Sunday, October 21, 2007

Citizenship etc.

Someone asked me awhile ago about what my citizen and alien status was in Japan so I thought I'd tell you a little about Japanese red-tape and the situation of foreigners in Japan.

Foreigners are foreigners. Whether they are born in another country and choose to live in Japan because of work or marriage, they keep the citizenship of their mother country. Foreigners born in Japan (such as missionary children or children who are born here while their parents are here because of residence) have the citizenship of their parents. They do not automatically get Japanese citizenship. Children who have Japanese and foreign parents have dual citizenship until they are 20. That is another long post... I have heard that it is possible to change your citizenship to Japanese citizenship but I've never met anyone who has done this though I know of one sumo wrestler who did. At any rate, I think he was a national hero.

I came to Japan on a teaching visa 30 years ago and that had to be renewed every 6 months. After Tetsu and I were married I was given a spouse visa that had to be renewed every two years I think. Finally after nearly 15 years of marriage I was given permanent residency (equivalent to a green card in the States?). I think it is easier to get permanent residence nowadays but for a long time I had the feeling that the government was hesitant to give it to me just because they wanted to make sure that this marriage was going to last. I guess when I had two kids in grade school they decided I was here to stay. I've heard that permanent residency can be revoked fairly easily, like if you forget to get a re-entry permit when leaving Japan, but I protect mine fiercely. It was a hassle to get the card to begin with so I'm not planning to have it taken away from me!

Of course in Japan there is citizenship registration, kokuseki. I have American citizenship, Tetsu has Japanese and the kids have dual citizenship. There is also something called family registration, koseki tohon, and I am registered as Tetsu's wife on his family registration. These are records that can be used to trace the family's roots back quite a ways. In the koseki tohon all births, marriages, divorces, deaths etc. are recorded. It seems very confusing to me so I may have some of these details wrong but the important thing is I am listed as Tetsu's wife on his family register.

Then we get to the resident registration records called jyumin hyo. This is something completely different and you must register with the city office to say that you live in a certain place. The glitch here is that foreigners are not allowed to go on the resident registration (the city office will make a "memo" if the foreigner is head of the household) so in essence Tetsu is unmarried and our two children have no mother. I find this slightly humorous though I know some foreigners think it an unforgivable slight by the Japanese government. It has never given us a lot of problems. True, when Takumi was a baby someone from a welfare office came to see how the "motherless" family was getting along but I didn't particularly take offense. I think another time Takumi needed his resident registration form for something and asked me to pick it up at the city office for him but they wouldn't give it to me. Who am I? No one sounding like me written on the form so they wouldn't hand it out to a "stranger".

The only other annoyance I can think of occurs a few times a year (and again just last night which is why I'm writing this post today). Last night someone called around 8:30 and when I answered they asked to speak to Tetsu (referring to him by a different pronunciation of his name so I had a hint of what organization was calling). When I corrected them they said they were from a "companion and marriage service".

"Mr. Watanabe is my husband so I don't think he needs a companion and marriage service."

Oh my! Did they apologize fast and hang up!

My friend, Marlene (also married to a Japanese) says that her husband gets calls like this fairly often too and we realized that someone has got access to the resident registration records and they are calling the poor men who have no wife and need someone to take care of them in their old age. A marriage service! Tetsu can get quite incensed when he gets a phone call like this. Last night's person was quite fortunate that I answered.

"Who was on the phone?" Tetsu asked when I came back.

"Someone wanting to know if you need a companion or want them to introduce you to a wife. You don't do you?" and I gave him a kiss.


Luna said...

Sorry, I was not here for a long time, I´m so busy with everyday things. There is no time for nice things to do, like blogging .
Your post is interesting and funny, but I´m not sure that I understand everything right but I´m glad your husband need no companion ....
I think you are a very happy married Pair.
Here we have fall and it is today really cold. All our cats are sleeping in the house, Frieda and Luna near me and Luzie in the kids room. The kids have fall holidays for the next two weeks. I have to do a lot of homework although it is sunday...
Have a nice day !!!

Marcie said...

Oh my gosh, it is good that you have a sense of humor! You take everything in stride. I like that about you. Save your strength for when it really counts!

CONNIE W said...

I agree with Marcie's comment. It seems that the Japanese system is a strict one that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon so it's good that you understand it and keep track of what you need to do. Do you ever miss your life in the US and wish you lived here again? Speaking only for myself, I think no matter how long I lived in another place, my land of origin would always feel like my 'real home'. But then, I can only imigine as I've never been put in that situation.

Norma said...

It is good that you don't take this stuff seriously. I do love to read your stories of life in Japan--they giv us such insight into a totally different life.

andsewitis Holly said...

Informative and interesting post, Tanya. I always wondered some of these things... It does seem a bit complicated. Thanks for explaining it.

meggie said...

Tanya, I have tried to send you an email, thanking you for your prayers for my son in law. I respect the beliefs of others, & appreciate & respect your prayers. I believe all positive thought is worthwhile. So thank you so much.

It must be quite frustrating for you, sometimes, to not be listed as Tetsu's wife!

Elaine Adair said...

Good story - and even better that you deal with it so calmly. 8-)

Helen said...

Another great post about Life In Japan.