How Kan can get away without changing his cabinet

UPDATE: It turns out that Chiba asked to resign and has said she will retire from political life, but PM Kan requested that she continue, and she has accepted this request. It’s highly unusual to stay in a cabinet post after losing election, but Kan has suggested that he will replace Chiba in September when he reorganizes his cabinet.

ORIGINAL POST: Despite the setback to the DPJ in this election, Prime Minister Kan has announced that there will be no changes to his cabinet, and Keiko Chiba, despite losing her seat in the Upper House, will continue to serve as Minister of Justice.

By way of background, Chiba, a notably liberal member of the Diet, was appointed to Minister of Justice under Prime Minsiter Hatoyama last year, but lost her seat for reelection in Kanagawa Prefecture where she had held the seat since 1986. She was most likely defeated because activists targeted her for her liberal views, which include allowing foreigners to vote in local elections, allowing separate family names for men and women after marriage, and refusing to enforce the death penalty. She is to be replaced by Kenji Nakanishi, a former director of JP Morgan in Japan, who ran as the candidate of the upstart reformist “Your Party.”

How does she get to stay in the cabinet work? It sounds peculiar from the American perspective, where all members of the President’s cabinet are forbidden from serving in the legislature and are never subject to election. It also sounds strange from the British perspective, where all members of the cabinet are required to be members of parliament. Yet Japan has a fusion model, where private citizens can serve in the cabinet, and the only requirement is that members of parliament (who can come from either the lower or upper house) constitute the majority of cabinet ministers. Article 68 of the Japanese Constitution reads:

The Prime Minister shall appoint the Ministers of State. However, a majority of their number must be chosen from among the members of the Diet.

That means that of the seventeen members of the current cabinet, nine must be elected members of the Diet and the remaining eight can be private citizens. In practice it is very rare for more than a few members of the cabinet who are not legislators. Koizumi’s first cabinet had just one private citizen, and his second just two.

The DPJ made a big song and dance after their victory last year that they were going to copy the British “Westminster System,” promoted by academics as an efficient system, with no private citizens serving in the cabinet. But by keeping Chiba in the important post of Minister of Justice they’re reverting to Japan’s unique system of the allowing non-legislators in the cabinet.

ENDNOTE: Interestingly enough, two of the three “foreigners” serving in the upper house were up for election: Sha Renho, who is half Taiwanese, and Kyonje Park, who is half Korean. Both are former journalists, both are members of the DPJ, and both have non-Japanese fathers, which means they were denied citizenship until the law was changed in the 1980s. Despite this similar background in a uniquely homogenous country, their results in this popular election were entirely different. Renho won the largest proportion of votes of any candidate in her district in Tokyo, while Park, who ran as a proportional representation candidate, -lost along with a number of other DPJ candidates- -is in danger of losing his seat, and the result is to be confirmed- has barely secured reelection as of Tuesday morning. Park was also embroiled in some election scuffles with Ishihara and Yosano that had them dueling against each other in street speeches from their soundtrucks.

30 thoughts on “How Kan can get away without changing his cabinet”

  1. Splitting hairs perhaps, but two points:

    First, Renho’s full name is Renho Murata (though she drops her family name almost all of the time). I assume “Sha” is the Japanese reading of the Chinese family name which she lost back in college. Park’s name since 2003 is Shinkun Haku.

    I don’t know many details of Haku’s background, but it seems like he consciously chose to remain a Korean citizen when the law was changed in 1985, probably because he was working for the Korean media at the time. According to his website profile, he didn’t become a Japanese citizen until 2003, and it isn’t clear what procedure he used to obtain citizenship. I think he would have to have naturalized since he was outside the time window for re-acquisition of lost citizenship. Renho, on the other hand, threw away her ROC passport in 1985, i.e. almost as soon as she could, and has legally been nothing but Japanese ever since.

    In related news, Shinto Kaikaku fielded Nelson Yoshioki Yamawake, a north Osaka obstetrician who is originally from Malaysia. He didn’t do very well, though.

  2. Joe, technically correct — although you will basically never see Renho’s last name. The only last name listed on her entire profile on her website is Sha, and she doesn’t mention Murata:

  3. It’s worth mentioning that Britain’s second chamber is unelected so if the government wants to include in the cabinet someone who lost his or her seat, or someone with particular skills, it’s a simple matter to appoint them to the House of Lords.

  4. Interesting post, which I came across via @mulboyne. I’d quibble with “uniquely homogeneous”.

    Japan is certainly (very) homogeneous (and is overtly obsessed with it), but there are plenty of countries (especially in Asia) where that is also true.

  5. Renho’s current legal family name is Murata, but that name comes from her husband. Her maiden name is Saito (斉藤), which she adopted upon acquiring Japanese citizenship, but I am somewhat unclear whether or not that was a legal requirement due to her citizenship being inherited from her mother (albeit delayed until the law changed) or whether she was merely trying to assimilate more. Her birth name is 謝, which is ‘sha’ in Japanese and ‘xie’ or ‘hsie’ in Mandarin. (The first being standard Pinyin, the second being the common Taiwanese rendering.)

    Oddly, her website states that she ‘naturalized’ (台湾籍から帰化), which legally speaking doesn’t seem to be true at all. As Curzon mentions above, she chose Japanese nationality in 1985 when she was 18 years old, although she could have legally remained a dual citizen for 2 more years, until she was required to choose at the age of 20.

  6. Roy, to correct you:

    1. It is legally correct to say that she naturalized because she could not take Japanese citizenship at birth unless her father was Japanese. Only when the law changed in the 80s could she take Japanese citizenship, so she did naturalize.

    2. When she naturalized, she had to take the name on her family’s Japanese koseki. Unless her father also naturalized, her koseki would have only contained her mother and her mother’s maiden name, as it was not until the 1990s that Japanese nationals could simply take the name of their foreign spouses. I assume her mother’s name was Saito, and thus Renho would have also become a Saito by default.

  7. Curzon,

    What the relevant section of the nationality law says is:


    Naturalization (帰化) is a separate section, and the category that Renho fell under is ‘国籍の取得の特例.’ Presumably she could have naturalized relatively easily anyway, but then I believe she would be creating a new koseki rather than adding on to her mother’s although I actually have no idea how the system handles the registration of the extremely rare case of a non-citizen child of a citizen naturalizing.

    Joe said she ‘threw away her ROC passport in 1985, i.e. almost as soon as she could.’ But note that was only a 3 year window from the date at which this exception went into effect (May, 1984) during which she could take advantage of this ‘special exception of citizenship acquisition,’ one can understand why she would have filed the paperwork sooner (1985) rather than later, just to be safe, as the option would have vanished in 1987.

  8. And fair point Roberto. If we want to compare, Korea (either one) is FAR more homogeneous than Japan, although I can’t think of any other countries nearby that come close.

  9. Roy, I applaud your diligent attention to the law, but I think Renho and I are accurate to call that naturalisation, if a special type of naturalisation — it is the act of a non-Japaneese national acquiring Japanese citizenship, with Renho qualifying for a special exception where she need only submit a notification. Your assertion that she gave up her Taiwanese citizenship at age 18 even though she could have legally remained a dual citizen for 2 more years until she was 20 is most certainly inaccurate.

  10. While we might be calling this ‘naturalization’ in English, the Japanese legal term 帰化 doesn’t seem to apply at all, and therefore any regulations that specifically apply to a ‘naturalized’ citizen would also therefore seem not to apply. Instead, she would have simply ‘acquired citizenship’ 国籍の取得, which is also the end result of naturalization, but is also the same term used for a newborn granted citizenship. I will say that I think it’s fair enough for her to say that she naturalized in a colloquial if she wants to, but the legal distinction is somewhat interesting, and there may be cases in which it produces different legal effects from conventional naturalization.

    I would also say that it would be fair for her to claim that she is a birthright citizen, albeit, delayed, if she wanted to stress that angle of it. For personal and/or political reasons, she decided to stress the choice aspect.

    “Your assertion that she gave up her Taiwanese citizenship at age 18 even though she could have legally remained a dual citizen for 2 more years until she was 20 is most certainly inaccurate.”

    I said that before actually reading the law I cited above, and I think you may be correct, but I’m not entirely sure on what basis. I really have no idea how Japanese law might handle such a case. Since she did not obtain her Japanese citizenship through the legal process labeled naturalization, why would she not be allowed to maintain dual citizenship until the age of majority?

    Incidentally, the choice has to be made by the age of 22, which means that I was technically wrong either way, but I’m sure that detail is not what you’re arguing about.

    On a totally unrelated note, I wonder why she studied Mandarin for 2 years in Beijing, rather than going to Taiwan?

  11. Roy has it right. 帰化 is legally defined as a type of 許可 which requires a foreigner to beg and plead for Japanese citizenship to which they are not automatically entitled. Renho was explicitly entitled to take citizenship automatically at the time she asked for it, with only a minimal review process. There is a huge difference.

    To the dual citizenship question: I am not sure how ROC citizenship law works, but my guess is that since they have some sort of koseki system, they have the same rule as Japan, China and Korea: if you acquire another nationality as an adult, you lose your old nationality.

    Which brings us back to Haku — he waited for decades beyond the window provided in the law, probably because he wanted to keep his Korean passport, and then has the gall to call his apparent naturalization 国籍の取得. I can tell why the right-wingers can’t stand the guy.

  12. yes, Saito is her mother’s family name.
    it was said that her mother used to be a Shiseido Model.

  13. Joe, ROC nationality is similar, but more complicated, largely due to the special circumstances and history of ‘overseas Chinese.’ In practice, this means that while the basic rules are the same, there are a lot more weird loopholes and exceptions, including oddities like residence visas for ROC ‘nationals’ who don’t have citizenship rights (and don’t forget the fact that the ROC constitution considers all PRC citizens to still be ROC nationals, but without the rights of citizenship).

    What’s odd is that an overseas Chinese (that is, someone of provable Chinese who is NOT a resident of either ROC or PRC territory) can be issued an ROC passport, but does not get any citizenship rights without first establishing residence in Taiwan, which has its own set of rules. ROC law also allows dual citizenship in most cases, with the exception of a foreigner naturalizing as an ROC citizen. However, if that person is an overseas Chinese, they were already considered to have the most basic level of nationality, and are permitted to maintain dual citizenship.

    One example: I have one friend in Taiwan of Taiwanese descent, but born in France and purely a French citizen from birth (I think one or both of her parents had previously naturalized). She originally moved there at roughly the same time as me to study, but instead of getting a student visa, she got an ‘overseas Chinese’ visa, which is similar to, but not quite the same as the ancestry visas one can get in Japan or Korea. This year, after a few years of residence, she got proper citizenship through a simplified procedure for Taiwan-resident overseas Chinese, which required 1 year of continuous (i.e. not even trips abroad) residence. That is, the already had the ROC/Taiwan passport, but now has the residence card and hukou (戶口) as well, meaning full Taiwan/ROC citizen rights. Now neither country has any problem with her dual citizenship.

  14. BTW, this is somewhat analogous to the weird rules of UK citizenship/passports, where a number of people (especially, but not only, in Hong Kong) are ‘overseas British’ who receive UK passports, but no right of abode in the UK itself.

    It gets even weirder due to the Taiwanese mandatory military service for adult males. I’ve met a few overseas Chinese living in Taiwan who have to leave every 4 months or risk getting drafted, having established residency.

  15. I think both Joe and Roy are hypersensitive to a distinction that is not meaningful. There are basically no technical differences between 帰化 (Naturalisation) and 国籍の取得の特例 (special rules for acquisition of citizenship). Consider:
    *Both are processes by which non-nationals acquire Japanese citizenship.
    *Both require submissions to the Ministry of Justice, and such forms will be reviewed by the paperpushers to check that they comply with the requirements of the law.
    *Neither have retroactive effect — the applicant becomes a Japanese citizen from the time the procedure ends.

    The only differences is that Kika requires permission of the MOJ (granted 98+% of the time, as discussed on this blog previously), whereas Kokuseki no shutoku no tokurei is not subject to discretionary review — it was designed for a three year term to grant a window of a streamlined naturalisation procedure easy following the liberalisation/modernisation of the law.

    For 99% of the general population, and I would even wager a majority of lawyers, it is fine to call both these procedures naturalisation, or 帰化 in Japanese — just like it’s fine to refer to the crime of 礼拝所不敬及び説教等妨害 as “blasphemy.”

    Joe, I think you are also hypersensitive regarding Park/Haku. I don’t believe there are right wingers out there who think that Park, by saying he “acquired citizenship” is claiming to have qualified for the no-longer-valid “special rules of acquisition of citizenship” and thus claim to be more Japanese than he really is. They hate him because he flaunts his Korean background on his sleeve, pretending to be more Korean than he actually is, and is frankly a rude cocksucker — see link in my post.

    UPDATE: Park has been reelected…

  16. FYI, according to their constitution ‘acts,’ Westminster systems like Australia and NZ can have non-members of parliament temporarily fill caretaker roles as ministers at the pleasure of Her Majesty’s representative. What I do not know is whether there is some sort of act in Britain that expressly forbids extra-parliamentary ministers. Is it, like so much of the British system, just convention, or is it in black and white somewhere?

    “Park has been reelected…”

    Obviously not a rude-enough cocksucker.

  17. Curzon wrote: “I think both Joe and Roy are hypersensitive to a distinction that is not meaningful.”

    Well, they have a point. Renho was claiming her right to be Japanese under the new law while someone applying to for naturalization has no right to have their application granted. You note that her right still requires approval but, arguably, that’s the distinction which isn’t meaningful.

  18. Mulboyne: No, it’s the opposite — Renho didn’t need approval to naturalise. However, her use of the word “Kika” could confuse people to believe that she applied for a procedure that did require approval.

  19. Some retard mis-wrote Renho’s Japanese wikipedia page:


    Summary translation: “A Japanese person with multiple citizenship losing their other citizenship would be a ‘nationality declaration’, not a naturalisation. However, on her website, she uses the word naturalisation”

    This author incorrectly applied the current law to Renho’s situation that happened 25+ years ago, when the law was different.

  20. I’m way under-informed on the situation apparently, but you couldn’t get Japanese citizenship from your mother until the 80s’ ???

    Although something tells me it’s usually easier to prove the maternity than the paternity.


  21. Francois: You would probably be surprised, then, to hear that the same was true for Great Britain and many, many other countries until recently. Great Britain had a similar restriction for children born overseas until 1983 — before then, for a child to receive British citizenship, (1) the father must have been British, and (2) the parents must have been married. Irish citizenship law was also amended in 1986.

  22. By the way, where does the name “Kyonje Park” come from? I can only find references to 白真勲/白眞勲 as “Haku Shinkun” (current/Japanese name) or “Baek Jin-Hoon” (former/Korean name). I understand where the Japanese pronunciation comes from, and I know Park=Baek, but does “Jin-Hoon” really = “Kyonje?” Or am I missing something?

  23. Good question. Literally the only references to a “Kyonje Park” I see on Google are Curzon’s posts…

  24. Hmmmm. Whoops. I’ve no idea where I got the original reading when I first wrote about him years ago (which I just repeated this time).

  25. @Curzon : Thanks for the info. Looking a bit for info, I’m learning that France changed its code to accept filiation via the mother in 1945.
    That’s way earlier than our neighbours, apparently, but for the good reason France had to do a full overhaul of its laws after the Vichy government during WW2…

    I could not find info right now about children born overseas, but it is probable it got changed at the same time after all the restriction there were under Vichy.

  26. Of course, France was progressive back then but is more conservative today. They went and restricted the citizenship laws in the 1990s to stop the children of immigrants from getting citizenship until they were adults and actively declared that they wanted French citizenship…

  27. “I’ve no idea where I got the original reading”

    I often have the same problem. A few Japanese-Koreans have. 1. Japanese name, 2. Korean name, 3. Japanese version of Korean name, 4. “Official” English name, 5. English version, often strangely Romanized, of one of the other names that Japanese publisher decided to hash up and put on a book cover for no reason

  28. “They went and restricted the citizenship laws in the 1990s to stop the children of immigrants from getting citizenship until they were adults and actively declared that they wanted French citizenship…”

    To be clear, you mean the French-born children of immigrants who haven’t naturalized. I have at least one French friend whose parents were immigrants that had already naturalized when she was born, who is considered a natural-born French citizen. France is actually still closer to the vox soli side of the spectrum than the vast majority of countries though.

    It gets very tiresome when Anglo or American expats complain about Japan’s “archaic” or “unusual” citizenship laws, when it’s actually very, very typical by world standards.

  29. Indeed. One could argue that jus soli is a concept that hews to a Westphalian concept of nation state that is increasingly becoming outdated. This is becoming an issue in America where some people are arguing that “natural-born” citizens of immigrants should have second-class status, or no status at all if their parents are illegals.

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