Category Archives: Citizenship

Dual nationality and Zainichi Koreans

Via the Marmot’s Hole, it appears that South Korea is currently drafting a law that would finally allow for dual citizenship of adults. The dual citizenship law in Korea is currently more or less the same as Japan, i.e. that it is only permitted for minors who are theoretically forced to choose upon reaching the age of majority. In Japan that age is 20 and in Korea is 22, but the principal is the same.

Those who obtain foreign citizenship by birth will be allowed to maintain it if they submit a written oath by the age of 22 not to exercise the rights and privileges of foreigners in Korea by using their second passport.

After the age of 22, men will be allowed to maintain multiple citizenship only if they complete their military service here. Under the current law, dual citizenship holders must choose one nationality by the age of 22 and submit a written pledge to give up their foreign citizenship if they choose their Korean nationality. The revision is aimed at blocking a drain on military manpower.

Those caught using their foreign passports to enter international schools or invest in Korea as foreigners will be ordered to choose a single nationality and automatically lose their Korean nationality if they fail to give up their foreign citizenship within a specified period.

The regulations also apply for other groups such as foreigners who have immigrated through marriage with Koreans; highly skilled foreigners; senior citizens living overseas; those who have regained Korean citizenship after being adopted by foreign families; and Chinese nationals who were born and have lived here for more than 20 years.

Under the current law, foreigners have to give up their foreign citizenship within six months after they obtain Korean nationality.


There are a couple of complications that I’m curious about, however. First, I assume that military service has a maximum age as well, and if so, are older men allowed to acquire dual-citizenship without doing it? The second case is more complicated though-the so-called Zainichi Koreans. Republic of Korea citizens who are permanent residents of Japan, particularly those who came during the pre-WW2 colonial period and their descendants. Will they also allowed to become dual nationals? And if so, what about military service?

Well, as it currently stands Zainichi Koreans, as well as Korean permanent residents in other countries, are exempt from the draft. However, should they “return” to Korea with the intention of becoming a permanent resident there, they lose this exemption.

大韓民国 兵役法
第65条(兵役処分変更等)
第2項 ・・・・・・・・・・・国外で家族と共に永住権を得た者(条件付き永住権を得た者を除く。以下同じ)又は永住権制度がない国で無期限滞留資格を得た者の場合には、兵役免除の処分をすることができる。
第4項 ・・・・・・・・・・・兵役の免除を受けた者が国内で永住する目的で帰国するなど大統領令が定める事由に該当するときは、その処分を取り消して兵役義務を賦課することができる。

But will overseas Koreans, such as the Zainichi, even be allowed to acquire dual citizenship? There would probably be no significant issues in a country like the United States, which tolerated dual citizenship-even with countries that require military service, as long as they are a military ally like Israel. But what about Japan? I really can’t say. Although later-arriving Korean immigrants are also technically lumped in with Zainichi, the term is mainly concerned with those who, as I mentioned above, came over as colonial subjects, and their descendants, who were granted an unusual “Special Permanent Residents” status as a diplomatic compromise between Japan and Korea. (Note that the population of Zainichi who “came over during the colonial period and their descendants” is actually larger than the number of Special Permanent Residents, as some thousands returned or moved to Korea when it became independent, but later decided return to Japan, where they had spent most or all of their lives. Those who left Japan and returned were legally counted as new immigrants, and did not qualify for Special Permanent Residency.)

Many have wondered why neither country has ever allowed dual citizenship in the past, particularly for this minority. In fact, when Japan and South Korea were originally discussing the legal status of the Zainichi Koreans, the idea of allowing dual citizenship was floated, but was allegedly vetoed by the US government. As domestic politics in both countries, as well as their relations, have changed a lot over the decades, (and the US probably doesn’t care, or have the power to set policy anymore) a similar conclusion would not necessarily be foregone today, but I still can’t see Japan tolerating South Korea to unilaterally change their citizenship policy in a way that potentially hundreds of thousands of Japan residents. Zainichi Koreans (a group which actually consists of both South Korean citizens and quasi-stateless/quasi-North Korean citizens) have no problem naturalizing as Japanese citizens (they used to), but (at least anecdotally) are also forced to give up their Korean citizenship more strictly than westerners. I can’t see this changing until Japan also changes their own law to allow for adult dual citizenship, and I have yet to see any sign that they plan to do so.

What’s right and wrong with divorce in Japan

Note: I started drafting this post about a week ago. Many of these points have since been raised in our educated readers’ comments to Curzon’s earlier post on the Savoie case. I’m going to re-raise them anyway, since I believe the broader discussion of international divorce should continue.

My first trip to court was as a student in an undergraduate law class. I was assigned to sit in a session of the local courthouse and take notes on what happened. This was also where I saw a divorce for the first time. A middle-aged, heavyset black couple with soft Southern drawls came in. The entirety of the divorce went like this:

JUDGE: I understand you two want to get divorced.
WIFE: That’s right, Your Honor.
JUDGE: What is the reason for this?
WIFE: He cheated on me, and lied to me. And we don’t wanna be married no more.
JUDGE: Is this true, sir?
HUSBAND: Yes, it is.
JUDGE: Do you have any children?
WIFE: No, sir.
JUDGE: Property?
HUSBAND: It’s taken care of.
JUDGE: Fine. I declare you lawfully divorced. Take this form to the clerk.
WIFE: Thank you.

I left the courthouse shortly after that, and saw them getting into the same car together to drive home. It was a surprisingly cute divorce.

Since becoming a lawyer and moving to Tokyo, I have gotten an inside seat in some much nastier divorces. Although the law firm I used to work at was primarily dealing with corporate clients, we would regularly get a personal inquiry from, say, a client’s secretary, telling us her brother’s children were stolen by his crazy Japanese wife, and we would invariably try to respond with something productive even though there was nothing particularly productive to do at that point. The problems in resolving cross-border family disputes involving Japan are legion, and have inspired a voluminous website written by an anonymous estranged gaijin dad.

First, some facts

The statistics in this section all come from the Japanese government. You can see the original stats (in Japanese CSV format) here.

One important but rarely-cited fact about Japanese divorce law is that most divorces are consensual and involve little legal process at all. These so-called “kyogi rikon” have consistently accounted for 90 to 95 percent of all divorces during the postwar era.

A lot of this has to do with the ease of the consensual divorce. The two parties simply sign and seal a one-page form (here’s a sample in Japanese) and file it with city hall. It’s possible to get a consensual divorce without ever setting foot in court. But there has to be consensus on what to do with property and children. In this respect, the system makes it comparatively very easy to end a marriage so long as there are no particular disputes to resolve.

If the parties can’t agree to the terms of their divorce, they must go to family court. The first phase is “chotei rikon,” essentially a mediated divorce under the auspices of the family court system. It is supervised by a judge but the mediation is conducted by laypeople. If mediation fails, the family court judge can step in with a “shimpan rikon,” a sort of preliminary judgment, but this can be defeated by either party’s objection within two weeks, and so it does not form a statistically significant number of divorces. The last resort is a “hanketsu rikon,” which is also finalized by the family court judge, but can only be concluded upon a showing of particular legal facts such as infidelity, cruelty or unwarranted denial of sexual intercourse. The parties can reach a settlement during the final court process, in which case their agreement is called a “wakai rikon”; this system was introduced in the past decade and has become a not-uncommon way to resolve marital disputes.

It’s a common misconception that mothers always get custody after a Japanese divorce. In reality, fathers end up with custody in a significant percentage of cases. In fact, until the 60’s, they were more likely to get custody than mothers. Check out this graph.

The thing is that (as stated above) most divorces are reached by voluntary agreement of some kind. Once the case gets into family court, the more-or-less official presumption is that the mother is a more suitable custodian unless the father can prove otherwise. The pre-eminent English academic commentator on Japanese child abduction, Doshisha law professor and periodic Japan Times contributor Colin P.A. Jones (who incidentally lost his own kid in a Japanese divorce proceeding) translated the family court’s mediation manual as follows:

When a child is small, it is thought that the mother should generally be designated custodian. For a young child, the mother’s existence is irreplaceable, and in mediation, custody designations should usually proceed from this basis. [. . .]

When a father is demanding to be designated custodian, it is not uncommon for him to base his arguments on the fact that because he has to work outside the home, his own parents can look after the child. However, it can be said that it is better for the child to live with his mother than with his grandparents. Unless the conditions in which a mother lives are judged unsuitable for the child, as a general rule I cannot approve of awarding sole custody to fathers. Even if grandparents do look after the child, it is likely that matters will arise daily in which they will not pay the same level of attention as a parent.

This manual does not have the force of law; it is merely an official reference for the judges. The practical effect of it is that fathers can only win custody by an overwhelming display of evidence that the mother is unfit to be a parent.

(Aside: Our favorite Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, kept his first two children in a consensual divorce in 1982. His wife was six months pregnant at the time the papers were finalized and gave birth after the divorce. Koizumi tried to claim this third child as well, but the matter ended up in family court mediation and Koizumi’s ex-wife retained custody. Japanese Wikipedia interestingly doesn’t even name the third child of Koizumi, apparently because he is no longer legally Koizumi’s.)

What about joint custody? There is generally no such thing as joint custody among Japanese nationals. Visitation rights (面接交渉権 mensetsu kosho ken) may be granted by the court, but are often very limited (sometimes to a few hours once per year), are very difficult to legally enforce, and one parent must still be designated as the custodian whether or not the divorce is consensual. The only way a Japanese child can be registered as being in joint custody is if the child has another citizenship and their parents’ divorce was finalized in another country which allows joint custody. (This is not a “legal” provision per se; it was allowed by a Ministry of Justice circular and could theoretically be changed overnight if the Justice Minister changed their mind about the issue.)

Even outside Japan, joint custody is a sticky subject among parents, academics and jurists. Terrie Lloyd made the following statement in his email newsletter earlier this week:

The view of most [Japanese] judges (based on interviews with judges that we have done in the past) is that kids need to be insulated from the hurt between divorcing parents by giving them just one care-giver. But this is a traditional view and has no basis in fact. Child psychologists outside Japan generally agree that kids need the love and attention of both parents, even if they are divorced. Splitting the kids from one parent naturally causes them to side with the other (Parental Alienation Syndrome: PAS), which causes them to have complexes about the missing parent later in life.

Actually, as a glance at Wikipedia would show (and as Professor Jones acknowledges in the article linked above), PAS has not nearly reached general acceptance in the psychological community or the legal community, even in the supposedly more liberal United States.

(Another aside, at the risk of pissing off all the divorced men in the room: I find the use of PAS theory in custody disputes difficult to swallow. Sure, in theory it’s better for kids to have contact with both parents and view both parents as respectable people. In practice, if the parents can’t hold their marriage together, they probably can’t refrain from filling their kids’ heads with crazy talk about each other. So how is bouncing the kids back and forth between homes, and introducing two conflicting stories between the parents in the process, less traumatic for the kids than having one consistent story?

That said, there is a risk of conflating issues here. It’s one thing to park the children in one parent’s household when there is abuse or domestic violence going on. It may also be a good idea when the two parents absolutely can’t get along and their own discord is harming their children. But there are also many cases where children have no idea what is going on between their parents—only that one parent is going away forever—and this boggles my mind. In those sorts of cases, it makes sense to allow ongoing shared custody as an option, so long as the parents can work out logistics between them and agree to keep their disputes between themselves.)

This brings us to the international aspect of Japanese divorce law. International divorces are common in Japan, but not exactly in the form familiar to readers of Debito.org or crnjapan.com. 7.1% of divorces in Japan in 2007 involved a non-Japanese party. The most common combinations were:

  • Japanese husband, Chinese wife (1.97%)
  • Japanese husband, Filipina wife (1.82%)
  • Japanese husband, Korean wife (1.11%)
  • Japanese wife, Korean husband (0.35%)
  • Japanese husband, Thai wife (0.33%)
  • Japanese wife, Chinese husband (0.22%)
  • Japanese wife, American husband (0.14%)

Chinese and Korean family law bear a striking resemblance to Japanese family law. The Chinese and Korean systems emerged from the civil law tradition, and like Japan’s, revolve around the concept of a central family registration system where every citizen is tracked. So that means only 2.74% of Japanese divorces involve a country with a “truly foreign” family law apparatus, and it’s probably safe to say that of the total number of divorces in Japan, much less than one percent involve a non-Asian party. These facts are understandable given that Japanese-Asian marriages form the vast majority of international marriages in Japan.

Let’s ask the question on everyone’s mind, though:

Is the system biased against foreigners?

Yes, it is.

But to some extent, the bias is unavoidable.

Unfortunately, there are no statistics to show how foreign parents generally fare in court-administered divorces here. My conclusion, based on many stories floating around the internet and by word of mouth, is that foreign parents are highly unlikely to win custody of Japanese kids from a Japanese court, whether or not the foreign parent is male or female. And given the fact that moms are more likely than dads to keep the kids, foreign dads should not expect much if their marriage falls apart.

A lot of this boils down to cultural differences. A Japanese judge likely has no idea of how a non-Japanese family operates, and is going to have suspicion regarding what might happen in a non-Japanese household. Suspicions aside, a not-so-worldly Japanese person would probably be unpleasantly surprised by many family quirks that are taken for granted outside Japan.

The same is true for courts in other countries. Chris Savoie, for instance, attacked Noriko Savoie in Tennessee divorce court because she had their 6- and 8-year-old kids sleep with her in her bed. This practice is uncommon in the US and would probably seem strange to an American lawyer or judge, but wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in Japan, where it’s often used simply to save space.

Cultural issues aside, there are also some procedural stumbling blocks for non-Japanese in the Japanese divorce system. These are issues which warrant legal revision, both from an international human rights perspective and from a perspective of citizens’ best interests.

Problem 1: There is no contempt of court

This is really an endemic problem throughout the Japanese legal system, not just in the sphere of family court. Even if you can get a judge to order some action or inaction (like “stay away from X’s kids” or “let X see the kids on these days”), they have no way to enforce that order if the counterparty says “no.” All they can do is levy fines, but even if they do that, the counterparty can simply refuse to pay.

Then your only option is “self-enforcement”—withholding payments and finding ways to exert social pressure. Self-enforcement might work to some extent if the enforcing party is savvy about the local system, but it puts outsiders, particularly outsiders in different countries, at a great disadvantage. Courts need teeth if they are to effectively administer any sort of custody-related arrangements.

Problem 2: The arbitrariness of Japanese nationality and conflict-of-law rules

The biggest legal problem in the Savoie case is that Dr. Savoie is a Japanese citizen and apparently hasn’t taken that fact into account in his legal strategy. The following statutory passages explain what I mean:

法の適用に関する通則法
General Act Regarding the Application of Laws

(本国法)
第三十八条  当事者が二以上の国籍を有する場合には、その国籍を有する国のうちに当事者が常居所を有する国があるときはその国の法を、その国籍を有する国のうちに当事者が常居所を有する国がないときは当事者に最も密接な関係がある国の法を当事者の本国法とする。ただし、その国籍のうちのいずれかが日本の国籍であるときは、日本法を当事者の本国法とする。

(Home Country Law)
Article 38. If a party has two or more nationalities, then the home country of the party shall be the law of the country in which such party has a habitual residence if such a country exists, and should no such country exist, the law of the country having the closest relationship to that party. However, if any such nationality is the nationality of Japan, the home country law of the party shall be the law of Japan.

According to the International Wedding Association, a Japanese NPO, a citizen would have “habitual residence” by virtue of being recorded in the resident registration (juminhyo) system, unless they have actually lived overseas for five continuous years prior to the date of determination.

(婚姻の効力)
第二十五条  婚姻の効力は、夫婦の本国法が同一であるときはその法により、その法がない場合において夫婦の常居所地法が同一であるときはその法により、そのいずれの法もないときは夫婦に最も密接な関係がある地の法による。

(Validity of Marriage)
Article 25. The validity of a marriage shall be determined by the home country law of the husband and wife if such law is the same; or if such law does not exist, by the law of the habitual residence of the husband and wife if such law is the same; or if such law does not exist, by the law of the place having the closest relationship to the husband and wife.

(離婚)
第二十七条  第二十五条の規定は、離婚について準用する。ただし、夫婦の一方が日本に常居所を有する日本人であるときは、離婚は、日本法による。

(Divorce)
Article 27. The provisions of Article 25 shall apply to divorces. However, if either husband or wife is a Japanese person with a habitual residence in Japan, [their] divorce shall be based on Japanese law.

So let’s run down the facts.

  • First, Christopher and Noriko were married in Japan.
  • Then Christopher became a Japanese citizen. So far, so good.
  • Then Christopher took his wife to the US and divorced her there. But their mutual home country law was Japanese law, so their divorce would have been invalid under Japanese law.
  • Having been improperly divorced for Japanese purposes, Christopher then married Amy.

Whether or not we agree with the propriety of a U.S. divorce for the Savoies, turning Chris into a bigamist is a pretty illogical outcome. I think he could get around prosecution given that he had no apparent intent to be legally married to two people at the same time.

That said, I think Christopher may intend to rescind, or deny the validity of, his own naturalization. The US Consulate says they want to help him out, which should not be the case if he really is Japanese (you can’t get consular protection in a country where you are a citizen). It’s a bizarre argument, and I believe it would fall flat on its face in court as an “abuse of rights” or something similar.

The solution to this problem, inasmuch as there is one, is to revise these conflict-of-law provisions so that Japanese citizens have the clear ability to divorce in a foreign forum under foreign law if they have some requisite connections to that forum. (Formally allowing dual citizenship, and getting rid of the odd ability to rescind one’s own citizenship following naturalization, wouldn’t hurt, either.) But both of these ideas are in conflict with another feature of the Japanese family law system.

Problem 3: The koseki is a moronic concept

If you don’t know what the “koseki” is, read this. The entire family law system in Japan is based on the premise of a giant hierarchical registry limited to citizens.

The koseki-worship in the civil law system here is responsible for a lot of the family law rules. Children legally exist as an entry in their parents’ koseki page. Parents have a koseki page by virtue of being married. When they divorce, they revert to separate koseki pages, and their children must go one way or the other. Thus, in a sense, they legally lose title to their children. And, as many of our readers undoubtedly know, foreigners do not appear on the koseki at all, except as “notes” on their spouse’s page.

Why is this entire system necessary? Familial relations are a personal matter, and are often quite abstract in nature. Is a parent less of a parent because they remarried or because they don’t have a Japanese passport?

The notion of organizing society around households is unnecessarily feudalistic for the modern age, and something more flexible would be better for citizens and non-citizens alike—particularly those for whom familial roots have historically been a source of discrimination (the burakumin, naturalized Koreans and others).

Personal footnote

I don’t have a wife or kids yet. Debito, who has written extensively about his own divorce and loss of children (a dreadfully sad story, but an excellent overview of how the system works here), chided me in a Facebook comment thread for daring to state my opinions while I lack skin in the game. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I respect Debito, who gave me, Roy and Curzon the privilege of hearing his story in person a good year before he made it public. But where I come from, having no skin in the game is called “objectivity,” and does not by any means disqualify an opinion.

For what it’s worth, I do have some skin in the game, as I am engaged to get married early next year. While I have given up on my farcical plans to transfer my kids to an offshore investment vehicle, I am still very cognizant that the law (even as I think its mechanics should work) may bite me in the rear someday if my marriage ever breaks down.

Sadly, a lot of the discussion surrounding these issues, whether regarding particular cases or the system in general, devolves into parental narcissism, envy and finger-pointing. The whole framework of marriage, divorce and custody is ultimately not about what Mom or Dad wants: it’s about protecting children and giving them a chance to inherit the world as capable individuals. So, as I see it, we have to approach it from that perspective regardless of which side we occupy on the wedding cake.

Sympathizing with Noriko Savoie

The US and Japanese media are focusing much attention on the arrest of Christopher Savoie in Fukuoka. The English language press deems this as yet another case of a victim of Japan’s pre-modern family law. Undeniably, there is a history of Japanese mothers suddenly fleeing to Japan where they are beyond the reach of the law, resulting in more than a hundred abduction cases involving Japan and the US alone, and this needs revision. But sympathetic press articles notwithstanding, Christopher is the wrong martyr to rally behind in this fight—an objective view of the facts makes Christopher’s ex-wife Noriko the figure of sympathy in this story.

Christopher and Noriko met and married in Japan. Christopher had a PhD and was a successful entrepreneur who founded a pharmaceutical business that he took public on the Tokyo stock exchange. He is also a naturalized Japanese citizen. They were married for thirteen years and have two children, currently ages 8 and 6.

While living in Japan, the marriage was breaking down and Noriko asked Christopher for a divorce, which he refused. Instead he convinced Noriko to move with him to the US and they did so in June 2008. No sooner had they moved than Christopher took up with another woman and served Noriko with divorce papers. Noriko was dependent on her husband and had no income for herself and had just been relocated to his home town in a country that she did not know, although she may have been relieved that she was getting the divorce she wanted a year earlier and probably also happy to receive custody of the kids and a generous financial settlement and monthly support. But the arrangements required that she stay in Tennessee and not even visit Japan without court permission. Although we cannot be sure, all the facts make it likely that Christopher was motivated to relocate to his home town to get divorced in a US court.

Thus Noriko was stuck in a country where she was culturally and personally isolated, abandoned by her husband but still expected to raise kids in a new country so her husband could get visitation. So in August, Noriko absconded to Japan with the two kids. Christopher then petitioned the court and was granted custodial rights. He then went to Japan and physically snatched his kids from his wife as they walked to school by force in a car—the very definition of “abduction.” He then raced to the US Consulate in Fukuoka, where the guards refused him entry and he was arrested outside by police. He is being held by police for 10 days and has not yet been charged.

What a US-Japanese citizen hoped to gain in a US consulate is questionable. And the action was clearly pre-meditated. But much of this narrative is lost in the US media reports, which are overwhelmingly sympathetic to Christopher and speak in implied terms of a vast, cultural conspiracy in Japan to favor mothers. The Huffington Post says “Divorced fathers in Japan typically don’t get much access to their children because of widespread cultural beliefs that small children should be with their mothers,” and Forbes writes that the case “underscores long-standing disputes over Japan’s traditional favoritism toward mothers in custody battles.” That’s utter nonsense. The statistics imply that mothers win custody in Japan at approximately the same proportion as the US—and as for Japanese “culture,” fathers were more likely to receive custody until the 1960s. On the contrary, the bias towards mothers is far more ingrained in US culture—for more than a century US courts followed the Tender Years doctrine, under which mothers get prima facie rights to child custody disputes. (Although many state courts have abandoned this on the basis of the 14th amendment equal protection clause, it still exists in many US states.)

There are also lots of factual mistakes in the reporting, such as reporting by CNN that “Japanese law… recognizes Noriko Savoie as the primary custodian.” Actually, Japanese law says that two Japanese citizens are still married, as they are both Japanese nationals and bust be divorced in Japan for the divorce to be valid, in which case there is no way that Noriko is the primary custodian. And while Japan does not have joint custody of children, there are visitation rights. (It is also reported that Noriko has dual US and Japanese citizenship, although the how and why of that is unclear.)

Terrie’s Take of Japan Inc. fame was cited by Debito as being “the best, most thorough, most balanced opinion yet on the case.” (Actually, like much of what Terrie writes, it’s a sloppy newsletter with numerous factual errors.) But beyond that, the most amusing part of that article is that it states,

What is surprising is that [Christopher] chose to get his kids back in a way that exposed him to many untested theories. One of these theories has been that it is OK to abduct your kids back. Indeed the police often do turn a blind eye to home disputes and will allow “mini-abductions” to happen.

Kidnapping as an untested theories? Yes, the cops and courts do try to keep out of family disputes whenever possible—but what Christopher did was kidnapping pure and simple, and even his lawyer has basically already admitted that he was wrong to use force. We can’t guess how this is going to be sorted out, but my guess is that Noriko is about to get some justice in court, and Christopher’s nutty stunts will prejudice him in getting visitation rights. That’s a good thing—and you can think that and still want Japan to modernize its family law to meet international standards.

Which passport to use?

Here at MFT we take great interest in passports, visas and travel restrictions—in part because we love traveling, and in part because we are constantly dealing with nationality-related issues. All five of our contributors (including the dear and basically-departed Saru) are US citizens. Four of us live in Japan and a couple of us have seriously contemplated taking Japanese citizenship. Curzon is a dual citizen of the UK and I am a dual citizen of Ireland. While Roy is only a US citizen (as far as any of us can tell), he has a strong academic interest in citizenship law.

I was recently taking a look at the Henley survey, which ranks countries by the freedom of movement afforded their passport holders. The full list is here, and the rankings surprised me enough that I decided to poke through the web to find out how travel restrictions differ for American, Japanese, British and Irish citizens.

It turns out that Ireland has the second-best passport in the world, tied with Finland and Portugal, and second only to Denmark’s. Irish citizens can enter 156 countries without an advance visa.

The US is tied for #3 in the global ranking, alongside Belgium, Germany and Sweden. US citizens can enter 155 countries without an advance visa.

Japan is tied for #4 in the global ranking, alongside Canada, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain. Japanese citizens can enter 154 countries without an advance visa.

The UK is at #6, tied with France, and UK citizens can access 152 countries. But British passport holders have to be careful about the type of passport they hold: it is possible to get a British passport without being a British citizen (most often by being a former subject of a defunct British possession such as Ireland or Hong Kong), and the travel restrictions on such passports are tighter. For instance, a British non-citizen passport can’t be used for a visa waiver to enter the United States—but on the flip side, a British passport held by a Hong Kong subject can be used to enter China without a visa.

The differences in visa waiver coverage are interesting, if seemingly arbitrary at times. In the chart below, an “O” means no visa is required or that a visa can be purchased on arrival, while an “X” means that a visa must be acquired in advance.

            USA  GBR  IRL  JPN

AMERICAS:
Belize       O    O    O    X
Bolivia      X    O    O    O
Brazil       X    O    O    X
Paraguay     X    O    O    O
Suriname     X    X    X    O

AFRICA:
Rwanda       O    O    X    X

ASIA:
China (PRC)  X    X    X    O
Iran         X    O    O    O
Mongolia     O    X    X    X
Vietnam      X    X    X    O

Is a national lack of English skills Japan’s Berlin Wall?

Critics of English teaching in Japan have put forth many arguments - it’s ineffective, it’s counterproductive, it attracts the wrong crowd, it starts too late, it focuses too much on English at the expense other languages, you name it. But this post from finance blogger Kazuki Fujizawa (likely a pen name) is the first time I have seen someone argue that English education in Japan is being intentionally undermined by the education ministry.

He starts by noting that the recent political developments in Japan (upcoming election) can be kind of hard to understand. This is only natural because as a free society power is not concentrated in one place – it is a complicated interaction of various interests. On the other hand, it is comparatively much easier to understand how dictatorships like North Korea or the former East Germany are governed – North Korea has its massive propaganda machine and terrorizes the population, while East Germany kept its people from escapting to the West by building the Berlin Wall.

With that in mind, he tells the story of what you might call Japan’s Berlin Wall, which I have translated below:

I think the time has come for the education ministry to abolish its policy of undermining Japanese people’s English abilities.

Viewed from the perspective of the rulers, the question of English language education was a sticky problem.

That is because if the people ever became able to speak English fluently, the talented Japanese people and firms might have gone overseas to get away from the world’s highest personal and corporate income tax rates. But to take in Western technology and develop the country, they had no choice but to give the people English language education. The rulers of Japan wanted to keep the people in bondage while simultaneously collecting as much information from abroad as possible.

The Japanese bureaucrats’ answer was to create an English language education system without precedent anywhere else in the world that was perfectly suited to meet these two opposing demands. They made the extremely specialized skill of mechanically replacing English sentences with Japanese the central focus of the compulsory English language curriculum.

Forcing middle schoolers with young minds to repeat these exercises again and again was wildly successful at disabling the people’s English language communication skills. People educated to turn English sentences into Japanese by moving the word order around become completely unable to speak English.

To the rulers, this was a very wonderful thing.

Unable to communicate in English, the Japanese people could thus be prevented from fleeing overseas without resorting to violence.

The amazing part of this English education system is that even though the Japanese people are rendered incapable of communicating in English, they can still understand written English such as English-language scholarly works. This way, the bureaucrats could disable the Japanese people’s English-language communication skills while at the same time giving them access to the vast archives of English-language written materials.

This system was a key component of Japan’s high rate of economic growth following World War II.
Even as English-language information entered Japan from around the world, the Japanese could only read English but not speak it or write it, meaning that there was almost no outflow of information from Japan to the outside world. This one-way flow of information made it possible for post-war Japan to rapidly industrialize.

But as Japan caught up to the advanced Western nations and caught the “developed nation disease,” this policy of disabling people’s English abilities began to crack at the seams.

Without English skills, Japan’s diplomacy is weak.
There is also little transmission of culture to the world.
A whole range of manufacturing products in Japan are incompatible with those sold in global markets due to Japan-specific standards.

Importantly, most Japanese companies can no longer survive in a shrinking Japanese market as the country’s biggest problem is the shrinking and aging population, which is progressing at the fastest rate in the world.

The era when Japan could shut itself off from the world, import information, manufacture products in Japan, and then sell them to the Japanese market has ended. Nowadays, Japanese people and companies must go abroad and sell their own products. That means they must have communication skills in English, the world’s lingua franca.

Looking throughout the world, in small advanced countries where businesses cannot succeed only in their home markets, the people can speak English almost without exception. Middle school students in the Netherlands and Sweden all get nearly perfect marks on the TOEFL test.

In Japan, our own market will shrink more and more, so we must now go abroad to survive.

Don’t you think it is high time for the education ministry to abolish its policy of disabling the Japanese people’s English abilities?

Difficulties for rare names in China

Just two weeks ago I posted a link to an article about a Taiwanese “collector” of rare Chinese family names. While his activity may seem to be a mere eccentric hobby, documenting these names and their lineage does have important historical significance, as seen in recent moves by the Chinese government. According to a NYT article from April 20, China has been phasing in an electronic ID card system which does not support many of the exotic antique characters used in rare family names, and their solution has been to ask people affected to change their names.

One of the main examples given in the article is the character [ed: oops, actually the character they reference was too obscure for me to enter using either the Japanese or Chinese IME. I confused it with the still-rare but far more common “驫”. 驫 (骉 simplified, as it would be written in the PRC), pronounced “Cheng” according to the article, but “Biao” according to the dictionary. Apparently the software used for the Chinese ID system does not support this character, despite the fact that I had no problem drawing it on the IME pad in Windows Vista using my house, and it can even be found in the Japanese language Wiktionary.

(Before I go on, I want to note briefly that the word 漢字, meaning “Chinese character” is used in Chinese, Korean and Japanese, respectively pronounced hanzi, hanja, and kanji. When using one of these three words I am specifically referring to the use of Chinese characters in that country/language.)

According to the article, the computer system currently in use by the government supports 32,252 hanzi, out of well over 50,000 found in the most comprehensive classical dictionaries. The government is currently working on a restricted list of characters approves for use in modern Chinese writing, which they estimate will exceed 8000 characters-a significant drop from even the current de-facto list of 32,252.

While these sorts of legal restrictions on one’s very name name may sound stereotypically totalitarian for the communist People’s Republic, in fact both Japan and Korea have had similar restrictions for a long time. In Japan, the Law on Household Registration (Koseki-hou) governs the kanji which may be used in personal names. Under current regulations, kanji for personal names may only be chosen from either the Joyo Kanji (Kanji for Daily Use, the list that forms the basis of public school Japanese education, Japanese proficiency tests, etc.), consisting of 1945 characters, or the  983 character Jinmeiyou-kanji (Kanji for Use in Personal Names). Both of these lists have been revised, usually expanded but sometimes with deletions, over the years.

There was an amusing incident during the 2004 round of additions to the Jinmeiyou list. The committee proposed an initial list of 489 additions purely based on statistical analysis of the commonality of various characters in modern Japanese text, and then posted it online to seek comments. While many of the names were popular, 9 of them were the target of objections from the public, and were removed from the list. Those 9 kanji were: 糞(feces) 屍(corpse) 呪(curse, magic spell) 癌(cancer) 姦(rape) 淫(lewd obscene) 怨(hatred, grudge-as in the horror film) 痔(hemorrhoid) and 妾(concubine). (Bonus word trivia: two of these kanji combine to make the word for necrophilia.) As a foreigner who has only been studying Japanese for around 8 years, I recognized all of 9 of these on first glance and could read all but two(淫 and 妾), so I would assume that any adult native-reader of Japanese knows all of these moderately obscure characters and many hundreds more, despite their not being on the official government lists.

(The current Jinmeiyo list may be seen conveniently at Wikipedia.)

In South Korea there are 5151 characters allowed, even though most people normally write their name in the natively developed hangul alphabet, which has replaced hanja in everyday use. While traditional Korean family names are all hanja, personal names may also contain hangul. Interestingly, the Korean list of name characters is written using the same Chinese characters as the Japanese one-인명용 한자(人名用漢字), although like other shared Sinic words it is pronounced in the Korean fashion “inmyong yo hanja”.

North Korea legally eliminated hanja from their language some time ago, so even though most names can be traced etymologically to Chinese, all legal names today are written in hangul in all circumstances.

Vietnam was also historically a Chinese-character culture (known locally as chữ nôm), but they abandoned it early in the 20th century. While as much of their vocabulary is descended from Chinese words as in Japan or Korea, today they write purely in the Roman alphabet and the original Chinese characters for words or names are found only on old art or documents, or in dictionaries.

Taiwan, as befitting its role as the bastion of traditional Chinese writing, has no restrictions on hanzi name use. Hong Kong and Macao, which while part of the PRC also maintain traditional writing and also have a separate legal code from the PRC, presumably also have the same level of name freedom as Taiwan.

Now, what about immigrants? When I was first studying in Japan as an undergraduate, I know a girl whose name contained the hanja “妵” (pronounced “ju” in Korean), which is not just absent from the Japanese name-kanji list, but also not even found in standard Japanese fonts or dictionaries! On her Foreigner Registration Card, this character was pasted in using an obviously different font, as it couldn’t be typed normally. While I do not know the actual law, I assume that this is the traditional custom for dealing with domestically disallowed hanzi/hanja names in Japan, or domestically disallowed hanzi names in South Korea. (In South Korea today, Japanese names are usually rendered in hangul based on their pronunciation, and the actual kanji are ignored.) However, when a foreigner naturalizes in Japan their legal name must follow the local rules, which may force them to adopt a less exotic name. Of course, even should they be forced to change their name, nothing will keep them from using the original one in all circumstances except legal documentation.

To summarize, the freedom of choice for Chinese characters in names of the four countries which still use such names is as follows:

Taiwan* > China > South Korea > Japan

*Hong Kong and Macau may be at this level, confirmation needed

Although the NYT article implied that the imposition of restrictions on the hanzi in names is threateningly totalitarian, in fact Chinese citizens will still have FAR more options than Koreans or Japanese even if restricted to the 8000+ character list, and South Koreans today have nearly twice as many options as the Japanese do, despite that fact that most South Koreans can hardly read any but the most common of hanja. Of course, it is only in Japan where one has the option of choosing a reading for ones name that has no historical relationship whatsoever with the kanji themselves.

Surprise! You’re Brazilian

Awesome citizenship story from an Asahi reporter (translated from page 11 of the Asahi Shimbun April 10 morning edition):

[Correspondent’s Notebook] Sao Paolo, Brazil: A Dubious Fine

I paid a fine the other day.

The reason? It was my duty as a Brazilian.

I was born in Brazil due to my father’s job, but after returning to Japan at age 1 I was raised as a Japanese and never doubted otherwise.

All that changed when the decision was made to dispatch me to Sao Paolo. I headed to the Consulate General Brazil of Brazil in Tokyo to apply for a visa, but they refused to issue one, telling me, “You are a Brazilian.” They said I had no standing to get a visa as visas can only be issued to foreigners.

Brazil is a jus solis country, meaning that you automatically receive citizenship if you are born there. Well I never… Slightly confused, I accepted the green Brazilian passport and headed to my post.

In Sao Paolo, I tried to get my ID card and was told I needed to register to vote. On top of that, since I had neglected to register at age 18, they ordered me to pay a fine. Voting is mandatory in Brazil.

Though I retorted, “Until recently I was a Japanese living in Japan,” the official was ready with a comeback: “Just the other day, a native came in here and insisted, ‘I was living in the jungle until now, so I had no idea about registering to vote.’ But rules are rules!”

Not totally satisfied with the explanation, I gave up and paid the fine of 3.5 real (160 yen or USD $1.60).

(Ari Hirayama)

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Check the Adamukun blog for Adamu’s shared articles and recommended links.

Gay marriage now legal in Japan-to a foreigner, huh?

After a discussion a few weeks ago about the situation of gay politics and life in Japan and Taiwan, there seems to be a very significant update. The Japanese Ministry of Justice has apparently announced that gay marriages will now be recognized as legal in Japan, but only in the rare circumstance that a Japanese national has gotten married to a foreign national of a country which allows gay marriage. If such a couple gets married in a foreign jurisdiction which allows gay marriage, that marriage will also be recognized in Japan, but this is apparently NOT an option for a couple consisting of two Japanese nationals. I am slightly baffled at why they would want to go out of their way to create such a special case exemption, which is even more confusing than the rules for recognition of marriage between various US states.

The ministry has so far rejected the issuance of such certificates to Japanese citizens seeking to marry same-sex partners of foreign nationality as such marriages are not approved under domestic law.

For Japanese nationals, whether they are gay or not, to marry foreigners in foreign countries, they must obtain certificates from the ministry by submitting documents including their name, birth data, sex and nationality, and similar information about their marriage partner.

Under the latest decision, the ministry will issue a new type of certificate which will only clarify that the person has reached the legal age for marriage and that he or she is single.

“We were not able to get (the ministry) to forgo the clarification of sexuality. But I want to hail the Justice Ministry’s decision as a step forward (for gays),” said Taiga Ishikawa, who represents gay support group Peer Friends.

Ishikawa said that Japanese gays were not able to get married to a gay foreigner even if their marriage partner’s country approved of same- sex marriage, because the Justice Ministry would not issue the certificate.

“And without marriage they were unable to obtain visas for their partners to live together,” Ishikawa said.


Yes, I suppose it is a major milestone and perhaps a step towards greater legal equality in Japan for all homosexuals, but what really is the point of this new regulation as-is? Who thought it made any kind of logical sense to create a right only for a Japanese to marry a foreigner of the same sex, but not for two Japanese of the same sex to get married? Actually, the last line quoted above gives the answer: by allowing Japanese gays or lesbians to marry their partner, that partner will now qualify for a spouse visa-which in many cases is the difference between allowing a relationship to continue or not. This is of course not an issue for two gay Japanese, who while strangely will now actually have less legal rights and privileges as a couple than one consisted of one Japanese and one foreigner, but at least will not have to worry about being separated due to the vagaries of immigration law.

(Via Andrew Sullivan’s blog)

Brazilian community in the Homi Danchi, Toyota City

The Homi public housing development (“Danchi” in Japanese) in the Homigaoka area of Toyota City, in Aichi Prefecture, is now home to a large population of Brazilian immigrants. They mainly came to the area to work at Toyota and related manufacturing jobs, but are now often the first to lose those jobs due to the worsening recession. The Homi Danchi (population over 11,000) is decades old and was originally inhabited entirely (or almost entirely) by Japanese, but due to its affordable prices and location now has a majority of Brazilians, and the stores in the area reflect that ethnic shift.

Tensions between the Japanese and Brazilian residents of the Danchi over such issues as garbage disposal and communication difficulties have existed as long as Brazilians have been moving into the city residential complex, but have worsened as the Brazilians have become the majority. Japanese residents, who are now largely elderly and single residents or single-mother families, often complain that the non-Japanese speaking Brazilian newcomers have not assimilated as well as they had hoped, and do not follow the rules that had been set by the “Community Board” (自治会) long before their arrival. Although there are around 400 vacancies in the Homi Danchi, the Japanese Community Board and the city have an agreement to only allow 40 units to be newly rented out each year so that new residents have time to acclimate, but the Brazilians claim that this quote is a form of ethnic discrimination. This has become particularly contentious as newly out of work Brazilians in the area are in need of cheaper housing. On top of this, Brazilians who can no longer even afford the low rent of the Danchi are moving out and leaving behind huge amounts of trash, particularly bulk trash which clutters the hallways and public areas. To attempt to resolve these issues, and to negotiate with the Danchi Community Board and the Toyota City government, the Brazilians organized their own Japan-style Community Association (保見ヶ丘ブラジル人協会) in January of this year.

Some more information, in Japanese and slightly out of date, can be found at this web site.

I was taken to visit the Homi Danchi by a friend who had an appointment there on March 1 during my first visit to the Nagoya region. We stayed for a few hours, and the introduction above is based on what my friend, those present at the Brazilian Community Association meeting, and other residents told me.

Photos can be viewed in either this Flash slideshow, or in flat HTML/JPEG below. All photos were taken with Canon 50D camera using 17-85 EF-S IS lens.

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Double passports?

Apparently Taiwan has a peculiar new proposal, the likes of which I have never heard before-to allow second passports. Upon seeing the headline, I assumed at first that this was about some change to the laws on multiple citizenship (which have been hugely controversial in Taiwan recently, at least regarding politicians such as Diane Lee) but it is actually something completely different.

He said many businesspeople had been lobbying for a second passport as their travel documents were sometimes held up at travel agencies or embassies during the visa application process, which prevents them from traveling abroad during the waiting period.

I can certainly understand how this might be useful, as I had to be without my passport for well over a week when getting a tourist visa to enter Kazakhstan, and could have serious problems if, for example, I had to rush home to the US for a family emergency.I have simply never heard of such a thing before. Would this system be entirely unique, should Taiwan implement it?