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Naturalization in Japan – The Process Explained

How well do you know the process of naturalization in Japan?

Although becoming naturalized is sometimes compared to applying for a permanent residence permit, a permanent resident is still a foreigner who does not have the right to vote. In contrast, when naturalization is granted, successful applicants become a Japanese national, a new Japanese family register will be created, and voting rights will also be granted. However, Japan does not recognize nor allow dual citizenship in principle, and Japanese naturalization entails losing citizenship of one’s home country. For this reason, some people may hesitate to apply for naturalization even if they meet all the requirements.

Naturalization in Japan - The Process ExplainedPhoto by JJ Ying on Unsplash

How do the requirements for naturalization differ from those for becoming a permanent resident? One difference is that you must have been issued a residence permit allowing you to reside in Japan for at least three years to be eligible to apply for permanent residence. So while some people might have lived in Japan for ten years by continually extending their 1-year residence permit each year, they would not be eligible to apply for permanent residency. In contrast, the number of years of the permitted stay on your current residence permit is not an issue when applying for naturalization.

The requirements for naturalization are enumerated in Article 5 of the Nationality Law. (There are certain exceptions separately provided for which are omitted here.)

1. Address Requirement
The applicant must have continuously resided in Japan for at least five years. In addition, the applicant must have lawful status of residence for the period of residence. (This requirement is relaxed for those born in Japan, have a Japanese spouse, or have Japanese parents.)

2. Legal Capacity Requirements
If applying for oneself, the applicant must have reached the age of 18 (the age of majority in Japan) and must also have reached the age of majority in their home country. However, an applicant is under 18 may apply if accompanied by a parent. If under 15 years of age, a parent usually makes the application on the applicant’s behalf as their legal representative.

3. Good Conduct Requirement
The applicant must demonstrate a track record of good conduct. Good conduct is judged based on the applicant’s criminal record (including traffic violations), tax status, history, timely and complete tax payments, and other factors.

4. Livelihood Requirements
The applicant must have sufficient income to live in Japan. The livelihood requirement is determined on a per-household basis. Therefore, if the applicant’s spouse earns a sufficient income, the applicant may be considered to meet the livelihood requirement even if he/she personally earns no income.

5. Requirement which excludes multiple nationalities.
Quite simply, it is impossible to become naturalized in Japan while holding the nationality of another country. Article 5 states, “The applicant shall have no other nationality or shall lose his/her other nationality by acquiring Japanese nationality.” However, the article continues in paragraph 2 to state, “In cases where a foreign national is unable to lose his/her nationality regardless of his/her intention, the Minister of Justice may permit naturalization if he/she finds that there are special circumstances regarding kinship or circumstances with a Japanese citizen, even if that person does not meet the conditions listed in the preceding paragraph…” [The article then goes on to list exceptions/special kinship circumstances].

6. Constitutional Compliance Requirements
One cannot become naturalized if, as the text of the article states, “…has on or after the date of enforcement of the Constitution of Japan plotted or advocated the destruction by violence of the Constitution of Japan or the government established thereunder or formed or joined a political party or other organization that plots or advocates such a destruction.”

In addition to the above requirements, some level of Japanese language proficiency is also required for naturalization. Generally speaking, an applicant’s Japanese language proficiency (including reading and writing) must be equivalent to that of a Japanese second-grade elementary school student. In some cases, a simple Japanese language test may be administered as part of the application process.

Legal Associates Boston assists our clients in navigating the lengthy Japanese naturalization process. In addition to filing clients’ applications with the Fukuoka Legal Affairs Bureau, I have applied for naturalization at legal affairs bureaus outside Fukuoka Prefecture, including Tokyo. From this experience, I have gained the impression that each legal affairs bureau has its unique characteristics with regard to how they process applications for naturalization. This is important to be aware of when submitting applications for naturalization.

Because of the long period required for the examination and processing of applications, our office develops long relationships with clients who apply for naturalization. We remain focused on each case throughout the application process providing continued hands-on and personalized support.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information on this article is accurate at the time of posting, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ. If you do require advice or wish to find out more about the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

Text by: Masayo Boston (Certified Administrative Procedure Legal Specialist), November 2022
Legal Associates Office Boston (Fukuoka City)
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Fukuoka Prefecture
Published: Nov 10, 2022 / Last Updated: Nov 10, 2022

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