Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

The Japan Times
Promotion just for Japanese: supreme court

South Korean civil servant's suit fails

The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned a high court ruling and supported the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's decision to bar a civil servant from taking a managerial promotion exam due to her South Korean nationality.

They are upholding a Tokyo ban on allowing foreigners to take positions of authority in public services. the ruling is "Based on the (constitutional) principle of national sovereignty and in view of the fact that the people should in the end be responsible for how the central and local governments govern, (the Constitution) should be viewed as presuming that Japanese nationals in principle will assume local civil service positions." This is basically a paranoid notion that involving foreigners in running the country or performing important national services is a threat to sovereignty and national security. She was a NURSE for God's sake. She is a second generation Korean, her father forced to leave Korea for Japan and her mother a Japanese national. I don't know what's worse, this sort of discrimination against foreign workers in Japan or the fact that many third generation Koreans can't even naturalize.

This reminds me a bit about Richard Curtis who joined the volunteer fire department in Kanazawa and became an a true member of the team, but cannot participating in official ceremonies or drive the fire trucks because he's not a Japanese citizen. (Mirror of WSJ article on him here.)

Ugh. We're going to figure out how to make foreigners more welcome in Japan before we turn into a bankrupt and forgotten country with a lot of starving old people.

Thanks Ado for the link to the JT article


More or less the same thing here in Germany: you can't do a civil service job ("Beamter" in German) if you are not German. No problem though if you take up a "private employment" job within the civil services sector ("Angestellter im öffentlichen Dienst").

So there are no issues if you are a nurse or volunteer fireman (like me, I am Danish and a member of the local volunteer fire department). In this respect, I find the Japanese stance completely off the scale.

This is unfortunate, but if Debito can naturalize, I'm not sure why it's so impossible for the nurse to do so. Or the fireman for that matter. I suspect it's their choice in the end, and they choose not to. While Japan is certainly not the most open society on the planet, limiting random jobs to citizens is hardly unique. Many long-term employees in good standing have been fired from menial jobs at airports in the US recently because of shifting rules in this regard.

Would you mind posting this on your Japanese blog? I think it would make more of an impact there if some of the locals could get your insightful take on this.

I don't know what's worse, this sort of discrimination against foreign workers in Japan or the fact that many third generation Koreans can't even naturalize.
While I totally agree that any form of discrimination against foreign workers is wrong, I don't understand why third generation residents can not naturalize. I always figured it was a matter of choice, not a barrier in immigration law.

I need to look into it some more, but I understand that in many cases it is immigration law. The law is changing, but if your father is not Japanese, I think it's still quite difficult to naturalize. In many cases, foreigners will change their names to Japanese sounding names to limit the discrimination.

I'll try to write something in my Japanese blog about this anon. Unfortunately, my readership there is quite limited and I should probably quote a Japanese newspaper...

"boo": The nurse IS japanese. Debito is naturalized but he would not be recognized as Japanese, because he does not have a koseki. Joi can explain better.

According to the article quoted above, the nurse was barred from "taking a managerial promotion exam due to her South Korean nationality". That means she's Korean, not Japanese, which is the point.

And I'm sorry but Debito definitely has a koseki (it's explained in his website). Creating one is part of the citizenship process.

From my understanding, and a post by Debito on his list clarified this, is that Japanese nationality law was amended in 1982 to allow citizenship to pass though both the mother and the father. Pre-amendment it passed only if the father was Japanese, thus her problem as her mother is Japanese and father Korean. Now this only means that the child in question is not given Japanese citizenship at birth, does not mean he/she can never naturalize. Of course this doesn't justify discrimination in any way.

Well, Japan stands not alone. In Belgium managerial functions in the public service are also in principle not open to foreigners. And this is true for some other European countries too. This case is not so simple. Even if we can regret this situation, Japan is not the only backward country in the industrialized world with such a foreign unfriendly legalistic view.

Finally, the Korean nurse could apply for the Japanese nationality. Open discrimination (between brackets: also in part the fault of the S-Korean association Mindan and the N-Korean association Chrongryun refusing 'assimilation' of Koreans in Japanese society) does not exist openly anymore as far as I know, at least for S-Koreans. Of course, it is historically a difficult question, but maybe not so simple as it seems on first sight.

I don't understand... could this simply be an anti-Korean gesture? As many of you know, Marutei Tsurunen, a naturalized Japanese citizen of Finnish heritage, finally won a seat in the Diet. He's Caucasian, but he's an official lawmaker in Japan.

Sounds like Japan is mistaking nationalism with racism.

Oh... I guess Tsurunen is a special case because he managed to get naturalized. Duh. Sorry.

Mrs. Chong Hyang Gyun quoted in the Japan Times:
"The Supreme Court has no idea of what postwar democracy is," she said. "I want to tell everyone in the world not to come to Japan. Working in Japan as a foreigner is the same as becoming a robot that pays taxes."
Isn't she overreacting a bit here ?
As a result of Japan's pre-WW2 annexation of the Korean peninsula, people of Korean ancestry, born in Japan, have been given after WW2 a favorable administrative treatment compared with other aliens, including automatic residency and work permits, the right to enter public service, and, more recently, a special "fast-track" processing if they choose to apply for Japanese citizenship.
Above a certain rank, a public servant has the power to formulate and enforce public policies. Just as in most countries in the world, it seems normal that Japan would restrict access to such functions to people with Japanese citizenship, and exclude people who, even though they were born in Japan, made a presumably conscious choice not to naturalize...

Dang. Another campaign to take over Japan foiled!

Koreans born and living in Japan are orphans. Most of them can't speak enough Korean to adjust to life in North or South Korea. Many have naturalized, changed their named to Japanese-sounding names, and hide their Korean background. Those who refuse to do so are alienated in the country they were born in. It's not surprising that some of them join Yakuza.

I am working with the assumption that the problem of integration Joi is referring to is a cultural barrier more than the legal barrier. The examples above show legal barriers are easily overcome and, in the case of the man who entered the Diet, sometimes with spectacular success.

Conflating this Chong Hyang Gyun's situation with other first generation types (without any kind of Japanese parentage) is different since she appears to be quite 'native'. From this vantage point, she appears naturalised in every sense except for the strict legalistic sense but it remains the one condition which trumps all others. (Why else one want such an onerous responsibility if a notion of civics didn't come into play!?!)

I suspect her motivations for *not* becoming naturalised are quite a bit more complicated than an allergy to paperwork. I would be interested to hear what they are as they might actually shed more light on the issues around ethnicity in Japan. I guess its not surprising that we're not hearing about this in the media.

It's ironic this comes just as the Korea-Japan Friendship Year (marking 40 years of normalised diplomatic ties) kicks off. (

FYI, you are required to adopt a Japanese name when you naturalize.

"but if Debito can naturalize, I'm not sure why it's so impossible for the nurse to do so."

I still haven't heard a good response to this, and I'm really curious about it. Why can't she do what Debito did? Joi, or anyone else, please answer if you can.

Also wanted to say thank you to Joi. For people like me who have been to Japan many times, and plan on living there at some point, I'm hoping more people like Joi get into positions of power and influence. I think Japan has a right to be tight with its borders, but if someone comes to Japan and respects the country/culture/laws, and adds to the economy, Japan would be smart to help them contribute. Especially with declining birthrate.

Charles wrote @15:
FYI, you are required to adopt a Japanese name when you naturalize.
Huh ? "Tsurunen", the name of the Finnish guy who has become a naturalized citizen and is now a member of Japan's parliament, doesn't sound very "Japanese". There might indeed be a requirement that the naturalization applicant's name be written using the alphabets used in Japan — kanji, hiragana or katakana. I suppose Japan should abandon their silly alphabets and accept using, at least on official documents, names written in more familiar alphabets like Devanagari, Cyrillic, Arabic, Hebrew, Hangul etc.
RIO wrote @16:
"but if Debito can naturalize, I'm not sure why it's so impossible for the nurse to do so."

I still haven't heard a good response to this, and I'm really curious about it. Why can't she do what Debito did? Joi, or anyone else, please answer if you can.
I think that as a Japan-born Korean, she'd have sailed through Japan's fast-track nationalization procedures if she had applied. She made the — perfectly respectable and understandable — choice not to forsake her father's Korean nationality. Today, Mrs. Chong can, in addition to Japan, also live and work in South Korea. That is a flexibility and privilege that lots of people in Asia would envy, but it also means that she can't apply for some Japanese government jobs.

Probably one should push for a change to at least drop the nationality requirement for those positions that have no relation to exercising public power. There is a difference between a nurse (like in the Supreme Court case) or a judge at the Supreme Court, or the Prime Minister.

More on my blog.

Employing foreign nationals should be debated - in Japan and elsewhere, but, Joi, you need to, at least, start from solid facts.

The naturalization of foreigners is not only feasible but happening in increasing numbers in Japan. What's more, Koreans form the largest (or maybe the 2nd largest) group that is being naturalized today. The process may be cumbersome (and you can debate that), but it's there. All of these stats are readily available on the Japanese government's site.

Ironically, the biggest "threat" facing Korean residents in Japan is not the lack of ability to naturalize - but the large number of those who do and also intermarry with Japanese citizens. The potential loss of "cultural identity" has been a hot topic among Koreans in Japan for some time, as you might know.

Another fact to keep in mind is that, as many comments here indicate, barring foreign nationals from certain managerial positions is by no means unique to Japan. In fact it's pervasive - and is true in the U.S. as well.

All the best -

Racism in Japan is often very subtle. It is sometimes really hard to know when you are being descriminated against. I am a non-Japanese and often find that it is a disadvantage in business. Even Japanese people who are not racist, who are cool, will sometimes not be comfortable introducing their non-Japanese friends and business partners to their more conservative friends or business partners.

I think this person should push the issue this way. She has a right to work and get promoted. She should not have to change her name, nationality, try to blend in and pretend to be Japanese just to do a job that she is very qualified to do and that does not have any policy setting function. She pays taxes and probably contributes to society in a wide variety of ways. She is an upstanding member of society and this society should recognize that. Why should she have to change?

People definding the court decision in this case are wrong and are probably thinking of their home country when they argue she should naturalize. Japan should not force people to hide their identity and should not put unnessary barriers in peoples way. This is not about her choosing to be a citizen or not, it is about her choosing to keep her identity and pushing Japan to recognize her contributions to society. It is not like she is running for a political office here so any comparison with other non-Japanese who choose a public life is totally useless.

foreign worker issue is somewhat complicated one in any country, but in japan it seems almost like taboo. luck of interest from ordinary japanese and media+politicials are trying not make it a bigger deal(that happens all the time to any issue though).

there should be enough smart people here in japan, but the policy dont change because policymakers are still keeping their interest. As Joi says,this will eventually lead to bankrupt and forgotten country with a lot of starving old people.

Joi I tried to reach you yesterday to hit you with links to this. Glad you picked it up anyways. As a real genuine japanese citizen and shacho of one of those fancy 21st century type businesses, I bet your voice would be heard here if you advocated for "us foreigners"...

As far as naturalization goes, it may well be possible but it does involve some compromizes that some people cant accept, like changing your name (has this changed?). Some people dont care about their name or their birth citizenship. "Deibito" is a weird exception to the whole thing and I think he went for it out of spite anyways.

Maybe its just because I'm American by birth so I equate the right of full participation in society with birth location and lifelong enculturalization, but I find it super odd that one of the OLs where I work who was born in Tokyo, has a Japanese name and is completely culturally and mentally Japanese has to carry a gaijin card the same as I do because of Korean ancestry. A friend of mine has an NK passport. He was born here, educated here, grew up here and cant legally live anywhere else. Its a penalty he pays for his parents stupidity at choosing the North over the South when came time for them to "decide their nationality" (of course they had no intention of leaving Japan according to my friend). Not sure if either of them has the right to vote here. I avoid the topic of politics with both of them.

btw, is it true that you have to speak fluent japanese to become a japanese citizen?

Huh ? "Tsurunen", the name of the Finnish guy who has become a naturalized citizen and is now a member of Japan's parliament, doesn't sound very "Japanese".

Huh? It sounds perfectly Japanese and is written as 弦念. That's what makes it a Japanese name, it must be written in 人名用漢字. You must adopt a Japanese name, but there's nothing stopping you from making up a new Japanese name (i.e. arudo debito) or Japanizing your own name (i.e. tsurunen).

Mrs. Chong's Japanese job title (hokenshi) carries a quite different nuance than the term "nurse" (kangofu) used in some English-language news. People who focus on the term "nurse" might thus not be aware of the full picture. A "hokenshi" is typically a qualified person who works in a "hokenjo" (Public Health Center).

A Public Health Center is an arm of the government, and its management has the authority to formulate and enforce public policy decisions, e.g. by closing down businesses and factories, restaurants, parks, nursing homes, nursing care service providers etc. if deemed necessary on public health grounds.

The missions of a P.H.C. include:

• Prevention and control of transmissible diseases like tuberculosis, AIDS, O157 E.coli, bird flu...
• Supervision of food safety and prevention of food poisoning
• Policy counselling and guidance to hospitals and clinics
• Assistance to patients and their relatives afflicted with severe psychological problems or diseases
• Consultations on infant care
• Assistance and guidance to local authorities in the provision of Nursing Care Insurance and Welfare services

What the Supreme Court found is that restricting appointment to a managerial position in a PHC to people with Japanese citizenship is not unconstitutional. The court's majority decision, as well as the dissenting opinion, of course raise the difficult issue of whether such a restriction should really be a blanket one across all managerial positions, or rather decided on a case-by-case basis, depending on the candidate's background and the post...

Charles wrote @27:
Huh? It sounds perfectly Japanese and is written as 弦念. That's what makes it a Japanese name
I'm afraid you're slightly confused.
"Turunen", even transliterated into pronunciation-mangling Japanese characters, doesn't sound any more Japanese than say, "Солжени́цын", would sound Italian when transliterated into the Latin alphabet.
By the way, a Google search for "turunen site:fi" returns about 167,000 hits.
I'd be curious to see how many previous instances of Mr. Turunen's name could be found in Japan, taking into account that Finland's population is about 5.2 million, and Japan's is more than 127.3 million...

I think this attitude will be an advantage in the long term. Why? Japan will have the most sophisticated robot industry in the world.

Where is the Robot-Valley?

Japanese researchers labour to spawn robot industry

Anime and Robotics: A Symbiotic Relationship

The Humanoid Race

I think all of this is a great discussion. It applies not only to Japan but to almost every other democracy, including the U.S., unfortunately.

A vast number of permanent residents (foreign nationals) in the U.S. are denied opportunities to perform jobs that have nothing to do with national soverignty. Managerial jobs in local, state and federal government agencies, airport baggage handlers, etc. In the case of baggage handling, the government kicked out the tax-paying, extremely experienced permanent resident workers in favor of U.S.-passport-holding replacements, many of whom were completely new to the job. You can debate whether that has enhanced our national security, and, if so, at what cost...

Racism, perhaps not a directly pertinent subject here, is nevertheless an important one. As a person of color, the subtle and not-so-subtle displays of racism are daily, sadly. Condo owners putting you in the back of the queue and not showing you the properties you have come to see. Caucasion co-workers all of a sudden shutting you out and talking only among other Caucasians. Not being introduced to your Caucasian friend's more conservative buddies (saw a similar story somewhere here.)


Even though I'm American by birth and my mother's Japanese I have to concur with the Japanese government's decision. Although as you point out, her job is not necessarily going to give her any opportunities to threaten national security because she is a nurse and part of local, and not national, government.

However, Japan does need to draw the line somewhere and I think it's an important precedent.

What I don't understand is why the government hired her in the first place if they weren't going to give her any opportunities for promotion beyond a certain level and if they made that clear to her from the start.

As "Japan resident Korean national", naturalization would not have been a problem and certainly would have been complete in the 10 years she waited for the court case. If she was set on making a lifetime career of her government job, she should have just naturalized.

I believe that Japan should allow dual citizenship and also grant citizenship automatically to those born in Japan to legal immigrants here. That would solve a lot of these problems automatically without threatening their ethnic identity.

But the fact is Japan can be strict on matters such as these while being extremely lax towards illegal immigrants. Those of us living in Tokyo constantly witness illegal immigrants doing all kinds of illicit activity right under the police's nose and in broad daylight. Also, the government's position toward a hostile nation like North Korea is lukewarm at best and this is reflected in their government policy.

I believe the government of Japan needs to rethink their whole immigration policy and reinstitue a sense of fairness and consistency. Otherwise, we'll continue to see personal tragedies such as this.

It would be interesting to contrast this with American policies following 9/11 because I believe graduate schools in the states are already feeling the crunch from suddenly restricted immigration and I'm sure there are repurcussions at other levels as well.

Excuse me MostlyVowels but I fail to see your point? Are you saying that only Japanese nationals should be allowed to carry out the duties of Public Health Center? None of the things in your list are the kinds of duties that a naturalized citizen should be required to carry out. Please spare us all by not coming up with some scenario that would never happen as justification for your opinion.

BTW, nurses in many nations do carry out those kinds of duties so the translation is not inaccurate at all.


just to inflame things! I thought that you of all people dislike foreigners adopting Japanese language and etiquette!

so in your utopian nihonjin world we can drive fire trucks and be lawyers in Japan as long as we don't talk the lingo and do not try to integrate!

the more i read your posts the more i realise you are a hypocrite when it comes to foreigners and Japan!

pepeluali wrote @33:
BTW, nurses in many nations do carry out those kinds of duties so the translation is not inaccurate at all.

Mmmh. MovableType keeps rejecting my comment for "questionable content". Let's thus trim it until only a quote from the previous comment is left, to see whether pepeluali's words, or mine, are deemed questionable by some robot ;-)

Testing, testing.

Absolutely not. The term "nurse" is generally equivalent to "kangofu" and is thus a VERY misleading translation.

The average "nurse" does *not* have the authority to close down a business / factory / restaurant etc., quarantine areas, restrict the movement of people etc.

Hmm, will MovableType's paranoid "questionable content" filter force me to post my response phrase by phrase ? That would be t-e-d-i-o-u-s.

OTOH, a manager in a public health center -- e.g. above Mrs. Chong's current rank of senior public health specialist (shunin hokenshi), -- might be empowered to do so.

The underlying paradigm of a democracy is a "government for the people, by the people".
Mrs. Chong might be a qualified person to whom formulation and enforcement of public health decisions in Japan's interest might be entrusted, i.e. fulfilling the "for the (Japanese) people" condition.
However, as Mrs. Chong isn't a Japanese national, the "by the (Japanese) people" condition isn't fulfilled.
One is not elected, but rather appointed to a public servant's position. It would thus be questionable to undermine the (fragile) legitimacy of the use of coercion by a democratic government by granting even non-nationals the right to exercise that power.

One should also take into account that the owners of businesses that have been closed down by a PHC might feel in as litigious a mood about citizenship issues as Mrs. Chong, and use technicalities to challenge the legitimacy of the PHC's decisions in protracted legal battles.

The appointment of firemen also raises similar issues. A fire department has the authority to close down businesses for safety regulations violations, and firemen are empowered to order and enforce the evacuation of designated areas, and the preventive destruction of buildings e.g. to prevent the spreading of a fire. Again, the exercise of such public power in a democracy by non-elected persons is probably best reserved to nationals.

Victory at last. Concealing oneself behind a TypeKey ID apparently makes one's (otherwise unchanged) comments suddenly less questionable... ;-)

Can you possible give me some help with the following project or
direct me to someone who has an overview of the following:

I have been assigned the task of delineating the technological
and cultural chronology of the Japanese business market as relates to the
emergence of imaging technology for documents, its acceptance within the
business community - with special emphasis on auto manufacturing -if the
information is available - and the cost of applying this technology over
time. I need to know when the downward cost of imaging documents plus
the mechanism of translating those documents into a searchable language,
with coding of fields in a database to make the document collection
searchable, met corporate acceptance from a cost standpoint.

I need to document the usage of the Roman character keyboard, in the early
1990's,to create a code for the 10,000 Kanji characters, its chronology and
costs, and the ability of the process to create a searchable database.

I need to understand the overall corporate culture of the Japanese business
community from the 1970's forward as it is applicable to the usage of this

The idea behind this is that before some recent time, Japanese businesses
created most of their documents by hand which effects their ability to be
OCR'd for searchability. Also, due to the lack of space in Japan, it was
a common business practice to retain documents for only a short time before
destroying them. At some point, technology developed to the point that
Japanese documents could be imaged and coded (or OCR'd) to make them

Thank you,

With reference to Debito (David Aldwinkle) getting citizenship, the reality is that you have to renounce citizenship in the country of your birth. This can be a problem for a number of reasons.

A. Going back to see family and friends--if there are any there--means you must eschew the normal privelages and rights you have always had.

B. If you own property or have financial investments, this may also effect your lifestyle and interests.

Ms Gyun may not have to deal with these aspects though so these conditions are not necessarily applicable in all cases.

C. Why the need to renounce your citizenship? This in itself may provoke the government of your country of birth to act in unpredictable and unfavourable ways.

D. Why the renuciation? Is Japan thinking of going to war with someone soon? The acts of terrorism against Japan in recent years--correct me if I err--have been from Japanese citizens.

E. It ain't that easy. Getting premanent residency was a futile effort for me and I lived and worked there for 16 years, and I was gainfully employed and committed no crimes and paid my taxes etc.

So is this actually a realistic option? David A. (Debito) still gets run around as a non-Japanese in some cases.

I am sure there are more reasons but these come to mind at the moment.

With my compliments,

Thom Simmons

Hi Everybody,

I found this forum by mistake. It is very interesting. It seems like you all were talking about Naturalization in Japan, something I`m in process now. Mr. Debito`s website is very, very out to date. There are much, much less papers needed than he wrote there. I collected all needed Japanese documents in 2 days. Still awaiting from my own country ( one of EU). I was very welcomed in Homukyoku what made me surprised too. My Japanese is still not perfect but enough to communicate. You do not need speak fluent in order to get Japanese Citizenship. I`ve been living in Japan for 6 years, mostly working with foreigners and foreign companies this is why I`m not fluent. Official in Homukyoku told me that it is enough to process further. Important is that we can communicate and understand each oder. I will be back there this month to submmit documents. I was told that I will get another one which I have to take home and fill in. This will be final application and after this just need to wait about 1 year. There is no need to change name into japanese. They have changed this law and we have now choice to make in Kanji(new one) or Kana (own name in katakana is fine). You may think why EU Citizen have chosen to pick Japanese Passport and renounce own one. I searched a lot internet and spoke with many people, some of them friends of mine who are Naturalized Japanese. They told me they still hold their Citizenship, becauause no-body can force them to renounce. There is very simple procedure which allows you to keep your own native passport in secret. Please read Mr.Debito website very cerfuly, he writes about it too. He has decided to renanounce his American one after some problems with US Government. He still had his American passport when he was naturalized. I can keep you informed on procedure here. I was surprised that it was not complicated as I have read everywhere. This was also one of the reason I decided to go to Homukyoku and find out by myself. I wanted to see what`s reality. My wife is Japanese, so documents needed are differ from those who don`t have Japanese relationship.

Questions C. and D. are really quite pointless. Why the need? Why the renunciation? I think the answer is pretty clear. Japan does not allow dual citizenship. If you wish to be a Japanese citizen, you cannot be a citizen of another country. Many other countries have similar laws regarding citizenship. Are you implying that by requiring a candidate to renounce their other citizenship, the Japanese government is unduly inconveniencing the candidate, and hence shouldn't require it? If that's the case, no other country should either. Which is great, because I could hop around the world, given enough time, patience, and citizenships, and gain a couple of passports and citizenships. Part of the reason why borders and entities such as countries exist at all is because people want some sort of identity. Sensible or not, each country wants to preserve its own cultural identity. Certainly, having a dual citizenship gives a person great flexibility, but governments are concerned that this may lead to undue influence of another culture, or even open doorways to illegal activities. After all, they cannot monitor you while you are a citizen of another country, doing something else. There are a myriad of reasons a government can give to deny dual citizenship, some of which are perfectly legitimate. The bottom line is, if you think that the rights and privileges of being a Japanese citizen is important enough to you, you would renounce. If not, you'll have to find your fortune elsewhere, and wait (or work for) changes in the system.

I guess, if you are not Japanese you should accept their authority, and I don't understand why you pretend to reach something knowing that Japan is not your original country. Everywhere is the same, if you can not speak the original language of any country you are not recognized as the same, the mentality in the world is not the same, so racism exists eveywhere and everyone is racism in some way.

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