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Terminology related to nationality, status, courts, and agencies
By William Wetherall    First posted 8 January 2007    Last updated 10 June 2021

Linguistic and factual discrepancies Nationality and citizenship Subjects, nationals, and citizens Japan and Japanese Chōsen(ese) and Korea(ns)
Translation standards Early examples of mistranslation Law translation committees Standard Bilingual Dictionary Japanese Law Translation (JLT) database JLT dictionary search JLT context search
Periodic glossary Words with no legal currency Words having currency before Meiji > since Meiji > imperial era > after World War II
Topical glossary Registration Japanese and aliens Affiliation Subnationality Naturalization Suffrage Race and ethnicity
Sinific nationality terminology JPN nationals ROC nationals PRC citizens ROK nationals DPRK citizens VIET citizens
European nationality terminology British Nationality Act Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act European Constitution
Japanese legal terminology Government actions Government-General actions Court actions Treaty actions Other actions Basic family register notifications Name change notifications Nationality notifications
Japanese government organizations Great Council of State Ministry of Justice Ministry of Interior Immigration Bureau Immigration Control Chronology
Meiji volumes of Hōrei zensho National Diet Library Dajōkan database Selected terms from "Yomigana jisho"

Linguistic and factual discrepancies

It occurred to me during the late 1990s and early 2000s, while writing a comprehensive article on nationality in Japan, that something was seriously wrong about the way primary Japanese materials are represented in English.

I had long before this realized that a lot of translation for public consumption distorts original texts, with the result that some "information" about Japan in English is highly misleading. This time, though, I confronted how technical distinctions in earlier sources have been distorted.

Translations distort original texts for a number of reasons. The following situations are most likely to effect the literal accuracy of English versions of, say, official Japanese texts such as laws, court decisions, Diet and related committee proceedings, and government reports.

1. "Discriminatory" words

A Japanese word considered "discriminatory" may be intentionally rendered with an English word that is more acceptable according to another standard of usage, possibly dictated by a style sheet intended to avoid controversy. The standard of "political correctness" may be similar in both languages. 癩病 raibyō) is likely to rendered "Hanson's disease" (ハンセン病 Hansen byō) rather than "leprosy".

2. "Misleading" words

2. A Japanese word which a translator things would cause a reader to "misunderstand" the intentions of the writer might be "toned down". 民族 (minzoku), which always has an racioethnic edge, even when used to mean "nation" in the racioethnic sense of this term, is commonly rendered "nation" or even "people" -- which do not necessarily have racioethnic implications.

3. "Repeated" words

Not a few translators intentionally vary their rendering of a frequently repeated word in order to prevent the translation from seeming monotonal. The translator is more concerned with style than semantic accuracy -- never mind that the writer probably had a good reason for writing monotonally. 国民 (kokumin), though meaning only "national" as a civil status or "nation" as a collectivity of nationals in reference to Japan, is often also translated in the same English document as "citizen" if not also "the people" -- which are not necessarily synonymous.

4. "Unfamiliar" words

A Japanese word may be metaphorically "anglicized" or "naturalized" into metaphors that are considered more "familiar" to an English reader. Many translators render 国民 (kokumin) and 国籍 (kokuseki) into "citizen" and "citizenship" because they feel these are more familiar thatn "national" and "nationality" -- though in fact they have different meanings.

5. "Critically incorrect" words

Some Japanese words are rendered into English words that are not only more familiar but more "correct" from an ideological point of view. 朝鮮 (Chōsen) and 朝鮮人 (Chōsenjin), though meaning precisely "Chosen" and "Chosenese" in most Japanese documents and reports, are commonly conflated with "Korea" and "Korean" -- even when "Chosen" was not "Korea" and "Chosenese" were not "Koreans" -- as when Chosen was part of Japan and Chosenese were Japanese.

For the above and other reasons, writers, translators, and editors -- when rendering, say, a Japanese text into English -- are inclined to impose usage criteria that reduce, corrupt, or subvert the meanings of the original words and phrases. Such criteria are usually imposed by slaving the original to American or other "English" conventions of usage and clarity, to create the illusion of smoothness and familiarity. But they are also imposed because freer, looser, interpretative translations are commonly regarded as both easier to produce and more marketable than closer, more faithful renderings.

Here I will argue why it is important to stress metaphorical if not phrasal fidelity, and not be tempted to shift the semantic coordinates of a Japanese text into that of an external American or other English-world coordinate system.

Good Japanese-to-English translation -- meaning an English translation that faithfully conveys the meaning of a Japanese text, on its own terms, in English -- requires that English be slaved to the world of Japanese. When conventional English fails to convey the meanings of the Japanese, then English conventions are Japanized in order to make readers of English familiar with things Japanese.


Nationality and citizenship

Japanese are defined, legally, as those who possess Japan's nationality (kokuseki 国籍). Aliens are those who do not possess Japan's nationality, and are stateless aliens if they have no nationality.

Japan does not define "citizenship", and Japanese are "nationals" (kokumin 国民) rather than "citizens" of Japan. The term "shimin" (市民) is used in Japanese as a collective term for "kushichōson-min" (区市町村民), which conflates "kumin" (区民), "shimin" (市民), "chōmin" (町民), and "sonmin" (村民), referring to legal (registered) residents or "affiliates" (min 民) of a municipality -- a ward (ku 区), city (shi 市), town (chō, machi 町), or village (son, mura 村). Municipally registered aliens are also "shimin". And by extension, all municipal citizens are "prefectural citizens" (todōfuken-min 都道府県県民) of the prefecture having jurisdiction over their municipality -- tomin (都民) of Tōkyō-to, dōmin (道民) of Hokkaidō, fumin (府民) of Kyōto-fu or Ōsaka-fu, and kenmin (県民) of all other prefectures, which are denoted by "ken" (県).

Expanding the "min = affiliate = citzen" to the national level, Japan's "kokumin" could be construed as meaning "national citizen". However, this does not give license to translate "Nihon kokumin" (日本国民) as "Japanese citizen".

If "kokumin" is translated "national citizen", then "Nihon kokumin" would translate "Japan national-citizen" (which includes only Japanese) as opposed to, say, "Nihon shimin" (日本市民) or "Japan municipal-citizen" (which includes both Japanese and alien residents).

"Japanese citizens" is vague in English because one doesn't know if it means "citizens of Japan" limited to Japanese, or "citizens of Japan" including aliens.

"Nihon kokumin" = "Japan nationals" as "Japanese citizens" implies that alien residents of Japan are not "Japanese citizens". Yet aliens who legally reside in Japan are "Nihon shimin" -- in the sense that "shimin" is used to refer to all residents of Japan's municialities, whether wards (ku), cities (shi), towns (chō), or villages (mura). I prefer to use English terms that reflect the metaphorical sense of Japanese usage -- and not mix metaphors. And so I won't speak of "national citizens" only in discussions of national citizenship, which is not defined in Japanese law. Otherwise, I will refer to people politically affiliated with the state -- as well as with a municipality of Japan (and by extension a prefecture) -- as "Japanese nationals" (Nihon kokumin).

Nationality as a cause

I'm curious about people but generally don't invade someone's privacy without an inroad or cause. But I have lots of causes for occasions when I can't find an inroad.

One of my favorite causes is nationality. If I find myself in the company of a stranger, and I am the first to speak, I open in Japanese regardless of visual or other clues that the person might not be Japanese. I say "might not be" because -- if there's one thing I've learned about the racialist impulses I grew up with -- it's not possible to actually "see" or "hear" nationality. The fact is, I can't really tell what anyone is unless I see their passport or ask. So I irritate many strangers by assuming that, because I am meeting them in Japan, they are Japanese unless they say otherwise.

In conversations with people I don't know I sometimes find an opportunity to ask -- "Kokuseki wa doko desu ka?" Or, if we end up speaking English, I ask -- "What is your nationality?" These are not exactly the same sort of question -- since "doko" signifies "where" rather than "what" -- but the effects are similar.

Japanese will typically reply "Nihon" -- or write "Japan" in a nationality box. "Nihonjin" or "Japanese" would be an answer to a different question -- like "Nanijin desu ka?" or "What are you?"

But "Kokuseki wa doko desu ka?" is likely to amuse if not confuse someone in Japan who is Japanese, and assumes that everyone should be able to plainly see that he or she is Japanese -- especially since they are in Japan and are speaking native Japanese. So why is someone who looks like me, and speaks non-native Japanese, asking such a dumb question?

An airline official, eying my passport, told me "You don't look Japanese." No city, election, passport, hospital, police, or exit-entry port official in Japan has ever blinked -- though I would guess that most, off duty, would have been more curious. I would be. I don't normally ask people their nationality, but at times I feel like having fun.

You could be Korean, I say, or Canadian. Which Naruhodo, they may say, and playing the Which will amuse the

Racialist assumptions can be wrong. You really can't "see" or "hear" nationality. And this is part of the game. The person will come back with the same question -- "What is your nationality?" And I will say "Japanese" because, afterall, I am Japanese.

Americans more than Europeans or Asians or Africans are likely to be confused by the question, regardless of their color. Some will say "United States" or "American"

"-- racialist presumption will be wrong.

Racialist assumptions about people who appear to be

s are wrAnd we are, afterall, in Japan. I find myself in the company of someone who appears to be from another country -- I their behavior or speech, possibly luggage If I can't find an inroad, I have lots of causeshave a bag full of causes when I can't find an inroad.If I can't find an inroad, then I find a cause, ThisI reside in Japan, and sometimes find myself in the company of someone who seems to me to be an American, judging from their behavior or speech, or luggage if they are traveling. I make it a point to ask peoplestrike up conversations ask someone you think might be an American what nationality they are. an American overseas what nationality they are. There is good chance they will The chance is they will be confused. Most will think you are asking their ethnicity.


Subjects, nationals, and citizens


Japan and Japanese


Chōsen(ese) and Korea(ns)



Many writers about Japanese law in English, including journalists and academics, adopt popular rather than legal standards of translation. At times the distinction doesn't matter. At times a lot is lost when translating legal terms in Japanese into familiar or popular -- rather than legally accurate -- English terms.

"nationality" and "citizenship"

People who write in English, whether as a native or second language, tend to share educations and reading experiences that that strongly American, British, and other historical and social experiences. Japanese students of law in English are apt to acquire habits of writing about "nationality" as something tantamount to "citizenship" -- simply because Americans have always talked about being U.S. "citizens" because they have U.S. "citizenship" -- are apt to associate "nationality" with "ethnicity" or racialized "national origin". And decades ago, in British Commonwealth states, "subjects" became "citizens" who today also talk about "citizenship" more than "nationality".

"kokuseki" and "kokumin"

My favorite example of what frequently happens in Japanese-English translation is the treatment in English of terms like "kokuseki" (国籍) and "kokumin" (国民). Translators familiar mainly with conventions of writing in English, which reflect mostly American and British usage, are apt to write "citizenship" and "citizen" -- unaware that Japanese law does not have national equivalents of "citizenship" or "citizen" in the sense that these terms are commonly used in America and Great Britain.

Japanese "kokuseki" refers to "nationality" in international private law -- where it signifies a non-racial, non-ethnic, civil status acquired through belonging to a state as a legal entity. Possessing "nationality" is an either/or proposition -- one either has, or does not have, a state's nationality. And if one has no nationality, then on is stateless. This has been the cornerstone of Japanese national status laws since the Meiji period.

In international law, there are no "degrees" of nationality. Nationality has a purely binary quality -- 0 or 1 -- you have it or you don't. You might think you have it, and challenge a state's contention that you don't have it. But as a legal artifact, you have it or you don't. And whether you have a state's nationality it is at the mercy of its laws and its recognition.

There are no gradations in nationality as a status. Which is not to say that, under a state's domestic laws, whether one has its nationality, and how one acquired its nationality, might effect the quality of its nationality-based citizenship. In Japan today, a national of Japan can become Japan's prime minister, even if his or her nationality was acquired through naturalization. In the United States, naturalized citizens are constitutionally barred from holding the office of presidency.

"status" versus "rights and duties"

In fundamental contrast with nationality as a legal status, "citizenship" is a set of rights and duties that are likely to vary among individuals according to their age, sex, legal competency, marital status, occupation, religion, nationality, naturalization status, regionality, residency, and incarceration status or criminal record -- among other traits that differ among individuals.

An alien's rights and duties of citizenship may actually exceed those of a person who possesses the state's nationality. Many people who qualify as a state's citizen or national are unable to vote or run for public office because they are too young. Whereas if the state provides certain classes of aliens rights of full or partial suffrage, then the quality of their citizenship exceeds that of, say, incarcerated citizens or nationals whose rights and duties have been curtailed. And even without rights of suffrage, non-citizen or non-national adults have greater citizenship rights than citizen or national minors unable to, say, marry or sign a contract without the permission of a legal guardian.

In any event, international law is concerned with "nationality" and not "citizenship". And measure "citizenship" by the same ruler.

"citizen" versus "national"

American passports stipulate on their personal identity page that the bearer possesses the "nationality" of the United States. This is precisely what "kokuseki" means in Japanese. The diplomatic page of a U.S. passport requests that a foreign government extend to "the citizen/national of the United States named herein" treatment normally accorded alien passport bearers. Japan's passport reads "国籍 / Nationality" on the identity page, and "日本国民である本旅券の所持人 / "the bearer, a Japanese national" on the diplomatic page.

America differentiates "citizens" and "nationals" as statuses of belonging to the United States on account of possessing U.S. "nationality". Most Americans are "citizens" but some are only "nationals" of the United States. "Citizens" but not "nationals" have federal political rights.

Japan regards those who posses its "nationality" as its "nationals". Socialist republics like the People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea define the quality of national belonging as "nationality" under international law. But as a matter of domestic law, they refer to those who possess their nationality with metaphors that translate "citizen" (公民) and not "national" (国民) -- for the simple reason that, in socialist thinking, the "people" (jinmin 人民) are sovereign unto themselves.

"nationality" versus "ethnicity"

In the United States in particular, but also in some other countries domestically hooked on "citizen" and "citizenship" metaphors, "nationality" may more commonly allude to something that is better understood as "ethnicity" if not "race". Think of the sense in which "national origin" continues to be used in especially the United States, where it has a legal history of signifying "race" or "ethnicity" in exclusionary immigration and naturalization laws.

Choices when writing

"Nationality" is a purely civil status under international law. Statuses like "subject" or "national" or "citizen" and the like are matters of domestic laws. Translating Japanese status laws according to popular English usage, based on American, British, and other status laws, defeats the whole purpose of translation.

Why, then, do so many journalists, scholars, and others who write about Japan in English, confuse Japanese metaphors with popular English metaphors? Mostly -- in my experience from talking with other writers, editors, and translators -- out of ignorance, to put it bluntly. Some who know the difference protest that their editors and/or readers wouldn't appreciate the difference, or that it is not important -- hence their decision to cater to status quo usage, rather than leaving readers puzzled or challenging them to learn something they they hadn't thought about. Practically all Americans I have talked to in Japan -- who have passports -- believe their passports are evidence of their citizenship -- and are surprised to read that, no, their passports prove only their nationality -- which makes them either a citizen or a national of the United States.

Japanese-English writers, editors, and translators have the choice of morphing Japanese laws into the sort of English that serves the purposes of say American law, or broadening English usage to embrace the conventions of Japanese legal terminology.


Factual versus non-factual description

I have talked about representing "kokuseki" in Japanese status laws as "citizenship" when writing in English, as a problem of imposing popular conventions of English usage on the understanding of "nationality" in Japan -- mostly out of lack of knowledge or interest. Some writers on Japan in English who appear to understand the nomenclature issue, however, prefer to speak of "citizens" and "citizenship" for publicist reasons.

Some publicist writers believe that Japan's "right-of-blood" Nationality Law has deprived born-in-Japan alien minorities of suffrage and other rights that would have been theirs if Japan's Nationality Law were a place-of-birth law like America's -- or if it had provisions for 2nd-generation nationality. Most but not all alien residents of Japan were were born in Japan, are descendants of Japanese subjects of Chōsen and Taiwan when these territories were parts of Japan. Their alien status goes back to their own loss of Japanese nationality, or to an ancestor who lost Japanese nationality in 1952 when Chōsen and Taiwan were formally separated from Japan's soveriegn dominion.

Publicists for the rights of such "Zainichi" regard them as aliens who ought to and would be "Japanese" if they or a lineal ancestor had not lost Japanese nationality -- or if Japan's Nationality Law had been a place-of-birth law when they were born -- or had a 2nd-generation nationality provision, which would broken the chain of successive foreign nationality.

Aliens born in Japan, if they want to be Japanese, have to naturalize. And there are quite a few 3rd and even 4th generation aliens in Japan -- i.e., foreigners whose alien status goes back to an alien grandfather or great grandfather who settled in Japan, and lineal male descendants thereof in a succession of marriages in which patrilineal nationality laws conspired to produce 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation alien families in Japan.

The generational succession of alien status in Japan has nothing to do with race or ethnicity, which do not matter in Japanese law. Nor does the phenomenon of generational succession of alien nationality have anything to do with colonial policy or post-colonial settlements. It arises only because, until fairly recently, most nationality laws in the world have been patrilineal and have lacked provisions for 2nd-generation right-of-soil nationality.

This is clear from the case of Marianne Wilson Kuroda, a 4th generation Swedish and American citizen in Japan whose great grandparents include Swedish and German men who settled in Japan and married Japanese women. See Marianne's custody dispute, 1956-1958 for details.

No one in Marianne's line of descent in Japan would have been born an alien in Japan if Japan's Nationality Law had been a jus soli law. And a jus sanguinis law with a 2nd-generation jus-soli provision would have allowed her alien grandfather, who was born in Japan to an alien man married to a Japanese woman, to acquire Japanese nationality as a birth right when he came of age -- rather than have to naturalize in order to become Japanese.

Marianne's 2nd generation Swedish grandfather could have naturalized had he wanted to. And even her Swedish and German great grandparents could probably have contrived ways to become Japanese through their marriages if they had really wanted do. But all remained aliens.

The same is the case for most other 3rd- and 4th-generation aliens in Japan, including those of Chosenese or Taiwanese descent whose Special Permanent Residence status is legally linked to historical loss of Japanese nationality -- i.e., one or both of their Japan-born parents or grandparents -- and they themselves -- have chosen not to naturalize.

Japan's adoption in 1984 of an ambilineal principle in its 1950 Nationality Law, effective from 1985, has all but eliminated 2nd-generation aliens among offspring of married parents one of whom is Japanese. But 2nd-, 3rd-, and subsequent generation aliens continue to be non-stateless alien parents in Japan.

"Chosenese" and "Koreans"
"Japan" and "Japanese"

In the above digression, I have spoken of "Chosenese" and "Koreans" rather than just Koreans. And I have spoken of both "Chosenese" and "Taiwanese" was having been "Japanese" during the decades that Taiwan (1895-1945/1952) and Chōsen (1910-1945/1952) were parts of Japan's sovereign dominion.

Pracically no other writer in English precisely describes historical facts in this manner. It is impossible to write about the legal realities of Imperial Japan, and the legacies of those realities in matters concerning nationality and alien status in Japan today, if one conflates, say, Chōsen (朝鮮) and Kankoku (韓国) as "Korea" and Cōsenjin (朝鮮人) and Kankokujin (韓国人) as "Korean" in English.

Some journalists and academics write "ethnic Koreans" in reference to "Koreans in Japan" -- sometimes including Japanese of Chosenese or Korean descent. However, the status of being either a Chosenese or Korean in Japan has nothing to do with ethnicity -- which reflects the urge of some writers to racialize people. in any event is irrelevant -- since their status has nothing to do with "ethnicity" by any definition of the term, and "ethnic" " "KoreaKorea" or "Chosenese" and "Koreans" in Englishin Japan todayI have also spoken of "ChoseneseThe most telling examples of how writers prefer to ignBut there are more interesting and telling examples of how writers prefer to ignore Japanese metaphors out of nationalistic sentiments interests as much as ignorance.

their "right" to rights of suffrageneeds more "citizenship" awareness when it comes to the status of on "inside" usage (say "American") in the case of Japanese status The "citizenship" versus "nationality" problem is also obviously an example


Internal viewpoints


External viewpoints



Translation standards

The Japanese language, like most languages, is very flexible within its rigid conventions. In the mouths of its masters, it is capable of practically any degree of precision or clarity.

Legal expression in Japanese can be as slippery and opaque as the bold print in political manifestos and the fine print in life insurance policies. The basic laws of the land, though, have been as concise and transparent as they need to be to ensure smooth and trouble-free enforcement and compliance. Laws governing civil matters such as birth, death, marriage, and divorce, and matters like nationality, family and alien registration, and leaving and entering the country, have been particularly straight forward and lucid.

Phrasing and metaphors

The structures of any language are its words and the ways they are put together in phrases that carry the potential (static, general) meanings of the words in isolation, and give these meanings their actual (dynamic, specific) significance in particular contexts.

Take, for example, Japanese metaphors -- putting their English equivalents first -- like "Japan" (日本 Nihon), "nationality" (国籍 kokuseki), and "renunciation" (離脱 ridatsu). Alone they can mean so many things that, alone, they are practically meaningless.

Now put these three terms together in a phrase like "I wish to renounce the nationality of Japan" (日本の国籍を離脱したい Nihon no kokuseki o ridatsu shitai). If made to a friend over dinner, this statement has only conversational consequences. If made on a "Nationality renunciation notice" (国籍離脱届 Kokuseki ridatsu todoke), submitted to the Ministry of Justice of Japan in accordance with provisions of Japan's Nationality Law and related laws, it has serious legal consequences.

As a statement made on petition for renunciation of nationality, "I wish to renounce the nationality of Japan" means nothing less than "I no longer desire to be affiliated with Japan as a member of its nation, and I understand that, upon the minister's approval, and after subsequent procedural formalities, I will lose the nationality of Japan, and therefore no longer be affiliated with the nation of Japan, and therefore no longer be a "national of Japan" (日本の国民 Nihon no kokumin), aka a "Japanese national" (日本国民 Nihon kokumin), aka a "Japanese" (日本人 Nihonjin), and therefore will no longer have any of the rights or duties that are limited to Japanese, but rather will be an alien in the eyes of Japanese law, and as such will have only the rights and duties that either are limited to aliens, or are not limited to Japanese."

Metaphorical threads

One might argue that "nationality of Japan" means "citizenship of Japan". However, the metaphorical thread of "nation" (国 kuni) and "nationality" (国籍 kokuseki) and "national" (国民 kokumin) does not involve any notion of "citizenship" or "citizen".

Equivalents of "citizenship" and "citizen" are rarely used in Japanese law, and only in reference to aliens. The term 市民権 (shiminken) is used to represent "citizenship" in a phrase which translates "nationality or citizenship" -- used in reference to aliens in two articles in the 1951 Immigration Control Order that survive in the 1982 Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law.

Specifying "nationality or citizenship" assures that, regardless of whether the domestic law of an alien's country of nationality refers to affiliation with the country as "nationality" or "citizenship", the said person is an "alien" under Japanese domestic law. This is not to say that the notions of "citizenship" and "citizen" do not exist in Japan, but simply that these are not labels for affiliation.

All polities in Japan, from the "nation" (国 kuni) to its "prefectures" (都道府県 todōfuken) and their "municipalities" (市区町村 shikuchōson), define affiliation in terms of both primary (national) and residence (municipal) registration. And they accord residents and non-residents various rights and duties according to these two statuses.

Metaphors of affiliation

One is a "national" (国民 kokumin) if one is metaphorically "one of the people" or "an affiliate" (民 min) of the "nation" (国 kuni). One is an affiliate of the nation if one possesses its "nationality" (国籍 kokuseki).

Under Japanese law, only Japanese are "national affiliates" or "nationals".

One is similarly an affiliate of a municipality (区民 kumin, 市民 shimin, 町民 chōmin, 村民 sonmin), and consequently also of the prefecture (都民 tomin, 道民 domin, 府民 fumin, 県民 kenmin) having jurisdiction over the municipality, if one is recognized as a registered resident of the municipality polity in which one resides.

Under Japanese law, Japanese and aliens are equally "municipal affiliates" or "municipalites".

Metaphors of residence status

All Japanese, by legal definition, are principally domiciled in Japan through their affiliation with the municipality which has jurisdiction over their principal register. But only those who are registered with a municipality as residing at an address within a city, ward, town, or village in Japan are regarded as residents of Japan. Japanese who have registered as residing overseas continue to be affiliated with Japan through the principal register, but they are treated somewhat differently in terms of rights and duties than Japanese who are residing in Japan.

Aliens, too, are treated differently according to whether or not they are registered as residents of a municipality in Japan. Resident aliens are further treated differently according to their status of residence. Even the status of "permanent resident" is divided into types which are treated somewhat differently in terms of rights and duties. Even non-resident aliens will be treated differently according to their nationality and all manner of other attributes that have no relationship to nationality or residence status.

While only Japanese are affiliates of the state of Japan, all legal residents of a Japanese municipality -- Japanese and aliens alike -- are affiliates of the municipality, and by extension affiliates of the prefecture to which the municipality belongs.

Object of legal translation

The primary object of all translation is to render a story told in one language into an equivalent story in another. How this is done, and what standards are used to determine the equivalency of the original and the translation, will vary according to secondary conditions that may be imposed on the translation -- such as a need to simplify the diction or shorten the length of the original story, or censor objectionable elements from the story, or assimilate the world of the original story into the world of the translation.

Since the purpose of translating a law written in one language, is to make it accessible to readers of other langauges with minimum distortion of equivalency, all elements of the original law need to be mapped into the translation according to the same standard that governs court testimony: the translator endeavors to map the elemenets, all the elements, and nothing but the elements.

In otherwords, nothing of legal substance should be simplified, shortened, censored, or assimilated.

Mixing metaphors

The object of translating a Japanese law into another language, say English, is to represent the internal precision and clarity of Japanese legal expression in English. While translators also need to worry about whether their linguistic transformations will be understandable to readers of English, the object of translation is to draw the reader of English into the world of Japanese law, not to assimilate Japanese law to the reader's world.

Distorting metaphors

English, like Japanese, is also capable of accommodating practically any conceptual or expressive need. Japanese and English accommodate the needs of their native speakers, neither population of which is homogeneous linguistically or otherwise. The successful translation is one which makes a concept peculiar to Japanese law understandable to a reader of English, whose legal mind may have been shaped by concepts of American law, without distoring the legal sense of the Japanese law.

Unfortunately, translations of Japanese laws into English are increasingly affected by the biases of American legal expression. Americanisms in English translations of Japanese law may not result in life-threatening misunderstandings in how Japanese laws operate -- as far as lay or "common sense" understandings of law are concerned. For most people who will read such translations, including Japanese, will not have a sufficient understanding of the nuances of, say, US and Japanese nationality laws, to recognize what has been distorted because of poor translation, including dependency on faulty bilingual guides.

Students of comparative law who take the "translation standards" now being promoted in Japan at face value risk being misled by "Americanizations" that seriously distort and mix the metaphors and therefore the meanings of some Japanese legal expressions. This is particularly true with terms related to nationality.

Legal and social terrains

It is very important, when translating laws, to differentiate legal and social terrains. Even though it may be fashionable in the highly Americanized quarters of Japan's "English" society to speak of "citizens" and "citizenship" in accordance with popular American usage, Japan's legal terrain is about "nationals" and "nationality".

A more complex example would be the various terrains of the words like 日本人 (Nihonjin) in Japanese and "Japanese" in English. It is not only fashionable but practically reflexive, both in Japanese and American society, to use these terms with racial implications. And because race boxes in the United States continue to have legal standing, federal and state race-box practices encourage the racialization of terms like "Japanese" and "Chinese".

Japanese law, however, has been raceless. Even though 日本人 (Nihonjin) may be highly racialized in the social arena, it has been only a legal status, not a racial label, in Japan's legal terrain.

The position of "Nihonjin" on Japan's legal map can be precisely triangulated from synonyms that serve as semantic landmarks. Such triangulation establishes that, as a legal term, 日本人 (Nihonjin) has been not only raceless, but it has been free of ethnic, cultural, linguistic, or other such qualities. Only when the implications of this are fully appreciated can the authority of Japan's raceless laws be invoked to persuade against racialism and racism on its various social terrains.

To be continued.


Older examples of mistranslation

Effects of non-structural translation

Here are two examples of how non-structural translations distort Japanese texts. The first is an example of what I term "unnecessary angliciation" resulting from insisting on introducing English conventions for their own sake -- in this case, gendered pronouns. The second is an example of "gross mistranslation" resulting from not taking the precision of the Japanese phrasing seriously.

Unnecessary Anglicization

This example of unnecessary genderization comes from Joseph Ernest De Becker's translation of the 1899 Nationality Law.

Japanese text

第一条   子ハ出生ノ時其父カ日本人ナルトキハ之ヲ日本人トス

De Becker translation

Article 1   A child is a Japanese if his or her father is a Japanese at the time of his or her birth.

Structural translation (Wetherall)

Article 1   A child will be a Japanese when at the time of birth its father is Japanese.

While practically all Japanese texts can be translated without genderizing, most translators prefer to expand the English version with "his or her" and other forms of genderization.

Gross mistranslation

This example of total misrepresentation of the grammatical subject or actor comes from the received translation of the 1924 Enforcement Regulation (Ordinance No. 26), relating to the 1899, which the US Embassy in Tokyo rushed to the State Department in Washington, D.C. in a diplomatic pouch on 1 December 1924, the day that revisions to the 1899 law and their enforcement regulations came into effect.

Japanese text

第二条   国籍法第二十条ノ二第一項ノ規定ニ依リ国籍ヲ留保セントスルトキハ戸籍法第七十二条第一項又ハ第二項ノ規定ニ依リ出生ノ届出ヲ為ス者戸籍法第六十九条ノ期間内ニ出生ノ届出ニ添ヘ其ノ旨ヲ届出スヘシ

Received translation

Article 2   Those desiring to preserve their nationality in accordance with the provisions of clause 1 of Article 20 (2) of the Nationality Law, and being those who are required to submit a report of birth by clause 1 or clause 2 of Article 72 [Note 3] of the Census Domicile Law, shall file a report to that effect, together with a report of birth, within the period set forth in Article 69 of the Census Domicile Law.

Structural translation (Wetherall)

Article 2   When retaining nationality in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 1 of Article 20-2 of the Nationality Law, the person who effects a making of a notification of birth in accordance with the provisions of paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 72 of the Family Registration Law shall make a notification of [his] intent [to retain nationality] accompaning the making of the notification of birth within the time period of Article 69 of the Family Registration Law.

The received translation totally misrepresents how the nationality retention revision in the nationality law is to operate in conjunction with the family registration law. The infant whose nationality is being retained cannot possibly file notifications on its own behalf. Its father, or its mother, or another qualified person, is required to file notification of intent to retain its nationality when filing a notification of its birth.


Law translation committees

In 1999, a government council was set up to study Japan's legal needs in the 20th century. This gave birth to a task force, which bred a series of study groups and work groups to promote the translation of Japanese laws and regulations into "foreign languages" -- meaning English.

The committees culminated in the publication, in 2006, of a "Standard Bilingual Dictionary" -- meaning a Japanese-English dictionary. The annually revised dictionary is being used to uniformly translate a growing list of Japanese laws and regulations.

This effort to standardize legal translation in Japan is intended to facilitate the translation of more Japanese laws and regulations in a uniform manner that would, in theory, improve the quality of understanding of Japanese law in, say, English. While this is certainly a worthy goal, already there are signs that standards of the "Standard Bilingual Dictionary" are lowering, rather than raising, the bar of translation standards.

The website of the Cabinet Secretariat of the Japanese government has a section devoted to what is called the "Liaison council of relevant ministries and agencies concerning infrastructure for the promotion of foreign language translations of laws" (法令外国語訳推進のための基盤整備に関する関係省庁連絡会議) or simply "Liaison council" (連絡会議).

The council was established "in order to plan smooth implementation of policy, while assuring coordination between relevant ministries, regarding the infrastructure required to promote foreign language translation of the laws and regulations of our country, pursuant to 'On the promotion of future reform of the legal system' (Judicial system reform promotion task force decision, 26 November 2004)" (my translation).

Liaison council

The Liaison council met a total of eight times, for 30 minutes, between 27 January 2005 and 23 March 2007. It was chaired by the Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary, assisted by a Cabinet Secretariat Councillor. Members included 15 ministerial secretariats. They were assisted by 16 ministerial secretaries. One of the meetings involved only the secretaries.

Deliberation council

A sub-council called the "Council for deliberation of promotion and implementation of the foreign language translation of laws and regulations" (法令外国語訳・実施推進検討会議) met a total of nine times, for two hours, between 2 February 2005 and 17 March 2006.

The non-government members of the Deliberation council included the following individuals (listed in gojuon order of first appearing name).

Aran D. Sumisu [Allan D. Smith] (AIG Companies, Japan and Korea, Regional Vice President for Legal and Government Affairs)
Uchida Harumichi (attorney)
Kakinuki John (foreign law office attorney)
(Chair) Kashiwagi Noboru (Chuo Univeristy professor)
Goto Osamu (Toyota Automotive legal department director)
Fuse Yuko (Nippon Television Network Corporation, news division, foreign news department director)
Matsuura Yoshiharu (Nagoya University professor)

Specialists council

The deliberation council passed the baton to the "Council of specialists of foreign langauge translation" (法令外国語訳専門家会議), which as of this writing has met a total of eight times, between 27 June 2006 and 31 August 2007, for two hours each time.

The Specialists council involved only 15 non-government representatives, all of whom are attornies or professors of law (listed in gojuon order of first appearing name).

Ito Osamu (Attorney)
Kakinuki Jon [John Kakinuki] (Foreign law office attorney)
[Chair] Kashiwagi Noboru (Chuo University Law School professor)
Kiisu Kiyoshi Suzuka [Keith K. Suzuka] (Foreign law office attorney)
Kubota Takashi (Waseda University Law School professor)
Kojima Yukinaga (Attorney)
Sakai Tatsuji (Attorney)
Sakamaki Tadashi (Kyoto University Law School professor)
Sato Rieko (Attorney)
Tazawa Motoaki (Meijo University Law Department professor)
Tatsuno Daisuke (Attorney)
Nakano Yusuke (Attorney)
Fukuda Moritoshi (Kanda University professor)
Matsushita Yuki (Meijo University Law Department professor)
Yamaguchi Yoshiyasu (Attorney)

Matsushita joined the group from 24 August 2006. Suzuka joined from 1 April 2007.

Note that Kashiwagi was the chair of both the Deliberation council and the Specialists council. In addition to him, only Kakinuki appears to have been involved in both of these councils (based on information posted on Cabinet Secretariat website, retrieved 4 September 2007).

John C. Kakinuki was a partner of Baker & McKenzie / Tokyo Aoyama Aoki Law Office at the time he began serving on the two councils. In the fall of 2006, however, he ended 22 years of private practice to become general legal counsel in Tokyo for General Electric Consumer Finance. It was announced that he intended to remain active in the International Trademark Association (INTA) and the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ). He had chaired the intellectual property committee of ACCJ for six years, then two years each as a ACCJ governor and as a vice president (Managing Intellectual Property website).

Kakinuki graduated from the Social Science Division of ICU in Tokyo in 1979, obtained a law degree from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, and joined Baker & McKenzie in 1984 after entering the bar in California. He had been studying electrical engineering at UCB before coming to Japan, but he changed to social sciences after becoming interested in "juvenile delinquency and its relation with racial discrimination against Korean-Japanese and burakumin" (The IUC, No. 13, December 2004, page 10).

In 2004, Kakinuki was joined on the Executive Committee of ACCJ by Allan D. Smith, the Regional Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs, and Legal Counsel, for AIG Companies (Japan and Korea). Back in 1984, at the height of the US-Japan trade war, Smith, who graduated from Harvard College in 1980, was writing articles like "The Japanese Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Control Law and Administrative Guidance: The Labyrinth and the Castle" (Law and Policy in International Business, Vol. 16, pages 417-476).

As of this writing [circa 2007], Smith is still a vice-president of ACCJ, and John C. Kakinuki is a governor.

Judicial system reform task force

It appears that Smith was on the committee because he had had at least one opportunity to speak before a Japanese government cabinet committee. The name of the cabinet committee was "Internalization committee" (国際化検討会). This was one of several committees set up under the "Task force for the promotion of judicial system reform" (司法制度改革推進本部), which disbanded on 30 November 2004.

Judicial system reform council

The task force formed in response to the findings of the Justice System Reform Council [Judicial system reform council] (司法制度改革審議会), which was established under the Cabinet in July 1999 to study Japan's legal needs for the 21st century. By June 2001, when the council issued its final report and recommendations, it had held 63 meetings.

Smith (as Aran Sumisu) was invited to speak at the third of the Internationalization committee in March 2002. Though introduced as the chairman of ACCJ'S Financial Services Committee, he quickly removed that hat and spoke mostly about the need for internationalization in the insurance and securities industries, from his vantage point as an officer and legal counsel of AIG Companies in Japan.

The cabinet committee was chaired by Kawashiwagi Noboru. John Kakinuki (as Kakinuki Jon) was also at this meeting, like Smith as an "explainer" (説明者).

The Internationalization committee, which began convening in January 2002, had the last two of its 18 meetings in June and November 2002. However, between July and October, a related committee convened four sessions of what was called a "Working Group Concerning foreign language translation of laws and regulations" (法令外国語訳に関するワーキンググループ). Neither Kakinuki nor Smith were members of this committee.

The only member of the Working group that was also on the Internationalization committee was Kashiwanagi. The only other member of the Working group that was also on the Specialists group was Matsuura Yoshiharu of Nagoya University.

Keith Suzuka, another American, graduated from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco in 1984, after getting a BA in pscyhology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in Honolulu, in 1979. He was admitted to the bar in Hawaii in 1979, and qualified as a Gaikokuho Jimu Bengoshi in Japan (GJBJ) in 2000, when he rejoined the law firm of Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu in Tokyo. As of this writing (October 2007), Suzuka is one of 12 foreign attorneys with NO&T, which is one of Japan's largest law firms, specializing in corporate and business law, M&A, finance, intellectual property, IT, entertainment, taxes, dispute resolution, and China -- everything but matters related to nationality and family registration.

PDF (portable document format) versions of the Standard Bilingual Dictionary can be downloaded from 連絡会議 (Liaison council) section of the Cabinet Secretariat website. CSV (comma separated value) versions, which can easily be opened in any spreadsheet or imported into any database, can be downloaded from the 日本法令英訳プロジェクト (Japan law and regulation English translation project) section of the Toyama Group website at Nagoya University. The two sections are linked to each another.

The Toyama Group, under Toyama Katsuhiko, at the Graduate School of Information Science at Nagoya University, is dedicated to language and information processing. The English translation projects provides downloadable TXT files of Japanese, English, and Japanese/English versions of a number of Japanese laws. The English versions are translated and edited in accordance with the dictionary standards.

Matsuura Yoshiharu, a member with Kashiwagi of both the Working Group and the Specialists group, is a member of the Toyama Group. My impression is that he was umbilical cord between the government committees and the university group. I would also guess that the group has been funded by the government.

The translation project is outlined in a 2004 report by Matsuura called "Law and regulation translation project based on management of information about law and regulation data" (法令データ情報の管理に基づく法令翻訳プロジェクト). The report is downloadable from the 首相官邸 (Prime Minister's Residence) ["Prime Minister and his Cabinet"] site. More about the project is described in "Conception of system for translation of laws and regulations of Japan" (日本法令翻訳システムの構想), an article which Toyama Katsuhiko, Ogawa Yasuhiro, and Matsura published in Jurisuto (15 December 2004, No. 1281).


Standard Bilingual Dictionary

The first version of the Standard Bilingual Dictionary appeared in 2005. It was in its third edition as of 2009.

The following information is based on a csv (comma separated values) file of Legal Terms, Version 2, which has 4896 records including the field definition record. Record 1 defines nine (9) fields (categories) as follows.


Parsed as a list, the record looks like this (the numbers and translations are mine).

1 用語 1 Term [expression] [kanji, hiragana]
2 読み 2 Reading [hiragana]
3 訳語候補番号 3 Translation term candidate number
4 訳語候補 4 Translation term candidate [English]
5 使い分け基準 5 Use differentiation criterion
6 用例(和文) 6 Usage example (Japanese)
7 用例(英文) 7 Usage example (English)
8 用例出典 8 Usage source [law citation]
9 注釈 9 Notes [comments]

Here are some examples. Most entries make use of only the first few fields.

国籍,こくせき,,nationality,,国籍の喪失,loss of nationality,国籍法11条
国籍の喪失,こくせきのそうしつ,,loss of nationality

国宝,こくほう,,national treasure
国民経済,こくみんけいざい,,national economy
国民生活,こくみんせいかつ,,lives of the citizenry
国民年金,こくみんねんきん,,national pension
国有財産,こくゆうざいさん,,national property

国民,こくみん,1,citizen [原則]
国民,こくみん,2,national [外国に居住する特定国の国民]
国民経済,(こくみんけいざい),,national economy
国民年金,(こくみんねんきん),,national pension

The implication that 国民 means "citizen" in reference to a person in one's own country of nationality and "national" in reference to another country in which one may be residing as an alien -- has no foundation in Japanese law -- which does not define "citizen" or "citizenship".

本国法,ほんごくほう,,one's national law

本籍,ほんせき,,registered domicile

本籍 (honseki) is actually one's principal legal domicile for purposes of determining primary territorial affiliation, which in Japanese law is conceptually linked to nationality. It may also be thought of as one's "principal [territorial] register [affiliation]" for purposes of determining one state affiliation or "nationality" (国籍 kokuseki).

The 本籍 or 本籍地 (honsekichi) of a Japanese national is the full address in the locality (municipality -- i.e., village, town, city, ward) which has jurisdiction over his or her family (household) register. Or it just the name of the municipality, or of the prefecture which has jurisdiction over the municipality. In addition, a Japanese national has a 住所 (jūsho) or "domicile", which is where one is registered as a resident, and which could be in a foreign country. Having a 本籍 in Japan is tantamount to possessing Japanese nationality.

Under Japanese law, the 本籍 of an alien is taken to be the alien's country of nationality. Also under Japanese law, a resident alien's 住所 (jūsho) or "domicile" is the alien's address in the municipality where the alien is registered as an alien. Stateless aliens have no 本籍 but, if legally registered as aliens, they are considered to be domiciled in Japan.

身分を示す証明書,みぶんをしめすしょうめいしょ,,identification card

身分 (mibun) is one of the most important words in Japanese law, as it means a person's "status" under one law or another. Many translations fail to properly translate it. Another record in the dictionary, for example, renders その身分を示す証明書を携帯し、関係人にこれを提示しなければならない as "The official who enters and inspects shall carry a certificate for identification and produce it to the people concerned" -- which is Paragraph 2 of Article 44 of a law called 更生保護事業法 -- which JLT calls "Offenders Rehabilitation Services Act" -- rather than something like "Rehabilitation and protection services law". The paragraph actually says an official must "carry a certificate which shows his/her status, and display it to concerned persons".

本邦通貨,ほんぽうつうか,,Japanese currency

翻訳,ほんやく,,translation,,通訳及び翻訳,interpretation and translation,刑事訴訟規則135条

埋蔵物,まいぞうぶつ,,things hidden in the ground
埋蔵文化財,まいぞうぶんかざい,,buried cultural properties


Notice in the above two groups of terms the disregard for both the Japanese structures and the capacity of English to reflect these structures with suitable register as legal terminology.

The English equivalent of 埋蔵物 would be "buried object" -- not "thing hidden in the ground".

While わいせつ行為 (obscene act) might in some instances be reduced to "indecency", わいせつ物 (obscene object) is not likely going to be reducible to "obscenity".



居住地,きょじゅうち,,place of residence

住所又は居所,じゅうしょまたはきょしょ,,domicile or residence
常居所,じょうきょしょ,,habitual residence


仮住所,かりじゅうしょ,,temporary residence

Here we have an example of how the "Standard Bilingual Dictionary" conflates and confuses terms that are clearly differentiated in Japanese laws. Section III of the Civil Code consists of three articles that clearly define three of the above terms (see further details in "Topical glossary" below).

Ironically, the bilingual version of the Civil Code, featured on the Toyama Group translation project, makes the following distinctions (content of articles omitted).

第三節 住所
Section III Domicile

Article 22 (Domicile)

Article 22 of the Civil Code defines 住所 (jūsho) or "domicile" as "the principal place [base] of a person's livelihood" (各人の生活の本拠).

Article 23 (Residence)

Article 24 (Temporary Domicile)



請求の放棄,せいきゅうのほうき,,waiver of claims


帰国,きこく,1,return to Japan,日本に帰国する場合
帰国,きこく,2,return to …'s own country,それ以外の場合

外国,がいこく,,foreign state
外国会社,がいこくがいしゃ,,foreign company
外国為替,がいこくかわせ,,foreign exchange
外国刑,がいこくけい,,foreign punishment
外国語実用新案登録出願,がいこくごじつようしんあんとうろくしゅつがん,,utility model application in foreign language
外国語書面,がいこくごしょめん,,document in foreign language
外国語書面出願,がいこくごしょめんしゅつがん,1,written application in foreign language
外国語書面出願,がいこくごしょめんしゅつがん,2,application in foreign language
外国語特許出願,がいこくごとっきょしゅつがん,,patent application in foreign language
外国語要約書面,がいこくごようやくしょめん,,abstract in foreign language
外国裁判所,がいこくさいばんしょ,,foreign court
外国人,がいこくじん,,foreign national
外国人登録,がいこくじんとうろく,,alien registration
外国政府,がいこくせいふ,,foreign government
外国船舶,がいこくせんぱく,,foreign vessel
外国中央銀行,がいこくちゅうおうぎんこう,,foreign central bank
外国倒産処理手続,がいこくとうさんしょりてつづき,,foreign insolvency proceeding
外国判決,がいこくはんけつ,,foreign judgment
外国弁護士,がいこくべんごし,,foreign lawyer
外国法共同事業,がいこくほうきょうどうじぎょう,,foreign law joint enterprise
外国法事務弁護士,がいこくほうじむべんごし,,foreign lawyer registered in Japan
外国法事務弁護士事務所,がいこくほうじむべんごしじむしょ,,office of foreign lawyer registered in Japan
外国法人,がいこくほうじん,,foreign juridical person

戸籍,こせき,,family register
戸籍簿,こせきぼ,,family registry



国家公務員,こっかこうむいん,1,national public officer,一般的な場合i原則)
国家公務員,こっかこうむいん,2,national civil servant
国家公務員,こっかこうむいん,3,national public servant
国家公務員倫理審査会,こっかこうむいんりんりしんさかい,,national public officers ethics board
国家試験,こっかしけん,,national examination
国旗,こっき,,national flag


市町村,しちょうそん,,municipality,,,,,"【注】city, town and villageの総称"

回復,かいふく,1,recovery,権利・財産の回復,上訴権回復の請求,demand for recovery of the right of appeal,刑事訴訟法363条


Japanese Law Translation Database System

Called "Japanese Law Translation" in short, the following website, has been hosted on a Japanese government server since the spring of 2009.

Japanese Law Translation Database System (JLTDS)

The movement to standardize translations of Japanese laws began with a government task force in 2004. The first edition of the so-called "Standard Bilingual Dictionary" appeared in 2005.

Government agencies began cooperating in the development of a foundation for promoting standardization of foreign language translations in 2006. The Ministry of Justice took over the project from 1 April 2009.

The Ministry of Justice is now responsible for continuing to develop the so-called Standard Bilingual Dictionary, and for overseeing the translation of Japanese laws in accordance with this dictionary. The purpose of all this continues to be to improve the quality of the information about Japanese laws that the government globally disseminates in other languages.

The Nationality Law, as revised in 2008 effective from 2009, was translated in accordance with version 3.0 of the Standard Bilingual Dictionary in May 2009 and posted on the Japanese Law Translation website in July.

JLT website disclaimers

The JLT website appropriately reminds users that its translations are not official, and that only the Japanese-language versions of the laws have legal effect. Yet it also makes the following dislaimers -- "disclaimers" because the Japanese and English versions are significantly different (bold emphasis added).

Japanese Law Translation website disclaimers
(Retrieved 8 July 2008)


All of the data contained in the "Japanese Law Translation Database System" may be cited, reproduced or reprinted as needed. These are unofficial translations. Only the original Japanese texts of the laws and regulations have legal effect, and the translations are to be used solely as reference material to aid in the understanding of Japanese laws and regulations. The Government of Japan shall not be responsible for the accuracy, reliability or currency of the legislative material provided in this website, or for any consequence resulting from use of the information in this website. For all purposes of interpreting and applying law to any legal issue or dispute, users should consult the original Japanese texts published in the Official Gazette.

So much for government's pretense of wanting to improve quality and understanding through the "standardization" of legal translation.

The Government of Japan, represented here by the Ministry of Justice, will spend tax money developing its elaborate standard dictionaries and databases -- and crank out translations as fast as its technocrats can run the software -- yet baldly refuse to be accountable for "the accuracy, reliability, or currency" of its work?

The Japanese version says 一切の責任を負いかねます (issai no sekinin o oikanemasu" -- which means "is unable to bear any responsiblity" -- for, in context, "problems that arise with the use of this page [these webpages, this website]".

Since the the disclaimer is a legal statement, and because only Japanese versions of laws are authoritative, it would appear that the user could, in fact, hold the government accountable for the lack of accuracy, reliability, and currency of the English version.


Dictionary search

The JLT website has a 辞書検索 (jisho kensaku) or "dictionary search" function ("Dictionary Search" in English) which allows a user to find whatever the current version of the Standard Bilingual Dictionary has to say about a word or phrase. Returned information includes list of laws in which the expression can be found in both the Japanese text and the JLT version of the law.

The dictionary search function returns the following information about 国民 (kokumin).

・国民[ この用語を使用している法令 ]
1. citizen 国民[ この用語を使用している法令 ]
2. national 国民[ この用語を使用している法令 ]

Clicking on the highlighted この用語を使用している法令 [Laws which use this term] link to the right of either 国民 or the two English candidates "1. citizen" or "2. national" will show a list of laws in which the terms are supposed to be found in association.

Pursuing the examples in some of the laws, however, suggests that the listed words are not necessarily associated or have been poorly translated.

Kokumin as "citizen"

The list of laws in which 国民 is supposed to mean "citizen" includes the Nationality Law.

Kokumin in Nationality Law

JLT's translation of the Nationality Law renders Paragraph 1 of Article 4, which introduces several articles on naturalization, like this.

Nationality Act
Act No. 147 of May 4, 1950
Amendment: Act No. 88 of 2008
Dictionary Ver: 3.0
Translation date: May 21, 20
(帰化) (Naturalization)
Article 4
A person who is not a Japanese citizen (hereinafter referred to as "foreign national") may acquire Japanese nationality through naturalization.


Here we see a serious confusion of metaphors. Since Japanese law defines 日本国民 (Nihon kokumin) as persons who possess the nationality of Japan, and defines neither "citizenship" nor "citizen", 日本国民 should be "national of Japan" or "Japanese national".

Japanese law defines 外国人 (gaikokujin) as a person who does not possess the nationality of Japan. This includes stateless persons, who are not nationals of a foreign country, and hence are not "foreign nationals". Therefore, 外国人 is generally, and most appropriately, translated either "alien" or "foreigner" without regard to whether the person is a "national" of another state.

Kokumin as "national"

The list of laws in which 国民 (kokumin) is supposed to mean "national" include both the law related to Ainu Culture Law and the Exit-enter-country Control Law (so-called "Immigration Control Law").

Kokumin in Ainu Culture Law

国民 (kokumin) appears only once in the Ainu Culture Law, in Article 1, which stipulates its purpose.

アイヌ文化の振興並びにアイヌの伝統等に関する知識の普及及び啓発に関する法律 (概要)
Act on the Promotion of Ainu Culture, and Dissemination and Enlightenment of Knowledge about Ainu Tradition, etc (Outline)
Act No. 52 of May 14, 1997
Amendment: Act No. 50 of 2006
Dictionary Ver: 2.0
Translation date: April 1, 20
立法の趣旨 Purpose of Legislation
The purpose of this Act is, in view of the situation in which the Ainu tradition and their culture (hereinafter referred to as the "Ainu Tradition, etc."), which is the source of pride of Ainu people, are placed, , [sic] to realize a society in which the pride of Ainu people as an ethnic group is respected and thereby to contribute to the development of diverse culture of Japan by promoting the measures for the Ainu culture and dissemination and enlightenment of knowledge of the people about Ainu tradition, etc. (hereinafter referred to as the "Promotion, etc. of Ainu Culture").


Although the search was for 国民 (kokumin), and the law is listed as an example in 国民 is supposed to mean "national", in the Ainu law 国民 is translated "the people" -- and "national" appears only in the expression "the national government" as a translation of 国 (Kuni).

Kokumin in Exit-entry-country Control Law
Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act
Cabinet Order No. 319 of October 4, 1951
Amendment: Act No. 30 of 2008
Dictionary Ver: 1.0
Translation date: April 1, 2009
(定義) (Definition)

一 削除

二 外国人 日本の国籍を有しない者をいう。

[ 他の号は省略 ]
Article 2
The terms in the following items as used in the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act and the orders pursuant to the Act shall have such meanings as defined in each item respectively.

(i) Deleted.

(ii) The term "alien1" [sic] means a person who does not have Japanese nationality.

[ Other items omitted ]


"Alien" is in fact the most appropriate translation of 外国人 (gaikokumin), meaning person of "another country" meaning "not a person of Japan" meaning "person who does not possess the nationality of Japan" -- which includes stateless people. For this reason, "foreign national" is not an appropriate translation of 外国人 since not all aliens are nationals of a "foreign" or "other" country.

外国人, while usually translated "alien" in the JLT version, is inconsistently translated differently, as in the following phrase (among others).

日本国民 (Nihon kokumin), which appears once in this law, is translated "Japanese national" (Article 50).

日本人 (Nihonjin), which appears several times, is also translated "Japanese national" (Articles 60 and 61).



JLT version

Where a foreign crew member of a vessel placed on regular service between Japan and other countries or of other vessels frequently entering into Japanese ports of entry and departure . . .


A crew member who is an alien on a vessel which regularly plys routes between this country and territories outside this country or on other vessels which frequently enter an exit-entry-country port of this country . . .

(上陸の拒否) (Denial of Landing)

[ 省略 ]

2 法務大臣は、本邦に上陸しようとする外国人が前項各号のいずれにも該当しない場合でも、その者の国籍又は市民権の属する国が同項各号以外の事由により日本人の上陸を拒否するときは、同一の事由により当該外国人の上陸を拒否することができる。
Article 5

[ Omitted ]

(2) Even in cases where an alien seeking to land in Japan does not fall under any of the items of the preceding paragraph, if the country of which he or she is a national or citizen denies landing to a Japanese national therein for any reasons other than those set forth in the items of the same paragraph, the Minister of Justice may deny his/her landing for the same reasons.


Here 国民 (kokumin) is correctly translated "national" and 市民権 (shiminken) is appropriately translated "citizen". The phrasing here is unusual in Japanese law, which does not otherwise define or use the term 市民権 (shiminken). The phrasing was introduced as a result of translating English phrasing when the Enter-exit-country Control Law was introduced during the Allied Occupation of Japan.

The phrase その者の国籍又は市民権の属する国 (sono mono no kokuseki mata wa shiminken no zoku suru kuni) structurally translates "state [country] with which the person's nationality or citizenship is affiliated". The same phrase appears in Article 53 of the current law, where the JLT version renders it "country of which he/she is a national or citizen".


Context search

The JLT website has a function called 文脈検索 (bunmyaku kensaku) which means "context search". Called "Keyword in Context search" in English, the function permits one to search the JLTDS database for how submitted keywords are translated.

Here are the results for several Japanese words, and the English words returned for the Japanese words. The numbers refer to the number of times the expression following the number was associated with the submitted word. The survey was done on 9 June 2009.

Words related to 国民 (kokumin)

国民 (kokumin) is arguably the most important word in the 1947 Constitution. It refers to an "affiliate of the state/country/nation" and hence means "national". Qualifications for being a "national of Japan" at time of birth and through birth, or later in life through other measures, are determined by the Nationality Law.

国民 203 citizen, 2055 national
citizen 485 国民
national 485 国民
Words related to 国籍 (kokuseki)

A "national of Japan" (日本国民 Nihon kokumin) is essentially a person who possesses the 国籍 (kokuseki) or "nationality" of Japan.

国籍 93 nationality
nationality 87 国籍
Words related to 市民 (shimin)

The term 市民 (shimin) is a legal term in Japanese for an affiliation of a 市 (shi) or "city". It is also a buzzword for "citizen" in the sense of a resident or member of a local or other such "community".

In the database 市民 is associated with the following two phrases.

市民農園 (shimin nōen)

This expression is equivalent to the German term "Kleingarten". The German term means "small garden". The four graphs of the Sino-Japanese expression mean "city-person agriculture-garden".

The Japanese expression is used to describe the fields established for the purpose of promoting exchanges between people in "metropolitan cities" (都市 toshi) and "agricultural villages" (農村 nōson). The JLTDS English version speaks only of promoting "allotment gardens" to improve understanding and awareness between "urban and rural areas".

市民権 (shiminken)

This expression got two hits as "national or citizen" in the phrase その者の国籍又は市民権の属する国 (sono mono no kokuseki mata wa shiminken no zoku suru kuni), which is shown to be translated as "the country of which he or she is a national or citizen".


This term got exactly zero (0) hits.

Words related to 人種 (jinshu)

人種 (jinshu), the Japanese term for "[biological] race", appears in the 1947 Constitution merely as part of a list of reasons for which a person is not to be discriminated against under law. 人種 and "race" are associated while "racial" got zero hits.

Words related to 民族 (minzoku)

民族 (minzoku), the Japanese term for "[ethnonational] race", appears only in laws related to Ainu affairs, but not in reference to individuals. In other words, such laws do not racialize individuals who may, as a private matter, consider themselves of Ainu descent within Japan's raceless nationality.

民族 (minzoku) got a few hits as "ethnic" or "ethnic group" in relation to "Ainu people" -- in which "people" is used in the sense of "ethnic group" or "ethnonation" or otherwise racialized population. 民族性 (minzokusei), meaning "ethnicity", got zero hits. English "ethnic" was associated with 民族 while "ethnicity" got zero hits.


Periodic glossary of terms related to nationality in Japan

Scope of glossary

Words are grouped here by the period of their currency. The guide words, though in English, are "tags" for the Japanese words. The English tags are intended to differentiate Japanese terms that are often conflated into a single English term. As the glosses also describe the Japanese words, the glossary should be read as a reverse dictionary.

The English terms in the following list are "tags" intended to differentiate the Japanese terms without conflating them in English terms that invite confusion. See the Topical glossary (below) for discussions of their meanings in association with related words.

Reverse dictionary

I originally created two lists, one showing Japanese expressions with English equivalents, the other showing English expressions with Japanese equivalents. Since both lists were meant to highlight my choice of English equivalents of Japanese, I decided to combine the two lists into a single list showing the English first.

The best way to think of the list is as a reverse dictionary. That is, the English "guide word" to the left is intended to reflect the Japanese term to the right, the structures (phrasing and metaphors) of which are further explored and mapped.

Periods of currency

Rather than present the words in a single list, I have grouped them according to the following five periods of currency. The words within each period appear in roughly chronological order. Some words appear in more than one period because their usage has changed.

Periods of currency

1 Words having little or no currency in Japanese law
2 Words having currency before the Meiji period (until 1868)
3 Words having currency since the Meiji period (from 1912)
4 Words having currency during the Imperial era (1890-1945)
5 Words having currency after World War II (1945 to present)


Words having little or no currency in Japanese law



公民 kōmin "public [civic] affiliate"

市民権 shimin-ken "rights of city [civic] affiliate"

Both terms have some currency in vernacular Japanese but not in Japanese law. The latter term is usually explained as meaning 参政権 (sansei-ken) or "right to participate in government" directly or indirectly, which usually means the "right to elect" (選挙権 senkyo-ken) and the "right to be elected" (被選挙権 hi-senkyo-ken).

However, there is no equivalent of "citizen" meaning "national" in Japanese law, and "citizenship" is limited to the phrase "nationality or citizenship" (国籍又は市民権 kokuseki mata wa shiminken) in two references to aliens in the 1951 Immigration Control Order. The phrasing survives in the 1982 Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law. See these laws under Postwar settlements.

Various rights and duties come with various polity affiliations in Japan. But the terms used to designate these affiliations do not themselves mean "citizen", and associated rights and duties are not themselves called "citizenship". For a closer look at affiliation and associated rights and duties, see the "Affiliation" section of the "Topical glossary" below, and the Elements of citizenship feature in the "Nationality" section.

市民 (shimin) is today widely used to mean "citizen" in the broader sense of membership in a local or other community unrelated to nationality or rights-of-suffrage. For more about this use of the term, see shimin under Words having currency after World War II (below).

ethnos, ethnic race

nation, ethnic nation

racioethnic nation

民族 minzoku "tribe of people" as volk, race

Neither race nor ethnicity is a factor in acquiring Japanese nationality, and neither is noted on family registers or census forms. No individual in Japan is legally regarded as an object of racioethnic classification.


Words having currency before the Meiji period (until 1868)

change of allegiance

帰化 kika "change of allegiance"

Change of allegiance was effected by indigenous or immigrant populations, who became Japanese by enrolling in registers of a territory under the suzerainty of the Yamato court or other Japanese authority during the millennium or so before the Meiji period.

The term was used in its present-day sense of "naturalization" as early as 1866 in a translation of laws of "far west countries" (Ninomiya 1983:218). However, naturalization was not possible in Japan until the 1899 Nationality Law came into effect.

Note that even after 1899, the term "naturalization" -- referring to a legal process of obtaining nationality through application and permission -- did not apply to cases in which an alien became Japanese through notification, as as when the alien married or was adopted by a Japanese -- which became possible in 1873 and continued to be possible under the 1899 Nationality Law.


the people

人民 jinmin "person"

This term has been used in the Japanese versions of treaties to mean "the people" of a country or state as early as the 1850s. It is the principal term in the preface to the 1872 Family Register Law in reference to a person who is expected to register -- appearing four times to only once for 國民 (国民 kokumin), which means "national" but is also used collectively to mean "the nation" as a a collectivity of "nationals".

Jinmin was used in a number of drafts for a contitution, both during the Meiji period and after World War II, but it it appears in neither the 1890 nor 1947 constitutions. It was, however, used


身分 mibun "status"

This has been the most important term in considerations of legal treatment, particular as a matter of position in a family or society. It defines one's very existence in, say, a family register, as well as the quality of one's existence. One exists, when born, by acquiring status in a register, as a child, son or daughter, of known or unknown parents. A child's birth order in addition to gender, and the relationship of the child's parents, have also affected the quality of the child's status. The term remains vital to family law today.

As a term in international private law, "status" conspires with "capacity" (能力 nōryoku) to determine one's legal standing as, say, someone who is eligible to vote and run for office (determined by status and capacity elements such as age, nationality, residence, penal record, and mental compentency).


Words having currency since the Meiji period (from 1912)



日本 Nihon, Nippon "place where sun originates"

日本人 Nihonjin, Nipponjin "person of Japan"

Nihonjin was used in the 1873 Great Council of State Proclamation on marriage with and adoption of foreigners, who might thereby acquire "the standing [status] of being Japanese" (日本人の分限 Nihonjin no bungen). This usage was adopted for the 1890 Civil Code (promulgated but never enforced) and the concomitant 1890 Rules of Laws, both of which spoke of "national standing [status]" (国民分限 kokumin bungen) in the sense of "nationality". These usages were adopted in 1890, in conformity with earlier usages, despite the use of "Japan subject" (日本臣民 shinmin) in the 1890 Constitution.

Nihonjin was also used in the 1899 Nationality Law to mean what one becomes, or ceases to be, when acquiring or losing the nationality of Japan. The 1950 Nationality Law adopted the expression Nihon kokumin or "Japan nation-affiliate" [Japan(ese) national"] in conformity with the 1947 Constitution.

foreign nation

alien, foreigner

外国 gaikoku "outside [other] nation"

外国人 gaikokujin "person of outside [other] nation"

Gaikokujin is the legal term for "alien" meaning anyone who is not Japanese, including a stateless person. Like Nihonjin, it was used in the above cited 1873 and 1890 Meiji laws, among others, to refer to "aliens" as a legal "standing" [status] (分限 bungen) based on what came to be called "national standing" (国民分限 kokumin bungen) and then "nationality" (国籍 kokuseki).

Gaijin (外人), though informally used as a short form of gaikokujin as a legal status, is generally not used in legal documents.

In non-legal contexts, both gaikokujin and gaijin are used to label people perceived as not being Japanese for racialist or racist reasons. Like other such words, their meanings are subject to a wide variety of possibly conflicting implications and inferences.

family register

principal register

戸籍 koseki "household register [affiliation]"

本積 honseki "principal register [affiliation]"

Because family registers are also registries (登録簿 tōrokubo) of Japanese nationals, only those who have Japanese nationality can be enrolled in a family register. Possession of a family register is primary evidence that one is Japanese.

rights and duties

権利 (及び ) 義務 kenri (oyobi) gimu "rights (and) duties"

The terms kenri and gimu were paired in constitution proposals as early as 1872, and are paired in both the 1890 and 1947 constitutions.


国民 kokumin "national" (affiliate of nation); "nation" (as a collectivity of "nationals"

Kokumin appears once in the preamble to the 1872 Family Register Law, and was used as early as 1872 in constitution proposals. It was not used in the 1890 Constitution but was the defining term in the expression "national status" (国民分限 kokumin bungen) articles of the 1890 Civil Code and 1890, which became "nationality" (国籍 kokuseki) in the 1899 Nationality Law. It was also widely used in a few other late 19th century and early 20th century laws.

Kokumin is used as the term for a member of the nation in the 1947 Constitution, replacing "shinmin" (subject) in the 1890 Constitution. It is also used in the 1950 Nationality Law to designate the status of a person who possesses the nationality of Japan, replacing "Nihonjin" (Japanese) in the 1899 Nationality Law.


国籍 kokuseki "national register [affiliation ]"

Kokuseki appeared in 1883 as a reduction of 国民籍 (kokuminseki), which had been coined as a translation of "Staatsangehörigkeit" (Ninomiya 1983: 218, 220). The term gained legal currency with the enforcement of 1899 Nationality Law. It appears in neither the 1890 nor the 1947 constitutions.


帰化 kika "change of allegiance"

Kika did not gain legal currency until the 1899 Nationality Law. Only after the enforcement of this law did it become possible to naturalize in Japan -- to become Japanese through application and permission, rather than through notification and confirmation.

Note that the 1899 law clearly distinguished "naturalization" from acquisition of nationality derived through marriage or adoption. This distinction continued until the 1950 Nationality Law, when such avenues to nationality ended.


国家 kokka "family of nation [national family]"

Used in both 1890 and 1947 constitutions.

home country

本国 hongoku "principal [home] [this, said] country"

When speaking of a specific country, especially from outside the country, this term refers to the "home country" as the said country. See, for example, its usage in the 1873 intermarriage proclamation.

In determinations of applicable law, it refers to the "home country" of a natural or legal person, usually determined by the person's presumed national affiliation as a matter of civil nationality -- hence "home country law" (本国法 hongokuhō). This has been the most essential meaning of the word in international law, including related Japanese laws, since the Meiji period. See Status and applicable law.

Kōjien (5th edition) gives the following definitions (my translations).

1. その人の生れた国。その人の国籍がある国。
   Country where a person is born.
   Country where a person's nationality exists.
   [ Country in which a person has nationality. ]

2. 先祖の出た国。
   Country from which [a person's] ancestors came.

3. ふるさと。故郷。
   Old village.  Old village.
   [ both in sense of "old country" ]

4. 植民地でない、本来の国土。
   Not colony, original national territory.

As a legal term referring to a person's country of presumed (actual or virtual) nationality, however, hongoku does not mean the country in which the person was born, but merely the person's country of legal affiliation.


Words having currency during Imperial era (1890-1945)

Empire of Japan

大日本帝国 Dai Nippon Teikoku "Great Empire of Japan"

Name of Japan in 1890 Constitution.

"Empire of Japan" in English and Japanese expressions like "Teikoku Dai Nihon" (帝國大日本) and "Dai Nihon Teikoku" (大日本帝國) appeared in documents and treaties concerning Japan-U.S. relations in the 1850s, but consistent formal use of "Dai Nihon Teikoku" (大日本帝國) began with the Meiji Constitution, promulgated in 1889 and effective in 1890. The Yamajo court's territorial expansion within what became Japan's major islands during the 15 centuries or so before the start of the Meiji period, and Japan's incorporation of Hokkaidō, Okinawa, and Ogasawara during the first 2 decades of the Meiji period, were imperialistic in spirit. But the "rise and fall" of Japan as an "empire" comparable to Great Britain, Holland, France, Germany, and the United States, did not begin until it's acquisition of Taiwan in 1895 after the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). This marked the start of Japan's multiterritorial state, which would include Karauto in 1905, Korea as Chōson in 1910. Though not part of Japan's sovereign dominion, Kwangtung Province and South Sea Islands joined Japan's legal empire, as territories subject to Japan's control and jurisdiction, in 1905 and 1919.

supreme right of state rule

right to rule

国家統治ノ大権 kokka tōchi no taiken

統治権 tōchiken

Both terms used in reference to "sovereignty" of emperor in 1890 Constitution.


臣民 shinmin "loyal person" [as subject of emperor]

subject of Japan

日本臣民 Nippon shinmin "emperor (loyal) affiliate of Japan"

This term, which appeared in the articles of the 1872 Family Register Law, was used in the 1890 Constitution for persons affiliated with the sovereign territory of the Empire of Japan in the sense of belonging to the emperor's people. It was also used in the 1890 House of Representatives Member Election Law.

Though the 1899 Nationality Law was intended to define the qualifications for being a "Nihon shinmin" as required by Article 18 of the 1890 Constitution, it used the term "Nihonjin" -- as had the 1873 Great Council Proclamation on gaining and losing "the status of being Japanese" through marriage and adoption.

subject of the Empire

帝国臣民 Teikoku shinmin "loyal affiliate of the emperor's country (empire)"

This term began to appear after Taiwan became part of the sovereign Empire of Japan. It appears, for example in the 1900 revision of the 1890 Houses of Representatives Member Election Law, and as such it implies that the law would also enfranchise Taiwanese males who were of age and otherwise qualified as residents of, and tax payers in, an Interior election area.

This term continued to be used in laws that embrace all imperial subjects, whether affiliated with the Interior (prefectures), or with Taiwan or Chosen. Some laws qualified "imperial subject" with phrases like "those subject to application of the Family Register Law" -- which excluded Taiwanese and Chosenese, since they were subject to regional registration laws.

public [civic] rights

公権 koken "public [civil] rights"

This is the closest any Japanese legal term has come to meaning "citizenship" as a synonym for "rights of suffrage".

The term appears in the following two expressions in the House of Representatives Member Election Law as revised from 1900.

剥奪公権者 hakudatsu koken sha "deprived-civic-rights person"

停止公権者 teishi koken sha "suspended-civic-rights person

The terms were inspired by usage in the contemporary Penal Code, now called the Old Penal Code. The Old Penal Code was pomulgated by Great Council of State Proclamation No. 36 of 17 July 1880 and enforced from 1 January 1882 by Great Council of State Proclamation No. 36 of 1881.

Civic rights deprivation and suspension are topics of Articles 31 and 33. Article 31, which defined 剥奪公権 (deprived civic rights), lists the rights that stood to be deprived, beginning with "special rights of nationals" (国民ノ特権). Article 33 stipulated the conditions that would cause a "Loss of official post and/or suspension of civic rights" (官職の喪失、公権の停止).

The Old Penal Code was abolished by the current Penal Code, Law No. 45 of 24 April 1907, which came into force from 1 January 1908. However, Articles 31 and 33 of the Old Penal Code remain in effect today, according to the current Penal Code Enforcement Law, Law No. 29 of 29 March 1908.

The terms "hakudatsu koken" (剥奪公権) and "teishi koken" (停止公権) appear a few times in the Penal Code Enforcement Law. No such terms, however, survive in the postwar election laws. Nor are they found in the heavily revised and partly vernacularized Penal Code.

The terms 公権剥奪 (koken hakudatsu) and 公権停止 (koken teishi) are more familiar as translations of the English expressions "deprivation of civil rights" and "suspension of civil rights".


民籍 minseki "people [population] register [affiliation]"

This term was used to refer to population registers, especially those that differentiated status. It appears, for example in an 1871 Dajokan Proclamation No. 449, abolishing eta, hinin, and other such statuses, and mandating the integration of such people into "general population registers".

While family registers recorded inherited caste statuses that continued to be defined by law -- kazoku (peers, who held titles of nobility), shizoku (former samurai and others so classified), and heimin (commoners) -- minseki was sometimes used to denote registers that differentiated social status in addition to family status.

In 1909, the year before Japan annexed Korea, when Korea was a protectorate of Japan, Japan promoted the establishment of the Minsekiho or "People's Register Law" in order to improve control and protection of the population. After annexation, this law was gradually replaced by a localized version of the prefectural Family Register Law.

Eventually, the term "minseki" was officially used to refer to, and differentaite, regional population registers within the sovereign empire. It is used, for example, in demographic statistics for the four "subnations" or the Empire of Japan -- the "interior" subnation (prefectures) and the "exterior" subnations (Taiwan, Karafuto, Chosen) -- all of which were governed under somewhat different laws.

When used in the context of differentiating the populations of the subnational entities of the empire, minseki means "subnationality" within Japanese nationality. All people who were Japanese subjects by nationality (kokuseki) were additionally Interior, Taiwanese, Karafuto, or Chosenese subjects by subnationality (minseki).

interior [subnation]

interior person

内地 naichi "interior [prefectural] territory"

内地人 naichijin "interior person [Japanese]"

Naichi is usually translated "Japan proper" or "Nippon proper" or "the home country" or just "Japan", and "naichijin is usually translated "Japanese" but is also sometimes rendered "Japanese proper". However, such tags do not correctly represent the meanings of these terms in reference to entities and subjects of the Empire of Japan.

exterior [subnation]

exterior person

外地 gaichi "exterior [non-prefectural] territory"

外地人 gaichijin "exterior person [Japanese]"

Gaichi is often translated as "colonies" and gaichijin as "colonials" or "colonial subjects". However, Taiwan, Karafuto, and Chosen were subnational entities of the Empire of Japan, and their affiliates were Japanese.



台湾 Taiwan "Taiwan" as a subnation of Empire of Japan"

台湾人 Taiwanjin "person [Japanese subject] of [affiliated with] Taiwan"

China ceded Taiwan to Japan in 1895, and inhabitants who did not register as nationals of other states became Japanese nationals of Taiwanese subnationality. After World War II, Taiwan became a province of the Republic of China, and Taiwanese became ROC nationals. Taiwan is now the largest territory of what remains of the Republic of China, which the People's Republic of China regards as part of its sovereign territory.



朝鮮 Chōsen "Chosen" as a subnation of Empire of Japan"

朝鮮人 Chōsenjin "person [Japanese subject] of [affiliated with] Chosen"

Korea ceded itself to Japan in 1910. Japan renamed the territory Chosen, and its inhabitants became Japanese nationals of Chosenese subnationality. After World War II, the peninsula became divided between the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea north, south and north of the 38th parallel. Both Chosen and Chosenjin continue to exist as legal legacies in the unfinished business of postwar politics.


Words having currency after World War II (1945 to present)


日本国 Nihonkoku, Nipponkoku "nation of Japan"

Formal name for Japan in 1947 Constitution.


主権 shuken "principal rights"

This is the term used for "sovereignty" in 1947 Constitution, which invests such sovereignty in "nationals of Japan" (see next).

national of Japan


日本国民 Nihon kokumin "affiliate of nation of Japan"

国民 kokumin "affiliate of nation"

While both terms had some currency during the Meiji period, and appeared in some laws and ordinances before the end of World War II, they did not became the standard legal references to people affiliated with Japan by nationality until their use in the 1947 Constitution.


住民 jūmin "residing affiliate"

Article 93 of the 1947 Constitution provides that local officials shall be directly elected by local "residents". The Constitution does not stipulate does not state that the residents need to be nationals. Article 10 of the 1947 Local Autonomy Law defines all people who possess a "domicile" (住所 jūsho) in a municipality as a resident of the municipality and the prefecture that includes it. Article 11 then limits local suffrage to residents who are nationals.

In principle, however, an expression like Japan resident (日本住民 Nihon jōmin) would legally embrace all people who are registered as residents of a local polity in Japan -- regardless of their nationality.

Residents as local affiliates are sometimes generally referred to as "shimin" (市民) in the sense of "municipal affiliates". See the Affiliation section of this glossary for further details about this usage. See

city affiliate

"municipal affiliate"

"citizen, citizen-,
civic-, civil-"

市民 shimin "city affiliate" (narrowly)

市民 shimin "municipal affiliate" (broadly)

市民 shimin "citzen" (otherwise)

Narrower legal sense

shimin is most strictly used as a legal term meaning a registered resident (住民 jōmin) -- hence affiliate (民 min) -- of a municipality classified as a "city" (市 shi) -- as opposed to a "ward" (区 ku), "town" (町 chō), or "village" (村 son). By law, affiliates of such municipalities are also affiliates of the prefecture that includes the municipality -- regardless of nationality. See the Affiliation section of this glossary for further details about this usage.

Broader legal sense

shimin is increasingly used as a synonym for 区市町村民 (ku-shi-chō-son-min) -- meaning "municipal affiliate". An example of such usage is the expression "shimin-zei" (市民税) -- meaning "municipal tax" -- commonly used as shorthand for "shi-chō-son-min-zei" (市町村民税) and "ku-shi-chō-son-min-zei" (区市町村民税) in general speech and writing -- though in specific contexts it would mean only "city-affilate tax"

Other senses

shimin is also easily -- and increasingly -- affixed to other words to form expressions like the following, in which means "citizen" -- or, atributively, "citizen-, citizenship-, civic-, civil-" -- in the sense of membership in any kind of "civic" or "civil" society or community. Japanese law does not, however, use this term as a synonym for either "national" or "citizen" as a status based on nationality.

The expressions below are listed in alphabetical order by their romanizations. The long vowels "ō" and "ū" are shown as "ou" and "uu". I use "citizens" as an adjectival noun, hence "citizens movement" rather than "citizens' movement".

市民団体  shimin dantai    citizens group [organization]
市民階級  shimin kaikyuu   bourgeoisie
市民革命  shimin kakumei   bourgeois revolution
市民活動  shimin katsudou  citizen activities
市民ケーン Shimin Keen    "Citizen Kane"
市民権   shimin-ken       droit de cité
                             droit du citoyen
市民教育  shimin kyouiku   citizenship education
市民農園  shimin nouen     Kleingarten [small garden]
                             small rural plots of land
                             used on weekends by city people
                             to grow vegetables and fruit
市民参加  shimin sanka     citizen participation
市民生活  shimin seikatsu  civic life
市民戦争  shimin sensou    civil war
                             内戦 naisen "internal war"
                             内乱 nairan "internal conflict"
市民社会  shimin shakai    civic society
市民大会  shimin taikai    citizens rally
市民運動  shimin undou     citizens [civic]movement


人種 jinshu "race"

This term is used in Artciles 14 and 44 of 1947 Constitution by way of prohibiting discrimination because of race. Otherwise, it has practically no currency in Japanese law, which does not racialize people.


Topical glossary of terms related to nationality in Japan


Words, including those in the "Periodic glossary" (above), are grouped here by topics that cut across periods. The glosses illuminate their meanings in association with related words, and changes in their usage over time.

1. National, family, and principal registers
2. Japanese and aliens
3. National, prefectural, and municipal affiliation
4. Change of allegiance and naturalization
5. Interior and exterior subnations, and integration
6. Race and ethnicity


National, family, and principal registers
国籍  kokuseki   nationality
無国籍  mukokuseki   without nationality, stateless
戸籍  koseki   household register, family register
本籍  honseki   principal register
本籍地  honsekichi   locality of principal register
本籍を有しない者  honseki o yū shinai mono   person who does not possess a honseki
身分  mibun   status [as position]
本分  honbun   condition [as status or position]
民位  min'i   population position [status within population]


Kokuseki (国籍) -- literally "national register" -- means "national (state) affiliation" or "nationality".

Kokuseki and koseki

In Japan, nationality is tantamount to membership in a "koseki" (戸籍) or "family register" affiliated with a local polity within a prefecture -- a village, town, or city that is part of Japan's sovereign territory.

Though Japanese nationality is acquired at time of birth primarily through family lineage, it is essentially territorial, because family registers are tied to territory, and so Japanese nationality can be gained or lost through territorial cession.

Origin of kokuseki

国籍 (kokuseki) seems to have first appeared in 1883 as a simplification of 国民籍 (kokuminseki), which was used in an early draft of a proposal to revise the 1873 proclamation permitting Japanese to make alliances of marriage and adoption with aliens.

Apparently 国民籍 (kokuminseki) reflected Inoue Kowashi's translation of Staatsangehörigkeit, the term used by Karl Friedrich Hermann Roesler, who was advising the Meiji government on matters of law. By the final draft, 国民籍 (kokuminseki) had been reduced to just 国籍 (kokuseki). The proposed revision was never promulgated, but the term 国籍 (kokuseki) was eventually adopted as the Japanese equivalent of "nationality" (Ninomiya 1983: 218, 220).


本籍 (honseki) or "principal register" is an abbreviation of 本籍地 (honsekichi) or "principal register locality". The locality is the address that appears on a family register. The register is territorially affiliated with the municipality that has jurisdiction over the address.

"Honseki" is sometimes rendered "permanent domicile" or "permanent domicile registration". But it neither a "domicile" much less a "permanent domicile". It is more an affiliation with a locality, based on registration rather than residence in the locality.

"Honseki" is also translated "legal domicile", but this could describe any residence established by registration.

Honseki for Japanese

Official notices and other documents related to family registration -- such as birth, death, marriage, and divorce notification forms -- have a box for 本籍 (honseki) or 本籍地 (honsekichi), and a box for 住所 (jūsho) or "domicile".

The "principal register" or "principal register locality" of a Japanese may be the full address of record on the person's family register, or the prefecture and the municipality which has jurisdiction of the address, or just the prefecture which has jurisdiction over the municipality.

The "domicile" is the address where the person is registered as a resident for tax, voting, and other citizenship. It may be the "principal register" address, another address in the same municipality, another address in another municipality in Japan, or even an overseas address.

The honseki address may be that of an ancestral home, where one was born, or where one's parents were born. Some people are born, raised, live, and die at their honseki address. Others are born and raised at their honseki address, move to another address but leave their honseki unchanged for family reasons. Yet others have never lived at their honseki address. Many people not living at their honseki address visit their ancestral home on seasonal or other family occassions.

Some people, though, have never visited their honseki address. In fact, their honseki address may have changed because neighborhoods and lots have been renamed or renumbered. Or the municipality may no longer exist because of merger with others. Or someone else may be living at the address. By law, however, the honseki of a family registser may be any legal address in Japan -- whether or not any of the family members actually reside there -- though in practice this is not encouraged.

Legal significance of honseki

While it may seem that the address on a family register has little if any legal meaning, just the opposite is true. Whether one's current domicile, or a sentimental vestige of an long gone ancestral home, it is nonetheless one's primary legal address for nationality affiliation and other legal purposes. This is clear from the fact, that under Japanese law, aliens also have a honseki.

Honseki of aliens

When faced with a 本籍 (honseki) or 本籍地 (honsekichi) box on a municipal or other form in Japan, aliens -- who by definition are those who are not qualified to be members of a family register linked with Japan's nationality, and hence have no honseki locality in Japan -- will write the name of their country of nationality.

An alien will write 韓国 (Kankoku) if a national of the Republic of Korea, 米国 (Beikoku) if a national of the United States of America, 朝鮮 (Chosen) if one has only this legacy status of affiliation with the defunct Japanese territory of Chosen, or 無国籍 (mukokuseki) if one literally "has no nationality" -- i.e., is stateless.

Honseki and nationality acquisition

Under today's Nationality Law, if the honseki of the mother and/or the father is in Japan, the child will be registered in her/their/his honseki register, and will thereupon acquire Japanese nationality. Until thus registered, the child is virtually stateless.

If the honseki of neither parent is in Japan, and if the parents are registered as aliens, the local office will register the child in the parents' alien register as being of whatever nationality the parents are able to document through confirmation with the missions of their own governments. If one or both parents are nationals of another country, but unable for whatever reason to acquire a nationality for the child, then it will be registered as stateless.

Infants who become Japanese by application at the time of their birth, and children and adults who are permitted to naturalize, become Japaneses only at which point they are enrolled in a family register. Japanese who renounce or otherwise lose their nationality cease being a member of family register.

"Japanese without a honseki"

If a child is born in Japan to parents who are either both unknown -- i.e., the child has been abandoned and neither parent is known -- or if a child is born to parents who are both stateless, then it will be recognized as Japanese and be given a family register.

Such a child will become, momentarily, a "Japanese without a honseki" (本籍を有しない日本人) -- an anomally in which a person satisfies the legal qualifications for being Japanese but there is no register in which the person can be enrolled. Someone would petition a family court, and if the court agrees that the child satisfies the place-of-birth critera of Japan's Nationality Law, it will issue a permit to establish a register (就籍 shūseki) within ten days (Family Registration Law, Article 110).

Domicile registration

What laws apply to whom depend on where one lives and one's legal status in the localities -- sometimes more than one -- in which one pursues life. Japanese law defines several kinds of addresses but only three are important for most people who live in Japan.

The 1947 Constitution of Japan uses the term 住居 (jūkyo) -- meaning "residence" or "place of abode" -- in two places, where the English version has "domicile" (Article 24) and "homes" (Article 35). However, this term is not the legal term for "domicile" or "residence" in Japanese law. The term "jūkyo" (住居) or "residence" had been used in election laws since at least the 1925 House of Representatives Members Election Law. The term now used is "jūsho" (住所) or "domicile".

Principal affiliation

The most important "address" a person has -- in the sense that it signifies one's primary territorial affiliation -- is 本籍 (honseki) or 本籍地 (honsekichi) -- "principal register" or "principal register locality". Though used to signify the prefectural and municipal affiliations of Japanese family registers, the term also embraces state affiliations, hence nationality (see more detailed discussion above).

However, other "addresses" related to legal status are more important for purposes of applying the laws that most affect everyday life.

Domicile and residence

Articles 22-24 of the Civil Code define three legal terms for "address", the first of which is most important.

住所 (jūsho) domicile -- This term is used to denote the address where one resides for the purpose of pursuing a living. It is generally the address in the municipality in which one is registered for tax, health insurance, voting, and other citizenship purposes -- and applies to both Japanese and aliens. It appears in the Family Registration Law, the Basic Resident Registration Law, the Alien Registration Law, and the Nationality Law, among many others.

居所 (kyosho) residence -- This term denotes an address in Japan that can serve as a domicile address, when a person's domicile is not known or is not in Japan. For people who do not have a domicile in Japan -- including Japanese who have filed notice that they are living overseas, which effects their citizenship status in Japan -- a person's residence address in Japan is taken to be the person's domicile. This term appears with 住所 (jūsho) in both the Nationality Law and the Alien Registration Law.

仮住所 (kari jūsho) temporary domicile -- This term denotes an address used as a domicile for the purpose of committing a specific act. It has currency mostly in matters involving violations of laws.

Resident registration for Japanese

Family registers establish the family relationships of Japanese nationals under family. Rights and duties of citizenship are administered on the basis of "Resident registration" (住民登録 jūmin tōroku). Such registration establishes one's domicile in a municipality through the creation of a "Resident card" 住民票 (jūminhyō). Municipal resident records will show the resident's honseki address, which may be in another municipality.

Municipal residents can file notices of birth, death, marriage, divorce, and other matters affecting their family register or their status therein, at a municipal office. Changes will first be made on their honseki registers, then reflected on municipal resident records. Japanese sojourning or residing overseas file such notices at Japanese consulates or other missions.

Alien registration for aliens

Aliens, including stateless people, undergo alien registration (外国人登録 gaikokujin tōroku). Such registration establishes an alien as a resident of a municipality within a prefecture in Japan.

Alien registration is the legal equivalent of resident registration. A registered alien's domicile address is the address of record established by alien registration. An Alien's rights and duties of citizenship are based on, and administered through, the aliens's domicile address, as they are for a Japanese resident.


Japanese and aliens
日本  Nihon   Japan
日本人  Nihonjin   Japanese
日本の女  Nihon no onna   woman of Japan

外国人民  gaikoku jinmin   people of foreign nation, alien person
外国人  gaikokujin   foreigner, alien
外国の女  gaikoku no onna   woman of foreign nation

"Nihon" -- literally "where the sun originates" -- is a short form of "Nihonkoku" -- "nation where the sun originates".

"Nihonjin" -- literally "person of [the nation] where the sun originates" -- was used in the 1873 proclamation permitting Japanese to marry "persons of foreign countries" (gaikoku jinmin) or "foreigners" (gaikokujin). The proclamation used "Nihonjin" in references both to "being Japanese" as a status, and to "gaining the status of being Japanese" or "losing the status of being Japanese" as a change of status. In other words, "being Japanese" (Nihonjin taru no bungen) was purely a matter of being in a family register affiliated with Japan. Interestingly, only women are referred "of Japan" or "of a foreign nation" in statements that leave to context the understanding that the other party is a man, either of a foreign nation or Japan.

"Nihonjin" was also used in the 1899 Nationality Law to describe a mother or father whose status was taken as the basis for acquiring "the nationality of Japan" (Nihon no kokuseki). In other words, one became "Nihonjin" by acquiring the nationality of Japan, and ceased being "Nihonjin" by losing Japan's nationality.


National, municipal, and prefectural affiliation today -- and subjecthood historically
日本人民  Nihon jinmin   people of Japan
日本国民  Nihon kokumin   national [affiliate of nation] of Japan
日本臣民  Nihon shinmin   subject of Japan

区市町村民  ku / shi / chō / son -min   municipal affiliate
都道府県民  to / dō / fu / ken -min   prefectural affiliate


Affiliation with Japan's demographic nation derives from primary domicile (本籍 honseki) affiliation with a municipality in Japan's sovereign geographic dominion. Aliens are defined as persons who do not possess such primary domicile affiliation.

Today, however, Japanese and aliens alike are affiliated with the municipality in which they are registered as residents. Prefectural affiliation derives from municipal residency.

Subjecthood is covered under Subjectood under 1890 Constitution at end of this section. Subnationality, though related to both subjecthood and national affiliation in the Empire of Japan, is covered in the Subnationality section, following this section.

National affiliation

Two important terms -- 人民 (jinmin) or "the people" and 国民 (kokumin) or "nationals" -- appear in the preamble to the 1872 Family Register Law, while 臣民 (shinmin) or "subjects" appears in the articles of this fundamental law.

Jinmin had been widely used as a term for "the people" of a state in treaties and other documents since the 1850s. Kokumin gained some frequency at the time in reference to the "jinmin" of the nation. But shinmin became the reference to the "emperor (loyal) affiliates" of the sovereign tennō (天皇) in the 1890 Constitution.

Jinmin and kokumin appeared in various proposals for both the Meiji and postwar consitutitons. But only shinmin appears in the 1890 Constitution, and only kokumin appears in the 1947 Constitution.

1876 Japan National Law proposal

"Nihon kokumin" (日本国民) or "national of Japan" was used in the October 1876 Chamber of Elders (元老院 Genrōin) draft constitution called Japan National Law proposal (日本国憲按 Nihon kokken an). It spoke of "insiders/outsiders" (内外人 naigaijin) in the context of "people" (人民 jinmin) in the "empire" (帝国 teikoku, also called 日本帝国 Nihon teikoku). From this point, the references are to "nationals of Japan" (日本国民 Nihon kokumin) and "outlanders" (外国人 gaikokujin).

1879 Omeisha Constitution draft

"Nihon jinmin" (日本人民) or "the people of Japan" was used in the 1879 Omeisha Constitution draft (嚶鳴社憲法草案 Ōmeisha kenpō sōan). The Omeisha (Cherry society) was founded in 1878 by Numa Morikazu (沼間守一 1844-1890) shortly before he left government service (and the Chamber of Elders) to devote himself to political reform movements and journalism. The group disbanded in 1882 when Numa joined the Rikken Kaishintō (立憲改進党) or "Constitutional reform party) founded that year by Ōkuma Shigenobu (大隈重信 1838-1922). The Kaishintō was instrumental in pushing for a parliamentary government within the framework of a British-style constitutional monarchy.

1880 National Contract Constitution prospectus

All three terms -- "shinmin" (臣民) meaning "emperor (loyal) affiliates" or "subjects", "kokumin (国民) or "nationals", and "jinmin"(人民) or "people" -- were used in the 1880 National Contract [Covenant] Constitution prospectus (國約憲法見込案 Kokuyaku kenpōo mikomi an). The prospectus was drafted by Watanabe Masanao (澤辺正修) and titled "Constitution of Great Japan" (大日本国憲法 Dai Nipponkoku kenpō).

"Shinmin" appears once in Article 4, which says that the emperor, among other things, "regulates the order of the state" and "leads the subjects".

"Jinmin" also appears only once, in Article 74, the last article, which speaks of "officials and the people". "Kokumin" is used in several articles under Chapter 3 on "Rights and duties of nationals" (国民ノ権利及義務 Kokumin no kenri oyobi gimu).

1890 Constitution

"Shinmin" is used throughout the 1890 Constitution. Chapter 2 in called "Rights and duties of subjects" (臣民権利義務 Shinmin kenri gimu). Neither "kokumin" nor "jinmin" appear in this constitution, though "kokumin" is used in the 1890 (never enforced) Civil Code and in the concomitant 1890 Rules of Laws.

While "kokumin" was used in some laws, the 1899 Nationality Law -- which fulfilled the requirements of Article 18 in the 1890 Constitution that the qualifications for being a "Nihon shinmin" (日本臣民) or "subject of Japan" were to be determined by law -- spoke of "Nihonjin" (日本人) or "person of Japan" -- as had the 1873 Great Council of State proclamation on alliances of marriage and adoption between Japanese and aliens, which essentially remained in effect.

1947 Constitution

Although "jinmin" (and even "shinmin") appeared in some early proposals of what would become the 1947 Constitution, "kokumin" quickly became the most acceptable term.

Article 10 of the 1947 Constitution requires that conditions for being a "Nihon kokumin" (日本国民) or "national of Japan" would be determined by law. These conditions continued to be stipulated by the 1899 Nationality Law until it was replaced by the 1950 Nationality Law. The 1950 Nationality Law followed the 1947 Constitution in speaking of "Nihon kokumin" rather than "Nihonjin".

The 1947 Constitution refers to "nationality" (国籍 kokuseki) only once, in Paragraph 2 of Article 22, which provides that "Freedom of all persons to move to a foreign country and to divest themselves of their nationality shall be inviolate." While this article appears to apply to "all persons", it in fact pertains only to Japanese, as in principle Japan cannot legislate the disposition of another state's nationality.

In practice, though, Japanese are not permitted to renounce their Japanese nationality if to do so would result in them becoming stateless in the eyes of Japanese law. Someone who wishes to renounce Japanese nationality must also be a national of an entity that Japan recognizes as a state.

Municipal and prefectural affiliation

Under Japanese law, all individuals who are registered as residents of a municipal (village, town, city, ward) entity in Japan, whether as Japanese or aliens (including stateless persons), become affiliates of the municipality. This makes them also a affiliates of the prefecture which has jurisdiction over the municipality. Japanese nationals are also allowed to register themselves as domiciled outside Japan, in which case their status as a municipal and prefectural affiliate is partly placed on hold.

An individual registered in Japan therefore acquires a legal status which amounts to nested polity affiliations -- municipal, prefectural and national. Such affiliations, with other personal attributes, determine the scope of the individual's rights and duties as set down by the Constitution and other laws.

In other words, statuses like being a national of Japan, or a legal resident of a municipality and prefecture, are merely attributions of affiliation and do not themselves signify the elements of citizenship for which the individual may qualify.

Another way to look at the meaning of polity affiliation in Japan is to think of all people who are domiciled in Japan, whether nationals or aliens, are "citizens" -- and the only question is the quality of an individual's "citizenship" -- which will vary according to numerous factors, including nationality.

Municipal affiliates

The specific terms for municipal affilation are as follows.

kumin (区民) "ward affiliate"
shimin (市民) "city affiliate"
chōmin (町民) "town affiliate"
sonmin (村民) "village affiliate"

The term "shimin" (市民) is commonly used as a collective synonym for "ku-shi-chō-son-min" (区市町村民) -- in which case it means "municipal affiliate".

Note that "shimin" is also frequently used (though not in law) in the broader sense of membership in any kind of "civic" or "civil" community. For more about this usage, see shimin under Words having currency after World War II (above).

Prefectural affiliates

Terms for affiliates of various kinds of prefectural entities are as follows.

tomin (都民) "metropolian [prefectura] affiliate"
dōmin (道民) "district [prefectural] affiliate"
fumin (府民) "urban [prefectural] affiliate"
kenmin (県民) "rural [prefectural] affiliate"

The distinctions are of more historical than contemporary significance. All but Tokyo prefecture or "Tokyo Metropolitian Government" (東京都 Tōkyōto), Hokkaido (北海道 Hokkaidō) and Kyoto prefecture (京都府 Kyōtofu) and Osaka (大阪府 Ōsakafu), are "ken" (県) -- which in China refers to smaller, sub-provincial counties.

Because prefectures are predominately "ken" (県), the term "kenmin" (県民) is sometimes used as a collective synonym for "to-dō-fu-ken-min" (都道府県民) or "prefectural affiliate". However, the expression "prefectural affiliate tax" (道府県民税 dō-fu-ken-min zei) does not include "to" (都) because the metropolitan prefecture is covered by different laws.

Subjectood under 1890 Constitution

"Nippon shinmin" -- "subjects of Japan" -- was the expression finally adopted in 1890 Constitution. "Shinmin" -- meaning "emperor affiliate" or "loyal people" or "subjects" -- was considered a more appropriate description of the bond between the people of Japan and the emperor as their sovereign.

The 1890 Constitution makes no reference to "nationality" (kokuseki). Article 18 provides that "The conditions necessary for being a Japanese subject shall be determined by law" (日本臣民タル要件ハ法律ノ定ムル所ニ依ル Nihon shinmin taru yoken wa horitsu no sadamuru tokoro ni yoru). The conditions were specified in the 1899 Nationality Law (Kokusekiho).

The term "shinmin" reflects the fact that, under the 1890 Constitution, sovereignty did not reside with the people. There were no "people" in the sense that the 1947 Constitution speaks of "sovereign power" as something that "resides with the people" (主権が国民に存する shuken ga kokumin ni son suru).

There are no "people" in the 1890 Constitution. The few instances of "Our people" in the standard English version actually reflect "Waga shinmin" (我カ臣民) -- meaning "Our subjects".

"The right of sovereignty of the State" (国家統治ノ大権 kokka tochi no taiken) is described as something "We" (朕 Chin) have inherited from "Our ancestors" and will bequeath to "Our descendants" -- in which description the "We" and "Our" refer to the emperor.


Subnationality -- Interior and exterior subnations and integration
民籍  minseki   subnationality
内地  naichi   sovereign territory within prefectural polity; prefectural subnation
内地人  naichijin   Japanese subjects of interior subnation
外地  gaichi   sovereign territories outside prefectural polity; non-prefectural subnations
外地人  gaichijin   Japanese subjects of exterior subnations
一元化  ichigenka   integration [of gaichi into naichi]
一体化  ittaika   integration [of gaichi into naichi]


The term 民籍 had been used in Korean law to mean what amounted to a 戸籍 in Japanese law. Japanese administrators continued to use the term to apply to population registers on the peninsula.

However, the term 民籍 also came to be used to differentiate the registers of all four subnational jurisdictions within the sovereign empore. Some Japanese statistics show data broken down into four 民籍 -- 内地, 台湾, 樺太, and 朝鮮 -- these being the four subnations of the larger imperial nation.

Whether a Japanese was an affiliate of the 内地 (one of the prefectures) or of one of the 外地 (台湾, 樺太, 朝鮮) -- hence a 内地人 or a 外地人 (台湾人, 樺太人, 朝鮮人) -- was entirely a matter of family registration, not race or ethnicity. Movement between 民籍 (including 戸籍) registers in the the four subnations was based on family and family registration law -- which meant that the principles were generally the same as those which governed nationality changes between, say, Japan and China, or Japan and the United States.

1925 census   The 1925 census, as published by the Statistics Bureau of the Imperial Cabinet (Naikoku Tokei Kyoku), broke 全版図 (Zenhanto) into 帝国 (Teikoku, Empire), 関東州 (Kantoshu, Kwantung Province [Leased Territory]), and 南洋群島 (Nan'yo Gunto, South Pacific [Mandate] Islands). The term "zenhanto" meant "all registers and lands" or "the [emperor's] entire realm" -- i.e., the population of all territories under Japan's control.

The Empire -- the sovereign part of the realm -- was broken down into 内地 (Naichi, Prefectures), 朝鮮 (Chosen, Korea), 台湾 (Taiwan, Formosa), and 樺太 (Karafuto, Sakhalin). The term 民籍 did not appear in the parts I examined.

1930 census   The 1930 census introduced the term 民籍国籍 (minseki kokuseki), in which 民籍 embraced 内地人 and 外地人 (朝鮮、台湾、樺太), and 外国人 embraced 中華民国 (Chuka Minkoku) or Republic of China, followed by many foreign entitites. Many kinds of demographic statistics are similarly reported in terms of 民籍国籍別 (minseki/kokuseki betsu) or "by minseki/kokuseki".

Census data for 全国 (zenkoku, entire nation, all countries) included only 府県 (fuken), meaning the prefectures (including Hokkaido), the jurisdiction for which the Meiji Constitution was intended when it came into effect in 1890. After the incorporation of Taiwan into the Empire of Japan in 1895, the prefectural entity came to be known as the Interior (内地 Naichi). Note that the prefectures originated from "all the countries" (全ての国 subete no kuni) that were nationalized within Japan's main islands from 1868.


Japan's sovereign territory was divided into the prefectures, which fell under the umbrella of national laws passed by the Imperial Diet or otherwise sanctioned by the 1890 Constitution, and non-prefectural entities to which national laws did not apply. The latter territories consited of Taiwan, Karafuto, and Korea -- all ceded to Japan by internationally recognized treaties.

Japan nationalized these three territories by extending localized versions of its family registration law and civil code. Japan also extended its nationality law to Taiwan and Karafuto, but not (at least formally) to Korea. Except for persons who remained aliens under the terms of the treaties with China and Russia, which ceded Taiwan and Karafuto to Japan, all people affiliated with local population registers in Taiwan, Karafuto, and Korea were enfranchised as Japanese.


Taiwanese, Karafutoan, and Korean registers became increasingly Japanized as Japan's administrators applied more provisions of Japan's civil law to the practice of family law and family registration in these territories, in order to prepare these subnations for full legal integration into the prefectural nation. In 1942, all three subnations, which had been administered by officials appointed directly by the government, were brought under the control of the Ministry of Home Affairs, and Karafuto was prefecturalized in 1943.

In March 1945, voices were heard in the Diet calling for the abolishment of the term 外地 as a designation for Korea and Taiwan, which had been been used since about the time Taiwan become part of Japan's sovereign dominion in 1895 -- followed by Karafuto in 1905, and Korea as Chosen in 1910.

Karafuto became a prefecture in 1943, but long before then it had come to be legally treated as virtually part of the Interior, meaning Japan's prefectural entity.

The term 外地 does not appear in the 1918 Common Law (共通法) [Law No. 39], which determined which laws applied in private matters between individuals affiliated with different legal territories within the Empire of Japan as a state. In point of fact the law could not have used the term, as it had yet to gain the status of a legal term. Moreover, while usually referring to non-Interior (non-prefectural) parts of the sovereign Empire (Taiwan, Karafuto, and Chosen), it was sometimes used to also embrace non-sovereign territories of Japan.

Article 1 of the Common Law in fact states that "territory" as used in the law refers to the Interior, Chosen, Taiwan, Kwantung Province, and the South Sea Islands (内地、朝鮮、台湾、関東州又ハ南洋群島), and that for the purpose of the law the Interior will include Karafuto (樺太). The Interior (including Karafuto), and Chosen and Taiwan, constituted the sovereign dominion of the Empire.

Kwantung Province and the South Sea Islands were merely territories over which Japan had legal jurisdiction. Japan ruled Kwantung as a leased territory, and ruled the South Sea Islands under a League of Nations mandate.

To be continued.


Naturalization today -- and change of allegiance historically
帰化  kika   change of allegiance, naturalization

The original meaning of this term is "change of allegiance" and that is all it meant until Japan had a law of nationality in 1899. Since the 1899 Nationality Law, the term has meant "naturalization". As such it describes only cases in which nationality is acquired as a result of filing a petition for permission to naturalize, which is then approved after considering whether the petitioner meets what amount to case-by-case considerations.

The acquisition of nationality as a result of automatic operation of the law, upon formal acceptance of notification by an alien or on behalf of an alien who meets stipulated conditions, or upon restoration of nationality by a court nullifying an action that resulted in loss of nationality, is not regarded as "naturalization". Under the 1899 Nationality Law it continued to be possible for an alien to become Japanese without naturalizing, through marriage or adoption.


参政権  sansei-ken   right to participate in politics

選挙権  senkyo-ken   right to elect
被選挙権  hi-senkyo-ken   right to be elected

In Japanese, "rights of suffrage" or "rights of political participation" are referred to as "sansei-ken" (参政権). This term, though not used in the 1947 Constitution or in major related laws, is the most common expression for rights to democratically participate in government, and it is the term most likely to be used when talking about whether to extend such rights to aliens.

Japan's 1890 House of Representives election law allowed males who met certain age, residency, and tax conditions to "elect" as in "vote" (選挙 senkyo). Since the 1900 House of Representatives election law, election laws have used the term "right to elect" (選挙権 senkyo-ken).

Article 15 of the 1947 Constitution guarantees that "choosing" [selecting, determining] (選定する sentei suru) and "dismissing" [discharging, removing] (罷免する himen suru) public officials shall be an "inherent right of nationals" [right inherent to nationals] (国民固有の権利 kokumin koyū no kenri). While the Constitution does not extend this right to aliens, neither does it limit the right to nationals.

Both the 1947 Local Autonomy Law and the 1950 Public Offices Election Law refer to "the right to elect and the right to be elected" (選挙権及び被選挙権 senkyo-ken oyobi hi-senkyo-ken) as something possessed by nationals. Again, such laws do not specifically extend, but neither do they deny, such rights to aliens.


Race and ethnicity
人種 jinshu race
民族 minzoku race, ethnic nation

Neither race nor ethnicity is defined in Japanese law for the purpose of determining an individual's personal status or collective affiliation.


The term "jinshu" is used in Articles 14 and 44 of the 1947 Constitution, and here only because GHQ/SCAP thought Japan's postwar constitution should prohibit discrimination because of "race" among other attributes. The term, and several synonyms, also figure in a number of international covenants Japan has signed and ratified. Otherwise, "race" by any name has no currency in Japanese law, which is essentially raceless.


The term "minzoku" is legally used only by way of recognizing the existence of "Ainu people" (アイヌの人々 Ainu no hitobito) as a "minority race" or (少数民族 shōsū minzoku) within Japan's population under various international conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

Japanese nationals are not racioethnically classified. As a mononational state, Japan does not recognize any racioethnic subnations within its nationality. Hence it does not extend Ainu or any other racioethnic status to individual nationals.

"Minzoku" -- "clan of affiliates" or "tribe of people" -- does not appear in the nationality law or other laws that effect legal status in the subnations of the Empire of Japan, the term was used by the government of the Empire of Japan. In November 1942, in a move to simplify its operations during the war, the Ministry of Health integrated all of its research agencies under the . The agency was disbanded in May 1946. , created in November 1942, under which several other research agencies were grouped to The Ministery of Health, for example, had a is used by the government

"Population and Race Division"

On 1 November 1942, numerous changes were made in the several health and welfare related reseach and policy institutes were integrated into a mammoth agency called the Ministry of Welfare Institute (厚生省研究所 Koseisho Kenkyujo). The completion of the institute was halted in May 1946, and surviving divisions were made into smaller agencies.

One of the agencies integrated into the new institute was the Institute of Population Problems (人口問題研究所 Jinko Mondai Kenkyujo), created in August 1939 to help develop population policy. The population institute became the Population and Race Division (人口民族部 Jinko Minzoku Bu) of the new institute. The division had two departments, the Population Policy Research Department (人口政策研究部 Jinko Seisaki Kenkyu Bu) and the Race Policy Research Department (民族政策研究部 Minzoku Seisaku Kenkyu Bu). In May 1946 it again became the Institute of Population Problems."

The wartime Population and Race Division was headed by Okazaki Ayanori (岡崎文規 1895-1979), a Kyoto economist who specialized in social statistics and later authored an important suicide study.

What was then (and is still by some) called "racial hygiene" (民族衛生 minzoku eisei) would today be regarded as a kind of medical anthropology. At the time it was an academic field in many countries, including Germany and the United States, for studying anatomical and physiological differences of races and racial mixtures.

In December 1996 it was integrated with the Social Development Research Institute, founded in August 1962, as part of the National Institute of Population and Social Security (国立社会保障・人口問題研究所 Kokuritsu Shakai Hosho・Jinko Mondai Kenkyujo).


Sinific terms for state affiliation

All Asian states that share Sinific terms for state affiliation use local versions of the term for "nationality" that originated, apparently, in Japan. Socialist and non-socialist Asian states, however, differ as to what they call their affiliates -- meaning people who possess their nationality. Socialist states use the equivalent of 公民 meaning "public [civic] affiliate [person]" while non-socialist states use 国民 meaning "people" nation [country, state] affiliate [person]".

The term 人民 meaning "people" tends to be more by socialist countries to refer to their state affiliates as a political collectivity -- hence "people's" in their names.

Asian states using Sinific terms for state affiliation
Japanese, Chinese (ROC), Chinese (PRC), Korean (ROC), Korean (DPRK)
Japanese 国籍 kokuseki = nationality
帰化 kika = naturalize
国民 kokumin = national
disused 臣民 shinmin = subject
Chinese (ROC) 國籍 guójí = nationality
歸化 guīhuà = naturalize
國民 guómín = national
人民 rénmín = people
Chinese (PRC) 国籍 guójí = nationality
加入国籍 jiārù guójí = naturalize
disused 归化 guīhuà = naturalize
公民 gōngmín = citizen
人民 rénmín = people
disused 国民 guómín = national
Korean (ROK) 국적 國籍 kukchŏk = nationality 국민 國民 kungmin = national
Korean (DPRK) 국적 國籍 kukchŏk = nationality 공민 公民 kongmin = citizen
인민 人民 inmin = people
disused 國民 kungmin = national
Vietnamese quốc tịch (< 国籍) = nationality công dân (< 公民) = citizen
nhân dân (< 人民) = people


"Nationals" of Japan

Since the Meiji period, Japan has referred to its state affiliates as "nationals" (國民 → 国民 kokumin). The term stresses a person's a relationship with the country or state.

The term "subject" (臣民 shinmin), formally introduced in the 1890 Constitution, fell into disuse in 1945 at the beginning of the Allied Occupation of Japan. Replaced by "national" in the 1947 Constitution, the term -- meaning "loyal affiliate" -- denoted a person's relationship with the sovereign "tennō" (天皇) or "emperor".

Japan has provided ways for aliens to "naturalize" (歸化 → 帰化 kika) since its first Nationality Law in 1899. The same graphs appear in Japan's earliest national histories, in their original Chinese sense of "allegiance change".

See Japan's Nationality Law: A primer and guide to other articles for more details.


"Nationals" of the Republic of China

The Republic of China (ROC) refers to its "people" (人民 rénmín), who possess its "nationality" (國籍 guójí), as "nationals" (國民 guómín). Laws provide ways for aliens to "naturalize" (歸化 guīhuà). ROC thus uses the conventional "national" and "allegiance change" metaphors.

The current (2003) "Immigration Act" or "Entering or Leaving the Country and Immigration Law" (入出國及移民法) of the Republic of China (ROC) defines "nationals" of the state as follows (Article 3, Definitions of terms; English version as received, but [bracketed clarifications] are mine).


1. Nationals: people who reside in the Taiwan Areas and have [established] their permanent residence registered at a household registry or people who reside overseas and have the nationality of the Republic of China (hereafter to be called the State);


4. Nationals without registered permanent residence in the Taiwan Areas: nationals who have the nationality of the State and are currently residing abroad, or nationals who have acquired or restored the nationality of the State but have never registered [i.e., established] their permanent residence at any household registry in the Taiwan Areas;

The "Taiwan areas" encompass "Taiwan, Penhu, Kinmen, Matsu and other territories under the control of the government of the State" (Article 3, Item 2).

A distinction is made between ROC nationals who "have established their permanent residence at a household registry" in the "Taiwan areas" and those who have not.

The latter are mainly ROC nationals overseas whose nationality orginated with registration in mainland provinces when under ROC control. For many years after 1949, ROC continued to claim the mainland provinces as part of its sovereignty. Now, however, ROC formally claims only the "Taiwan areas" as part of its sovereign dominion.

ROC nationals whose nationality derives from affiliation with mainland provinces are "legacy nationals" in the sense that their nationality reflects affiliation with an entity that no longer exists. That is, ROC no longer exists as a mainland entity.

As a legal status in Japan, "Chosenese" is similarly the legacy status of a person who continues to be identified as an affilate of an entity that no longer exists -- in this case, the former "Chosen" subnation of the Empire of Japan.

See ROC nationality laws from 1912 to 2000: Membership in an increasingly stateless nation for more details.


"Citizens" of the People's Republic of China

The People's Republic of China (PRC), as a socialist state, refers to its "people" (人民 rénmín), who possess its "nationality" (国籍 guójí), as "citizens" (公民 gōngmín). Aliens may "naturalize" (加入国籍 jiārù guójí) -- literally "join [the state's] nationality]".

PRC eschews the conventional "national" (国民 guómín) and "alligience change" (归化 guīhuà) metaphors, as they run counter to its "people's republic" ideology. Oddly, though, English versions of PRC's nationality law use "national".

See PRC's 1980 Nationality Law: A single nationality multiethnic state for more details.


"Nationals" of the Republic of Korea

The Republic of Korea (ROK), which adapted Japan's nationality laws to its own standards of family law, defined people who possessed its "nationality" (국적 kukchŏk 國籍) as "nationals" (국민 kungmin 國民).

ROK also defines "alien nationality compatriots" (외국 국적 동포 이중 국적 oeguk kukchŏk tongp'o 外国国籍同胞) or "compatriots abroad" (재외 동포 chaeoe tongp'o 在外同胞) -- meaning people of Korean ancestry affiliated with other states.

See ROK's 1948 and 1998 nationality laws: Last bastion of Korean patriarchy falls and ROK's Compatriots Abroad Act: "nationals abroad" and "alien nationality compatriots"for more details.


"Citizens" of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), like the People's Republic of China (PRC), defines its "people" (인민 inmin 人民), who possess its "nationality" (국적 kukchŏk 國籍), as "citizens" (공민 kongmin 公民).

See DPRK's Nationality Act: First East Asian law to degenderize nationalityfor more details.


"Citizens" of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) closely follows the People's Republic of China (PRC) in its use of "citizen" (công dân < 公民) in reference to people recognized as possessing its nationality (quốc tịch < 国籍).


European terms for "nationality" and "citizenship"

The municipal (domestic, national) laws of some countries use equivalents of "citizen" and "citizenship" when referring to a "national" who possesses the country's "nationality". The two metaphors are not, however, the same, and it is very important to differentiate them.

Conflation and confusion in America

It does not usually occur to Americans that nationality and citizenship are entirely different. Most Americans think of themselves only as "citizens" and speak only of "citizenship" -- unaware that the US Immigration and Nationality Act also defines non-citizen "nationals".

Americans are also apt to think of "nationality" as a description of "national origin" -- which, in American vernacular, has long been a highly racialized expression, though today it is more fashionable to speak of someone's "heritage" as an "ethnic" (ethnonational) or "cultural" (ethnocultural) quality.

People generally are not aware that, in international law, "nationality" an attribute of state affiliation having nothing to do with citizenship, race, or ethnicity. Few Americans realize that their global status as "Americans" derives entirely from their US "nationality", and not from their domestic status as a "citizen" or "national" of the United States.

Semantic boundaries in Europe

The semantic boundaries of the European-language equivalents of "nationality" and "citizenship" is an interesting study in itself. The next sections look at "nationality and citizenship" in British and Irish law, and at how other members of the European Union are differentiating their own metaphors for these terms.


Terminology in British Nationality Act

The varieties of legal statuses of people who actually or virtually possess British nationality is staggering. The British Nationality Act of 1981 (effective from 1983) and later revisions differentiates the following kinds of status among persons connected by nationality to the United Kingdom and Colonies. (The "Existing entity" and "Legacy entity" labels are mine. The "virtual nationality" qualification is also mine.

Categories of British nationality

Existing entity statuses

British citizen
British Overseas Territories citizen

Legacy entity statuses

British National (Overseas)
British Overseas citizen
British subject
British protected person (virtual nationality)

I have called the first two categories "existing entity statuses" because they represent affiliations with existing entities of the United Kingdom and Colonies. These statuses are acquired by qualified persons through birth or adoption in the UK, birth outside the UK and other qualifying territories, registration, or naturalisation.

All of the "legacy entity statuses" -- sometimes called "residual nationalities" because they involve remnants of colonial and other entities that either no longer exist or are no longer part of the United Kingdom -- will gradually disappear as those who possess them die. In principle, these statuses are closed to new acquisition, except when accorded in order to prevent statelessness.

While only British citizens have the automatic right of abode in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, those with other categories of British nationality are treated differently from aliens. British protected persons do not actually possess British nationality, but legally they are not aliens, and because they are presumed not to be stateless, they have what can I call "virtual nationality".

British citizenship through birth in the UK is partly jus sanguinis (one parent must be a British citizen), and partly jus soli (one parent must be a "settled" alien). "Settled" aliens include Irish citizens, and aliens who have been granted "right of abode" or "indefinite leave to remain" in the United Kingdom. The latter two statuses are comparable to "permanent residence".

No "British nationality" in British act

The British Nationality Act of 1981 is subtitled "An Act to make fresh provision about citizenship and nationality, and to amend the Immigration Act 1971 as regards the right of abode in the United Kingdom".

However, British nationality acts do not speak of "British nationality" as such. Rather they speak of "British citizenship" and "British citizens" in addition to non-citizen categories like "nationals" and "subjects".

The term "nationality" generally appears in phrases like "citizenship or nationality" in reference to other countries. This is done to accommodate the fact that some countries use one term or the other.

Here are some examples of such references in the 1981 British Nationality Act.

Provisions for becoming a "British citizen" by registration, for "certain persons without other citizenship", qualify such persons as those not having "any citizenship or nationality" other than possibly a non-citizen British status. [s 4B]

Provisions for renunciation of "British citizenship" apply to those who have acquired "some citizenship or nationality other than British citizenship". [s 12(3)]

Provisions for resumption of "British citizenship" apply to those who have renounced in order to retain or acquire "some other citizenship or nationality". [s 13(1)(b)

"For the purposes of subsection (1)(b) references to citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies shall, in relation to a time before the year 1949, be construed as references to British nationality." [s 23(6)]

British subjects cease being a subject if they acquire "any other citizenship or nationality whatever". [s 35]


Terminology in Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act

Like Britain until the 1981 British Nationality Act came into force in 1983, Ireland's customary laws and statutes generally recognized that all persons born in Ireland were Irish citizens. However, the 2004 Irish Citizenship and Nationality Act, which came into effect from 2005, echoes the shift in British law from primarily jus soli to primarily jus sanguinis principles.

Irish nationality and citizenship is now acquired at time of birth if one parent is an Irish citizen, a British citizen, an alien permitted to indefinitely reside in the Irish Republic or in Northern Ireland, or an alien who has resided in Ireland for a specified period of time (among other conditions).

Note that Ireland's law reciprocates Britain's recognition of Irish citizens in the UK as virtual British subjects for purposes of jus sanguinis British nationality and citizenship. Ireland's law also recognizes permanent residence in Northern Ireland, which is formally part of the United Kingdom, as the equivalent of permanent residence in the Republic.

Irish nationality and citizenship (naísiúntacht agus saoránacht Éireann)

The principle of jus soli, though to some extent applied since the initial determination of the Irish nation in 1922, was first codified in the constitution by a 1998 amendment to Article 2. However, the sweeping provision of Article 2 was restricted by a 2004 amendment to Article 9.

The English versions of these two articles now read as follows. For linguistic interest, I have shown the Irish equivalents of terms related to "nationality" and "citizenship" in brackets.

Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann)

Article 2 [Reflects 19th Amendment of 1998]

It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation [naisiun na hÉireann]. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland [saoránaigh d'Éirinn]. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.

Article 9 [Reflects 27th Amendment of 2004]

1. 1°On the coming into operation of this Constitution any person who was a citizen of Saorstat Eireann immediately before the coming into operation of this Constitution shall become and be a citizen of Ireland [saoránach d’Éirinn].
     2°The future acquisition and loss of Irish nationality [naísiúntacht] and citizenship [saoránacht] shall be determined in accordance with law.
     3°No person may be excluded from Irish nationality and citizenship by reason of the sex of such person.

2. 1°Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, a person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, who does not have, at the time of the birth of that person, at least one parent who is an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen is not entitled to Irish citizenship or nationality, unless provided for by law.
     2°This section shall not apply to persons born before the date of the enactment of this section.

3. Fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State are fundamental political duties of all citizens.


Terminology in European Constitution

The European Union is emerging as a "supranational" state in that it laws, to the extent they are ratified by its member states, extend the national laws of these states -- just as United Nations covenents extend the municipal laws of member UN states. Consequently, the advent of "European citizenship" implies the existence of "European nationality".

Members of the European Union now need to differentate "citizenship" in the European Union from the "citizenship" or "national citizenship" that derives from status within each member state. They also have to accommodate the preference in international law for "nationality" as an attribute for state affiliation.

More concretely, a "British citizen" is such only in Britain, and a "citoyen de Français " is such only in France. Both, however, are citizens of the European Union (or will be upon the adoption of a formal constitution that incorporates provisions for "European citizenship".

However, in international law, and in the eyes of the laws of the European Union, affiliation with the United Kingdom or France is viewed as a matter of possessing British or French "nationality". Similarly, in international law, affiliation with the European Union (if and when "European citizenship" comes to pass) will be viewed as a matter of "Euroepan nationality".

"Towards a European Nationality Law" (de Groot 2004)

Gerard-Rene de Groot of Maastricht University has written a very interesting paper called "Towards a European Nationality Law", Electronic Journal of Comparative Law, Volume 8.3, October 2004). De Groot is mainly concerned with the question of "whether the introduction of European citizenship has consequences for the autonomy of the Member States in matters of nationality" (1. Introduction).

However, de Groot begins with an examination of "the precise relationship between the terms 'nationality' and 'citizenship'" in 1992 and 1997 versions of European Union treaties in English, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. The terms appeared in articles for the planned European Constitution.

De Groot found that "Staatsangehörigkeit" was used to represent "nationality" while "Bürgerschaft" represented "citizenship" (2. Terminology). This is significant because the Japanese term 国籍 (kokuseki) appears to have evolved from the term 国民籍 (kokuminseki), which was coined in 1883 as a translation of "Staatsangehörigkeit" (Ninomiya 1983: 218, 220).

See The birth of "kokuseki" for a full account of Ninomiya's study of the development of "nationality" in Meiji law.

See review of Brubaker 1992: Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany in the Bibliography for a look at what a major contributor to "nationalism" studies says about "Staatsangehörigkeit" in German law.

The following table, though my own creation, was inspired by, and in part borrows from, de Groot's "Towards a European Nationality Law" (Electronic Journal of Comparative Law, Volume 8.3, October 2004).

European terms for nationality and citizenship
English, Irish, French, Dutch, German, Portugese, Spanish


The citations of the 1992, 1997, 2002, and 2004 versions of the key articles related to European nationality and citizenship are reformated from texts on EUR-Lex, "The access to European Union law", which features materials related to the European Union in 23 languages.

The English, French, Dutch, German, Portugese, and Spanish terms for "nationality" and "citizenship" in the table are based on de Groot (Electronic Journal of Comparative Law, Volume 8.3, October 2004).

The Irish terms are from the Irish version of the Constitution of Ireland (see above).

European nationality and citizenship

1992 Treaty on European Union

Article 8   1. Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union.

1997 Treaty of Amsterdam Amending 1992 Treaty

Article 8   1. Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall complement and not replace national citizenship.

2002 Treaty Establishing the European Community

Article 12   Within the scope of application of this Treaty, and without prejudice to any special provisions contained therein, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.

Article 17   1. Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall complement and not replace national citizenship.

2004 Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe

Article I-4   2. Within the scope of the Constitution, and without prejudice to any of its specific provisions, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.

Article I-10   1. Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to national citizenship and shall not replace it.

English nationality citizenship
Irish naísiúntacht saoránacht
French nationalité citoyenneté
Dutch nationaliteit burgerschap
German Staatsangehörigkeit Bürgerschaft
Portuguese nacionalidade cidadania
Spanish nacionalidad ciudadania


Japanese legal terminology



Government actions


Imperial actions

勅令 (chokurei) imperial ordinance
勅命 (chokumei) imperial command
勅諭 (chokuyu) imperial instruction, rescript

詔勅 (shōchoku) imperial edict, decree
a. 詔書 (shōsho) imperial edict, decree
b. 勅書 (chokusho) imperial rescript
c. 勅語 (chokugo) imperial rescript

大詔 (taishō) imperial rescript
勅裁 (chokusai) imperial sanction, approval, decision

Great Council of State actions

布告 (fukoku) proclamation, decree, or promulgation (of such)
布達 (futatsu), 達 (tatsu) circular, notification, or promulgation of such

定 (sadame) determination (with regard to, say, a query from a ministry)

Ministerial actions

御触れ (御布令) (o-fure) proclamation
御達し (o-tasshi) circular, notification

伺 (ukagai) query (to, say, Great Council of State)

指令 (shirei) directive from higher office to lower office

Imperial and National Diet actions

法令 hōrei -- laws, ordinances, regulations, instructions (generally)
憲法 kenpō -- constitution (constrains laws)
条約 jōyaku -- treaty (may constrain laws)
法律 hōritsu -- code, act, law (enacted by the national diet)
  ABC 法 ABC hō -- ABC code, ABC act, ABC law

Cabinet, ministry, and agency actions

命令 meirei -- ordinances, orders issued by government organ (generally)
政令 seirei -- cabinet order, government ordinance (issued by prime minister and cabinet)
内閣府令 naikaku furei -- cabinet office ordinance
(abbr) 閣令 kakurei -- cabinet office ordinance
省令 shōrei -- ministry ordinance
庁令 chōrei -- agency ordinance
規則 kisoku -- rule, regulation (parliamentary houses, courts, government committees, other government bodies invested with regulatory powers)
訓令 kunrei -- instruction (from higher organ to lower organ)
告示 kokuji -- [public] announcement, notification

皇室令 koshitsurei -- imperial house ordinance (based on Imperial House Law, now just another piece of diet legislation, but not subject to diet approval under the Meiji constitution

軍令 gunrei -- military ordinance (military laws and regulations, sanctioned by the emperor, concerning the command of the army and navy, instituted from 1907, abrogated by GHQ/SCAP in 1946)

府令 and 庁令 may refer to ordinances from any entity called a 府 or 庁 -- which include ministries, agencies, governments-general (Taiwan, Chosen), and prefectures or prefecture-like polities (Karafuto, Hokkaido).

通達 (tsūtatsu) notification
通知 (tsūchi) notice
回答 (kaitō) reply, response
心得 (kokoroe) rule

Local government actions

条例 jōrei --ordinance (prefectural or municipal polity)
  prefectural (都道府県 todōfuken) ordinance
  municipal (市町村 chichōson) city, town, village) ordinance

Structure of laws

条 (jō) article
項 (kō) paragraph
号 (gō) item

補足 (hosoku) supplementary provision
附則 (fusoku) appended provision, supplementary provision
別表 (beppyō) schedule

規定 (kitei) provision [commonly used today]
条規 (jōki) provision (規定), regulation (規則) [rarely used today]


Government-General actions

A number of terms were used to describe legal actions taken by the Government-General of Taiwan (台湾総督府 Taiwan Sōtokufu) or by the Government-General of Chosen (台湾総督府 Chōson Sōtokufu). Some actions required the imperial sanction in manner of Interior laws, while others could be taken under the direct authority of the Governor-General (総督 Sōtoku) of the Government-General (総督府 Sōtokufu) of Taiwan or Chosen.

Laws (法律 hōritsu)   Laws were enacted by the Imperial Diet in accordance with Constitution. Laws passed by the Diet were effective only in prefectures unless, at time of their enactment, they included provisions that specifically extended them, in part or in whole, to one or another non-prefectural territory within Japan's sovereign domain. The Diet could also extend parts of all of a prefectural law to a territory.

Decrees (律令 ritsurei)   Decrees by this name were issued by the Governor-General of Taiwan (台湾総督 Taiwan Sōtoku) with imperial sanction (勅裁 chokusai). They were the Taiwan equivalent of diet-enacted laws in the interior. Taiwan also had 州令 (provincial ordinance) and 庁令 (district ordinance).

Decrees (制令 seirei)   Decrees by this name were proclaimed by the Governor-General of Chosen (朝鮮総督 Chōsen Sōtoku). They were the Chosen equivalent to diet-enacted laws (法律 hōritsu) in the interior. They required sanction by the emperor (勅裁 chokusai) before promulgation, but in emergencies the governor-general had the authority to promulgate a decree before obtaining imperial sanction.

Ordinances (総令 sōrei, 府令 furei)   Government-General ordinances (総督府令 sōtoku furei) did not require imperial sanction. They were issued and enforced entirely under the executive authority of the Governor-General (総督府令 Sōtoku). They usually concerned minor issues, including issues related to the enforcement of decrees.


Court actions

訴訟 (soshō) lawsuit, action [of first instance]
原告 (genkoku) plaintiff in original action
被告 (hikoku) defendant in original action
訴訟人 (kosōnin) plaintiff, suitor, litigant

Soshō are pursued in district courts as courts of first instance, and usually involve civil or criminal matters.

控訴 (kōso) appeal to higher court [of second instance]
控訴人 (kōsonin) appellant in first appellant court
被控訴人 (hikōsonin) respondent in first appellant court

Kōso appeals are made against first instance decisions of family courts, summary courts, and district courts in matters that cannot be brought before the Supreme Court.

抗告 (kōkoku) appeal to higher court [of second instance]

Kōkoku appeals go as far as a high court, unless they involving allegations of unconstitutionality or incompatability with a Supreme Court precedent.

上告 (jōkoku) final appeal [to Supreme Court]
上告人 (jōkokunin) appellant
被上告人 (hijōkokunin) respondent

Jōkoku are final appeals to the Supreme Court against a judgments of a lower court, usually a high court, of second instance. In civil cases, such appeals are limited to matters which involve an allegation of unconstitutionality, error in legal interpretation, major procedural violation, or conflict with a Supreme Court precedent, among other matters that the Supreme Court may regard as important.

判決 (hanketsu) judgment, decision
決定 (kettei) decree, ruling
破棄 (haki) reverse, annul, abrogate
棄却 (kikyaku) dismiss, reject [appeal denied, decision affirmed]

判示事項 (hanji jikō) main points at issue
判決要旨 (hanketsu yoshi) essential elements
主文 (shubun) text, main text, conclusion [of decision] 理由 (riyū) reasons


Treaty actions

signature -- Treaties, both conventions and protocols, are open for signatures for a period of time after they are adopted at a conference, and before they come into force. Signatures only indicate that a country is willing to participate and do not oblige ratification.

ratification -- Endorsement of a treaty by a state, after signature, usually as a result of gaining approval of the treaty in the state's legislature. Failure to ratify the treaty within a specified time limit will usually nullify a state's signature. However, the state may then, in the future, accede or succeed to the treaty.

accession -- Becoming a party to a treaty after the period for signing it has closed. Acceding to a treaty combines signature and ratification in a single act.

succession -- A new state may declare its intent to abide by a treaty prior to becoming independent. Or any non-party state may declare that it will provisionally abide by a treaty while deciding whether to accede.

reservations and declarations -- These are conditions a participant attaches when signing or ratifying, or when acceding or succeeding to, a treaty. They consist of statments that modify or exclude the binding effect of specific articles or phrasing within articles. In principle any conditions may be attached so long as they do not compromise the purpose of the treaty.

denunciation -- Terminating participation in a treaty by announcing that one is no longer a participant. Most treaties have articles that stipulate causes and procedures for termination.


Other actions

The Nationality Law and related laws use a number of terms that reflect the relationship between individuals to whom provisions in these laws might apply and the government offices and officials that mediate the laws. Here is a list of the terms that appear with particularly high frequency in many Japanese laws, including the Nationality Law.


A notification (届出 todokede) is made by a person or an organization to a competent government office or official in order to initiate an action based on the application of the law alone. Action does not require permission at the discretion of a competent official. Officials will vet the notification forms (which are typically single sheets of paper) and supporting documents as required, to make sure they comply with provisions of applicable laws, and take action on strength of the laws alone.

Notifications are the important legal actions, since they initiate an operation of the law itself without the intervention of a grant of permission by an authority. The most important notifications, for most people in Japan, are those they make to a local municipal office concerning their family register and other personal matters. People residing overseas make notifications through a Japanese embassy or consulate.

Though Japanese nationality is directly related to family register status, some notifications concerning specifically nationality need to be made to regional Legal Affairs Bureaus, which are directly under the Ministry of Justice.


application (申請 shinsei) for permission that is granted by a competent official on the strength of the official's discretionary powers. An application is therefore a petition for approval. A petition's compliance with provisions in relevant laws and regulations is not in and of itself sufficient for favorable action without approval. A petition that appears to meet prerequisites might be rejected, and one that fails to meet prerequisites might be approved, depending on the parameters of the competent official's discretionary powers.


declaration (宣言 sengen) made by a person as a vow or agreement. As a legal act, a declaration may be made with reservations that qualify the declaration. The reservations may be stipulated or implied in the laws that govern the declaration, if not in the declaration itself.


pronouncment (宣告 senkoku) made as a judgment or adjudication, including a ministerial decision, concerning the disposition of a person who is held to have violated a law or regulation for which official action is authorized by law. Articles 16 of the Nationality Law, for example, gives the Minister of Justice the discretionary power to denationalize a Japanese national who is held to have violated the stipulation in the article.


announcment (告示 kokuji) in a public manner, such as by publication in the 官報 (Kanpō) or Official Gazette, which is recognized as a legal notice. Comparable to the Congressional Record in the United States, the Official Gazette publishes Diet proceedings, facilitates the the promulgation of laws, and also serves as the primary vehicle for issuing numerous official announcements, grants of permission to naturalize (Article 10) and pronouncements of loss of nationality (Articles 15 and 16). Such announcments have legal effect from their date of publication. Pronouncements may have effect immediately (Article 16) or after a designated period of time if stipulated conditions are not met (Article 15).


notices (通知 tsūchi) are made by competent government officials or offices, and by courts and the like, to a person or an organization concerning some official or legal matter, such as a decision regarding a petition or other formal request for permission or action, including an application for permission to naturalize.


Basic status act notifications

Here are the most common of many more kinds of notifications which affect one's legal status in Japan. Actions which are made on the basis of such notifications are called status acts (身分行為 mibun kōi).

People in Japan, Japanese and aliens alike, will make such notifications at a municipal office having jurisdiction of the locality in which they are registered as residents.

Birth and parental ties

Notification of birth
出生届 shusshō todoke
Made in Japan at a municipal office by Japanese and alien parents alike, within 14 days of a child's birth. A Japanese parent of a child born overseas has three months within which to file a birth notification at a Japanese embassy or consulate.

Notification of acknowledgement
認知届 ninchi todoke
Japanese and aliens alike make notifications to acknowledge (recognize) their parental ties. At present, most such notifications are made by fathers recognizing their paternity. Maternal acknowlwedgements are in principle possible are limited by the lack of provisions for, say, surrogate birth. Acknowledgements made by a Japanese father, of a child born to an alien mother to whom the father is not married, before or at the time of the child's birth, will result in the child becoming Japanese by birth under Article 2 of the Nationality Law. Later acknowledgement, which now also enables acquisition of Japanese nationality, falls under Article 3.

Notification of parental right
親権届 shinken todoke

Notification of guardinaship
後見届 kōken todoke

Notification of entering register
入籍届 nyōseki todoke
Made to effect a migration, usually of a child, to another register, usually of a parent who has migrated to another register as a result of marriage or divorce. Adult offspring may themselves seek to effect a register migration by such a notification. Such migrations result in a change in a person's family name the that of the newly entered.

Notification of making an alliance of adoption
養子縁組届 yōshi engumi todoke
One cannot adopt an older person, or an ascendant, or one's own wedlock child, but one can one's own out-of-wedlock biological child, or a biological younger sibling or grandchild.

Notification of dissolution of an alliance of adoption
養子離縁届 yōshi rien todoke

Death and disappearance

Notification of death
死亡届 shibō todoke
Made within 7 days from the time a death has come to be known. The notification must be accompanied by a certification of the cause of death. The determinination of cause of death, though made by a medically competent person, who could be the deceased person's attending physician or a medical examiner, is mediated by police officer.

Notification of missing person
失踪届 shissō todoke
A person may be presumed to have died, be struck from a family register as deceased, and inheritance laws applied to the person's property, if a family court pronounces the person missing and public notice is made to this effect. There are two kinds of missing person actions.

1. A family court can make such a pronouncement if a person has not been seen for seven years, and municipal authories are allowed to presume the person is dead if six months have passed since the court's pronouncement was publicly announced in an a publication like the Official Gazette.

2. When a person has gone missing in a war zone or during a natural calamity, a court can make such a pronouncement one year afterward the person was last seen, and death can be presumed two months after making a public notice.

Should later a person who was presumed to dead turn out to be alive, a family court can be petitioned to order the restoration of the person to his or her former register status. This in fact happened in the case of Soga Hiromi, who disappeared with her mother and was presumed by her family to be dead. It became clear later, though, that she had been abducted by agents of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Upon Soga's return to Japan, she was restored to her father's family register. Her regained status as a Japanese national was recognized retroactively, and hence her children were regarded as having acquired Japanese nationality matrilineally.

Marriage and divorce

Notification of marriage
婚姻届 kon'in todoke
Made by couples who wish to be regarded as married. Since a marriage legal originates upon registration, there is no period within which a marriage must be registered. Ceremonies are strictly private and have no legal effect. Whether a couple has a ceremony, or when they have one, is of no legal consequence.

Notification of divorce
離婚届 rikon todoke
Made within 14 days of the date shown on the notification, on which a married couple agree in the witness of a third part to divorce

Creating new or modifying existing registers

Notification to create a register
就籍届 shūseki todoke
Made by a person or on behalf of a person, pursuant to a judgment by a family court that the person is entitled either by law or by the court's discretion to acquire status in a family register. Such persons include (1) newborn infants who have not yet been registered, especially those who qualify for Japanese nationality because they were born in Japan to parents both of whom are stateless, or are presumed to be Japanese nationals because they were born in Japan and neither parent is known, (2) older children and adults who should have been registered but for reasons acceptable to the court were not registered, (3) people who had been orphaned as children in China or elsewhere in the wake of World War II and later resettled in Japan and were recognized as Japanese nationals, (4) people who had been registrants of Karafuto when, as a prefecture of Japan, it was invaded and occupied by the Soviet Union.

Notification of separation of register
分籍届 bunseki todoke
Made by a person who wishes to leave, say, the principal register of the family into which the person was born, and establish an independent register. The separate register may have the same address as the natal register, but as a separate register it could have a different family name.

Notification of transfer of register
転籍届 tenseki todoke
Made by persons who wish to change the locality of their principal register, usually from one municipality to another.


Name change notifications

Here are just a few of the notifications that can be made to effect a change of one's family name. Japanese family law requires that all members of the same register bear the same family name.

Many of basic status acts result in register migrations which bring about a change in family name. Most of the following notifications affect the family name of a register itself, hence the family name of all members in the register.

Notification to restore [natal or previous] family name
復氏届 fukushi todoke
Typically made by persons whose family name had changed when they married and, who after divorce, which to resume using their former family name.

Notification to [continue to] bear the family name borne at time of divorce
離婚の際に称していた氏を称する届 rikon no sai ni shō shite ita shi o shō suru todoke

Notification of change of family name due to marriage to alien
外国人との婚姻による氏の変更届 gaikokujin to no kon'in ni yoru shi no henkō todoke
Made, within 6 months after marriage, by a Japanese man or woman who desires to use the spouse's family name (or surname) as his or her legal Japanese name. The alien's surname, if not written in Sino-Japanese characters that are permitted for name use, will be written in kana, usually katakana.

Notification of change of family name to the family name of an alien father or mother
外国人父母の氏への氏の変更届 gaikokujin fubo no shi e no shi no kenkō todoke
Made to a municipal office by a person who has been permitted by a family court to so change one's family name. The name of the alien parent, if not written in Sino-Japanese characters, will be written in kana, usually katakana.

Notification of change of [personal] name
名の変更届 na no henkō todoke
Made by a person who has received permission from a family court to change their personal name on a family register


Nationality related notifications

A number of notifications directly concern nationality, whether or not they affect an individuals status as a national of Japan. Notices which require vetting by the Ministry of Justice are made directly to regional Legal Affairs Bureaus.

Notification of birth
出生届 shusshō todoke
Made in Japan at a municipal office by Japanese and alien parents alike, within 14 days of a child's birth. A Japanese parent of a child born overseas has three months within which to file a birth notification at a Japanese embassy or consulate to effect enrollment of the child in the parent's family register, which is essential for acquisition of Japanese nationality. Failure to file such notification means the child will not become Japanese.

Notification of reservation of [Japanese] nationality ty
国籍留保届 kokuseki ryūho todoke
Usually made by the Japanese parent or parents of a child who is born in a foreign country and who acquires the nationality of a foreign country through birth, when filing the child's notification of birth in order to enroll the child in parent's or parents' family register. The foreign nationality is usually, but not necessarily, the nationality of the country of birth.

Notification of acquisition of [Japanese] nationality
国籍取得届 kokuseki shutoku todoke
Made to a legal affairs bureau in Japan, or through an embassy or consulate overseas, by an alien one of whose parents is a Japanese national, but also by certain other aliens who are legally closely related to a Japanese national. This is the notification a child or legal representative would make regarding the transitional measures that facilitate the revision to Article 3 that came into effect from 1 January 2009.

Notification of acquisition of [Japanese] nationality by legitimation [ 1985-2008 ]
準正による国籍取得届 junshō ni yoru kokuseki shutoku todoke
This notification was formerly made, to a legal affairs bureau or to a Japanese mission overseas, under Article 3 of the 1985 Nationality Law effective from 1 January 1985 through 31 December 2008 (de jure) or 4 June 2008 (de facto). Pursuant to a ruling handed down on 4 June 2008 by the Supreme Court, which held the "legitimation" condition to be unconstitutional, a revision of Article 3 came into effect from 1 January 2009, since when this notification became called simply a "Notification of acquisition of [Japanese] nationality" (国籍取得届 kokuseki shutoku todoke).

Notification of naturalization
帰化届 kika todoke
Made in Japan by an alien to the municipal office in which the alien is registered as a resident, within one month after the announcement in the Official Gazette of the grant of permission to naturalize (Family Register Law, Article 102-2). Nationality, though not actually acquired until the notification is filed and the person permitted to naturalize is enrolled in a family register, is considered to have been acquired from the date of the announcment.

Notification of choice of [Japanese] nationality
国籍選択届 kokuseki sentaku todoke
Made in Japan to a municipal office, or to a Japanese mission overease, within two years after a person has become a multinational as an adult in the eyes of Japanese law. In the notification, a multinational Japanese lists his or her foreign nationalities, declares that one abandons them and chooses Japanese nationality, and promises to endeavor to renounce the listed foreign nationalities.

Notification of renunciation of [Japanese] nationality
国籍離脱届 kokuseki ridatsu todoke
Made in Japan at a legal affairs bureau, or to an overseas Japanese mission, by Japanese nationals who have another nationality and wish to cease being Japanese. Such notifications will not be accepted if the person's other nationality is one which Japan does not recognize (DPRK nationality, for example). In other words, Japanese law does not permit renunciation if loss of Japanese nationality would leave the person stateless in the eyes of Japanese law.

Notification of loss of [Japanese] nationality
国籍喪失届 kokuseki sōshitsu todoke
Made by Japanese who have another nationality, who have lost Japanese nationality because they have abandoned Japanese nationality under the laws of their other country of nationality.

Notification of loss of [foreign] nationality
外国国籍喪失届 gaikoku kokuseki sōshitsu todoke
Made by Japanese who have renounced or otherwise lost the nationality of another state under its laws.

Notification of reacquisition of [Japanese] nationality
国籍再取得届 kokuseki saishutoku todoke
Made by aliens who had once been Japanese, had for some reason lost their Japanese nationality, and qualify for reacquisition. Note that this not a form of acquisition by naturalization (which requires permission), but by notification (which does not require permission).


Japanese government organizations

A proper telling of history has to take into account changes in the organization of governments and the names of government organs. The following information has been collated to clarify changes in the names of Japanese ministries and agencies at different times since the Meiji period.


Great Council of State

The Great Council of State (太政官 Dajōkan), with roots in the 8th century, was created on 11 June 1868 (Keio 4-i4-21) as the first government of the Meiji period. This prelimiary system was revamped on 15 August 1869 (Meiji 2-7-8) into the ministerial system that governed the new country until 22 December 1885 (Meiji 18-12-22), when it was replaced by the cabinet system, anticipating the 1890 constitution.


Ministry of Justice

For nearly five years beginning during the Occupation of Japan, the Ministry of Justice was called the Attorney General's Office in English. The Japanese name of the agency has changed even more often.

Until 1948 -- Ministry of Justice

Meiji 2-7-8 (15 August 1869) -- Kyobusho (刑部省) [Ministry of Justice] established as an office of the Dajōkan (太政官) [Great Council of State]. The office was essentially a transformation of the Kyobusho [Utae Tadasu Tsukasa, Utae no Tsukasa] established during the Heian period.

Meiji 4-7-9 (24 August 1871) -- The Kyobusho [Ministry of Justice] was abolished and became the Shihosho (司法省) [Ministry of Justice]. Eto Shinpei (Taira no Taneo, 1834-1874) was its first head, then called the Shihokyo (司法卿). From 1885 the head of the ministry was called the Shiho Daijin (司法大臣) [Minister of Justice].

1948-1952 -- Attorney General's Office

15 February 1948 -- The Shihosho [Ministry of Justice] was abolished and became the Homucho (法務庁) [Attorney General's Office], headed by the Homu Sosai (法務総裁) [Attorney General].

1 June 1949 -- The Homucho [Attorney General's Office] was renamed the Homufu (法務府) [Attorney General's Office], headed by the Homu Sosai [Attorney General].

Since 1952 -- Ministry of Justice

1 August 1952 -- The Homufu [Attorney General's Office] was renamed the Homusho (法務省) [Ministry of Justice], headed by the Homu Daijin (法務大臣) [Justice Minister].


Ministry of Interior (Home Ministry)

Meiji 3-11-10 (10 November 1873) -- Naimushō (内務省) [Home Department] established as an office of the Dajōkan (太政官) [Great Council of State]. The minister was called Naimukyō (内務卿) [Home Minister].

The first Home Minister, from 29 November 1873, was Ōkubo Toshimichi (大久保利通 1830-1878). Okubo, from Satsuma, had studied with Saigō Takamori (西郷隆盛 1828-1877), joined an alliance with Saigo and others to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate, then helped set up the Meiji government. While serving as Home Minister for the third time, he led the government army against Saigo's forces in Kyushu during the Seinan war of 1877-1878. During the final days, a few months after Saigo's death, Okubo was assassinated by a warrior who considered him a traitor.

22 December 1885 -- Naimushō (内務省) [Home Department] established as a ministry under the new cabinet system. The minister's title becomes Naimu Daijin (内務大臣) [Home Minister].

27 June 1947 -- Five days after convening of first Diet under new constitution, Home Ministry is disbanded, in recognition of constitutional provisions for local autonomy. These provisions were reflected in amendments to the Local Autonomy Law, made by the Imperial Diet on 17 April 1947 (Law No. 67), which came into effect on 3 May 1947, when the new Constitution came into effect and imperial government was replaced by the new government.

31 December 1947 -- Ministry of Home Affairs disbanded. GHQ/SCAP, which had already cut away some of its bureaus and reduced the authority of others, ordered the ministry's disbandment in a directive issued on 27 June. It was formally disbanded by the "Law to abolish imperial ordinances concerning the Home Ministry and organs of the Home Ministry (内務省及び内務省の機構に関する勅令等を廃止する法律) of 26 December (Law No. 238) and by the "Law concerning the adjusment of codes associated with the abolishment of the Home Ministry administration system" (内務省官制等廃止に伴う法令の整理に関する法律) also of 26 December (Law No. 239).

Scope of Home Ministry functions

The Home Ministry -- really the "Ministry of Interior Affairs" or just "Interior Ministry" -- was set up to keep track of former samurai who might cause disturbances. It quickly gained authority over prefectural governors, and was soon the most powerful ministry in the national government.

The Home Ministry's bureaus included police, security, hygiene (public health), society (labor), regional governments (elections), and shrines. The Tokyo Police Department and the Special Police of each prefecture were under its wing, as were the governments of Hokkaido and Karafuto.

Many administrative functions were added to, or separated from, the Home Ministry during its long existence. Though Health and Labor became an independent ministry in 1938, the child ministry's personnel continued to come from the parent ministry.

From the fall of 1942, the Home Ministry took over control of the three exterior territories, with the mission of integrating them into the interior. The integration of Karafuto became effective in 1943.

Jichishō (自治省) had the honor of being called the "Home Ministry" in English during its tenure from 1 July 1960 and 5 January 2001. As its name implies, this was actually a "Ministry of Self-Governments" meaning the prefectures.

From 5 January 2001, the "Home Ministry" (自治省) was merged with the "Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications" (郵政省) into the "Management and Coordination Agency" (総務庁), which became Sōmushō (総務省). This colossal organ first had the distinction of being called the "Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications" in English but has been the "Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications" since September 2004.


Immigration Bureau's MOFA roots

Until the end of World War II, police, under the Ministry of Interior (Home Ministry), controlled the entry and departure of Japanese and aliens into and from the prefectures. During the early months of the Occupation of Japan, movements into and out of what came to be defined as "Japan" was limited to movements of Allied personnel, and the repatriation to or from "Japan" as redefined by the Allied Powers of "Japanese" and "non-Japanese" and others as defined by Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) in Tokyo.

SCAP's definitions of "Japan" and "Japanese" and "non-Japanese" for occupation and repatriation purposes were based on directives from the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C., which in turn were based on the terms of surrender. The government of Japan did not have much say in such matters because its sovereignty, including the right to conduct its own foreign affairs, and the right to control (much less define) its borders and nationals, was subject to SCAP authority.

Actions taken by the Japanese government to control the movements of people within Japan, and across Japan's borders, followed and implemented SCAP instructions. Ordinances for registering lawful aliens and deporting unlawful aliens appeared in 1946, when alien affairs were still under what was left of the police.

Comprehensive legislative measures for dealing with Japanese and aliens crossing borders, and aliens residing in Japan, were not taken until the middle of the Occupation. Only during the final years of the Occupation, as postwar settlements began to take shape, did Japan have a freer hand in such matters.

Entry, exit, and registration

From 10 August 1949, matters related to border crossing, meaning the entry and departure of all persons into and from Japan, other than Allied Powers military and Occupation Forces personnel and their families, were placed under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). From 1 October 1950, alien registration was also placed under the foreign ministry.

From 1 August 1952, when the Attorney General's Office was reconfigured as the Ministry of Justice, procedures for entering and exiting the country for Japanese and aliens alike, and alien registration matters, were placed under the supervision of the justice ministry.


Immigration control chronology

The term "immigration" is used here with the awareness that it means "exit-enter-country" as a matter of border crossing, and not "immigrants" or "immigration" in the senses that such terms are used in, say, Americanese.

The term "Immigration" was introduced in English versions of Japanaese laws during the Allied Occupation of Japan by the American-dominated General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. It is, however, a mistranslation of "exit-enter-country" (shutsunyūkoku 出入国), which refers to border crossing.

The "Cabinet order concerning control of exit-entry-country" (Shutsunyūkoku no kanri ni kan suru seirei 出入国の管理に関する政令), the forerunner of today's "Exit-enter-country control and refugee recognition law" (Shutsunyūkoku kanri oyobi nanmin nintei hō 出入国管理及び難民認定法), are border-control laws. As such, they apply to all people, regardless of their nationality, who cross Japan's border when either leaving or coming to Japan, at any time and for any reason, whether by ship or plane, or balloon, or washed ashore.

Such laws, and their enforcement regulations, have made provisions for the issuance of visas and longer term statuses for aliens permitted to enter the country for the puprose of transit or briefly sojourn, or for periods of stay up to permanent residence. But they have not been "immigration" laws. And Japan has no "immigration" statuses or related policies of the kind associated with "immigration" in the United States.

In the following overview, the terms "immigration" and "emigration" are used as proxies for "enter-country" and "exit-country" in the sense of "in-migration" and "out-migration" as border crossing actions -- without regard to the nationality of the border crosser.

10 August 1949 -- Immigration Department (入国管理部 Nyūkoku kanribu) established within the Control Bureau (管理局 Kanrikyoku) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (外務省 (Gaimushō) by "Cabinet order concerning control of exit-and-entry-of-country [emigration and immigration]" (出入国の管理に関する政令), Cabinet Order No. 299 of 1949 (昭和二十四年政令第二百九十九号), promugated on and enforced from 10 August 1949.

1 October 1950 -- Emigration and Immigration Agency (出入国管理庁 Shutsunyūkoku kanrichō) established as an external agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in accordance with "Emigration and Immigration Control Agency Establishment Order" (出入国管理庁設置令), Cabinet Order No. 295 of 1950 (昭和二十五年政令第二百九十五号). At this time, alien registration, which had been under the Civil Affairs Bureau (民事局 Minjikyoku) of the Attorney General's Office (法務府 Hōmufu), was moved under MOFA.

1 November 1951 -- Emigration and Immigration Agency becomes simply Immigration Agency (入国管理部 Nyūkoku kanrichō), in accordance with "Immigration Control Agency Establishment Order" (入国管理庁設置令), Cabinet Order No. 320 of 1951 (昭和二十六年政令第三百二十号).

1 August 1952 -- Immigration Agency is reconfigured as Immigration Bureau (入国管理局 Nyūkoku kanrikyoku) under the Ministry of Justice (法務省 Hōmushō) as the Attorney General's Office was renamed from the same date.


Meiji volumes of Hōrei zensho

Hōrei zensho
[ Complete book of laws and ordinances ]

There is one volume for each of the late Keiō and early Meiji era years, beginning from Keiō 3. Meiji 1 begins from Keiō 4-9-8 (23 October 1868), and so Keiō ends the day before. Materials from Meiji 4 to Meiji 8 are in Volumes 6 to 10.

National Diet Library Dajōkan database

Scans of Dajōkan proclamations and related materials can be found and selectively downloaded from National Diet Library websites as follows.

  1. Begin with the National Diet Library Dajokan search page.
    1. Index to laws and ordinances of Japan [Early Meiji section] (日本法令索引 [明治前期編] Nihon hōrei sakuin [Meiji zenki hen]).
    This database covers from Keiō 3-10 to Meiji 19-2 -- approximately November 1867 to February 1886.
  2. Enter a key word like "minseki", or a known word or phrase from the title of a law, or other specific terms.

    If interested mainly in principle laws and regulations, then select 法令全書 as the source to be searched, and do not specify dates or other particulars.
  3. Search results will be displayed as a list of related items on a new page created by the same server. The list will show particulars for each item and links to the item in NDL's Digital Library.
  4. Clicking a link will display further information related to the item of interest, including available scans, on National Diet Library Digital Collections.
    1. National Diet Library Digital Collection (国立国会図書館デジタルコレクション)
    2. Note that NDL's 近代デジタルライブラリー (Kindai ["recent era"] Digital Library), officially dubbed "Digital Library from the Meiji Era", was integrated into Digital Collections on 22 July 2015. However, older links on Yosha Bunko to NDL's "" server will redirect to the "" server.
    3. NDL's Digital Collections includes scans of hundreds of thousands of documents and entire volumes, the copyrights of which have expired, or which copyright holders have permitted NDL to post on the Internet, or are otherwise regarded as being in the public domain, including books licensed by the Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
  5. Pages of interest can be viewed on a monitor or downloaded. Download options usually include either pdf files for selected ranges of pages, or jpg files with a choice (at times) of resolutions.

See Sources and translations and other parts of the Social status laws in Japan article in the "Anthropology" section of this website for fuller particulars, and for transcriptions and translations of several Great Council of State proclamations cited from Hōrei zensho.


Yomigana jisho

日本法令索引 [明治前期編]
東京:国立国会図書館, 平成19年1月
Nihon hōrei sakuin [Meiji zenki hen]
Yomigana jisho
[Index to laws and ordinances of Japan [Early Meiji edition]
Dictionary of kana readings
Tokyo: National Diet Library, January 2007
319 pages, PDF file

An aiueo reading dictionary of selected terms based on "Complete book of laws and ordinances (Iroha index of Japanese laws and ordinances from Keio 3-10 through Meiji 17-12)". Includes terms with difficult readings investigated in the process of compiling the Early Meiji section.

The dictionary, in aioeu order, is presented as a table with four colums: (1) Kana reading, (2) Characters, (3) Page in iroha index, and (4) Notes. The "Notes" column is further divided into two columns -- the first for cross reference to other entries, the second a simple definition -- but I have combined these subcolumns into a single column.

Entries that are new to the aeiou dictionary have no page number referring to its listing in the i-ro-ha index.

Many if not most entries (such as "eta") have neither cross references nor definitions. Others have cross references but no synonym definitions, and some (such as "hinin" and "minseki") have only definitions.

Periodic glossary of terms related to nationality in Japan





ezo, eta










gaikoku, gaikokujin




各国 海外




西洋人教師 各国人

kikyo, kiken, kikoku, kihan, kisei, kiseki, kinyu, kino, kihan, kiyu
-- kika (帰化) not on list




帰国 帰県 在郷 郷里




帰国 帰郷




帰藩 帰郷 帰邑




帰郷 帰国




編籍 復籍 帰入
















帰藩 帰国

kokumin, kokumingun, kokumin seiteibo, go-koku
-- kokuseki (国籍) not on list




内国人 内外国人 御国人









go-koku (御国) was added to the original list. Kojien (5th edition) does not include this reading. Rather it defines the following two terms.

o-kuni (御国)   (1) Edo period, term of respect for the territory of a lord (大名 daimyō); (2) [rural] locality [region] (地方 chihō). [rurual] country (田舎 inaka). "okuni kotoba" (== local/country speech/talk); (3) term of respect for place of origin (出身地 shusshinchi) of another person (他人 tanin). "O-kuni wa dochira desu ka?" [== Which/where is your (home) country/province/land?].

mi-kuni (御国)   (1)Term of respect for country [land, province] (国 kuni). Genji monogatari, Hatsune [Tale of Genji, First Song (Book 23)] "Ikeru hotoke no kuni to oboyu" [== (a certain garden) is thought of as the Country of the Living Buddha ( == the Pure Land of Perfect Bliss of this world)]; (2) The country of Japan (日本国 Nihonkoku). Imperial country [Empire] (皇国 Kōkoku).






















外国人 各国人

sekihai, zokuseki, zokuseki, zokusekihyo, zokuseki hennyu




sekihai (籍牌) was most conspicuously used in a Meiji 7-4-10 Dajokan circular on "Regulations [concerning] registration of the people of the country of Ching [Qing China] residing in this country" (御国在留清国人民籍牌規則 Gokoku zairyū Seikoku jinmin sekihai kisoku). It referred to a "registration permit" related to residence registration. 牌 (hai) refers to a tablet, plate, sign, placard, or card -- as mahjong "tile" or playing "card". As a document it means permit or warrant. 籍 (seki) refers to a register or roll, particularly one which records family or native affiliation. 籍牌 referred to "residence registration records" and to "residence registration" generally.














Nihonkoku, Nihonkokujin, Nihonjin

















mibun -- bungen (分限) not listed




族籍 異動身上









平民戸籍 族籍





minseki hennyū :: see minseki

minseki == heimin koseki / zokuseki [commoner household registry / family standing registry]

Kojien (5th edition) defines 族籍 (zokuseki) as "Status which clan names (族称 zokushō) like peers (華族 kazoku), former samurai (士族 shizoku), and commoners (平民 heimin) expressed. Word viewed from the entering clan names on family register rolls. See clan names (族称 zokushō).

族称 (zokushō) is defined as "Term referring to a status of a national. From early years of Meiji [period] differentiated peers, former samurai, and commoners, and, ordinarily, was used in connection with prefecture (府県 fuken) of place of primary register (本籍地 honsekichi). Lapsed [vanished, nullified] by revision of Family Register Law after World War II."