Imperial Japan's subnations

The Interior, Taiwan, Karafuto, and Chosen

By William Wetherall

First posted 1 January 2007
Last updated 6 August 2014

Subnations Territory | Subjection | Affiliation | Nationalization | Denationalization

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Subnationality, as an actual or virtual legal status, is best understood as a nationality within a nationality. Such nationality is racioethnic, territorial, or both.

Whether subnationality is racioethnic or territorial depends on whether status as a member of a subnational entity based on racioethnic or territorical criteria. Racioethnic criteria might include lineage, language, religion, and other such measures of who one is apart from territorial domicile. If meeting Subnationality in Japan has been territorial. Subnationality in the People's Republic of China has been racioethnic. In Belgium it might be a little of both, were Belgium to regard specific groups of its nationals as subnations -- but it defines only polities within polities.


Racioethnic subnationality

Most states in the world do not have racioethnic subnations. Two of several which do are the United States of America and the People's Republic of China. Belgium presents an example of "language-community" status that falls short of racioethnic subnationaliztion.

United States of America

The United States is "one Nation under God, indivisible" only in terms of its overarching federal nationality, which both American "citizens" and American "nationals" possess. "E Pluribus Unum" -- of many, one -- is another characterization of the federal nation as a singular entity composed of diverse members.

The United States legally racializes people, and treats people differently according to their putative race, in two ways -- one of which results in subnationalization, the other not.

The United States recognizes several hundred Native American nations as semi-sovereign entities within the federal republic. Members of recognized tribes have rights and duties that derive from their affiliation with the tribe and from treaties and other agreements between their tribal government and the federal government.

Racioethnic classifications in the United States do not constitute subnations, except in the minds of ethnonationalists who dream of sovereignty. In other words, collective identity as "African American" or "Hispanic" or "White" or "Native Hawaiian" or whatever does not qualify the cohort as a subnational entity within the federal republic.

Informally, of course, racioethnic subnations exist to the extent that people are treated as though they were members of such entities. The belief that such entities exist is strongly encouraged by race boxes.

Responding to a query about racioethnic identity on a national census or other form is entirely voluntary. However, with or without an individual's consent, an individual's putative race or ethnicity may effect how the individual is treated by a public or private organization, under laws and regulations that allow the organization to treat people differently according to their putative race.

I am speaking of racist measures like affirmative action in employment and college admissions, which empower employers and admissions officers to racialize applicants and discriminate accordingly.

People's Republic of China

The People's Republic of China constitutionally defines itself as a "unitary multi-national state". This means, in more accurate translation, "unitary multi-ethnonational state".

PRC subdivides its single state nationality into a few dozen "minority nationalities" in addition to the majority Han ethnic nation and unclassified others. All PRC nationals are "Chinese" regardless of their ethnonationality. In addition, every Chinese who can be classified in a category other than "Han" or "other" is affiliated with a minority ethnonational entity, whose members are entitled to participate in its government, among other rights and duties that attend membership.


Some legal divisions of a state's nationality approach but fall short of being true subnationality. Belgium, for example, does not specify groups of people as racioethnic subnationals, but defines political regions, language areas, and language communities.

Belgium has three political regions (Flemish, Brussels-Capital, and Walloon) and three language communities (the Dutch-speaking Flemish Community, the French-speaking Community, and the German-speaking Community). In addition, it defines four language areas (Dutch, Bilingual, French, and German) within the three regions.

This results in several nests of language-defined political enities within Belgium's federal state. The Flemish Community has compentency in the Flemish and Brussels regions. The French-speaking Community has compentency in the French-langauge area of the Walloon Region and in the Brussels-Capital Region. The German-speaking Community has compentency in the German language area in the province of Liege in the Walloon region, which borders Germany.

The governments of the language-defined communities conduct their affairs, and provide services, in the language of the community. In addition, some municipalities along borders of language communities are required to provide services in the langauges of both communities Inhabitancy in an area obliges one to participate in the language of the community that has jurisdiction in the area.


Territorial subnationality

Membership in tribes recognized by the United states is based on ability to prove possession of a certain quantum of Native American blood by descent. In other words, legal affiliation with any recognized tribe requires being able to prove significant biological ancestry to a racially defined Native American population.Members of family registers affiliated with Japan are Japanese because they are in registers affiliated with Japan. Since being a member of a Japanese register does not require meeting any racioethnic criteria, Japanese nationality is a matter of territorial affiliation, not racioethnicity.

In other words, anyone -- regardless of their race or ethnicity -- can be a member of a Japanese family register, hence Japanese. The most common criterion for membership is lineal descent from another member, but racioethnic ancestry is not an issue. Nor is race or ethnicity a requisite for any category of naturalization. In the past, but not longer, it was possible to be a member through marriage or adoption -- again, without regard to racioethnic ancestry.

Mononational state

Japan, unlike the United States and the People's Republic of China, has never defined racioethnic entities within its state nationality. Japan emerged into statehood during the Meiji period to be, like most states in the world, a mononational country. Everyone who is a member of a Japanese register is Japanese.

Even during its imperial period, Japan had only one nationality. At its peak, though, it had four territorial subnations -- the prefectures, Taiwan, Karafuto, and Chosen -- each constituting a subnation whose registered populations were Japanese of prefectural, Taiwanese, Karafutoan, and Chosenese subnationality.

Territoriality subnationality differs from racioethnic subnationality in that it is based on where one is legally registered. A Japanese subject was affiliated with the prefectures (interior), or with Taiwan, Karafuto, or Korea (exterior), because of registration, not race or ethnicity.

And interior and exterior subjects were one and all Japanese, legally differentiated only by their subnationality as a matter of territorial registration.

True, most prefectural subjects were descendants of many generations of Japanese, while most Taiwanese and Chosenese were not of Japanese ancestry but were first generation newcomers to Japan's nation.

RESUME However, Japan's state nationality derives from nested municipal and prefectural affiliations that give Japanese nationality a quality that I will call "territoriality". And because Japan, when an empire, defined annexed territories as different legal entities within its imperial nationality, at one point it had a total of four subnations -- the prefectures, Taiwan, Karafuto, and Chosen.

If one was a member of family register in the prefectures, then one was Japanese with interior (prefectural) affiliation. If one was a member of a register in Taiwan, Karafuto, or Chosen, then one was Japanese with exterior (Taiwan, Karafuto, or Chosen) affiliation.

Family registers are territorial

Family registers are territorial because they are primarily affiliated with cities, towns, or villages, which in turn are affiliated with prefectures. They are affiliated with Japan only because the municipalities, and prefectures, are part of Japan.

When municipalities merge, registers merge. When prefectures merged, divided, or adjusted their borders, as many did during the early years of the Meiji period, local affiliations changed. Where Chiba and Ibaraki to agree that Nagareyama should be part of Ibaraki rather than Chiba, then Nagareyama's prefectural affiliation would change.

If Japan were to cede Fukuoka prefecture to the Republic of Korea, then Fukuoka's registers would also be ceded -- and Fukuokan Japanese would become ROK Koreans -- unless other stipulations were made in the cession treaty.

In other words, population registers are tied to the polities, as the polities are to their territories. Every family register in a polity's legal jurisdiction is part of its demographic territory.

Family registers are corporate entities

Families in Japan are corporate entities. Changes in Japan's family laws after World War II took most of the corporateness out of families. However, family registers continue to impose corporate-like ties between people in the same register, in that each register can have only one family name, and everyone in the register must share it.

Moreover, a marriage can be recorded in only one register. This means that, when a couple marries, unless they already happen to be in the same register (improbable but not impossible), one must move into the other's register, or they must establish a new register for themselves (which was not easily done under older laws).

Corporate families and territorial affiliation

Japan, having developed its family registration system in line with its own emerging family law, had to introduce both the registration system and the laws that went along with it in each new territory that came into its dominion -- in order to facilitate compatability in matters of family law between its territories.


ectural legal system civil matters Marrying or being adopted into a register in another municipality within any of the subnations resulted in changing municipal if not also provincial affiliation. Japan eventually linked the subnational registers together so that marriage or adoption across a subnational boundary would result in change of subnational affiliation.

Subnationality in Japan was territorial because, in a very fundamental sense, Japanese nationality is territorial. Since every family register in Japan is affiliated with a municipality in a prefecture, the register itself is territorial. If a prefectural boundary changes, such that municipality ABC is in prefecture RST one day and UVW the next, then ABC's prefectural affiliation changes from RST to UVW.

Japaneses recognizes that a man and woman are married only if they are in the same family register. Marriage therefore obliges one spouse to move into the register of the other. If something from ABC in RST marries someone from DEF in UVW, the ABC one day and

Since families corporate entities, blood ties didn't matter in the legal definition of the family. A childless family could adopt a boy or even an adult man unrelated to the family, and he could marry a woman unrelated to the family, and the family would continue to exist despite there being absolutely no biological ties between future and past generations.

If Abiko city in Chiba prefecture has primary jurisdiction over one's family register, then one's Japanese nationality derives from these local affiliations. In other words, one's affiliation with the nation of Japan (kokumin) rests on one's affilaition with the territorial "prefectural nation" of Chiba (kenmin), which in turn rests on one's affiliation with the territorial "municipal nation" of Abiko.

Nationality gain and loss as a status act

The existence of a person who is to some extent legally affiliated with Japan is based on municipal registration. Japanese are registered in family registers. Non-Japanese permitted to be in the country for sixty or more days are registered in alien registers. Unregistered people have no status.

Any change in register status -- whether through birth, death, marriage, divorce, adoption, or other event -- is called a "status act" (gs mibun koi) in Japanese law. A person's legal status begins -- and ends -- with registration.

Filing a notification of birth for a child born in Japan facilitates its gaining status, either as a Japanese or alien. An unregistered child not only has no nationality but is not even stateless, for statelessness is a status acquired by registration as an alien with no nationality.

Filing a notification of death for a person voids the person's legal status under Japanese law. Just as failure to file a notification of birth means that a child does not gain status, failure to file a notification of death means that a person is presumed to be living.

One is Japanese only if registered in a Japanese family register.

All marriage ceremonies and honeymoons in the world do not result in the status of "marriage" until a notification of marriage is filed -- and marriage notifications require neither a license or ceremony. Ditto for divorce.

Japan's Nationality Law provisions nationality at birth primarily through parental ties with a Japanese nationality -- meaning someone who has a family register in Japan. Nationality is not actually acquired until a notification of birth has been filed in a timely manner -- usually within two weeks of birth -- and the child is registered in the Japanese parent or parents' family register.

The municipality with jurisdiction over the register has the authority to accept or reject a notification of birth. Only a court of law, or a ministerial action based on law, can compell a municipality to effect a status act it would not otherwise have effected.

Soga Hiromi and her mother lost their status in Japan when, after they went missing and failed to be found after many years, were presumed to be deceased. Their family petitioned a family court to permit the local registrar to accept notifications of death, then had their names chiseled on the family grave.

When Hiromi showed up in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, she had no status in Japan. She was no longer a Japanese national. The family had to petition the court to reverse its ruling, which authorized the registrar to restore her to life in the Soga family register. Only then could a passport be made for her.

Since Soga had not left Japan volunatarily, she was not subject to charges of illegal exit. Her involuntary presence in DPRK also exempted her from the need to register the births of her daughters within a specified period of time to retain their presumtive right to Japanese nationality.

The notification, which amounts to a birth certificate, includes the particulars of birth, usually provided that the physician who attended the birth, and accompanied by the physician's signature. The notification also includes the name or names of the parent or parents and their "honseki" or "principal register" addresses, which amount to statements of nationality.










Subjection and affiliation with or without consent

Let us begin with a list of "nationality principles" set forth about the time Japan annexed Korea, by Estanislao Severo Zeballos, an internationally acclaimed legalist and stateman, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Argentina at times during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The following list is from Seckler-Hudson 1934 (Appendix A, page 273).


1. Nationality is a self-determined right.
2. Every person should have a nationality.
3. No person should have more than one nationality.
4. Every person has the right to change his or her nationality.
5. The state has not the right to prevent persons from changing their nationality.
6. The state has not the right to oblige persons to change their nationality against their will.
7. Every person has the right to reacquire the nationality he or she gave up.
8. The state may not impose its nationality on those domiciled in its territory against their will.
9. Nationality, either by birth or acquisition, determines the application to persons of public and private law.
10. The state is obliged to determine as to public and private law the condition of persons that are without nationality -- heimatlos.

Translated from La Nationalité, Tome Premier, Paris (1914, pp. 233-234.

Heimatlos -- without a home

What, then, does a state do with people who have no nationality? Several of the principles stipulated by Zeballos, who was also a publicist for various causes, compete with -- even contract -- each other. Some of the more salient conflicts are these.

1. Nationality cannot be a "self-determined" right to the extent that sovereign states have the right to determine the rules by which they provide for the gain and loss of their nationality.

2. If everyone should have a nationality, then a state should have the right to impose its nationality on a stateless person who is unable to acquire -- or refuses to acquire -- another state's nationality.

8. If everyone should have a nationality, and if persons domiciled in a state's territory have no nationality, then the state should have the right to impose its nationality on those who are unable, or unwilling, to acquire another state's nationality.

10. If everyone should have a nationality, and if a state is obliged to determine the conditions of stateless persons within its jurisdiction, then the state should be able to impose its nationality on such persons who are unable, or unwilling, to obtain another state's nationality.



Subjection and affiliation with or without consent

Let us begin with a list of "nationality principles" set forth about the time Japan annexed Korea, by Estanislao Severo Zeballos, an internationally acclaimed legalist and stateman, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Argentina at times during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The following list is from Seckler-Hudson 1934 (Appendix A, page 273).

Nationality disposition attending cession

Japan's annexation of Korea in 1910 gave rise to the most extreme problems of nationality disposition following the cession of territory from one state to another.

When Japan annexed territories ceded by treaties concluded with states that continued to exist -- Chishima (1875) and Karafuto (1905) from Russia, and Taiwan and the Pescadores from China (1895) -- the treaties had provisions for dealing with the status of persons who remained domiciled in the ceded territory. Such provisions were put into treaties that involved territorial transfers because it was recognized that the contracting states had obligations to safeguard the status of each other's nationals, and that affected persons should be given some choices.

However, in 1910, Korea did not cede part of its territory to Japan and remain a state with sovereign rights over the remainder of its territory. Korea then ceded itself, in its entirety, to Japan.

In other words, Korea -- as a state with a nationality -- ceased to exist. Hence all persons who had been nationals of the Empire of Korea in effect lost their imperial Korean subjection and became subjects of the Empire of Japan. Which meant that they became Japanese nationals.

This change in nationality did not require stipulation in the annexation treaty because it was understood that the Empire of Korea would no longer exist. Stipulation would have been required only if there had been some need to exceptionalize specific groups of people from the change of nationality that such annexation would customary cause.

All states at the time recognized Japan's right to assume that everyone in Korean registers would be Japanese -- and that aliens in the country would continue to be aliens. Japanese, of course, were no longer aliens in a territory that was now part of Japan.

To be continued.



Losing Japanese nationality with or without consent

Lost de facto on 15 August 1945 when Japan surrendered
Lost de jure on 28 April 1952 when SF treaty came into effect

Formally, Japanese subjects affiliated with Taiwan and Korea lost their Japanese nationality when the Treaty of San Francisco and the came into effect on 28 April 1952. The treaty is taken as the instrument of retrocession, in which Japan formally cedes Taiwan and Korea back to the states (in both cases, successors of the states) that ceded them to Japan through earlier treaties.

However, former Japanese subjects of Taiwan and Korea virtually lost their Japanese nationality when Japan surrendered on 14 August 1945, in accordance with the terms of the unconditional surrender. The terms included the provisions of agreements among the Allied Powers for instant retrocecession.

In any case, it is clear that the Allied Powers left the legal status of residents affiliated with Taiwan and Korea, who remained in Japan, in limbo. Their status was something Japan would have to sort out as it negotiated treaty settlements with China and Korea.

In the meantime, Japan chose to treat its Taiwan- and Korea- affiliated residents according to a policy of what I would call "alienation" -- namely, on a par with aliens. While this caused considerable unease and ill will among those who wished to be treated as Japanese -- and even among those who did not wish to be Japanese but also didn't want to be treated as aliens -- the alienation ordinances were not illegal.

Complicating matters

However, arguments run the gamut.

1. Koreans may never have truly acquired Japanese nationality, because (1) the Annexation of 1910 was illegal, and/or (2) even if the Annexation can be construed to have been legal, unlike the Treaty of Shimonoseki of 1895 and the Treaty of Portsmouth of 1905, there were no stipulations about nationality changes in treaties with Korea, and Japan never formally extended its Nationality Law to Korea.

2. Taiwanese and Koreans lost Japanese nationality when Japan accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration (14 August 1945).

3. Taiwanese and Koreans lost Japanese nationality when Japan signed the Surrender Agreement (2 September 1945).

4. Taiwanese lost Japanese nationality when ROC seized Taiwan from Japan (25 October 1945).

On 25 October 1945, a body of ROC military officers and government officials received Japan's surrender of Taiwan in Taihoku, which instantly became Taipei (Taibei). The day was declared Taiwan Restoration Day [Taiwan Guangfujie]. It continues to be celebrated, but with less enthusiasm and no longer as a national holiday. Taiwanese who have opposed ROC's rule of Taiwan do not recognize the term "restoration" [guangfu].

On 22 June 1946, ROC promulgated a regulation which restored Chinese nationality to those with Taiwan registers retroactive to 25 October 1945, the date of ROC's "seizure" of Taiwan -- meaning the date ROC had accepted Japan's surrender of the territory. However, Japan's formal loss of sovereignty over Taiwan was not effective until 28 April 1952, the date the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into force. On this date, ROC and Japan signed their own peace treaty, in which Japan recognized ROC, not as the successor state but as the state with control and jurisdiction over Taiwan.

5. Koreans lost Japanese nationality when the Republic of Korea was founded (15 August 1948) or when the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was founded (9 September 1948).

6. Taiwanese and Koreans lost Japanese nationality when the Treaty of San Francisco came into effect (28 April 1952), as provisioned by Civil Affairs A No. 438 notification (19 April 1952).

7. Taiwanese and Koreans who were in Japan when Japan surrendered, as Japanese nationals at the time of surrender, have not actually lost their Japanese nationality, as the deprivation of their status as Japanese nationals, without allowing them the choice of keeping their Japanese nationality, was illegal.