Being Japanese

Many Japanese people assume that just because I’m married to a Japanese national and have lived here for such a long time, I must have Japanese citizenship.  Most people have no idea how difficult it is to become Japanese.  There are many people who were born in Japan, who grew up here, speaking Japanese, who do not have Japanese passports.  I’m thinking of ethnic Koreans, but there are also a lot of kids born out of wedlock to foreign mothers and Japanese fathers who have not been granted citizenship. 

According to the law as it stands now, in order for such a child to be granted citizenship, a Japanese father must recognize paternity during the mother’s pregnancy.    If the father steps forward after the child’s already been born, it’s too late, unless he marries the mother before the kid turns 20. 

A revised Nationality Law is expected to clear the Diet this week.  This amendment would allow children born out of wedlock to Japanese men and foreign women to become Japanese citizens even if the father claims paternity after birth.  However, some lawmakers worry that this will create a black market in false paternity recognition.  Hello?  Has anyone heard of DNA testing??

One guy went so far as to say, “If a law like this is misused, what will happen to the Japanese identity?”

What is Japanese identity, anyway?  To me, it sounds as though Japanese nationality is meant to be an exclusive club, based on bloodlines and conformity.  To me, this comment reeks of xenophobia.  Perhaps Japanese identity should include a sense of responsibility for children sired out of wedlock, instead of a sense that foreign women are money-grubbing wanna-be-immigrant opportunists.

The expat Korean-American author Min Jin Lee put it well when she told the magazine Tokyo Families, “The people here are very kind, polite, and really well intended.  But no one becomes Japanese. You can become an American. I think that’s a humongous difference.”  

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2 thoughts on “Being Japanese

  1. And when those children who were born out of wedlock with a foreign mother, are given up by their birth parents, it is very very dfficult for the adoption process to go through. I can’t give you the details because I can’t remember them. But, I know there are many kids who are unadoptable because no one will put them on a family reigster to start with.

  2. This one of the best things you have written in your blog in my history of reading it! An issue you explored in your wonderful novel in some ways as well.

    But then are Japan’s Xenophobia and restrictions so surprising? You’re living among them, but from over here, I am not at all surprised by the Japanese governmental attitude about citizenship and naturalization.

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