Japanese nationality law

Japanese nationality law

Japanese nationality is a legal designation and set of rights granted to those people who have met the federal criteria for citizenship by parentage or by naturalization. Nationality is in the jurisdiction of the Minister of Justice and is generally governed by the Nationality Law of 1950.


Nationality by birth

Japan is a jus sanguinis state as opposed to jus soli state, meaning that it attributes citizenship by blood but not by location of birth. However, in practice, it is by parentage but not by descent. Article 2 of the Nationality Act provides three situations in which a person can become a Japanese national at birth:

  1. When either parent is a Japanese national at the time of birth
  2. When the father dies before the birth and is a Japanese national at the time of death
  3. When the person is born on Japanese soil and both parents are unknown or stateless

A system for acquiring nationality by birth after birth is also available. If an unmarried Japanese father and non-Japanese mother have a child, and the parents later marry and the Japanese father acknowledges paternity, the child can acquire Japanese nationality, so long as the child has not reached the age of 20. Japanese nationality law effective from 1985 has been that if the parents are not married at the time of birth and the father has not acknowledged paternity while the child was still in the womb, the child will not acquire Japanese nationality.[1][2] However, Japan's Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that denying nationality to children born out of wedlock to foreign mothers is unconstitutional.[2]

Dual nationality

Japan does not allow dual citizenship, and anyone who willingly applies and obtains foreign citizenship automatically forfeits Japanese citizenship.[3] The exception is where one is given special honorary citizenship by a foreign state. In this instance, since the person in question did not apply to acquire foreign citizenship, that person will not forfeit Japanese nationality by retaining the foreign citizenship bestowed on him or her.[citation needed]

A Japanese national may also acquire a second citizenship through no action of his or her own, such as being born to a non-Japanese citizen parent and acquiring that parent's citizenship as a result of that country's laws, or by being born in a jus soli country. In these cases, if that person obtained dual nationality after 1985, he/she shall choose one citizenship/nationality before the age of 22. Failure to do so may result in loss of Japanese nationality. If he/she obtained dual nationality before 1985, failure to choose one citizenship before 22 years of age resulted in automatic selection of Japanese nationality.[4]


The Minister of Justice must approve any application for naturalization in order for it to occur. Review of an application generally takes about one year.

The criteria for naturalization are provided in Article 5 of the Nationality Act:[5]

  1. Continuous residence in Japan for five years or more
  2. At least 21 years old and otherwise legally competent
  3. History of good behavior generally, and no past history of seditious behavior
  4. Sufficient capital or skills, either personally or within family, to support oneself
  5. Stateless or willing to renounce foreign citizenship

The Minister of Justice may waive the age and residence requirements if the applicant has a special relationship to Japan (for example, a Japanese parent).

The Nationality Act also provides that the Diet of Japan may confer Japanese nationality by special resolution to a person who has provided extraordinary service to Japan. However, this provision has never been invoked.

For many years naturalized citizens were required to adopt a Japanese family name.[6] This requirement was abolished in the late 1980s.[citation needed] A well-known example of someone who did not adopt a Japanese name is Masayoshi Son, the wealthiest man in Japan as of 2007, who naturalized using his Korean family name rather than the Japanese family name he used during his youth.[7]

Loss of citizenship

Loss of citizenship requires the approval of the Minister of Justice.

A Japanese national is assumed to have renounced their nationality upon naturalization in any foreign country.

Under the revisions made to the Nationality Law in 1985, Articles 14 and 15 require any person who holds multiple citizenship to make a "declaration of choice" between the ages of twenty and twenty-two, in which they choose to renounce either their Japanese nationality or their foreign citizenship(s). Failure to do so entitles the Minister of Justice to demand a declaration of choice at any time. If the required declaration is not made within one month, their Japanese nationality is automatically revoked. A renunciation of foreign citizenship made before Japanese officials may be considered by a foreign state as having no legal effect as is the case with, for example, United States citizenship.[8]

Japanese nationals who hold multiple citizenship by birth, and who do not wish to lose their Japanese citizenship, are required to declare their desire to retain Japanese citizenship by the age of 21. Part of fulfilling this requirement is to "make an effort" to renounce other citizenships once they have declared their intent to retain Japanese nationality. This may be difficult for some Japanese with foreign nationality, for example, Iranian nationals cannot renounce their Iranian nationality until age 25.[9] While Iranian-Japanese dual nationals born to an Iranian father may not have to renounce their Japanese nationality, exercising their other citizenship in Japan is considered an expatriating act that nullifies their Japanese citizenship. This is true for a Japanese national holding any dual citizenship. For example, the post of Assistant Language Teacher is not open to Japanese nationals under Japanese law.[citation needed] If a Japanese national obtains a visa for such a job in their foreign passport, that is deemed an expatriating act. If a child is born with dual nationality or acquires it as a child as a result of the parents naturalizion, the child may hold dual nationality, but is not allowed to exercise his or her rights as a foreigner in Japan.[citation needed]

A Japanese national does not lose his or her nationality in situations where citizenship is acquired involuntarily such as when a Japanese woman marries an Iranian national. In this case she automatically acquires Iranian citizenship[9] and is permitted to be an Iranian-Japanese dual national, since the acquisition of the Iranian citizenship was involuntary.

On November 14, 2008, The Japan Times reported that Liberal Democratic Party member Taro Kono had submitted a proposal to allow offspring of mixed national couples where one parent is Japanese to have more than one nationality. The proposal also calls for foreigners to be allowed to obtain Japanese nationality without losing their original citizenship.[10]

See also


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