Applying for Japanese Citizenship

Step One of the Japanese citizenship process is apparently sitting on a blue plastic bench in a frigid concrete government building staring at the number in your hand. Mine was 12. This was a semi big deal, not the number but the whole procedure, since it meant renouncing U.S. citizenship and basically scotching my chances of ever living or working again in the greatest country on earth. But since I’d been in Japan this long and it was looking like I’d eventually die here, I figured Hell, might as well go all the way. I mean, people get face tattoos, undergo plastic surgery, get married, have kids…maybe I needed to put an end to this hedonistic Peter Pan existence and start screwing up my life too. Can’t just keep on having fun forever, right?

Just say Right and let’s move on. Fortunately, I’d had a few cocktails the night before and was possibly still drunk. “Twelve,” a woman yelled, and I nudged my dozing girlfriend and in we walked to the world’s dreariest room full of Japanese office workers in black suits staring at computer screens over desks piled high with papers. I’d taken my her along because no matter what you do in Japan, you get an entirely different experience being accompanied by anyone of even vaguely Asian appearance. Better service, better prices, and generally less bullshit with folks trying out their pidgin English on you. This, however, turned out to be a spectacularly bad idea.

Applying for Japanese Citizenship

A small man in a rumpled gray suit greeted us.

“Hello,” I said. He looked past me to my girlfriend and asked, “Did he bring his passport and foreigner card?”

“He did,” I answered.

“Has he lived in Japan for at least five years?”

“Over ten,” I replied.

“This way,” he said to her.

Yeah, my Japanese citizenship was off to a flying start. He led us to a table in the middle of the cavernous room, inches from Japanese women tapping intently on their keyboards, and pulled closed a stained pink sheet. Somewhere in Japan there’s a hospital ward with a bunch of dudes all staring at each other because somebody stole their divider curtain.

Whatever. Sealed within this soundproof fabric privacy chamber, he handed my girlfriend a long list of required documents and began asking her questions in Japanese. Did he understand the process might take up to two years? Was he prepared to surrender his U.S. citizenship? When are you two getting married? She dutifully repeated each question to me in Japanese, and I replied in Japanese, until a light bulb seemed to go on and the little man suddenly began speaking directly to me.

Japanese Citizenship Documents
Welcome to our nation, now here’s your homework

“We’ll need the birth or death certificates of your immediate family members,” he said. “And a letter from your mother, acknowledging your wish to nationalize to Japan.”

Sure, no problem. Ken’ll just ask his Mom for a letter saying she’s cool with losing her beautiful first-born son. That’ll be an easy conversation.

How Sure are You?

Truth be told, I had plenty of doubts about the wisdom of pursuing Japanese citizenship. Why not just apply for permanent residency? Then I could live and work in either country forever. Citizenship sails you over the horizon of no return. What if my mom got sick, or my Japanese job prospects dried up, or war broke out? I mean, life’s pretty long and lots of stuff can happen. Think World War II. Bet the Japanese-Americans who got penned up in U.S. internment camps never expected that. And given what I know of Japanese people here, they’d be plenty happy to round up all the gaijin and return the favor. But since I’d set the Titanic on its fateful course, I figured I’d press on a little further. Can’t let a little ice worry you.

“And we’ll need documents from your family as well,” he said to my girlfriend.

I was like, Whaa? Wait, I’m the one applying for citizenship. She’s just here because the last time I went to the cell phone store alone they conned me into a multi-year contract.

This is when the full spectacularity of my bad idea manifested itself.

Now Let’s add This to the Mix

The rumpled gray man tore a sheet of paper from his notebook and began slowly drawing a diagram. “This is Ken’s family,” he explained like I was five, and made a circle on the bottom left of the page. “And this is your family,” he said to my girlfriend, tracing a circle on the bottom right.

“And this is the two of you,” he said, and put a third circle on top of the page. Then he drew a neat triangle around all three. Ta-daa.

I was like, Uh, we really need to focus on the concept of “girlfriend” here. I mean, I could add a few more circles and make like a freaky hexagon.

“If you got married,” he said, “everything would be much easier.”

“See?” my girlfriend echoed, “It’d all be much easier.”

Apparently, I was the only one thinking things would be way much harder, but since I was also the only non-Japanese in our little curtain fort, and the individual trying to become one, I decided to let it go. Full steam ahead, moonlit night, no need for a lookout. Just clear sailing from here.

The Japanese Citizenship Application

“Now I’ll need to speak with Ken-san alone,” rumpled gray man said to my apparent fiancé, who appeared quite pleased and promptly retreated to the plastic bench. He then pulled out a paper and said, “Please fill this out. You can’t use your phone or a dictionary, and you can’t ask me any questions.”

I’d heard there was some sort of language test, nothing too hard, so that’s what I was expecting. But what he handed me was a 4-page form written in ancient Egyptian, with apparently real questions. Great, fifteen years of studying Japanese and I can’t read an effing form.

Japanese Citizenship Questions

The trouble began immediately. Address? Who knows their address in a nation of unnamed streets? That’s why God invented the iPhone, so mankind could spend time growing maize and domesticating oxen instead of memorizing inane details. I wrote “Japan” and my apartment number. Well, not too many Seeroi’s in the country, so probably good enough. My workplace? I had some idea of the name, but no clue where it was. Then the essay questions began and things launched into the realm of the absurd.

One question said something like “Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor, felony, or engaged in criminal activity?” From which I could decipher “You…criminal?” I mean, I can read every line of an izakaya menu, but this was a flood of kanji I never figured on needing. Another question appeared to be asking about monetary stability, couched in double negatives, like “Have you never declared bankruptcy or not become insolvent?” I said to the little gray man, “Uh, you’re either going to have to let me look stuff up and give you real answers or settle for some bullshit.” He just shrugged dejectedly and sank further into his chair. Finally I wrote something that probably sounded like, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”

The Never-Ending Questionnaire

The whole time, Little Man sat in his rumpled suit inches from my elbow. The insulating properties of the curtain divider were incredible and I started sweating all over the paper, while he kept breathing and staring at me with those sad eyes. Each question took minutes for me to painfully read and then scrawl illegible kanji to.

Maybe it was all that shochu the previous evening, but soon everything began to blur into the same question, spoken in Little Man’s voice: “Why would you want my life?” Here he was, stamping forms in a dingy government office, crammed in with faceless desk workers on the same terminal program, when in breezes some white guy looking like Beverly Hills, backlit with an open shirt blowing in the wind, flowing golden locks all Fabio from the country that won the war, landed on the moon, then invented Fritos. Like the football team captain trying out for chess club.

Japanese Citizenship, the Existential Question

I finally got to the last question, which should’ve been the first: “Why do you want to be a Japanese citizen?” I looked at him and said, “Uhh, kinda deep, don’t ya think?” And by this point I basically had no answer.

But by now Little Man and I were finally on the same page. The page of Get this over with and let’s get the fuck out of here. “Just write,” he said, “’I like Japan.’” So that’s what I wrote. Jeezus. I like Japan, now lemme live in ya nice country. Yeah, pretty convincing.

I left the office dejected. I’d spent an hour inside a curtain with a decrepit salaryman writing a bunch of nonsense on an application, been pressured into marriage, and came away needing to get a letter from my mom. Faaack. But knowing Japan, that seemed about par for the course.

Of the dozen Japanese people I’ve consulted about my genius plan before and since, literally no one’s ever thought it was a good idea. To a person, they’re all like, Look, we’re famous for sleeping on trains, jumping in front of trains, molesting people on trains, and putting teeny slices of raw fish on top of rice just so. Maybe choose a country a bit higher up on the world happiness ranking? Japan’s not exactly killing it in 54th place.

Some Dreams die Hard

Still, there was something that seemed to make sense about being a citizen of the nation I planned to spend the rest of my life in. Was I crazy? To find out, I met with an old Japanese corporate lawyer I knew and told him the whole story. Literally, he’s like a hundred years old. He closed his eyes in reflection, and after a while I thought maybe he’d died, but then he gasped and seemed to revive a bit and said, “You should probably hire an immigration attorney. And next time, leave your girlfriend at home.” Then he thought a moment more and added, “Why not just apply for permanent residency?”

From which I’ve concluded that applying for Japanese citizenship is like being a retarded kid hitting himself in the head with a bucket. Everyone’s like, Ouch, freaking please just stop that. Here’s the nice, soft pillow of Permanent Residency. Hug on this.

Fine, yeah, I get it. That’s reasonable. And since Ken Seeroi clearly ended up living in Japan through a string of reasonable decisions…well whatever, there was still time to right the Titanic, steer around the iceberg of Japanese citizenship and chart a course for open waters. So that’s what I decided to do, but more on that next time. Permanent Residency, here I come. Ah, you gotta love the salt air and wind in your face. Nothing but sunny skies from now on. Hardly an ice cube in sight.

120 Replies to “Applying for Japanese Citizenship”

  1. Awesome. I thought I was the only person stupid enough to want to do this…

    I’ve had the completed paperwork in a drawer since 2011. My first interview with the dull grey guys here in Sendai was great -they were really positive and encouraging. The second one I got this total arsehole that clearly hated me on sight.

    I’m waiting for the UK to completely destroy the value of a British passport before pulling the plug.

    Have to agree though -why not get PR first? It’s a piece of cake (although it doesn’t get you out of the clutches of the IRS).

    Good luck either way 🙂

    1. As good ideas go, Japanese citizenship is about on par with joining the French Foreign Legion.

      I concede there’s something strangely compelling about it, like trying to jump a motorcycle over a row of school buses. Probably best to fight those impulses though.

      I have a friend who’s been in Japan longer than I have. He likes the lifestyle and the people. Still, he says, “You don’t want to be like them.” That seems sage advice.

  2. I know I’m preaching to the converted, but one thing to keep in mind is that the whole country is not government departments. That’s just a necessary step towards the *right* rather than the permission to live here as an equal, at least in the legal sense.

    But anyway, you can apply whenever you want, so there’s no rush. Makes perfect sense in the meantime to get PR if that’s availableto you keep your maximum options open.

    I’m sure you already know, but just in case be sure to check out the blog https://www.turning-japanese.info

        1. Personally I think he went a bit too far on the “don’t believe, it’s fictional ” route. I mean, sure there are hyperboles here, but these are part of the show. It’s not like he has seen all of Japan either. But, you know, it’s part of being popular, Ken.

          1. Price of fame and all, right. Now I can die in peace.

            Just to be clear: there’s nothing fictional about this account. It happened just as I described.

            When I wrote about my brief fight with the yakuza, I had people who didn’t believe it. That’s cool. It’s a very unusual life experience, so I get that. And when I wrote about my neighbor who committed suicide, same thing. I’m a skeptical dude too, so I don’t blame anyone for questioning whether what they’re reading on the internet is real. Not sure why anybody’d want to make such stuff up, but fair enough. Apparently I need to be more Anderson Cooper in my reporting, but anyway it all really happened. I also found a tooth in my rice ball and saved a turtle crossing the road, so there.

            But this? Who makes up a story about going to a government office? It’s like something from a 19th-century Russian novel. If I ever decide to invent a story, it’ll be a damn sight more interesting than the Japanese bureaucratic process. Believe that.

            1. I just wanted to let you know about the article because I happened to actually go see the site, but I’m not doubting your account. You know, I live in a country and have one experience, and then the guy next door has the exact opposite experience and you could say they are living in completely different countries. Also, governmental bureaucracy is a mess.

  3. Woa, what a ride. So did you have an actual answer or have requested the process to be interrupted? I’m guessing your okasan haven’t given that letter yet, so the process is at last not completed. But you are one of the first that I have seen going for citizenship!

    1. I simply decided not to pursue the next step, so the process doesn’t continue. There is no requirement to notify them of non-continuance, and there’s always the option to restart at any point in the future. Check out sendaiben’s comment about holding on to his completed application for seven years.

      I never asked my mom for the letter. The first step of the process was unpleasant enough to shift the balance away from wanting to continue. Permanent residency enables you to live in two countries, while citizenship limits you to one. Aside from the novelty of being a white guy who’s able to say “I’m Japanese,” I struggle to see much real benefit.

  4. Dear Seeroi San,
    Don’t renounce your USA citizenship, it is very precious.
    Thank you for your posts.
    Sincerely,
    Paul Trautman

    1. Thanks, I appreciate your concern. Of course, the question would be whether it’s more precious than Japanese citizenship. But either way, I plan to leave things as they are for the near future.

    1. Heh yeah, he’s the poster child for why you wouldn’t want Japanese citizenship.

      If the goal of life is to maximize happiness, then turning Japanese probably isn’t going to get you there.

  5. You can go for citizenship without getting permanant residency first? In the UK (in the 1990s when I was dealing with it) you needed each stage and “upgraded” them to the next stage, no leapfrogging allowed. Something like: Leave to Remain (usually for another five years) -> Indefinite Leave to Remain (permanent residency) -> Citizenship.

    1. You absolutely can get Japanese citizenship without having permanent residency. In theory, you have to live in Japan for 10 years before getting permanent residency, but only 5 for citizenship. Japan’s weird and the rules make no sense. Not that that’s news.

      1. There is a bit of logic to it — if you get citizenship, you have to renounce other citizenships, which shows your “commitment to Japan”, but if you get permanent residency, you need to instead show commitment by living there longer.

        Not to imply that the actual reason is anything sensible like that though.

  6. One question: if you went on with it, you’d be a “de facto” Japanese citizen. But would you be accepted as such by society? I have the feeling that the answer to that is “no”, but I might be wrong. Once a gaijin always a gaijin? I imagine that was on your mind while you thought about this, so I’m intrigued as why you’d still want to do it.

    1. I did think about it a lot, and still do. At one point a Japanese girl said point-blank, “You know, even if you become a citizen, it won’t matter because people will still discriminate against you.” Gotta appreciate the honesty.

      And personally, I think she’s right. Some people will accept you, but many people won’t because of how you look or sound, and that’s just the way Japan is. Okay, not just Japan, but especially Japan.

      So why do it? Honestly, I think some of it comes down to pure stubbornness. I mean, think of the personality type of anyone, not just me, who goes to the trouble of relocating half-way around the globe, learning the language, getting a job, car, apartment, credit card, driver’s license, etc. You face a lot of hurdles, so by default the person who sticks it out is gonna have a good amount of determination, although perhaps not common sense.

      In short, when someone says “You can’t,” I just don’t want to accept it.

      Beyond that, I reasoned that if I’m really going to be here forever, well, why not? If you’re going to attend every baseball game, you might as well get the best seat in the stadium you can.

      1. I tackled with the whole “never be accepted because you’re not Japanese” thing for many years and then I finally realized that it really doesn’t matter. I mean I was getting the whole “go back to your country” growing up in California…I’d imagine it could be much worse in other parts of the US. Does that mean that I’m not “accepted” by society and don’t belong here?

        If you keep moving around and changing jobs and have to play musical chairs constantly in Japan, then yeah you’ll probably feel that you don’t belong and aren’t accepted. In my experience, if you put down somewhat permanent roots, establish long, deep relationships with your family, your coworkers, your neighbors, and your friends…most won’t even bat an eye at accepting you as a person, a local, and sure, Japanese.

  7. I was ready to type “About damn time!” until I got to the end and realized you weren’t actually going through with naturalization.

    I’ve heard the counter arguments, which mostly consist of “You can never leave.” This is not true, and honestly I can’t understand why anyone would want to immigrate to yet another country (or repatriate) after so many years in Japan.

    Not that I’m overinflating the value of life in Japan, but seriously what would you do upon moving? Maybe if you have a job that can be done most places in the world, or have skills that would land a job despite the huge blank spot on your resume that is Japan, the “escape” option is technically valid, but personally I have no idea what the hell I would do if I had to immigrate somewhere else.

    On the flipside, and this is perhaps no more than my own personal opinion, but I think being able to tell people “No, I’m Japanese” is very important. Of course the racists won’t care–it was never citizenship they cared about in the first place, as we know from the “bring in Nikkei Brazilians just because they’re Nikkei” visa regimes we’ve seen. But adding diversity to the pot that is “Japanese” is critical at this point for us to advance as a society. Just my two cents.

    Hope the PR process goes well! From what I understand you’re far more likely to succeed if you’re married. If not, they will very arbitrarily analyze your career accomplishments to determine if you have “contributed to Japanese society,” whatever they have decided that means. (I suppose all those tax dollars are not significant enough of a contribution.)

    1. I agree there’s value to being able to say “I’m Japanese,” and that it contributes to the overall good of the nation. It’s important to expand the concept of what it means to be “Japanese.”

      Though to answer your question honestly, I do still have career options abroad, as well as friends and family, all of which makes it tough to toss everything by the wayside and go forward with a nation that’s not particularly welcoming. And here I’m trying hard to refrain from saying “hostile towards foreigners.”

      But even if you’re crazy about Japan today, you’re guaranteed it’ll be a very different nation in 20 or 30 years. So although I share your enthusiasm about citizenship, the option of living in two nations rather than one just makes logical sense.

  8. Hi Ken,

    would you have to change your name like William Adams had to? Well, you probably wouldn’t be required by law to do so, but would you be instructed to “seriously consider” this “option”?

    Best wishes to you, particularly in view of the Christmas time!

    1. And Merry Christmas to you as well!

      These days, there’s no compunction to change your name. In fact, for “Westerners,” it’s the opposite. People are generally happy calling you by an English-sounding name, while trying to use a Japanese-sounding name is met with smirks and disbelief (having tried it.) Apparently, nobody’s down with a white guy called “Tanaka.”

  9. As usual, thank you for the entertaining post. I am always excited when i discover a new post, and I save it to read before bed. It may amuse you to know that it’s hard sometimes to wait, and often, i’ll think about it all day, lol. You’re a wonderful writer…

    That being said, as a mom to a young man who spent almost 5 years living in Japan, I am relieved to know that you applied for PR instead. I can’t exactly articulate why i would have been somewhat devastated if my son were grappling with the same decision. I’m glad your mom didn’t have to get that phone call. Whew… Don’t know if she reads your blog, but if she does, your change of heart is the best christmas gift she’ll get this year!

    My son is home for Christmas after a stint in Taipei. It’s a glorious Christmas for me too! Merry Christmas Ken! May the words pour out of you in 2019! Cheers!

  10. Compared to Japan some aspects of Australia feel like we’re living in the stone-age over here. Horrible internet (Kenya has overtaken us), trains that are late every single day, shops that close at 5:30pm leaving nothing really to do after work, construction that would take a few months to complete in Japan taking years here to complete here, lack of culture and although the east coast is a perfect candidate for a bullet train, no signs of any advancements. Japan seriously feels 20 years ahead.

    But we DO have a very relaxed work schedule which leads to way more time off. So it’s a question of do you want to work in Japan and never have time to enjoy the awesome things there or do you want to work in Australia where you have time off but nothing to do? I think having the option is great but at the same time no matter where you live there’s always going to be one aspect that another country does way better. There is no perfect country in the world, but Japan gets a lot of things right. For a tourist, Japan is the best country in the world IMO.

    1. Heh, if those are your biggest complaints about a country, I’d say you’re in a mighty good place. Although, true, it’s hard to beat being a tourist, anywhere.

  11. There aren’t enough chu-hi cans in the known universe to coerce me into giving up my Australian passport. No. Fucking. Way.

    After 14 years of living in this country I’ve found it to be increasingly intolerable on multiple levels – not least of all, the bureaucratic ones. The incessant sucking off teeth and a systemically ingrained inability to come to a consensus either as an individual OR a group, coming in a close second.

    Thank God for 24/7 convenience stores plentifully stocked with booze and fags.

    Let’s face it. Japan sucks monkey nuts sometimes and weebs are a pet peeve. I don’t have a monkey as a pet but if I did, I’d name it Kana-Chan. She’d probably be retarded.

    I’ve held a spouse visa for 13 years now and see absolutely no merit in P.R except for the fact I never have to use blue chairs, 4000 yen food stamps or stand in line watching the walking dead go about their day stamping paperwork for paper-visa holders trying to get their Asian paper-brides into the country so their 70 year old shriveled shrimp can get a blowjob.

    The only thing P.R means is that you don’t have to spend a day and 4000 yen every few years at that shithole.

    Tachikawa by the way, if you’re needing to do it, is by far the better I.O to head to.

    I don’t plan on dying here but sometimes, every now and then, I get the distinct impression that, because I’m refusing to be nailed down (Unlike Jesus), Japan would rather just outright murder me.

    Good luck with that Old Man Japan .inc

    1. Heh yeah, that’s the way it is with Japan. Somebody’s always trying to say they know more than the next guy. And yeah, I’m aware that I’m guilty of this too. Still, let’s try to exercise a bit of self-restraint before going completely bananas on a post, okay?

      In this case, Eido Inoue claims I made the story up. That’s fine. I’m okay with skepticism, but get some facts before you publicly brand somebody a liar.

      I wrote what happened to me, it was factual, and I have the documents they gave me. Do I really need to upload them as some sort of “proof”? Jeezus. Fine.

        Just click here.

      I tried to contact Inuue-san on two different platforms to tell him that he’s mistaken. So if you can get in touch with him, please let him know:

      I made an appointment. I went there with my girlfriend. We waited until called. We went to the room together and met a government official behind a curtain. Was the room “cavernous”? I dunno, how big’s a cavern? Fine, let’s just say it was “a sizeable space.” Better now? The official talked to us together for a few minutes, and drew the diagram I described. We were within earshot of half a dozen office workers, so the privacy curtain thing was pretty hilarious. Then he asked my girlfriend to leave and put me through the 4-page ordeal I described while he watched. So apparently what happened to me doesn’t happen to everyone? I don’t know. Perhaps Mr. Inuue should ask some other people if they’ve ever had to fill out a form at this stage of the process.

      Also, I didn’t really understand why he spent so much time talking about me personally, on a site about the citizenship process, but it’s nice to know somebody cares. Hey sailor, next time at least buy me a drink before you try to screw me.

      1. Pretty sure it’s Inoue 😀 But you probably changed that on purpose.

        Anyway: This sounds like a case of what I call “my Japan”.
        “I experienced ABC in Japan, so your experience ABC must be wrong!”

        To this I say: Even in rules and procedure obsessed Japan not everything is always the same.

        I understood this when I went to Shinagawa for Visa extension for the first time. Before that I had had to go to Maebashi (or Takasaki?) in Gunma to do the same thing. While some things were obviously the same, others were not.

        1. Heh, apologies for the misspelling; apparently I’m not above schoolboy humor.

          Yeah, that’s the thing about Japan—nobody’s ever completely sure what the hell’s going on, including the Japanese. Somehow that leaves the door open for random foreigners to be the self-proclaimed experts explaining the nation to everyone. Sometimes it’s my turn, for which I’m sorry; this time was Eido Inoue’s.

          When it comes to the details of Japanese citizenship, I’ll be the first to admit there’s a lot I don’t know. I just went through the first stage and wrote it all down. Props to Señor Inoue for following his dream, but apparently citizenship doesn’t come with the superpower of seeing through the walls of every government office.

    1. Ah, he’s just excited. Japanese citizenship’s his thing.

      When I wrote about intermittent fasting in Japan, nobody was blogging, “Oh no you di’n’t. I know you’re still eatin’ breakfast.” Because nobody’s all concerned about Ken Seeroi’s daily pancake intake. But this? Who invents a story about going to a government office? It was just a mildly humorous and annoying morning, so I thought I’d write it down. Jeez Inuue-san, you’ve got citizenship; now get a life.

  12. Congratulations! When’s your wedding with unnamed girlfriend-san? I’m sure you’ll get enough malt liquor as wedding gifts that your liver will stop trying to pretend it’s still working.

    Seriously though, PR sounds like a safer option for Japan. I would save the citizenship option for a country like Norway.

    1. That certainly didn’t make for a pleasant car ride home. Japan is so weirdly obsessed with marriage. Nobody can fathom that two or more adults could be together and not wrap themselves forever in the bonds of holy matrimony. And then once you’re married, you can live in different prefectures. It’s a great system.

      As for citizenship, anywhere, I’m filing it under “nice idea,” because it doesn’t change much of what you can actually do. In the case of Japan, it’s actually limiting, as opposed to PR, which expands options.

      1. Leaving Pros and Cons of marriage aside: For me it was the right choice. Wifey and I still enjoy living with each other after 12 years. Going strong 🙂

        And yes, Japanese women are crazy about marriage. Especially when the magical “30” closes in and they need to be pregnant NOW …

        1. That’s not just Japanese women , in most “western” after 30’s they starting realizing that it’s time to make a family -babies and it’s perfectly normal !

          Want more info . Men’s best years starts after 25 . But Women having it very good unlit 26-28 then in workplace and dating life their value starting to fall !

  13. Japan Suffered Biggest Natural Population Decline On Record In 2018
    https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-12-26/japan-suffered-biggest-natural-population-decline-record-2018

    Japan’s demographic timebomb is hardly a new development: The country has for years struggled with one of the lowest birthrates of the developed world, with deaths far outpacing births, causing its population to shrink for the ninth straight year in 2018. Meanwhile, with 921,000 births, Japan has posted the lowest birth rate since the country began keeping track in 1899 – coming in below 1 million for the third year in a row.

    In a sign that the demographic candle is burning at both ends, deaths in 2018 also hit a postwar record high of 1.369 million, cementing a total natural population decline of 448,000 (also the highest ever).

    According to international standards, Japan is a “super-aged” nation (more than 20% of its population is older than 65). The country’s total population stands at 124 million: but by 2065, it’s expected to drop to about 88 million.
    (more at link)

    1. Doesn’t exactly make Japan sound like a thriving nation, and I gotta say that’s always on my mind when I think about switching citizenship. Japanese people often worry out loud about whether there’ll be any money left when they retire, so I’m not sure this is the best nation to pin all one’s hopes and dreams to. Not that America’s a secure bet either, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a backup plan.

      1. Ones people/nations problems it another person opportunity (example Akiya -free houses , fields)

        They will be solutions .
        First short-term more legal immigrants .
        Second People have kids-more kids (or else ….)
        At 2030 robots workers will add to workforce ….
        Then later Pension cuts (like 30%) for people that had no kids or only 1 kid . actions have consequences (surprised pikachu face)….
        And many more ……

  14. Must be the season – I signed up for the national Pension Service today after avoiding it since 2002 (been on insurance since 2010). Pension seems less scary than citizenship tho just money. Try for PR first 🙂

    1. What is this? Do you mean you’re receiving a pension from the government, or paying into it? And when you say “been on insurance,” does that mean you’ve been receiving it?

      I know woefully little about retirement and insurance benefits, and I’d love to know more.

      1. I’m self employed here in Japan so I don’t have a company doing my tax or providing insurance/retirement benefits. When I first came in 2002 I worked for a few different Eikawa companies until I got up enough side work to quit teaching English. I was prob paying into insurance and/or pension but have no record (and the companies were doing everything to avoid it so maybe I wasn’t). I left in 2007 for a few years and when I came back in 2010 I joined the national health plan. My premiums were nothing the first year but now they are around 650,000 yen a year. However I have a wife and 2 daughters here so it’s great to be covered.

        1. I’d always avoided paying into the pension as I have a suspicion the govt will try to get out of paying it to foreign residents – not based on fact but just a gut feeling. I’ve set up a superannuation fund in Australia which theoretically will give me about 25,000 a year after I turn 60 – I figured it was safer than relying on Aussie or Japanese govt for support in my old age. However I woke up 2 days ago and reread the tax benefits for going into the pension here and went down to the ward office, got my free Japanese lesson with the staff, and signed up. Will have to pay about 400,000 yen in back payments, but am on track to theoretically get 50,000 a month after retirement at 65. I pay 16,500 a month from now on. However the reason I did it is that it comes directly off my taxes as I’m on the blue tax as self employed. If you have any questions fire away 🙂

          1. Thanks, okay now that all makes sense.

            Maybe you can help confirm something that I’ve read:

            My understanding is that you used to need to work and pay taxes in Japan for 25 years before being eligible for retirement benefits (regardless of your nationality). But recently (perhaps 2017?), the number of years was revised downward to 10. Do you know if that’s right?

            I’ve paid into Japanese social security (年金) for over 10 years now (working for various companies), so I think that when I turn 65, I’ll have some small stipend coming to me. I also think I’ll have some social security benefits from the U.S. The whole thing’s a bit confusing, and I suppose I should really do some more research into it. Or maybe AI will take over the world before I turn 65 and then just sort all this out for me.

            https://www.nenkin.go.jp/international/english/nationalpension/nationalpension.html

            1. I believe you are right – from the 10 year mark you get a part of the pension. At the moment the pension is around 780,000 yen a year. If you paid into it for 10 years you would get 195,000 a year (780,000 divided by 40 times 10). Obviously the longer you are here the better it becomes.

              For me as I’m on the blue tax form I get to take all pension payments right off my tax and that makes it worth it in the long run even if they go full zenophobic and kick me out at some stage 🙂

              Hope for the best and prepare for the worst is my personal motto in life.

              1. That’s a wise motto, and speaks of a person who has some life experience.

                When it comes to the Japanese pension, I feel like foreign nationals are pretty safe. Of course, like all things in life, there are no guarantees. But essentially stealing the money that foreign workers have paid into the system would undermine Japan’s reputation at a time when it desperately needs workers from overseas to fund that very system.

                Now, I do expect the lifestyle of all people here to be impacted in other, slightly more subtle ways, such as increasing the sales tax, which was 5% when I showed up, now 8, on its way to 10%. Or raising the retirement age or decreasing public services. All of which would make our hard-earned yen effectively worth less.

                But it is what it is. There are plenty of good things about living here too. I just hope I’ll still feel that way when I’m 70.

                1. I agree with all the things you have pointed out and am a bit worried about the same things. The appealing thing about the Japanese pension is that (at the moment) you don’t actually have to live in Japan to receive it.

                  If it gets too expensive I can always relocate to a cheaper place (certainly not Australia – as that place is impossible to live due to the expense).

                  Even if I only get 25,000 AUD a year from my super and about 500,000 yen a year from my Japanese pension, I’d be able to live like a king in Laos 🙂 I’d rather stay in Japan or an english speaking country as I’m too lazy to have to learn a new language again, but I might change my mind when I’m 60.

              1. Thanks for reminding me about that. I actually registered for the service, but have yet to be able to log in—because the website is only open certain hours (“Monday-Friday 5:00 a.m. – 1:00 a.m.”). Like, What? So I have to set my alarm for the middle of the night because Social Security can’t make a site that operates 24 hours a day?

                But yeah, thanks for the link. I’ll try it the next time I’m out partying.

            2. So the US and Japan have a totalization agreement in place that means that they will recognize the nenkin and social security payments that you’ve made in both countries. Now I know that it has something to do with establishing getting benefits and payments…but I’m not quite sure what that means for how the actual benefit is calculated. (I think it only counts for the Kokumin Nenkin and not the Kosei Nenkin). My take is that SS in the US would be the better one to take down the line since the benefit paid out is greater and has a better deal for your spouse as well (if you ever go down that road…). I would actually love it if anyone knows a little more about how the benefit is actually calculated (maybe a future post from you?)

  15. Unlike South Korean and Chinese nationals, who must renounce original nationality before the naturalization application to obtain Japanese nationality is approved, if you are American, it is not absolutely necessary to renounce U.S. nationality if you do not wish to do so (I am aware that some people desire to renounce for tax purposes, etc.). I should know, because after naturalizing more than 10 years ago, I have lived comfortably and openly as a dual citizen of the U.S. and Japan.
    Please do not believe the fearmongers on other sites (including Eido’s site) or even the caseworkers at the Legal Affairs Bureau who repeat hearsay about some unnamed person being arrested, detained, prosecuted, fined, denaturalized, etc. for being a dual citizen. Such stories are blatantly false, have never happened under the current Constitution of Japan, and cannot happen under Japanese law. Please read the Japanese Nationality Act for yourself.

    http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/law/detail_main?re=2&vm=04&id=1857

    1. Mmm, I dunno. This is from the link you provided, as one of the conditions of obtaining citizenship:

      「五 国籍を有せず、又は日本の国籍の取得によつてその国籍を失うべきこと。」
      “(v) Not having a nationality or having to give up his/her nationality due to the acquisition of Japanese nationality”

      Although Japan may not check to see that you’ve renounced your U.S. citizenship, you’d always be living with that hanging over your head. And why wouldn’t one believe the stories of “caseworkers at the Legal Affairs Bureau”? I wouldn’t assume they were lying for some nefarious reason.

      The citizenship process is relatively lengthy and involved. It seems ill-advised to risk having your whole life come undone by failing to complete the final step of renouncing my U.S. citizenship. But to each their own.

      Not trying to harsh your mellow, but you say the stories about people “being arrested, detained, prosecuted, fined, denaturalized, etc. for being a dual citizen” are hearsay. Fair enough, though at this point, I can’t see any reason to believe otherwise. I’d love to see a government site that says “You can obtain Japanese citizenship without renouncing your U.S. citizenship, so come on in.”

      1. If I may, I would like to reply in detail with correct information for the benefit of your readers, as fearmongers love to make vague baseless threats about the “risks”, “illegality”, “immorality”, etc. of dual nationality, causing needless fear among many dual nationals and persons who are considering naturalization (please note that the following information primarily concerns U.S. nationals).

        >「五 国籍を有せず、又は日本の国籍の取得によつてその国籍を失うべきこと。」
        “(v) Not having a nationality or having to give up his/her nationality due to the acquisition of Japanese nationality”
        Unfortunately, life is not fair, and the procedures in Japan regarding naturalization cases greatly differ depending on the country of current nationality of the applicant.

        As I previously stated, the nationals of some countries (e.g., China, South Korea) must give up original nationality before the Japanese naturalization application is approved, leaving said nationals to be stateless for a short time (and possibly permanently stateless in the rare case that there is a problem and the application is rejected after the applicant becomes stateless). As explained on Eido’s site, in the case of nationals of some other countries (e.g., Brazil) that have no legal method of renunciation of nationality, the original nationality is automatically retained and said persons may become dual nationals without any conditions. In the case of nationals of the U.S., while renunciation of U.S. nationality is possible, the Japanese government does not require U.S. nationals to renounce U.S. nationality before the application is approved. Therefore, after approval of naturalization, the provisions of Article 14 come into force:
        (国籍の選択)
        (Selection of Nationality)
        第十四条 外国の国籍を有する日本国民は、外国及び日本の国籍を有することとなつた時が二十歳に達する以前であるときは二十二歳に達するまでに、その時が二十歳に達した後であるときはその時から二年以内に、いずれかの国籍を選択しなければならない。
        Article 14 (1) A Japanese citizen having a foreign nationality shall select one of the nationalities, where he/she obtains foreign and Japanese nationalities prior to his/her becoming twenty years old, before his/her reaching twenty-two years old, and where that time when he/she obtained foreign and Japanese nationalities comes after his or her reaching twenty years old, within two years from that time.
        2 日本の国籍の選択は、外国の国籍を離脱することによるほかは、戸籍法の定めるところにより、日本の国籍を選択し、かつ、外国の国籍を放棄する旨の宣言(以下「選択の宣言」という。)をすることによつてする。
        (2) In addition to renouncement of the foreign nationality, the selection of Japanese nationality may be accomplished through selecting Japanese nationality and declaring the renunciation of the foreign nationality (hereinafter referred to as “selection declaration”) pursuant to the provisions of the Family Register Act.

        This means that a U.S. national who later also becomes a Japanese national should submit notification of SELECTION of Japanese nationality (国籍選択の届出) to the local municipality of residence of said person within 2 years of obtaining Japanese nationality. However, there are no legally stipulated penal/administrative provisions for not doing so. Furthermore, this Article has nothing to do with RENUNCIATION of U.S. nationality.

        In response to this, fearmongers tend to note the stipulations of Article 15 as follows:
        第十五条 法務大臣は、外国の国籍を有する日本国民で前条第一項に定める期限内に日本の国籍の選択をしないものに対して、書面により、国籍の選択をすべきことを催告することができる。
        Article 15 (1) The Minister of Justice may provide written notice that nationality must be selected to any Japanese citizen having a foreign nationality who has not selected Japanese nationality within the assigned time as provided for in the preceding Article, paragraph (1).
        2 前項に規定する催告は、これを受けるべき者の所在を知ることができないときその他書面によつてすることができないやむを得ない事情があるときは、催告すべき事項を官報に掲載してすることができる。この場合における催告は、官報に掲載された日の翌日に到達したものとみなす。
        (2) In the unavoidable event that the whereabouts of the intended recipient of the notice prescribed in the preceding paragraph may not be ascertained or notice in writing is otherwise not possible, the notice may be published in the official gazette. In such cases, the notice shall be deemed to have arrived on the day after publication in the official gazette.
        3 前二項の規定による催告を受けた者は、催告を受けた日から一月以内に日本の国籍の選択をしなければ、その期間が経過した時に日本の国籍を失う。ただし、その者が天災その他その責めに帰することができない事由によつてその期間内に日本の国籍の選択をすることができない場合において、その選択をすることができるに至つた時から二週間以内にこれをしたときは、この限りでない。
        (3) The person receiving the notice provided for in the provision of the preceding two paragraphs shall lose Japanese nationality when the period has elapsed if the selection of Japanese nationality is not made within one month of receiving the notice; provided, however, that this shall not apply in cases where the person is unable to select Japanese nationality within the period due to a natural disaster or some other cause not attributable to that person, and the selection is made within two weeks of the time when the selection may be made.

        Thus, it is true that if notification of SELECTION of Japanese nationality is not submitted within two years of becoming a Japanese national, the Minister of Justice MAY request that a nationality be selected, and if a nationality is still not selected within one month, Japanese nationality will be lost. However, the Minister of Justice has NEVER given such written notice to any dual national under the stipulations of Article 15 (1) in Japanese history. Not once.

        Furthermore, when a dual national selects Japanese nationality, the stipulations of Article 16 come into force:
        第十六条 選択の宣言をした日本国民は、外国の国籍の離脱に努めなければならない。
        Article 16 (1) A Japanese citizen who makes the selection declaration shall endeavor to renounce his/her foreign nationality.
        2 法務大臣は、選択の宣言をした日本国民で外国の国籍を失つていないものが自己の志望によりその外国の公務員の職(その国の国籍を有しない者であつても就任することができる職を除く。)に就任した場合において、その就任が日本の国籍を選択した趣旨に著しく反すると認めるときは、その者に対し日本の国籍の喪失の宣告をすることができる。
        (2) In cases where a Japanese citizen having made the selection declaration and not having lost foreign nationality appoints the post of a public officer(with the exception of a post that may be appointed by a person not having the nationality of that country) at his/her own discretion, the Minister of Justice may pronounce a judgment of loss of Japanese nationality if it is found that the appointment of the post is markedly contrary to the purpose of the selection of Japanese nationality.
        3 前項の宣告に係る聴聞の期日における審理は、公開により行わなければならない。
        (3) The proceedings on the date of the hearing pertaining to the pronouncement of judgment set forth in the preceding paragraph shall be conducted open to the public.
        4 第二項の宣告は、官報に告示してしなければならない。
        (4) The judgment pronouncement of paragraph (2) shall be placed in a public notice in the official gazette.
        5 第二項の宣告を受けた者は、前項の告示の日に日本の国籍を失う。
        (5) The person receiving the pronouncement of judgment of paragraph (2) shall lose Japanese nationality on the day of the public notice set forth in the preceding paragraph.

        Thus, the dual national in this case must ATTEMPT to renounce the foreign nationality (in this case, U.S. nationality). There are no penal/administrative provisions for not renouncing the foreign nationality. In this case, Japanese nationality cannot be revoked for having dual nationality or even failing to renounce the foreign nationality. However, per Article 16 (2), it is true that if the dual national is appointed as a governmental officer, etc. of the other country, the Minister of Justice of Japan MAY pronounce a judgment of loss of Japanese nationality. However, the Minister of Justice has NEVER given such written notice in Japanese history. Not once.

        As explained above, I have demonstrated that it is possible for a U.S. national to be a dual national of the U.S. and Japan without worry of the application of penal/administrative provisions, because such provisions to not exist under Japanese law.

        > “Although Japan may not check to see that you’ve renounced your U.S. citizenship, you’d always be living with that hanging over your head.”

        I am not sure what would be hanging over my head. As I have explained above, if one has knowledge of the law, there is nothing to fear. There are no penal/administrative provisions for being a naturalized Japanese who is also a dual national. Fearmongers claim a nonexistent “administrative denaturalization” clause in the Japanese Nationality Act that would supposedly lead to Japanese nationality being cancelled by the Japanese government, but this information is false and lacks any basis under Japanese law (such a system does exist under U.S. law, however).

        > And why wouldn’t one believe the stories of “caseworkers at the Legal Affairs Bureau”? I wouldn’t assume they were lying for some nefarious reason.

        I apologize; I should have made myself clearer. While fearmongers often tell fictional stories about some unnamed person who supposedly was arrested, detained, prosecuted, fined, denaturalized, etc. for being a dual national, I have never heard a caseworker at the Legal Affairs Bureau tell such a story. I have read a story by a naturalization applicant who claimed that a caseworker mentioned that failure to renounce original citizenship MIGHT lead to denaturalization. As I have shown, this veiled threat has no legal basis.

        >The citizenship process is relatively lengthy and involved.

        I agree with this. It is indeed long, difficult, and stressful. Frankly speaking, I do not believe naturalization is for everyone, regardless of the possibility of dual nationality.

        >It seems ill-advised to risk having your whole life come undone by failing to complete the final step of renouncing my U.S. citizenship. But to each their own.

        Again, I am not sure what would “come undone”. I have shown the legal basis why nothing will come undone. Furthermore, I can say based on 10 years of personal experience that nothing has come undone. I have been threatened by many fearmongers online who give a vague threat such as “You’ll be sorry someday!” without providing any legal basis for such a threat or clear indication of what I am supposed to be sorry about.

        >Not trying to harsh your mellow, but you say the stories about people “being arrested, detained, prosecuted, fined, denaturalized, etc. for being a dual citizen” are hearsay.

        Yes. Even Eido’s site, which normally backs up all assertions with legal facts and data, contains a fantastical story about an unnamed dual national of the U.S./Japan who claimed to be threatened with denaturalization by the National Tax Agency of Japan! Again, there is no legal basis for such a thing to happen, and I thoroughly noted all the holes in the story when it was first published.

        >Fair enough, though at this point, I can’t see any reason to believe otherwise. I’d love to see a government site that says “You can obtain Japanese citizenship without renouncing your U.S. citizenship, so come on in.”

        I’d love to see that too! But I won’t be holding my breath…

        1. Let me ask a question. Sorry if it sounds peculiar but it’s significant: Were you born Japanese-American? That is, a person born in America with one or more Japanese parent or grandparent?

          1. Ken’s point is also fair…since if you were a Japanese citizen prior to 1985 when the Nationality Law was enacted, then the Dual Citizenship declarations wouldn’t apply to you.

        2. Hmmm, I am very interested in this topic since my son has Japanese, American, and Filipino citizenships. The Philippines recognizes dual citizenship, the US doesn’t care (you’re an American and that’s all we care about) is kinda what I’ve run into (I have dual US and Filipino citizenship). The Japanese part for my son though is something that I’ve tried looking into. My conclusion is as you stated…in that it hasn’t really been enforced. As long as he chooses Japanese and makes an “attempt” at renouncing other citizenships…he’d be fine. Granted if he runs for public office, joins either military…I’d think things could get “interesting.”

          Question though…when traveling and entering either the US or Japan, which passport do you present? Do you present both?

  16. I was seriously considering getting Japanese citizenship around 10 years ago. I got all the paperwork ready and was ready to pull the trigger.

    Then I had a child.

    Coming to Japan as an adult is a choice, you choose to deal with the bullshit. Biracial kids born in Japan don’t get that choice. They have to deal with a lifetime of racism, othering, and mind-mending stupidity all because one of their parents thought living in Japan would be cool.

    Two years ago I burned all that paperwork in my garden while enjoying a 500ml Sapporo. A few months later we left. I’m in the Great White North now watching my child flourish like I couldn’t have imagined. I miss Japan like I would miss an ulcer. [Slight edit by Ken S., sorry]

    Not everyone “plans” to have kids. Keep your and their options open.

  17. No, I do not have a Japanese parent or grandparent. My Japanese nationality is a result of naturalization as an adult. Furthermore, I suppose that you could say that I am a visible minority in Japan.

    1. Wow. So you were born in the U.S. with no Japanese “blood,” then moved to Japan, took citizenship, and kept both passports? Is that right?

  18. Yes, that is correct. I moved to Japan immediately after finishing university and submitted the application for naturalization literally on the first day that I was eligible to submit the application (and yes, that means that I had deeply researched the naturalization process, correctly prepared all of the paperwork before submission, and calculated the exact day of eligibility).
    As you can imagine, I am not a big fan of the U.S. and intended to give up my U.S. passport, but was forced to keep it due to the difficulty in actually renouncing U.S. nationality.

    1. That’s pretty badass. Sounds like you’ve got the best of both worlds.

      What was difficult about renouncing U.S. nationality? Compared to the Japanese naturalization process, that looked to me like the easy part.

      1. It is quite easy for Japanese nationals to renounce Japanese nationality. All that is necessary to do is to submit a form to the city hall in which the applicant resides.
        However, in the case of a U.S. national who wishes to renounce U.S. nationality, a person must schedule at least one appointment (often two appointments) at a U.S. consulate/embassy (obviously outside of the U.S.), fill out a long questionnaire explaining ties to the U.S., if renunciation is being made out of duress, etc., explain your case to an officer, file a tax return and have back taxes checked (taxes must be paid on assets), and most importantly pay a fee of $2,350. Because U.S. nationals are taxed by the U.S. wherever they live, unlike most countries, the U.S. makes it as difficult as possible to renounce nationality.
        Many of my Japanese friends say they have interest in becoming a U.S. national, but I always say, “Don’t do it! The U.S. is like the mafia; Once you join, you can never leave!”

        1. Oh man yeah…this was the exact reason that I didn’t want my son to get a US passport or citizenship when he was born in Tokyo. It’s VERY difficult to renounce US Citizenship.

          When we were moving back to the US, I went to get an Immigration Visa for my wife and him at the Embassy…and the officer laughed in my face and said that I don’t have a choice…he’s the son of a US Citizen, he gets a US Passport.

  19. JK,

    How, may I ask do you handle/answer questions on your Japanese passport form which asks directly, “Are you a holder of any foreign passports?”

    Do you check, ‘no’ or do you check ‘yes’ and simply leave it at that? Has anyone questioned you further?

    1. I know many dual citizens, and this issue seems to cause worry for everyone. In the case of a foreign-born naturalized Japanese national/dual national from birth, there is no need for worry. If you answer “Yes”, you have to write the number of the other country’s passport, etc., which is an invasion of privacy, and you may be asked some questions, but as I explained above, this does not mean that your Japanese passport will not be issued.
      If you answer “No” and still travel with two passports (which can be easily spotted due to lack of entry/exit stamps, etc.), despite the rumors on the internet, absolutely nothing will happen, and you can enter the U.S. and Japan with zero problems.
      However, in the case of a Japanese national who later becomes a naturalized U.S. national as an adult, a response of “Yes” reportedly causes serious problems (as does a lack of entry/exit stamps/visa in the Japanese passport when such a Japanese national living in the U.S. tries to renew the Japanese passport at a Japanese consulate/embassy in the U.S.). As I said above, life is unfortunately not fair.

  20. To be fair, I don’t think the Japanese deserve to be depicted as “plenty happy to round up all the gaijin and return the favor” of internment camps. I know you’re just making a sarcastic joke or whatever, but people believe what you write, man. Japanese people just don’t think about that stuff (or history in general, for better or worse).

    Otherwise, great article as always. Keep dodging those tempting bullets, Ken.

    1. Sure, I meant it in the context of a war, not like everyday life. Just because I’ve been turned away from renting apartments and entering scores of restaurants and night clubs doesn’t imply any worse treatment if things really go south.

  21. Do want to be a japanese citizen? yes
    Do you have a job? yes
    Can you support yourself? yes
    Can you speak japanese? yes
    How long have you been in japan? 12 yrs
    Are you a grown ass man? Absolutely

    We’re gonna need a permission letter from your Mom…

    hahahahahahahaha!!!

    1. Yeah the whole process, and in fact Japanese society in general, is based around this weird 1950’s nuclear family idea, of a family unit consisting of one man, one woman, and their offspring. What if, God forbid, your parents never got married? What if they’re gay and you’ve got like two mothers? Or if your dad remarried and now you’ve got three step moms—do you get three letters, or one letter signed by three women? Or what if you just freaking hate your mom, and that’s why you moved to Japan in the first place? Nope, gotta get a letter from her.

      And everywhere I go, people refer to my girlfriend as my wife, despite my having said innumerable times that we’re not married. Not the most flexible of thinkers, the Japanese.

      1. “Not the most flexible of thinkers, the Japanese.”

        Ahahaha. Indeed.
        That aspect of Japanese can be extremely infuriating.

        Take New Year’s eve in Germany:
        Everyone buys fireworks and shoots and explodes stuff during the night.
        Now, I am aware that there are some rules (something like: Only allowed between 12 and 3 am on January 1st):
        However no one cares about the details. So we went out with our 6 year old and did the deed at around 8 pm on December 31st. And we weren’t the only ones. There were families all around us.
        Imagine THAT in Japan 🙂 Everyone accepting rules as guidelines, not as clad in stone and literal!

  22. Ahaha, funny read, as always.

    Since I, too, spent a year or two in Japan I thought about this question myself.
    However, being German and thus EU citizen I felt I would sacrifice too much. Most importantly Japan’s social welfare net is closer to the US than to Germany, so: no, thanks. (There are other, smaller considerations too, which I don’t want to detail right now.)

    In the end I never felt I wanted to “become” Japanese, as I knew almost all Japanese would never accept me as one and I would have to give up German citizenship too. Dual-citizenship? That would have been cool! But sadly far too progressive for Japan.

    So I ended up with permanent residency, which was pretty cool to have – however about two years after obtaining that we moved to Germany 🙂

  23. Hey Ken, I recently found your blog and have been reading through some past posts. I admire your quality of writing and the way you convey the beauty and bleakness of being in Japan in a straightforward way.

  24. Hi JK – If I understand you correctly, you have officially registered your choice of Japanese nationality over US nationality with the Japanese authorities, but not actually renounced US nationality with US authorities. For the time being, Japanese authorities have accepted your declaration to them, but should at any time you become persona non grata in Japan (eg you commit a criminal act), I’m sure a Japanese judge would have no qualms in cancelling your Japanese passport on the grounds that your acquisition of Japanese nationality is simply incomplete – you have not completed all the necessary steps – and deport you to the US. No specific penalty would be necessary. You have explained that renouncing US citizenship is both bothersome and expensive, but not impossible, and you haven’t actually attempted it.

    It is interesting to see that native-born Japanese who acquire citizenship of another country and declare it to Japanese authorities do lose both their Japanese nationality and passports, though apparently there are many who do not make the declaration (see http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201802260042.html ).

    One advantage of citizenship over permanent residence is that it does not lapse simply by living outside Japan, whereas if a permanent resident leaves Japan for six years or more, they are at risk of having their permanent resident visa revoked, even with a re-entry permit.

    1. Veejay, I agree. It seems like a relatively simple step that I wouldn’t personally neglect. Until 2015 it also cost only $450.

      I genuinely appreciate JK’s input. However, for anyone considering retaining both citizenships, I’d strongly recommend consulting a Japanese immigration attorney, rather than taking the word of a bunch of foreign-born folks on the internet.

    2. Please allow me to respond again in detail for the benefit of readers.
      > For the time being, Japanese authorities have accepted your declaration to them, but should at any time you become persona non grata in Japan (eg you commit a criminal act), I’m sure a Japanese judge would have no qualms in cancelling your Japanese passport on the grounds that your acquisition of Japanese nationality is simply incomplete – you have not completed all the necessary steps – and deport you to the US. No specific penalty would be necessary.
      I am not sure what is meant by a “specific penalty”, but I will assume this means a theoretical provision in Japanese law that stipulates the revoking of Japanese nationality by a judge (or the Ministry of Justice) due to committing a crime or failing to renounce the nationality of the other country. As I have explained above, there is no such a provision in Japanese law. Therefore, let us assume for a moment that the above situation is true, and any judge (or the Ministry of Justice) can unilaterally and freely revoke the Japanese nationality of a naturalized Japanese national (who also possesses the nationality of another country) and order the deportation of said national without any stipulation in Japanese law. If this were true, it would mean that Japan is no longer a country with rule of law, and judges (or the Ministry of Justice) could impose illegal rulings and act (e.g., deport “undesirables”) without impunity. Is this what you mean?
      > You have explained that renouncing US citizenship is both bothersome and expensive, but not impossible, and you haven’t actually attempted it.

      You do not know if I have attempted to renounce U.S. nationality. Let us assume that I have not made any attempt. What would the possible negative result be? Nothing. As I have explained above, the Minister of Justice can theoretically give notice to a dual national to submit notification of SELECTION of Japanese nationality (国籍選択の届出) to the local municipality of residence of said person within 2 years of obtaining Japanese nationality. As the Nationality Act states, “The person receiving the notice provided for in the provision of the preceding two paragraphs shall lose Japanese nationality when the period has elapsed if the selection of Japanese nationality is not made within one month of receiving the notice”. However, such a situation has never occurred in Japanese history. Furthermore, this Article has nothing to do with RENUNCIATION of U.S. nationality. There are no legally stipulated penal/administrative provisions for not renouncing the other nationality.
      In summary, as I have said many times, please do not believe any baseless hearsay or fearmongering on the Internet. There have been no recorded cases in modern history of a naturalized Japanese national being forcibly stripped of Japanese nationality by the Japanese government or a judge for any reason, including the provisions concerning written notice from the Minister of Justice stipulated in Articles 15 and 16 of the Nationality Act or a rumored but nonetheless nonexistent “administrative/judicial denaturalization clause.” Please do not confuse “administrative denaturalization” that legally exists in some countries (e.g., the U.S.) for cases of fraudulent naturalization application. Although in the case of the U.S., administrative denaturalization is clearly stipulated by the Immigration and Nationality Act Sec. 340. [8 U.S.C. 1451] for naturalization “illegally procured…by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresenta¬tion,” no such provision exists in the Japanese Nationality Act. Furthermore, judicial precedent established by a Japanese lower court has shown that “法務大臣が帰化の許否の判断をするに当たっては…諸般の事情を総合的に考慮して決することができる広範な裁量権を有している” (When the Minister of Justice makes a judgment on permission or rejection of naturalization…[the Minister of Justice] has extensive discretionary power to comprehensively take into consideration the various circumstances [of applicants]) because “原則として国家がいったん与えた国籍は後にこれを一方的に剥奪すること ができない” (in principle, the State, after once granting nationality cannot unilaterally deprive it later).
      (平成18年(行ウ)第38号 帰化申請不許可処分取消等請求事件 http://www.courts.go.jp/app/files/hanrei_jp/592/036592_hanrei.pdf)

  25. Hi Ken thank you for all your posts over the last year and best wishes for the new year. Particularly liked this post, content and writing. Clearly a fascinating and complicated subject matter with serious consequences if ill-informed. Thought I would add my tuppence worth. No one has mentioned this but wouldn’t it be obvious to pay for the best legal opinion you can afford to guide you through this process? Or is this not an option in “curious” Japan? Once again best wishes. Cheers

    1. Best wishes for a good 2019 to you as well!

      Legal counsel is absolutely an option, and one I intended to pursue if things went a bit further. I figured I’d do the first step by myself since it was free and from what I’d read on the internet not too difficult. Boy, was that a bad idea.

      Despite the cost, for something this important in life, it’s almost certainly worth hiring a lawyer. If I ever go through with this (which is fading into unlikelihood) my first step will be to consult with a reputable immigration attorney.

  26. Hi JK,

    Would you be willing to give a little more detail on exactly what problems you faced? You say, “[I] intended to give up my U.S. passport, but was forced to keep it due to the difficulty in actually renouncing U.S. nationality.”

    When I went through the process, it seemed pretty simple and straightforward, if admittedly rather expensive and dragged out with administrative delays. But I gather that procedures have changed a bit over the years, so maybe it was different when you tried to do it. What was the insurmountable issue in your case?

  27. I gave up on Japan and Japanese a long time ago. I visited Tokyo two years ago to scratch some things off the bucket list and to see if my old dreams were still worth to pursue. A couple of discomforting weeks further I concluded that it was too little too late. Still not able to work my way through the transportation system in Tokyo, not even able to communicate in Japanese as I was able to do on an intermediate level 25 years earlier, I decided to call it a day and never to look back. Thank God I never met a Japanese girl who wrapped me around her middle finger and chain me to that place.

    This site is the only link I have with the country and I read your articles every now and then to imagine what could have become of me if they had offered me some job back in 1988. Kind of like a parallel universe with a lot more black holes to suck you in and never been heard of.

    Looking forward to the permanent residence story.

    1. I always think that if life were a thousand years long, I’d happily spend a couple of decades in Japan.

      The problem is that life’s really short, so the years screwing around here come at the cost of time I could’ve spent building an actual career and developing friendships that ventured beyond discussing food and the weather. Ah well, no time for hindsight, I’m due to study fifty more Japanese flashcards.

  28. I would gladly take Japanese citizenship for the added rights and convenience of living here, but I absolutely refuse to give up my other (2) citizenships just for japan. If Japan ever allows multiple citizenships I will consider acquiring it. I think the main reason for foreigners not naturalizing is this reason.

      1. I guess because what if I want to leave japan for a very long time and then come back. with PR you would have to periodically re enter japan or it will disappear forever. If you’re a citizen, it doesn’t matter. But I’m on a spouse visa which is basically already PR for me, so guess I’ve burnt my bridges.

        1. Yeah, that’s true. Citizenship does confer some advantages, although they seem kind of minor. Dropping back by Japan every year or two doesn’t seem that big of a deal right now.

          1. I think the maximum a permanent resident can be out of the country is five years, and that’s only if they apply for a special re-entry permit before leaving the country. There’s also the residence card renewal to worry about.

  29. Whether the advantages of citizenship over PR are worth it depends on the person, and their stage of life, I think. I actually quite value the ability to vote. Not that the politicians in Japan are any better than they were where I came from, but at least they are talking about issues that directly affect me and my family. If I want to improve the society I live in, that is the primary lever I have. It may not be much of a lever, but it is more effective than voting for people on the other side of the planet who are naturally concerned, and empowered to deal, with issues over there, not over here.

    Citizenship also gives some hard-to-define sense of ownership. Indeed, the option of easily running away is lost, so it makes one just that much more determined to make things work here. This may or may not be a desirable thing! Again, depending on one’s life situation. I think if the ability to escape is valued, then naturalizing is probably a bad idea.

  30. Ken you know I don’t normally post public but I feel the need to say out loud..Fuck that was close,what were you thinking?
    Standard 20 for the article and a bonus 20 to sit a little longer,drink a little longer;and contemplate what could and could not have been.
    Nice work.

    1. Hmm. Got a feeling you’re really not gonna like my new hi-no-maru face tattoo.

      Seriously, thanks much for the contribution and the reality check. Apparently being surrounded by nothing but crusty Japanese dudes and wacky foreigners isn’t that great for one’s sanity. When Japan starts feeling like a normal place, it’s time for an overseas vacation.

      1. Ken, I thought an overriding theme of your was that Japan IS normal. Not wacky robot-panties vending machines on every corner, just a bunch of ordinary people trying to get on with life.

        But I guess if it doesn’t seem more-or-less normal (or at least no more strange than where you came from), then yeah, it is probably too early to consider naturalizing. Maybe revisit the question in another 10 years or so?

        I would like to mention that the fears of never being accepted are probably overblown, by the way. But again, by the time naturalizing seems to makes sense, that bridge has probably already been crossed. If you’re feeling like a misfit now, becominga citizen probably won’t help.

        1. Probably how much of a misfit you feel like also depends on how “foreign” you look and your location / peer group (assuming you speak Japanese fluently).

          If you look Asian or at least have the typical height and eye color and hair color of a Japanese person, people might subconsciously treat you more as Japanese or at least hafu. If you’re black and 6 feet tall, you’re always going to look foreign.

          And it’s probably easier to blend in with younger people in more urban areas.

          1. Speaking Japanese fluently doesn’t count for shit. An outsider is an outsider.

            Also if you look Asian, but not Japanese, you are in for the worst of Japanese racism.

            1. Have to kindly disagree. I’m white and speak near fluent Japanese, and I have been asked numerous times by people at my previous part time job if I’m Japanese, was I born/raised in japan, am I a Japanese citizen. So the fact that I speak the language well makes them wonder why. Those are their assumptions. Glad that they’re open minded enough to consider that possibility.

          1. Interesting article, ze2. I think, as you imply, that there is some of that going on in discussions about acceptance. We all carry our own reality-distortion fields of different kinds, and even people of the same backgroynd and genetics can have completely different experiences.

            I think in addition to language ability, there are a lot of non-verbal cues that come into play. Body language, facial expressions, stylistic cues… Some of this stuff rubs off onto one after enough years, which can lead to giving off an aura of fitting in that others subconconsciously cue into.

            1. I gotta say, I hear this a lot when it comes to Japan: “I’m a foreigner too, but my experience in Japan is way different. Japanese people treat me much better/worse/the same.”

              Uh, yeah, and I bet Barack Obama gets treated different than Flava Flav. Andy Samburg gets different treatment than Henry Rollins. Those people might come away from Japan with completely different impressions.

              Now, I agree that there are plenty of non-verbal cues that anybody with half a brain could pick up on, but honestly there are plenty of folks with less than that who’ll judge you just on appearance, no matter how you sound and act.

              1. Sure, there is always someone who will just straight out dislike your race/ethnicity/orientation/religion/appearance/whatever. Japan has some of those just like anywhere does. Though at least I’ve never felt at risk of physical harm from such types in Japan, unlike in a couple of other countries I have lived in.

                Which is not to excuse things like housing discrimination, which is a real problem that needs to be addressed, but the vast majority of one’s interactions are not with such obstinate types. Most interactions are determined by the subtle factors of how one sounds and acts. In Japan as elsewhere.

                1. That’s basically what I meant.

                  Another factor is that a lot of disagreement between foreigners seems to be essentially about percentages, and that’s hard to express verbally. People tend to ask questions in binary form, like “Is there overt racism in Japan?”, but the answers are more like “1% of people are overtly racist” or “40% of people are overtly racist”. So it can be hard to figure out whether I disagree with someone in the first place.

                  It does seem to me that there are more “obstinate types” in Japan than in the US, where Ken is from. I don’t think one can really argue people out of racism though. It’s better to either look at specific clear-cut issues like the housing discrimination (maybe crime statistics about tenants specifically can convince landlords) or just be a good example of a foreigner in Japan (or write articles about other examples). Barring political tensions between countries, I think discrimination does decrease over time.

        2. Heh yeah, Japan’s utterly normal, to the point of banality. But then everything’s normal, once you get used to it.

          But that’s the reality check, right? Of course, Japan feels like my home country, because I’ve spent enough time here absorbing the culture and language. But by the same logic, Norway would feel the same, or South Africa.

          So I have to wonder, am I marrying this country because I love it more than all the other countries in the world, or just because we’ve been together so long that we figure we’ll eventually die together so why not?

          “Eh, not gettin’ any younger, so might as well” somehow doesn’t seem like a great reason.

  31. I recommend changing your last name only to Chiba. When people call your name for any official business they`ll yell out: Chiba Ken? Where is Chiba Ken?

    1. Love that. Works with pretty much any prefecture too.

      I also think it’d be awesome to legally change one’s name to something Japanese-sounding. But rather than bother with working through the Japanese system, just do it in your home country, then fly back to Japan with a passport reading “Aichi Kentaro.” It’d be worth it just to see Japanese folks try to wrap their heads around the fact that was actually your name.

  32. Hey Ken,

    1st time I have commented on one of your posts but long time reader. Massive interest in all things Japan and will be visiting in the near future, keep up the entertaining posts this one especially piqued my interest.

      1. Yes, will be my 1st trip, was due to go a few years ago but decided to sink all my money into a new motorbike instead haha
        Trying my damndest to learn the language as much as possible for my visit also! Your posts have definitely given me a different perspective on what to expect!

        1. Very cool. I really do want to hear your impressions. I’ve been here so long now that everything’s just normal. Like women in kimonos bowing, old men peeing in bushes, or green tea in vending machines. You mean somewhere in the world there’s a vending machine that doesn’t serve tea? So it’s interesting to see Japan through fresh eyes. Let me know what you think.

  33. Congratulations Ken! I love the delivery of something I’d consider so monumentous to your life in your trademark dry tone.

    As someone who became a citizen of a different (and favorite) country last year, I wish you the best and hope there is a good part of you that is ecstatic – even if we don’t get to see it.

    BTW, don’t know if you forgot but I’m the guy who has a bottle of aged triple ale beer from French Canada with your name on it in my cellar. Me and the partner are visiting Japan this year – in preparation for a potential move next year.

    If there was a way I could get it to you – in whatever way you’d feel comfortable, in case you really want to protect your privacy, I’d love to be able to do it when we come over.

    Let me know,

    Always a fan and best wishes for 2019.

    1. Dude, thanks—I remember that. Absolutely, I’ll message you privately. But as much as I would dearly love that triple ale, don’t feel like you need to bring it all the way from French Canadia. If for whatever reason we don’t meet up, I don’t want to be forever remembered as the dude who made you lug a bottle of beer all around Japan.

      1. Hell, Ken, if I bring it and I don’t manage to get it to you, it’s not like we’ll have any difficulty polishing it off. 😀

        We age this one particular beer every year, so I’ll always have more for you for when it’s convenient.

        And it’s no difficulty at all to be bringing one bottle between two light-traveling backpackers. Hit me up and if it’s possible, I’d love to sneak sharing a beer with you in my trip.

  34. Happy New year!

    Congratulations!
    When’s the wedding and the most important question: will you have a western or traditional Japanese ceremony?

    I live with my permanent residency happily ever after. The only thing I am not allowed to do here is voting. But honestly, the choices during elections are like choosing either the black socks or the dark grey almost black socks in the morning. 😉

    1. Yeah, I’ve got lots of something. Japanese life just keeps getting in the way of writing it all down. But thanks for the push. Let me get through the weekend and we’ll see how things look.

  35. “And a letter from your mother, acknowledging your wish to nationalize to Japan.”
    First time i hear that about the “Naturalization” procedure!
    In japan can apply for , after Continuous residence 5 years or 3 years if married to a Japanese national.

    “Of the dozen Japanese people I’ve consulted about my genius plan before and since, literally no one’s ever thought it was a good idea.”
    Many people been racist about a white humans becoming jap. , especially other white or gaikokujin ….

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