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.
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 â€” phone the office to make an appointment â€” 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 thatâ€¦”
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.