Naturalization in Japan

And other ways aliens have become Japanese

By William Wetherall

First posted 10 March 2006
Last updated 12 July 2014


Birth of Nationality Law Ways to become Japanese | Terminology | Acknowledgement | Adoption | Marriage | Recovery | Permission | Grant
Naturalization from 1899 to 1950 5 general conditions | Mitigating circumstances | Collateral naturalization | Barred official posts Territorial limitations
Naturalization since 1950 Volition expanded | Equality of status | 6 general conditions | Mitigating circumstances
Naturalization issues Discretionary powers | Supporting documents | Post-naturalization names | Special Permanent Residents
Naturalization today Three choices | Who and where | Paralegal services | Statistics
Procedures By the numbers | Qualifying, applying, waiting | Public announcement and certificate of permission | Notification and establishment of register
My own naturalization Early attitudes (1975-1988) | Vicarious experiences | Trial run (1999) For the record (2011-2012) Application and approval : Legal Affairs Bureau guidance : City hall reception : Passport Center reception : American Consulate reception Dual nationality


The conditions for naturalizing in Japan have always been on a par with those of most other states. At times legal bureaucrats -- as a matter of "administrative guidance" or personal interpretation of applicable laws -- have imposed extralegal or arbitrary conditions on some individual applicants. On the whole, however, application procedures have been objective and impartial, if at times laborious and wasteful. Nonetheless, over the decades, hundreds of thousands of aliens from all manner of walks of life have become Japanese. Neither race nor ethnicity have had any standing in Japanese laws, including the Nationality Law. From its conception and birth in the 19th century to the present, its provisions -- including those for naturalization -- have been blind to the pigments of racioethnic imagination.
The main requisite for naturalization in Japan is a desire to want to be Japanese.


Birth of Nationality Law

How people have become Japanese depends on what period of history we are talking about. Kika -- the word adopted in the 1899 Nationality Law for "naturalization" -- had been used for over 15 centuries to mean "change of allegiance" -- its basic meaning even now. However, "naturalization" as a legal process called "kika" did not become possible until 1 April 1899, the day the 1899 Nationality Law came into effect, at the end of the 19th century.

Extraterritoriality

Coincidentally, 1899 also marked the end of extraterritoriality in Japan. In the late 1850s and early 1860s, Japan had accepted unequal treatment under treaties it signed with the United States and several European countries. On 16 July 1894, Britain agreed to end its extraterritoriality in Japan in five years, and other states which had been accorded extraterritorial privileges in Japan also fell into step with this timeline.

from 17 July 1899, Japan became a fully sovereign state on a legal par with the Euro-American powers -- able, finally, to exercise legal control and jurisdiction throughout its own territory, to subject aliens in Japan to its laws and try alien offenders in its courts.

Initial determination

The 1899 Nationality Law fulfilled the requirements of Article 18 of the 1890 Meiji Constitution, which stipulated that "The conditions necessary for being a Japanese subject [Nihon shinmin] shall be determined by law." While it was only one brick in the construction of Japan's legal competency in the eyes of Europe and North America.

The 1899 Nationality Law applied to all people who were Japanese as of 1 April 1899, when the law came into effect. However, the law had no "intitial determination" -- no formal definition of the population to whom it would apply.

The Nationality Law, as promulgated and enforced, was an Interior law, which meant that it applied to Japan's prefectural Interior. Hence it was assumed to apply to everyone who was already Japanese as an effect of being a member of a population registers under the control and jurisdiction of a local polity in a prefecture of the Interior.

The 1899 Nationality Law was immediately applied to Taiwan from , and to Karafuto from 1 August 1924. Its application in both Taiwan and Karafuto, as in the Interior, presumed that people in Taiwan and Karafuto registers were Japanese. It was never applied to Chōsen, though people in Chōsen registers were also presumed to be Japanese. Japanese nationality related to membership in Chōsen registers was effectively gained and lost through the operation of Chosen's population register laws.

1873-1899 nationality acquisition

The few hundred Japanese who had acquired Japanese nationality as aliens under the 1873 proclamation on alliances of adoption and marriage between Japanese and foreigners, and had become a member of a family register before 1 April 1899 -- such Koizumi Yakumo (Haun), formerly Lafcadio Hearn -- were regarded as part of the undeclared intitial determination. In other words, they qualified as native born as far as the new law was concerned. Technically they could have held any office in the land -- unlike those who naturalized under the 1899 law (see below).

Japanese history is full of examples of various ways in which aliens have come to be formally affiliated with Japan and thus qualify as Japanese. Here I will focus on changes in ways aliens have become Japanese since the 1899 Natinality Law, but will focus on provisions in the current 1950 Nationality Law.

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Ways to become Japanese (1899)

The 1899 Nationality Law provided many ways to become Japanese at time of birth or later in life.

Ways to become Japanese through birth

Articles 1 and 2 provided basically three ways become Japanese at time of birth -- through a Japanese father (patrilineal), through a Japanese mother (matrilineal), or through birth in Japan (jus soli).

Article 1 of the 1899 Nationality Law provided that a child would be a Japanese (日本人 Nihonjin) if at the time of its birth its father was Japanese. It also provided that same apply if the father had been Japanese at the time of his before the child's birth. This provision is patrilineal.

The 1st paragraph of Article 2 provided that Article 1 would apply retroactively to the beginning of the pregnancy (懐胎 kaitai) if the father had lost the nationality of Japan through a divorce (離婚 rikon) or a dissolution (離縁 rien) [of an alliance of adoiption] prior to the child's birth. This provision is patrilineal.

The 2nd paragraph of Article 2

provided that Article 1 would not apply in the event that both the father and the mother had departed (left) the family (其家ヲ去リタル場合ニハ sono ie o saritaru baai ni wa) [i.e., the father or the mother had entered the family through a marriage of alliance or adoption as an alien and acquired Japanese nationality, and then both had left the family and lost their nationality]. However, when the mother had effected a restoration (復籍 fukuseki) of [Japanese] nationality before the birth of the child, [this provision] will not apply [i.e., the "will not apply" clause will not apply, hence Article 1 will apply]. This provision is also patrilineal in the sense that it recognizes that, so long as the child's mother was Japanese at the time of its birth, it was Japanese if its father was Japanese at the time of it was conceived.

Article 3 provided that a child would be regarded as Japansese if the mother is Japanese, and the father cannot be ascertained [i.e., the mother is not married], or has no nationality [i.e., the mother is married to a stateless alien]. This provision is matrilineal.

Article 4 provided that a child would be regarded as Japansese if neither of its parents was known, or if both of its parents were stateless aliens. This provision is jus soli.

Ways to become Japanese other than through birth

Article 5 of the 1899 Nationality Law provided five ways to become Japanese other than through birth.

  1. When one [the applicant alien] became the wife (妻 tsuma) of a Japanese. This condition was first provisioned in 1873 by a Great Council of State proclamation (No. 103) which permitted Japanese to marry foreigners and allowed changes in nationality.
  2. When one became the "incoming husband" (入夫 nyūfu) or "adopted son-in-law" (婿養子 muko yōshi) of a Japanese. This condition was also first provisioned in Proclamation 103 of 1873, which allowed foreign wives and husbands to become members of family registers and hence Japanese. The condition was again stipulated in a law promulgated on 11 July 1898 (Law No. 21), which gave the Minister of Home Affairs the authority to grant permission to adopt an alien man as a "nyūfu". The term "nyūfu" had long been used in customary and statute family law in Japan to mean a man who has married a female head of household. Such a man is featured in Futabatei Shimei's novel Sono omokage [In his image] (1906), translated by Buhachiro Mitsui and Gregg Sinclair as An Adopted Husband (1916).
  3. When one was recognized (認知 ninchi) by one's father, or mother, who was a Japanese. Further provisions were stipulated in Article 6.
  4. When one became the adopted child (養子 yōshi) of a Japanese. Further provisions are stipulated in the Family Register Law.
  5. When one naturalized (帰化 kika). Further provisions were stipulated in Articles 7-12.
Derivative nationality

As the above paraphrasing of rht 1899 Nationality Law shows, the law clearly differentiated "naturalization" (帰化 kika) from the other four ways, which constitute what I am calling "derivatie nationality" -- meaning nationality derived through a status relationship.

When acquired through marriage (1 and 2), recognition (3), or adoption (4), nationality is "derivative" in the sense that it is derived through a relationship, rather than through naturalization. Nationality at time of birth, based on a parental relationship, is also essentially derivative form of nationality.

Nationality through marriage, recognition, or adoption also differed from naturalization in that, unlike naturalization, no permission was needed. Nationality resulted from automatic operation of the law after the acceptance of a valid notification the status action -- "status action" (身分行為) being the term for any acquisition, loss, or change of civil status.

Note, however, that once the Minister of Justice formally approves an application for permission to naturalize, announces approval in Kanpō, and issues the naturalizer a certificate of permission to naturalize, the naturalization is effected by filing a naturalization notification, which sets into motion an automatic operation of the law.

The 1899 Nationality Law required than an alien women or young alien children be naturalized with a naturalizing alien husband or father. These, too, could be considered forms of derived nationality, since they were based on status relationships. However, I am differentiating them from the more direct, notification-based forms of derivative nationality by calling them "collateral naturalization" (see below).

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Terminology

"Naturalization" is an elastic metaphor that needs clarification. Formally, in Japanese law, it refers only to acquisition of Japanese nationality through an application for permission to naturalize. It does not include acquisition of nationality through notification followed by operation of the law, which does not require permission.

The 1950 Nationality Law eliminated all forms of derivative nationality, which were based on status acts such as marriage or adoption, or status acts of others with which one was related as a spouse or child. Many writers also call these forms of acquisition "naturalization" -- but, for the sake of historical accuracy, they need to be differentiated from "naturalization" as a permitted procedure.

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Nationality through acknowledgement

The 1899 Nationality Law provided for nationality through parental (paternal or maternal) acknowledgement (recognition).

The 1950 Nationality Law, which subsumed practically all means of post-natural acquisition of nationality under "naturalization", made no specific provisions for acknowledgement other than at time of birth.

Article 3 in the 1985 revision to the 1950 Nationality Law provided for acquisition of nationality by legitimation (準正による国籍の取得 junsei ni yoru kokuseki no shutoku). Nationality through legitimation was available to any child who was under 20 years of age, had never been a Japanese national, and was acknowledged its parents, who had to be married. The article was self-operating, meaning that the child (or guardian) need only file notification with supporting documents proving both acknowledgement and legitimation. At least one of the recognizing parents, either the father or the mother, had to have been a Japanese national at the time of the child's birth, and had to be a Japanese national at the time of the notification if alive, or to have been a Japanese national at the time of death if deceased.

However, in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled the legitimation condition unconstitutional. And effective from 2009, Article 3 was revised to read acquisition of nationality by an acknowledged child (認知された子の 国籍の取得 ninchi sareta ko no kokuseki no shutoku).

Maternal acknowledgement at time of birth is assumed of the mother is known, which is usually the case. Paternal acknowledgement at time of birth is assumed if the mother is married, as the child's father is presumed to be her husband. Only when the mother is not married does the father, if known, have to file a notification of acknowledgement to secure birthright Japanese nationality for the child. The notification has to be filed either before the child is born or "at the time of birth" meaning without delay, generally by the time a birth notification is filed, within two weeks after birth. Fetal recognition, though, is always preferred to post-partum recognition.

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Nationality through adoption

The 1899 nationality law made it possible to adopt even an alien adult into a family register as a biological or fictive offspring. Nishiyama Sen, the simultaneous interpretor, became Japanese in the 1930s by being adopted into his own mother's family register. He was born in the United States, and his parents hadn't reported his birth to a Japanese consulate or otherwise had him registered in their family register. However, when his father died, and his mother returned to Japan, she adopted him so that he would qualify for a job in Japan that required him to be a Japanese national.

Nishiyama was born in the United States to parents who had immigrated from Japan. Under racist US nationality laws at the time, his parents were unable to naturalize. Though they still had family registers in Japan, they did not register Nishiyama's birth, he had no right to later activate what would have been a dormant Japanese nationality (as former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori did). When later in life Nishiyama went to Japan and decided to become Japanese, as a condition of employment, he did so by having his mother adopt him as a "yoshi" or "foster child".

Two hypothetical situations can be illustrated by considering alternatives to Nishiyama's case.

1. Had Nishiyama's mother somehow lost her Japanese nationality, then under the prewar (1899) law he would have had to naturalize. But conditions would have been mitigated by the fact that his mother had been Japanese.

2. Whereas if the postwar (1950) law had been in effect at the time, he would have had to naturalize even if both his parents had still been Japanese. But conditions would have been relaxed by this fact.

Since the 1950 Nationality Law eliminated all forms of derivative nationality, there are no provisions for nationality through adoption. However, adopted children can be naturalized.

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Nationality through marriage

An alien wife of a Japanese man generally stood to lose her alien nationality through her home country laws and acquire Japanese nationality through Japan's laws. This was an almost universal practice in contemporary nationality laws -- i.e., a wife followed her husband's nationality. This also comported with Japanese family law, in which a wife generally joined her husband's family and migrated to its household (family) register.

Japanese family law also provided that husband could acquire status as a member of his wife's family, hence its household register, if he was adopted into the family, usually for the purpose of becoming eventually becoming the head of a household. Japan applied this provision to its consideration of status changes in marriages between Japanese and aliens. Hence unlike other countries, under Japanese law, a alien husband could become an "incoming husband" (入夫 nyūfu) in his wife's family.

Such provisions for nationality through marriage -- and other kinds of "derivative" nationality -- also ended with the 1950 Nationality Law. However, today as in the past, being the husband or the wife of a Japanese national has always given an alien spouse who wishes to become Japanese an advantage when applying for naturalization.

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Nationality through recovery or reacquisition

The 1950 Nationality Law has treated recovery of lost nationality very differently than it was treated under the 1899 Nationality Law.

1899 Nationality Law

The 1899 Nationality Law had provisions for recovery (回復 kaifuku) of lost nationality.

1899 Nationality Law

The 1899 Nationality Law provided for the recovery (回復 kaifuku) of nationality in some cases, with the permission of the Minister of Justice (Articles 25-26).

These two articles made it possible the three classifications of former Japanese to regain their nationality: (1) women who had lost Japanese nationality through marriage, (2) women and children who had lost Japanese nationality when their husband or father lost Japanese nationality, and (3) persons who had lost Japanese nationality through voluntarily obtaining the nationality of another country.

These provisions applied only to persons who had formally been natural Japanese -- i.e., those who had once acquired Japanese nationality at time of birth. Those who had naturalized in Japan and then lost their nationality were excluded from the recovery provisions. Permission to regain Japanese nationality was granted if an otherwise qualified applicant was domiciled in Japan.

Original 1950 Nationality Law

The original 1950 Nationality Law did away with all provisions in the 1899 law for nationality recovery. However, naturalization was somewhat eased for aliens who had once been Japanese (Article 6).

The dropping of the earlier provisions for recovery was mainly a consquence of no longer having provisions for passive loss of nationality.

1950 Nationality Law as revised from 1985

The 1985 revision included provsions for passively losing nationality on account of failing to retain (reserve) one's birthright Japanese nationality at time of birth in a jus soli state (Article 12), or on account of failing to select one's retained (reserved) Japanese nationality in preference to another nationality when reaching majority age (Article 15). The 1985 revision also made provisions for reacquisition (再取得 sai-shutoku) of nationality lost for such reasons (Article 17).

Consequently, since 1985, under Article 17, a minor can reacquire nationality lost under Article 12, and an adult can reacquire nationality within a year of losing it under Article 15, by filing a notification with documents showing why one was unable to comply with the provisions of these articles. Nationality is recquired effective from the date a reacquisition notification is accepted.

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Nationality by permission

In Japan, permission (許可 kyoka) to be a Japanese national is referred to as "kika" (帰化) -- an older Sinific expression meaning to "change [one's allegiance] by submitting [to the moral authority of the emperior]" -- or simply "change of allegiance". The English "equivalent" in legal lingo is "naturalization" -- a somewhat different metaphore but appropriate in Japan's case, since "kika" results in a quality of nationalit that is essentially identical to that of nationality acquired at time of birth.

However, in Japan's nationality laws, the term "kika" refers to nationality acquisition permitted by the discretionary authority of the Minister of Justice. The justice minister's authority extends to all cases of naturalization in which applicants meet the conditions for naturalization stipulated in the Nationality Law. An application is not accepted until the applicant appears to meet the conditions that apply in the applicant's particular case and supporting documents are screened, but closer vetting of the application may result in the discovery of a problem that results in disapproval.

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Nationality by grant

The term "grant" is not used in Japan's Nationality Law. In principle, Japan's Nationality Law does not "grant" Japanese nationality but attributes it through either (1) automatic operation of the law set in motion by filing a notification for a nationality action, or (2) discretionary permission based on application for the nationality action.

I am here using "grant" to apply only to cases of discretionary permission in which a higher authority than the Minister of Justice approves an alien's naturalization. This level of permission is sometimes called "grand naturalization".

The 1899 Nationality Law allowed the justice minister, with imperial sanction, to approve the naturalization of an alien who had rendered a special meritorious service to Japan, even though the alien did not meet the general conditions for naturalization.

The 1950 Nationality Law gives the National Diet the authority to approve naturalization in recognition of an alien's meritorious service to Japan.

As of this writing, I have not heard of any such case.

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Naturalization from 1899

Naturalization (帰化 kika) has been possible in Japan since the first Nationality Law came into effect in 1899. It is only one of several ways of acquiring nationality other than at time of birth -- i.e., naturally.

An application for naturalization is essentially a petition to convince the competent minister (once the Minister of Home Affairs, now the Minister of Justice) that one would be a worthy member of Japan's nationality. It differs from other means of later-in-life (after-birth, post-natural) acquisition in that, after all objective conditions have been satisfied, the final decision to permit naturalization will be based on a qualitative assessment of worthiness.

Since naturalization is not considered a legal right, an applicant does not qualify simply by meeting a set of objective conditions. Meeting some conditions may result in waiving others, but meeting all applicable conditions does not automatically result in in approval of a petition for nationality.

The 1899 Nationality Law essentially required a minimum of 5 years of continuous residence in Japan, as does the current law. 5 years was then, and is still, an international standard.

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5 general conditions

The 1899 Nationality Law stipulated the following general conditions for naturalizing in Japan.

  1. Having had a domicile (住所 jūsho) in Japan for five or more years consecutively.
  2. Being fully twenty or more years of age, and having legal capacity under the law of one's own country.
  3. Being of good character.
  4. Having sufficient property, or ability, to secure an independent livelihood.
  5. Having no nationality, or when one would lose one's nationality as a result of acquiring Japanese nationality.

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Mitigating circumstances

The 1899 Nationality Law eased naturalization conditions for a number of kinds of applications.

Article 9 waived the Condition 1 -- continuously domiciled in Japan for 5 or more years -- for aliens who had a domicile in Japan if (1) their father or mother was Japanese, or (2) their wife was Japanese, or (3) they were born in Japan, or (4) they had had a residence (居住 kyojū) in Japan for 10 or more consecutive years. The article further provided that category (1), (2), and (3) aliens had to have consecutively resided in Japan for 3 or more years, but it waived this requirement for category (3) aliens whose father or mother was born in Japan.

Note that lineal (child) and non-lineal (spouse) relationships were given equal weight. Note also that birth in Japan was eqivalent in weight to a parental or spousal bond -- and weighed even more if there was also a parental bond conditiond by birth in Japan.

Article 10 waived Conditions 1, 2, and 4 for domiciled aliens whose father or mother was Japanese.

Article 11 provided that, regardless of whether an alien met any of the 5 general conditions, the Minister of the Interior (later the the competent ministry, and later still the minister Attorney General) could, subject to the imperial sanction, permit the naturalization of an alien who had rendered a special meritorious service to Japan.

Article 14 provided that the wife of a person who has acquired Japanese nationality, who has not acquired Japanese nationality at the time her husband naturalized (Article 13), could naturalize even though she had not fulfilled any of basic 5 conditions for naturalization. In other words, an alien wife of a Japanese could become Japanese through deriviation of nationality (Article 5, item 1), while an alien wife of a naturalized person could unconditionally naturalize as though she had been naturalized with him (see Article 13, below).

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Collateral naturalization

The 1899 Nationality Law generally subscribed to the practically universal notion at the time that a family should have only one nationality -- and a husband's or father's nationality should govern the nationality of his spouse and/or chilren. This also comported with Japan's family law, which required that married couples and their minor children be recorded in the same family regsiter, and share the family name of the 1st listed member of the household, who was generally the head of household.

Article 8 specifically provided that the wife of an alien could not naturalize other than together with her husband.

Article 13 provided that the wife of a man who acquires the nationality of Japan will acquire Japanese nationality together with him, so long as there are no contrary provisions in the laws of her home country.

Article 15 similarly required that a child had to be naturalized together with its father or mother, so long as there were no contrary provisions in the child's home country laws.

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Barred government and military posts (1899)

The 1899 Nationality Law limited the extent that naturalized persons, and people who acquired nationality derived through marriage or adoption, or through the naturalization of a parent, could participate in government.

Article 16 barred such nationals from the following posts.

  1. A Minister of State [kokumu daijin];
  2. The President, Vice-president, or member of the Privy Council [sumitsuin no gicho, fukugicho, mata wa komonkan];
  3. An official by imperial appointment within the imperial household [kunai chokunin kan];
  4. An Envoy Extraordinary or Minister Plenipotentiary [tokumei zenken koshi];
  5. A general officer in the Army or Navy [rikukaigun no shokan]
  6. The President of the Supreme Court [daishin'in-cho], the President of the Board of Audit [kaikei-kensa-in cho], or the President of the Court of Administrative Litigation [gyosei saibansho chokan];
  7. A member of the Imperial Diet [teikoku kokkai no giin].

However, Article 17 provided that the Minister of Interior (competent minister, Attorney General), subject to imperial sanction, could remove the above restrictions (1) after 5 years from the date of acquiring Japanese nationality for a person who naturalized under the provisions of Article 11 in recognition of the person's meritorious service to Japan, and (2) after 10 years for other persons.

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Territorial limitations between 1899 and 1950

People with family registers in Taiwan between 1895 and 1945, or in Chōsen between 1910 and 1945, could not naturalize because they were Japanese. The 1895 Shimonoseki Treaty provided that, in principle everyone domiciled in Taiwan would be Japanese, but a three year period was provide during which those who wished to confirm an alien (including Chinese) status could do so. Japan facilitated nationalization by introducing a localized version of the prefectural family registration law, and by extending the Nationality Law to the territory.

The 1910 annexation of the Empire of Korea as Chōsen was much simpler regarding nationality. Since the entire territory and population of the country was incorprated into Japan, and there was no longer a Korean state with which Koreans could continue to affiliate in the eyes of international law -- notwithstanding the self-styled "Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea". Hence there was no need to provide Koreans a choice of remaining a subject or national of Korea, or becoming a Chosenese subject and national of Japan.

A recently (1909) enacted Korean population registration law, and customary laws, continued to operate. Japan introduced a localized version of the prefectural family registration law and elements of prefectural family law to Korea. The Nationality Law, however, was never formally exteneded to Korea. Since Korea was now part of Japan, Korean family registers simply began to be treated like prefectural registers regarding their dual function as national registers.

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Naturalization from 1950

The 1950 Nationality Law eliminated all means of later-in-life acquisition of nationality except naturalization. Since its enforcement, all adult aliens who want to become Japanese have had to naturalize. And Japanese parents who adopt an alien child have had to naturalize the child if they wanted it be Japanese.

Since the enforcement of the 1950 law, even an acknowledge adult alien child of a Japanese national has had to naturalize. From 1985, an unacknowledged minor alien child of a Japanese could become Japanese if its parents were married. The legitimation requirement was ruled unconstitutional in 2008, and since 2009 an alien minor could become Japanese if reocgnized by its Japanese father or mother.

Articles 4-10 of the original 1950 Nationality Law, and Articles 4-10 of law as revised from 1985, stipulated both general and mitigating conditions for naturalization.

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Volition expanded

The 1950 Nationality Law explicitly did away with all forms of derivative nationality -- ie., nationality acquired through a status relationship such as spouse or child -- in the 1899 Nationality Law. Nationality could no longer be acquired or lost as a passive effect of, for example, an alliance of marriage. The 1950 law required any alien who was married to a Japanese to naturalize if the alien spouse wished to be Japanese. And a Japanese woman who married an alien no longer stood to lose her nationality on account of the marriage.

Such changes were introduced mainly to comply with the provisions of the 1947 Constitution of Japan, which recognized the dignity of the individual and equality of the sexes. A married woman, in particular, now had a right not to change her nationality to her husband's nationality, either when marrying him, or later should he change his nationality to that of another country.

Many countries in the world had already revised, or would soon revise, their nationality laws to accommodate the emerging global recognition of the independence of a married woman's nationality. In order to compensate for the relative ease of access to Japanese nationality through marriage, and to accommodate married couples that wished to be of the same nationality, the 1950 Nationality Law had broader provisions for the naturalization of an alien spouse of a Japanese.

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Equality of status (1950)

The 1950 Nationality Law eliminated distinctions between natural and naturalized Japanese, except in cases of former Japanese. The terms "nationalized person" (帰化人 kikajin) and "child of a naturalized person" (帰化人ノ子 kikajin no ko) have no legal currency today, and there are no limitations on the political rights of Japanese who happen to have acquired their nationality through naturalization.

In the United States, naturalized Americans are constitutionally barred from becoming president, whereas in Japan no laws would prevent a naturalized Japanese from becoming prime minister.

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6 general conditions (1950)

Article 3 of the original 1950 Nationality Law, which became Article 4 in the 1985 revision, added one condition to the 5 conditions stipulated in the 1899 law.

  1. Has had a domicile (住所 jūsho) in Japan for five or more years consecutively.
  2. Is twenty or more years of age, and is legally fully competent under the laws of one's own country.
  3. Is of upright conduct.
  4. Has sufficient assets and abilities to manage an independent life.
    (1985 revision recognizes an applicant's spouse and/or relatives as sources of support.)
  5. Has no nationality, or acquisition of Japanese nationality will cause one to lose one's [original] nationality.
  6. Since the enforcement of the Constitution of Japan, has never plotted or advocated, or formed or belonged to a political party or other organization which has plotted or advocated the overthrow of the Constitution of Japan or the government established thereunder.

The 6th condition is thanks to American influence during the Occupation of Japan (1945-1952), though Japan had historically shared America's concern with subversive, especially revolutionary communist, activities.

Language requirement

A 7th condition -- not stipulated in the Nationality Law but listed with the above 6 conditions in Ministry of Justice naturalization guidebooks -- is as follows.

  1. In addition, in principle has the ability to read and write, and converse, in Japanese.

However, there are no language tests, and to some extent an application may be proxied by a legal representative. And officials may recognize mitigating circumstances.

The application procedure is itself a language test. Interviews and guidance sessions are conducted in Japanese. The application forms must be completed in Japanese, and the statement of motifivation to naturalize must be written in the applicant's own hand. Moreover, all supporting documents in other languages must be accompanied by Japanese translations certified as accurate by either the applicant or by a third party.

Proper names originally written in non-Japanese script

In principle, only "Japanese script" (日本文字 Niihon moji) may be used on application forms. Non-Japanese script -- meaning syllabic graphs and alphabetic letters and other symbols -- must be transliterated into kana or kanji.

Sinific graphs ("Chinese characters" including some that are used only in Japan or Korea) require no transliteration. But a graph that is not included in a standard kanji list may not be used in a post-naturalization name. This includes a few graphs that are commonly used in Chinese and Korean names. Sinific graphs representing Chinese or Korean personal names may require furigana pronunciation glosses, but in principle they will be read in Sino-Japanese (音読み on-yomi) rather than in local (Chinese or Sino-Korean) readings (現地読み genchi-yomi).

Hangul names and other expressions based on Sinific graphs will usually be transliterated as Sinific graphs, but may be transliterated as kana, either hiragana or katakana. Names of persons, places, and organizations written in Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, Arabic, and other such scripts will generally be transliterated into katakana, which results in the "Japanization" of sounds represented by non-Japanese scripts.

Transliteration problems

Most naturalization applicants have to provide legal documents showing the names, birth dates, and places of birth of parents and living siblings. If you have a mother named "Mary", and her name is pronounced like "Merry" in "Merry Christmas" in English, then the closest transliteration will be メーリ" (Meeri). However, an official who sees "Mary" on her birth certificate may think it should be マリ (Mari), because that is how the name has usually been Japanized. And if you hold out for メーリ as in Merry Christmas, the official will point out that Japanese say メリー (Merii) for "Merry Christmas" (メリー・クリスマス Christmas).

Vetting transliterations can take a lot of time.

Knowledge of Japanese history and government

There are no "citizenship" tests such as those that compel many aliens in the United States to enroll in programs that prepare them for running the U.S. naturalization gauntlet. The officials who conduct naturalization application interviews and guide applicants through the application process do not attempt to fathom the depths of an applicant's knowledge of Japan's political or social history or culture.

Residential and travel history

Proving that one has continuously resided or been domiciled in Japan for a specified minimum number of years is not enough. Applicants must also itemize the dates on which they left and returned to Japan during the period. If the applicant has kept older passports, copies must be submitted and officials will compare the copies with the originals to ensure that all stamps in the passports are represented in the copies, and are readable.

Personal history and family relationships

The most important and most closely vetted information, though, concerns the applicant's family relationships, including one's father and mother, and siblings. Certified copies of birth, marriage, and death certificates, and Japanese translations, must be submitted. If permitted to naturalize, the names of one's parents will be recorded on one's family register. Applicants who have been adopted will have to submit additional documents certifying their adoptive statuses, The names of one's parents will be recorded in one's family register The only information that actually survives in the family register created for a person who is permitted to naturalize Other than determining

Officials who process naturalization applications

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Mitigating circumstances (1950)

Naturalization is eased somewhat differently in the original 1950 Nationality Law and its 1985 revision, as shown in the following table. The article numbers, and the numbers of some of the provisions, are different, but the particulars are comparable.

In the table, I have paraphrased the relelvant provisions in a manner that facilitates their comparison.

The compentent ministry at the time the original 1950 was the Attorney General's Office, and the compentent minister was the Attorney General. These were holdovers from the Americanized renaming of the Ministry of Justice and Justice Minister. The government of Japan restored the ministry's former name in the fall of 1952, several months after the Occuation ended and Japan regained its sovereignty.

Mitigating conditions for naturalization in 1950 Nationality Law
Original 1950 Nationality Law 1950 law as revised from 1985

Article 3

A person who is not a Japan national (Hereafter "alien",), through naturalization, can acquire the nationality of Japan.

1. To naturalize, [an alien] must obtain the permission of the Attorney-General [1950] Minister of Justice [1952].

Article 3

A person who is not a Japan national (Hereafter "alien",), through naturalization, can acquire the nationality of Japan.

1. To naturalize, [an alien] must obtain the permission of the Minister of Justice.

Article 4

The Attorney-General [1950] Minister of Justice [1952], unless an alien fulfills the following conditions, cannot permit [the alien's] naturalization.

  1. That one has had a domicile in Japan for five or more years consecutively;
  2. That one is twenty or more years old and has [legal] capacity (能力) under one's home country law;
  3. That one is of good conduct;
  4. That one has sufficient assets and abilities to lead an independent life
  5. That one has no nationality, or stands to lose one's [alien] nationality due to acquisition of Japan's nationality;
  6. That, since the enforcement of the Constitutuion of Japan, one has never plotted, or advocated, the overthrow by violence of the Constitution of Japan or the government established thereunder, or formed, or belonged to, a political party or other organization that has plotted, or advocated, this.

Dual nationality   The 1985 revision merely articulated ongoing policy, as the Ministry of Justice had always tacitly accepted dual nationality when it originated under conditions beyond Japan's control. Having family ties with Japan is an obvious reason for leniency, but "special circumstances" could be anything that moves the Minister of Justice to permit what in fact is not explicitly prohibitted.

Article 5

The Minister of Justice, unless an alien fulfills the following conditions, cannot permit [the alien's] naturalization.

  1. That one has had a domicile in Japan for five or more years consecutively;
  2. That one is twenty or more years old and has [legal] capacity (能力) [1950] capacity to [legally] act (行為能力) [2005] under one's home country law;
  3. That one is of good conduct;
  4. That one is able to lead a life through the assets and abilities of oneself, or of one's spouse or other relatives with whom one shares one's life
  5. That one has no nationality, or stands to lose one's [alien] nationality due to acquisition of Japan's nationality;
  6. That, since the enforcement of the Constitutuion of Japan, one has never plotted, or advocated, the overthrow by violence of the Constitution of Japan or the government established thereunder, or formed, or belonged to, a political party or other organization that has plotted, or advocated, this.

2. The Minister of Justice, in instances in which an alien notwithstanding one's wishes cannot lose one's [alien] nationality, when recognizing that family relations with a Japan national or special circumstances regarding the situation exist, even when the person does not fulfill the condition cited in Item 5 of the previous paragraph, can permit naturalization.

Article 5

Regarding a person who fits one of any of the following items and actually possesses a domicile in Japan, the Attorney-General [1950] Minister of Justice [1952], even when the person does not fulfill the condition cited in Item 1 of the previous article, can permit naturalization.

  1. The husband of a Japanese national, if the husband has had a domicile or residence in Japan consecutively for three or more years;
  2. A child of a former Japanese national (excluding child by adoption), if the child has had a domicile or residence in Japan consecutively for three or more years;
  3. A person born in Japan who has had a domicile or residence in Japan consecutively for three or more years, or who has a father or mother (excluding father and mother by adoption) who was born in Japan;
  4. A person who has had a residence in Japan consecutively for ten years or more.

Article 6

Regarding a person who fits one of any of the following items and actually possesses a domicile in Japan, the Minister of Justice, even when the person does not fulfill the condition cited in Item 1 of the previous article, can permit naturalization.

  1. Note"The husband of a Japanese national" has been upgraded to a lower barrier on a par with "The wife of a Japanese national" (see Article 7).
  2. A child of a former Japanese national (excluding child by adoption), if the child has had a domicile or residence in Japan consecutively for three or more years;
  3. A person born in Japan who has had a domicile or residence in Japan consecutively for three or more years, or who has a father or mother (excluding father and mother by adoption) who was born in Japan;
  4. A person who has had a residence in Japan consecutively for ten years or more.

Article 6

Regarding a person who fits one of any of the following items, the Attorney-General [1950] Minister of Justice [1952], even when the person does not fulfill the condition of Item 1, Item 2, and Item 4 of Article 4, can permit naturalization.

  1. The wife of a Japanese national;
  2. A child (excluding a child by adoption) of a Japanese national, if the child has a domicile in Japan;
  3. A child by adoption of a Japanese national, if the child has had a domicile in Japan for one consecutive year or more and was a minor according to the laws its home country at the time of its adoption;
  4. A person who has lost Japanese nationality (excluding one who has lost Japanese nationality after naturalization in Japan) and has a domicile in Japan;

Equality of sexes   The 1985 revision upgraded the husbands of Japanese women married to aliens to the same level of mitigation as the alien wives of Japanese men. This was done in the name of eliminating all forms of discrimination against Japanese women, which included discriminating against their alien husbands.

Statelessness   The 1985 revision specifically included aliens who were born stateless in Japan in this highest level of mitigation of naturalization conditions. The rationale for this was most likely recognition that a lot of such statelessness had been engendered by the preferential patrilinality in the original 1950 law.

Article 7

Regarding an alien who is the spouse of a Japan national and posssessed a domicile or esidence in Japan for 3 or more consecutive years, the Minister of Justice, even when the person does not fulfill the conditions of Item 1 and Item 2 of Paragraph 1 of Article 5, can permit naturalization. Regarding also an alien who is a spouse of a Japan national and has progressed three years from the day of the marriage, and, has possessed a domicile in Japan for one or more years consecutively, the same applies.

Article 8

Regarding an alien who fits any one of the following items, the Minister of Justice, even when the person does not fulfill the conditions of Item 1, Item 2, and Item 4 of Paragraph 1 of Article 5, can permit naturalization.

  1. A child (excluding a child by adoption) of a Japanese national, if the child has a domicile in Japan;
  2. A child by adoption of a Japanese national, if the child has had a domicile in Japan for one consecutive year or more and was a minor according to the laws its home country at the time of its adoption;
  3. A person who has lost Japanese nationality (excluding one who has lost Japanese nationality after naturalization in Japan) and has a domicile in Japan;
  4. A person who was born in Japan, has had no nationality since one's birth, and has had a domicile in Japan for three consecutive years or more since then.

Article 7

Regarding an alien with special meritorious service to Japan, the Attorney-General [1950] Minister of Justice [1952], notwithstanding the provisions of Article 4, obtaining the approval of the Diet, can permit the [person's] naturalization.

Article 9

Regarding an alien with special meritorious service to Japan, the Minister of Justice, notwithstanding the provisions of Article 5, obtaining the approval of the Diet, can permit the [person's] naturalization.

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Naturalization issues

Naturalization has been a controversial topic in Japan. Some people have criticized the procedures as being unnessarily complicated and laborious. Only a fraction of the information collected by the Ministry of Justice in a typical application is actually used in the approved applicant's family register. Some applicants experience extreme difficulty obtaining from their home country required documents that have no obvious bearing their qualifications, or on the approval or disapproval on their application.

Others criticize some of actual or rumored conditions as being ethnically biased against Koreans in Japan. Not a few journalists and scholars who write about social issues in Japan have maligned the naturalization system as discriminatory.

Some of the following issues are related to these two broad concerns, which are not entire without foundation but require qualification. A few of the issues relate to other concerns.

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Naturalization today

Forthcoming.

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Three choices

An alien who wishes to secure one's legal status in Japan has three choices:

1. Renew a renewable alien status indefinitely

a. Remains an alien and continues to need a sponsor
b. Must petition for permission to change occupation
c. Must apply for permission to extend period of stay
d. Re-entry conditions most restrictive for such aliens
e. Rights of citizenship most restricted for such aliens

2. Obtain status as a permanent resident

a. Remains an alien but no longer needs a sponsor
b. Is free to engage in any employment without permission
c. Has relative but not absolute right-of-abode
d. Re-entry permission more liberal than for other aliens
e. Has access to public housing and some other services
f. May have limited rights of suffrage in some municipalities
g. Is constitutionally not allowed rights of national suffrage

3. Become Japanese

Most aliens who have settled in Japan since World War II, including those from the Republic of China (ROC), the People's Republic of China (PRC), and the Republic of Korea -- and those from Brazil, Peru, the Philippines, Vietnam, and the United States, among many others -- will be candidates for general permanent residency. Obtaining general permanent residence status requires a little less legwork and paperwork than naturalization. Though some individuals are permitted to apply earlier, in principle one must have been domiciled in Japan for at least ten years.

RESUME

Both special and general permanent residents enjoy many of the freedoms of activity and other advantages of nationality. However, neither kind of permanent status permits full (local and national) if even limited (local) suffrage. And many civil service jobs are restricted to Japanese.

However, naturalization conditions are somewhat relaxed for special permanent residents. And in other ways, too, special permanent residents are beginning to be more favorably treated than general permanent residents.

For futher discussion of the development of types of permanent residence status, and trends in permanent residence status, see the articles on permanent residence under Foreigners on the menu to the left.

An alien can apply for naturalization after being domiciled in Japan for five years -- a virtually global standard for well over a century. This basic condition is relaxed or even waived for some applicants.

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Who and where

RESUME

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RESUME EDIT

Discretionary powers

The government has broad discretionary powers when it comes to naturalization. Paragraph 2 of Article 5 in present law expressly allows the Minister of Justice to permit an applicant to retain a foreign nationality and thereby become a dual national when (1) the applicant is unable to renounce the foreign nationality, and (2) special considerations are recognized in the applicant's family relationship with a Japanese national or in other circumstances.

Article 9 of the current law (Article 11 in the 1899 law) allow the Minister of Justice to outright grant nationality to virtually any "alien who has rendered especially meritorious service to Japan" [Nihon ni tokubetsu no koro no aru gaikokujin]. The present law requires approval of the national Diet.

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Post-naturalization names

RESUME

In the past, some applicants have been talked into adopting Yamatoesque names by civil servants who have taken extralegal Ministry of Justice administrative guidelines about post-naturalization names too literally. In fact, no Japanese statute has ever prohibited the adoption of a putatively non-Yamato name, and several family court decisions have permitted the restoration of a Korean, Vietnamese, or other former name the petitioner claimed to have involuntarily lost when naturalizing. Katakana names have also long been acceptable.

However, Koreans and others who seek to naturalize are likely to have had personal, usually family, reasons to legally adopt a Yamatoesque name prior to naturalizing. And they are typically motivated to continue to use this name after becoming Japanese. Those who naturalize into an established family register, as typically happens when the naturalizing alien is married to a Japanese, have no choice but to adopt the family name associated with the register.

Naturalizers are in principle free to choose any name, so long as it consists of a family name followed by a personal name, and is written in standard Japanese script, meaning standard kanji (Sino-Japanese characters) and/or kana (Japanese syllabic script). No law has ever prohibited Chinese, Korean, or other names because of their implicit ethnicity. Standard kanji lists include most kanji that are used in Chinese and Korean surnames and personal names, but the kanji for some common names are not recognized. While any name can be phonologically transliterated into kana, the non-recognition of certain kanji has forced some naturalizing Chinese and Koreans to adopt a new name. Japanese, however, are under the same kanji restrictions when naming their children, or when changing their names through a family court.

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By the numbers

Contrary to rumors, naturalization in Japan has been a comparatively uncomplicated, by-the-numbers bureaucratic procedure. Applications are handled by local legal affairs bureaus (homukyoku). The process begins with a personal interview. Most applicants can prepare the necessary documents within a few weeks or months. The total labor involved might come to only a week but be spread out over several months.

Once all documents have been filed, one simply waits. The whole process will typically take a year or so. Final permission to naturalize is granted by the Minister of Justice, who is legally obliged to announce the decision in Kanpo, the daily register of government business, published since 1883, and known in English as "Official Gazette".

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Procedures

RESUME

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Qualifying, applying, waiting

The essential steps toward being permitted to naturalize involve qualifying for application, applying as directed with some but little allowance for negotiation, then waiting -- for any number of things to happen that alter the course of your application.

Qualifying for application

Most people can safely pre-qualify themselves by simply reading the Nationality Law. It is not difficult to decide which of several prescribed sets of conditions apply in your own case -- so long as you understand the language of the law -- and I would add "in Japanese".

However, not codified in law -- but partly in enforcement regulations and partly in administrative guidelines developed by the Ministry of Justice at its discretion -- are numerous variations in document requirements depending on the applicant's present legal status, family ties, education, occupation, economic situation, physicial and mental condition, and history of misdemeanor or felony offenses, et cetera.

A prospective applicant will generally be screened by a brief an interview -- most likely by phone, sometimes face-to-face -- simply to determine whether the person is qualified to apply.

If apparently qualified, an appointment will be made for a longer face-to-face interview to establish -- using a long checklist -- which of many possible forms and documents are required in the person's case. Checked forms and documents may be further qualified, and requirements not on the list may be added.

The official conducting the interview may have to consult with another official to confirm requirements regarding unusual or unfamiliar matters. At some point the prospective applicant will be left to watch a video about the naturalization process while the official conducting the interview puts together an application kit consisting of copies of required forms to accompany the guild book that the person is given at the outset of the interview.

About two hours later, you will leave the regional Legal Affairs Bureau where all this has taken place -- possibly with an appointment for a first review of complete forms and collected docuuments -- more likely with instructions to call and make an appointment at which time you feel you are ready to begin the process of examining and vetting the application itself.

You will leave with a case number, which you will give, along with your name, calling by phone to make an appointment or to discuss any matter than might come up.

Applying

The actual application process begins when you appear at an appointed time to present completed forms and required documents for examination and vetting -- probably by the same official who conducted the interview, but possibly by a different official. Depending on where you apply, and their staffing, you may deal with from 1 to 2 or 3 case workers, who may somewhat vary in their breadth and depth of experience with naturalization applications.

At this first meeting, the case worker will quickly review each form and document against the checklist. Incomplete or missing items will be noted. Changes in requirements might be made.

If everything is there, and appears to be in good order, a second meeting will be scheduled for a second -- possibly final -- round meeting. Before that meeting convenes, the case worker will vet every detail to make sure the application is complete and complies with expections by the Ministry of Justice officials who will review and approve or disapprove the application. You may recieve a phone can asking you to confirm certain information, or asking you to send or bring additional documents.

If everything is found to be in order by the end of the second vetting session, then you will sign required oaths and your application will be officially accpeted by the regional Legal Affairs Bureau for forwarding to the Ministry of Justice.

Waiting

You will be briefed as to the rules you must following between the time your application is accepted and when it is approved or disapproved. You will need to report any significant changes in your status or situation, or any travel outside Japan. You will also probably be told that it is possible the Ministry of Justice will raise questions, or request documents, not raised or requested by the regional case workers. If so, the regional bureau will contact you.

Otherwise you will simply wait. You will probably be told it may take take a year, give or take a few months. In other words, it will take as long as it takes, and you will wait as long it takes.

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Public announcement and certificate of permission

One day, when you are not thinking about your naturalization application, and may have forgotten that you made, the phone will ring. Someone -- possibly one of your case workers, possibly a staff worker you have met -- will ask you if there have been any changes in your situation. The question is intended to give you an opportunity to share with the regional Legal Affairs Bureau anything that might have a bearing on your application. More likely than not, it is preliminary to informing you that your application has been approved -- in that very day's, or in the previous day's, Kanpō or "Official Gazette". This is daily publication is the formal vehicle for making all manner of government announcements, including promulgations of laws, and reports of legal actions -- such as permitted naturalizations and losses of nationality.

Article 10 in the current Nationality Law (Article 12 in the 1899 law) requires that public notice of permission to naturalize be made in Kanpo, which is published by the National Printing Bureau. The current issue, and recent issues, can be accessed on NPB's website. earlier issues can be examined through on-line databases accessible at larger public libraries. Copies of recent issues can be purchased at a govenment publication center (政府刊行物センター) -- or through another outlet of -- the "Official Gazette Co-operation of Japan" (全国官報販売協同組合).

Practically every issue of Kanpō includes a page or two of fine print listing the addresses, legal names, and birth dates of aliens who have been permitted to naturalize, effective on the date of annoounement in the gazette.

Addresses come first for a number of reasons. Since alien members of the same family, living at the same address, typically naturalize together, their names and birth dates will be listed together, in order of their dates of birth, after their common address.

An applicant's current address denotes the applicant's municipal polity affiliation with Japan as an alien. While the applicant could establish a family register at another address, in the same or in another municipality, he or she will most likely establish a "honseki" (本籍) or "principle domicile register" at an address that is based on his or her present residential address. The honseki address will usually be decided by the time the application is finalized, but a Japanese national is free to change his or her honseki address.

Japanese nationality is essentially territorial, in that it derives from its association with an address in the jurisdiction of a municipal polity within Japan's sovereign dominion. If Japan were for any reason to cede to the Republic of Korea the municipality of Tsushima, which is part of Nagasaki prefecture, unless provisions were made for nationality choices following the territorial transfer, Japanese with honseki in Tsushima would lose the nationality of the predecessor state (Japan) and acquire the nationality of the successor state (ROK).

The same section of Kanpo includes announcements of foreign attorneys permitted to practice law in Japan, and lists of numbers and dates of Japanese passports which have been declared invalid -- among many other notices.

Kanpo is also the public bulletin board on which the Ministry of Justice legally announces the names and last known addresses of Japanese nationals MOJ has attempted but failed to locate regarding their nationality status -- as well as those the Minister of Justice has determined have lost their Japanese nationality in absence, namely those who have failed to respond to attempts to contact them, including notifications in Kanpō.

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Notification and establishment of register

A successful applicant for naturalization receives a notice of permission to naturalize from the Minister of Justice. The municipality in which the applicant is presently registered as a resident also receives a copy of the notice.

The notice authorizes the municipality (city, town, village) to record the applicant in a family register, as a member of the register, which makes the applicant Japanese. However, this cannot be done unless the applicant files a notice of naturalization at the municipal hall.

Article 102-2 of the Family Register Law requires that a person who receives a notice of permission to naturalize file a notification to naturalize within one month of the date of the announcement in the Official Gazette Kanpo. And Article 10, Paragraph 2 of the present Nationality Law provides the permitted acquision of nationality will come into effect from the date the permission to naturalize is publicly announced in the Official Gazette.

In theory, then, an applicant for permission to naturalize acquires Japanese nationality when, pursuant to an issuance by the Ministry of Justice of a notification of permission to naturalize, a public notice of this issuance of permission is made in the Official Gazette. While these are necessary steps in naturalization, attainment of nationality is not fully achieved until an applicant permitted to naturalize files the notification of permission with a municipal registrar and obtains a koseki.

The notification for permission to naturalize is not a certificate of nationality. It cannot be used to obtain a passport or presented in lieu of passport to, say, an official at a port of exit or entry. It means only that the applicant's application for permission to naturalize has been approved. As such it authorizes family register procedures that result in the establishment of a family register.

After establishing a family register, a certified copy of the register can be used to apply for a passport. Japanese national voter rolls, too, are based on residence registration predicated on having a family register.

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Name choices

Much as been said about restrictions on names allowed people who naturalize (see also articles under section on "Names").

In the past, some applicants have been talked into adopting Yamatoesque names by civil servants who have taken extralegal Ministry of Justice administrative guidelines about post-naturalization names a bit too literally. In fact, no Japanese statute has ever prohibited the adoption of a putatively non-Yamato name, and several family court decisions have permitted the restoration of a Korean, Vietnamese, or other former name the petitioner claimed to have involuntarily lost when naturalizing. Katakana names have also long been acceptable.

However, Koreans and others who seek to naturalize are likely to have had personal, usually family, reasons to legally adopt a Yamatoesque name prior to naturalizing. And they are typically motivated to continue to use this name after becoming Japanese. Those who naturalize into an established family register, as typically happens when the naturalizing alien is married to a Japanese, have no choice but to adopt the family name associated with the register.

Naturalizers are in principle free to choose any name, so long as it consists of a family name followed by a personal name, and is written in standard Japanese script, meaning standard kanji (Sino-Japanese characters) and/or kana (Japanese syllabic script). No law has ever prohibited Chinese, Korean, or other names because of their implicit ethnicity. Standard kanji lists include most kanji that are used in Chinese and Korean surnames and personal names, but the kanji for some common names are not recognized.

While any name can be phonologically transliterated into kana, the non-recognition of certain kanji has forced some naturalizing Chinese and Koreans to adopt a new name. Japanese, however, are under the same kanji restrictions when naming their children, or when changing their names through a family court.

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Who qualifies and where one applies

Practically all general and special permanent residents and long-term residents -- and most aliens with visas that allow them to make their living in Japan -- who have shown a commitment to life in Japan -- could naturalize.

Koreans, Chinese, and other nationalities with special (peace-treaty related) permanent residence status would qualify for some degree of simplified (facilitated, eased) naturalization. The government has contemplated revising the Nationality Law to make it even easier for such aliens to become Japanese. There has also been some talk about adopting a provision, now common in European right-of-blood states, that would grant right-of-soil nationality at birth, or at a certain age, to children born in Japan to second generation alien parents. Those who think it important to maintain minority nationalities, however, see such measures as attempts to make Japan seem more homogeneous.

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SPRs and naturalization

Some legislators have wanted to make it possible for aliens who qualify as "Special Permanent Residents" (SPRs) to naturalize by notification -- i.e., allow them to acquire Japanese nationality simply by notifying their desire to be Japanese, and confirming their choice of post-naturalization name and other particulars that need to be recorded on a family register. In other words, a special law would allow them to naturalize as a legal right rather than through application for permission to naturalize.

The strongest objection to the enactment of such a law for SPRs, most of whom are nationals of the Republic of Korea, appears to come from Koreans. Some are opposed because they believe that subjects of Japan's former exterior territories -- Chōsen and Taiwan -- who were living in the prefectural Interior when World War II ended, and remained in Occupied Japan rather than repatriate, and and their lineal descendants still in Japan -- deserve "national treatment" as aliens -- i.e., aliens treated on a par with Japanese with regard to suffrage and other privileges of citizenship.

Some aliens -- and some Japanese as well -- feel that making it too easy for SPRs to become Japanese would undermine the drive for civil rights for other foreigners -- such as suffrage for non-SPR permanent residents.

Still others -- especially those who equate Korean civil nationality (国籍 kokuseki) with Korean "ethnonationality" or "race" (民族 minzoku) -- regard becoming Japanese as a racial betrayal. And they view the idea of offering instant nationality as a ploy to "terminate" the already withering putative "Korean race" in Japan's resident alien statistics.

Special Permanent Residents

Special Permanent Residents (SPRs) are not defined by an alien nationality but by a loss of Japanese nationality due to the effects of the San Francisco Peace Treaty between Japan and the Allied Powers. This originated it is a perpetual right of abode for any alien who satisfies the following conditions.

SALVAGE

Special Permanent Residents are accorded all-but "national treatment" -- i.e., they are treated much more like Japanese than any other classification of alien. However, the SPR status is available only to aliens who qualify under a special immigration control law that as people who lost Japanese nationality on 28 April 1952 as an effect of Japan's loss of Chōsen (Korea) and Taiwan (Formosa) after World War II, and their descendants, if the alien is (1) a person who has continuously resided in Japan since on or before 2 September 1945, the day Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers, or (2) a lineal descendant of such a person, who was born in, and has continuously resided in, Japan. Note Most SPRs are Republic of Korea (ROK) or legacy Chōsen nationals, distantly followed by People's Republic of China and Republic of China (ROC) nationals, and even more distantly followed by nationals of several other states.

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Naturalization statistics

Each local government compiles statistics on the number of registered residents, Japanese and aliens. Japanese figures are based on Japanese in municipal Basic Resident Registers, which for Japanese are based on family registers. Alien figures were based on aliens in municipal Alien Registers from 1947 to 2012, but from 9 July 2012 they have been based on aliens in Basic Resident Registers according to an alien residence control data base maintained by the Immigration Control Bureau.

Only aliens residing in Japan are allowed to naturalize. Hence when an alien becomes Japanese, the person whose status has changes moves from the resident alien record system to the resident Japanese record system. Local population statistics show one less alien resident and one more Japanese resident, and this change is reflected in prefectural and national statistics, which are compiled from municipal statistics.

A Japanese residing anywhere might lose or renounce Japanese nationality and become an alien. A Japanese who becomes an alien in Japan, who acquires an alien status permitting residence in Japan, will similarly move from the resident Japanese record system to the resident alien record system, with the result that there is one less Japanese and one more alien in municipal, prefectural, and national population tallies.

1873-1850 statistics
Naturalization in Japan did not begin until 1899. But from 1873 and until 1899 -- and also from 1899 to 1950 -- alien women could become Japanese through marriage, and alien men could become Japanese "son-in-law adoption" (婿養子 muko yōshi) or as an "incoming husband" (入夫 nyūfu).

Statistics on the numbers of aliens who became Japanese between 1873 and 1899, under the 1873 proclamation on alliances of marriage or adoption between Japanese and aliens, are summarized in International marriages, 1873-1899: Statistics based on Koyama Noboru's 1995 study.

Statistics on the numbers of aliens who became Japanese under the naturalization provisions of the 1899 Nationality Law, or as the spouse of a Japanese under provisions in the law like those in the 1873 proclamation, are summarized in Naturalization under 1899 Nationality Law: And other unnatural means of nationality acquisition.

Statistics from 1950 to present

The 1950 Nationality Law, following contemporary international trends in nationality law, and reflecting the revisions in Japan's family laws made under the 1947 Constitution, did away with nationality acquired through (derived from) an alliance of marriage or adoption. Since 1950, most aliens who have become Japanese have done so through naturalization.

Statistics on the numbers of aliens who became Japanese under the naturalization provisions of the 1950 Nationality Law are summarized in Naturalization under the 1950 Nationality Law: Closing the gap between social and national experience and identity.

Trends through 2013

As of the end of 2013, some 511,769 aliens had been permitted to naturalize since 1950. During the same period, some 58,499 applications were not permitted, for an overall non-permission or "rejection" rate of about 10.26 percent.

The number of annual permissions broke above the 10,000 level in 1993, peaked at 17,633 in 2003, and in 2013 they broke below the 10,000 level to 8,646.

Both the number of unpermitted applications, and the non-permission rate, dramatically fell from highs of 3,000 and 50 percent in the late 1950s, to a low of 90 and 0.59 percent in 1997. Since then, both have climbed to a recent high in 2012 of 457 unpermitted applications and a rejection rate of about 4.12 percent.

Sources of naturalization statistics

The Ministry of Justice annually reports the number of naturalization applications permitted, the number not permitted, and the number accepted. They do not add up because applications made in one year may not be decided until the next year or possibly later. publishes naturalization statistics based on The source of naturalization statistics The most authoritative naturalization data is based on Kanpō announcements, as they start the timer which ticks off the month within which applicants permitted to naturalize must file a notification of naturalization with a municipal hall in order to complete the naturalization process and become Japanese.

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Paralegal services

There is a growing industry of paralegal services to assist applicants in collecting the required documents and translating foreign language material into Japanese. Rates vary from 100,000 to one-million yen, depending on complications. Naturalization will increase as more aliens resolve their own ambivalence about race and nationality, and as they discover that the rumors about unusual difficulty and discrimination are mostly exaggerated or false.

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My own naturalization

I had considered naturalizating in the late 1980s, after my children were able to acquire Japanese nationality. Several friends of different nationalities had naturalized, and I had collected their documents and stories.

In 1999, thinking it might be a good way to start the new millennium, I finally got around to making an appointment at the local legal affairs bureau. I underwent a qualification interview to determine what I needed to do, as requirements depend on an applicant's personal and family circumstances. I collected the documents and completed the forms as instructed. But I didn't file the papers. Uncertainties concerning the health of my parents in California, and longer re-entry permits for permanent residents, persuaded me to wait awhile. Were I to lose my U.S. citizenship, and have to spend more than a few weeks in the United States, I'd be better off with a U.S. passport and permanent residence in Japan. I also realized that, in my heart of hearts, I really wanted to be stateless -- liberated from the notion that I belonged to country.

In the fall of 2011 -- my mother gone and my father going, and the Immigration Bureau about to centralize the overseeing of resident aliens entirely under its authority -- I decided to pick up the phone and make another appointment with the local legal affairs bureau. I completed the required paperwork and filed my application by the end of the year, and 6 months later I had a family register, on 4 July 2012 I picked up my Japanese passport.

The office had been entirely renovated, and the director and case handlers -- national civil servants who experience periodic transfers -- were all new to me. I thought one of the female staff members might be an older carnation of the woman who provided me with some documents and a cup of tea the first time I was there, but I couldn't be sure and didn't ask how long she'd been there.

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Early attitudes (1975-1988)

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Vicarious experiences

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Trial run (1999)

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For the record (2011-2012)

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Application and approval

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Legal Affairs Bureau guidance

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City hall reception

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Passport Center reception

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American Consulate reception

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Dual nationality

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