13 September, 2016

Who is Japanese?

Just 1.5% of those living in Japan are foreigners. Japan is a monocultural country. It is something they pride themselves on and something that's being increasingly challenged. Not so much by immigrants, but by Japanese people marrying non-japanese people and having babies. 

When you have the image that a citizen equals someone who has 100% of their genes from one race, to have people who consider themselves Japanese but who don't have 100% of their ancestors as 100% Japanese, that's challenging. The other day some Japanese friends said to me that they think Japan is unique in this day and age in this regard. I beg to differ, but I can't think of an example off hand, perhaps you can?

A former OMF colleague from Canada has recently become a naturalised Japanese citizen and through him I discovered a fascinating English blog about the topic of naturalisation in Japan. Notably it says:
If it comes up, I never say I'm just "Japanese" (日本人Nihon-jin) because the word is overloaded with multiple meanings in both the English language and the Japanese language. It can mean the following things with respect to people, in order of assumption:
  1. Japanese race
  2. Japanese ethnicity
  3. Japanese nationality
Predictably there is discrimination in a society like this. But I was particularly encouraged by this blog post about the positive personal experience of the writer (a naturalised Japanese) of ethnically Japanese people's responses to finding out his citizenship was Japanese.

Multicultural JapaneseMulticultural Japanese are making an impact in this country, even if small. There have been several multicultural Japanese people in the news recently.

Several of the multicultural Japanese represented Japan at the recent Olympics, for example Aska Cambridge, who was part of the 4 x 100m Japanese relay team who won a silver medal. This article in the Japan Times explains the issues surrounding this topic very well.

For the second year running Miss Japan is not 100% ethnically Japanese. See an article about it here. That has ruffled some feathers, challenging the nation's concept of who is 

And a politician was vying for the top spot in a party leadership election has a Taiwanese father and Japanese mother, provoking discussion about the dual citizenship laws in Japan. As far as I understand it from this article, dual citizenship is not allowed in Japan, however no one has lost their citizenship since this law came into place in 1985.

Immigration is low compared to where I come from. Only half a million people since record taking began in the 1800s. However that is a tough comparison. Over 25% of Australia's population are immigrants, one of the highest rates in the world, higher than the UK or USA, Canada, or New Zealand.

Interestingly, many people think that becoming a Japanese citizenship is hard. But  I've discovered that according to statistics only a couple of hundred are denied every year, and over 98/99% are approved. There are rumours that people are discouraged from being citizens. Indeed apparently many people do pull out some time during the course of their application, but the reasons listed in this article don't include intimidation by authorities, though that doesn't preclude that possibility. I've also heard that spouses of Japanese citizens aren't allowed to become citizens, but this article is written by someone married to a Japanese citizen who became a citizen.

The rate of naturalisation is about 15,000 per year. In fact the rate of acceptance in Japan is commensurable with other countries with a similar number of applications. According to this blog post, Japan is in the top 15 countries in the world in terms of countries where people want to become citizens. It turns out there aren't actually that many countries in the world that people want to emigrate too!

I'm not intersted in becoming a Japanese citizen. But I've found it interesting to learn about the issue. I'm wondering how much this land is going to change in the years to come, especially with an increasing rate of multicultural marriage? And will the immigration rate go up? 

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