Civil status and registers
Honseki, residence, and polity affiliation in Japan
By William Wetherall
First posted 5 June 2014
Last updated 23 January 2015
Existence in the eyes of Japanese law requires some form of registration of one's presence in Japan. A person's legal status can be determined only after the person's existence is known and the circumstances of the person's origins are confirmed.
People who legally exist as residents of Japan have two civil statuses confirmable by official registers or equivalent records.
The first register status is "honseki" (本籍) or "principle [domicile] register", which is tantamount to "nationality" (国籍 kokuseki). For Japanese, this means possession of a "koseki" (戸籍) or "family register" in Japan. For aliens, it means possession of a valid foreign passport or equivalent (possibly Japanese) document.
The second register status is that of a bona fide resident of a municipality in Japan. Generally, a nationality (including stateless) status is requisite for becoming a legal resident of Japan, though there have been some cases where a person is registered pending the establishment of a nationality status. In principle, both Japanese and foreigners have always been recognized as municipal residents if they are duly registered as such by the government of the municipality in which they reside. Japanese and aliens in Japan are treated alike in that neither is considered a resident of Japan unless they are duly registered as a resident of a municipality in Japan, which in principle is the municipality in which they reside for tax purposes. However, registration systems for Japanese and foreigners have been somewhat different.
Japanese nationals have generally proven their residential status by obtaining a certified copy of a Resident Record (住民票 Jōminhyō) issued by the government of their municipality of residence. While practically all Japanese in Japan are legal residents of Japan, a few are legal residents of other countries, a few (mostl vagrants) have dropped out of the municipal registration system, and a few have never been registered. are established a legal residence overseas in lieu of a legal residence in Japan. Some Japanese living in Japan have dropped out of legally reside overseas, who are not registered as a municipal resident of Japan have no residential statusUntil July 2012, foreigners were subject to a municipally-administered Alien Registration System, under which they were issued an Alien Registration Certificate (外国人登録書 Gaikokujin tōroku shōmeisho) by the government of the municipality in which they were registered, originally through its own authority, later through the authority of the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice. Under this system, aliens generally proved their residential status with a Certificate of Completion of Alien Registration (外国人登録済証明書 Gaikokujin tōroku-zumi shōmeisho) or similar document issued by the municipality, in addition to the Alien Registration Certificate, which was suitable for identification but not for proof of residence. Today, aliens are issued a Residence Card (在留カード Zairyū kaado) directly by the Immigration Bureau. And on the basis of this card, the government of the municality in which they reside enrolls them on its basic resident records on par with Japanese, and upon request will issue them a certified copy of a Resident Record for use as evidence of their residential status.
The following table shows the relationships between various kinds of registers in Japan -- family (household) registers, resident registers, and alien residence management records (formerly alien registration records) -- and civil status, including municipal, prefectural, and state affiliation and concomitant local and national citizenships.
|Civil registers and state and municipal affiliation in Japan|
country + register
original (principal) + register
Principal (primary) [domicile] register
residing + affiliate + record (card)
Resident [register] record
in a state's
Basis of nationality in Japan.
More fully "honsekichi" (本籍地)
or "primary register locality".
Equivalent to an address in the
municipality with jurisdiction.
Territorial foundation of "koseki"
(戸籍) or "household register" --
a record of family relationships.
Basis of legal residential status
in a municipal polity of Japan.
Shows actual address of place
where a person officially lives,
which determines the individual's
specific set of rights and duties of
municipal, prefectural, and national
citizenship under various laws.
Nationality is not
Honseki of non-stateless aliens
regarded as their country of nationality.
All people residing in Japan are
municipal and prefectural citizens.
Person without register
Neither Japanese nor alien
A person, child or adult, who is Japan, but does not appear to exist in any civil register, whether of a Japanese or an alien. Most people who are found to have no regsiters are children, but at times an adult without a register is discovered.
A child born in Japan, whose birth is not notified or reported, and remains unregistered on municipal records, does not exist in the eyes of the law. Such children have no nationality but are not stateless. Statelessness is a positive determination of having no nationality, and an unregistered person has not yet been subjected to a determination of which, if any, country would recognize the child as its national. Such a determination can be made only after the child's existence is known and the circumstances of its birth -- whether its parents are known, and their nationality statuses -- are confirmed.
One of the unregistered child's parents might be Japanese. If so, the municipal registrar would have reason to consider the child eligible for birthright Japanese nationality, retroactive to its reported or presumed date of birth. However, such a determination cannot be made until one of the child's parents, or someone familiar with the circumstances of the child's birth, reports the birth and relevant information to municipal authorities.
If neither of the child's parents is Japanese, and if at least one of its parents is a national of another country, then the question becomes whether the country will recognize the child as eligble for its birthright nationality. If so, the child becomes its national. If not, the child becomes stateless.
If neither of the child's parents are known, or if both are known but stateless, the child is eligible for birthright Japanese nationality.
A couple finds a baby in a basket left at their front door. They have wanted a child and see it as an answer to their prayers. They fear that if they report it to authorities, they might not be able to keep it. So they tell their neighbors that they have adopted the child and hope no one comes looking for it.
The couple raises the child into its teens without registration. It's not easy to do but they managed to do it -- until one day a city official informs them that there seems to be no record of their child's existence.
Relieved by the chance to establish a legal existence for their child, they decide to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. City officials initiate legal proceedings to verify the veracity of the couple's story and determine the child's status.
The city, based on the couple's story and precedents, surmises that the child may be Japanese, in which case the city would need to establish a family register for the child. But the city lacks the authority to make such a determination, and so it submits a "Petition for permission to establish a [family] register" (就籍許可の申立 Shūseki kyoka no mōshitate) to the family court.
The family court undertakes a thorough investigation of the circumstances. The court confirms the time frame of the child's probable date of birth from photographs and other evidence the couple provides the court. It examines the records of local maternity hospitals, and confirms that there are no missing baby reports around the child's probable date of birth, either locally or regionally. It also orders a blood test to confirm that the child is not genetically related to either parent, both of whom are aliens with permanent residence in Japan.
The investigation takes a few months. The child is provisionally registered as a "person who has no family register" (無戸籍者 mukosekisha), but this is not a true "status" (身分 mibun). At this point, the child is neither Japanese nor alien.
The court rules that the child qualifies for birthright Japanese nationality through birth in Japan. It also recognizes that the alien couple, who were permanently residing in Japan, and had successfully raised the child, will become its foster parents and legal guardians. As they are not Japanese, they have no family register (戸籍 koseki) in which to enter the child, and so the court orders the city to create a register (就籍 shūseki) in the child's name.
The court's ruling stipulates the particulars that are to entered on the child's family register. The register's "honsekichi" (本籍地) will be the first part of the address of the home where the child and its foster parents have been residing. The child's name will be the name its foster parents gave it. The date of its birth is taken to be the day it was found, and its place of birth is taken to be the address of the city hall. Its mother and father are declared to be unknown. It's custodial relationship to its alien foster parents is noted.
The court's ruling also stipulates the legal authority for its decision, including Article 2 of the Nationality Law, which states that a child shall be a Japanese national when it is born in Japan and both parents are unknown.
Under the present municipal resident registration scheme, the child's foster parents are registered as a household in the city's Basic Resident Ledger. The child is also registered in the ledger as a co-resident of their household.
The full copy of the communal Resident Record shows the particulars of the couple's status as aliens married to each other, and the child's status as a Japanese national. The record shows the child to be their foster child.
The record also indicates that the head of household is the foster mother. She -- with a full-time job and benefits -- has been the primary and most stable source of the family's livelihood, and her husband and child have been co-beneficiaries of her National Health Insurance.
See Unidentifiable man gets family register for an overview of an 1988 family court ruling in the case of a man who had to be treated as an unregistered person because, when found, he had no identification papers and was suffering from amnesia.
Honseki and koseki in Japan
A "honseki" (本籍) or "primary register" in Japan is the address of a section of land within the municipality that has custody of, and oversees, family registers associated with the honseki address (本籍地 honsekichi). The section of land -- which may correspond to a neighborhood -- typically includes many plots of land on which are built homes and other structures with unique longer addresses used for resident registration and mailing purposes (see right).
Possession of a honseki in Japan is prima facie evidence of possession of Japanese nationality. Passports are therefore issued only to people who can produce a certified copy of their "koseki" -- the "family register" (戸籍 koseki) associated with their honseki.
Applicants in Japan are also required to submit a certified copy of their Resident Record (住民票 jūminhyō) (see right). Applicants overseas, if residing overseas, are required to show documents certifying their status of residence. Dual nationals are required to show their non-Japanese passport or their birth certificate.
Families in Japan used to have a formal head of household (戸主 koshu) who exercised authority over the family regarded as a corporate entity (家 ie). Today, families consist of individuals who happen to be related by blood or by law. Each register has a "first-listed-person" (筆頭者 hittōsha), which has no legal significance.
Residents and heads of household
A family register is not proof of residence in Japan. Japanese who reside in Japan are required to register as residents using the full address of the dwelling in which they reside. This address may be within the neighborhood of their honseki address (see left), or within a different neighborhood of the same municipality, or within a different municipality.
For many official purposes and private legal matters, Japanese need to submit or show a recently issued certified copy of their family register and/or residence record (住民票 jōminhyō). So long as their honseki and resident register addresses are in the same municipality, they can obtain copies of both documents from the same local government office. If their honseki is in a different municipality, they must obtain a copy of their family register from its government office -- which may be on the other side of or end of the archipelago.
Married couples, nuclear families, and others who co-reside under the same roof, at the same address, in such a way as to share their mode of living, are regarded as a "household" (世帯 setai). A full copy of their residence record will show everyone in the household. Every such houshold has a formal "head of household" (世帯主 setai nushi) who has various legal responsibiltiies regarding mainly participation in National Health Insurance and National Pension programs, which are administered by local government.
Honseki and koseki outside Japan
Under Japanese law, an "alien" (外国人 gaikokujin) is defined as anyone who does not possess Japanese nationality -- i.e., someone who does not have a "honseki" (本籍) in Japan. Aliens who have no nationality -- neither an actual nor a presumed nationality -- are de jure stateless (無国籍 mukokuseki), which means "no nationality".
Japan takes an alien's honseki to be the alien's country of nationality. Aliens with an actual country of nationality write the name of the country in honseki boxes on official Japanese forms. Aliens with a family register in the former Japanese territory of Chōsen write 朝鮮 (Chōsen) or 朝鮮籍 (Chōsen-seki) -- a "presumed" nationality that has yet to be resolved as an "actual" nationality (Republic of Korea or Democratic People's Republic of Korea). De jure stateless aliens write "stateless" or 無国籍 (mukokuseki).
An alien's passport or equivalent document serves as prima facie evidence of the alien's virtual "honseki" and actual nationality in the eyes of Japanese law.
The equivalent of an alien's "family register" would be official documents, in the alien's home country or elsewhere, which record vital events such as birth, death, marriage and divorce, but also records of adoption and naturalization related to the alien or his or her relatives.
The Republic of Korea individualized its family register system from 2008. Today, only the Republic of China has registers comparable in scope and function to those in Japan. Japan's registers, though governed by national laws, are municipally managed. ROC's registers are centrally managed by the national government. Vital records in the United States are under local county and state control, and vary from state to state.
Residents and heads of household
From 28 April 1952, municipalities registered alien residents according to provisions in the Alien Registration Law, which was originally administered entirely by local governments. Between 1988 and 1992, the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice gained centralized control and jurisdiction of alien registers, as well as direct enforcement authority -- which until then it did not have -- over Alien Registration Law violators.
In alien registration matters, municipal government offices were reduced local agents for the Immigration Bureau. In the meantime, they continued to provide their alien citizens with the services legally available to them (see below).
From 2000, alien registration records began to systematically record data on an alien registrant's alien and Japanese family members in Japan. However, the purposes and standards of alien registration remained very different from those of family or resident registers.
From 9 July 2012, the Alien Registration Law was abrogated in favor of laws that gave the Immigration Bureau total control over basic alien records. All aliens except Special Permanent Residents now deal directly with regional Immigration Bureau offices regarding their status as aliens in Japan. Local governments continue to manage matters related to the status of SPRs.
Now, however, local governments, based on data provided by the Immigration Bureau, are allowed to enroll their alien citizens in their Basic Resident Ledger, which was formerly used only for Japanese. Aliens, and co-residing alien and Japanese family members, are also now eligible for jūminhyō like Japanese, an alien can be the head of a household (世帯主 setainushi).
Japanese and aliens as municipal, prefectural, and national citizens
All adults and children who reside in Japan -- Japanese and aliens alike -- are legally required to register, or be registered, as residents of the municipality -- ward (区 ku), city (市 shi), town (町 machi), or village (村 mura) -- in which they live. As registered residents, all become affiliates of the municipality -- of the ward (区民 kumin), city (市民 shimin), town (町民 chōmin), or village (村民).
Prefectural affiliation derives from municipal affiliation. Municipal affiliates are therefore also affiliates of the prefecture -- to (都), dō (道), fu (付), or ken (県) -- which has prefectural jurisdiction over the municipality. Japanese -- but not aliens -- and affiliates of the Japan, which has jurisdiction over the prefectures.
In this sense, all people legally residing in Japan have nested polity affiliations that qualify them for a variety of sets of municipal, prefectural, and national citizenships. The combination of an individual's primary (honseki) and actual (jōminhyō) domicile statuses determine the parameters of his oer her municipal and prefectural, and national, citizenships. Their rights and duties of local citizenship are defined by both national laws and local (municipal and prefectural) polity ordinances.
The Constitution restricts the rights of national suffrage, and welfare rights, to Japanese, but does not limit the political rights of aliens in local polities. A national law governing local polities provides rights of suffrage to Japanese nationals but again does not forbid local polities from extending their alien citizens rights of local suffrage. Most local polities do not yet do so, but a few now permit limited rights of suffrage to specific statuses of aliens.
Japanese who have formally established a residential domicile outside Japan may cast overseas in elections overseen by the election board of the municipality in which they last resided, if not in the municipality of their honseki address. They are relieved of certain obligations of residential citizenship, such as participation in the national health insurance and pension programs. As Japanese nationals, who have an absolute right of abode in Japan, they are free to return to Japan and establish their residential domicile in a local municipality, whereupon they again become residential affiliates with with concomitant rights and duties of local and national citizeship.
Special Permanent Residents are aliens who receive quasi-national treatment in Japan -- i.e., practically the same treatment as Japanese. SPRs constitute a legacy cohort of people who lost Japanese nationality on 28 April 1952, on the basis of the effects of the San Francisco Peace Treaty between Japan and Allied Powers, and lineal descendants born and continuously resident in Japan since then.
Under the terms of the Peace Treaty, Japan renounced its claims of sovereignty over Taiwan (Formosa), which had become part of the Republic of China, and Chōsen (Korea), which had become the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Under its own domestic standards for attributing its nationality to members of family registers affiliated with local polities within its national territory, Japanese with family registers in Taiwan and Chōsen lost Japan's nationality.
Taiwanese and Chosenese who had been residing in the prefectural Interior of the Empire of Japan on or before 2 September 1945, when Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers, who remained in Occupied Japan, and descendants born in Japan on or after 3 September 1945, remained Japanese until the terms of the Peace Treaty came into effect. As soon as they lost their status as Japanese, they became aliens who, over the decades, have been accorded somewhat better treatment than general aliens.
The population of SPR cohort, originally around 600,000, approached 700,000, but is now around 350,000 and rapidly decreasing through naturalization and death. The population, on account of high rates of intermarriage with Japanese, has seen practically no natural growth through birth since 1985, when Japan's Nationality Law became amibilineal, which means that only offspring of alien-alien marriages become aliens.
Keywords related to registration and status
Nationality, though defined by a state's domestic laws, is an internationally recognized status. Internationally, it has no value other than as a marker of state affiliation. Domestically, its value is defined by a set of rights and duties defined by domestic laws, including that vary according to an individual's personal status -- including . vary according to the of "citizenship"what some states call "citizenship" rights and duties some states call "citizenship". reserved for its own nationals. In accordance with bilateral or multilateral treaties, each state may also accord specific rights and duties of citizenship to aliens depending on their nationality.
Japanese nationality is acquired at time of birth (1) if born anywhere in the world to a Japanese parent (primarily patrilineal and secondarily matrilineal through 1984, ambilineal since 1985), or (2) if born in Japan to unknown or stateless parents. Birthright nationality is acquired through "automatic operation of the law" -- but not quite automatically. Japan's Nationality Law operates only if a parent or other qualified person files a proper birth notification in a timely manner, with a municipal registrar if in Japan, or with a Japanese consulate if overseas. Late notification may result in retroactive loss of birthright nationality.
Nationality later in life
Japanese nationality can also be acquired later in life through parental (paternal or maternal) recognition (by notification), or through naturalization (by application for permission). There is no legal distinction between birthright nationality and nationality acquired later in life. Legally, both paths lead to the same status -- possession of a honseki in Japan through registration in a household register -- and all rights and duties associated with being a member of a Japanese register, up to and including become the premier cum prime minister.
Japanese passports show the "honseki" (本籍) or "Registered domicile" where some countries show the bearer's place of birth. A Japanese passport shows the the name of the prefecture of the bearer's longer "honsekichi" (本籍地) address, while U.S. passports show the state or territory or foreign state in which the bearer was born.
A honseki is not a place of birth, nor is it necessarily the passport bearer's "domicile" for purposes of legal residence -- which is based on where the bearer lives, pays taxes, and votes. It is merely the place in Japan where the bearer's family register is kept and maintained -- what I call "principle domicile register" or "primary domicile register".
The term "koseki" (戸籍) means "household register". Broadly defined, a "household" includes everyone who co-resides under the same roof, including members of the same immediate family but also relatives, servants, slaves, and lodgers. This was the definition used by enumerators of early censuses in the United States, for example. As defined by Japanese law since the 1870s, however, "koseki" has referred to records of family members associated with a common "honseki" address -- and for this reason is better understood as "family register" in English.
Today, in principle, basic "koseki" records are of individuals, not of families. However, the registers of related individuals who share the same "honseki" address continue to be grouped and administered by family. And under Japan's family laws, some family relationships -- such as between married couples, and between parents and minor children -- compell the sharing of the same "honseki" address, even though the spouses and/or their children may actually reside under different roofs at far flung addresses.
A Japanese family register is a master record of vital events like birth, death, marriage and divorce, but also of adoption, as well as status actions regarding acquisition of Japanese nationality including naturalization, and loss of Japanese nationality. Registers are also vehicles for recording, in the case of dual nationals, declarations of choice of Japanese nationality and loss of a foreign nationality.
Some registers consist of only one individual. Many include entire nuclear families. Larger registers may embrace three or even four generations of an extended family and include a few collateral relatives -- in the same bundle of indidividual registers that share the same "honseki" address under a common "hittōsha" (筆頭者) or "first-listed person".
Family register matters are governed by the Family Register Law (戸籍法 Kosekihō), which was first enforced in 1872. This law came to be governed by the family law provisions in the Civil Code (民法 Minpō), first enforced from 1898.
Family law during the Meiji, Taishō, and early Shōwa periods was based on patriarchy and primogeniture, which meant that individuals had few liberties when it came to marriage and other family relationships. Unlike the 1890 Constitution, the 1947 Constitution extols the dignity of the individual and the essential equality of the sexes (Article 24). Legally competent individuals are free to decide the course of their life, including who they marry, where they reside, what work they do, and so forth. Adult individuals are also legally free to dissociate themselves from parental registers through "bunseki" (分籍) procedures (see below).
The Civil Code, and following it the Family Register Law, were heavily revised in 1947 to reflect the standards of the new Constitution, and a heavily revised version of the 1898 Civil Code, and a new Family Register Law, came into effect from 1 January 1948. Revised versions of these laws continue to operate today.
Aliens and koseki
Aliens, by definition, do not have koseki -- at least not in Japan. Some aliens -- such as nationals of the Republic of China -- have the equivalent of a family register in their home country. And the home countries of other aliens maintain public birth, death, marriage, divorce, adoption, and other such records that serve the same purpose as koseki in Japan.
Aliens in Japan who apply for permission to naturalize are required to provide certified records showing precisely the sort of information contained on Japanese family registers -- namely, the names of the applicant and the applicant's immediate family members, including parents and siblings, and the applicant's spouse and children -- and the dates and places of their birth, and sometimes of other vital events, like death, marriage, divorce, and adoption.
For immediate family members who are Japanese, applicants submit copies of their koseki and jūminhyō -- which, of course, are available in Japan. For themselves and for other alien family members, they have to obtain suitable documents from their and their family's home country or countries.
For nationals of countries with family register systems, gathering such information can be relatively easy if all or most of the family members are including on a single register. Most aliens, applicants, have to obtain individual birth, marriage, and death certificates, and copies of adoption and naturalization records and the like, for each person concerned. And depending on the country, these documents may be spread out over several provinces or countries.
Other than Japan, only the Republic of China (ROC), in Taiwan, still has a family register system comparable with Japan's. The Republic of Korea (ROK) had a similar system until 1 January 2008, when it changed to an individual register system. ROC's and ROK's household register systems were, of course, heavily influenced by family registration practices in the prefectural Interior of the Empire of Japan, when Taiwan (now part of ROC) and Chōsen (now divided between ROK and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) were parts of Japan.
ROC's family registration system is considerably more streamlined that Japan's. Japan's registers are managed by municipalities, and copies can be obtained only from the municipality having jurisdiction over the register's honsekichi. But ROC's registers are managed by the national government. There are government registration offices in most municipalities, and the registers are computerized, so people can deal with registration matters, and obtain certified copies, at any government registration office.
The territorialization of Japan's family register system is comparable to the United States, where vital records are kept by local state agencies. Unlike Japan, however, the United States does not have national standards for the form, content, and management of vital records -- much less a national Civil Code -- which is one reason there there are so many attorneys in the United States to deal with inheritance and other matters that involve multiple state jurisdictions.
Japan's Basic Resident Ledger system, however, is more like ROC's family register system in that, while administrated locally, resident registers are computerized with individual ID numbers, which makes it possible for individuals, using their ID number and a password, to obtain certified copies of their jūminhyō through any terminal linked to the Juki Net (住基ネット) database.
Head of household
Three Japanese terms, all having very different meanings, are commonly translated "head of household" in English.
"Koshu" (戸主) was the term used to refer to the "head of household" until 1948, when new family laws came into force. Earlier laws defined a house or household (戸 ko, to) as a house or family (家 ie) presided over by a head or master (主 shu, nushi) who was empowered to make all decisions related to the family and its members, though major decisions were most likely made through family councils.
In such families, men (fathers, husbands, brothers) had superior rights to women (mothers, wives, sisters), and older brothers had superior rights to younger brothers. This meant that the 1st son of a head of household generally succeeded his father to the headship. However, the 1st son's right of successorship could be nullified in favor of the 2nd son, and so fourth. And if there were no sons -- or if all the sons were considered unqualified for headship -- a male could be adopted from another family and groomed for headship. The adopted son could be the son of a related family, or the husband or prospective husband of a daughter, in which case he was called an "adopted son-in-law" (婿養子 muko yōshi).
While bloodlines were important, more important was the continuation of the family name and its ancestral heritage and present enterprises. For this reason, the pre-1948 "family system" (家制度 ie seido) as it is commonly called is regarded as a "corporate family". A childless family could adopt a daughter to attract a husband, or a son to attract a wife, or a married couple, to carry on the family, though they might be related to the family by blood. A widow or single daughter could succeed to the headship, but if she remarried or married, her husband would become the head.
The 1948 revision to the 1898 Civil Code abolished the "corporate family" (家) and "head of household" (戸主 koshu) appellations and all of the status distinctions and rights of patriarchy and primogeniture that characterized the older family system. Family law today makes the usual provisions for parental and other guardian rights, and defines ages at which minors are regarded as competent to make their own decisions regarding, say, marriage. Family law also continues to differentiate in-wedlock and out-of-wedlock parent-child relations, and define rights of inheritance.
The term "koshu" ceased to exist in Japanese family law in 1948, except in legacy cases that involve earlier family register actions.
In the context of family registers, "hittōsha" (筆頭者) is commonly dubbed "head of household" in English. This is not an accurate translation, but is harmless so long as it is not confused with "koshu" (戸主) under the old Family Register Law or otherwise associated with authority.
A "hittōsha" of a family register is merely the "first-listed person" on the register -- the "person" (者 sha, mono) whose name comes first off the "head of the brush" (筆頭 hittō, fudegashira) that records the names and particulars of the members of the register.
In families consisting of a husband and wife, in which the wife moved into the husband's register and adopted his family name, the husband is listed first. If the husband moved into his wife's register and adopted her name, she is listed first. Children are usually listed in the order in which they are born.
Numerous variations in these common patterns are possible under today's Family Register Law. Ordering criteria are not arbitrary, but the ordering itself has no legal significance.
Whereas hittōsha (筆頭者) refers to the first-listed person on a family defined by a family register, "setainushi" (世帯主) refers to the representative of a household defined by a jūminhyō or resident record. Setainushi, like hittōsha, is also commonly translated into English as "head of household". But unlike hittōsha, it has legal significance.
In other words, hittōsha (a non-status) and setainushi (a status) are totally different.
Though not defined by law, the status of "setainushi" refers to the "head" (主 nushi) of a "household" (世帯 setai) regarded as a group of people who share a roof and livelihood. The "head" of such a "household" is usually the person who, regardless of his or her age or income, represents the communal group as its principal member in so far as its livelihood is concerned.
Most "households" defined as "setai" are individuals who live alone, or they are married couples, or married couples with children, or nuclear families with one or more other members of the extended family living together under the same roof. Two or more individuals or groups, which co-reside at the same address, under the same roof, but live separate lives, may register as separate households, each with its own setainushi.
So whereas a "family register" defined by its honsekichi has only one hittōsha, the same family might have two or more setainushi representing their respective "households" defined by different municipal residences.
Take, for example, a family register consisting of a married couple and two adult children. The register has only one hittōsha. But say one of the parents is living at another address for whatever reason -- possibly because he or she is working in a different municipality too far to commute every day if even once a week. And say both children are living at different addresses. If properly registered as residents of the municipalities in which they are living, each will have his or her own jūminhyō. And if they are the only person in the household associated with the jūminhyō, then they will be its "setainushi".
Two people who share the same dwelling or apartment or room, and share their expenses, may register as a single "setai" (世帯) even if they are not legally related to each other. In this case, one will be the "setainushi" (世帯主). If they share only the space and facilities but not their expenses, they may register as separate setai and each be the setai nushi of his or her own setai.
However, a husband and wife who reside together -- even if they are living under the same roof in such a way that they are not sharing their life -- have to register as a single setai.
Legal obligations of head of household
The legal obligations of a setainushi are seen in matters related to National Health Insurance (国民健康保険 Kokumin kenkō hoken) and National Pension (国民年金 Kokumin nenkin). Both programs are overseen by municipalities. The regulations governing these programs are complex and different. Here I will talk about only the most typical patterns of National Health Insurance administration.
National Health Insurance premiums are most generally based on the income of the "setainushi" and the insurance covers all members of the household who are regarded as "dependants". Municipal registrars generally take the person recorded on the municipality's Basic Resident Ledger (住民基本台帳 Jūmin kihon daichō), from which Resident Records are produced, as the National Health Insurance setainushi. The setainushi, as the representative of the household, is responsible for making notifications, applications for benefits, and premium payments.
Fictive head of household
In a typical nuclear family, the husband is working, and his wife and children are living as his dependants. He will be registered as the head of household, and he will also be enrolled in National Health Insurance. And his wife and children -- and other qualified dependants who are co-residing with the family -- will be covered by his insurance.
Should the husband's wife run her own business, under conditions that require her to personally enroll in National Health Insurance, he will be listed as the "fictive head of household" (擬制世帯主 gisei setainushi) on her insurance. As such, he will be responsible for paying for her insurance if she does not herself pay.
This would also be the case if, for example, a man and woman were cohabiting and sharing their costs of living as a single household. Since they are not married, each would have to be be individually enrolled in National Health Insurance if they wished to be covered -- whether or not they had jobs and incomes. Whoever agrees to be the setainushi, becomes the "fictive head of household" on the other's insurance. This means that, though the other may promise to pay his or her own insurance premium, based on his or her earnings if any, the nominal "head of household" is ultimately responsible for paying the other's premium if the other fails to pay.
Tax forms ask the filer to write the setainushi's name (氏名 shimei) and also the filer's relationship (続柄 zokugara) to the setainushi. Most people full-time jobs are not obliged to file tax returns, since employers generally compute taxes and pay them directly out the employee's income. However, employers need to know an employee's "setainushi" status, hence employees generally provide their employers with a copy of their jūminhyō.
People residing in Japan -- Japanese and aliens alike -- are required to establish a single legal domicile address in the ward, city, town, or village (区市町村 ku-shi-chō-son) in which they live for livelihood purposes. They do this by completing "residence registration" (住民登録 jōmin tōroku) proceedures at the municipal hall.
Residence registration becomes the basis for the administration of all duties and rights of local and national citizenship -- including suffrage, taxes, national health insurance, national pension, publicing schooling, welfare programs, and other civil matters. Even when dealing with matters at national agencies, municipal registration is essential.
Most Japanese are born and raised in Japan, but wherever they were born, if they became Japanese at the time they were born, they became Japanese passively as opposed to becoming Japanese by choice. Whether passively at time or birth, or by choice later in life, the legal right to be regarded as Japanese is confirmed by registration in a Japanese household register within a limited period of following following one's birth or following a official announcment of permission to naturalize.
When establishing their own residence somewhere in Japan, or when they move to from one address to another, Japanese and aliens alike and are required to complete forms that result in transferring their residence registration from one municipality to another, or changing their address within the same municipality. Whether moving to Japan, or moving within Japan, people need to show evidence of their previous residence.
Japanese establishing a residence for the first time need to show that they are Japanese. Ultimately, they need to need to submit a certified copy of a family register. If they have already established a residence somewhere in Japan, and are changing residence, then they need to complete forms for changing residence. . They would do this by showing that they have a family register. , which means showingshow a certified copy of their family register, which shows their honseki address. establishing that were residents in another municipality they are Japanese,
Coming to Japan for the first time
Japanese born and raised outside Japan, and coming to Japan for the first time, have to first establish that they are Japanese. Such Japanese will usually obtain a Japanese passport from a Japanese consulate before coming to Japan. But showing their Japanese passport to the municipal hall in which they wish to reside is insufficient for residence registration purposes. They need to obtain and present a certified copy of their family register -- which trumps a passport when it comes to establishing eligibility for treatment as a Japanese national by local governments.
Until 9 July 2012, an alien newly registeristing as a resident of a municipality was issued an Alien Registration Card as a result of registering at the municipal office. They presented their passport or equivalent, which showed the alien's status of residence and permitted period of stay, et cetera, and submitted a photograph with a completed alien registration form. The municipal office then issued the alien an Alien Registration Certificate -- a booklet until 1988, a card after this. The certificate, a pocket-sized booklet, was prepared and issured directly by the municipality. The card was made by the Immigration Bureau after the municipality forwarded the completed application to the bureau.
60 years of Alien Registration . . .
From 18 April 1952 through 8 July 2012, all aliens permitted to reside in Japan were subject to Alien Registration at an office of the municipality in which they resided. They were not, during this period, registered on the municipality's Basic Resident Ledger, which is the basis for Resident Records. Local Alien Registers, thought maintained separately from Resident Records, served essentially the same function.
From 1988-1992, the control and jurisdiction of alien registers, which until then had been under municipal governments, significantly shifted to the Immigration Control Bureau. The system was computerized to facilitate centralized management.
Fingerprinting related to alien registration, strongly protested in mass refusals during the mid 1980s, which led to a number of arrests and court convictions, began to be phased out in 1988. From 2000, fingerprinting related to alien registration ended, and registers began to include information about an alien's alien and Japanese family members in Japan in what amounted to a quasi family register -- though it was nothing like a Japanese register.
In 2007, the Immigration Bureau introduced biometric data registration at ports of entry for all aliens except Special Permanent Residents, diplomats, children, and a few other categories. The vast majority of all aliens, upon entry, had to submit to scans of fingerprints and faces as a condition for entry.
From 9 July 2012, the Immigration Bureau took over the direct management of all municipal alien records under what it calls a "Residence Management System" -- meaning that the former alien registration system, managed through municipal government offices, is now managed by regional Immigration Bureau Offices.
Alien Registration Certificates (first booklets, later cards), issued by municipalities, are now called "Residence Cards" and are used by the Immigration Bureau at ports of entry or regional offices. The "Residence" in the English name of the card is written with Sinific characters meaning the "stay" of an alien. In other words, the government of Japan has exploited the ambiguity of English to eliminate, in English, the "alien" or "foreigner" implied by the Japanese term.
. . . didn't end in 2012
What all this means is that -- during the 30 years between the early 1980s, when the anti-fingerprinting movement began -- and 2012, when alien registration ended -- the Immigration Bureau succeeded in gaining total control of the bureaucratic mechanisms keeping track of aliens in Japan.
The shift from municipal government to Immigration Bureau control transpired like this.
Japanese residing overseas
Japanese municipal residents may file a notification of overseas residence, with the Japanese municipality in which they reside or last resided. This results in a suspension of their legal obligation to pay local taxes and enroll in national health and national pension plans, which are administered by municipal governments. Such Japanese, when returning to Japan for the purpose of residing in Japan, are required to register in the municipality where they resume residence in Japan. When doing so, they resume their obligation to obligations as residents.
Municipal, prefectural, and national elections in Japan are overseen by municipal election boards, which base their eligible voter rolls on municipal resident register records. Japanese legally domiciled overseas are allowed to vote through the most recent municipality in which they resided. If never registered in a municipality in Japan, which might be the case of they were born overseas, if their Resident Record registration has been deleted, they may apply for inclusion on absentee voter rolls through the election board in the municipality of their honseki address.
"Japanese" (日本人) was used in the 1873 Council of State proclamation on alliances of marriage and adoption between Japanese and aliens to denote the "standing" or "status" (分限 bungen). Had the 1890 Civil Code been enforced, the term for "nationality" would have been "national standing (status)" (国民分限 kokumin bungen). Unlike the 1890 Constitution, which spoke of "Japan (Japanese) subject" (日本臣民 Nihon shinmin), the 1899 Nationality Law (日本国籍法 Nihon kokuseki hō) used "Japanese" (日本人) and implied that a "Japanese" was a person who possessed the "nationality of Japan" (日本の国籍 Nihon no kokuseki). The current 1950 Nationality Law uses "Japan (Japanese) national" (日本国民 Nihon kokumin), as does the 1947 Constitution.
The 1873 proclamation provided rules for acquiring and losing the "status of Japanese" (日本人たる分限) through marriage or adoption. Acquisition or loss of this status was concomitant with entering or leaving a household register affiliated with a Japanese municipality -- a local polity -- city, town, or village. Marriage or adoption typically occasioned migrations between registers. Spouses had to be in the same register, and share the family name of the register. A wife generally migrated to her husband's register, but a husband might migrate to her register and assume her family as an "adopted husband" (婿養子 muko yōshi). Adopted children and adults migrated from their original register to the register of the adopting family and assumed its name.
The 1873 proclamation treated aliens as though they were members of a "non-Japanese" household register in their home country. Status actions (身分行為 mibun kō) which resulted in movements between registers of Japanese -- such as marriage and adoption -- were deemed as having the same effect between an actual Japanese register and a virtual alien register. And since the registers represented nationality, Japanese leaving a Japanese register lost their status as Japanese, and aliens entering a Japanese register became Japanese.
"Nihon kokumin" has replaced "Nihonjin" as the legally most correct term for people who are nationals of Japan. However, in all legal contexts in Japan, "Nihonjin" refers to a person who is a national of Japan, which is understood to be a person who possesses the nationality of Japan (日本の国籍を有する者 Nihon no kokuseki o yūsuru mono).
Article 2 of Japan's 1951 "Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law" (出入国管理及び難民認定法) -- originally called "Immigration Control Order" (出入国管理令 Shutsunyūkoku kanri rei) -- defines a "gaikokujin" (外国人) as "a person who does not possess the nationality of Japan" (日本の国籍を有しない者 Nihon no kokuseki o yū shinai mono). This definition first appeared in the 1947 "Alien Registration Order" (外国人登録令 Gaikokujin tōroku rei).
Some aliens excluded
Both the 1947 and the 1951 laws were promulgated and enforced by the Japanese government under the direction of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), during the Occupation of Japan by the Occupation Forces of the Allied Powers, between 2 September 1945 and 28 April 1952. Both laws originally excluded from their definitions of "alien" all members of the Occupation Forces and accompanying family members, and nationals of the Allied Powers who came to Japan on official business, as the Allied Powers in Japan constituted an extraterritorial authority and Occupation personnel were subject to to extraterritorial laws.
Some Japanese partly alienated
Chosenese (Koreans), and Taiwanese (Formosans) who had who received a certificate of registration from the Republic of China, were formally Japanese under both laws. However, the 1947 registration law deemed them "aliens" for the purpose of the law. The 1951 immigration law did not apply to Chosenese (朝鮮人 Chōsenjin) or to Taiwanese (台湾人 Taiwanjin) until the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into force on on 28 April 1952, when the Occupation ended and Japan regained its sovereignty. On that day,
Loss of Japanese nationality
Chosenese and Taiwanese lost their Japanese nationality -- not pursuant to the Peace Treaty, but on the basis of the treaty -- namely, its confirmation that Japan had renounced all claims to Chōsen (朝鮮) and Taiwan (台湾) effective on 28 April 1952. As Japanese nationality is based on territorial household registers, and because the Japanese nationality of Chōsenese and Taiwanese was predicated on Chōsen and Taiwan being part of Japan, Japan's loss of Chōsen and Taiwan meant that everyone in their registers, who had been Japanese, lost Japanese nationality and became aliens on 28 April 1952.
Everyone not Japanese becomes an alien
Also on 28 April 1952, (former) Occupation Forces personnel and non-Japanese members of their families also became aliens, under both the 1951 immigration order, and under the 1952 Alien Registration Law (外国人登録法 Gaikokujin tōroku hō), which was promulgated on, and immediately effective from, the same day. This law continued to be in force until 9 July 2012, when the alien registation system was replaced by a new system which divided the functions of alien resident registration and the management (control) of alien residence.