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Despite the avoidance of the word “immigration” (imin) and a policy preference for side doors to immigration (Roberts, 2018), the foreign population residing in Japan has been growing to reach a record-high in 2019 of 2.9 million individuals, declining during the COVID-19 pandemic to reach in late 2021 around 2.7 million residents, or 2.2% of the Japanese population (Ministry of Justice, 2021). As there is no automatic acquisition of citizenship, the only access to citizenship is through naturalization, and a limited but steady share of around 10,000 individuals apply for Japanese citizenship each year. The only statistical breakdown of those new citizens’ origins indicates that 51.5% originally held Korean citizenship, 28% were Chinese, and 20.3% are from other origins (Ministry of Justice, 2020). Since oldcomer Koreans have long represented the near-totality of foreign residents in Japan and of naturalization applicants, they represent the main focus of academic research related to citizenship acquisition in Japan. Although a few informants from East Asian origins were included for comparison, the present research proposes instead to turn to a sample constituted of mostly visible ethnic others who seek citizenship in Japan, in order to explore how the specific racialization of different ethnicities influences identification to Japan, and how feelings of national belonging are negotiated in the context of social and administrative expectation of renunciation of their former nationality…


‪This research, based on in-depth interviews with eighteen naturalized citizens and three residents who attempted or considered naturalization in Japan, examines the attitudes towards the perceived obligation to renounce one’s former citizenship, and how those restrictions influence their identification to Japan and their country of origin. This article‪‪ argues that ambiguity surrounding the single-citizenship principle in the Nationality Law leads many naturalized informants to renounce their former nationality and become mononational Japanese, however this does not necessarily result in a stronger identification to Japan. Rather, ethnicity and how it is racialized in Japanese society seems to be a much more significant factor influencing the feeling of belonging to Japan. Specifically, migrants who phenotypically are seen as “white” are more likely to identify as Japanese, while migrants from the “Global South” usually base their identification on their country of origin.‪

  • racialization
  • naturalization
  • nationality
  • renunciation
  • japaneseness
Eline Delmarcelle
PhD Candidate at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University, Visiting Researcher at the LAMC, Université Libre de Bruxelles, 50 avenue Franklin Roosevelt, 1050 Bruxelles, Belgique;; eline.delmarcelle[at]
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