Dual Citizenship Controversies in Japan

By: Kellina Heylek

In Japan, the issues of dual nationalities and dual citizenship was brought back into the lime light during the 2016 election cycle.[1] Renho Murata (“Renho”) was elected not only as the first female leader of the Democratic Party but the first person of multiple nationalities to hold the position.[2] Renho’s father was born in Taiwan, and she was also considered a Taiwanese citizen.[3] Under article fourteen of the Nationality Law, a Japanese citizen who has multiple nationalities must choose his Japanese nationality once he reaches the age of twenty-two or he will lose his Japanese citizenship.[4] Though Renho’s political adversaries stated she had lied about renouncing her Taiwanese citizenship in the past, Renho stated she believed that she was no longer a Taiwanese citizen.[5] When the Taiwanese official records confirmed Renho was in fact still a citizen of Taiwan, she immediately began the process of revoking her Taiwanese citizenship.[6]

The controversy of Renho’s dual citizenship and multiple nationalities has its roots in common law principles that are an integral part of Japanese immigration law. Under these circumstances, there are two common law concepts that illustrate the relationship between nationality and citizenship. Jus soli is a concept most commonly associated with birthright citizenship; if the child is born in a respective country, then the child will be a citizen of that country regardless of the status or nationality of the child’s parents.[7] On the other hand, jus sanguinis is a common law concept that has the literal translation of “by right of blood.”[8] According to Dr. John Skrentny of University of California, San Diego, jus sanguinis is “the most common conception of nationhood” that illustrates the people of the particular country are bonded together through ancestry and not by their current location.[9]

Japan follows the principle of jus sanguinis.[10] A child will be a Japanese national if the child’s father or mother is a Japanese national, if the father was a Japanese national prior to death, or when both parents do not have a nationality and the child is born in Japan.[11] However, if a child is born with multiple nationalities, Japanese immigration law requires the child to eventually make a choice. Article fourteen of the Nationality Law states “[a] Japanese national having foreign nationality shall choose either of the nationalities before he or she reaches twenty-two years of age.”[12] The individual can either declare he or she is renouncing other foreign nationalities or provide documentation from the other country describing the renunciation.[13] If the individuals fails to follow these procedures, then the Ministry of Justice will issue a written notice demanding the individual select a nationality within one month of the notice.[14] Expiration of the one month notice period will result in the individual losing Japanese citizenship.[15]

Although Renho’s election was an illustration of the alleged controversy of dual nationality and citizenship in Japan, there has been virtually no enforcement to the ordinary citizen who does not renounce her other nationalities or obtained citizenship in other countries.[16] Additionally, the Ministry of Justice and its Civil Affairs Division do not have procedures in place to track those who potentially have dual nationalities and fail to renounce one of them.[17] The possible explanation for the lack of enforcement of the renunciation policy is that an overwhelming amount of Japan’s population does not have multiple nationalities.[18] In fact, less than 3% of the Japanese population have parents who are not of Japanese origin.[19] However, the rise in international marriages has resulted in Japanese national’s acquiring dual citizenship.[20] Also, many individuals in Japan and nearby countries want to obtain dual citizenship because of the increase of foreign service officers, positions in international affairs, and international business and trade.[21] Moreover, Professor Atsushi Kondo of Meijo University stated “there is no precise way to confirm whether a Japanese national also has a foreign nationality.”[22] As enforcement is nonexistent and nearly impossible, “the general rule that one must claim only one nationality has become a mere façade in Japan.”[23] Therefore, there are more Japanese dual citizens flying under the Ministry’s radar than ever before.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all individuals have “a right to a nationality[,]” and “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”[24] Nevertheless, an individual’s ability to retain dual citizenship is not as clear cut. On the international stage, Japan is not the only country who drastically limits dual citizenship.[25] Over sixty countries have an outright ban or drastically limit dual citizenship, including “Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, and Spain.”[26] Many country’s concerns with dual citizenship stem from the idea of pledging allegiance to multiple countries. For example, claims to other countries “often place [the dual national] in situations where their obligation to one country [is] in conflict with the law of the other.”[27] Also, in cases between the United States and Japan, “dual nationality may hamper efforts to provide diplomatic and consular protection” because when “a dual national is in the other country of which the person is a citizen, that country has a predominant claim on that person.”[28] On the other hand, if dual citizenship is acquired, then both countries have the ability to reap various benefits. For example, the individual must pay taxes to each country where she is considered a citizen, the individual has additional flexibility to travel at lower costs, and the individual has the ability to work in multiple countries.[29]

Many are beginning to believe denying Japanese citizens the opportunity to have dual citizenship should begin the shift towards acceptance.[30] The first step towards acceptance could be amending the requirement of renouncing foreign nationality to allow those individuals to retain their dual citizenship.[31] Japanese officials acknowledge there are certain cases where renouncing another citizenship can be extremely difficult, and the country has placed safeguards for those citizens to continue living as dual citizens in Japan.[32] However, the renunciation policy is virtually unenforced and changing the policy would allow for Japanese citizens to retain an aspect of their identity while still performing their duties as Japanese citizens. Overall, amending the renunciation policy could be the first step towards Japan changing the perspective and stance on dual citizenship.



[1] Mariko Oi, Japan’s Opposition Chooses Female, Half-Taiwanese Leader Renho, BBC News (Sept. 15, 2016), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-37315148.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] The Nationality Law (Law No.147 of 1950, as amended by Law No.268 of 1952, Law No.45 of 1984, Law No.89 of 1993 and Law.No.147 of 2004, Law No.88 of 2008), http://www.moj.go.jp/ENGLISH/information/tnl-01.html.

[5] Supra note 1.

[6] Id.

[7] Eyder Peralta, Three Things You Should Know about Birthright Citizenship, Northern Public Radio (Aug. 18, 2015), https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/08/18/432707866/3-things-you-should-know-about-birthright-citizenship; All Things Considered, Northern Public Radio (Aug. 14, 2010), https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129201845.

[8] Peralta, supra note 7.

[9] All Things Considered, supra note 7.

[10] Is it Time for Japan to Legally Recognize Dual Citizenship?, The Mainichi (Oct. 16, 2016), http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20161016/p2a/00m/0na/001000c.

[11] Supra note 4, at art. 3.

[12] Id.

[13] Supra note 10.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.; News Navigator: Are Japanese Nationals Allowed to Have Dual Citizenship?, The Mainichi (July 19, 2017), https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170719/p2a/00m/0na/007000c.

[18] Supra note 1.

[19] Miss Japan Won by Half Indian Priyanka Yoshikawa, BBC News (Sept. 8, 2016), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-37283518.

[20] Supra note 10.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] G.A. Res. 217 (III) A, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec. 10, 1948).

[25] Which Countries Don’t Allow Dual Citizenship?, Seeker (Sept. 20, 2016), https://www.seeker.com/which-countries-dont-allow-dual-citizenship-1933771298.html.

[26] Id.

[27] Dual Nationality, U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Japan, https://jp.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/citizenship-services/dual-nationality/.

[28] Id.

[29] Supra note 26; Kate Bradley, The Advantages of Dual Citizenship, USA Today, http://traveltips.usatoday.com/advantages-dual-citizenship-61144.html.

[30] Supra note 10.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.