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Is Japan to change its dual citizenship policy to accommodate successful athletes?

Dual citizenship among athletes is on the rise, as we demonstrated last year in a post on the 2018 World Cup. Asia is the continent where dual citizenship is still most strongly resisted. For example, and rather unique from a global comparative perspective, countries such as Indonesia and Japan do not accept dual citizenship arising from mixed marriages. Japan’s ideas about citizenship and ethnic purity have recently made the headlines after Naomi Osaki – a dual US-Japanese citizen – became the first Japanese tennis player to be ranked no. 1 in the world. In Japan, dual citizens are under an obligation to choose between their foreign and Japanese citizenship irrespective of whether the foreign nationality was acquired iure sanguinis, iure soli or through naturalization.

Naomi Osaki

Bloomberg considers it unlikely that Osaki will be able to the dodge the decision to choose one of her citizenships, as requested under Japanese law before the dual citizen reaches the age of 22 years. By contrast, citizenship expert Atushi Kondo notes that the anti-dual citizenship policy does not seem to be strictly enforced. This is also the conclusion of the New York Times when reporting that “The [Japanese] Justice Ministry estimates that about 890,000 Japanese citizens may … hold foreign passports, and the government has never revoked Japanese citizenship from anyone who, like Ms. Osaka, was granted citizenship at birth”.

Bloomberg also points at the alleged (economic) benefits of allowing dual citizenship, and stresses that a more relaxed attitude towards multiple citizenship can “provide a small but not insignificant bulwark against aging and shrinking populations”. The Japanese National Institute of Population and Social Security Research indeed expects that the Japanese population will have shrunk from 126 million in 2019 to somewhere in between 38 million and 65 million in 2115, depending on a low-, medium- or high-fertility/mortality rate scenario.

A good academic explanation of Japan’s position on dual citizenship can be found in an overview by Sayaka Osanami Törngren and Hyoue Okamura. Referring to the choice to be made for either citizenship as the “Declaration of Choice”, they show that there is no requirement to show proof of renunciation of the foreign citizenship. This in turn creates a tension between the de jure intolerance of the law and the de facto tolerance under Japanese practice.

The authors also mention that with only 2 million foreign citizens residing in Japan on a long-term basis and with only about 1.9% of the population residing in Japan possessing foreign citizenship, there is hardly any discussion and awareness of dual citizenship in Japan. It is therefore unclear which direction the Japanese government will take in the future to resolve or maintain the discrepancy between the formal prohibition of dual citizenship and its de facto acceptance.

Author: Dr Olivier Vonk

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