The government cannot decide what my job and family should be like


The story of Yuri Kondo whose Japanese passport application was denied

“I always thought that one day I would return to Japan, where I was born and raised. I decided to move to Japan when I reached my 70s, and bought an apartment in the hometown of my father in Fukuoka.”

The sea facing from the Itoshima Peninsula in the western part of Fukuoka is blue, and the winter wind is cold. Yuri Kondo, who returned from the United States in February 2020 and used to live in Fukuoka City, moved to Itoshima City, which is visited by many tourists, in May 2021.

“Choosing a job, going to vote, building a family in a foreign country. Sometimes, a short-time visitor visa is not enough. Sometimes it is necessary to acquire the nationality of the country in order for the family to live together, conversely, to secure transportation to and from family members in Japan who do not live together, and then to eliminate the worry of inheritance.”

“Is acquiring foreign nationality a trade with losing the place to return to, Japan?”

Yuri Kondo was born and raised in Japan. She moved to the United States, where she worked as a lawyer. Although she obtained American citizenship in 2004, she had never been briefed or warned about her loss of Japanese citizenship. However, in 2017, when she asked to renew her Japanese passport, she was denied issuance “based on Article 11, Paragraph 1 of the Nationality Law.”

▲ In 2018, Yuri, who lost her Japanese passport, left Japan with an American passport. An airport official wrote in a ballpoint pen just below the departure stamp that she had multiple nationalities.

The “Deprivation of Nationality Clause”

Article 11, Paragraph 1 of the Nationality Law
A Japanese citizen shall lose Japanese nationality if he/she acquires the nationality of a foreign country voluntarily.

This clause, which does not recognize multiple nationalities and unilaterally deprives a person of nationality regardless of his/her will, is called the “deprivation of nationality clause”. This article was in the former Meiji Nationality Law enacted in 1899, and remained as it was when the Nationality Law was enacted in 1950.

Today, this clause makes life in Japan unstable for Japanese who have acquired foreign nationality and children of international couples, and threatens travel between Japan and the rest of the world.

“The disadvantage of being deprived of nationality is great,” says Yuri.

Nationality is the legal link that binds a nation to an individual. If this is not recognized, they will lose the right to enter and leave the country and the right to vote. They will also be restricted from living and working, and they will be placed outside the social security system.

“Japan maintains this old article without considering these various human rights. Even though treaties such as the Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant on Human Rights recognize the ‘right to return to one’s country.'”

“It is irrational to restrict the rights of Japanese citizens whose lives and family relationships cross borders. It is also unreasonable discrimination. We cannot understand which country’s nationality each person has, and we cannot operate it equally.” “Besides, the country has never made the clause widely known to the public until now.”

▲ Born in Japan, Yuri worked as a lawyer in the United States and lived in the United States for 40 years and Japan for 34 years. She is now preparing to live permanently in Fukuoka by buying an apartment there.

Yuri filed a lawsuit and argued that Article 11, Paragraph 1 of the Nationality Law and its application violated the Constitution, and demanded the invalidation of the non-issuance of passports, confirmation of Japanese nationality, and compensation for the damages suffered based on Article 11, Paragraph 1.

In addition to Yuri, other plaintiffs have filed lawsuits one after another over this clause, including Japanese nationals who have acquired European citizenship, the children of international Japanese-Russian couples, and other people who are disadvantaged by the clause.

The plaintiffs in each lawsuit, including Yuri, allege that “the unilateral deprivation of important rights is beyond the legislative discretion of the Diet,” and “the Constitution provides the freedom to renounce nationality, and the freedom not to renounce nationality should be guaranteed as two sides of the same coin.”

▲Article 13, Paragraph 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that everyone has the right to return to their home country.

Going back and forth between America and Japan

“I first went to the United States to study in 1971 when I was 24.”

Yuri looks back on her first trip to the United States.

“At that time in Japan, there was an atmosphere that you should get married by that age, and I felt stressed to continue my studies in Japan, so I moved to the United States to pursue my graduate studies. I lived in California for a while.”

“After getting married in 1983 and giving birth to a child in the United States the year after, I returned to Japan so that my parents could meet their grandchild. I stayed in Japan for the next six years raising my child, and during that period, I also worked as a court interpreter for cases in the United States.”

“Partly because of that, I started working as a lawyer after returning to America in the 1990s. It was the only Japanese law office in Arizona.”

Many of the cases involved Japanese people, such as divorce issues related to family law between Japan and the United States, inheritance issues concerning both Japan and the United States, and issues related to Japanese nationality.

“For 25 years since I started my law office, I supported Japanese people living in the United States. I always spoke Japanese at my job, and I always identify myself as Japanese.”

▲ On the table are photos from the 90s and photos from just three years ago, also photos in Japan and in the United States. The family photos show the colorful identity of the Kondo family.

I had to acquire U.S. citizenship

“While I was living in the US, 9/11 happened. I realized that I could not commit to society if I could not participate in elections. Therefore, I finally made up my mind to acquire U.S. citizenship.”

“Not only do you need citizenship to vote, your green card is not permanent, and it limits your job opportunities. For example, there is a limitation on taking legal interpretation jobs that relate to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

“In addition to the stability of my status and the ease of working, I was also concerned about the tax system. Also, if my husband passed away and I were to inherit his inheritance, I would be handicapped if I didn’t have U.S. citizenship.”

Yuri, who acquired U.S. citizenship in 2004, said, “From 1971 to 2010, when I renewed my Japanese passport, I never received an explanation or warning about deprivation of nationality at a consulate.”

“In the first place, some people acquire multiple nationalities after becoming an adult because it is necessary for them to have those nationalities in the country in which they live. For those who feel that it is “bad” to have people pay tax to multiple countries and stand as members of multiple countries, where does that “bad” feeling come from?” America allows multiple nationalities. Not just America. Many countries – 76.9% of the world in 2020 (150 countries) – allow multiple nationalities. There is data that 65% of the countries in the Asian region allow it.*

*Source: Atsushi Kondo, “Normative contents of freedom to renounce nationality and the rationality of multiple nationalities” (included in “Social and Institutional Issues in Japan with Multiple Nationalities and Global Trends”) 2022, and Makoto Sugawara, “The reexamination of the principle of ‘single nationality’ — International Expansion of Countries Accepting Dual Citizenship as Seen in MACIMIDE Survey Results—” (included in “Social Issues and Institutional Reforms in Various Regions of the World”), 2023.

Nationality system and the progress of the international community

Nationality is the “qualification as a member of the state” and “important legal status in terms of guaranteeing basic human rights, granting public qualifications, receiving public benefits, etc.”

The unit of nationality was created at the beginning of the 19th century, when the nation-state system began to sweep the European world based on the idea of ​​a sovereign state system.

In the latter half of the 19th century, Japan created a nation-state called the Empire of Japan. In 1871, the Meiji government organized the Jinshin Family Register, and in 1899, the Meiji Nationality Law (the previous Nationality Law) was enacted.

Around 1930 to 1950, when war continued in the international community, even under the international law, it was thought that it is ideal to have only a single nationality. This is because in times of war, conflicts over each country’s “diplomatic protection rights” were anticipated.

However, since then, as the world has become more globalized, international law no longer requires “prevention of multiple nationalities.” Rather, the European Convention on Nationality, adopted in 1997, made it an obligation for states to accept multiple nationalities through birth and marriage.

Currently, Japan is the only member of the G8 that does not allow multiple nationalities.

▲Yuri says, “I have an office in the U.S., and I am still working.” “Now I can give legal consultations and attend trials online.”

It is practically impossible to thoroughly enforce the principle of “single nationality”

“In today’s international society, where so many countries allow multiple nationalities, it is unreasonable to enforce the principle of a single nationality through the domestic laws,” says Yuri.


“Because states have their own sovereignty, and nationality legislation differs from country to country.”

In the world, there are countries that adopt the principle of birthplace (the nationality of the country of birth is granted, such as the United States), and there are countries that adopt the principle of bloodline (granting nationality to children born from their own citizens, such as Japan). So, for example, if two Japanese people give birth to a child in the United States, the child will automatically have both nationalities.

In other words, unless all countries adopt the principle of “single nationality,” it is not possible to completely eliminate dual nationality due to birth.

“Nevertheless, Japan has inherited the laws of the Meiji period and has not even discussed the inadequacies of the legal structure itself. Many who lost their Japanese citizenship due to having multiple nationalities suffer the real harm of being deprived of many rights while never being able to participate in the discussion of the laws.”

▲ What kind of harm will happen if you lose your nationality? Yuri told the stories of people who were suffering.

The right to enter and leave the country, and the right to be together with your family

Article 11, Paragraph 1 of the Nationality Law deprives people of the “nationality package,” which includes the right to enter and leave the country, the right to vote, social security and employment opportunities, stable status of residence, and the right to reside. “The number of rights that an individual loses by being deprived of Japanese nationality is only second to the death penalty, which takes one’s life,” said Yuri’s lawyers at the time of filing the lawsuit.

“Some of the people who were denied passport renewal because of Article 11, Paragraph 1 of the Nationality Law were unable to see their parents when they passed away.” says Yuri.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was unable to return to Japan without a Japanese passport for a long while. By the way, I also heard that someone went to a consulate to request a visa to visit and take care of family in Japan, and this person was forced to submit a notice of loss of nationality.”

“It’s terrible to use family members in Japan as a stepping stone to operate a deprivation of nationality. The choice should not be forced, but this story is not only terrible for Japanese people living abroad.”

Yuri also pays attention to “Japanese living in Japan” who have families abroad.

“Looking at it from the other side, it is the same for Japanese people living in Japan who are having problems because their children and grandchildren who work abroad, and their brothers and sisters who are living abroad after an international marriage cannot return to their home country.”

Yuri asks whether Japanese people living in Japan are also deprived of the right to spend time with their families, to take care of them, and to be taken care of.

“These rights are not being given equally to people whose family ties span across borders.”

▲ Commemorative photo of 26 family members from Japan and the United States gathering in Hawaii before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many kinds of violations of the principle of equality

That is not the only violation of the principle of equality, Yuri continues.

“One thing is that only those who happen to be noticed by the government are subject to deprivation of nationality on an ad-hoc basis.” The system itself is like a gacha game. It is still fresh in our minds that a scientist living in the United States who won the Nobel Prize revealed that he had American citizenship and later he was refused to renew his Japanese passport.

“Furthermore, the Nationality Law recognizes multiple nationalities in cases where a person originally possessing a foreign nationality is naturalized in Japan. In contrast, after a child born to an international couple reaches adulthood in Japan, multiple nationalities will not be accepted.” How could this not be a “discrimination based on social status,” which is prohibited by Article 14, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution is the question that Yuri is asking.

Looking at Japan, there is data that says, “One out of 40 couples has a child with mixed roots.” The number of those children – children with multiple roots – will grow into the millions.

How a family should be

About the time we finished listening to her story, Yuri’s smartphone received a video call from his daughter and granddaughter who live in England. It’s 4:30 in the evening in Japan, and 7:30 in the morning in England. A 4-year-old girl who is about to go to nursery school calls out to Yuri through the screen, “Good morning, grandma.”

“My husband is a Bangladeshi-American. My daughter was born with Japanese, Bangladeshi and American roots. She married an American of Anglo-Saxon and Estonian Jew descent.”

“So my grandchildren have Japanese, Bangladeshi, Anglo-Saxon, and Jewish roots in addition to their American nationality.”

“My granddaughters spent their childhood in Japan, so even though they live in England, their first language is Japanese and they speak the Hakata dialect,” Yuri told me.

Yuri’s husband, who has traveled to England to help raise the granddaughter, is also behind the granddaughter. “Nana” (grandfather in Bengali) speaks to the granddaughter in English mixed with Bengali, “Get ready.”

▲ “Even if I want to see my grandchildren, I don’t have a Japanese passport. If immigration restrictions related to Covid-19 come out again, I won’t be able to easily return to Japan,” says Yuri, speaking online every day with her family.

Protecting identity

Citizenship is not only a “qualification as a member of the nation” or an “important legal status to receive the guarantee of basic human rights.” The court once held, “It is an important element of moral rights that is bound up with the establishment of an individual’s identity.”

Identity is not just a concept but a moral right. Identity is a “human right” that determines who you are, where you belong, and where you “pursue happiness.”

It is by no means limited to just one, nor should it be a state-mandated choice.

We live in an era where families and jobs span different countries, and where the family you were born into (parents, siblings) and the family you build (partners, children, grandchildren) often live in different places. There will be more and more people living in multiple societies, fulfilling roles in each place and going back and forth. Preventing individuals from returning to their hometowns, threatening their bonds with their families, and hindering their self-fulfillment in work and life, also means threatening of individual identity.

“It’s not the country that decides what my job and family should be like.”

When forced to choose one nationality, children with mixed roots find it difficult to meet relatives. Just like Yuri’s family is being torn apart.

▲“I like the sea of Itoshima that I can see from here,” says Yuri. “It’s Japan, but at the same time, I feel like I don’t know what country it is.”

What does this lawsuit mean?

People who have multiple nationalities by the age of 18, such as children with multiple roots or Japanese children born overseas, must choose one nationality by the time they reach the age of 20. (First part of Article 14, Paragraph 1 of the Nationality Law).

“If you look at these nationality law provisions, including the ‘Deprivation of Nationality Clause,’ Japanese living abroad will be abandoned when they acquire foreign nationality, and children with multiple roots will be abandoned when they choose their nationality by the age of 20. I feel as if I am being told to give up being a ‘Japanese,’” says Yuri.

In the past, Japanese living abroad were not able to vote. Also, a lawsuit was filed against the fact that overseas Japanese were not able to vote in the National Review of Supreme Court Justices, and the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional. As a result, a new system has just been established.

“I feel like I’m being treated as a second-class citizen.”

The words of the plaintiff, who had filed a lawsuit seeking the voting right in the National Review of Supreme Court Justices, are brought back to our minds — “We filed a lawsuit to remove the label of ‘second-class citizens’ for one million Japanese living overseas.”

The situation looks very similar here. This nationality litigation is also a lawsuit to prevent Japanese people who have lived abroad and acquired the nationality of another country, and Japanese children with multiple roots, who will increase by the millions in the future, from being “abandoned.”

▲The Itoshima Peninsula in Fukuoka is close to the sea and mountains. “Even though my father, who was from Fukuoka, passed away, I still see my relatives on my father’s side,” says Yuri. “I don’t feel like an outsider here.”

Speaking up against injustice

“In the 1980s, when my daughter was born,” Yuri told me about 40 years ago while walking along the coast of Itoshima.

“Japan’s Nationality Law adopted the principle of paternity. In other words, children of international couples at the time could only acquire Japanese nationality if their father was Japanese.”

The 1980s was a time when gender inequality in Japan became a problem both domestically and abroad, and Japan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

“At that time, I wanted to change the system, so I joined the movement to revise the Nationality Law. I was able to acquire Japanese nationality for my daughter, even though she was born between a Japanese mother and a foreign national father”

“At that time, I was told that it would be impossible.”

Yuri narrowed her eyes and smiled.

“But I was able to change it. That was when I realized, ‘The existing laws aren’t always going to be right. If there are people who are suffering without reasonable and appropriate justification, we have to change them.'”

“It’s the same this time. I’ve been told many times that it’s impossible to allow multiple nationalities in Japan. However, as a lawyer, I’ve seen many people suffering because they can’t go back to Japan. I thought I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know.”

The sun is about to set over the sea to the west. The wind was cold, but Yuri’s face, looking out over the sea, was bright. “I’m glad I raised my voice this time. Through the trial process, I was able to make friends who share my concerns. I also realized that there are people who are raising their voices together, and we have opportunities for discussions. I believe the process of addressing the issues has already begun.”

▲ “Although I don’t know what the future holds,” said Yuri, “as a member of the community, I will make a change.” When she moved to the United States at the age of 24, when she made changes in the 80’s, and also, now.

Interview and text by Yuko Haraguchi
Photography by Keisuke Shingu
Edited by Orie Maruyama
Translated by Reiko Inoue and Tracey Cui