FRANCA to the rescue

Defining and defending artificial borders

By William Wetherall

First posted 14 August 2009
Last updated 20 August 2009

Linguistic faces English | Japanese | Chinese | Spanish
Organization Founders | Mission | Goals | Membership | Ads by Google | Box making

Linguistic faces

Organizations with different linguistic faces are commonplace. As of July 2009 we have another example -- in the English, Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish names of an organization called FRANCA-Japan.

FRANCA-Japan swells to Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association of Japan in English. The textures and flavors of especially the Japanese and Chinese versions are different. You have to wonder how many chefs are in the kitchen, and whether they are on the same page of the same cookbook.



FRANCA-Japan is short for "Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association of Japan" in English.

Foreign residents

Foreign residents is clear if taken to represent the legal terms ŠO‘l (gaikokujin) meaning "alien [foreigner]" and Z–¯ (jūmin) meaning "resident" as a result of formal registration in a municipality of Japan.

ŠO‘l (gaikokujin) or "alien" is defined in Japanese law as a person who does not possess the nationality of Japan. Historically, this means a person who is not a "Japan national" (“ú–{‘–¯) [term used in Nationality Law since 1950] or "Japanese" (“ú–{l) [term used in Nationality Law until 1950].

Z–¯ (jūmin) or "resident" legally refers to any person, regardless of nationality, who has a ZŠ (jūsho) or "domicile address" in a municipality and has registered one's residential presence with municipal authorities. Such registration establishes the person as a resident and affiliate of the municipality, and in turn as a resident and affiliate with the prefecture which embraces the municipality.

While ŠO‘lZ–¯ (gaikokujin jūmin) has both legitimacy and currency, two other expressions are as commonly or more commonly encountered.

The most likely expression to be found in officialese is Ý—¯ŠO‘l (zairyū gaikokujin), meaning literally "staying aliens" or "aliens staying in [Japan]". The expression is usually translated "foreigners [aliens] residing in Japan" or "resident foreigners [aliens]" -- because it refers to aliens who legally reside in Japan by possession of a so-called "status of residence" called Ý—¯Ž‘Ši (zairyū shikaku) -- literally a "qualification to stay in [Japan]".

Most aliens who possess such a status are required to undergo "alien registration" (ŠO‘l“o˜^ gaikokujin tōroku) in the municipality where they "stay" or "remain" in Japan. Such registration establishes their legal status as residents (Z–¯ jūmin) and affiliates of the municipality and its embracing prefecture.

Though not a legal expression, the most popular general reference to "foreign residents" of Japan is Ý“úŠO‘l (zainichi gaikokujin), meaning "aliens in Japan" or "Japan-resident aliens".

Naturalized citizens

Naturalized citizens has no corresponding term in Japanese. Japanese law defines neither "citizen" nor "citizenship" but only "nationals" (‘–¯ kokumin) who are such because they possess the "nationality" (‘Ð kokuseki) of Japan. Nor does Japanese law differentiate nationals according to how they have acquired their nationality -- whether through birth at time of birth, or by some other means later in life, including naturalization.

‹A‰» (kika), as a legal term in Japanese law, refers to "naturalization" as a process of acquiring Japan's nationality and thereby becoming a national of Japan (Japanese) through application, permission, and notification. Naturalization became possible in Japan from the 1899 when its first Nationality Law came into effect. Until then, the term was used in its classical and more literal sense to mean "change of allegiance".

However, people who become nationals through naturalization are not called ‹A‰»‘–¯ (kika kokumin), which would mean "naturalized nationals". The term ‹A‰»l (kikajin) has some historical currency but is problematic if not discriminatory (see below).




FRANCA-Japan is called “ú–{‰iZ‹A‰»ˆÚ–¯Z–¯‹¦‰ï (Nihon eijū kika imin jūmin kyōkai) in Japanese -- or "Imin Juumin Kyoukai" (ˆÚ–¯Z–¯‹¦‰ï) for short. The welcoming paragraph explains that the organization was formed to "lobby for and promote the interests of Japan's immigrant community".

As a string of nouns, the Japanese name translates "Japan / permanent-residence / naturalization / migrant / resident / association". Only the "Japan" and "association" are represented in the English name.

Perhaps the rest of the name is intended to mean "permanently residing residents" and "naturalized residents" and "immigrant residents". Given the "immigrant community" qualification, however, it probably means "permanently residing immigrant residents" and "naturalized immigrant residents".

However the name is parsed, "imin" would seem to bear most its weight.


‰iZ (eiū) means "permanent residence". An alien who is permitted to reside permanently in Japan is identified as ‰iZŽÒ (eijūsha) or "permanent resident" his or her alien registration certificate. The status of residence stamp in the person's passport or on an equivalent document reads ‰iZ‹–‰Â (eijū kyoka) in Japanese and PERMISSION FOR PERMANENT RESIDENCE in English.

‰iZŽÒ refers to two kinds of permanent residents (PRs). One is similarly called just ‰iZŽÒ or "permanent residents" (PRs) -- or, sometimes, ˆê”ʉiZŽÒ (ippan eijūsha), meaning "general [ordinary] permanent residents" (GPRs). The second is “Á•Ê‰iZŽÒ (tokubetsu eijūsha) meaning "Special Permanent Residents" (SPRs). SPRs are permanent residents by virtue of the operation of special laws that are tied to the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1952), which is tied to the Potsdam Declaration and Instruments of Surrender (1945).

Laws that distinguish between Japanese and aliens may also distinguish between different statuses of aliens. Generally, all PRs are treated the same. However, in some cases, SPRs are treated on a par with Japanese.

There are some communal enclaves of aliens, including SPRs. However, PRs generally, including SPRs, do not constitute anything like a "community" -- immigrant or otherwise -- except in romantic racioethnic "multiculturalist" imaginations.

As of this writing, there are nearly 1 million permanent residents in Japan. About half of them -- and rapidly shrinking -- are SPRs.

"Permanent residents" not necessarily "immigrants"

No SPR is an "immigrant". Some became aliens in Japan because they lost their Japanese nationality in 1952. Other were born aliens in Japan to parents who had lost their Japanese nationality.

Nor are general PRs necessarily "immigrants". Some were born aliens in Japan, and lost their Japanese nationality while in Japan.


‹A‰» (kika) means "change of allegiance" and this was its meaning until the Meiji period. During the Meiji era the term began to be used to mean "naturalization" as a legal process in which one acquires nationality through permission rather than through so-called "automatic operation of the law".

There is, however, no such thing as "birthright" or other forms of "automatic" nationality in Japan. Japan's Nationality Law operates automatically -- i.e., without the intervention of discretionary permission -- only upon timely notification, whether at time of birth or later in life.

Receiving permission to naturalize does not itself result in acquisition of nationality. Nationality is acquired only after filing a notification of naturalization within one month after the publication of the permission to naturalize in the Official Gazette (Family Register Law, Article 102-2). Acquisition is effective from the date of the public notice in the Official Gazette, but effectuation requires timely notification and registration at a municipal hall.

About half a million people have become Japanese through naturalization since 1952.

Most naturalized persons not "immigrants"

All naturalized persons were once aliens, but most were not "immigrants". Some became aliens through loss of Japanese nationality, some were born aliens in Japan, and some came to Japan as aliens.

Most Japanese who acquired their nationality by naturalization were SPRs or aliens of earlier statuses that would later have defined them as SPRs.


ˆÚ–¯ (imin) means "a person who moves" and can refer to any movement -- within a country, out of a country, or into a country. While often dubbed "immigrant" in English, the term has exactly zero standing in the "Exit-enter-country control and refugee recognition law" (o“ü‘ŠÇ—‹y‚Ñ“ï–¯”F’è–@ Shutsu-nyū-koku kanri oyobi nanmin nintei hō) -- which in English is misleading called the "Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law".

The misleading phrase is "immigration control" -- for o“ü‘ŠÇ— (shutsu-nyū-koku kanri) means only "exit-enter-country control". And the law applies to everyone, regardless of nationality, when crossing Japan's national borders.

The law includes, of course, provisions for permitting aliens to transit, visit, reside in, and renter Japan. Some statuses of residence may also be acquired by persons who are born in Japan as aliens.

In any event, the law is definitely not an "immigration" law. While some statuses of residence appear to be comparable with so-called "immigrant visas" in the United States, Japan does not have an "immigration policy" much less an "immigration control" policy as such. There are no quotas. Any alien who qualifies for a visa, or for a long-term or permanent status of residence, is permitted to be in the country.


Z–¯ (jūmin) means "resident". As a legal term, it embraces everyone who is registered in a municipality of Japan, Japanese and aliens alike. As a legal status, registered Japanese and aliens are equally residents, and as residents they are equally affiliates of the municipality. Prefectural residence and affiliation derive from municipal status.



The Chinese blurb does not give a Chinese name but states this (my translation).

FRANCA 是为了帮助在日外国人・归化人的非政府组织、为达到以下的目标而努力 . . .

[ FRANCA is a non-governmental organization for foreigners in Japan and naturalized persons . . . ]

Note the Chinese expressions 在日外国人 and 归化人 (‹A‰»l).

The directness and simplicity of Ý“úŠO‘l and ‹A‰»l contrast with the clunky string of different metaphors used in the Japanese name of the organization. While Ý“úŠO‘l is a plausible "Chinese" representation of "foreigners in Japan", ‹A‰»l is problematic.

The People's Republic of China uses ‰Á“ü‘Ð to express "naturalization" because ‹A‰» historically means the changing of allegiance from one sovereign to another, and is otherwise associated with "subjecthood" rather than membership in a national citizenry.

In Japanese usage, ‹A‰»l also has associations with change of allegiance and subjecthood in earlier times, before the establishment of naturalization (‹A‰») procedures in the 1899 Nationality Law. For this reason, ‹A‰»l is widely regarded as a discriminatory term when used to describe Japanese who have acquired their nationality through such procedures.



FRANCA-Japan already has a branch called "FRANCA Sendai" -- or, more fully, "Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association in Sendai and Tohoku". It's website, which refers to the main branch as "National FRANCA", includes information in Chinese and Spanish.

The Spanish blurb gives the Spanish name of FRANCA as "Asociación de Residentes Extranjeros y Ciudadanos Naturalizados de Japón" -- a literal translation of the English name.



FRANCA-Japan is registered with the Japanese government as a "general association juridical person" (ˆê”ÊŽÐ’c–@l) ippan shadan hōjin). Its "corporation juridical person number" (‰ïŽÐ–@l”ԍ† kaisha hōjin bangō) is 4300-05-005413.

The first "face-to-face" confab of people interested in the formation of FRANCA was held in Shibuya on 24 January 2008.

The "inaugural meeting" was held on 15 March 2008 in Sendai.

The "second meeting" was held in Sendai on 14 September 2008.

FRANCA was formally established as a registered organization in July 2009.

There is presently (August 2009) a "National FRANCA" and a "Sendai FRANCA".



FRANCA's founder is Arudou Debito, who labels himself a "naturalized citizen" of Japan. Arudou was formerly an American named Dave Aldwinckle, but for a while after naturalizing in Japan he retained his US nationality. Like many dual nationals he used his passports, and their names, serially. In time, though, he renounced his US nationality. He is still attached to his original name, though, for DEBITO.ORG, his blog, is subtitled "Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle's Home Page".



FRANCA's mission is threefold (boxed comments are mine).

1. equal and nondiscriminatory treatment for all foreign residents and naturalized citizens in Japan;

Are "foreign residents" not citizens? Are "naturalized citizens" not residents?

2. their fair representation and inclusion in Japan's economic and social processes;

How can "foreign residents" and "naturalized citizens" be put in the same boat? There are in fact no such legal categories as "naturalized citizens" and "non-naturalized citizens". Japanese nationals are not differentiated by the manner in which they acquired their nationality -- in any "process" -- economic, social, or political.

How, in any event, are "naturalized" nationals unfairly "represented" in such processes compared to "non-naturalized" nationals?

As of this writing (August 2009), about 720 members of Japan's parliament represent around 125 million nationals including those too young to vote. Since 1952, roughly 460,000 aliens of all ages have become nationals through naturalization, though not all are still living.

However, if we take these figures at face value, we can compute the number of naturalized Diet members (x) we would expect to represent nationals who became Japanese through naturalization. Presuming that the ratio of representation is proportional to the ratio of all Diet members to the total population of nationals, then we get this.

x / 460,000 :: 720 / 125,000,000

x = 0.46 (720 / 125) = 2.6

Presently (August 2009), the following three (3) Diet members claim on their websites to have "naturalized" (Tsurunen, Haku) or "acquired nationality" (Renhō). I have not confirmed whether Renpō naturalized, or acquired nationality through the transitory measures in the supplementary provisions of the Nationality Law revisions that came into effect from 1 January 1985. Born in 1967, she would have qualified for nationality under the special measures had her mother still been Japanese.

Tsurunen Marutei (Œ·”OŠÛ’æ) in 1979 (“ú–{‚É‹A‰»)
Murata Renhō (‘º“c˜@äu) in 1985 (‘ä˜pÐ‚©‚ç‹A‰»)
Haku Shinkun (”’áÁŒM) in 2003 (“ú–{‘Ð‚ðŽæ“¾)

So -- where is the "unfairness" in representation?

Why, in any event, should "naturalized" nationals be "represented" in any particular way -- except as ordinary nationals?

3. the promotion of positive perceptions of non-Japanese peoples and multiple cultures in Japanese society.

Who are these non-Japanese "peoples" who are not being positively perceived? And who should be positively perceiving them?

What are these multiple "cultures" that are not being positively perceived? Again, who should be positively perceiving them?

Why are these two phrases placed side by side?



FRANCO also has three goals (boxed comments are mine).

1. To eliminate negative public images and stereotypes of non-Japanese and multi-cultural Japanese.

Who harbors negative public images against what "non-Japanese"? What if some negative images are understandable or even deserved?

How does one differentiate "multi-cultural Japanese" from "non-multi-cultural Japanese"? Apart from what is meant by "culture" -- who bears negative public images against anyone because of their putative "culture"?

What about negative images toward "Japanese" and putative "non-multi-cultural Japanese"? What about eliminating the common stereotype that "Japanese are xenophobic"?

2. To eliminate discrimination by race, nationality, ethnicity, and national origin.

Japanese laws do not differentiate race, ethnicity, or national origin. These are undoubtedly causes for social discrimination, but they are never causes for discrimination by the state or its local polities, or by national or local officials acting in accordance with national or local laws.

Some officials may at times act in ways that are motivated by their personal perceptions of "race" or whatever, but these matters are easily resolved. Racial and related discrimination in society is more difficult to deal with, but individuals are free to protest, seek the mediation of official bodies and private groups, and file lawsuits in courts.

Nationality is, of course, a cause for legal differentiation of certain rights and duties of affiliation with and residency in Japan. Whether or not a distinction based on nationality is "discriminatory" will depend on the act and whether it would be considered discriminatory under an existing Japanese law, or a treaty or convention that Japan has ratified.

There are also gray zones in which the private sector appears to differentiate between aliens and Japanese in ways that are not specifically regulated by law. And there is certainly room for stronger governmental banning and discouragement of all manner of discrimination -- not limited to nationality, or to putative race or ethnicity -- in, say, the housing rental industry.

3. To highlight the benefits of immigration and a multi-cultural society.

An organization that advocates "immigration" or "multiculturalism" will naturally take the stance that the "benefits" outweigh the problems. What such advocacy implies, however, is anything but clear.

Japan's demographic and cultural histories are essentially histories of in-migration from various cultural hearths and all the usual effects that in-migration has on local cultures -- diffusion, displacement, amalgamation, synthesis. With the exception of a few centuries that were marked by little migration to the territory that is now part of Japan, all manner of people have been flowing into the islands. The flow resumed during the Meiji period, after a period during which, except under exceptional conditions, aliens were forbidden to enter the country and Japanese were forbidden to leave.

Whether ideological "multiculturalism" should become the become a foundation for public school education, however, is a highly controversial proposition. Advocacy that "multiculturalism" be made a pillar of education is usually predicated on the falsehood that Japan is not a "multicultural" society.

Japan, though, has always been a society of many cultures. Given its natural diversity, and its constant exposure to the outside world, it could never have not been otherwise. Generally, no cohort of "immigrant" with a putatively different "culture" has not been able to establish enclaves within Japan, whether in terms of residence, business, religious practices, schools, newspapers, whatever. And naturally there has been all manner of intercourse between "immigrants" and "natives" -- again with the usual mutual effects.



Like other legal entities, FRANCA is much like a state within a state. Already it has several ports of entry, but you have to have a passport, or a status of alien residence, to cross the border.

You can cross the border by paying if a membership fee. Members receive a Username and Password to facilitate their entry.

The membership fee is like an annual tax. Members who pay the full tax get a passport that allows them to vote. Members who pay only half the tax get a status of alien residence that gives them mailing list privileges but not the right to vote.


Ads by Google

As of this writing (August 2009), the main website of Sendai FRANCA was powered by The page was loaded with "Ads by Google".

One day the top ad on the left menu was this.

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The next listed ads were about apartments and "Guests Houses" in Tokyo, jobs in Japan, MBA opportunities in Japan, and SMS for Japan mobiles.

Perhaps the ad priorities tell us more about Google than about FRANCA. But they are on FRANCA's website.


Box making

In all languages, FRANCA is a mouthful. Chew it as I did, word by wobbly word, phrase by puzzling phrase, I found it hard to swallow.

What is gained by suggesting that "naturalized citizens" [naturalized people] have anything in common with "foreigner residents"? Doesn't this merely drive a wedge in the crack of doubt in some people's minds that "naturalized people" are still "foreigners"?

Are some of the "naturalized" members of FRANCA not yet fully "Japanese" in their own hearts? What do they hope to gain by drawing attention to the the fact that they "naturalized" and otherwise differentiating themselves from "other Japanese"?

People who naturalize become either dual nationals (at least one foot on Japanese nationality) or single nationals (both feet on Japanese nationality). Do some with only Japanese nationality keep a phantom foot on their former alienness through vicarious identification with foreigners in Japan?

If one is sincerely interested in fairness and equality of opportunity for all residents of Japan, why draw borders between "foreigners and naturalized Japanese" on one side and "non-naturalized Japanese" on the other?

And why all the talk about "race" this and "culture" that, when such subjective, largely imaginary, and essentially private traits have nothing to do with anyone's status (legal, civil, public) status as Japanese or alien?

It is not clear from FRANCA's sloganistic start-up websites how deeply its members have thought about what they are doing. Apparently, though, they have dipped their bucket into the well of "multiculturalism" -- of the kind that is fashionable today in the United States and is spreading around.

"Multiculturalism" is partly driven by the winds of "human rights" and partly by political ambition to draw and defend new and old borders around emotional and other interests. Both, however, are vulnerable to ideological exploitation.

There is nothing wrong with recognizing and accommodating the "cultures" that naturally mix when people of different backgrounds find themselves crossing paths, or sharing the same road, or inhabiting the same neighborhood. And there is nothing wrong with advocating certain "human rights" in principle and practice for all people.

I worry, though, about the artificiality of the borders being drawn by FRANCA between "foreign residents" and "naturalized citizens" on the one hand -- and between both of these putative "groups" and the antithetical "others" with whom FRANCA members appear to have grievances. I also worry also that such classifications will inspire race-box style "identity" politics of the kind that plagues the United States.