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 Â£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 agoâ€¦ 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.
For 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.
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.
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 yetâ€¦”
“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.
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.