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.