary and sporadic. Responsibility for dues collection and circulating occasional bulletings and questionnaires around the neighborhood rotates every half year or so but not all households accept this responsibity.

Garbage collection is the main activity. Pick-up points move from house to house every few months -- which is somewhat unusual and suprises newcomers. Some houses (mine) are not used because they do not have adequate frontage on the street (my lot is at the end of a 20-meter approach) or are otherwise located in places that do not facilitate the traffic of different kinds of garbage trucks.

Practically all households share garbage duties. On burnable (kitchen) garbage days, someone has to set out the nets that protect bags of garbage from birds, dogs, and cats. On recycled garbage days they set out the various bags, boxes, and vats for collecting cans, bottles, batteries, and cooking oil and the like.

There is only one truck on burnable garbage days, but severl on recycled garbage days. Recycled garbage trucks are specialed for plastic garbage, plastic bottles, glass bottles, cans, miscellaneous non-burnable garbage, batteries and light bulbs, magazines and books, cooking oil, corregated cardboard, other paper (including waxed cartons).

The garbage collection system is controversial. People are divided between continuning to manage the recycling materials themselves or contract the city-licensed recycling company to do this. The former brings the association a nominal income as its share of the value the company realizes from selling recycled resources. The latter would result in forfeiting the income.

The problem is not the money, since there is nothing to use it for. There are two problems. One is that, as in so many neighborhoods, the number of single-resident homes is increasing, including elderly people who live alone.

The other problem is that, if the association leaves everything to the company, there is nothing left to keep the neighbors rubbing elbows with each other. While fewer households will be able, reading, and willing to participate in the garbage system, and while this poses increasing problems for anyone who volunteers to make up a duty roster, the garbage system provides a pretext for some neighbors to get to know each other in the process of cooperation in the organiztion and running of the garbage details.

Such organization, however, is almost always the job of the housewives who are at home most of the time. While the duties are assigned to the household, the duties are almost invariably performed by the women who stay at home.

My main duty, this hottest time of year, is to protect kitchen garbage from crows, stray dogs and cats, and homeless people too weak to lift the plastic net I have had to put out three times a week for the past couple of weeks. The net is no barrier for insects small enough to crawl or fly through its holes. My main right has been vote on a garbage referendum in the neighborhood association which embraces my address -- and which puts me, with my approval, on its garbage watch roster. I am, albeit an alien, a registered resident of the city, a "citizen" if you will. My status as a municipal resident permits me to participate in the national health insurance and pension schemes, and obliges me to pay national and local taxes. I can't vote for National Diet representatives, or for municipal or prefectural assembly members. But I can cast a ballot for how to manage neighborhood garbage. In Japan, affiliates of municipalities generally belong to the neighborhood association that includes their address. Membership is not necessarily mandatory but residents of the neighborhood are expected to join. Neighborhood associations, though somewhat regulated by laws and ordinances, have considerable latitude with regard to setting goals and other parameters as a collective body in their own by-laws. Associations usually have a few officers, including a representative who facilitates relations with nearby associations and the municipality. They usually collect a nominal dues to cover incidental operating costs. Some have income from recycled garbage. Some finance certain kinds of maintenance, such as street lights. All are accountable for collection and dispersement of funds. The most active neighborhood associations are involved in public safety, crime prevention, fire prevention, youth counseling, elderly care, child care, disaster preparation and relief, and local festivals. Most associations today, though, are mainly concerned with garbage collection, and keeping their streets and parks clean. Of the three neighborhood associations I have belonged to over the decades, the first was the most organized and "compulsory" in terms of expectations of participation in organized weekly and monthly policing of streets and parks for litter and weeds. Each block was responsible for its own streets and gutters. But the park and boulevard details rotated from one group of blocks to another, and the groupings of blocks were changed each time to ensure that people rubbed elbows with neighbors two or several streets away. The second association I belonged to had no group details. Garbage pick-up areas were fixed. Recycling bags for bottles and cans were dropped off by the recyclers. Sweeping pick-up areas after collection was rotated from household to household. People took care of the streets in front of their own homes. Cooperation in snow clearance, and sweeping leaves and picking up branches after heavy storms, was spontaneous. Whoever was home, and otherwise ready, willing, and able pitched in. The present association occasionally organizes a fire patrol but participation is voluntary and sporadic. Responsibility for dues collection and circulating occasional bulletins and questionnaires around the neighborhood rotates every half year or so but not all households accept this responsibility. Garbage collection is the main activity. Pick-up points move from house to house every few months -- which is somewhat unusual and surprises newcomers. A couple of houses (mine, for one) are not used because they lack adequate frontage on the street (my lot is at the end of a narrow 20-meter approach), or are otherwise located in places that do not facilitate the traffic of different kinds of garbage trucks. Practically all households share garbage duties. On burnable (kitchen and garden) garbage days, someone has to set out the net that protects bags of garbage from birds, dogs, and cats. On recycled garbage days they set out the net for bags of plastic garbage (mostly plastic packaging), various bags, a box for batteries, and a vat for cooking oil. One bag is for plastic bottles. Another is for cans. Three others are for clear, amber, and green bottles and jars. Yet another is for miscellaneous un-burnable garbage (including broken glass and ceramic pots). Textiles, metal, and several classifications of paper and cardboard are also separated before setting them out, and separately collected. There is only one truck on burnable garbage days, but several on recycled garbage days. Recycled garbage trucks are specialized for plastic garbage, plastic bottles, glass containers, cans, miscellaneous non-burnable garbage, batteries and light bulbs, cooking oil, and paper including magazines and books, cardboard, corrugated cardboard, waxed cartons (broken or cut open, and bundled as sheets, not just flattened). In the ten years I have lived in my present neighborhood, the only controversy has been the garbage collection system. The pressing issue is whether to continue to manage its garbage pick-up site ourselves -- or consign its management to the "Clean Center" -- the municipal organization that oversees garbage collection, waste management, and resource recycling. The debate is over the comparative merits and demerits of keeping a local hand in the management of our own garbage, versus contracting the city-licensed recycling company to everything but set out the garbage on the street. Participation brings the association a nominal income as its share of the value the company realizes from selling recycled resources. Consignment would result in forfeiting the income. The problem is not the money, though, since there is nothing to use it for. There are two problems. One is that, as in so many neighborhoods, the number of single-resident homes is increasing, including elderly people who live alone. The other problem is that, if the association leaves everything to the company, there is nothing left to keep the neighbors rubbing elbows with each other. While fewer households will be able, reading, and willing to participate in the garbage system, and while this poses increasing problems for anyone who volunteers to make up a duty roster, the garbage system provides a pretext for some neighbors to get to know each other in the process of cooperation in the organization and running of the garbage details. As one neighbor put it, the garbage collection roster is the only thing that holds us together. Such organization, however, is almost always the job of the housewives who are at home most of the time. While the duties are assigned to the household, the duties are almost invariably performed by the women who stay at home. I have still not personally met the father of the four children who live next door with their mother and his parents. I have heard him but never, to my knowledge, seen him. This particular neighbor's home, though physically closest to mine, is not, in any case, in my neighborhood association. There is no fence between it and my house, which is itself unusual. The main entrance, though, is on the opposite side of the house, which is tantamount to the other side of the world. Alas, I mostly see the two women of the house when they come out their kitchen door, which is at the back of their house, hence by my house. That is where they keep their garbage until garbage pick-up days in their own neighborhood. The recent ballot or "questionnaire" on what to do offered three choices: (1) continue to manage the site locally, (2) consign management to the Clean Center, or (3) either. The information provided with (2) states that, at present, some 70 neighborhood associations among about 250 in the city have chosen to consign everything to the Clean Center. You could optionally check a reason for your choice. 1. Because at present there are no problems. 2. There are measures for helping each other, including exemption from participation. 3. It helps the nourishment of harmony of the area, and the mutual mixing of residents. 4. Because it's a source of precious revenue. 5. Because it's useful in raising awareness about separation [of garbage]. 6. For implementation of a manager/owner/consignment-company [system] would be implemented. 7. Because its troublesome to put out and bring in the collection apparatus [net, bags, etc.]. 8. Other.

Neighborhood associations are not unknown in the United States, but they are seldom organized and networked like they are in Japan. Those that exist may or may not be regulated by local laws. Some may incorporate for tax purposes.

Neighborhoods in areas that have experienced or are vulnerable to natural disasters, such as earthquakes or floods, may have organized for the purpose of being prepared for disaster relief. Volunteer fire departments are still known in some rural towns, and some communities have organized crime prevention patrols or other such activities intended to improve public safety.

But Americans are generally not familiar with neighborhood associations that are essentially mini polities within the municipal polity.


Freedom and liberty

Freedom and liberty are supposed to be synonyms. Both are to be treasured, and neither is to be taken for granted. Is it possible, though, that some people are taking liberties with this or that freedom -- by stretching the boundaries of the freedom beyond its intended limits? And do such extreme expressions of the freedom threaten its existence?


United States

Japan is arguably one of the freest countries in the world -- and not just since it was "liberated" from the chains of its rule into straitjacket of American-style laws. People in Japan were fairly free during the Meiji and Taisho periods straddling the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries. And very possibly, thanks to America, they are freer today than most Americans.

It is doubtful that the guarantee of "freedom of speech" in Amendement I of the US Constitution was ever intended to permit the dissemination of hardcore pornography -- but in recent decades, all manner of courts have ruled to the contrary. The amendment certainly was not intended to legalize slander and defamation of character, both of which remain culpable acts.

The buzzword of late is hate crimes. Does "freedom of speech" -- though guaranteed in the constitutions of most countries, and of course in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- allow one to question or deny what orthodox history claims some Nazis did to some Jews in Europe, or some Japanese did to some Chinese in and round Nanjing?

Or did the writers of Amendment II really have in mind "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms" of the kind that are now so easily available in gunshops throughout the United States? Especially in view of the fact vast gun owners today are by no stretch of the imagination members of a "well regulated Militia"?



No constitution of any country in the world guarantees happiness. At most they promise only the freedom to pursue happiness. The catch is that one has to define its meaning and then find it wherever one can.


United States

Japanese equivalents of the word "happiness" do not appear in the 604 "Constitution in Seventeen Articles"(十七条憲法)by Shōtoku Taishi (573-621). Nor do any show up in the 1890 Meiji Constitution. The English version of the 1947 Constitution of Japan, though, embodies verbatim the famous phrasing of the Declaration of Independence.

Japan's postwar Constitution was based on a draft in English submitted to the Japanese government by the Allied Powers represented by Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), then a general, now a god. The Allies didn't get everything they wanted, but the Imperial Diet found the guarantee of a "right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" harmless enough. The dignity of the individual had, after all, been subordinated to "public welfare".

People in Japan past and present, like people in all places at all times, have always been free to pursue happiness to the extent that no one in a position of authority has found reason to stop them. Essentially, then, nothing has changed. If you're not happy, it's your own fault. If you're not where you want to be, it's up to you to get there. Or try to get there. Or be content with a dream of getting there.

The Declaration of Independence of 4 July 1776 holds that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

The American scientist, diplomat, and publisher Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), one of the originators and signers of the declaration, is supposed to have remarked that the U.S. Constitution guarantees only the pursuit of happiness. Individuals have to catch up with it themselves. William Channing (1780-1842), a Unitarian minister and social critic, similarly maintained that "The office of government is not to confer happiness, but to give men opportunity to work out happiness for themselves."

"Created equal" is taken in context to mean that all people were born with what Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) more often called "natural rights". Apparently he preferred "inalienable" to "unalienable", but his style sheet was trumped by a typesetter who was inperturbed by unalienable. It was not a typo made on a qwertyui keyboard.


Health and welfare

National discrimination


United States

National health insurance is available to virtually everyone who is legally domiciled in Japan, regardless of nationality, whether one is employed, or pre-existing medical problems. Family members can be covered at no extra cost. Practically all individual practioneers and facilities recognize national health insurance, and insurees and dependents are free to visit any doctor, clinic, or hospital they wish.

Eligible low-income parents, their children, seniors and people with disabilities, are covered by Medicaid, an insurance program funded by states and the federal government. People drawing Social Security pensions are eligible for Medicare. The vast majority of people in the United States, however, must enroll in private insurance plans and are at the mercy of the companies that sell them. Many lower-income are uncovered.

National pension


United States

Disability support


United States

Livelihood protection (Public assistance)


United States

Unemployment insurance


United States


Law and justice


United States


Life and death


United States


Marriage and divorce


United States

Japanese family law now permits children to marry without parental consent at different ages for boys (18) and girls (16). There are movements in the Diet to raise the age for girls to marry, also to 18, in order to eliminate gender discrimination in the law.

There is no minimum age at which a parent cannot permit a child to marry. However, for many decades marriages in Japan have typically involved couples in their twenties. Today women are usually in their mid to late 20s, and men are in their late 20s to early 30s, when they marry.

All but one state sets the age at which a child reaches majority, and can marry without parental consent, at 18. The age of majority in Nebraska is 19.

States vary considerably regarding marriages of minors. Marriage at age 16 or younger typically requires the permission of a court. Some states prohibit mariage under age 14.



Residence and registration


United States

In principle, Japanese have the right to reside in Japan. However, their movements across Japan's borders are subject to the "Exit-country enter-country control law" -- the so-called "Immigration Control Law" or "Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act".

The same border-control law includes provisions for permitting aliens in general to pass through, travel in, reside in, or return to Japan if permitted to do so. Some aliens have what amounts to a right to abode in Japan.

Most aliens who wish to reside in Japan have to acquire a status of residence. The status will either a visa, which limits activities and period of stay, or an unrestricted-activity status as a long-term or permanent resident.

Some aliens, under laws related to people who lost their Japanese nationality when the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect, and their qualified descedants, have a right to reside in Japan as Special Permanent Residents, and in many was are treated as quasi-Japanese.

Some stateless aliens also have a right of abode in Japan. This includes especially aliens whose statelessness originated in Japan, but also whose statelessness was recognized by Japan when they came to Japan and were allowed to stay, possibly as refugees.

Washington state

Washington Territory became a state in 1889 when the president of the United States approved the constitution that had been ratified by its voters, as required by an 1888 enabling act.

The present Washington State Constitution stipulates the qualifications of electors as follow.

Washington State Constitution


SECTION 1 QUALIFICATIONS OF ELECTORS. All persons of the age of eighteen years or over who are citizens of the United States and who have lived in the state, county, and precinct thirty days immediately preceding the election at which they offer to vote, except those disqualified by Article VI, section 3 of this Constitution [i.e., a felony conviction or mental incompetence], shall be entitled to vote at all elections. [AMENDMENT 63, 1974 Senate Joint Resolution No. 143, p 807. Approved November 5, 1974.]

The original text of the 1889 constitution read as follows.

Original text

Art. 6 Section 1 QUALIFICATIONS OF ELECTORS -- All male persons of the age of twenty-one years or over, possessing the following qualifications, shall be entitled to vote at all elections: They shall be citizens of the United States; They shall have lived in the state one year, and in the county ninety days, and in the city, town, ward or precinct thirty days immediately preceding the election at which they offer to vote; Provided, that Indians not taxed shall never be allowed the elective franchise; Provided, further; that all male persons who at the time of the adoption of this Constitution are qualified electors of the Territory, shall be electors.

The qualifications of voters were somewhat modified in 1896 (Amendment 2) and 1910 (Amendment 6). The age and residency requirements remained the same. However, from 1896 the phrase "they shall be able to read and speak the English language" inserted just before the provisos. The literacy requirement ended from the 1974 amendment.

As in most states, Washington permits only one residence for voting purposes. Generally, this residence is "a person's permanent address where he or she physically resides and maintains his or her abode." A person who does not have such an address -- such as "a person who resides in a shelter, park, motor home or marina" -- is assigned a precinct near the person's physical location.

However, the definitions of "residency" in the State of Washington for purposes of paying tuition in a state college, or for receiving employment benefits or financial assistance, are different.

Exit and entrance of country


United States

Japan does not have an "immigration" policy in the sense this term is understood in the United States. The "immigration" in what is called in English the "Immigration Bureau" and the "Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law" in Japan is really an "exit-and-entry-of-country" bureau and control law that overees border crossings of Japanese and aliens alike.

The "control" or "management" of aliens begins and ends with the definition of various visa and non-visa statuses that are available to aliens who wish to enter or remain in Japan. There are no "immigrant" quotas or visas. Any alien can apply for any visa or non-visa status for which the alien may qualify. And if the alien qualifies, then the alien is probably going to receive the status.

Immigration quotas

The lack of "immigration quotas" in Japan is mainly because there is no perceived need to limit the number of aliens who come to Japan. Now, anyone who wants to come, and who can qualify for an existing status, would in principle be able to come.

Undoubtedly more aliens would come if the list of available visas and other statuses were expanded to include visas with less demanding conditions. Perhaps there would be such a rush that Japan would feel a need to impose ceilings in order to keep immigration within desireable bounds.

Immigration targets

Were Japan to set "immigration targets" for various categories, then the question would be how to encourage enough aliens to come in order to satisfy the targets. A target of, say, X alien nurses or care givers a year would be met only if there were X aliens a year who (1) wanted to come to Japan and (2) were able to meet the conditions.

Imposing a condition of Japanese language capability prior to coming will limit the pool of applicants to those who can manage to achieve the required levels of proficiency mostly without the advantage of being able to learn in Japan. Allowing applicants who would qualify vocationally to initiate their language studies in Japan would put a greater burden on Japan to accomodate their language difficulties if not subsidize their language education in Japan.

The costs of training aliens to the point that they would be able to work in Japanese hospitals and care facilities, on a par with native speakers of Japanese who have received their educations in Japan, would be enormous -- to say nothing of the problem of finding enough people in Japan to do the training.

Japan's approach so far has stressed putting the burden of proof of motiviation to come to Japan, to contribute to the country in return for permission to study and work and possibly even settle, on the alien. This is what the vast majority of countries do.

Advocates of policy-driven exapanded immigration argue that Japan has to take the initiate to motivate more aliens of the kind that might contribute to Japan to come. They fear that, if Japan does not take a more proactive stance, it is likely to end up with labor shortages so severe, in critical sectors like health care for example, that the society will simply collapse for wont of infrastructure.

Yet more infrastructure is precisely what municipalities, schools, hosptials, and corporations need to accommodate the needs of the aliens who, already, without government targets, are coming to Japan, and staying, in growing numbers. Arguably there is no need for government interference in the natural growth of the alien population in Japan -- except, possibly, in the critical area of health care.

The United States is an anomaly among the world's many states, most of which have not, in recent history, felt a need to deal with migrants from other countries -- except by way of protecting their borders. In a sense, US immigration policy has also been mostly about protecting America's borders from unwanted newcomers.

The United States has a long and volitile history of immigration policy that for nearly half a century included what amounted to racialized "national origin" quotas. Since 1965, the national origin quotas as such were replaced by provisions that gave priority to different "family" and "employment" preference levels.

Worldwide, regional, and country quotas are determined by a coimplicated arithmetic system designed by bureaucrats to create jobs for more of their kind. They now busy themselves cranking out monthly bulletins which update the good news and bad news that US consulates pass on to the long queres of immigrant visa applications around the world -- but especially in countries like Mexico and the Phillipines.

IRS definition nof "immigrant"

The Internal Revenue Service defines an "Immigrant" as follows.


An alien who has been granted the right by the USCIS to reside permanently in the United States and to work without restrictions in the United States. Also known as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). All immigrants are eventually issued a "green card" (USCIS Form I-551), which is the evidence of the alien’s LPR status. LPR’s who are awaiting the issuance of their green cards may bear an I-551 stamp in their foreign passports.

IRS also defines the following two categories of aliens (definitions omitted).

Nonimmigrant [alien]

Illegal Alien
Aka "Undocumented Alien".
Includes aliens who entered the US legally but are now "out of status" and deportable.

Preference immigrants

In lieu of "national origin" quotes the bureaucrats not talk of "numerical limitions" and speak of categories or foreign states in which "demand could not be satisfied within the statutory or regulatory limits" as being "oversubscribed".

Allocations and related cut-off dates are commputed monthly. Applicants are given priority dates, but only those whose date is earlier than the monthly adjusted "cut-off date" are allocated a visa number, and cut-off dates may be "regressed" during the month.

Family-sponsored preferences

However, family-reunification visas are restricted by a convoluted hierarchy of worldwide, country, and prefence level quotas. Applications for visa numbers -- which are used in the processing of applications and the issuing of family-related visas -- are now backlogged for many months or years as applications exceed the annual quotas.

Family-related visas are classified according to four family preference levels. The levels define the relationship of the applicant to the sponsoring citizen or permanent resident.

Family preference levels

  1. Unmarried sons and daughters of citizens
  2. Spouses and children, and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents
  3. Married sons and daughters of citizens
  4. Brothers and sisters of adult citizens

Fiances and spouses of citizens, and minor children of fiances and spouses, are exceptionally treated under the K series of non-immigrant visas -- meaning that they are tied

The annual worldwide limit for family-sponsored preference immigrants is a minimum of 226,000. The employment-based preference immigrant limit is at least 140,000 a year. The per-country limit is 7 percent of the total of these two preference categories, or 25,620 immigrants. The dependent area limit is 2 percent or 7,320.

Visas are issued to eligible immirants in the order in which a petition has been filed, hence the issuance of visa numbers at which time eligibility has been confirmed. Spouses and children of the principal immigrant, if accompanying or following the principal, receive the same status as the principal.

A prorating scheme is used to adjust allocations for a foreign state or dependent area where demand exceeds the per-country limit. Four coutries are typically mentioned in monthly reports as "oversubscribed chargeability areas": CHINA-mainland born, INDIA, MEXICO, and PHILIPPINES.

"Oversubscription" means a backlog and the computation of a date that corresponds a cut-off date. People with earlier "priority dates" will be able to receive visa numbers.

Employment-based preferences

Employment-based preference include (1) Priority workers, (2) Members of the professions holding advanced degrees or persons of exceptional ability, (3) Skilled workers, professionals, and other workers, (4) Certain special immigrants, and (5) Employment creation.

Diversity immigrants

In addition, there is now a "Diveristy Immigrant (DV)" category. The category is intended to provide "immigration opportunities for persons from countries other than the principal sources of current immigration to the United States". The quota of DV immigrant visas, originally 55,000, is now 50,000.

The DV visa program is essentially an "affirmative action" sort of measure. The category is divided between six regions. Now most DV immigrants are coming from Africa.

The annual per-country quota of DV visas is also limited to 7 percent of the DV total. Applicants receive "DV regional lottery rank numbers" and cut-off numbers are published monthly. Entitlement is limited to the fiscal year in which an applicant is selected by lottery. The derivative status of accompanying or following spouses and children is similarly limited.


National service


United States

No one in Japan today is subject to mandatory military service. Nor is anyone required to register for possible conscription. The Republic of Korea exempts nationals with special residence permits in Japan from mandatory military service in ROK. The United States does not exempt eligible US citizens in Japan from Selective Service obligations.

Male US citizens, regardless of where they live or whether they may also be nationals of other countries, are required to register with local Selective Service boards at age 18 for possible conscription, although now there is no draft. In the past, domiciled aliens have also been subject to military conscription.


Obligations and responsibilties

To what extent are individuals obliged to be responsible for others as well a for themselves? Parents are generally considered responsible for the care of their children. In some countries this obligation ends when the children become adults. In others, immediate family members continue to be at least partly responsible for each other throughout their lives.

What about countries? To what extent is a country not a true state if it declines to be fully in charge of its own defense? Or if it declines to contribute to the collective defense of neighboring states?


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Peace and safety


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National suffrage


United States

The 1947 Constitution gives only nationals the right to vote in national elections and hold national offices. All nationals, regardless of whether they acquired their nationality at time of birth (naturally) or later in life (through naturalization), are qualified to be elected to any national office, including that of prime minister.

All Japanese are allowed to vote from their 20th birthday. Women were not allowed to vote under the 1890 Constitution.

Suffrage issues in the United States are a bit more complicated than in Japan. Not so much because each state has the authority to determine who votes, within limits imposed by the Constitution including its amendements, or by federal laws -- for Japan's local polities also have such lattitude -- but mostly because of the sheer diversity of suffrage practices which have evolved in the states and territories over the course of more than two centuries of highly volatile domestic political history.

Suffrage issues are also likely to be more contentious in the United States than in Japan. Less becaue of the history of racial discrimination in the Constitution as well as in federal and state laws, which is over -- but more because of the impact that immigration continues to have on sentiments about distinctions between "citizen" and "alien".

Amendment XV (1870) banned racial qualifications for voting. Amendment XIX (1920) gave women the right to vote.

Amendment XXIII (1961) granted the District of Columbia representation in the electoral college that elects the president and vice president of the United States. This placed the district on a par with states regarding their participation in the electoral college. Washington, DC's resident US citizens voted in a federal election for the first time in 1964.

Amendment XIV (1964) forbade poll taxes and making any tax a condition to vote. Amendment XVI (1971) stated that "The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age." In defining only the minimum age from which otherwise qualified citizens must be allowed to vote, it places no restrictions on whether states could permit non-citizen nationals or aliens to vote.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was aimed mainly at prohibitting racial discrimination in local practices that affected who could register to vote. The act also outlawed the use of poll taxes and literacy tests to decide who could vote.

Amendment XV of 1870 in principle outlawed "race, color, or previous condition of servitude" as barrier to suffrage. Amendment XIX of 1920 ended gender discrimination in suffrage. Wealth and literacy, however, could still be used as criteria for qualifications.

Regarding literacy, the 1965 act required state and municipal governments to provide ballots in other languages if requested to do so. This requirement, more than any other, continues to be controversial.

Otherwise, federal laws determine the rights of suffrage only in the District of Columbia, which is totally under federal jurisdiction. The States of the Union are free to determine whether either non-citizen nationals or aliens can vote in federal and state elections.

However, no state permits non-citizen nationals or aliens to vote in federal elections. Federal laws restrict voting in the District of Columbia to resident citizens -- meaning citizens who are registered as residents of the district.

Only nationals with political rights in the Federal United States (i.e., "citizens") have been able to vote in federal elections and hold federal offices. The original constitution states that only "a natural born Citizen" is eligible for the office of president. Some states limit the political rights of felons in prisons.

Voting in California

California is fairly typical in its list of qualifications to vote in the state -- whether in federal or in state elections.

You may register to vote if you meet these requirements:

  • You are a United States citizen;
  • You are a resident of California;
  • You will be 18 years old by the date of the next election; and
  • You are not in prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony.

You need to re-register every time you move, change your name, or wish to change political parties. In order to vote in an election, you must be registered to vote at least 15 days before that election.

California voters register using a Voter Registration Card. Whereas Japan's resident registration systems for both Japanese and aliens accommodate all services administered through local governments, voter registration in the United States facilitates only voting. It does not facilitate taxation, public school admission, national health insurance, or other matters that require proof of status as a resident (hence affiliate) of the locality.

Local suffrage


United States

Only nationals are guaranteed the right to vote in local elections and run for local offices. However, the constitution does not prohibit allowing aliens to participate in the political life the localities where they reside.

Since the 1990s, there have been more calls to give rights of local suffrage to aliens, and in 1995 the Supreme Court held that the constitution, while guaranteeing suffrage for Japanese, does not prevent local autonomous entities from allowing their alien residents some degree of suffrage. As a result, an increasing number of municipalities and prefectures have been permitting resident aliens to vote in some local elections.

When Taiwan and Chosen were parts of Japan, Taiwanese and Chosenese subjects residing in prefectures were allowed to vote and hold office because they were Japanese. Taiwanese and Chosenese who stayed in the prefectures after 1945 formally lost their Japanese nationality in 1952, and with it all rights guaranteed Japanese under the 1947 Constitution, including suffrage. They provisionally lost rights of political participation in the prefectures when election laws were revised late in 1945.

The right to vote in local elections in the United States has varied considerably from state to state. As with federal suffrage, suffrage within states has radically changed since the middle of the 19th century, at which time only two-thirds of today's states were states.

By the start of the 20th century, qualified non-citizens -- meaning non-citizen nationals and/or aliens -- were allowed to vote in some twenty-odd states and territories, in local and federal elections, and could even hold some local offices. Qualifications were the same as for citizens: typically white males with property, who had resided in the locality for a while, and paid taxes and possibly a poll tax.

Some of the permissive states then began to revise their constitutions to limit suffrage only to US citizens (as understood in US law). By the national election in 1928, no aliens in any state were allowed to vote for any candidates, federal, state or local.

Bear in mind that, in both the United States and in Japan, resident aliens are counted in national censuses, and their count is included in the figures used to apportion the number of representives.

No court in the US has ever held alien suffrage to be unconstitutional. Yet only in 1992, about the time the issue of alien suffrage was being raised in Japan, did the city of Takoma Park, in the state of Maryland, amended its charter to extend municipal suffrage to aliens -- the first locality to do so since the alien suffrage ended in the 1920s.

In Chicago, apparently aliens are allowed to vote in school board elections. This was possible in New York, too, until school boards were disbanded in 2002.

Even in strongly immigrant US communities, though, support for alien suffrage is not that strong. Many Americans, including those who have naturalized to become citizens, feel that giving the vote to aliens would give immigrants less incentive to naturalize and otherwise degrade the meaning of "citizenship" in the country.




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Water, food, and shelter


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