Mar 132015
 

Today, I formally applied to naturalise in Japan.

I went to the Legal Affairs Office in Kawasaki, and Yuriko met me there (we were both going from work). I arrived a bit early, but my case worker soon came to speak to me. First, she took all my application documents off me, and took them into the Nationality Consultation Room to look through them. That took her about twenty minutes, while I waited. Yuriko arrived just after she had finished checking, and she said that she would speak to me first. (As I mentioned before, they speak to the husband and wife separately, to make sure the marriage is genuine.)

The first thing she asked me was whether I was happy to give up my UK citizenship. I said I’d prefer not to, but that I understood it was necessary, so I would. We also discussed the absence of a certificate of citizenship, but as the UK will no longer issue those, it wasn’t an immediate problem. The Justice Ministry may ask about it later. Next, there was a short list of extra documents she wanted. I need my 2013 tax return as well as the 2014 one, and the proof of Yuriko’s income, and a couple more documents about my family for the family record. When I submit these, I only need to submit one copy, and photocopies are fine for most of them. (The proof of Yuriko’s income needs to be the original.)

Then she started going through the documents. There was a short discussion to confirm the katakana spelling of my parents’ names on my family record, if I am allowed to naturalise, and the way that my previous name will be written. She wanted to confirm the county I was born in, and I got a bit stuck, because it’s Greater Manchester now, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t when I was born. (Wikipedia confirms that I was right; I was born in Cheshire.) She is going to look into that for me, because it needs to be right according to the Japanese government, which may not be exactly the same as what the UK government thinks. Then she asked who was going to be the first name on the family record. That was something I hadn’t realised. Apparently, I can choose to be added to Yuriko’s current family record, or to create a new family record, with me at the top, and have Yuriko and Mayuki added to that. As I didn’t know about this complication, I hadn’t talked about it with Yuriko, so we postponed a decision on that. She wanted to know which school Mayuki was going to, and was a bit surprised that she wasn’t going to an International School, until I told her how high the fees were. She asked what language I spoke to Mayuki in, and I explained that I talk to her in English and she replies in Japanese.

There weren’t many questions about most of the documents, just confirmation that I don’t have a driver’s licence, and a few other minor points. Most of her questions were based on my CV, which is fair enough. She asked me about the background, and for some more details. For example, she wanted to know how I became a member of the Foreign Residents’ Assembly, so I told her that it was openly advertised. (She doesn’t work for the city, so she is allowed to not know about it.) She also asked a bit about my jobs, and, of course, about how and when I met Yuriko, and the process leading up to our marriage, and she wanted to know whether we had had a wedding ceremony, and where. (If you are marrying a Japanese citizen and think you might want to naturalise later, have a ceremony. It helps make the wedding look real.)

My interview took about 45 minutes, and then I came out while Yuriko went in. Her interview took about 20 minutes, and I asked her about it afterwards. She said it was more like a friendly chat, and that, while they did talk about where we met, and our wedding ceremony, and how Yuriko’s parents felt about our marriage, they also talked about Mayuki and I speaking a mix of Japanese and English, and about the choice of characters for my name. Yuriko mentioned that Mayuki was strongly opposed to a kanji surname, and the case officer agreed. She said Mayuki was really cute, and the current balance of her name suited her. My case officer once again wondered why I would want to take Japanese citizenship. I should emphasise that this wasn’t in any way a hostile “Why do you think you can become Japanese?” attitude, but rather “Why would you want to become Japanese?”. I think the Japanese still have a bit of an inferiority complex.

Now, I think that one reason for Yuriko’s relaxed interview was that there is nothing suspicious-looking about our marriage. One of the big documentary things is that we are joint owners of the flat. But I suspect that another reason is that this is actually an effective way to catch false marriages. By picking up on things that were mentioned in passing, it is easy to spot people who haven’t very carefully prepared their stories.

In any case, after Yuriko’s interview, she was ready to accept the application, so I was called back into the room, and I sat down at the table.

I signed my oath to respect the constitution, and signed my application forms. She accepted them.

While she was off getting my acceptance number (which I need to include on all future correspondence), Yuriko and I talked about who would be on top of the family record. We quickly concluded that it probably wouldn’t make any difference to anything practical, so in the end we decided based on how we felt.

Finally, my case worker explained a bit about what will happen next. If she has any questions, or needs any more documents, she will phone me. She will also phone me when she has sorted out my county of birth, to confirm that it is OK. Similarly, if I have any questions, I should phone her. I also need to phone her if I move, get divorced, Yuriko gets pregnant, I change jobs, and so on. Basically, if anything major changes on the application, I need to tell her. I also need to tell her when I leave the country, and when I get back. There is no problem with my leaving (as long as I have a passport), but it is policy not to grant permission while someone is out of the country, so they need to know whether I am. I suspect that there would be a problem if you were barely in Japan during your application, as well. One thing she mentioned was that the authorities take a very dim view of hiding important things from them. This was in the context of saying that, in our case, we didn’t need to tell her if Yuriko changed jobs (because she is in the process of starting a new one), because Yuriko’s employment is not a significant part of the application, so the point is that they want an accurate picture of your life, not one that is completely precise about all the details. I imagine that, if they want details about some thing, they will ask. She said that she would like the remaining documents by the end of April, if at all possible, which suggests to me that she expects to send the the application package to the Ministry of Justice in that sort of time frame. I have no idea how long it will take once it gets to them, of course, and after that I have to wait for my renunciation of UK citizenship to go through. So far, it has taken a little less than four months from my first phone call to the Legal Affairs Office to the formal acceptance of my application.

Incidentally, you may have noticed that I formally applied on Friday 13th. However, today is also Taian, the luckiest day of the Japanese fortune-telling cycle. Today is unlucky for the UK, lucky for Japan…

Feb 252015
 

Today, I had my second interview about naturalising in Japan at the Legal Affairs Office. I thought I was going to get to submit at least some documents today, but that was a misunderstanding.

As I mentioned before, I ordered all the documents I needed from the UK, and that was fairly straightforward in the end. My first email to the court for my parents’ divorce certificate seems to have just got lost in the end-of-year rush, because my second email, in the New Year, was answered promptly, and that was very straightforward (and only £9, thanks to Dad having the certificate to hand so he could tell me the case number). My parents managed to fill in the form affirming that I was their eldest son, and send it back to me, so I had everything by the end of January.

Then I needed to translate them, because all non-Japanese documents must come with a Japanese translation. That wasn’t too hard, although I spread it over several days. Official documents for universal things, like birth and marriage, tend to be fairly easy to translate, because there are words for all the necessary bits in both languages.

Around the same time, I started drafting my statement of motivation. That went through three drafts before I had a version I was happy with. I tried to keep it relatively short, since you have to write that out by hand.

Then I started collecting the Japanese documents. This was straightforward, apart from the fact that I forgot my seal the first time I went to the national tax office. I needed proof of payment of national tax, total taxable income, and payment of consumption tax from the national tax office, proof of payment of prefectural business tax from the prefectural tax office, a copy of the deeds to my flat from the Legal Affairs Office, proof of payment of local income tax, statement of liability for this year, and statement that Yuriko is not liable from the city tax office (which has branches in the ward office), and copies of our residents’ register entry, Yuriko’s family record (which has Mayuki on), and the notes to Yuriko’s family record. It’s quite a few pieces of paper, but they are all standard things issued by the relevant offices, so they are easy to get if you show up and fill in the forms.

Once I had everything, I filled in the forms I had to write on, and made copies of everything.

That took two whole days.

Copying out my statement of motivation took a while, as did preparing and filling in my CV. They want all your addresses and jobs, and I think it’s basically right. I’m not absolutely sure about the dates from 15 years ago… Fortunately, I have scans of my old Gaijin Cards, which have all my addresses in Japan, with the dates I moved, written on them, so I know that the Japanese addresses are right. Anyway, I prepared it on the computer, let it rest overnight, filled in the other things I had remembered the next morning, and then copied it. The CV also has a page for listing all the times you have been in and out of Japan in the last few years (3 or 5, depending on your situation). The dates for those are, of course, in your passport.

I also needed to fill in forms about my immediate family (my parents, siblings, and children, Yuriko, and her parents). This had a space for whether they support or oppose your naturalisation, or don’t particularly care. Fortunately, all the adults were good enough to support my application. Mayuki strongly asserts that I cannot become Japanese, because people will know I’m a foreigner just by looking. So I left her blank. “No particular opinion” is clearly wrong, but “strong opinion but does not actually understand what it is about” was not an option.

Then there is a form for your income and savings. For that, I needed to submit all the tax documents. I also needed to supply copies of the bank books, although only the cover, first page (with the account details on), and last page, with the current balance, are necessary. Also, you don’t need to submit all your bank accounts, if some only have a bit of money in. As I said to my initial case worker today “This isn’t the tax office, after all.” “Exactly,” he replied. You have to prove that you have enough to live on, not show all your assets. Mind you, I would advise against trying to hide substantial assets. That’s the sort of thing that could make them suspicious.

Because I’m self-employed, I needed to fill in a form giving details of my business. It’s very high-level, though, so it just meant copying some numbers across from my tax return. Normally, you give details of your clients, but because all my clients are individuals I was told to leave it blank for now.

Then there were the maps of the area around where I live, and work, which are the same map in my case. You are allowed to print out online maps these days, which saves a lot of time. The one about your work asks about your superiors or inferiors, which I left blank because I don’t have any, and the one about home asks if there is anyone in the area who knows you particularly well. I put our local jinja, Shirahata Hachiman Daijin, in there, after asking them. It is possible that my next case officer will go round to talk to them, so they need to agree in advance. That form asks whether the people living around you know your nationality. I said yes, and got proof the following day. I went to pick Mayuki up from her after school club, and one of the girls there said “You’re from America, right?”, only for another girl, whom I didn’t recognise, to say “No, he’s from England”. So, random small children in the area know my nationality. (Although, interestingly, both the girls used the Japanese for “born in”, not “citizen of”.)

In addition to all this, I needed copies of my passport, and of the previous passport, which I still have. For this, you need to copy the cover, the photo page, and every internal page with a stamp on. You don’t need to copy the pages that are the same in every passport, because they know what those look like. Also, it would appear that you do not need to translate the ID page. They know what that means, as well. One thing to note, however, is that your passport should still contain the embarkation card for foreigners that you received when you first came to reside in Japan. You will need to copy that page twice, to make sure that you have copies of both sides of the embarkation card, and of anything that is under it when you put it one way or the other. You don’t need to copy pages with nothing on them.

The other things I needed were a copy of my PhD certificate, with translation, a copy of both sides of my Residence Card, and a copy of the document certifying that I paid my pension contributions last year. (Note that, despite rumours I have heard, I was not asked to certify that I had no gaps in my pension record; just that I had paid for the most recent year. This is something you might be asked later, but it doesn’t seem to be on the initial list.)

Finally, they need two or three photographs of your daily life. You only need one copy of these, because they are for the person in the Ministry of Justice who makes the final decision, and doesn’t actually meet you.

Four A4 envelopesFor everything else, you need two copies; an original if you can submit it, and one copy. I made a third set of copies, so that I will have a set of all the documents I submitted. When I’ve actually submitted them. With each set in an envelope, and a fourth envelope for the documents I was just going to show them, like my passport and bank books, the documents looked like the photograph. They are quite heavy.

So, today I took all of these documents to the Legal Affairs Office. I arrived 15 minutes early for my appointment, and my case worker saw me within five minutes, so we got off to an early start.

We started by discussing the non-passport proof of citizenship. Apparently, the story that the Legal Affairs Office is getting from the embassy is not quite the same as the story I’m getting, so I need to contact them again to sort it out. If I can get a definitive statement that they do not issue those certificates, the Ministry of Justice will have a think about how to deal with naturalisation applications from the UK. If they do issue them, I’ll have to go and get one.

Then my case worker started going through my documents, pausing occasionally to mutter things like “wow” and “amazing”. Apparently, most people can’t follow instructions. Apart from the proof of citizenship, I was missing two things. Apparently, I do need to certify Yuriko’s income. I also need to certify my income. As I am self-employed, that means that I need to fill in the form and put my own seal on it. Yes, this is a bit silly, and if this had been the only thing missing I could have done it right there. Everything else looked fine.

However, your initial case worker does not check the content of your application. He (or she) checks that you have all the right documents, with translations if necessary. Your second case worker checks the content. So, today we just confirmed that I had (nearly) all the right documents, and that my application was almost ready to go.

We talked a bit about the next appointment, and my case worker said that he would pass me on to the assessor immediately. Apparently, in all the years he’s been doing this, this is the first time he’s been able to do this after the second meeting. (The first meeting is the one where you are told what to gather, so it’s impossible to complete the application there. The documents they ask for vary depending on your situation, so you shouldn’t get things ready before your first interview.) Now, I do get the impression that he is overloaded and trying to get me off his books as quickly as possible; when I called a couple of weeks ago to confirm the details of some documents, he strongly encouraged me to book an appointment for today. However, I’m a bit surprised that no-one has done it before.

This raises another point about the process. There is no charge for the meetings with your case worker, and they last over an hour. In those meetings, she (or he) goes through your application with you, tells you which documents you need, and where to get them, and, presumably, points out problems if you have filled things in incorrectly. (Incidentally, I can confirm that crossing out mistakes, with two lines, is acceptable.) As I understand it, you can keep having meetings until you get it right, within reason. Three or four is normal, from what my case worker said. As I’ve mentioned, you can also phone your case worker in between meetings to ask questions or confirm things that are not clear. This is really a fantastic level of free support. If your Japanese is good, I suspect that you do not need professional help with the application, at least not in Japan. You might need to hire a lawyer in your own country if it is hard to get the necessary documents out of it, I suppose. On the other hand, if your Japanese is only just good enough to naturalise, it might be a good idea to hire a Gyouseishoshi lawyer who speaks fluent English.

My next meeting will be my first meeting with my assessor. This will, apparently, take about three hours. The first hour will be going through the paperwork again. The second will be an interview with my wife. The third will be an interview with me. The reason for this is, apparently, to spot fake marriages. It seems that these are common enough to be a real problem. Fortunately, Yuriko can leave after her interview, to collect Mayuki from school. That meeting will happen in a couple of weeks, and I think that might be the one where I formally apply for citizenship.

After the formal application, it takes another few months, and I might well be asked to produce more documents. My case worker told me that someone, recently, had got sick of it, and refused to produce some documents. The application was denied on the grounds of lack of cooperation with the investigation. He strongly encouraged me to produce whatever I was asked for, and I’m inclined to agree with him. It’s not as if I have a right to naturalise in Japan, so arguing with them about what is necessary for the application does not seem like a good idea.

In any case, I have moved to the next stage, even if I still have all my documents. I suspect that hoping for fast progress on this would be unwise.

Dec 252014
 

It’s Christmas morning, the sun is shining, and Mt Fuji is visible from the window.

This year, Mayuki woke up at 7am, so she’s obviously growing up. She came running to me with her stocking.

“Look! Santa left me some chocolate! And a Lego Friends set! Oooh, look! Pocket money! A 500 yen coin! All shiny! And a satsuma!”

We took the presents through to the living room, where she looked at her presents under the tree.

“Right, time to do my homework!”

She has holiday homework from school, which she started yesterday (after she got home from school), and she’s planning to do a bit every day. So far, so good. We had breakfast, and then I got out the snacks and chocolates I bought for the family. Remarkably, some were the same as the ones in Mayuki’s stocking. Can’t think why that happened.

“Oh look, those are like the ones Santa gave me. I’ll put mine with them.”

“Well, those are yours, so they don’t have to go in the family bowl.”

“No, that’s OK.”

In a little while, I will make Christmas dinner, and after dinner we will open the presents. I think it’s going to be a good day.

Dec 242014
 

When I went to the Legal Affairs Bureau to start the process of naturalising, I was given a long list of documents to gather. I decided to start by gathering the UK-issued documents, as I foresaw the most problems with those.

I seem to have been correct.

One of the documents required was a certificate of citizenship, which I was told I could get from the UK Embassy. So, I emailed them to ask, and got a reply saying that the embassy didn’t handle renunciation of citizenship, and I should get in touch with the Home Office. I emailed back saying yes, I know that, but I want to know about a certificate of citizenship.

That got no reply.

Fortunately, I was contacted by someone who had done the process recently, and could tell me what the embassy had issued in their case. Armed with that information, I emailed the embassy again, and this time I got a useful reply.

The embassy used to issue official letters confirming citizenship, but no longer does so. They stopped last year, under instructions from the Foreign Office. The embassy said that such matters were now handled by the Home Office. However, the Home Office only issues certificates if you naturalised. If you were born a UK citizen, there is nothing to issue.

So, this morning I called my case worker at the Legal Affairs Bureau.

“They’ve stopped issuing them? Oh, well, in that case, don’t worry about it for now. If it doesn’t exist, you can’t get it. I’ll ask my superiors what we should do, but it will have to go to the Justice Minister, so don’t delay your application for this. Have you collected everything else?”

“Er, not quite yet…”

“Well, once you have, call again.”

It didn’t even take five minutes. I may be asked to produce something at a later stage, but it’s possible I won’t be. I do, after all, have to submit proof that I have renounced my UK citizenship before they complete the process, and that will prove that I had it earlier.

One thing that struck me was that the problem was resolved really easily because I could just pick up the phone and call the office. If I hadn’t been able to do that, this could have caused significant stress.

Of the five pieces of documentation I need from the UK, I currently have one. Three of the others should be in process. The last one is being a bit problematic, but I suspect that this is a bad time of year to try to hurry things up. Maybe I’ll wait a couple of weeks.

Dec 052014
 

Yesterday, I went to keep my appointment at the Legal Affairs Bureau in Kawasaki for my first interview about naturalising.

The interview took about an hour, and mostly consisted of explanations of the documents I need to prepare in order to submit my application. The whole thing was conducted in Japanese, so if your Japanese isn’t that good, I can imagine it taking a bit longer than an hour. Indeed, my case worker said that sometimes they split the document explanations over two sessions: first the documents that people need to collect from various official sources, then the documents that they need to write. I suspect that one reason for splitting it is the length of time the explanations take.

People who naturalise in Japan are expected to have reasonable competence in Japanese, although this is not formalised. However, about five minutes into the interview I was told that I didn’t need to take any tests for that, because it was obvious that my Japanese was good enough. This means that the standard can’t be that high; there are limits to how much you can tell in five minutes. (Actually, somewhat later in the interview, he asked me how long I’d been in Japan, and commented that my Japanese was good.)

In addition to the slightly wooly Japanese requirement, there are six formal requirements for naturalising by yourself. One is that you are an adult (over 20, in Japan), and mentally competent to make the decision. That one is not going to be a problem. Another is that you are not, and have not been, since the current constitution of Japan came into force, a member of an organisation dedicated to the violent overthrow of the constitution of Japan, or of a constitutionally established Japanese government, or that advocates doing so. The time limit means that Donald Keene was able to naturalise, despite being a member of the US Armed Forces during WWII, and thus being a member of a group that successfully used violence to overthrow the Japanese government. This is another condition that won’t be a problem for me. Next, you must either be stateless, or give up your current citizenship. While I would prefer not to give up UK citizenship, that’s not an option, so this is also a condition I can meet. The procedure also appears to be quite simple, if a little pricey.

Next, we get on to the more substantial requirements. I need to have had an address in Japan for three continuous years. (It would be five if my wife were not Japanese.) To prove this, I will need to submit photocopies of my passport, and make a list of all the times I have left the country in the last three years. I meet the requirement, so, again, no problem, but paperwork.

Unsurprisingly, the government also requires that you be able to support yourself, or that someone in your family be able to support you. While I can, obviously, I need quite a bit of paperwork to support it: tax returns from my business, and half a dozen certificates from various tax offices, as well as official copies of title deeds to land, and copies of my bank pass books to show how much money I have. I mentioned that I have a lot of bank accounts, because organisations keep specifying where I need to open an account to pay them or be paid, and my case worker said that I could just list the main ones. The point is to prove that you have enough money, so leaving off accounts with a small amount in is not a problem. This is not the tax office. In addition, I need to give an outline of the work I do, and, at a later stage, I may be asked to put them in touch with one or two of my long-standing students, so that they can check that the business really exists. Again, that won’t be a problem.

Finally, you need to be of good character. I’m not quite sure how you certify this; a criminal record in Japan is a serious problem, if it goes beyond a couple of speeding tickets, but I think the proof that you pay your taxes and pension contributions is also an important part of this. I haven’t, however, been asked to get a criminal record check from the UK, which is a relief, because I believe that’s quite a hassle, and slow. They do require a detailed CV, giving all your addresses in Japan and the main ones from before you arrived, and your work and educational history. I get the impression that, if you’ve spent all your time working in borderline-legal establishments since you arrived in Japan, you might have trouble with this condition. If you are married, they also want to talk to your spouse, to make sure, at the extreme, that you haven’t married into the yakuza, but also because having a good and stable family environment is strong evidence of good character.

In addition to certifying that you meet the conditions, you also need to provide the information they need to create your family register. For this, they need to know which child of your parents you are. So, you need to provide your birth certificate, your siblings’ birth certificates, and your parents’ marriage certificate (if they were married). Fortunately, if you and your siblings are all over thirty, this is easy in the UK. You can order them online. Anyone’s, if you know their date of birth. (Yes, this means that anyone accepting UK birth certificates as proof of identity is insane. The passport office does not; it uses them to prove citizenship of someone whose identity is proved by other means.) I also need to provide proof that my parents are divorced, and that’s a bit more complicated; there’s no web interface. Fortunately, my father is incredibly organised, so I know the court and case number for the divorce, which makes it really cheap. Finally, I need a signed statement from my parents that there are no other children around. That will take a bit of coordinating, but isn’t a problem. As my case worker pointed out, if you are from Brazil and have twelve siblings, it can be quite a bit of effort to get all the documents you need. (Fortunately, step siblings from your parents’ remarriages do not count; otherwise I would be collecting about a dozen birth certificates as well.) I imagine it also gets harder if your parents are dead. I suspect that they have procedures for that, however: they can cope if your parents are no longer talking to one another or to you. I also need Japanese documentation; my wife’s family register, and our residents’ register. It is OK to get the single sheet version with us all on, which will save some money, as I’ll only need to pay for one.

One document that they have asked for that is looking a bit problematic is a certificate of UK citizenship (not my passport). They said that I can get this from the embassy, but the embassy did not immediately know what I was talking about, which is not promising. If it’s not a standard thing, there is likely to be hassle involved. We will see.

I also need some family snapshots. The only problem there is finding ones with all of us on; I think there are enough around.

Once I have collected all the information and documents, I need to fill in a bunch of forms. On most of them, I am just copying information across from the documents. I need to provide maps to my home and place of business, because they will come to visit while assessing my application. I was explicitly told that pasting in something from Google or equivalent is acceptable, which saves a lot of work. (And that they have their own maps, so they will actually look it up.) I guess the main purpose of the map is to ensure that they are going to the right place, and there are no mistakes in your address. Talking of addresses, Japanese addresses have to be given in the full, formal form, rather than in the abbreviated form normally used. I’m not sure I know those for all my previous addresses; I’ll have to check.

The main forms that are not just copies are my statement of reason for wanting to naturalise and the actual application form. The statement of why I want to naturalise has to be written by me, by hand, in Japanese. I imagine that this is quite tough for some people. Apart from the risk of it being almost completely illegible, I don’t think I’ll have any trouble, however. The application form should include the name that I will take after naturalisation. At the moment, I’m planning to take a kanji version of David Chart, but as Mayuki reacted to the idea of a kanji surname with horror, there may be some negotiation required there.

Almost everything needs two copies, an original and a copy, but for things like my passport they just take copies. The case worker verifies that the copies are accurate, and then stamps them.

All the copies I submit need to be on A4, and everything that is not in Japanese needs a Japanese translation. Fortunately, it is no problem if I do the translations myself. That was another thing I was a bit worried about; as the case worker said, there are translation services, but they are expensive.

My impression so far is much the same as my impression of Japanese immigration. You have to provide documentation, but they are not looking to make your life difficult. Certainly, the first meeting left me with the impression that I will probably be accepted. According to the case worker, it normally takes between six months and a year from the date of application for a decision, and historically somewhere around 98% of applicants are successful.

I will actually apply after the case worker has confirmed that all my documents are in order. Since, in order to apply, I need my tax return, and various certificates of tax payment, for the previous year, I don’t think I’ll be able to apply before mid-February, when I will get this year’s tax return. (I need it stamped to say I submitted it, obviously.) I can’t see that I will be able to gather all the documents I need before the end of this year, so last year’s return, which I do have, will be too old. So, that’s my goal: I am hoping to actually apply towards the end of February. Here’s hoping that the document collection goes smoothly.

Nov 172014
 

Today, I started the process of applying to naturalise as a Japanese citizen.

Well, to be strictly accurate I called the local Legal Affairs Bureau to make an appointment to start the process of applying to naturalise as a Japanese citizen. There’s a good site about the process in general at Turning Japanese, and my personal experience suggests that the first step on their list — phone the office to make an appointment — is accurate.

I was asked quite a lot of questions on the phone, presumably to make sure that the first interview goes as smoothly as possible.

First, I was asked where I live. This is important, because each office has responsibility for a certain area, and you can only go to the office that handles your area. Fortunately, I had called the right office, so the conversation could continue for a bit longer.

The next question was about my current citizenship, my place of birth, and my parents’ citizenship. I guess that this is because the process is a bit different depending on your current citizenship, and almost certainly significantly more complex if you have multiple citizenships already. To the best of my knowledge, things are only different on the Japanese side if you have Korean nationality but are a Special Permanent Resident, but I believe that the procedure for renouncing your other citizenship differs quite a bit depending on which country it is, and that has an impact on the application process. Obviously, if you have two citizenships, that makes things even more complex.

Then they asked how old I was, and when I arrived in Japan. Then they wanted to know whether I had ever overstayed my visa. I haven’t, which is a good job, because that’s pretty close to an automatic disqualification, as I understand it. As I’ve said before, the Japanese immigration system seems to be relatively tolerant and flexible on a lot of things, but not on overstaying your visa. Once we had established that, they asked me what my first visa status was, and how it had changed after that, and then when I obtained permanent residence. Permanent residence is not a necessary condition for applying for Japanese citizenship, but I don’t suppose it hurts.

Since I’ve been on a spousal visa, the next questions were about my family: whether I was still married to a Japanese person, whether I had ever been married before, whether I had children, and whether we were living as a nuclear family. I think it was at this point that they asked whether I had any criminal record.

Finally, there were questions about my job and whether Yuriko was working. I told them I was a self-employed English teacher.

“Ah, so you run an English Conversation School.”

“Something like that…”

I suspect they’ll ask for contact information for students at some point later in the process, to make sure I’m really working, but one student has already said he’s willing to do that sort of thing, so it won’t be a problem. This question is because you are required to show an ability to support yourself in Japan.

Then I was put on hold for a few seconds, and told that the next open appointment slot was in early December. It was a time I could make without much trouble, so I accepted it.

At this point, they asked for my name and contact phone number.

Finally, I was told what to take to the first meeting. I need my Residence Card, a copy of Yuriko’s family record if we have one around, and all my passports. I’m going to have to see whether I can find the old ones. I’m not sure I have all of them any more.

At the first meeting, I will apparently get a long list of the documents I need to gather, which, it seems, typically takes weeks, if not months.

Sep 212014
 

Recently (over the last year or so) there has been a lot of talk in gaming of the need to make products more inclusive, to provide options who are not straight white cis-men. This campaign seems to have started in computer gaming, where my limited experience suggests that it is really needed, but it has also spread to tabletop gaming.

Is this really a problem that tabletop gaming needs to address now? To be absolutely clear, I am talking about the inclusion of a variety of characters in products, not the diversity of authors or players. In addition, I think that diversity of characters is a good thing, and important. My question is over whether this is something that tabletop RPGs need to address now.

I’ll readily grant that it was a problem 30 years ago. The only non-white Companion of the Lance is metallic copper. However, even 25 years ago, companies were starting to address it. Early Forgotten Realms novels include a black protagonist in a series of novels in which racism is a recurring theme, and female protagonists. In the early nineties, White Wolf put a black man on the cover of Mage:the Ascension. He was the only character on the cover, and the iconic symbol of the whole game. In 1998, Fading Suns included non-binary-gender characters as an important option for a race that was primarily binary (the Ur-Obun). In 2000, D&D 3.0 had iconic characters who were deliberately designed to be diverse in terms of race and gender. Steve Kenson put an openly gay superhero in Freedom City in 2003, and in 2005 Blue Rose presented a fantasy society in which homosexual and polyamorous marriage were both normal. Games set in Japan go back to the earliest days of the hobby, and Nyambe, in a fantasy version of sub-Saharan Africa, was released in 2002. Disabilities have been standard character options in all games that have an Advantange/Disadvantage system since those systems were invented. Today, D&D 5e explicitly raises race, non-binary-gender, and multiple sexualities as choices you should think about in the free introductory set.

In short, I think the “inclusivity problem” was solved in roleplaying ten years ago. “Inclusivity” is the default position for tabletop gaming, and has been for a long time. Of course tabletop games should continue to be inclusive, but this isn’t something that needs campaigning for. There may turn out to be some groups who have not been included, and people will want to see more inclusion of particular groups, but the battle for inclusivity in general was won years ago.

There is a different problem, which is sometimes confused with the need for inclusivity. This is that the portrayal of some cultures in roleplaying games is not particularly good. To take an example I’m familiar with, Shadowrun 4e illustrated Shinto with a picture of a BDSM prostitute in Street Magic, and the Shinto pantheon in Scion 1e is really, really badly researched. (Although you can, at least, tell that they did a bit of research.)

First, I want to stress that this really is a completely different problem. This problem only arises because tabletop roleplaying games assume that you have to be inclusive. If Scion had only included white European pantheons, they would not have had a badly research Shinto pantheon to get bothered about in the first place.

Second, this is a real problem. It is also a really difficult problem, because researching something well enough to present it sensitively and in a way that is suitable for gaming takes a very long time. To get to that point for Shinto required learning Japanese, living in Japan, and spending about five years studying Shinto, including taking classes at the largest Shinto university (in Japanese). I can do the same for medieval western Europe, and that took several years with borrowing privileges at Cambridge University Library.

If you take the research requirement seriously, then a single author cannot write a diverse and inclusive book. A single human being cannot know enough about enough cultures to do it. A team of half a dozen authors is going to be really pushed to do it, particularly if they all have to be native speakers of English, familiar with the game, and willing to write for what tabletop roleplaying pays.

Now, I think that the research requirement should be taken seriously. If you are purporting to write about a real culture, you should know that culture very well. For a contemporary culture, you really need to have lived in it while fluent in the local language. For a historical culture, you need at least a couple of years of reading around it, including primary literature. For a prehistoric culture, you get to make a whole bunch of stuff up, because we just don’t know enough to be accurate in the first place, but you need to be very familiar with what we do know.

On the other hand, if you are writing a fantasy culture inspired by a real culture, you should be granted a lot more leeway. Rokugan is not Japan. It should be exotic, in a way that a portrayal of real Japan should not. The Southlands does not have to be an accurate portrayal of North Africa and the Levant, and indeed it should not be. I think fantasy games (including far-future science fiction games) should be allowed to pick elements from non-Western cultures and use them to make fictional cultures that acknowledge the existence of people and cultures that are not straight white cis-male, without being required to accurately reflect the cultures they are borrowing from. I think this is the only way to make broadly inclusive games and settings feasible in tabletop gaming.

I also think that there is an important role for a diverse range of games that are not individually diverse, where the authors know enough about one culture to present it accurately and sensitively.

I don’t expect many people, certainly not many people who produce tabletop roleplaying games, to disagree with what I’ve written here. That’s because I believe that virtually everyone in this business agrees that inclusivity and research are necessary, and regrets the times when they mess up one or the other.

Mar 192014
 

This morning, I went to the jinja near my office to pay my respects to the kami. There happened to be a Japanese woman paying her respects at the same time, and as I stepped back to leave, she turned towards me and murmured (in Japanese) “Wonderful!”.

I assume that she was referring to the way I had followed the correct etiquette. It is, after all, extremely unlikely that she was referring to my appearance. On the other hand, would she have felt the need to say anything had I not appeared white? I rather doubt it.

That doubt is the defining experience of not having white privilege.

“White Privilege” is a term used to describe the unearned entitlement of white people. It seems to have been coined by Peggy McIntosh in a paper entitled “White Privilege and Male Privilege” in 1988, and an excerpt from that paper, called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is widely available online. This idea has recently become popular in the phrase “check your privilege”.

White people in the UK clearly have white privilege; white people in Japan do not. First, I want to defend the second half of that assertion. Then I want to discuss some of the implications I have drawn from my personal experience of having white privilege, and then not having it.

McIntosh’s article gives a convenient list of 50 privileges that come with being white. Many of them are not available to white people in Japan. For example, the first one is “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.”, which is impossible for white people here. Similarly, number 6 is “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.” Er, no. Or 21: “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.” I’ve been explicitly asked to do that; it is part of the job description of the Kawasaki City Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents. Or 38: “I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.” No. And, of course, number 50: “I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.” Welcome, possibly. Normal, definitely not.

More generally, “white privilege” is often described as the privilege of having your race not matter. People do not see your race, they just see a person. That is emphatically not the case in Japan; I am a white person first, and whatever else I may be after people have got to know me a bit.

Unless everyone describing “white privilege” online has the concept completely wrong (and they don’t), I lost my white privilege when I came to Japan.

What lessons do I draw from this experience?

First, it is very hard to notice white privilege if you have it, because there is nothing to notice. That is the point. Your race just doesn’t come up.

Second, all white people in the USA have white privilege. It doesn’t matter how poor you are, or how much you suffer discrimination in other ways, your white skin still means that you have white privilege.

Consider President Obama. He clearly has vastly more privilege than the overwhelming majority of white US residents. He is the president. But they have white privilege and he doesn’t. No-one asked whether people were opposed to Dubya because of his race; people do ask that about Obama. (It is worth noting that, if I became prime minister of Japan, people would wonder about the influence of my race. See also point 38, above.) “White privilege” may not have been the best name for the issue, because the connotations of “privilege” are a bit more positive than what it actually gets you.

Third, however, white privilege really is a benefit. It is wearing and stressful to stand out all the time, to constantly be wondering whether people are judging you on your race, to constantly have to wonder whether your race will cause a problem.

That is even true when you do not really face any racism. I don’t think that there is a significant amount of racism directed against white people in Japan. I’ve encountered almost no personal racism, and there are too few white people for systemic racism to be anything more than an unintended side effect of other policies. Nevertheless, the lack of “yellow privilege” is a problem.

There are two points arising from this.

First, I think the loss of white privilege is what makes some white residents of Japan think that there is a lot of racism directed against white people here. It’s uncomfortable, and it involves things that are called racism back home in the USA.

Second, I don’t think it is racism even in the USA. It is entirely understandable that people of colour would think that it was, because it is impossible, in their experience, to separate it from the racism that they do experience. However, the issues are separable, and white people in Japan get the loss of white privilege without the racism. I think the people who see this as racism are mistaken, albeit for understandable reasons.

That has a couple of practical consequences.

Me and my family, all in kimonos, at a jinja.

And if I really want to stand out…

I think that members of minorities need to suck this up and deal with it. If you are a visible minority, you will stand out, you won’t find members of your race around all the time, and people will take actions and ask questions based on your race. That isn’t racist. It’s just a fact of your situation. If you can’t cope with it, move somewhere where you are not a visible minority. If you decide that moving is harder than dealing with it, that is an important discovery. Thinking of it as racism is a mistake, because it just increases your hostility to the society you live in, for no good reason.

What’s more, I don’t think it can be changed. I am never going to fade into the background into Japan. It doesn’t matter how accepting of white people the Japanese are, or how much they treat me just like a Japanese person. I will always look different, and thus be memorable, and inspire questions and comments that would not be inspired by someone who looked “normal”.

The other side of the coin is that it is stressful, and it is pleasant to deal with people who don’t seem to take your race to be a defining issue, and don’t say anything to draw attention to it.

So, if you’re a white American, you’re quite right that it isn’t racist to ask someone where they came from, or how they got into needlepoint, or gaming, or whatever. On the other hand, if one of the reasons you are interested is because you don’t see many non-white people in that context, it is considerate to not ask, at least not at first. If you’ve been sharing a hobby with someone for a while, it’s natural to swap stories of how you got into it. It’s not a natural question the first time you meet, for someone you’d expect to be in the hobby. (It is notable that the only white Shinto priest in Japan says that he got into Shinto because he thought the shoes were cool. To me, that sounds like the response of someone who has been asked that question too many times.)

It’s important to remember the difference in perspective. There are very few white people with a deep interest in and knowledge of Shinto. A Shinto priest could easily go his entire life without meeting one, so of course I’m interesting, and priests I meet tend to be curious about why I’m involved in Shinto. On the other hand, I am always a white person with a deep interest in and knowledge of Shinto when I meet a Shinto priest, so I get it almost every time. It’s like making a joke about someone’s name — even if it is funny, they have heard it lots of times already. (Unless they only changed their name a few minutes earlier and have been in your company ever since, so you know you’re the first person to do it.)

Let’s summarise.

  • White privilege is a real thing, and not having it is a genuine source of stress and discomfort.
  • White people do not necessarily have white privilege; it depends on their society.
  • If some white people have white privilege in a particular society, they all do.
  • The discomfort resulting from not having white privilege is not the result of racism.
  • Nevertheless, a lot of groups do suffer both racism and the lack of white privilege.
  • White people in Japan do not have white privilege, but neither do they suffer from racism.
  • It is not racist to do the things that cause stress and discomfort to people without white privilege.
  • It is, however, considerate to avoid doing them.

Creative Commons Licence
White Without Privilege (excluding the photograph) by David Chart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. I have, by request, reformatted the essay as a PDF file, containing only the CC licensed material. The Creative Commons License allows you to copy and distribute the essay for any purpose, as long as you do not alter it. That means that you are clearly allowed to distribute copies to students in a university setting, which is what I was asked for.

Jan 232014
 

This post may come across as something of a rant, and possibly also as a humble brag. I have to concede that I’m ranting a bit, but I would like to emphasise that there is nothing humble about the bragging parts, and that I am entirely serious about the humble parts.

This rant was inspired by my misreading* of a guest post on Chuck Wendig’s blog by a (different) successful author. In it, she repeats the claim that persistence is essential, even the only essential thing, and illustrates it with her life story. It is true that persistence appears to have led her to success. There are a number of other famous examples of this available.

The overwhelming level of sample bias here robs the evidence of all meaning. What about all the persistent people who haven’t succeeded? Nobody listens to their stories, because they are nobodies. Why would you take life lessons from someone who has failed? Well, because if you only listen to people who have succeeded, you get a seriously distorted picture.

So, in full awareness that essentially no-one is going to read this, because I’m not famous enough, I’m going to tell the echoing ether that persistence isn’t enough, and isn’t even necessary.

Let’s take “not enough” first. I write and develop roleplaying games. I need to say that because hardly anybody has heard of me. I’ve been doing it professionally for 20 years; longer than Chris Pramas at Green Ronin, and a lot more people have heard of him. He even has a Wikipedia page.

I’ve not had a rejection letter for roleplaying games since I returned to them after deciding that they were not Satanic, around the age of 18. So, that thing about everyone having to collect piles of rejection letters? Not true. I’ve won an Origins Award and a gold ENnie award, helped out by the name recognition of Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein•Hagen, but for a product, Ars Magica Fifth Edition, that was essentially my work. The previous four editions, which were not my work, did not win. I’ve been developing Ars Magica for longer than anyone else, and I’m getting close to having done it for longer than everyone else who has had the job put together. John Nephew has not fired me. He’s even given me pay rises and bonuses from time to time.

I do not suck, at least not as a roleplaying game author and developer. Because I am not depressed, I know that I do not suck. I do not suck, and I have kept this up for 20 years. Talent and persistence, getting published, I must have succeeded, right?

Wrong. Obviously, I don’t make a decent amount of money from roleplaying. Nobody makes a decent amount of money from roleplaying (except Robin Laws). But further than that, I have almost no name recognition. I’m working on a new roleplaying game, Kannagara, but does the fact that I am working on a new roleplaying game create any buzz anywhere? No. Now, we aren’t talking about fame. While people in the industry will recognise the names I’ve been dropping, I suspect that only the most dedicated roleplaying fans would do so in general. That’s the level I’m aiming at, and haven’t reached.

So yeah, persistence doesn’t always work.

I’ve also written a novel, and tried the online crowdfunding model. That was Tamao. That didn’t work, either. People I didn’t know did send me money. One guy even sent me $25 a couple of years after I’d finished, when it was obvious he wasn’t going to get any more story out of it. So, it doesn’t suck. Strangers don’t send you money because you wrote something that sucked. And I finished it. Wrote the whole thing in a year. That’s persistence.

No success yet.

Then there’s my blog. Not this one. I’m not so brazen as to claim persistence here, but my Japanese one. Every day, for nearly eight years. Recently, at least 1,000 characters (roughly 500 words equivalent) every day. Frequent and regular updates with new material, sustained over a long period of time. That’s how you make a successful blog, right? I’m averaging about 100 views per day, and no comments. That’s not a successful blog.

But I’ve not given up. I still do it every day. It has been great Japanese practice. Lots of persistence here.

No success, though.

On the other hand, let’s consider an area where I wasn’t persistent. Philosophy. I got a PhD in philosophy from Cambridge 15 years ago. So, yes, I was persistent enough to finish a dissertation. I then spent five years trying to get a job in philosophy. Failed.

So I chucked it in and came to Japan.

A couple of years ago, I was offered a job, which I’m still doing, based on having that PhD. The content of my work has steadily got closer to the content of my dissertation, to the point that, this year, I will be directly applying my PhD to my work, in the private sector. The job doesn’t currently pay brilliantly (start up), but it pays a lot more than minimum wage. And a lot more than roleplaying games, novels, or blogs — at least for me.

This means that the area where I wasn’t persistent, the area that I abandoned pretty much completely for eight years, is the area where I currently seem to have the most success. It has at least as much promise for future success as any of the others as well.

Persistence: not needed, and not enough. Rather overrated, all round.

When you are struggling with something you want to do, but are not succeeding at, the big question can be framed as “Which story am I starring in?”. Are you starring in a story of someone who holds on to their dream, struggles through the difficult years of no recognition and piles of rejection slips, before finally succeeding? Or are you starring in a story of someone who wastes his life producing things that no-one wants to read, dying with piles of manuscripts that do not become interesting even posthumously?

Obviously, if you’re in the first story, you should not give up. Keep pushing! Keep writing! Persistence!

If you’re in the second story, you should quit now. Do something more productive with your life. Everyone has something to offer to the world. In your case, this isn’t it. Abandon the illusion that is holding you back, and find your calling!

So, which story are you in? It’s really, really hard to tell. In fact, I suspect it’s impossible to tell. That makes it unfortunate that the two stories recommend diametrically opposed courses of action.

This is why living a good life is hard. The decisions are not easy. There are no universal prescriptions that will always lead you to the right decision. Sometimes, you should give up. Sometimes, giving up will actually lead to success in the area where you gave up. And sometimes you shouldn’t. Sometimes you should be persistent.

Sometimes you should do what you love. Sometimes you should recognise reality and do what is necessary to live. Sometimes your family should come first, and sometimes you should prioritise work for a while to make sure that your family has a home and food. Sometimes you should stand up for what you believe, and sometimes you should keep your head down and wait for the persecution to pass.

There are no easy answers, and most people never get to know whether they made the right decisions. So, if you are a struggling writer, you have to decide for yourself whether you should give up. I’m not going to recommend either option. Giving up worked for me; persisting worked for other people.

I’m afraid you have to run your own life.

* The original post was by Kameron Hurley, and it turns out that her point was that she had redefined “success” in terms of persisting, so that the lack of other kinds of success wouldn’t put her off. Since that is what I have done for my Japanese blog, I think it’s perfectly reasonable. The post above still stands, however. Back