Dual (multiple) nationality in Japan

Not forbidden, unpreventable, and tacitly permitted -- to a point

By William Wetherall

First posted 10 March 2006
Last updated 4 July 2014

Dual nationality not illegal Focus and scope | Disclosure | Disclaimer
Notification of choice of nationality Disclosure and declaration | Semantics of "abandon" | Nationality choice in ROK
Notification of renunciation of nationality Proof of nationalities | Alien registration | Residence management
Legal considerations Nationality Law | Family Register Law
Administrative considerations Ministry of Justice | Municipalities
Personal considerations State of mind | Multiple entities | Serial mononationality | Disadvantages | Ministry of Justice actions
Testimonies Anthony Wilmot | John Yamanaka

Dual nationality not illegal

If nationality puzzles many people, dual nationality is doubly puzzling. How is it possible for someone to be a national of Japan, and of other countries, at the same time -- when so many people claim that Japan forbids dual nationality?

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

Yes, since 1985 Japan's Nationality Law has had more provisions than before then to discourage Japanese from possessing other nationalities. Significantly, these discouragements originated in objections raised by the United States in the 1920s to Japan's Nationality Law, which allowed the US-born offspring of Japanese immigrants to acquire Japanese nationality -- in addition to the US nationality they acquired through birth in the United States.

The United States was then very much opposed to dual nationality, particularly among its "Oriental" citizens -- whose immigrant parents were racially barred from citizenship through naturalization. Only after World War II did the US deracialize its laws to the point race per-se was no longer a barrier to citizenship. And only from about the 1980s did courts in the United States rule that the US could not force its citizens to renounce other nationalities, especially those they had acquired passively, as at time of birth.

Japan's present stance toward dual natinality reflects both its historical acceptance of dual status at time of birth, and a pragmatic recognition of its inability to force Japanese nationals to renounce other nationalities. At the same time, Japan's legal bureaucrats, whose job it is to enforce Japan's laws, are empowered to to take action against dual nationals who abuse of their dual status, or who violate an agreement to renounce another state's nationality.


Focus and scope

The following comments are intended to shed light on how Japanese are both in principle and in practice able to maintain other nationalities. Whether one has acquired Japanese nationality at birth or later in life, the problems of maintaining two or more nationalities are essentially the same.

I will generally speak of "dual nationality" and "dual nationals" as most typical. No matter how many nationalities one tries to juggle, the principles of juggling remain the same.

I will also speak more specifically about Japanese nationality, as its acquisition and maintenance are the focus of this website. Complications involving the concurrent possession of two or more nationalities will depend on the governing laws of the states that define the nationalities, and so every combination of nationalities will give rise to its own set of complications. Japan-US dual nationals, and Japan-ROK dual nationals, for example, will experience somewhat different complications. The complications will arise, and be resolved, by the ways in which the nationality laws of the concerned states work together to favor or disfavor the possession of multiple nationalities.



I am a dual national of Japan and the United States.



All comments on this website, related to legal matters, are made in the spirit of discussing the matters as social issues. Nothing said here about acquiring and maintaining more than one nationality is intended to constitute specific legal advice. Nor in any other manner should this site be regarded as a substitute for competent legal advice from someone who is both licensed to practice law in your country or countries of nationality and familiar with nationality issues in the country (countries) of your nationality (nationalities).


Notification of choice of nationality

Japanese who have other nationalities are required to file a notification of choice of nationality [of Japan] (国籍選択届 kokuseki sentaku todoke). In Japan, the notification is typically filed at a municipal office or service center, but may also be filed at a local legal affairs bureau. Overseas, it can be filed at a Japanese consulate, which usually directs it to the municipality in Japan which has jurisdiction over the chooser's resident registration or family register.

When filed at a local municipality, the notification is usually directed to the mayor of the municipality, who has authority over family and resident registration in the city, town, or village.

The form is very simple, as are most forms related to status-action notifications in Japan -- notifications that initiate changes in status due to birth or death, marriage or divorce, or nationality acquisition, or naturalization, or renunciation.

The nationality choice notification form has the following boxes concerning the chooser and/or notifier.

1. chooser's name and date of birth
2. chooser's resident registration address (jūminhyo)
3. chooser's principal register address (honseki)
4. chooser's other nationalities
5. [pre-printed declaration of choice and abandonment]
7. notifier's name [with place to impress personal seal]

The notifier is usually also the chooser. However, a parent or other legal guardian is permitted to make the declaration -- in which case there are boxes, at the bottom of the form, for the notifier's resident registration and principal register addresses.

The notifier impresses one's seal by the name in box (7), thus making the declaration pre-printed in box (5), to the effect that the chooser "chooses" Japanese nationality and "abandons" one's foreign nationalities (see next section). Box (6) is for comments that may be required to clarify or qualify the information in the other boxes.


Disclosure and declaration

The two most important boxes are box (4), in which the chooser/notifier discloses other nationalities, and box (5), which contains a pre-printed declaration of choice and abandonment. The Japanese expressions in these two boxes are as follows. The English translations are mine.

Notification of choice of nationality [of Japan]


Nationalities of foreign states
[the chooser] actually possesses

[ アメリカ合衆国、韓国 ]

[ United States of America, Republic of Korea ]

[ Notifier writes names of other countries of nationality ]


Declaration of nationality choice


[The chooser] chooses the nationality of Japan, and abandons the [above disclosed] nationalities of foreign states

Should, at any time, a Japanese with another nationality renounce the nationality, the person is supposed to file a "notification of loss of foreign nationality" (外国国籍喪失届 gaikoku kokuseki sōshitsu todoke) at a municipal office or consulate.


Semantics of "abandon"

The declaration on the notification of choice form says 放棄 (hōki) or "abandon" -- not 離脱 (ridatsu) or "renounce".

離脱 (ridatsu) or "renounce" is the term used in Article 22 of the 1947 Constitution, which gives all Japanese the right to renounce their nationality. It is also the term used in all articles of the Nationality Law which concern "renunciation" of nationality.

放棄 (hōki) or "abandon" is used only once in the Nationality Law. In Article 14, Paragraph 2 it is used in reference to the provisions in the Family Registration Law that facilitate the notification of choice of nationality and declaration of abandonment of foreign nationalities.

The problem here is that, in fact, no one can "renounce" a foreign nationality by declaration to any Japanese authority -- whether the mayor of a municipality or the Minister of Justice. No Japanese authority is legally empowered to proxy the gain or loss of a foreign nationality.

Mayors are empowered to accept or reject notifications of birth which would cause a child to be entered in a family register and thereby become Japanese. They are not empowered to naturalize or denaturalize.

The Minister of Justice is empowered to accept or reject a petition for naturalization, or a petition for renunciation. The Minister of Justice is also empowered to intitiate denaturalization (expatriation) procedures against nationals the minister considers no longer qualified to be nationals.

"Abandon" and "renounce" are not synonyms

It is clear from the ways that 放棄 (hōki) and 離脱 (ridatsu) are used, in Japanese laws and official notifications related to nationality, that they are not synonyms. 放棄 (hōki) is used to declare to the Japanese government that, as a Japanaese national (or as a Japanese national to be), one "abandons" (will abandon) or "relinquishes" (will relinquish) any claim to other nationalities that one possesses.

In principle, Japan expects someone who has made a 放棄 (hōki) declaration to waive any claim to being the national of another country, anywhere and anytime. In practice, however, it means that as a Japanese national -- whether in Japan or in another country -- one will not claim to be affiliated with a foreign state in order to avoid treatment as a Japanese national under Japanese law.

離脱 (ridatsu) is what one declares directly to the country whose nationality one possesses but wishes to lose. Whereas 放棄 (hōki) expresses a psychological separation from the nationality of another country without actually separating from the nationality, 離脱 (ridatsu) represents a legal separation from -- a divestment of -- a country's nationality.

Japanese lawmakers differentiate between these two kinds of declarations, -- knowing which states would, and which states would not, accept a declaration of abandonment made to a Japanese authority as grounds for denaturalization (expatriation). In other words, Japanese law leaves the effects of a declaration of abandonment of another state's nationality to the laws of the state. This avoids conflict with more tolerant states which might object to a more aggressive law that would force another state's national, who happened to be Japanese, to lose its nationality as a condition for remaining Japanese.

Note that Article 11, Paragraph 2 of the Nationality Law provides that Japanese nationals who have the nationality of another state will lose their Japanese nationality if they select that state's nationality in accordance with its laws (translation mine).


2 外国の国籍を有する日本国民は、その外国の法令によりその国の国籍を選択したときは、日本の国籍を失う。

2. Nationals of Japan who possess the nationality of a foreign state, when they have chosen the nationality of that state in accordance with the laws of that foreign state, will lose the nationality of Japan.

This clearly shows that the declaration of "abandonment" is intended to dovetail with similar "choice" provisions in the nationality laws of other states that denaturalize nationals who declare their choice of another state's nationality. The same principle of nationality loss applies when choosing to naturalize.


Nationality choice in ROK

ROK's 1998 Nationality Law, following Japan's 1985 revised law by over a decade, has similar provisions for minimizing dual nationality. ROK's law was undoubtedly intended to in part dovetail with Japan's law, in the sense that compliance with either law will effect one's treatment under the other law.

Because both Japan and ROK now allow acquisition at time of birth by an ambilineal right-of-blood principle in cases of children born to married parents, the child of an ROK national married to a Japanese national will become a dual national if the parents choose to register the child in both ROK and Japanese family registers.

Meaning of "choice" very different

Like Japan's law, ROK's law requires that dual nationals make a choice. However, the meaning of "choice" is very different.

Whereas in Japan's law "choice" means "choose [Japnaese] nationality" and merely agree to endeavor to renounce other nationalities -- in ROK's law, "choice" means "choose a single nationality" -- and a report of choice of ROK's nationality can only be made only after renouncing foreign nationalities.

Moreover, whereas Japan's law makes no provision for automatic loss of Japanese nationality should one not file a notification of choice -- dual nationals will in principle lose their ROK nationality if they fail to make a report of choice within the prescribed time period.

ROK's law also imposes conditions on males who have not performed mandatory military service.

See ROK's 1948 and 1998 nationality laws for further details.


Notification of renunciation of nationality

The above "notification of choice of nationality [of Japan]" form is used only to declare an intention to remain Japanese. A declaration of an intention to be a foreign national is made by filing a "notification of renunciation of nationality [of Japan]" (国籍離脱届 kokuseki ridatsu todoke).

Renunciation declarations, whether filed at a municipal office or consulate, are made to the Minister of Justice, not to a mayor -- for only the Minister of Justice has the authority to approve a petition for renunciation.

The renunciation form is practically the same. The form includes the same boxes for entering the nationalities of the foreign nationalities the renouncer actually possesses.

At the top of the form, in lieu of a declaration of choice and abandment, is the following statement (translation mine).

notification of renunciation of [Japanese] nationality


[I] submit this notification because [I] wish to renounce the nationality of Japan.


Proof of nationalities

The filer of the renunciation petition is required to attach various documents on a case by case basis. Generally, the petition will need to be accompanied by the following documents.


1. a certified copy of the petitioner's full family register (戸籍謄本 koseki tohon) as proof that the petition is Japanese, and

2. a certified copy of the petitioner's resident card (住民票 juminhyo) as evidence of the petitioner's legal address (if in Japan)

3. a certificate of nationality (国籍証明書 kokuseki shomeisho), issued by the foreign state whose nationality the petitioner also claims to possess.

While Article 22 of the 1947 Constitution gives all nationals of Japan the right to renounce their nationality, Article 13 of the Nationality Law facilitates renunciation only by Japanese nationals who have a foreign nationality. In practice this usually means that the would-be renouncer must have a nationality of a state Japan recognzies. In concert with international law, Japan will generally not denaturalize a national who would thereby become stateless in Japan's eyes -- particuarly if the national is residing in Japan.


Alien registration

The names and addresses of Japanese who are permitted to renounce their nationality in Japan are published in the Official Gazette (官報 Kanpo), as required by law. The Minister of Justice also makes notification to the petitioner, and to the municipality that has jurisdiction over the petitioner's family register, to the effect that the petition has been approved, and that the petitioner is now an alien.

Because successful petitioners become aliens, those who lose their Japanese nationality in Japan must either acquire an alien status and be registered as aliens, or leave the country.


Legal considerations

Laws are tools for social control, in that they define the parameters of permitted social behavior. Sometimes the parameters are intentionally blurry because law makers are unable to define them more precisely. This is the case with the "choice of nationality" issue.

Many people read 国籍選択 (kokuseki sentaku) or 国籍の選択 (kokuseki no sentaku" as meaning that the "choice" is between "Japanese nationality" and one or more "foreign nationalities" -- but this is not the case. The act of filing either a 国籍選択届 (kokuseki sentaku todoke) or a 国籍離脱届 (kokuseki sentaku todoke) is a act related to Japanese nationality only. That is, one either "choses" or "renounces" Japanese nationality.

In other words, "choice of nationality" means only "choice of the nationality of Japan". It does not mean "renounce foreign nationalities".

The Nationality Law does not require Japanese who have other nationalities to renounce their foreign nationalities. Article 15, Paragraph 1 makes only the following provision (my translation).



A national of Japan who has made a declaration of choice must endeavor to renounce the nationalities of foreign states.

When filing a nationality choice notification, such nationals declare that they "choose" Japanese nationality and "abandon" the foreign nationalities they disclose on the form. They do not declare that they "renounce" the foreign nationalities.

There are good reasons why the phrasing in the Nationality Law, and the phrasing on the declaration of choice notification, which is a matter of family registration, are not the same.


Nationality Law

The Nationality Law requires Japanese with other nationalities to file a notification of choice, in which they declare that the "choose" Japanese nationality and "abandon" their disclosed foreign nationalities.

Loss of Japanese nationality

The Nationality Law provides that Japanese who choose to obtain a foreign nationality will lose their Japanese nationality. It also provides that Japanese who choose a foreign nationality in accordance with the laws of the foreign country will lose their Japanese nationality.

However, the Nationality Law makes no provisions whatever for the denaturalization (expatriation) of Japanese who have foreign nationalities they have acquired passively, as at time of birth, or later in life through automatic operation of another state's nationality law.

Nor are there any provisions for denaturalizaing Japanese who have declared their choice of Japanese nationality, and their intention to abandon their foreign nationalities, but continue to possess their foreign nationalities.

Authority to accept dual nationality

Not only does the Nationality Law no where categorically prohibit dual or multiple nationality, but it actually gives the Minister of Justice the discretionary power to mitigate provisions for loss of nationality. Take, for example, the provsion that aliens should lose their foreign nationalities as a condition for naturalization.

The Nationality Law in principle requires that aliens petitioning for naturalization either do not have a nationality (i.e., they are stateless), or will lose their foreign nationality by acquiring Japanese nationality. However, the Ministry of Justice also has discretionary authority to permit naturalization of aliens who for whatever reason will continue to possess a foreign nationality when they become Japanese. In other words, the Ministry of Justice has the authority to positively accept dual nationality.


Family Registration Law

While making a notification of choice of nationality is required by the Nationality Law, the choosing to continue to be a Japanese national is a matter of family registration. Hence the notification of choice is facilitated by the Family Register Law.

The second part of Article 104 of the Family Registration Law reads as follows (my translation).


第104条の2 国籍法第14条第2項の規定による日本の国籍の選択の宣言は、その宣言をしようとする者が、その旨を届け出ることによつて、これをしなければならない。
2 届書には、その者が有する外国の国籍を記載しなければならない。

Article 104-2   As for the declaration of choice of the nationality of Japan as provided for in Article 14 Paragraph 2 of the Nationality Law, those who would make this declaration must do so by making notification to that effect.
2   On the notification document, [the person making the notification] must write the nationalities of the foreign countries the person [who is making the choice] possesses.

Article 14, Paragraph 2 of the Nationality Law makes the following stipulation (my translation).


2  日本の国籍の選択は、外国の国籍を離脱することによるほかは、戸籍法の定めるところにより、日本の国籍を選択し、かつ、外国の国籍を放棄する旨の宣言(以下「選択の宣言」という。)をすることによつてする。

2. As for choice of the nationality of Japan, [one] will do [this], other than by renouncing the nationalities of foreign states, by declaring, in accordance with what is determined in the Family Registration Law, to the effect that [one] chooses the nationality of Japan, and, that [one] abandons the nationalities of foreign states (hereafter called "declaration of choice").

Three points need to be made here.


1. The Nationality Law differentiates between "renounce" (離脱 ridatsu) and "abandon" (放棄 hōki) -- although the distinction is lost in the received translation (see 1985 Nationality Law).

2. The phrase "declaration of choice" (選択の宣言 sentaku no sengen) in the Family Registration Law is defined in the Nationality law as meaning "chooses (選択 sentaku) the nationality of Japan" and "abandons (放棄 hōki) the nationalities of foreign states".

3. The Family Registration Law itself uses neither "renounce" (離脱 ridatsu) nor "abandon" (放棄 hōki). It speaks only of "loss" (喪失 sōshitsu) of nationality after the fact -- that is, after nationality has been lost as a result of some form of denaturalization (expatriation), including renunciation.

The lack of specific provisions for either "renunciation" or "abandonment" in the Family Registration Law reflects the fact that such matters are beyond the scope of family registration. Municipal registrars do not have the authority to denaturalize anyone. Municipal offices, like consulates, mediate only to the extent that they receive notifications of renunciation and transmit them to the Minister of Justice.

In the case of Japanese nationality, only the Minister of Justice -- or a Japanese court -- has any say in loss of nationality, whether by notification of renunciation made to the justice minister, or by denaturalization (expatriation) procedures undertaken by the minister. Only the Miniter of Justice can approve a petition for naturalization or renunciation, or initiate procedures for denaturalization (expatriation).

In the case of a nationality of a foreign state, only competent agencies of that state can determine acquisition or loss of that state's nationality. No Japanese authority can mediate in the disposition of another state's nationality unless.

This legal fact is almost certainly behind the use of "abandon" (放棄 hōki) rather than "renounce" (離脱 ridatsu) on the declaration of choice of nationality. A court might even rule that making a declaration of intent to abandon a foreign nationality is also beyond the mandate of matters related to family registration.


Administrative considerations

As a state, Japan is a single entity with multiple semi-autonomous municipal and prefectural entities, and numerous national agencies of authority. In nationality matters, it is not useful to speak of "the government" of Japan as a monolith, for "Japan" consists of many overlapping legal jurisdictions.

All Japanese municipalities -- and two national agencies, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs -- are involved in matters concerning Japanese nationality. No local Japanese polity, or national Japanese agency, has authority over a foreign state's nationality.

In matters of aquisition of Japanese nationality at time of birth -- and in matters like declaring choice of Japanese nationality in cases of Japanese who are also nationals of other states -- cities, towns, and villages have primary authority. The Ministry of Justice has authority in matters of naturalization and denaturalization (expatriation). And the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for issuing passports that certify Japanese nationality, for purposes of leaving and returning to Japanese territory.

Nationality at time of birth and notifications of choice

Japanese nationality is acquired at time of birth, by automatic operation of the Nationality Law, upon confirmation of the particulars of a child's birth as represented on a birth notification form filed at an office of a municipal government -- or at a consulate which then transmits the notification to the office.

Whether the particulars are such that right-of-blood or right-of-soil principles apply, the major has the responsiblity to confirm the accuracy of the particulars. If the particulars are accurate, and if they satisfy the conditions specified in the law, the child acquires Japanese nationality by automatic operation of the law.

Municipalties are also the primary authority when it comes to making declarations of nationality choice.

Naturalization and denaturalization (expatriation)

Japanese nationality is acquired through naturalization, or lost as a result of denaturalization (expatriation), including renunciation, only with permission of the Ministry of Justice. In Japan, local polities are not empowered to naturalize or denaturalize, and do not have the authority to issue passports.

Hong Kong and Macao have more lattitude in nationality matters than provinces of the People's Republic of China. As Special Administrative Regions of PRC, they are empowered to issue their own passports and control their own borders, and to administer PRC's nationality law within their borders.


Passports facilitate legal movement across a national border. A Japanese passport certifies that the bearer is a national of Japan.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues an applicant a passport after verifying that the applicant is Japanese. Since family registers double as nationality registers, an applicant's claim to be Japanese is typically verified by confirming the particulars on certified copies of the applicant's family register and residence card, and other documents if requried.

Foreign nationalities

In principle, no national agency and no municipal polity in Japan has authority over the acquisition or loss of another state's nationality. Two states are free to agree to make agreements related to dual nationality between the two states. They may, for example, agree to report to each other cases of naturalization for any reason, such as to facilitate the loss of one nationality when the other is acquired, or to accommodate some other need to share information about nationals of both states. But no fully sovereign state allows another state to act as its proxy in matters concerning its own nationality.

In other words, Japan cannot force other states to denaturalize Japanese nationals who possess their nationality. Though Japan does a lot to discourage its nationals from also being nationals of other states, it does not force those who are dual nationals to renounce their other nationalites. They are generally free to continue to be dual nationals so long as their other states of nationality to not force them to make a choice.


Ministry of Justice

The Ministry of Justice does not have a great deal of authority when it comes to denaturalization (expatriation) of dual nationals. The ministry can only take action in cases of individuals it knows have failed to make a declaration of choice. It has no authority to take action in cases where someone has a made such a declaration but continues to have foreign nationalities.

Moroever, mayors have the discretionary authority as to whether to report to the ministry individuals in their registrars who have failed to comply with the declaration of choice provision (see next section). It is also clear that, even when municipalities balk at accepting late notifications, the Ministry of Justice will instruct the minicipality to accept the notification. In fact, neither the Nationality Law nor the Family Registration Law provides for either refusal of late notifications or punishment for late filing.

Even in cases of delinquent declaration that are brought to its attention, the Ministry of Justice is obliged to contact the delinquent individual and remind the individual to comply with the law or possibly lose Japanese nationality. Only when the ministry is unable to locate a delinquent individua is the Minister of Justice authorized to post a notice in the Official Gazette (官報 Kanpo) to the effect that the person will lose his or her Japanese nationality if there is no response within one month of receipt of notification.

Bureaucratic exploitation of igorance

The Ministry of Justice is opposed to dual nationality on principle. It believes that dual nationality creates legal difficulties for both the state and for dual nationals.

The Nationality Law, however, does not empower the ministry to prohibit dual nationality. The introduction of matrilineality in its 1985 revision even increased cases of dual nationality.

So how does has ministry dealt with the disparity between its principled opposition and the increasing permissiveness in domestic and international law? Simple. Having made sure the 1985 revision included the provision requiring dual nationals to make a declaration of choice, the ministry has publicized procedures for making the declaration in ways that have led the public to believe that dual nationality is not possible.

The ministry postures in order to make it appear that filing a declaration of choice means dual nationals are legally unable to keep their foreign nationalities. The ministry does this by telling the public only half the truth. It publicizes what the law requires dual nationals to do -- but not what the law does not and cannot require them to do.

The ministry controls the public's understanding of dual nationality by keeping the public ignorant -- an old weapon in the arsenal of thought control weapons. Like other bureaucracies with their own extralegal agendas, the ministry intentionally words its informational posters, brochures, and websites in such a way as to make it appear the sky will fall if dual nationals who "choose Japanese nationality" do not abandon their foreign nationalities.

Dual nationals are already Japanese, and there are no provisions for losing Japanese nationality on account of possessing a foreign nationality that one acquired passively, as at time of birth or otherwise not by choice. There is a mild warning that failure to file a notification of choice might resuilt in loss of Japanese nationality -- but -- and a way for the ministry to collect information about Japanese who are also nationals of other countries. Dual nationals are already Japanese -- since one is already Japanese.

Actual, virtual, and potential intimidation

Even if a Japanese, with another nationality, were to fail to file the notification of choice in a timely manner, or fail to file at all, the Minister of Justice is not empowered to arbitrary nullify the person's nationality. Any action the minister might take against the individual would have to be sanctioned by the Diet and publicized in the Official Gazette.

As already pointed out, the declaration to "abandon" foreign nationalities is a formality that facilitates the governments extralegal opposition to dual nationality. It constitutes what amounts to bureaucratic intimidation. Psychologically it works on individuals who wish to continue to be dual nationals, but who mistake the government's posturing for power.

In addition to being a form of intimidation, the notification of "choice" is a means of collecting information on Japanese who have other nationalities. It is not clear to what extent municipalities are sharing such information with the Ministry of Justice. Nor is it clear what the Ministry of Justice might attempt to do at some point in the future, when dual nationality because an issue in nationalistic politices.

In order to adopt a more aggressive policy of minimizing dual nationality among Japanese nationals, however, the ministry would have to engineer changes in the Nationality Law that empowered it to force known dual nationals to renounce their other nationalities or lose their Japanese nationality.

Since Japan has never resorted to radical measures to minimize dual nationality in the past -- when far more states than today were strongly opposed to dual nationality -- it is probably safe to say that, if anything, the day will come when Japan formally accepts dual nationality as a reality of the increasingly multiple national character of individual and family life.



Part 3 of Article 104 of the Family Registration Law requires the mayors of cities, towns, and villages to report to competent Ministry of Justice bureaus the names and principal register addresses of residents who appear to have not complied with the nationality choice provision of Paragraph 1 of Article 14 of the Nationality Law within the prescribed period of time. However, it appears that some mayors do report delinquent residents. Moreover, municipalities vary in how they respond to attempts to file notifications of choice after the prescribed period.

Variation in treatment of prescribed time limit

My daughter, who procratinates about things that don't interest her, did not file her declaration until well past her 24th birthday. In other words, she was over two years late in filing.

Municipal officials did not at first want to accept her late declaration. Her mother called the Ministry of Finance and spoke with someone in the competent bureau, who informed the municipal office that it was obliged to accept her notification.

My son, another procastinator in a long line of procrastinators, filed his notification nearly two years late with no objections. There are, in fact, no legal grounds for local officials to refuse to accept late notifications.

I am not suggesting that dual nationals procrastinate. Quite the opposite, I recommend timely compliance.

Some things I have delayed doing until I have to, or if luckly no longer have to. But three things I learned to never put off. I eat first anything I don't like, so I can enjoy the rest of the meal. I also volunteer to give reports first, so I can sit back and relax. And it is my practice to render unto Caesar, in a timely manner, as the best way to keep Caesar at bay.

I was constantly after my children to file on time. I scolded them for putting off their declarations, simply because they felt no urgency to do so.

They would not hesitate to get a copy of their family register if required by a school or an employer. But they saw no pressing need to declare a choice to be what they already were.

It took my children a couple of years to realize that the days of parental hand-holding were over, that they would have to render unto Caesar themselves.

My daughter discovered that procrastination can make a simple bureaucratic task more complicated. It took my son only five minutes to fill out the choice of nationality form and file it. Fifteen minutes to get to the service center and back on his bike. Half an hour to comb his hair and primp in case the clerks were cute.


Personal considerations

For dual nationals -- especially those who migrate back and forth between their countries of nationality, or across other borders -- nothing is more important than to develop a state of mind that capitalizes on the advantages and compensates for the disadvantages of dual nationality. Here are some basic rules -- all discussed at greater length below.

1. Cultivate a state of mind that allows you to deal effectively with the laws and regulations affecting your nationalities. Understand, and comply with, the laws and regulations of both countries in a timely manner. Do what you have to do but not what you don't have to do. Never disclose your dual nationality status unless required to. When required to, never deny your nationalities.

2. Understand that your nationalities give you multiple legal identities. These identities have nothing to do with race, ethnicity, or culture. They are merely attributes of legal status that legally affiliate you with one or another state. Therefore, do not regard any or your nationalities as more than a facilitator of your legal status.

3. Clearly differentiate your legal identities. Think of yourself as being only one nationality at a time. Though you may possess two or more passports, and while you may be proud to be a national of more than one country, you will be better off thinking of yourself as what I call a serial mononational. Use your passports judiciously when crossing national borders.

4. Know the advantages, and the disadvantages, of your multiple affiliations. If at some point in your life the disadvantges of maintaining one of your nationalities outweigh the advantages, you may want to consider renunciation.


State of mind

Dual nationals must want to be nationals of two countries and adopt attitudes and behaviors that facilitate this want. Their single brain and single body must accommdate two legal entities, and learn to stay in character. Most importantly, though, one must cultivate a positive and unwavering mindset, and have strategies and tactics for dealing with the legal and bureaucratic complications that inevitably come with dual nationality.

1. Know the laws and regulations and comply with those that strictly require compliance. If you are unwilling to do so, then consider making your life simple and renouncing one or the other of your nationalities.

2. Believe you have a right -- at least in your own mind -- to both nationalities. If you are unable to believe this, without reservations, then spare yourself the anxiety of doubt and renounce one of your nationalities.

3. Do not think that maintaining a foreign nationality, in addition to your Japanese nationality, is against the law or somehow "sneaky". Again, if you have any doubts about the legality of dual nationality in Japan, then relieve your anxiety by renouncing one of your nationalities.

4. Understand that Japan's Nationality Law operates within the conventions of international law. It was originally written and has been revised, and has been administered, with international law in mind. It implicitly recognizes that your possession of another state's nationality is essentially between you and the other state. In other words, Japanese law recognizes that other states, as sovereign entitites like Japan, are absolutely autonomous with regard to the definition and recognition of their nationlity. Unless two states have agreements regarding each other's nationalities, their nationalities are independent of each other.

5. Understand that every state's nationality laws and administrative procedures are somewhat different. Each state is free to define the conditions under which its nationality is acquired or lost, and conditions will vary with the personal circumstances of the individual who possesses, or wishes to possess, the state's nationality. Between the nationality laws of two countries -- such as Japan and the United States, or Japan and the Republic of Korea -- various complications can arise, depending on one's personal situation. Not all individuals will face the same complications, so one must must figure out what issues apply to one's own particular situation.


Multiple entities

Each of your nationalities defines you as a legal entity. Each of your passports testifies that you are an entity of the demographic territory of the state that issued the passport.

Being two legal entities may give rise to you having three identities -- one identity for each nationality, and a third identity for a conflation of both nationalities.

To yourself, and among people you know, you can be anything and everything you want to be, whenever you like. In legal matters, though, you need to adopt a specific profile and stick to it. Do not confuse the emotional sentiments a racioethnic imagination -- yours or someone else's -- with the bureaucratic realities of your legal status.

Legal names

Your legal name, as a demographic entity of each of your two countries of nationality, will be different if the naming conventions and the scripts of the two countries are different. For some dual nationals, these two names will conflate as a single name. Others will have to live with two names. Some may have to create a third name for travel purposes.

佐藤拓也 on a Japanese family register may appear to be the same as Takuya Satoh on a US birth certificate. Legally, though, they are different. The fact that 佐藤拓也 can be romanized on a Japanese passport as Takuya Satoh -- if 佐藤 insists on "Satoh" instead of "Satou" -- means that this dual national can travel under what appears to be the same name, since his Japanese and US passports will bear the same name.

What, though, if 佐藤 has been written Satō, Satou, Satoo, or Sato? Some linguists will argue "Satoo" is incorrect and "Sato" is incomplete. However, such distinctions have no meaning in the real world, where spellings can be established arbitarily. So you may have to deal with variations of spellings. So you must know what you prefer and what is possible, and how make what you prefer possible.

And the name on the birth certificate and passport might be something like Eugene Takuya Satoh, or Takuya Eugene Satoh, which makes things a bit more complicated when it comes to international travel in the age of computerized ticketing and checking in, and passing through emigration and immigration check points.

Traveling names

スミス静香 on a Japanese family register does not map into Shizuka Ann Watanabe on a Canadian birth certificate -- even if one manages to convince a passport offical to write Shizuka Smith instead of Sizuka Sumisu. When dealing with third parties such as airlines and ticket agents, this particular dual national may have to adopt a composite name for travel purposes only -- like Suzuka Smith-Watanabe -- to facilitate the need for flight manifests to show the names that appear on tickets and travel documents. All manner of complications can arise because of limitations on the number of names, or on the length of a name, that can be entered in a ticket or airline database.

When checking in on a flight from Tokyo to San Francisco, the airline will need to confirm that the name on your ticket and the names on you travel documents are the same -- or similar enough to be recognized as the same by anyone who needs to confirm your identity. Airlines differ in how they accommodate a traveler with multiple passports bearing different names.


Serial mononationality

Most states do not recognize more than one nationality at a time. You may have several passports, but the one you use to enter a country will generally determine your status in the country, from that state's point of view. States that accept dual nationality among their nationals will also generally recognize only their own nationality.

Japan, like the United States and most countries, recognizes the existence of dual nationality among its nationals, and Japan tolerates certain kinds of dual nationality. But, also like the United States and most countries, Japan does not recognize alien nationalities in addition to its own nationality. As far as Japan is concerned, Japanese who have other nationalities are only Japanese.

One nationality at a time

If a Japan-ABC dual national, you will be Japanese when in Japan and ABCese when in ABC. In RST and XYZ, you will be either Japanese or ABCese, depending on which passport you used when entering the country.

Whether in Japan, ABC, RST, or XYZ, you will never be half, full, or double anything. You will be either Japanese or ABCese. One or the other. Not both. Know which you are, at any given time in any given place, and stay in character.

On a Japan-RST-Japan trip, use your Japanese passport. On an ABC-RST-ABC trip, use your ABC passport.

What about a Japan-ABC-RST-XYZ-Japan trip? Work out a passport strategy based on the visa requirements between ABC-RST and RST-XYZ. If possible, use your Japan passport to make the RST-XYZ leg of your journey.


When leaving and returning to Japan, use your Japanese passport. Show only your Japanese passport to officers at emigration and immigration check points. Your ABC passport is none of their concern.

So long as your Japanese passport is valid, you will qualify for embarkation and disembarkation as a Japanese. It is not illegal to possess other passports, and you are not required to voluntarily mention or show them.

If ever questioned by a Japanese official at a port of entry about other passports -- if, for example, a custom's officer spots your ABC passport during a search of your possessions -- answer all questions frankly and without hesitation.

The above principles will generally apply to ABC as well. When in ABC, you are ABC. Use only your ABC passport when leaving and entering ABC.

Using your ABC passport in Japan could jeapordize your ABC nationality, and using your Japanese passport in ABC could jeopordize your Japanese nationality. So keep your passport identities separate and straight.

When entering third countries, unless otherwise required, show only the passport you intend to use while in that country.

Every country has its own exceptions to the above rules. Read the fine print of nationality laws and regulations if in doubt.

Republic of Korea dual nationals

The Immigration Bureau of the Republic of Korea specifically advises ROK nationals who also nationals of other countries to enter and leave ROK on their Korean passports. If they do so, they may stay in Korea like other Koreans. A dual-national Korean who uses a foreign passport, however, will only be allowed to stay only as long as the period granted at time of entry. Entering on one passport and leaving on another us subject of punishment.

ROK dual nationals who enter ROK on a foreign passport can request an extension of stay as an alien -- or they can apply for "As-Korean National" treatment, so long as they have been registered in a Korean family register, and voluntarily seek to be treated as an ROK national.

Consulates and diplomatic protection

In Japan, you will be Japanese -- and only Japanese -- for all legal purposes, from family and resident registration to national and local taxes, court litigation, and classification on national census forms. Your ABC nationality has no meaning in Japan -- except when you enter an ABC consulate.

When entering an ABC consulate in Japan, to renew your ABC passport or avail yourself of another ABC services, you will show your ABC passport or equivalent documents. The consulate is part of ABC territory. Entering the consulate is like crossing a national border. When you step outside the consulate, you will be back in Japan -- and will be Japanese.

Because you are domiciled in Japan as a Japanese national, ABC missions in Japan cannot offer you diplomatic protection from the Japanese government. Should you renounce your Japanese nationality in Japan, and remain in Japan as an alien with ABC nationality, ABC missions will be able to protect you as an ABC national in Japan.

The same logic applies when you are domiciled in ABC as an ABC national. A Japanese consulate will treat you as a Japanese national when you need to renew your Japanese passport or attend to family registration or other such matters. But Japanese missions will not be able to diplomatically intercede on your behalf should you encounter problems under ABC's laws.

If you have entered RST or XYZ on your Japanese passport, you will be treated as a Japanese national. Japanese missions will recognize you as Japanese for diplomatic purposes. ABC missions may or may not be able to extend you diplomatic protection.

Airline check-in counters

International airlines are carriers, not states. They need to see a passenger's travel documents only to confirm that the passenger has them and that they seem to be valid. For security, insurance, and other purposes, airlines also need to confirm that names on documents correspond to names on tickets and passenger manifests.

Airlines need to see documents that permit you to enter the country of destination. Dual nationals with name variations may need to show both passports.

My son is Sugiyama Tsuyoshi in Japan and Tsuyoshi Owen Wetherall in the United States. A ticket as "Sugiyama" will conflict with the "Wetherall" passport, and a ticket as "Wetherall" will conflict with the "Sugiyama" passport. So on Japan-US flights he gets a ticket as "Tsuyoshi Sugiyama/Wetherall" and flight manifests shows this name. When traveling from Japan directly to Italy on one occasion, and to the Republic of Korea on another, he used only his Japanese name and passport.

See other remarks about names in the "Multiple entities" section above.



Bearing two or more nationalities generally means only that you are somehow subject to the laws of two or more states, no matter where you reside. Each nationality accords you a different set of duties and responsibilites -- and, in some cases, the disadvantages of maintaing nationality in both states may outweigh the advantages.

In general, you will be subject first and foremost to the laws of the country in which you reside. Your residential status in the country will be based on a single nationality, whether you are a national or an alien.


If you are a dual national, living in one of your countries of nationality, what business you have with your other country of nationality is yours -- until which time a conflict arises between the laws or interests of your countries of nationality This could be a tax conflict, or a military service conflict, or some other conflict. Some states have reciprocity agreements to deal with such conflicts, some don't.

If you are a Japan-US dual national, and have reason to travel between the two countries for family or business reasons, it may make sense to maintain both passports. But life is more than travel.


If you are living primarily in the United States, and have no income from Japan, you will probably be filing income tax returns only within the United States. However, if your life is based in Japan, even though all your income may be earned in Japan, the United States expects you to also file US tax returns. You will probably not have to pay taxes, but you will have to file a return.

Political activity

As people more freely and frequently migrate across national borders, more states are extending rights of suffrage to nationals residing in other countries -- via international mail, and even via the Wild Wooly Web. Though absentee ballot systems in Japan and the United states, say, are different, no Japanese or US laws would in principle prevent a Japan-US dual national from voting in one country while residing in the other.

Running for a higher public office in one country, however, might be cause for a dual national to lose the other country's nationality. Or a dual national who wants to run for office in one country might have to renounce the other country's nationality as a condition to run for office. In this sense, rights of suffrage -- which include the right to run for public office -- are limited for dual nationals.

Holding a high-level government position in one country might also be cause to lose, or have to renounce, the other country's nationality. Again, dual nationality does not add up to two full sets of duties and responsibilites of citizenship.

Military service in the United States

All males 18 through 25, who are living in the United States or its territories -- regardless of their nationality, and if aliens regardless of their legal status -- are obliged to register with Selective Service. Even undocumented alien males, and persons who for whatever reason do not have a Social Security Number, are supposed to register.

US citizens who do not register are disqualified from certain federal programs and benefitis. Aliens who have not registered are ineligible for citizenship.

All registered males would be subject to being drafted into military service at which time a military draft were re-introduced.

Military service in the Republic of Korea

The Republic of Korea appears to be at once more intolerant -- and more tolerant -- of dual nationality than Japan. ROK Nationality Law, somewhat like Japan's law, requires dual nationals to declare a choice of nationality by the end of the calendar year of their 21st birthday -- except certain categories of males, who are not allowed to renounce after they have turned 18 -- until they have fulfilled their military obligation or their military obligation runs out.

All males in Republic of Korea family registers, who are between the ages of 18 and 35, are subject to miliary duty unless exempted. Dual-national ROK males must serve in the military unless they obtain an exemption before turning 18.

This obviously complicates the renunciation of ROK nationality for dual-national ROK males. The many wrinkles in ROK's nationality laws and regulations concerning military service make them almost as convoluted as the US Nationality Act.

The military service obligation has been particularly problematic for ROK nationals and ROK-US dual nationals in the United States. Special provisions exempt some categories of such nationals, including the following (based on information posted by the Consulate Service of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the United States).

  1. those who have resided in the United States with US-citizen parents
  2. those who have resided in the United States with their parents since the age of 17
  3. those who have resided in the United States for ten consecutive years, whose parents are not residing in Korea

The first category covers mostly Koreans who have been adopted by US citizens.

ROK nationals in Japan

There are two categories of ROK nationals in Japan: those who have special permanent residence under war settlement treaties, and those who are classified with other aliens. ROK laws exempt the former from ROK military service.

Since the children of ROK nationals in Japan with special permanent residence status also acquire the status, male children who are also Japanese -- because one of their parents is Japanese -- would be permitted to renounce their ROK nationality even after turning 18.

Estate planning

Dual nationals who have bank accounts and other assests in both countries of nationality will have to take the laws of both countries into account when they plan their estates for inheritance purposes.

Nationality of children of dual nationals

Children of a dual-national parent do not necessarily become dual nationals.

A child born anywhere to a Japan-US dual-national parent will become Japanese if registered or recognized in a timely manner under Japanese law. However, a child born outside the United States to such a parent will acquire US nationality only if the parent has satisfied minimum US residency conditions.

The child born outside the United States to a US national parent who as born between 24 December 1952 and 13 November 1986 will not be able to obtain US nationality by right of blood unless the parent has lived in the United States for ten years, including at least five years after becoming 14 years of age. A US parent born on or after 14 November 1986 has to have lived in the United States for five years, including two years after age 14.

The United States does this to prevent the perpetuation of US nationality among people who have no territorial ties to the US. There is more to the history of the residency requirement than this, but that is a different story.

Employment and scholarships

The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, which hires people from all over the world to facilitate teaching foreign languages (mostly English) in Japanese public schools, limits eligility to people who are not Japanese nationals. Besides being healthy and under forty years of age, and having good pronunciation, JET applicants must (JET website):

Be a citizen (not just a permanent resident) of the country where the recruitment and selection procedures take place. (Those who possess dual citizenship with Japan must renounce their Japanese citizenship before the date for submission of the JET Programme Reply Form.) Applicants who have dual citizenship may only apply in ONE country.

Fulbright grants, which are intended to promote exchanges between the United States and other countries, are similiary unavailable to dual US-foreign nationals. Alien residents and green cardholders are also ineligible for Fulbright grants, and foreigners who have lived in Japan for three or more years are not eligible for JET employment.

Note that JET applicants may be dual nationals of OTHER countries, but only the nationality of the country from which they apply will be recognized. Similarly, Fulbright will not accept applications from third countries -- so ROK nationals who are domiciled in Japan cannot apply for Fulbright grants for ROK nationals as residents of Japan.

To be continued.


Ministry of Justice actions

While maintaining another nationality in addition to Japanese nationality is not illegal in Japan, in some cases it can be regarded as a violation of a legal agreement to divest oneself of the other nationality. The Minister of Justice has discretionary authority to initiate ministerial actions against dual nationals it feels have abused their Japanese status or violated the trust invested in them when permitting them to naturalize. And such actions can result in loss of nationality, including the nullification of naturalization.

Article 15 of the 1950 Nationality Law as revised from 1985 gives the Minister of Justice the discretionary authority to require that a dual national comply with the [Japanese] nationality selection provision of Article 14 or be subjected to a ministerial action that results in a loss of Japanese nationality effective on the date the action is announced in Kanpō.

Article 16 provides that a person who has selected [Japanese] nationality in accordance with Article 14 must endeavor to renounce other nationalities, and gives the Minister of Justice the authority take ministerial action resulting in loss of Japanese nationality if the dual national voluntarily takes a public office in another state of a nature the minister deems to be clearly contrary to the purpose of having selected the nationality of Japan (日本の国籍を選択した趣旨に著しく反する Nihon no kokuueki o sentaku shita shushi ni han suru).

Failure to honor oaths

Unlike dual nationals who acquire their nationalities passively, such as through birth, people who naturalize in Japan as non-stateless aliens are generally required to lose their alien nationality prior to naturalization, or promise to renounce as soon as possible after naturalization. Some countries (e.g., Urugauy) do not permit their nationals to renounce, in which case the Ministry of Justice will accept the inevitability of dual nationality. Other countries (the United States) allow renunciation but not before acquisition of another nationality. Japan itself allows renunciation only after acquisition of another nationality it recognizes, and generally mandates loss of nationality if the other nationality is acquired volitionally.

Most naturalizers are required to sign and oath -- when applying for permissiion to naturalize -- to the effect that they abandon (放棄 hōki) their other nationalities and will immediately (直ちに tadachini) separate from (renounce) (離脱) their other nationalities after becoming Japanese. They also sign an oath that they will be "good national" 善良な国民 zenryō-na kokumin) and obey [Japan's] laws.

2014 MOJ action resulting in loss of nationality

Failure to renounce losable alien nationalities as promised is actionable if the Minister of Justice has reason to suspect that the dual national has been deceitful or duplicitous. At least one case has been reported in which an American man who came to Japan in 1997 and naturalized in 2007 lost his Japanese nationality in 2014.

The man had neither renounced nor relinquished his U.S. nationality. In 2013 he ignored a written query from the Ministry of Justice about his U.S. status, and in 2014 he was ordered bring his passports and bank statements and a long list of other documents to a Legal Affairs Bureau office for a formal review of his situation.

The man reportedly attempted to justify his actions, specifically his failure to lose his U.S. citizenship. When the ministry wouldn't buy his arguments, he said he would immediately relinquish his U.S. status. But the ministry concluded that he had not naturalized in good faith and decided to nullify his naturalization.

He would be given a temporary visitor status, during which time he would have to try to a acquire a status of residence or leave Japan. The nullification action would go on his record, and there were no guarantees that he would be able to continue to reside in Japan, much less naturalize again in the future.

At this point the man reportedly offered to renounce his Japanese nationality in return for being reinstated in the permanent residence status he had acquired before he naturalized. The ministry agreed to give him a "long term" but not "permanent" status of residence, and he accepted this compromise as the best possible end to a bad movie.

His family register, which included also his wife and children, was amended to show only his wife and children. His name was struck from the register, and the cause (事由 jiyū) was given as "loss [of (Japanese) nationality] due to status action" (身分行為による喪失 mibun kōi ni yoru sōshitsu) rather than "loss due to notification of nationality separation (renunciation)" (国籍離脱の届出による喪失 kokuseki ridatsu no todokede ni yoru sōshitsu).

One cause for what appears to have been an extreme ministerial action, which ordinarily would not have been taken, may have been evidence that the man had attempted to hide from the ministry the fact that he had not yet divested himself of his U.S. nationality. There may also have been evidence that the man had been expediently switching his nationality status in the course of his life in Japan and abroad. Any abuse of one's Japanese nationality would, in the eyes of the Ministry of Justice, at best be regarded as not taking one's Japanese nationality seriously, and at worst would be seen as fraud.

The above account is my own digest and analysis of a 3 June 2014 report titled "American had to forfeit naturalized citizenship due to hiding his lack of relinquishment" -- posted by Inoue Eido on his Turning Japanese blog. The report raised, in and between its lines, numerous unanswered questions.



What dual nationals say about their experiences runs the gamut of personal conditions and situations. Even when two dual-nationality boats look the same -- as those of siblings might -- their destinations and destinies are likely to be different.


Anthony Wilmot

"Luck of the draw"

Anthony Wilmot, of Kingston, Jamaica, gives this account of his dual nationality (Joy M. Zarembka, The Pigment of Your Imagination: "Mixed Race" in a Global Society, Washington, DC: Madera Press, 2007, pages 282-283).

I was born in Jamaica so I have Jamaican citizenship and Canada allows you to have dual citizenship [from my Canadian parents] so it is just the luck of the draw to have that opportunity. Sometimes I travel on different passports and you have to know when to travel under what guise. If you're going to America, it is better to travel on the Canadian passport becuase you get less hassle.

Personal appearance, though, has a way of negating the putative advangtages of a Canadian passport for Wilmot, a musician. He describes the hastle he got when crossing borders in Europe, where people seemed to have more trouble understanding why someone like him could be Canadian.


John Yamanaka

"It can be very inconvenient to have"

John Yamanaka (1923-2011), born in Kent, England to a British mother and Japanese father, says this about his dual nationality in "Caught in the middle: An 'enemy' in the service of the Emperor" (The Japan Times, Us and them, 14 August 2005).

My father had given me dual nationality by registering me at birth with the Japanese consulate in London. In England, I had just taken that for granted, but in Japan I was to discover that it could be a very inconvenient thing to have.

Yamanaka remarked that life in wartime Japan was not easy for foreign-born persons of Japanese parentage like himself -- an "Anglo-Japanese in the strictest sense of the term, being a dual national and biracial to boot" -- but he had a relatively easy time. He served in the Imperial Navy and was in Singapore when the war ended. He feared Britain would charge him with treason, but found himself well treated. Even while living in England for a while after the war, his British compatriots didn't treat him with the contempt he thought they would have for a former enemy.