Thursday, July 02, 2009

Concept of Japanese citizenship

Sunday, June 28, 2009
(The Japan Times)

Chikugo, Fukuoka

In mid-March I found an article about the Japanese government granting one-year temporary resident status to Noriko Calderon, a Japanese-born Filipino girl. Noriko's parents, facing deportation for being undocumented workers, thought it was better for their daughter, who speaks only Japanese, to stay in Japan and continue her middle school. I was shocked by the news because Noriko was born and raised in Japan. She said she loves this country; still, the government treated her like an "alien."

My first reaction was to ask the justice minister, "Why does Noriko need a special permit to stay in her country of birth?" Sure, one could argue that she is of Filipino ancestry, but for that matter, all the children born to Japanese parents in Brazil, America, Canada, Peru, Australia or France are of Japanese ancestry. Yet, nikkeijin have been accepted as full members of other societies. The largest of these foreign communities are in Brazil, the United States and the Philippines. Descendants of emigrants from the Meiji Era still have recognizable communities in those countries. Some have even become lawmakers in their country of birth or adoption.

By contrast the government in Japan persistently maintains a racist and xenophobic system under which people who fulfill every internationally accepted qualification for citizenship are denied it. There is a real lack of political push in this fight. The majority of Japanese people firmly believe that the key to Japanese identity is in the blood. A few open-minded lawmakers are willing to grant citizenship to anyone born in Japan and to allow dual citizenship for those with foreign-born parents, but the idea is always opposed by most conservative politicians. They argue that Japan, unlike America or Canada, is not a country of immigrants. The Liberal Democratic Party goes even further to the right: It says Japan is an ethnic Japanese nation. That, however, is no longer the reality.

The country still has no law regulating immigration. Many new babies born in Japan are not Japanese. The largest group of foreigners are ethnic Chinese and Koreans, but these people, who pay taxes and often feel more Japanese than Chinese or Korean, can become Japanese citizens only with great difficulty.

Redefining Japanese citizenship by birth or choice — instead of by blood — will encourage Japanese people to accept foreigners. It would provide relief for millions of people now destined to live in a country where they will never fully belong.

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