Statelessness in Japan

De jure, de facto, and political lack of nationality

By William Wetherall

First posted 10 March 2006
Last updated 28 February 2018

Statelessness Catheryn Seckler-Hudson on statelessness Cable Act and statelessness in Japan Kinds of statelessness
Statelessness in Japan Registration and status Unregistered children 1915 Family Register Law 1948 Family Register Law Article 110
Dual statelessness Half stateless Kathleen Tamagawa Fully stateless Edith Sebald Ri Kaisei on Chosen-seki of Chosenese in Japan Sources
Related article Treaties concerning statelessness
Related article Rees v. State, 1992-1995


"Statelessness" represents the thorniest issue in nationality law, as attempts to prevent it strike at the core of "nationality" as a province of state sovereignty. Few people insist that dual nationality is right -- except, possibly, for children born to parents of different nationality. Human rightists would rank "the right to a nationality" at the top of their list of nationality issues. Yet few states have fallen in line to protocols and conventions of the League of Nations, and later the United Nations, to prevent statelessness.

In this article, I will describe different kinds of statelessness with a focus on Japan. This will mainly be an exercise in understanding the ways in which statelessness occurs and its effects on individuals who are born or become stateless. I will also present a few anecdotes from biographies of people who have experienced one or another kind of statelessness.

First, though, I will look at an important early early work on statelessness, which concerns mainly the United States, but at time refers to Japan.

Keep in mind that, while some international covenants concern nationality, and while conventions of international law may govern the determination of a person's effective nationality when determining which nation's laws apply in a case involving private matters, a state's nationality laws are in principle domestic laws, and a sovereign state is free to decide the conditions of acquisition and loss of its nationality as it likes. While domestically all nationalities are different, internationally they are identical as statuses signifying a person's state affiliation.


Catheryn Seckler-Hudson on statelessness

Before discussing types of statelessness, it is worth looking what Catheryn Seckler-Hudson (1902-1963), a political scientist, wrote about statelessness in 1934. In the 1920s and 1930s, statelessness and dual nationality were the main nationality issues in comparative domestic law -- for both issues generally arise in conflicts between the domestic laws of different states.

Child born outside United States to former US citizen

Seckler-Hudson collates the minutiae of dozens of nationality laws from countries around the world in her seminal work on statelessness. In her chapter on statelessness among minors, she explores the hypothetical situation of the citizenship of a child born outside the United States, whose father had lost his US citizenship before the child's birth (Seckler-Hudson 1934, page 209).

. . . if, before the birth of the child, the father in any way expatriates himself the child is not born an American citizen. That is, a stateless father, formerly an American citizen, cannot invest his foreign-born child with citizenship of the United States. In such a case the parent's loss of nationality effects the child. And, if born in a land where the principle of jus sanguinis is exclusively followed, the child is stateless. In 1929 the states whose nationality laws were based solely on jus sanguinis were Austria, China, Danzig, Esthonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Monaco, Netherlands, Poland, Roumania, Russia, Kingdom of the Serbs-Croats-Slovens, and Switzerland.

Japan's Nationality Law not purely jus sanguinis

However, Japan's 1899 Nationality Law was not purely jus sanguinis. It also provided that a child born in Japan, either to stateless parents or to unknown parents, was Japanese. Therefore, if the mother of the child in Seckler-Hudson's example was stateless, the child, if born in Japan, would have become Japanese.

How to eliminate statelessness

In her conclusion, Seckler-Hudson suggests ways statelessness could be eliminated. She was opposed to the idea of stateless persons continuing to reside in the United States indefinitely. Either they be required to return to their country of former allegiance -- if they have one and "if that country can be persuaded to receive them" -- and goes on to make this recommendation (Seckler-Hudson 1934, page 265).

Where such resumption of former allegiance fails, some provision should be made by which those who are desirable could readily acquire a nationality if they remain here. [Note 15] It seems reasonable that when such persons have established permanent residence in this country and desire to become citizens and assume the incidents thereof, they might be issued certificates of nationality granting them governmental protection until they can become fully naturalized. The benefits of the certificates should extend also to the stateless children of these stateless parents. Such individuals would, in effect, be nationals but not citizens of this country. The provision might be added that these persons should become entitled progressively to the privileges of full citizenship. "It is plainly too generous to give an individual, who was yesterday a foreigner, upon the morrow of his naturalization every right of a citizen such as natives have enjoyed from their birth." [Note 16]

Note 15   See Valery, supra, p. 987, where he goes so far as to say: "Every individual who cannot claim a country of his own must accept the nationality of the country in which he resides." [supra refers to "Valéry, Jules, "The World War and Its Effect on Future Private International Law," Harvard Law Review, Vol. 31 (1917-1918), pp. 980-1010, 1064-1088."

Note 16Ibid., p. 989.

While Seckler-Hudson stopped short of advocating that nationality be forced on individuals who cannot claim a country of their own, she was nonetheless inspired by Valery's idea of not conferring outright "citizenship" on foreigners.

Statelessness and race

Seckler-Hudson touched upon the question of people like Hidemitsu Toyota. In 1921, Toyota was issued a certificate of citizenship by the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, only to have the same court later rule that the certificate was invalid. A Circuit Court of Appeals referred the case to the Supreme Court, and in 1925 the Supreme Court agreed that the certificate of citizenship would have to be cancelled because US law did not permit Toyota to naturalize -- notwithstanding his long service in the US Coast Guard, including service during the World War.

See Toyota v US, 1925: Citizenship certificate of U.S. Coast Guard veteran canceled for the Supreme Court decision.

Unfortunately, Seckler-Hudson does not explore the extent to which racism in America's nationality laws contributed to statelessness.

Statelessness and immigration quotas

Seckler-Hudson did, however, make an interesting observation about statelessness and immigration quotas, citing this comment by the Earl of Desart, made during a meeting of Great Britain's Parliamentary Joint Committee on Nationality of Married Women in 1923 (Seckler-Hudson 1934, page 86).

She could not be excluded from the quota of any particular nationality if she was of no nationality. There is no quota at all for a Stateless person as such.

The case under discussion was that of a British woman who had married an American citizen in England. He had returned to America and was waiting for her there. Her attempt to land in the United States was opposed by immigration officials because she was stateless. She had lost her British nationality by reason of her marriage to an American.


Cable Act and statelessness in Japan

In 1922, the United States enacted a law called the Cable Act -- which, among other things, allowed a woman to keep her US citizenship unless she married an alien ineligible to citizenship.

Some nationality scholars have speculated that the Cable Act and Japan's Nationality Law might have conspired to cause a Japanese woman who married an American man to become stateless. Catheryn Seckler-Hudson, in Statelessness (Washington, D.C.: Digest Press, 1934), made the following statement (Seckler-Hudson 1934, page 79).

The extent to which such statelessness could arise at the date of the passage of the Cable Act of 1922 is strikingly shown in the nationality laws of at least twenty-four countries which provided that a woman citizen who marries a foreigner loses her own citizenship and acquires that of her husband.

Seckler-Hudson included Japan in her list and cited "Japan: Law No. 27, Mar. 15, 1916, Art. 18" its footnote.

However, the 1916 revision of Article 18 of the 1899 Nationality Law provided that

When a Japanese (日本人 Nihonjin) has become the wife of an alien and has gained the husband's nationality she will lose the nationality of Japan.

In fact, the article was specifically revised to prevent a Japanese woman from losing her nationality in the event she did not gain her husband's nationality.

Seckler-Hudson's phrasing is, in any event, odd. While a state can cause its own nationals to lose its nationality, it cannot cause them to either lose or gain the nationality of another state. The wording of Article 18 of Japan's 1899 law clearly reflects this understanding that Japan's Nationality Law only effects Japanese nationality.

1957 UN Convention on the Nationality of Married Women

Seckler-Hudson's 1934 book begins with a chapter on statelessness resulting from marriage. She was then an academic supporter of the comparatively unpopular movement to protect the rights of married women to retain, renounce, or otherwise have the same options as men did regarding changes of nationality, particularly in international marriages.

This issue failed to get sufficient support within the League of Nations. The United Nations was finally able to adopt a convention its Convention on the Nationality of Married Women on 20 February 1957. The convention gained enough signatures to enter into force on 11 August 1958 in accordance with Article 6 of the convention. However, as of this writing over half a century later (2014), only 74 states -- mostly minor countries -- have become parties to the convention, including the 29 that have signed it.

Japan is not a part to the convention, nor need it be. When enacting its current Nationality Law in 1950, Japan eliminated all provisions for nationality changes in marriages between Japanese and aliens, which had been in its nationality laws since 1873. These provision essentially mirrored provisions for family register migration in marriages between Japanese nationals. By the 1950s, many States, like Japan, had already put men and men on an equal footing when it came to the effects of marriage on nationality, hence like Japan had no reason to join the 1957 convention.

See Derivative nationality for a closer look at the origin and end of acquisition of Japanese nationality through marriage, and the text of the 1957 Convention on the Nationality of Married Women.


Kinds of statelessness

Two kinds of statelessness are generally recognized. One is absolute or "de jure": a person has no nationality. The other is relative or "de facto": a person has a nationality, but it is not recognized, or his or her child is unable to acquire it.

A third kind -- which I call "political statelessness" -- has both de jure and de facto elements. I contrived this category to explain the legacy status of aliens in Japan who not legally stateless but are classified as affiliated with either (1) an entity that Japan does not recognize as a state, such as the Republic of China or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or (2) a "fictive" state such as "Chōsen", a territory that was supposed to revert to being the state of "Korea" -- which never materialized (see below).

De jure and de facto statelessness

Japan's Nationality Law has always prevented statelessness in the rare case of a child born in Japan to de jure stateless or unknown parents. Unfortunately, the law has never been revised to prevent statelessness in the more common case of a child born in Japan to de facto stateless parents.

One of the court cases that challenged the constitutionality of the 1950 Nationality Law in the late 1970s involved a child who had become stateless because both its parents, who were married to each other, were de facto stateless. The mother was Japanese, but the 1950 law recognized matrilineal acquisition of nationality only if the mother was unmarried, hence the mother was de facto stateless. And the father, though an American, was also de facto stateless.

The father was born de jure stateless in China and raised and educated in Japan. He later naturalized in the United States, but returned to Japan before he had lived in the US long enough for him to qualify as a source of US nationality for a foreign-born child. Had the 1950 law contained a default provision like the one made in the 1963 revision to Germany's law, the child could have become Japanese through its mother. As it was, the child became de jure stateless. The ambilineal 1985 law eliminated this loophole from Japan's side and permitted the child to obtain Japanese nationality retroactively through its mother.

Today, most cases of statelessness in Japan involve the Japan-born children of non-Japanese women, most of whom are from other Asian countries. The mothers are not necessarily single, and the fathers are not necessarily unknown. Some children become stateless through no fault of any state's nationality law, but as a result of their parents not registering them because the parents are illegal aliens and do not wish to expose themselves to authorities. Or a single mother may try to confirm her child's nationality at a consulate of her country of nationality but find that it questions her passport.

Children abandoned by unknown parents, or born to stateless parents, become Japanese by right-of-soil. Just as race does not matter when becoming Japanese through right-of-blood (kinship), it is not a factor in right-of-soil (place of birth) cases. If only one parent is known, and if that parent is a non-stateless alien, and the child is unable to obtain that parent's nationality, the child will be treated as a stateless alien.

Statelessness is a legal status that results from registration as a person with no nationality. Because stateless people are not Japanese, they are classified and treated as aliens. But stateless people affiliated with Japan are de facto permanent residents who are free to travel abroad and return to Japan on the strength of a transit permit. Unlike stateless people, who are formally recognized and have certain legal privileges, some people in Japan, mostly children, have never been registered and hence have no legal standing. Most such people eventually acquire status, as foreign nationals or stateless aliens, or as Japanese.

Registration, or the acquisition of legal status, is essential to formal existence in Japan. Even a child born in Japan to Japanese parents does not automatically acquire status as a Japanese national when born. If the parents fail to register the child's birth in a timely manner, it can end up stateless. The parents of such a child could petition a court to confirm its eligibility for Japanese nationality and permit late registration, but they would have to prove kinship and show cause for their failure to register. Otherwise the child could be registered as a stateless alien. Totally undocumented older children and adults, too, would be registered as stateless unless they were able to prove probable kinship to a Japanese national and gain judicial sympathy for their plight.

Regardless of where it was born, a stateless or other non-Japanese child of a Japanese national, who for various reasons was not registered as Japanese at birth, may be eligible for Japanese nationality through legitimation, if its parents marry and recognize it before it turns 20. If 20 or older, such a person would have to naturalize to become Japanese.

Posthumous statelessness

Nationality laws are not known to extend to the next world, but nationality can be resurrected. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a number of Japanese were abducted to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Soga Hitomi, one of the five who returned to Japan in 2002, petitioned a Sado court to order her name reinstated in her family register. In 1986, the court had allowed her father to declare her missing and presumed dead, along with her mother, who had disappeared with her while they were shopping. As both were legally deceased, the family held a funeral. The mother remains missing.

The other four abductees consisted of two couples who had been dating each other in Japan. DPRK gave them Korean names and married them under DPRK law, which allows spouses to go by their different Korean surnames. The couples then had children, who went by their father's Korean surname. Back in Japan, and using their Japanese names, the couples married under Japanese law, which requires spouses to be in the same family register and share its name. Though the children had remained in DPRK, their births were recorded with Japanese personal names in their parents' family registers. The children were given Japanese passports en route to Japan, where they are now living under their Japanese names.

Japan took the position that the abductees and their children were victims of circumstances that justified mitigation. The children were able to acquire status as Japanese because the delays in registering their births had been beyond their parents' control. The state used its discretionary powers to part its own bureaucratic waters. Had the children's parents gone to DPRK and stayed there on their own accord, and simply ignored Japanese law, the Ministry of Justice would have allowed the children to enter Japan but would probably have treated them as virtual stateless aliens and expected them to naturalize if they wanted to be Japanese.

Political statelessness

When World War II ended in the Asia and the Pacific in 1945, Japan lost Taiwan, Karafuto, and Chōsen, which had been intergral parts of its sovereign dominion since respectively 1895, 1905, and 1910.


Japan surrendered Taiwan to the Republic of China, which Japan was forced to recognize on account of its defeat by the Allied Powers, which included ROC. Japan had invaded parts of China in 1937 and forced the government of ROC to flee to an inland province, and in 1940 Japan established ties with a government it helped set up in lieu of the ROC government. This arrangement ended when Japan surrendered, and ROC regained control of China, including also Manchuria, which had not been part of Japan but was umbillically (politically, economically, and militarily) linked with the Empire of Japan.


Karafuto had become a prefecture in 1943, but most of its Japanese residents were evacuated when the Soviet Union invaded and captured the prefectural territory at the end of the war. Most family registers were also evacuated, and evacuated Karafutoans continued to be Japanese by transfering their registers to the municipalities where they resettled in other prefectures.


Chōsen had resulted from the "union" of the Empire of Korea and the Empire of Japan, in the form an annexation, which resulted in the Empire of Korea becoming the Japanese territory of Chōsen. However, because Korea no longer existed, Chōsen was surrendered by halves to the Soviet Union in the north and the United States in the south.

The two Allied states were supposed to facilitate the setting up of a new Korean state to assume control of Chōsen, but instead two states were formed that immediately claimed the entire peninsula and contested each other's claims. The so-called "Korean" (Chōsen) war of 1950-1953 prevented the formal retrocession of Chōsen to "Korea" -- and also prevented fulling the terms of surrender signed in 1945, according to which "in due course Korea [Chōsen] shall become free and independent".

The Peace Treaty Japan signed with Allied Powers in San Francisco in 1951, which came into force in 1952, could stipulate only that Japan had renounced all claims to "Korea" (Chōsen). Japan and the Republic of Korea attempted, but failed, to normalize their relationship in negotiations that took place from 1951-1952. And in 1952, when Japan formally lost Chōsen, Chosenese in Japan -- who at the time were Japanese -- lost Japan's nationality and became aliens of "Chōsen" nationality -- Chōseki (朝鮮籍) -- indicating that they were members of household registers in the former Japanese territory of "Chōsen". They were not classified as "stateless". When losing Japan's nationality, they became the fictive (deemed, presumed) "nationals" of the "state" that "Chōsen" was supposed to become -- had there been an entity legally competent to be recognized as a "state" with control and jurisdiction over the peninsular territory which Japan had forefeited.

From 1965, after Japan and ROK finally normalized their relationship, Chosenese aliens in Japan -- practically all of whom had registers south of the 38th parallel hence under ROK control -- gradually migrated to ROK status through applications processed by ROK representatives in Japan. Even those with registers in the northern part of the peninsula under DPRK control could migrate by declaring their allegiance to ROK and establishing their registers in ROK.

Other Chosenese became Japanese, or migrated to the nationality of a recognized foreign state. But for various reasons, not necessarily (but mainly it seems) out of a sense of ideological loyalty toward DPRK, remained Chosenese.

The roughly 600,000 Chosenese who remained in Japan when the Occupation ended in 1952 gradually shrank, mainly due to naturalization and death, and intermarriage with Japanese, which resulted in children being Japanese. Today, as of this writing (2018), only about 300,000 ROK nationals represent the remnants of the original post-Occupation population of Chosenese in Japan who lost Japan's nationality. The nominal Chosenese population now numbers only about 30,000. Both populations are shrinking so quickly that the post-war "residual Chosenese" population in Japan will be practically extinct 30 years from now.

But -- to make this long story short -- the 30,000 Chosenese in Japan today represent a "politically stateless" population. On paper, they are not stateless. They are affiliated with the "fictive" state of "Chōsen" -- a former Japanese territory which has no state. Their status is a legal contrivance or convenience -- a limbo status -- a place to park them until which time they either migrate to an actual, recognized nationality or die.

Some Chosenese have obtained documents certifying that they are "citizens" of DPRK, but Japan does not recognize DPRK, hence does not treat them as having DPRK nationality. On the other hand, Japan has admitted a few DPRK citizens who have arrived from DPRK, usually through a 3rd country, and counts them as aliens. They are not members of the legacy "Chōsen" population, but in most statistics they are conflated with the "Chōsen-seki" cohort. They, too, are "politically stateless" but the same reason that ROC nationals are politically stateless.

Should Japan and DPRK normalize their relationship, Chosenese who have been aligning themselves with DPRK would stand to be recognized as DPRK nationals by Japan so long as they formally migrated to DPRK nationality. Chosenese who wished to remain Chosenese would continue to be classified as "Chōsen-seki" unless other provisions were made for their classification.

Most likely Japan would use "Chōsen" as label for DPRK, since the "Korea" and "K" in its name are actually "Chōsen and "C". This would require creating a new label for "Chosenese" who wished to remain, for whatever reason, unaffiliated with either ROK or DPRK. Japan's policy -- from the beginning of its negotions with ROK in 1951 -- has been not to force a choice. And in fact there are no legal means with which a choice could be forced.


Okinawa was invaded and captured by U.S. forces during the last year of the Pacific War and not returned to Japan until 1972. During this period, Okinawans (Ryukyuans), meaning people in Okinawa (Ryukyu) household registers, were not legally Japanese. But since Japan retained "residual sovereignty" over the territory, people affiliated with the territory retained "residual Japanese nationality" -- the terms I prefer to describe their status of the territory and its affiliated people.

Okinawa was not included in Japanese statistics during the period that Ryukyu was administered by the United States. And Okinawans were not included in Japan's population during this period. Ryukyu reverted to Japan as Okinawa, and Ryukyuans become legally Japanese, on 15 May 1972.

During their years under U.S. administration, Ryukyuans were simply Ryukyuans. They were not Japanese, much less Americans. Had the United States chosen to claim the islands as a U.S. territory, then Ryukyuans would have become U.S. nationals -- not citizens. They would have been issued U.S. passports, showing that they possessed U.S. nationality.

During the years of U.S. administration, Okinawans came to Japan, and Japanese went to Okinawa, using transit permits, which made them subject to treatment as quasi-aliens. However, a Ryukyuan who had reason to migrate to Japan was able to transfer his or her household register from Ryukyu to a municipality in Japan, whereupon he or she became Japanese. Ryukyuans who wished to become Japanese did not have to naturalize. Moreover, there were agencies that facilitated private matters -- family law, for example, including household registration -- between Ryukyu and Japan.

Mandated territories

Native inhabitants of mandated or trust territories -- such as (1) the former German South Sea Islands when they became part of Japan's legal (but not sovereign) dominion after World War I, and (2) Okinawa when the United Nations mandated its administration to the United States after World War II -- do not acquire the nationality of the mandatory state that provides them with protection. They acquire the state's nationality only if the state makes special provisions for their voluntary naturalization.

Inhabitants of the South Sea Islands, when under Japanese Administration, were subject to Japanese authority but were not subjects of Japan. They did not acquire Japanese nationality, unlike Taiwanese, Chosenese, and Karafutoans, who became Japanese nationals when the territories they inhabited became part of Japan.

The difference in nationality treatment has mainly to do with differences in how new territories and their native populations are integrated into a state's legal dominion -- namely, whether a territory becomes part of the state's sovereign dominion, is part of a leased or mandated territory.

Ceded territories

Inhabitants of ceded territories generally do not become stateless. Treaties in which one state agrees to cede part of its territory to another state, generally have provisions for continuing or changing of nationality. This was the case when China ceded Taiwan to Japan in 1895, and when Russia ceded Karafuto to Japan in 1905.

The 1910 treaty between Japan and Korea, which resulted in Japan's annexation of Korea, did not have specific provisions for nationality continuation or change, but Japan's immediate territorialization of Korea as Chōsen implied that everyone in Chōsen registers would be regarded as possessing Japanese rather than Korean nationality, for two reasons -- (1) Korea had ceased to exist, hence there could be no Korean nationality, and (2) Japan's nationality is essentially predicated on membership in a household register affiliated with Japan's sovereign territory, which now included Chōsen. The same territorial logic that had applied to Taiwan and Karafuto applied to Chōsen.

American right-of-blood rules

The United States observes place-of-birth rules for children born within its jurisdiction, except for the offspring of parents who are residing in its jurisdiction with statuses that qualify them for diplomatic immunity. For children born to American citizens in foreign jurisdictions, U.S. nationality -- whether that of a citizen or national -- is based on lineage.

Lineage qualified by residence

There are, however, wrinkles in the right-of-blood rules for acquiring U.S. nationality through birth overseas to and American parent. The American parent must have resided in the United States for a certain period of time, part of which has to have been after turning 14 -- i.e., after childhood, during adolescence or later. In other words, lineage alone is not enough. The blood connection is qualified by residence. The residency conditions have been relaxed over the decades, resulting in less statelessness in the case of children born overseas to Americans who may not have been born and raised in the United States, but they still exist, and some circumstances of birth overseas to an American parent may still result in statelessness.

Between 23 December 1952 and 13 November 1986, a child born abroad to US citizen parents qualified for right-of-blood US citizenship at birth if one of the parents had resided in the United States for any period of time before the child's birth. I call this the "one foot" rule.

However, when only one parent was a US citizen, the child qualified for right-of-blood citizenship only if the American parent had lived in the United States for 10 years prior to the child's birth, five of which had to have been after the age of 14. I call this the "10-5" rule.

There were other wrinkles too. A child born out of wedlock to a US citizen mother qualified for right-of-blood US citizenship if the mother had resided in the United States for at least one year any time before the child's birth. But a child born out of wedlock to a US citizen father could gain US citizenship only if recognized by the father (legitimated) before turning 21.

Since 14 November 1986, a child born overseas to one US citizen parent will qualify for US citizenship at birth if the citizen parent has resided in the US for five years before the child's birth, including at least two years after the age of 14. This I call the "5-2" rule.


Though people serving overseas in the military were treated as though they were living in the United States, still there were people in the military and civilian corps who did not qualify as right-of-blood sources of US citizenship.

Japan's Nationality Law still applied to Okinawa for the purpose of determining who qualified as members of Okinawan family registers. At the time the law was matrilineal for unmarried women but patrilineal for married women.

Children of unwed Okinawan women became Okinawan (by virtue of qualifying as a member their mother's family register) regardless of the nationality of the father. But children of married Okinawan women became Okinawan (or Japanese) only if their father was Okinawan (or Japanese).

The matrilineal hole in Japan's law, and the residency requirement in the US law, conspired against a child born to an Okinawan women who had married an American soldier who had been dispatched to Okinawa during his late teens, and fathered a child before he was 19.

But there were wrinkles within the wrinkles. Statelessness also ocrurred if the American father, of any age, had never lived at least five years in the United States after turning 14 -- as a U.S. citizen. The father could have been living in the United States as an alien for many years, then naturalized, and fathered a child overseas before he had lived in the United States at least 5 years after naturalization. This was, in fact, the situation of the stateless child-plaintiff in the nationality case being tried with the nationality case of my daughter, who was not stateless, in the late 1970s and early 1980s (see Sugiyama v. State for details).

Some, perhaps most, of the stateless people in Okinawa were offspring of American servicemen and non-American women in Okinawa. Since Okinawa was not part of America's sovereign domain, America's right-of-soil nationality principle did not operate there. However, the islands were considered part of American territory for the purposes of determining US residency requirements of the American parents or parent of a child born in Okinawa.

Registration essential

Birth-right U.S. nationality is proven by a birth certificate showing birth in the United States, or by both a birth certificate showing birth to a U.S. citizen or national in another country and recognition by the American mother and/or father whose name or names appear on the birth certificate. The difference is that, when born in the United States, one becomes an American regardless of the nationality statuses of ones parents, whereas birth overseas also requires recognition.

Generally, the parents of children born in the United States need to file a birth certificate with the registrar of the municipality or county in which the child is born. Filing the certificate results in it being officially recorded. When required to prove their U.S. nationality, people born in the United States generally obtain a certified copy of their recorded birth certificate. Failure to record the birth certificate will generally result in difficulty obtaining a U.S. passport or otherwise ones status as a U.S. citizen or national.

An American parent of a child born outside the United States is supposed to register a child's birth at a U.S. Consulate, by filing a copy of the local birth certificate with statements that affirm recognition of the child, and thereby obtain a consular birth certificate. A consular birth certificate serves the same purpose as a birth certificate issued by a state or county of a state in the United States. Foreign-born children of Americans who have failed to register their child's birth for the purpose of obtaining a consular birth certificate, will encounter considerable difficulty proving their U.S. status, especially if the their American mother and/or father is deceased or missing, or is otherwise unable or unwilling to file documents proving the child's birth overseas to an American.

Certifiable legal existence

In the sense that U.S. nationality is ultimately proven by a birth certificate properly recorded in a U.S. territory at a U.S. consulate, the links between birth registration and nationality in the United States and Japan are not that different.

Nationality is therefore never truly automatic. It obtains, when and where it obtains, through bureaucratic procedure in compliance with laws. In other words, it is always predicated by certifiable legal existence.


Countries vary in whether they their rules for expatriating nationals who acquired their nationality through birth. Some don't do not allow born nationals to lose their nationality (Uruguay). Most permit renunciation if a national has another nationality (Japan).

Nationality acquired later in life is more fragile. Extended residence abroad may result in involuntary expatriation of naturalized citizens (Uruguay). Claiming to reside in the country while actually domiciled abroad may result in loss of nationality acquired through naturalization Canada). If such people had lost their original nationality when naturalizing, they would become stateless.


Statelessness in Japan

All three of the kinds of statelessness described above -- De jure, de facto, and political statelessness -- exist in Japan. The most important kind, since 1952, has been "political statelessness", and today such statelessness characterizes the legal statuses of a few thousand aliens who are classified as "Chōsen seki" -- i.e., they are deemed to be nationals of the fictive state of "Chōsen" -- referring to the former Japanese territory of "Chōsen" after Japan relinquished its claims of sovereignty over the peninsula in 1945 and 1952, under the terms of surrender to the Allied Powers at the end of World War II in 1945, and under the terms of the Peace Treaty signed with the Allied Powers in 1951 effective from 1952. On the day the terms of the treaty came into effect, Japan formally lost Chōsen, and because Japan's nationality is territorial, Chōsenese -- meaning people in Chōsen territorial registers -- lost Japan's nationality. At the time, there were roughly 600,000 Chosenese in Japan. Since 1965, when Japan normalized its relations with the Republic of Korea in the south of Chōsen, most Chosenese have migrated to ROK nationality. However, several thousand -- including descendants born and raised in Japan -- remain in former Chōsen registers, for a variety of reasons that need not concern us here.


Keep in mind that "statelessness" in Japan is possible only if one has a legal status in Japan. Determination of a person's nationality -- whether the person has or hasn't a nationality -- can only be made when the person's existence in Japan is known in the eyes of the law. Some people in Japan -- not many, perhaps several hundred, mostly children, but a few adults -- have no legal existence. They are not recorded in any municipal and/or immigration records. Most were born in Japan but remain unregistered. A few snuck into the country but remain unknown to authorities.

In other words, nationality becomes an issue only when one legally exists. The issue of nationality may cease to exist when a person dies, thought one's nationality at time of death generally has consequences for the status of the person's property, and for the nationality(or lack of nationality) of an expected unborn child.


How statelessness arises in Japan

There are fewer than 600 stateless people in Japan as of this writing (2018).

From 1947 to 1971, the number of stateless people in Japan varied between 500 and 1,000. In 1972, the number jumped to over 9,000, in the wake of Japan's change of its "China recognition" from the Republic of China (ROC) to the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the reversion of Okinawa to Japan that year. Most of the increase resulted from the temporary statelessness of ROC nationals who renounced their ROC status shortly before the switch in recognition. Part of the increase relected the addition to Japan's population of the population of Okinawa, which included comparatively more stateless aliens on account of the manner in which status laws operated in the Ryukyus when under U.S. administration.

The suddenly high 1972 stateless figures quickly dropped as most of the stateless aliens naturalized in Japan or migrated to another nationality. By 1975 the number of stateless aliens had fallen below 3,000 and by 1983 the stateless count was below 2,000. It was under 1,500 by 1990 but began to rise again and was over 2,000 during the late 1990s. In 2001, it again fell below 2,000, and was down to 1,100 in 2011, the year before the Japanese government changed the system for keeping track of aliens in Japan and tabulating them by status of residence, nationality, age, and otherwise.

The sudden fall from 1,100 in 2011 to 746 in 2012 may reflect the transfer of alien registration jurisdiction from local governments (municipalities) to the national government (Immigration Control Bureau). It may also signify a rush on the part of a significant number of stateless aliens to acquire a nationality. However, I suspect the former.

In any event, as the number of aliens in Japan has climbed, the number of stateless aliens has fallen. Today about 500 of Japan's 2,000,000 aliens are de jure stateless. There are no statistics on the causes of their statelessness, but I suspect that most were born in Japan to non-stateless parents but were unable to acquire the nationality of either parent.

1984 stateless figures

Alien registration breakdowns for 1984, the year the Nationality Law was revised (effective from 1985), there were 2,168 stateless aliens in Japan, of whom 629 (29.0 percent) were permanent residents, 275 (12.7 percent) were spouses of Japanese, and 347 (16.0 percent) were classified "other" -- meaningly mainly holders of the 126-2-6 (Potsdam law) status provided for Chosenese and Taiwanese who lost Japan's nationality in 1952. Agewise, the largest cohorts were early and late 30s (born in late 1940s and early 1950s), and late 50s and early 60s (born in 1920s).

2015 stateless figures

Resident alien statistics for 2015 show 573 stateless aliens, including 175 (30.5 percent) permanent residents, 53 (9.2 percent) spouses of Japanese, and 110 (19.2 percent) special permanent residents. The latter are remants of the former 126-2-6 status and other statuses provided for people who lost Japan's nationality in 1952 owing to the effects of the territorial loses stipulated in the terms of the Peace Treaty, or their Japan-born and Japan-raised descendants. Agewise, the larger numbers of children 0-4, compared with older children, suggests temporary statelessness. There are slightly larger numbers of stateless people in their 20s, and more strikingly larger numbers of stateless people in their 60s. The latter peak appears to reflect the peak for people in their 30s in the 1984 figures.

1984 Nationality Law revisions

When considering the revisions that were made in the Nationality Law in 1984, which became effective from 1985, lawmakers deliberated including a provision that would give nationality to any child who would become stateless. This idea was rejected on the grounds that it might result in children of temporary stayers becoming Japanese. Instead, naturalization conditions were considerably relaxed for people who were born stateless in Japan.

Statelessness is a very unusual condition and rarely occurs. There are, however, a number of situations in which it can and does occur.

Statelessness in Japan (including Okinawa)

The following table summarizes the ways in which nationality is obtained in Japan, whether under Japanese law or the law of another state. Keep in mind that a sovereign state's nationality is exclusively governed by the state's laws. Hence Japan's nationality is controlled by Japan's laws, and the nationalities of other states are controlled by the laws of those states.

How statelessness arises in Japan

The following table shows how statelessness in Japan depends as much on "holes" in the laws of other states as in Japan's laws governing nationality. It also illustrates the ease with which all states, including Japan, could eliminate all stateless at time of birth simply by providing that any child born in Japan to any parent(s) is Japanese if one of the parents is Japanese, and that children of alien parents become Japanese if for any reason they are ineligible for their mother's and/or father's alien nationality.

Child's status by statuses of parents
Parent's statuses Child's status
Jus soli (through birth in Japan)
Essentially "customary" before 1899 Nationality Law
Codified in 1899 and 1950 nationality laws
Both parents unknown, child born in Japan Japanese
"Both parents unknown" implies that neither of the child's parents can be found or otherwise confirmed as its parents. The mother is most likely to be known. But if the child has been abandoned, and the mother cannot be found for the purpose of maternal recognition (ditto for the father), the child will usually be treated as a foundling and be registered as a Japanese national -- if rumored or thought that the mother and/or father might be an alien. A family court will usually confirm the particulars and order the government of the municipality in which the child has been found to create a family register for the child.
Child born in Japan, neither parent known Japanese
Child born in Japan, both parents stateless Japanese

These two provisions were intended to guarantee that a child born in Japan would not be stateless. In a sense, they imply that every child born in Japan is by default Japanese -- unless (1) one or the other parent is known, and (2) the known parent has a nationality of a country that recognizes the child as eligible for its nationality through the parent, including a Japanese parent.

Though not specifically covered by the Nationality Law, presumably a child born in Japan to an unmarried stateless alien mother and an unknown father would also stand to be recognized as Japanese. If not, the child would be recognized as a stateless person born in Japan, which would give the child a right of abode in Japan.

Matrilineal jus sanguinis (through Japanese mother)
Essentially "customary" before 1899 Nationality Law
Codified in 1899 Nationality Law
Codified in 1950 Nationality Law through 1984
Ambilineal jus sanguinis (through Japanese mother or Japanese father)
Codified in 1950 Nationality Law from 1985
Mother Japanese, father unknown
(Mother not married)
Mother Japanese, father stateless alien
(Mother married to stateless alien)
If born before 1985
1. Japanese if father stateless
2. Alien if father non-stateless alien
2a. Father's nationality if eligible
2b. Stateless if ineligible
If born after 1984
Japanese regardless of husband's status

The distinction between a stateless and non-stateless father assured that a child born to a Japanese woman married to an alien would not become stateless or acquire more than one nationality. In a sense, a child of a Japanese woman was by default Japanese -- unless she was both married and her husband had a nationality (including possibly Japanese nationality). If her husband had a nationality, ordinarily his home country nationality law (like Japan's Nationality Law) would recognize his legitimate child as eligible for its nationality.

Note that Japanese family law regards a woman's husband as the presumptive father of any child she bears. Father unknown thus implies that the mother is not married, hence the child has no presumptive father. Since legally there is no husband, no assumption can be made that the child would be eligible for the nationality of his country of nationality -- even if the woman acknowledged that the biological father was an alien with a nationality (i.e., a non-stateless alien). Therefore, the child had to be recognized as Japanese.

In other words, a woman's child was assumed to belong to her nationality unless she was married, in which case the child belonged to its father's nationality. This meant that a child born to a married Japanese woman would be (1) Japanese if its father was Japanese, (2) alien if he was alien, (3) Japanese if he was stateless, and (4) stateless if he had an alien nationality for which the child was ineligible. Making such distinctions became moot when the 1950 Nationality Law became amibilineal from 1985.

Patrilineal jus sanguinis (through Japanese father)
Essentially "customary" before 1899 Nationality Law
Codified in 1899 Nationality Law
Codified in 1950 Nationality Law through 1984
Ambilineal jus sanguinis (through Japanese mother or Japanese father)
Codified in 1950 Nationality Law from 1985
Father Japanese, mother Japanese
(Neither parent married to an alien)
1. Japanese
1a. If parents are married to each other
child will be registered in parents' register
and both parents will have parental rights
1b. If mother is unmarried
child will be registered in her register
and she will have parental rights;
if father files acknowledgement notification
his name will be noted in child's register
and child's and mother's names
will be noted in his register
1c. If mother is married to another man
(or if she has divorced another man
within 300 days of child's birth)
her husband (former-husband) will be viewed as
the child's presumptive father
and the child will be registered in
their register if married (hers if divorced)
2. Alien if born in another country but
birth not reported to Japanese authority
for recording in Japanese household register
2a. Nationality of country of birth if eligible
2b. Stateless if ineligible

A child eligible for Japanese nationality through a Japanese parent or parents is considered Japanese through birth if a parent or other legally qualified person files a valid birth notification in a timely manner. The child is then entered in its Japanese parent or parents' family register. Failure to file a valid birth notification within the period of time determined by law (within 14 days if born in Japan, and now within 3 months if born outside Japan) risks forfeiting the child's so-called "birthright" nationality

"Birthright" nationality is nationality acquired at time of birth through so-called "automatic operation" of the governing nationality law. The nationality is not "permitted" by discretionary authority but "authorized" by the law itself. However, no law operates in a bureaucratic vacuum. Birthright nationality always requires a certain amount of documentation, and the documents must be vetted and validated by competent authorities.

People born in the United States are generally considered to be U.S. citizens through the effects of jus soli birthright nationality. But when necessary to prove their U.S. status -- such as when applying for a passport for the first time -- they will need a valid birth certificate to prove their "right" to U.S. nationality. People born outside the United States to a U.S. citizen/national may qualify for jus sanguinis birthright nationality, but they will need a Consular Report of Birth Abroad -- which will not be easy to obtain if not secured for them at a U.S. consulate at the time of their birth by their citizen/national parent or parents. The catch is that not all U.S. citizen/nationals qualify as sources of birthright jus sanguinis U.S. nationality -- which means that some children born overseas to a U.S. national may not be unable to obtain U.S. nationality, and will be stateless if ineligible for the nationality of the country in which they were born or the nationality of a third state.

Father Japanese, mother alien 1. Japanese if parents married
2. Japanese if parents not married but child recognized by father
 a. at time of birth
   (essentially always possible)
 b. after birth if minor under home country law
   (1899-1950, 1899 Nationality Law)
 c. not possible under 1950 Nationality Law
   until revisions effective from 1985
 d. after birth but before turning 20
   if child legitimated by marriage
   (1985-2008, 1950 Nationality Law)
 e. after birth but before turning 20
   even if child not legitimated
   (since 2009, 1950 Nationality Law)
3. Alien if parents not married and child not recognized by father
3a. Mother's nationality if eligible
3b. Stateless if ineligible

Recognition by its Japanese father at time of birth has always enabled a child to be Japanese through birth.

The 1899 Nationality Law, and customary law before it, allowed an alien child of a Japanese man to become Japanese later in life through paternal recognition or adoption.

The 1950 Nationality Law did away with nationality through adoption. It allowed an alien child of a Japanese parent to acquire Japanese nationality through parental (maternal or paternal) recognition if before the child turned 20, after which the child had to naturalize. However, the 1950 law imposed a "legitimation" requirement on the recognizing parent -- i.e., the recognizing Japanese parent had to marry the recognizing alien parent.

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the legitimation requirement was unconstitutional, and since 2009 alien children have been able to acquire Japanese nationality through parental (maternal or paternal) recognition before turning 20. If 20 or older, they must naturalize.

Both parents aliens
Mother alien, father alien Nationality generally acquired through parents' home country laws.
1. Stateless if the child is unable to acquire an alien nationality.
2. Japanese if born in Japan and both parents are stateless.
Adoption, acknowledgement, and legitimation
Mother and/or father Japanese 1. Under 1899 Nationality Law
 a. Alien child could become Japanese
   through paternal or maternal adoption
 b. Alien child of Japanese
   could become Japanese through
   paternal or maternal acknowledgement
   if minor under home country law
2. Under 1950 Nationality Law
   Nationality through adoption not possible
3. Under 1950 Nationality Law until 1985
   Nationality through recognition not possible
4. Under 1950 Nationality from 1985 to 2008
   Minor alien child of Japanese
   could become Japanese through
   paternal or maternal recognition
   if legitimated through marriage between
   recognizing Japanese parent and alien parent
5. Under 1950 Nationality Law since 2009
   Minor alien child of Japanese
   can become Japanese through
   paternal or maternal recognition alone
   without legitimation through marriage

Though not acquired at time of birth, such later in life acquisition of Japanese nationality recognized maternal as well as paternal bonds -- though some more restrictions were placed on both recognition by and of females. For example, an alien son -- but not an alien daughter -- could become Japanese through parental recognition even if married to an alien. Presumably, after the son became Japanese, his alien wife could become Japanese through her marriage to him. Moreover, if both parents of a minor alien child simultaneously acknowledged the child, the father had to be Japanese.

Unregistered children
Birth notification not filed Unregistered child, neither Japanese nor alien

A child born in Japan does not exist in the eyes of the law until it acquires a legal status, whether as a Japanese or as an alien. Its status cannot be determined until its birth is reported and the conditions of its birth are assessed.

Once an unregistered child becomes known to authorities, efforts will be made to determine the particulars of the child's birth for the purpose of determining its eligibility for Japanese nationality. In the meantime, the child exists only as "a child without a register" (無戸籍児 mu-koseki-ji < koseki no nai ko). The designation regardless of age is "person with a register" (無戸籍者 mu-koseki-mono < koseki no nai mono).

Birth notification filed late 1. Japanese if an official or court determines that
child was eligible for birthright Japanese nationality
and permit it to be entered in household register
2. Alien if an official or court determines that
child was not eligible for birthright nationality
2a. Nationality of alien parent if eligible
2b. Stateless if ineligible

If eligible for jus sanguinis birthright nationality, the child will be entered in the household register of its Japanese parents or parent. If eligible for jus soli nationality, it will be entered in a newly established register.

Japan has no say in another country's nationality. Hence whether a person it determines to be an alien is a national of another country, or is stateless, is entirely up to the endeavors of the person. However, should a person born in Japan become stateless in Japan, Japan will generally guarantee the person's right to return to Japan in order for the person to be able to travel to another country, and otherwise treat the person as though he or she has a right of abode in Japan.


Registration and legal existence

Some people refer to someone who doesn't have a family register in Japan as "stateless", but whether or not one has a nationality is secondary to the question of whether one legally exists. For the the question of nationality can only arise when a person has a legal existence -- when ones presence in Japan is known to officials responsible for legally accounting for everyone in Japan. For most people (Japan-resident Japanese and aliens), this means legally existing as a resident of a municipality. For others (mainly non-resident Japanese and aliens), it means existing as a sojourner.

But there are people in Japan whose presence in the country is not known to authorities. These include people who were born in Japan but whose births have never been registered, hence they do not acquire any status. They also include aliens who sneak into the country and remain undetected, aliens who overstay their legally permitted stays and change their names and addresses in order to evade attempts to find them, and even Japanese who disappear by assuming new identities that remain undetected.

Here I wish to deal mainly with people who, from birth, remain unregistered for a significant period of time. They are not "stateless" (mukokuseki 無国籍) but "registerless" (museki 無籍). In most cases, such people stand to be Japanese if a family court recognizes that, under the Nationality Law, they would have been recognized as Japanese at the time of their birth if their births had been registered. This includes unregistered people who a court determines were born to a Japanese parent (right of blood), or to stateless alien parents (right of soil), or to unknown parents (right of soil).


Reasons children go unregistered

Children's birth go unregistered (unreported, unnotified), with the result that the child fails to gain a legal status as a Japanese or alien, for many reasons.

  1. Parents may refuse to file a birth notification (出生届書 shussei todokesho, 出生届 shussei todoke) because of religious or other beliefs.
  2. The mother may not herself have a household register (戸籍 koseki), and hence there is no principal domicile register (本籍 honseki) register in which to record the child.
  3. The mother delivers the child at home or elsewhere, other than at a hospital or clinic, without the assistance of a physician, midwife, or other person who is authorized to issue her a birth certificate (出生証明書 shussei sōmeisho), without which she cannot file a birth notification.
  4. The mother delivers a child at a hospital or clinic, but in order to avoid paying the delivery fees, she runs off with her child before obtaining a birth certificate.
  5. Parents on the run for whatever reason, who have avoided completing local resident registration procedures, are not apt to expose themselves by registering a child, which would then be subject to residence registration at the parents' address. This would be doubly true for aliens who have overstayed their status of residence and gone underground.
  6. Parents are unaware of the legal requirement to file a birth notification in order to obtain a status for their child, whether as a Japanese national or alien.
  7. Parents are aware of the legal requirement to file birth notification but don't file because they believe it costs money, and they don't have or want to spend to the money. Or filing takes time and they can't or don't want to take the time. Or traveling to a government office (municipal hall or consulate) may take more money or time than they have or want to spend.
  8. Parents plan to file a birth notification but their circumstances make timely filing or late but not excessively late filing difficult or impossible -- illness, remoteness from a government office (municipal hall or consulate), an accident or natural disaster, civil disturbance, or even a war that makes travel or communication with a government office difficult or impossible -- and the like.
  9. Parents attempt to file a birth notification with birth certificate, in a timely manner, but are told by officials that their documents are not in order -- some vital information, or the signature of the delivering physician or other witness, is missing. And rather than expedite corrections, they procrastinate, the days, months, and even years go by, and the child remains unregistered.
  10. The parents file a birth notification form with a birth certificate issued in another country, but the certificate is not accepted. Perhaps the registrar is unable to ascertain its validity. Or perhaps, as in some cases, it is evident that the child was delivered by a surrogate mother, which under Japanese law disqualifies the Japanese mother as the child's biological mother.
  11. The mother divorced within 300 days before the child's birth and its father is not her former husband, who Japanese family law regards as the presumptive father. The mother doesn't want the child to be registered as his, but she can't or doesn't wish to obtain his cooperation in procedures to establish that he is not the child's biological father. So she intentionally avoids filing a birth notification. In the meantime, she may have married or plan to marry the child's father, who may recognize the child but, because of the 300-day provision in the Civil Code, cannot be regarded as the child's father without the cooperation of the mother's former husband.

All of the above cases are rare, but some are more likely than others.

Practically all people in Japan become aware of bureaucratic routines. Expectant parents generally receive plenty of guidance, from their own parents or through brochures and other sources of information available at hospitals and municipal halls, regarding the formalities of birth registration. Consequently, for most parents, obtaining a birth certificate, and filing a birth notification are extremely easy matters.

Alien parents, who have not settled in Japan or otherwise acquired basic knowledge about bureaucratic procedures, may be more apt than Japanese to be unaware of the 14-day filing requirement, or attempt to file incomplete documents. But this writer has known some Japanese, younger and older, who have had to resubmit some kind of official notification because they overlooked a couple of details, on account of not carefully reading instructions regarding the completion of forms or of failing to take the details seriously.

The filing period for overseas registration used to be only 14 days, and in those days there were few mentions in travel guides for the need to file documents at a Japanese consulate in lieu of filing in Japan. Consequently, some Japanese couples -- like one who wrote my then wife during our nationality law suit in the late 1970s and early 1980s -- discovered to their dismay, when returning to Japan with their American-born daughter, that she had to enter Japan as an alien, and would not be recognized as Japanese. Their second daughter was born in Japan, but because their first daughter hadn't (and couldn't) be registered in their family register, their second daughter appeared in the register as their only child and 1st daughter. Their older daughter was registered as an alien in the city's alien register. School officials were puzzled by the younger sister's status as the 1st daughter and the older sister's alien status. The parents gave up trying to explain the problem. By the time they wrote the letter to us, they had settled in the United States and naturalized there.

Slightly late registrations, while not common, are easily accommodated without too much difficulty. The municipal office has the authority to overlook justifiable lateness. Other cases will be referred to family courts, which will review the circumstances, but generally won't deprive a child of a birthright status simply because its parents were ignorant of or derelict in their legal responsibilities.


1915 Family Registration Law

The 1915 Family Registration Law -- Law No. 26 of 31 March 1914, effective from 1 January 1915) -- in concert with the contemporary Civil Code -- made the following provisions for changing the locality of ones domicile register, and for establishing a domicile register. These earlier laws were replaced by the postwar Civil Code and Family Registration Law, both promulgated in 1947 and enforced from 1 January 1948 (see next).

Article 158 in Section 19 (Transfer of registers and establishment of registers) in Chapter 4 (Notifications) of the 1915 law made the following provision for changing one's domicile address (translation and underscoring mine).

第百五十八条   転籍セント欲スルトキハ新本籍ヲ届書ニ記載シ戸主其旨ヲ届出ツルコトヲ要ス
 2 他ノ市町村ニ転籍スル場合ニ於テハ戸籍ノ謄本ヲ届書ニ添附スルコトヲ要ス
Article 158   When [one] wishes to transfer [one's] [domicile] register [one] needs to record the new domicile register [address] on the notification form and the head of household needs to notify (give notice) to that purport (effect).
 2. In the event [one wishes] to transfer [one's] [domicile] register to another city, town, or village (municipality) one needs to attach a certified copy of [one's] family register to the notification form.

Structurally the 1915 and 1948 articles are identical. Wording and orthography somewhat differ, but the basic phrasing is identical. The only outstanding difference in their content is the change from head of household in the older law to the person recorded at the head of the family register and [the person's] spouse in the newer law.

This change reflected the fact that the postwar reforms in family law, under the 1947 Constitution, did away with the authoritarian family system in which the "head of household" -- essentially the "president and CEO" of a "corporate family" and usually a male -- could dictate the fate of other members in the family. The postwar Constitution placed family members -- at least adults -- on an equal legal footing. The listing of one of the members at the head of register became a matter of "someone has to be listed first" and no longer implied special powers. Because by law a husband and wife share the same register, both are now expected to agree to a notification to change the register address -- even though, with respect to their residence registration, they might be separated and living at different addresses, both other than at the original domicile address.

Article 160 of the 1915 law made the following provision for establishing a register (my translation and underscoring).

第百六十条   本籍ヲ有セサル者ハ其就籍セント欲スル地ヲ管轄スル区裁判所ノ許可ヲ得テ十日内ニ就籍ノ届出ヲ為スコトヲ要ス
 2 届書ニハ第十八条ニ掲ケタル事項ノ外就籍許可ノ年月日ヲ記載スルコトヲ要ス
Article 160   A person who does not possess a domicile register needs to obtain the permission of the regional court which has jurisdiction over the locality in which [the person] wishes to establish one's register, and effect a notification of establishing a register within 10 days.
 2. On the notification form in addition to the matters (items, particulars) listed in Article 18 [the notifier] needs to record the year, month, and day (date) of the permission to establish a register.

Again, apart from the differences in legalese, the provisions are structurally very similar. Content wise, the specification of the court of jurisdiction is generalized, as there were no family courts until 1948. Such courts, originally called "Kaji saibansho" (家事審判所) or "Family affairs courts), were renamed "Katei saibansho" (家庭裁判所) or "Family courts" in 1949 when subsuming the "Shōnen shinpansho" (少年審判所) or "Juvenile courts". The family courts are intended to support regional district courts by handling mostly routine family registration issues, and divorce and other family issue counseling, in addition to determining the fate of juvenile offenders who, if adults, would be tried and sentenced in district and higher courts.

Article 162 of the 1915 Family Register Law provides that, when the person who obtains a hearing for permission to establish a register is unable to effect a notification for the establishment of a register, the head of household needs to effect it.


1948 Family Register Law

The postwar Family Register Law (戸籍法 Kosekihō) -- promulgated as Law No. 224 of 22 December 1947 and enforced from 1 January 1948 -- made provisions both for late registration and for persons who do not have a principal register, in the following two articles.

Article 46, in Chapter 1: Notifications, Section 1: General Rules (第四章:届出、第一節:通則 Dai-4-shō: Todokede, Dai-1-setsu: Tsūsoku), obliges local mayors to accept notifications even when submitted late -- assuming they are otherwise in order (translation mine).

第四十六条   届出期間が経過した後の届出であつても、市町村長は、これを受理しなければならない。
Article 46   Even if a notification [is made] after the notification period has passed, the city-town-village head [municipal mayor] must accept it.

Article 108 in Section 16: Transfer of registers and establishment of registers (第十六節:転籍及び就籍 Dai-16-setsu: Tenseki oyobi shūseki) of the same chapter, allows the head of a household register to transfer the register to another domicile address, thus establishing a new domicile address, whether in the same municipality, or in another municipality, possibly in another prefecture, within Japan's sovereign dominion. Article 110, in the same section, obliges a person who should but does not have a principal (domicile) register, to obtain permission from a family court to establish such a register, and to effect the notification of permission in a timely manner (translation mine).

第百八条   転籍をしようとするときは、新本籍を届書に記載して、戸籍の筆頭に記載した者及びその配偶者が、その旨を届け出なければならない。
 2 他の市町村に転籍をする場合には、戸籍の謄本を届書に添附しなければならない。
Article 108   When [one] attempts to effect a transfer of [one's] [domicile] register, [one] must record a new domicile register [address] on the notification form, and the person recorded at the head of the family register and [the person's] spouse, must notify (give notice) to that purport (effect).
 2. In the event of effecting a transfer of register to another city, town, or village (municipality), [the notifier] must attach a certified copy of the register to the notification form.

Paragraph 2 of Article 108 is extremely important, in that it reflects the essential territoriality of domicile (household, family) registers within Japan's sovereign dominion. Domicile registers represent demographic territories within a local municipality, the smallest polity entity (discounting sub-municipal administrative entities, such as police districts and neighborhood associations). Population registers are under municipal control and jurisdiction, hence a municipal hall would have its own registers -- but not those other municipalities -- on file.

第百十条   本籍を有しない者は、家庭裁判所の許可を得て、許可の日から十日以内に就籍の届出をしなければならない。
 2 届書には、第十三条に掲げる事項の外、就籍許可の年月日を記載しなければならない。
Article 110   A person who does not possess a domicile register (本籍 honseki) must receive the permission of a family court, and effect a notification to establish a register within 10 days of the permission.
 2. On the notification form, in addition to the matters (items, particulars) listed in Article 13, [the notifier] must record the year, month, and day (date) of the permission to establish a register.

Article 13 requires that all domicile registers record the following items of information (my translation).

一 氏名
二 出生の年月日
三 戸籍に入つた原因及び年月日
四 実父母の氏名及び実父母との続柄
五 養子であるときは、
六 夫婦については、
七 他の戸籍から入つた者については、
八 その他法務省令で定める事項
1. Name
2. Date [year, month, and day] of birth
3. Cause and date of entry in [family] register
4. Names of actual parents [father and mother]
    and relationships with actual parents
5. When an adopted child,
    the names of adoptive parents
    and relationships with adoptive parents
6. For a husband or wife,
    a statement of [whether] husband or wife
7. For a person entered from another register,
    an indication of [a reference to] the register
8. Other matters determined by
    Ministry of Justice ordinances

Articles 46 and 110 of the Family Register Law provide two ways for resolving the status problem of a person who does not have a family register (無戸籍者 mu-koseki-sha). Such a person is assumed to be a person who should have a family register -- i.e., a person who warrants status as a national of Japan, but for some reason does not have a register.

Under Article 46, a municipal registrar can accept and act upon a late notification it considers valid -- including a birth notification. Under Article 110, however, a person who should but doesn't have a register -- or presumably a legal guardian -- has to petition a family court for permission to establish a register, and the municipality is subject to the court's decision.

People who need permission to establish a register on account of not having one may complete a "Petition for permission to establish a register" (就籍許可の申立書 Shūseki kyoka mo mōshitate sho). After receiving the court's permission, the petitioner files a "Notification for establishing a register form" (就籍届書 Shūseki todokesho) at the municipal hall of the municipality having jurisdiction over the address the notifier wishes to establish as his or her principal domicile address (本籍地 honsekichi). If the notification is in order, the municipal registrar makes the person a new register in accordance with the court's instructions.


Causes for invoking Article 110

Article 110 can be invoked in a number of situations, not limited to those in which the petitioner has never had -- or doesn't somewhere have -- a register. The person's register may have existed but been lost. Or the person's register may still exist but no longer be within Japan's sovereign territory. In either case, the register is not actionable, hence the person has to be treated as someone who doesn't have register.

Despite the best efforts to safeguard public records, registers can be lost in natural disasters, such as the 11 March 2011 tsunami that destroyed the municipal halls of a few local governments. Local governments made every effort to restore their family register records from backup copies, but inevitably some registers were overlooked, so some people had to apply for permission to establish a new register.

Postwar register transfers and establishments

Registers were also lost during World War II, after which some people had to apply for permission to have new registers made for them. The better known cases involve people whose principal registers had been in Karafuto (Sakhalin), which had become a Japanese territory in 1905 and a prefecture in1 1943, and from the Chishima (Kuril) islands, which had been part of Hokkaido since 1875. Both Karafuto and the Chishimas were invaded and occupied by the Soviet Union in the days immediately before Japan's agreement to cease fire on 15 August 1945. Japan formally and most generally surrendered on 2 September 1945, though some territories were not actually surrendered until later.

Most Karafuto and Chishima inhabitants were evacuated to the territories in advance of, or during, the Soviet invasions. As many records as possible were also evacuated, but some registers were lost.

While Japan lost Karafuto and the Chishima islands (including the contested "Northern Territories" of Southern Chishima), people who had registers in these territories -- unlike those who had registers in Taiwan (Formosa) or Chōsen (Korea) -- did not lose their Japanese nationality. Hence people with Karafuto or Chishima registers, who had settled or been evacuated or later repatriated to the smaller "Japan" created by the Allied Powers under the terms of surrender in 1945, were able to either transfer their registers to, or have new registers made in, their new localities.

Note that Karafuto and the Chishimas, while separated from "Japan" as redefined by the Allied Powers, were not formally lost to Japan until the terms of the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect on 28 April 1952. Though Japan had lost control and jurisdiction of these territories in 1945, they continued to be formally part of Japan's sovereign dominion until the enforcement of the treaty. And so until 27 April 1952, Karafuto and Chishima evacuees -- at least those whose registers had been evacuated -- could simply transfer their register under Article 46 of the postwar Family Register Law, enforced from 1 January 1948. After the peace treaty came into force, however, they had to petition a family court under Article 110.

These matters are described in the following paper by Kamazawa University legalist Uno Eiichirō (宇野栄一郎).


Uno Eiichirō
Shūseki kyoka tetsuzuki ni kan suru sho-mondai
[Various problems concerning procedures for establishing registers]
Komazawa Daigaku Hōgaku Bu kenkyū kiyō
[Komazawa University Faculty of Law research bulletin] < Journal of The Faculty of Law of the Komazawa University >
Number 25, March 1967
Pages 114-122

Petitioning a family court

Local officials and courts are alert for the possibility of double registration, where a child or adult has already been registered somewhere but the register can't be confirmed. The man in the 1984-1988 amnesia case presumably had a register, and authorities seem to have exhausted all practical means of learning enough about him locate his register and thereby confirm his identity. Precisely because authorities couldn't link him with a register, the court ruled to create a new one for him. And the moment it was created, the discrepancy between Japan's registered population and its actual population increased by one. In principle, double registration is illegal, but the amnesia case clearly shows that authorities are willing to accept double registration when unavoidable.

A valid birth certificate continues to be valid after the period for filing a birth notification has passed. So long as a parent or another person authorized to file a notification does so, and the documents themselves are in order, authorities will generally be lenient in cases of late registration.

More serious problems arise when a parent or other person authorized to file a birth notification is not available, or is unwilling or unable to do the leg work -- as in the case of Koseki Keiko, who had to do her leg work to resolve her lack of registration in 1966 (see Koseki Keiko above).

The list of those authorized to file such a birth notification naturally does not include the person concerned -- the person who was born. Koseki Keiko's adoptive father may or may not have qualified as a legal guardian for the purpose of filing a late birth notification on her behalf. Possibly he didn't have copies of a birth certificate or other documents that would have corroborated the particulars of her birth. That would not have been unusual in her case.

I have no idea what actually happened in Koseki's case -- legally. I get the impression that it was not possible to invoke Article 108. Possibly even Article 110 did not apply in her case -- since, according to her own testimony, she did her own leg work -- while she was still a minor -- but reportedly through a local Legal Affairs Bureau, not a family court -- and clearly with some help from influential adults.

In any event, the man would be named "Shimaura Ichirō" was allowed to directly petition the family court having jurisdiction in the region in which his amnesia became a case.

Accordingly, he filed a petition a family court for permission to establish a register, in what then becomes a "Permission to establish a register petition case" (就籍許可申立事件 Shūseki kyoka mōshitate jiken). See 1987-1988 jus soli ruling for details.


Dual statelessness

I am using the term "dual statelessness" somewhat jokingly. Literally, and most narrowly, it means the possession of none of the nationalities of the states with which one is potentially affiliated through the circumstances of ones birth -- ones mother's nationalities, one father's nationalities, and the nationality of ones country of birth. Most broadly, and more playfully, it means the possession of fewer than the number of potential birth-right nationalities, owing to the ways that nationality laws conspire to prevent multiple nationality.

Today, as more states accept multiple nationality -- tacitly or passively, if not positively -- and as more children are born under circumstances that favor aquiring two or more nationalities -- dual nationality is becoming fairly common, and people with three and even more nationalities are increading.

The children of a friend are Japanese (Japan), French (Franc), and Burkinese (Burkina Faso), through their mother (Japanese) and father (French Burkinese). Today, possessing all the nationalities of their parents is advantages to traveling with their parents, whose jobs result in them being posted in various countries other than their countries of nationality. Whether the children will be able to maintain all three nationalities as adults -- or whether maintenance of all three nationalities will continue to be adventageous -- remains to be seen.

But there are also children who might be dual or triple nationals, but are stateless because of the failure of applicable nationality laws to cover the circumstances of their birth. For example, a child born in Japan to an ROK-national mother and a U.S.-citizen father, who for any reason was unable to acquire ROK and/or U.S. nationality, and was unable to acquire Japanese nationality, would be triply stateless.


Half stateless Kathleen Tamagawa (1893-1979)

In her autobiography, Holy Prayers in a Horse's Ear (New York: Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, 1932), Kathleen Tamagawa (1893-1979) -- and her husband, Francis Reed Eldridge (b1889), who contributed the final chapter -- dramatize what it was like to be what I would call "half stateless" -- meaning to have the nationality of one parent's country but not of the other.

Tamagawa's book is an expansion on the statement she makes at the very outset about the nature of her existence (Tamagawa 1932, pages 1-2, ellipses in original).

The trouble with me is my ancestry. I really should not have been born; as a matter of fact half of my world declares I never was born. They say, that I am the non-existent daughter of my parents, that I am not their lineal descendant. No, I am not illegitimate, but just an outlawed product of a legal marriage.

Her husband, Francis Eldridge, wastes no time in rising to the bait toward the end of the book (Tamagawa 1932, page 260).

I have the most unique wife in the world. After sixteen years of sober married existence I suddenly learn that she is only half my wife. The other half of her I am not only not married to at all, but it really doesn't exist.

Eldridge then remarks on the queer laws that account for his wife's half existence (Tamagawa 1932, pages 260-261, ellipses mine).

The facts are these. My wife's father is a Japanese subject. He married my wife's mother in the United States, she being a British subject. My wife was born in the United States. That makes her an American citizen, I hear you say. True. However, she went to Japan as a minor and wishing to keep her American citizenship, registered at the American consulate in Yokohama when she became of age. I know she did, because I was the consular officer who performed that service for her. Her father, however, never registered her birth at the Japanese registration office. Therefore so far as her Japanese parentage is concerned she does not exist. Legally her father had no children in the eyes of Japanese law. Yet under American law my wife is his legal child.

They say that under international law if a cat had kittens in an oven they would legally be biscuits. . . .

Kathleen Tamagawa in official records

Various official American records show some interesting changes in how Kathleen Tamagawa represented herself, or was represented by others ([bracketed] information mine).

25 November 1911 Certificate of Registration of American Citizen Yokohama
Kathleen A.T. [Adams Tamagawa] Sanzo

16 November 1912 Certificate of Marriage / American Consular Service Yokohama
Kathleen Adams Sanzo

March 1920U.S. Census Maryland, Montgomery County
Kathleen A. Eldridge
"Color or race" classification "Jp" [Japanese]

Husband "Francis R. Jr." is "W" [white]. Son "Francis R. 3rd" and daughter daughter "Kathleen A. Jr." are "Jp" -- apparently corrected from "W".

1 September 1921 U.S. Passport Application Washington, D.C.
Kathleen Eldridge

Passport application on "Form for Native Citizen" shows residence in Tacoma Park, Maryland. Applicant stated she had resided outside the United States, in Yokohama, Japan, from January 1907 to June 1915.

April 1930 U.S. Census Washington, D.C.
Cathleen Eldridge
"Color or race" classification "W" [white]

Everyone else in family also "W". 1st born 1st son listed but 2nd born 1st daughter not listed. 3rd born 2nd daughter Karin, 4th born 2nd son Richard A., and 5th born 3rd daughter Patricia D. listed.

April 1940 U.S. Census Maryland, Montgomery County
Kathleen T [Tamagawa] Eldridge
"Color or race" classification "W" [white]

Everyone else in family also "W". 2nd born 1st daughter not listed. Other 4 children listed.

See Bibliography on Steamyeast site for an overview of what Marie Ann Wunsch writes about Tamagawa in her doctoral dissertation, Walls of Jade on "Images of Men, Women, and Family in Second Generation Asian-American Fiction and Autobiography" (University of Hawaii, 1977).


Fully stateless Edith Sebald (1902-1981)

Unlike Kathleen Tamagawa, Edith Frances Sebald (1902-1981) -- the daughter of Kobayashi Beika (1863-1929), formerly Joseph Ernest De Becker -- became stateless, apparently as a result of her marriage to William Joseph Sebald (1901-1980).

Edith was born in Yokohama on 7 August 1902 to Kobayashi Beika, the name Joseph De Becker took when, as a British subject, he became Japanese through his marriage on 29 July 1891 to her mother, Kobayashi Ei, a Kanagawa woman. Since her father was Japanese, Edith became Japanese from birth.

An American Consular Service Certificate of Marriage shows that on 12 May 1927 "Edith Francis Kobayashi (de Becker)" -- a "Citizen / Subject" of Japan -- married William Joseph Sebald -- a "Citizen" / Subject" of the United States of America -- at the American Consulate in Kobe. The Kobayashis (De Beckers) were living in Kobe, and Sebald, a U.S. Navy Japanese language officer based in Tokyo, often came to Kobe.

The following year, Sebald returned to the United States, taking Edith with him, to study law. Edith's father died in 1929, but in 1933 Sebald and Edith returned to Japan, where Sebald took over the operation of his father-in-law's law firm and carried on his Japanese law translation projects.

However, as tensions between Japan and the United States increased in the late 1930s, Sebald was accused of spying on Japanese naval operations, and he and Edith were forced to leave Japan. They arrived in San Francisco on 29 June 1939.

The passenger manifest of the S.S. President Coolidge shows Edith's "Nationality. (Country of which citizen or subject)" as "Former Japanese" and her "Race or people" as "Japanese English" ("Japanese" first typed then crossed out with a pen and overwritten by "English").

In his autobiography, With MacArthur in Japan: A Personal History of the Occupation (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1965, written with Russell Brines), Sebald relates how Edith response when he heard a radio report of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and called her (Sebald 1965, page 18).

My wife appeared from the kitchen and stood silent, tears running down her cheeks. Then she nodded slowly and despairingly. Edith had been born in Japan, the daughter of an English father and a Japanese mother. Although married to a native American, she was legally without nationality, as our peculiar naturalization laws at that time denied her citizenship [on account of her race].

Sebald was not referring to the fact that Edith, because of her race, was not allowed to naturalize -- which was true enough. He was referring more generally to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Law, which at the time provided h

The following article in The Milwaukee Sentinel reported Edith's successful bid to gain U.S. citizenship in 1947 (Sunday, 23 November 1947, Magazine Section, The American Weekly, page 15 of 35 including cover).

No Longer a Woman Without a Country

By Frances Spatz

Love Conquered
Mrs. Edith Sebald,
but Only Congress
Could Write the
Happy Ending.

On that day in 1927 when William Sebald, rising young Navy careerist, looked into the eyes of Edith DeBecker, beautiful daughter of a Japanese mother and British father turned Japanese citizen, he knew he was in love.

Edith, a doll-like person combining oriental petiteness with western expressiveness, sighed and knew at last she was in love.

The story should have reached its climax there, with parental blessing, marriage and a lived-happily-ever-after fade out.

Instead, that meeting was only the beginning of a romance that had to survive years of worry and frustration, and prove its worthiness against a background of war before reaching a happy ending.

Today William Sebald is top political advisor to Douglas MacArthur, with the rank of ambassador. Today his wife, Edith, is a permanent resident of the United States.

When Sebald was four years old, living in Baltimore, son of a prominent physician, he was found one day digging a deep hole in his back yard.

"What you doing, Billy?" asked Frank, his six-year-old brother.

"I'm digging to Japan," he said.

"You mean China," said Frank.

"No I don't either. I'm digging to Japan," Billy stoutly maintained.

Yes, Billy Sebald was digging to Japan, and 20 years later he got there, after graduating with honors from Annapolis. At 15 he had received the highest marks in competitive examinations for the Naval Academy.

Too young to enter, he had repeated the feat the following year, had entered the Academy and made a name for himself not only in studies but also as the institution's leading welterweight boxer.

After graduation he applied for duty in Japan and got the post of foreign language officer there. In the second year of his three-year appointment he met Edith DeBecker. Her father, who practiced international law in Kobe, had sent her to finishing school in Boston. She was engaged to a British officer.

After that first meeting Edith rushed home to tell her father "What do you think I'm engaged to two men now!" DeBecker was furious. Who was this young American?

He was soon to find out. Sebald lost no time in calling on DeBecker who was forced to admire the youngsters fund of knowledge and keen mind. But DeBecker was a realist.

If Edith married Sebald, he pointed out, she would become a woman without a country. Under Japanese law she would lose her citizenship and, as a native Japanese, there would be no hope of acquiring American citizenship to take its place.

And what, DeBecker wanted to know, would become of Sebald's chances for career advancement?

"Well, Sir," Billy said with a charming smile, "I might even study law and come back here to practice with you. You said you needed help."

Sebald's superiors told him that under the rules he couldn't marry till his three years were up. Besides, it would ruin his career. Despite their objections, Sebald and Edith were married in All Saints Church, Kobe.

In 1928 he returned with her to America. Clouds of unhappiness gathered. The threat of separation through Edith's deportation hung constantly over their heads.

He resigned and entered the Reserve. Now he took up his alternate plan, entering the University of Maryland to study law. Edith helped him, feeling useful once more, but still worried over her citizenship status.

As soon as he was admitted to the bar in 1933 Sebald set sail for Japan with Edith. There the new law firm of "DeBecker and Sebald," was organized and Edith was happy again. Sebald resigned from the Reserve and threw himself into his work. He became an expert in international law and undertook a unique task -- the translation of Japanese law into English. Two books he wrote were lauded by the legal profession.

The clouds of war gathered and Edith's position again became precarious. In June of 1939 they returned to the United States.

Still she was a woman without a country. While Sebald practiced law in Washington, D.C., Edith lived a solitary existence.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, both Sebald and Edith offered their services to the government. Sebald was made a commander and organized the fleet's combat intelligence unit in the Pacific.

After an intensive probing of Edith's past and character, she was given a position in the Office of Strategic Services.

When the war was over Sebald was given an important post in helping rebuild and re-educate Japan a post that has since led to his vital job with General MacArthur. That made him happy. But not as happy as a bill introduced in Congress by Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland.

This bill rewarded Edith for her war work in the only way she wanted to be rewarded . . . it made her a permanent resident of the United States. President Truman signed it and the gates of America are at last thrown open to the little half-Japanese without a country. Her eyes bright through her tears, she said:

"You can't imagine how wonderful it is! I can come and go to America as I please. Billy and I waited for for [sic] 19 years. But all that waiting was worth while."


Ri Kaisei on Chosen-seki

The Japan-based write Ri Kaisei (李恢成), aka I [Yi] Hoe Sŏng, was born in 1935 in Karafuto, when it was a territory of the Empire of Japan. Raised in Karafuto, he was still living there toward the end of World War II in 1945 when the Soviet Union invaded the territory and occupied the territory, which had become a prefecture of Japan's Interior in 1943.

Ri's family, with 10-year-old Ri in tow, managed to evacuate to Hokkaido in the Interior with a few other Chosenese who had mixed in with Interior Japanese in advance of the invasion. Most Chosenese remained, or had to remain, on account of the preferential treatment given Interior subjects on evacuation vessels, it being presumed that Chosenese on Karafuto would be repatriated to Chōsen -- i.e., Korea. Ri's older was among those who were unable to leave.

Ri's family -- unable, or not wanting, to repatriate to Occupied Korea from Occupied Japan -- settled in Sapporo. And on 28 April 1952, when the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect, he -- with all Chosenese and Taiwanese -- lost his Japanese nationality, but continued to be regarded as a Chosenese on account of his being a member of family register affiliated with a polity in Chōsen -- "Korea" without regard to its post-1948 political division in to the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north.

Ri, as teenager and young man, politically aligned himself with DPRK, which had invaded ROK in 1950. The majority of adult Chosenese in Occupied Japan at the time appear to have supported Kim Il Sung's regime. Ri visited ROK once shortly before and again shortly after he won the Akutagawa Prize, but he was then denied entry on account of his affiliation with Chōsen Sōren (朝鮮総連) [在日本朝鮮人総聯合会 Zai Nihon Chōsen-jin Sōrengō Kai "General Association of Korean Residents in Japan], the pro-DPRK organization of Chosenese (Chōsenjin) in Japan who fancy themselves as "citizens" (公民 kōmin) of DPRK.

More than 20 years would pass before Ri was allowed to visit ROK again, and not until 1998 did he migrate to ROK nationality from his Chōsen-seki status in Japan. Like practically all Chosenese who were in the prefectural Interior when Japan formally surrendered on 2 September 1945, and their descendants in Japan, Ri is a Special Permanent Resident -- a treaty-based status that gives SPRs and their descendants a perpetual right-of-abode in Japan and all but "national" status -- i.e., he and other SPRs, regardless of their nationality, are treated pretty much on a par with Japanese nationals, except that for rights of suffrage.

Ri, who became novelist, has written a lot about his experiences as a Chosenese, especially in Karafuto, where many Chosenese had migrated from the Chōsen peninsula if not from Manchuria. In 1971, he received an Akutagawa Prize in 1971 for "Kinuta o utsu onna" (砧をうつ女) [The woman who pounded cloth], which relates the life of the protagonist's mother, who returned to Korea from Japan in a kimono, with a parasol, and expansively lived in the midst of poverty. Many of Ri's stories deal with the experiences of Chosenese during the imperial and postwar years, in both Korea and Japan.

Ri waxed a long 24 pages on his ordeal of finally becoming a national of a Korean state -- the Republic of Korea -- in 1998, in the following article in the literary monthly Shinchō (新潮).

新潮 (東京:新潮社)

Ri Kaisei
Tokubetsu kikō: Kankoku kokuseki shutoku no ki
[Special contribution: A chronicle of acquiring ROK nationality]
Shinchō (Tokyo: Shinchōsha)
July 1998 issue, Volume 95, Number 7
Pages 294-317

On Ri Kaisei made the following observation about the meaning of "Chōsen-seki" (Ri 1998, pages 303-304, my translation).

However, as for the "Chōsen" registration (affiliation, status) (「朝鮮」籍 "Chōsen" seki) that [we often] speak of, what I want to heed is that it is not a "nationality" (国籍 kokuseki) [= country register (registration, affiliation)]. For example, in the nationality box on my Alien Registration Certificate appears "Chōsen", but this country name (国名 kokumei) is merely a kind of mark (sign, symbol) (記号 kigō). For no where on this earth does a state with the country name "Chōsen" (「朝鮮」という国名をもつ国家 "Chōsen" to iu kokumei o motsu kokka) exist. The formal country name of North Korea (北朝鮮 Kita Chōsen) is Democratic People's Republic of Korea (朝鮮民主主義人民共和国 Chōsen Minshu-shugi Jinmin Kyōwakoku). North Korea and Japan have not normalized their relationship as countries, and [on] Alien Registration Certificates, the country name of the past, "Chōsen", is taken as substituting [for North Korea].

In this "Chōsen" registration [status] too there are two patterns. One is the case of Chosenese (朝鮮人) who support North Korea. They are affiliated with (belong to) Chōsen Sōren (朝鮮総連), and when they leave [Japan] for their fatherland (ancestorland) (祖国 sokoku) or [for] overseas (海外 kaigai), they receive from their own [Chōsōren] organization an issuance of a "Citizen Certificate" (公民証 Kōminshō). And they can receive the benefits of an embassy of North Korea.

The problem is the people who have separated from the organization (組織から離脱した人々 soshiki kara ridatsu shita hitobito). For there are also persons (人間 ningen) to whom, though they say they are of "Chōsen" registration [status], [the Chōsōren ascribed status of DPRK] "citizen" does not apply. They are tantamount to de facto "stateless persons" (事実上「無国籍者」にひとしい jijitsu-jō "mu-kokuseki-sha" ni hitoshii). There are also ["Chōsen" register persons] who are criticized by Chōsōren for spying (間諜 kanchō) or anti-organization scheming (非組織策動 hi-soshiki sakudō), and these people, their families included, live bearing disadvantages of living and social estrangement (alienation). Among them are also persons who are building networks to create a unified world of "zainichi" who transcend a "zainichi" way-of-life, in other words the frames (boxes, limits) of the ready-made organizations (「在日」という生き方、つまり既成組織の枠をこえた「在日」"zainichi to iu ikikata, tsumari kisei soshiki no waku o koeta "zainichI"). However, among these are persons who, losing their affection for (giving up on) their divided fatherland, naturalize as Japanese (日本人に帰化していく Nihonjin ni kika shite iku). According to Japan's Ministry of Justice statistics, last year [1997] a total of slightly less than 15,000 (sic = 15,061) foreigners naturalized as Japanese, and among people holding Republic of Korea register [status] or Chōsen register [status] are said to be 9,600 (9,678). [This] is a high that corresponds to about two-thirds. From the effectuation of the San Francisco Peace Treaty to today about 180,000 people have naturalized, and there are also forecasts that, if this continues, in [by] 2020 the present "zainichi" general number (total) of Republic of Korea / Chōsen register [status] of slightly less than 600,000 people will extremely decrease.

By 2013 the total number of naturalizers had fallen to 8,646, of whom 4,331 -- only 50 percent -- were categorically of Kankoku or Chōsen (韓国・朝鮮) "seki" (registration) status.



Abe 2010a

阿部浩己 < Kohki Abe > 無国籍の情景:国際法の視座、日本の課題
Mukokuseki no jōkei: Kokusaihō no shiza, Nihon no kadai
[ Scenes of statelessness: The vantage point of international law, issues in Japan ]
< Overview of Statelessness: International and Japanese Context >
2010 年4 月 < April 2010 >

The English shown in < angle brackets > is part of the report. All titles, including chapter and sub-chapter titles, are in Japanese and English. The main text, however, is in Japanese.

Abe 2010b

Abe Kohki
Overview of Statelessness: International and Japanese Context
April, 2010
87 pages

This is an English version of Abe 2010a. In generally, I will the Japanese version as the more authoritative. I will also cite the English version and, when necessarily, flag differences, especially in the rendering of technical words and phrases.

The reports are the result of a study commissioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representation in Japan (国際連合難民高等弁務官事務所 (UNHCR)駐日事務所). The Japanese version is posted at, a Japanization of UNHCR's main website. The English version is posted at refworld, another UNHCR website.

The author, Abe Kohki (阿部浩己 Abe Kōki), is a professor of international law at Kanagawa University Law School (神奈川大学大学院法務研究科) in Yokohama. The title pages of both versions state that the views expressed in the paper are the author's and not necessarily those of UNHCR.

Abe examines the problems of statelessness through analyses of the circumstances of international law and circumstances in Japan. He gives ample examples of the many ways in which stateless arises in Japan, and cites testimonies of a number of stateless people in Japan. The then recommends changes in the Japanese government's treatment of such people with a view toward closing the gap between its attitudes and policies and the provisions of the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the full texts of which are appended to the reports. Part 2 of the Japanese edition of the report is titled "Mukokuseki ni kan suru kokusaihō no tenkai" (無国籍に関する国際法の展開" meaning "The development of international law concerning statelessness" -- which becomes 'International Legal Development: Creation of Two "Orphan" Conventions' in the English edition, alluding to the very low rates of participation in and compliance with the two treaties.

Sebald 1965

Ambassador William J. Sebald with Russell Brines
With MacArthur in Japan: A Personal History of the Occupation
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1965
318 pages, hardcover

Seckler-Hudson 1934

Catheryn Seckler-Hudson Statelessness
(With Special Reference to the United States)
[A Study in Nationality and Conflict of Laws]
Washington, D.C.: Digest Press, American University Graduate School, 1934
xxi, 332 pages
American University Studies in International Law and Relations, Number One

  I. Introduction
 II. Statelessness as a Result of Marriage
III. Statelessness of Adults not Resulting From Marriage
 IV. Statelessness of Minors
  V. Consequences of Statelessness
 VI. Conclusions