Category Archives: Citizenship

Passport blues

I have procrastinated for months in getting a new passport, even after my old one expired at the end of June, because the cover came off and it therefore counts as too damaged for a postal renewal. So, I finally found my birth certificate and biked over from my nice new (as of just over a week ago) residence in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn down to the very lovely main Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Park, where the most convenient all-day-long passport application center is located.

Upon arrival, I realize I forgot my printout of the application form at home, but no matter; I can easily fill it out again. After all, it would be silly to go all the way back home for my neatly printed printout of the filled-out-online PDF version of the form. And so I fill out all the forms again, whereupon the agent checks my documentation, She is at first suspicious that my birth certificate is merely a photocopy, and therefore invalid, but I show her—no ma’am, you can see that there is a faint, but genuine raised seal upon the surface—and she acquiesces.

But then a curveball. I am told that because my state ID ((Non-driver’s license state ID. Yes, that is something I never did at all.)) is less than 6 months old, the State Department does not have the updated records and it is therefore not a complete and valid form of identification, necessitating an alternate and more comprehensive approach to the application process. My options are laid out: I need to either go home and find the expired ID card or make an affidavit application.

What is an affidavit passport application you ask? I have heard of affidavit voting, you may think. All you have to do is fill out one extra form attesting that you are not a lying scoundrel, and they will put your vote in the pile that they will look at if they get bored. Surely an affidavit passport application is no more of a burden? In fact, it is.For you see, it is not the applicant who completes the affidavit, but the witness attesting to the applicant’s identity. That is, I would need to bring a relative or long-standing acquaintance with me to the application office, this person would need to present his or her identification, and sign an affidavit swearing to be a relative or long-standing acquaintance of mine, whereupon my application would be accepted.

Having no desire to subject another individual to such a dreary procedure, I cycle back home, stopping only shop at the Duane Reade for sundries I have been delinquent in purchasing, and being a frantic search for the expired card. Having just moved over a week ago I expected the search to be fruitless, but luckily I discovered the card in a matter of minutes, on a table, unexpectedly laying underneath a hat.

And so, the story ends with far more annoyance than drama, yet another example of the seemingly endless procedures to which all we citizens are subjected by the splendiferously tentacled bureaucratic state, and an anecdote which I hope will prove to be of some small amount of education to the reader.

Read up on the upcoming changes to immigration policy – pretty much all positive!

Happy foreigners love the new system!

Starting next month (July 9), the immigration authorities are going to implement a series of changes to the rules for foreigners in the country. The biggest is probably replacing the foreigner registration card (gaikokujin torokusho) with a residency card (在留カード). It’s more or less the same, but it will now be administered directly by immigration, not the local authorities.

There are a lot of other changes as well, so it would probably be a good idea to sit down for maybe an hour and familiarize yourself with them. The government’s handy website can be found here for Japanese and here for English.

All in all, these represent some real benefits for expats, so I think the authorities deserve a pat on the back on this one. So far my personal experience with immigration has been very positive, and it looks like my warm feelings will only continue. Here are some of the new rules that caught my eye:

  • The general term for a medium-term visa will be extended from 3 to 5 years.

  • A “deemed” re-entry system will allow anyone on medium-term or permanent resident visa to leave the country and return without a special application or fee, provided they come back within one year. Longer periods out of the country will still follow the old system of filing an application and paying a fee for a temporary re-entry permit.

  • Changes of address will still go through local government offices the same as Japanese people, but changes to marital and employment status, etc. will need to be reported to immigration. That could be a pain in the butt, but apparently they plan to allow you to report changes by mail, which would be a huge improvement.

  • The new card won’t include personal information such as employer or school name on the card. Instead that information will be stored in an on-board chip.

  • Violations of the new system are now subject to penalties and fines!

  • People whose old gaijin cards are still valid in July don’t need to get the new cards right away. You will have up to three years to get the new one.

  • Foreigners will be added to the juminhyo system instead of being part of a separate registry. I am not sure exactly why this is a big deal, but presumably not maintaining a totally separate database will save the government some money.

UPDATE: Another big benefit is that for newcomers, residency cards will be issued upon entry, so you will no longer need to show up at city hall to register and wait for the card to be issued. This along with some other services is only available at major airports. You are still required to go to the local office to “notify” them of your presence… But if I’m not mistaken this is functionally not that different from what Japanese people have to do when they move.

Did I miss anything big? Please let me know in the comments, and be sure to read up on the new system!

Expatriating acts

With all the kerfuffle over how Eduardo Saverin, one of the wealthy founders of Facebook, has abandoned his US citizenship on the eve of the IPO in an apparent bid to avoid taxes, on the heels of Michelle Bachman abandoning her Swiss citizenship, we have seen more discussion of dual citizenship in the past week than I can recall ever appearing in the American media.

I have no particular thoughts on the subject now, but I did learn one thing of significance from this “Room for Debate” feature in the NYT:

Active dual citizenship, on the other hand, means acknowledging or applying such a status by, for instance, voting in a foreign election or registering with the foreign government as a citizen. Such actions used to be called “expatriating acts” — engaging in them meant you renounced your U.S. citizenship. The Supreme Court in the 1960s ruled that such acts can no longer automatically lead to the loss of citizenship. But they can still be prohibited by law, as Chief Justice Earl Warren himself wrote.

I had not realized that the Supreme Court has ruled that there are no longer any automatic expatriating acts. That is, that to lose your US citizenship, you must now either formally renounce it, and have that renunciation accepted, or have a court rule that your citizenship was never valid in the first place, for example due to a fraudulent application.

For the curious, here is the actual form that one actually fills out when voluntarily renouncing US citizenship. While I am not qualified to give legal advice in any capacity, as a practical matter I strongly advise against completing this form in a flight of idle whimsy and leaving it around where a prankster might find it.

Incidentally, Saverin was born in Brazil, so presumably retains his Brazilian citizenship. My understanding is that if he was only a citizen of the US, they would reject his application to renounce his citizenship, as it is widely considered illegal for an individual to voluntarily become stateless.

March 14: International Marriage Day

It may be inappropriate to move on to non-earthquake topics, but it just so happens that I just now discovered that today is International Marriage Day in Japan.

I was reading about Philipp Franz von Siebold, the German physician who traveled extensively across Japan for eight years from the time of his arrival in 1823, playing a key role in teaching Europe about Japan upon his return. The wikipedia article also contains this section:

Since mixed marriages were forbidden, von Siebold “lived together” with his Japanese partner Kusumoto Taki (楠本滝). In 1827 Kusumoto Taki gave birth to their daughter, Oine. Von Siebold used to call his wife “Otakusa” and named a Hydrangea after her.

That made me wonder—if mixed marriages were forbidden during the Edo Period, when was the restriction lifted? It took very little research to see that this came on 14 March 1873 (Meiji 6), from which time marriages to foreigners were permitted—a copy of the issued order being shown below. Consequently, 14 March—today—is International Marriage Day (although it’s not widely recognized, and probably no better known than 15 March being Shoes Anniversary Day).

The first recorded international marriage took place on 27 January 1874 between Mr. Juro Miura and Ms. Crausentz Gertamier (accurate Roman alphabet spelling unknown) after they met while Miura’s studied in Germany. They were married at a church in Tsukiji in Tokyo.

Importantly, government approval was required for Japanese women to marry foreigners, and they lost their Japanese citizenship (bungen) upon marrying a foreigner. Similarly, foreign women acquired Japanese citizenship upon marrying a Japanese man. In the 1870s, Japan was still in the process of developing its legal system and the concept of citizenship and citizen were not yet clear. This was put into law by the Meiji Constitution and Citizenship Law that were both enacted in 1899, but the system remained essentially unchanged until 1916, when Japanese women only lost their Japanese citizenship if they acquired foreign citizenship.

Maehara should stay

Seiji Maehara is stepping down due to an absolutely ridiculous scandal-of-the-week summarized well by the WSJ Japan blog: “The $2,429 Donation That Brought Down Japan’s Foreign Minister.” Said donation came from a foreigner, which made it illegal.

I say “ridiculous” because the donor in question is a zainichi Korean who has run a yakiniku restaurant in Kyoto for decades; there was likely no way for Maehara’s staff to know whether or not she was a Japanese national. In a sane world, he would simply return her money, apologize and get on with his work. Instead, he succumbed to a peanut gallery of opposition cranks who were simply looking for any line of attack on the Kan government and saw a prime opportunity to imply that Maehara was selling out the country—to a permanent resident, for $2,429. Are you kidding me?

Of course, NHK and most other media outlets are simply reporting that “Maehara accepted donations from foreigners” without mentioning any details of the donations or the foreigners—making it sound like Maehara was getting briefcases full of hundred-dollar bills from Rahm Emmanuel or the evil-looking Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman (at least, those were the first two scenes which I imagined).

NYT on American expats renouncing citizenship

NYT has an article noting that a sizable number of people every year give up their US citizenship for tax reasons. It seems like they are focused on Americans living in Europe, but I have met a few people in Japan who have at least considered this option. It does seem odd that the US is one of the few countries that tries to tax income earned abroad.

Naturalization in Japan: KEY FACTS

I am amazed at how the myth of Japan’s difficult naturalization process persists to be widely believed by well-educated Japanese and non-nationals alike. In a lengthy discussion of this last night, I researched some key facts on this and thought the results of my review worth sharing with MF readers.

  • 15,440 people applied for naturalization in 2008, according to the MOJ. Of these, 13,218 people were naturalized, but that figure is deceivingly low as the application process takes 6-12 months (or longer), and some approvals will show up next year. Only 269 were rejected, which means that the rejection rate was less than 2%. The overall approval rate for first-time applicants for the past decade has been 99%.
  • For the past decade, about 60% of applicants were Korean (including North and South Korea, and the generic “Chosen” applied to many Koreans born in Japan) and about 30% were Chinese (including Taiwan and Hong Kong).
  • The basic requirement is five years of continuous legal residency in Japan, but this can be shortened to one year if the applicant has been married to a Japanese citizen for three years or more. Read the law in Japanese here.
  • Otherwise, the requirements for naturalization are relatively straightforward, and I think most MF readers could naturalize easily. You must: be a competent adult; read kanji to a third-grade level; be an upstanding citizen with no criminal record; have sufficient income or assets to support your family; be prepared to give up other citizenship; and have never been involved in advocating or perpetrating the violent overthrow of the government or constitution.
  • Unofficially, the primary cause of a rejection is a “criminal record”—not crimes bad enough for deportation, but crimes such as multiple speeding tickets. Nothing in the law prevents a failed applicant from immediately reapplying.
  • The application is done at the local houmukyoku Legal Affairs Bureau. The cost of the application is free. Gyouseishoshi and shihoushoshi professional legal advisors can also handle the paperwork and application, for fees generally ranging from 200,000-400,000 yen.
  • A key procedural step to naturalization is assembling the birth certificates and marriage certificates of the applicant and the applicants parents so that the applicant can create a koseki family registry.
  • A family registry has two addresses, the ordinary residential address and the “honseki” which people generally keep as their family home, but which can be transferred freely. If a naturalized person changes their honseki to a new municipality, they get a new, clean koseki that only states present, not prior, facts, so the evidence of naturalization disappears from their koseki. (So do other key facts, which is a way that some people hide marriage annulment and divorce history.) This is only surface concealment—the original honseki is held by the municipality as a separate record, by law, for 80 years.
  • There are a few examples of Europeans naturalizing as Japanese nationals during the Meiji Era and beyond, when some Europeans kept their names unchanged, in roman letters. After World War II and until 1985, applicants were required by ministry procedures to adopt a Japanese name. This was dropped as an explicit requirement that year, but remained as an inexplicit requirement through the 1990s. Presently, the only requirement is that a person write their name in kanji, hiragana or katakana, with no encouragement to otherwise adopt a “Japanese” name.
  • It is rumored that one reason this requirement was dropped was because of the naturalizatio of Masayoshi Son, the president of Softbank born in Japan to Korean parents, and one of Japan’s richest people. When he applied for naturalization, the authorities said that he had to take a Japanese name or prove that Son (or 孫) was a Japanese name. As he was advised by lawyers with more than half a brain cell, his wife petitioned the family court to take his family name, this was accepted by the court, and he had the necessary proof. The flummoxed bureaucrats thus took the view that this now unwritten requirement was outdated and dropped it.

Race: to be ignored or over-emphasized?

Exhibit 1. Michelle Malkin’s blog (hat tip to Adamu):

Fully one-quarter of the space on this year’s [U.S. Census] form is taken up with questions of race and ethnicity, which are clearly illegitimate and none of the government’s business (despite the New York Times’ assurances to the contrary on today’s editorial page). So until we succeed in building the needed wall of separation between race and state, I have a proposal.

Question 9 on the census form asks “What is Person 1’s race?” (and so on, for other members of the household). My initial impulse was simply to misidentify my race so as to throw a monkey wrench into the statistics; I had fun doing this on the personal-information form my college required every semester, where I was a Puerto Rican Muslim one semester, and a Samoan Buddhist the next. But lying in this constitutionally mandated process is wrong. Really — don’t do it.

Instead, we should answer Question 9 by checking the last option — “Some other race” — and writing in “American.” It’s a truthful answer but at the same time is a way for ordinary citizens to express their rejection of unconstitutional racial classification schemes. In fact, “American” was the plurality ancestry selection for respondents to the 2000 census in four states and several hundred counties.

Exhibit 2. The Rapporteur of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to the Japanese government (thanks to Debito for putting the transcript online):

The report and [the government’s] responses contain many statistics including figures disaggregated by citizenship, nationality, but paragraph 4 of the report says that ethnic breakdown for Japan is not readily available, Japan does not conduct population surveys from an ethnic viewpoint.

I must say this has caused the rapporteur some heartache in the sense of trying to get a grip on relevant figures. For example, in relation to Koreans, you say that 600,000 approximately, that’s just round up those numbers, foreigners who are Koreans; 400,000 of which are special permanent residents, but there is also a figure of some 320,000 naturalizations that I have come across, and in recent years up to 2008, so we are actually talking about a million, something roughly around a million Koreans and Korean descent.

The committee often asks for statistics; we understand the difficulties that states may have for various reasons including reasons to do with privacy and anonymity and so on, not wanting to pigeonhole people in certain ethnic categories, but it can be tremendously helpful I think and also in many cases necessary to get a grasp of the situation by understanding its dimensions and if an ethnic question can’t be asked in a direct way in a census, we often encourage states to find creative ways around this, including things like use of languages we recommended to other states from time to time; social surveys, etc., and a number of other methods that are…this is essentially designed not simply to help the committee – that’s not the point – but to help the state, I think to understand the dimensions of a particular question, and enable them to focus their policy more appropriately.

“Race” in terms of black and white is a pretty silly idea, but there is something to be said about monitoring statistics on ethnic origin, as opposed to the Japanese government approach of looking at registered nationality alone (that is, when they choose to count foreign nationals at all). Of course, when the world is full of hot-heads on both sides of the political fence, it’s hard to reach a compromise that anyone will like.

Japanese Names, White Faces

Marmot has a post titled “Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Mr. Fujita…” that looks at the case of Scott Fujita, a 6′5″ 250 pound white football player with a Japanese name who plays for the New Orleans Saints. He’s not ethnically Japanese, or even Asian, but was adopted by a family with a Japanese-American father born in the World War II detainment camps. He reportedly feels Japanese in his heart and is a fan of mochi ice cream and Pocky.

Reading the post and the comments reminded me of my meeting with Sailor Nathan Nakano, resident on the USS Kitty Hawk, when I visited as a guest of the Tiger Cruise in Yokosuka in 2006, seeing US military hardware and life on board an aircraft carrier, courtesy ComingAnarchy reader Eddie.


Curzon and Nakano, September 2006

I remember asking Nakano: That’s a Japanese name! What gives? And if I recall correctly, his father’s father was either Japanese or half-Japanese, making him one-fourth or one-eighth Japanese. You can read a news story that quotes Nathan here.

I wonder how many Westerners there are with Japanese names in the world? Marmot’s commenters have a few stories relaying similar stories about white kids with Japanese names due to adoption or stepfather relationships. There’s also a (sorta) opposite case, Haruki Nakamura, the current United States Chess Champion—he was born in Japan to a Japanese father and American mother, but his parents divorced, his mother remarried a Sri Lankan, and his stepfather, FIDE Master and chess author Sunil Weeramantry, taught him chess. So he’s got a Japanese name, but has only non-Japanese parents.

Giving all permanent residents the right to vote = terrible idea

The DPJ has agreed to submit a bill that would grant foreign permanent residents of Japan (let’s call them PRs) the right to vote and run in local elections. Getting voting rights without having to give up Korean citizenship has long been a goal of zainichi Korean activist groups. But this proposal would apply both to “special” permanent residents that include the population of “zainichi” Koreans and Chinese from Taiwan who remained in the country after WW2, and to any foreigner granted permanent residency.

The bill has stirred up a firestorm of criticism, most loudly from the right wing. However, in support of the bill are some powerful forces, first and foremost DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, whose job it is to ensure a lasting majority for his party. According to at least one critic, the decision to offer suffrage to all PRs may be  an attempt to secure a more permanent voting base because the zainichi population has been falling precipitously as the original group dies off and their decendants naturalize.

Personally, although I could potentially benefit from this bill if I one day am granted permanent residency, I don’t think it’s a good idea. Except for unique circumstances, only the citizens of a country should be allowed to vote.

Right-wing anger

The right wing and their allies in the opposition LDP have mobilized against this bill. Right-leaning Sankei Shimbun has run features pointing out the “big problems” with the bill. Financial services minister and conservative People’s New Party President Shizuka Kamei is against the proposal, noting he would refuse to sign a cabinet decision on the matter. In a statement, he worried that some areas with large foreign populations would see an upheaval of political power. He also suggested the compromise measure of loosening the requirements to naturalize, without being specific.

Protests have been common, and generally have taken a highly xenophobic tone. The crux of the argument is that there is no good reason to give PRs the vote and that almost no nations unilaterally grant foreign citizens the right to vote (some EU countries allow it for other EU citizens, along with some other exceptions made for special groups (PDF)). Some of the criticism veers into the paranoid, however. In addition to the long, long list of furious red herring arguments documented by Debito, here is a video of one activist calmly explaining that this is an attempt by China to take over Japan by populating the country with foreign voters.

Almost non-existent support

It’s obvious enough that these protesters are making ridiculous arguments and have cranked the outrage way out of proportion. But what is the case for giving PRs the vote?

In addition to expected support from zainichi Korean groups, we have some uncharacteristically half-baked support from Debito, the well-known human rights agitator: “Debito.org is in support, given how difficult it can be to get PR in Japan, not to mention how arbitrary the naturalization procedures are.” But just because it’s tough to get the status, that doesn’t mean one should get the right to vote and be elected. I am not accusing foreigners in Japan of being spies or degenerates, but a basic tenet of a country and the Japanese constitution is that it is to be governed by its citizens. That requirement helps assure those who will be involved in politics are committed citizens of the country. Permanent residents are already protected under the law and do not need to renew their visa to stay in the country. I think if they want more than that they should be ready to give up their original passport and become citizens.

In an article in Japan Focus, professor Chris Burgess praises the zainichi suffrage movement as “multiculturalism in practice” but makes no mention of the expanded proposal.

I can understand giving the special permanent residents the vote because they are for all practical purposes citizens of the country. The current DPJ proposal would essentially exclude those who did not explicitly take South Korean citizenship (朝鮮籍維持者), if I understand correctly. But I would not even have a problem with these people getting the vote as it was an tragedy of history that put them in the country in the first place. If Japan would permit dual citizenship that would be one thing, but absent that letting them vote one way to let them participate in society.

But really, what constituency of non-zainichi PRs is actually asking for the right to vote? The only one who really stands to gain is the DPJ itself which would earn itself an expanded and loyal voter base. That’s an irresponsible way to decide election policy in this country, and as much as it pains me to side with rabid right-wingers who may wish me ill will, they are right on this issue. There are more important issues in my opinion (allowing dual citizenship, establishing an immigration policy) that should be given more priority.

(Thanks to Mulboyne for the video link)