Is Alberto Fujimori Japanese?

Following on Joe’s Alberto Fujimori post, I have some different issues that I would like to examine. Why is Alberto Fujimori being protected by the Japanese government? What legal rights does he have in Peru or Japan? What is his citizenship under the law of both countries? I think the best way to examine this is with a timeline of his life, and references to the appropriate law.

This is going to be a long one, so click below for the entire thing.

1934: “Alberto Fujimori was born in Lima to Naoichi Fujimori and Mutsue Fujimori, natives of Kumamoto, Japan who moved to Peru in 1934. His parents applied to the Japanese consulate to keep the baby’s Japanese citizenship.”(Wikipedia)

According to Article 2 section 1 of Japan’s Nationality Law, a child is born as a citizen of Japan

When, at the time of its birth, the father or the mother is a Japanese national.

Click here for the original Japanese text of the law.

Article 52 of the Peruvian constitution states that:

Peruvians by birth are those born within the nation’s territory and those born abroad of a Peruvian father or mother and duly registered while still minors.

It is clear that at the time of his birth, Alberto Fujimori was considered a citizen of both Peru and Japan.

1954: Fujimori turns 20 years old: Article 14 of the Japanese Nationality Law states

A Japanese national having a foreign nationality shall choose either of the nationalities before he or she reaches twenty two years of age if he or she has acquired both nationalities on and before the day when he or she reaches twenty years of age

Since Fujimori later ran for president, we know that he never chose to give up his Peruvian citizenship, so it would seem that he must have abandoned his Japanese status. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

Under article 15 (which is three paragraphs, so I won’t actually reproduce it here), a Japanese national can only be deprived of his citizenship for failing to proactively choose one or the other if the Minister of Justice sends him or her a written notice, or if such a notice can not be delivered or is not answered, by making an entry in the Official Gazette. What this means is that Fujimori, and other Japanese dual citizens, do not automatically lose their dual status upon reaching the age of 20 (the age of majority in Japan), but only if the government actually notices. Since Fujimori was born abroad in 1934, when Japan was at war throughout the Pacific, and turned 20 in 1954, when Japan was still recovering from the devastation of losing the Pacific war, the Ministry of Justice in distant Tokyo was probably too busy too notice him at either date. After this point his Japanese citizenship becomes somewhat ambiguous. It was not voided, since he never renounced it and the government apparently never issued him a warning, but the Japanese government also had the right to demand a choice from him at any time.

1992: Fujimori becomes President of Peru. Article 110 of the Peruvian Constitution states that “In order to be elected President, a person must be a native-born Peruvian, over 35 years of age at the time of his candidacy, and enjoy the right to vote.” He was of course a native-born Peruvian, since Peru, like the United State, grants automatic citizenship to all those born within its borders.

Of concern here is the effect that becoming president. Article 16 section 2 of Japan’s nationality law states that:

In the case where a Japanese national who has made the declaration of choice but still possesses a foreign nationality has voluntarily taken public office in the foreign country (excluding an office which a person not having the nationality of such country is able to take), the Minister of Justice may declare that he or she shall lose  Japanese nationality if the Minister finds that taking such public office would substantially contradict his or her choice of Japanese nationality.

While it seems clear that being president of a foreign country would “substantially contradict his or her choice of Japanese nationality,” we never actually get past the first sentence. Since Fujimori had apparently been overlooked by the Minister of Justice and never been compelled to make a declaration of choice, his assumption of the role of president did not actually have any effect on his citizenship under Japanese law. His citizenship was still ambiguous insofar as that the Japanese Minister of Justice could have chosen to require him to make a declaration of choice at any time, but for some reason that never happened. I can’t even begin to speculate as to why the Japanese government, or for that matter the Peruvian government, never thought to check on the status of Fujimori’s citizenship after he became such a public figure, but as far as I can tell from internet searches, it was never made an issue of until he fled to Japan in 2000.

2000, Nov 13: Fujimori leaves Peru amidst a boiling scandal, allegedly to visit a conference in Brunei, but on Nov 17th travels from there to Tokyo, from where he faxes, and later mails, a letter of resignation. His Japanese citizenship is recognized by the authorities, and he is even granted a Japanese passport. Apparently, his dual citizenship and past as president of a foreign land are not made an issue of.

During the entire time Fujimori was in exile, the Japanese government ignored requests from Peru to extradite him to face criminal charges, citing the lack of a formal extradition treaty between the two nations.

2003, March 26: Interpol issues a “Red Notice” for Fujimori. According to the Interpol press release:

Interpol’s member countries follow their national laws in deciding whether to consider a Red Notice a valid request for provisional arrest. Some countries permit the wanted person to be provisionally arrested, while others treat a Red Notice simply as information not carrying any particular legal significance.

An important consideration for member countries in deciding whether to undertake a provisional arrest in such matters is whether there exists a bilateral extradition treaty or an extradition convention with the requesting country.
There is a common misperception in the media that an Interpol Red Notice should be viewed, and referred to, as an international arrest warrant.

While Japan was under no legal obligation to hand Fujimori over to the Peruvian authorities, it is still a certainty that there was a deliberate choice to protect him from involuntary prosecution. While an ordinary Japanese citizen is safe from extradition, and Japan furthermore had no obligation either by treaty with Peru or under the Interpol system, Fujimori’s Japanese citizenship is fragile. Although for the past 52 years the Japanese Minister of Justice has elected not to demand it, the Minister retains the power to first force him to choose between Peruvian and Japanese citizenship, and then should he choose Japanese, to strip him of said citizenship under article 16 of the citizenship law, on the grounds that he served as an elected official of a foreign land in an office requiring native citizenship.

The reasons why Japan’s government has chosen to take this firm stance are unclear, and curious. Is there bribery or corruption involved? Is it a misplaced sense of racial solidarity? Are they trying to repay him for saving all but one of the many Japanese civilians held hostage in Lima during the 1997 Japanese embassy hostage crisis?

Now that Fujimori is being held in Chile, the Japanese ambassador there is requesting to meet with him, as a Japanese citizen, to make sure he remains in good health. The Vice President of Peru has responded by saying “This is a matter between the two nations of Peru and Chile. Japan has no reason to stick their neck in.”

[Update:]ESWN just gave me one extra piece of information that seriously complicates this. I had previously thought that Fujimori’s Peruvian citizenship was rock solid, while his Japanese citizenship is the iffy on. ESWN gave me a link to a brief 1997 articlefrom The Straits Times which reports that

The weekly magazine Caretas on Thursday published an investigation examining the authenticity of documents stating that Mr Fujimori, the 58-year-old son of Japanese immigrants, was born in Peru. It questioned if in fact he was born in Japan.

If this is allegation is true, then it’s even more complicated. Fujimori’s Japanese citizenship would still be up to the whims of the Minister of Justice, but what about his Peruvian? It probably wouldn’t have been any less legal, but he would have been considered an immigrant. The most serious consequence, however, is that his entire presidency would have been illegal, since he had not in fact been “native born.” This report may just have been an attempt by his political foes to discredit him, to legitimize the military coupe that seemed just around the corner. Could he get in even more trouble for having ran for president under false pretences? I don’t know the law, but I doubt it, since the fault was his parents and there’s no reason to think that, even if this story is true, that he even knew that he had actually been born in Japan. The only consequence in the future would be that he would have to give up the unlikely fantasty of a future presidential run. Unless of course his 2010 coupe ammends the consitutition. I haven’t seen it mentioned in any of the recent articles about him, but then I can’t read Spanish so I don’t have a clue what they’re saying down there in his home territory.

26 thoughts on “Is Alberto Fujimori Japanese?”

  1. One inaccuracy in your argument, Roy. Japan can’t do anything about Fujimori’s Peruvian citizenship. While Japan maintains an official policy of not allowing dual citizenship (a rare policy in the developed world; most countries don’t care), Peruvian citizenship is ultimately up to the Peruvian government.

    This means that the scenario you describe toward the end, where Fujimori ends up completely stateless, is highly unlikely. Even if Fujimori said “I want to be Japanese” and then had his Japanese citizenship revoked, his Peruvian citizenship would be legally unaffected.

    If you want to see an example of how dual citizenship dynamics can play out, read Debito’s story about giving up his American citizenship.

    Incidentally, most countries have similar rules about losing citizenship for participating in a foreign government. The U.S. law is that you can lose citizenship by taking a policy-making position in a foreign government, by commissioning as an officer in a foreign military (enlisting is OK as long as the country isn’t at war with the U.S.), or by being convicted of treason against the U.S.

  2. Ditto to Joe — Japan only officially operates that dual nationality prohibition but it is not enforced. Additionally, you are operating on the fact that you have all version of the nationalithy law, and it has been updated on several occasions.

  3. I know Japan rarely enforces it, but my point is that it’s an easy way out for him. The claim that they are obligated to protect him as a citizen is blatantly false, since they could at any time take away his quasi-legal citizenship and deport him to his home country of Peru.

  4. There were discussions around the time that Fujimori fled Peru, that he might have been born at sea rather than in Peru proper. And I’d have to check, but I’m pretty sure that Japanese citizenship law at the time required children born of Japanese parents to be registered with the embassy/consulate within a certain time in order to qualify for citizenship, and I don’t know if that was the case with Fujimori.

  5. Interesting post. But i think as Joe does, that his peruvian citizenship stays unaffected in any scenario. The thing about the place where he was born is also in discussion.

    Apart from this. There are some things that are not so clear about how he gets to Chile. And how his presence is affecting the difficult relationship between this two countries. But i see that Chilean goverment is tryng to do their best. Something that it is not possible to say about the japanese gov.

  6. What should the Japanese government be doing then?

    (My thoughts: send in an intelligence team to bust him out of jail, smuggle him onto the next flight to Narita, then repeal Article 9 and invade Peru)

  7. You’re on the right track Joe, but the better solution would be for Japan to simply declare that Peru is Japanese territory, and that Fujimori was simply the colonial governor. You wouldn’t even have to repeal article 9 to quell an internal rebellion.

  8. Jonathan: Fujimori was definitely registered with the Japanese Embassy in Peru. As I think I understand it, if he had been born at sea then he would actually have been eligible for Peruvian citizenship, as long as that was the first port of call and it was a Peruvian ship. Since births at sea were common, I would also assume that custom, if not law, would allow him to be registered at the Japanese embassy shortly after disembarkation without any fuss.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the pre-war nationality law on the internet. Send me a link/copy if you run across it!

  9. An important information missed is that Fujimori received a new Peruvian passport in Tokyo in september 2005.

    There is another nice clue:

    Japanese descendants born in Peru followed and follows the rule of inscribing both their father side and their mother side last names, besides their common two first names. As for example: Juan Hiroshi Sato Miyasato. Juan is a spanish given first name, Hiroshi is a traditional Japanese first name, Sato is the father’s last name and Miyasato is the mother’s last name.

    A Japanese descendant born in Japan just carries one first name and one last name. As for example: Hiroshi Sato.

    The tradition of the Japanese immigrants in Peru was to inscribe their kids (borned in Japan) repeating their only one last name already given and looking for one spanish/catholic first name. As for example: Juan Hiroshi Sato Sato.

    That is the way how Japanese descendants in Peru recognize who was born in Japan and whom in Peru.

    The Japanese colony in Peru knew always this fact. For that reason he did not had their support at the begining.

  10. Alberto Fujimori is a prominent liar. He authorized the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres, among other crimes, and made Montesinos his scapegoat. He amassed a fortune from corrupt under-the-table deals, such as asking the treasury for megamillions for the purchase of military aircraft, later to be discovered that the jets had missing parts, which made the value of the purchase much, much less. Where is that money? During the hostage crisis in 1997, all rebels were killed, but many forget that the attacking troops were told to take no prisoners; the evidence being documented in new autopsies, where the rebels’ skulls ALL had a single bullet hole. Other crimes, such as the sterilization of women without their consent in state hospitals, the persecution of anyone who would not accept his bribes in turn for their support. Persecuted journalists, such as Baruch Ivsner, who was kicked out of Peru and stripped off his citizenship because he would not accept a bribe from the Fujimori regime. Are you telling me Fujimori knew nothing of all this? Since, his spymaster has been given all the blame, while fujimori erases his tracks and denies all which is so obvious to the plain view, specially us educated Peruvians. Ignorance may make him popular to some who idealistically see him and give him credit for much. Sure, he did do many positive things for our country, but like my dad told me, what he did with one hand….. he erased with the other.
    …By the way, Fujimori and his regime did not capture Abimael Guzman, as he claims. Guzman was captured by the efforts of a hard-working Ketin Vidal, a high-ranking officer of the national police, doing old fashioned detective work. …..It so happens that Fujimori and Montesinos wanted the credit which rightfully belonged to Vidal. So what they did was, silence Vidal and strip him off his rank and re-assigned him to a different post.

    Fujimori deserves to rot in prison and all here who are ignorant about this issue, shut up! Specially any chileans reading this: Su cultura es de europeos, fuera Mapuches corrientes!

  11. Erich, For all his faults, you will not convince me that Fujimori was one of the best presidents Peru has ever had. (Notice that “best” is a comparative term) Fujimori may deserve to rot in prison, but your implied defense of the MRTA hostage-takers suggests to me that your sense of justice is somewhat skewed to the left. Prior to Fujimori, many expected to see Sendero Luminoso coming to power within a year or two. Fujimori disrupted their timetable. Since the capture of “Presidente Gonzalo” occurred on his watch, he gets the credit. I have no doubts that the real work was done by Ketin Vidal and his men (and women), but they were working for Tio Fuji. I fully agree that no one, not even a former president, should be above the law. I think you might find many on this site in agreement with that principle, particularly in a country like your own where the impunity of the mighty had fed the public disgust that led to support for groups like SL and MRTA in the first place.

  12. Sorry, the first sentence should read “…was not one of the best presidents Peru has ever had.”

  13. I see your point, but I am in no way a simpathizer of MRTA, all I said was that they were all ordered dead, and according to eye witnesses, some had surrendered, yet still faced the same fate. El Chino was undoubtedly the best president in Peru, but only during his first term (90-95). After that he tainted his legacy with curruption and murder and theft. I recommend you watch The Fall of Fujimori, by Ellen Perry. While not a full account of the injustices done by either SL or the Fujimori regime, and not a complete expose (alot was left out), is still a very interesting documentary and a general comprehensive (yet not full) entertaining visual. In it you should get an idea of and form your own opinion of Fujimori’s either telling truth, or lies. There’s just too much fairytale in his excuses. My father was almost killed twice by SL. So was my uncle. So I am NOT a terrorist sympathizer.

  14. No, Fujimori was certanly corrupt. I just saw ‘State of Fear’ and it is a mind changing documentary that has gotten praise from human rights activists and other film festivals. Fujimori is definately a criminal who used his ‘war on terror’ in order to control the country and stole thousands of unaccounted dollars. So, NO Fujimori WAS NOT the best president Peru has had. He was the best manipulating and lying ruthless dictator that fooled many and stole, raped, and destroyed our democracy. Who are you anyway? Probable some gringo who knows less than what his mouth blabbers. Get real, you know nothing of Peru. Bye.

  15. Erich, I’m definitely not going to defend Fujimori for anything, but considering that in one post you say “I see your point” and then in the next one, after seeing this documentary, you change to “Probable some gringo who knows less than what his mouth blabbers. Get real, you know nothing of Peru.” No offense, but it sounds like if one documentary changed your mind that much, you didn’t know very much about Peru either. How about trying a little diplomatic politeness, like maybe suggesting this mind changing documentary to people instead of insulting them?

  16. “State of Fear” trailer here. Trailer/purchase information for a PBS documentary on Fujimori here. All I can say watching the trailers is Fujimori looks very proper and Japanese in that suit. If he weren’t speaking Spanish he could pass for a senior MOFA official.

  17. エリック何某に読まれないように日本語で書くよ。アダム。MF.






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