Debate on multiple nationalities to heat up

Diet battle lines being drawn in wake of law change and amid Kono effort to rectify dual citizenship situation

The issue of nationality had never been discussed more seriously than it was in 2008.

In a specific legal challenge in June, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to deny Japanese citizenship to children of unwed Filipino mothers whose Japanese fathers had not acknowledged paternity before their birth. Lawmakers quickly went to work to pass a revised Nationality Law in December.

Now, Taro Kono, a Lower House member of the Liberal Democratic Party, the larger of the two-party ruling coalition, is trying to iron out another wrinkle in the law that became apparent in October when it was learned that Tokyo-born Nobel Prize winner Yoichiro Nambu had given up his Japanese nationality to obtain U.S. citizenship.

People like Nambu follow the letter of the law with respect to the Constitution?s Article 14, which requires that Japanese renounce other nationalities by the age of 22 if they wish to keep Japanese citizenship. Yet, according to Kono, there are 600,000 to 700,000 Japanese 22 or older with two nationalities, if not more. In other words, fewer than 10 percent of Japanese with more than one nationality make that choice by the time they turn 22, Kono said.

Japan is the only developed country that does not automatically grant citizenship to babies born within its territory, allow its nationals to have multiple citizenship or let foreigners vote in local-level elections, Haku said.

“I am not criticizing Japan for that, but now we have 2 million registered foreigners, and one in every 30 babies born here has at least one foreign parent. We are in the midst of globalization whether we like it or not,” [Shinkun Haku] Haku [a member of the Democratic Party of Japan] said. “We have to discuss very seriously how we should involve foreign residents in building our society.”

He is urging Japanese to change their outlook. “For example, we shouldn’t think we ought to give foreigners local government voting rights out of pity. We should think Japan can become a better country by doing so,” Haku said.