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Although allowing dual nationality during times of peace may provoke little debate, in times of war it can create complex problems, divide families and force the choice of one identity over another.
“Having dual nationality was in some ways a double-edged sword for my father,” Kyoko Norma Nozaki, a third-generation Japanese-American professor at Kyoto Sangyo University, said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.
Together with her nisei father, Tsutomu Tanigawa, and her entire family, she was held in internment camps in the United States during the war.
The debate to revise the Nationality Law and allow offspring of international couples more than one nationality was launched by a panel led by Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Taro Kono in November.
But dual citizenship has raised issues in the past, notably in times of war.
Nozaki was born in California as a third-generation Japanese-American. Her grandparents moved from Japan to Hawaii in 1904 to work on a sugar plantation, then headed to Watsonville, Calif., in 1906. Nozaki’s father was born in 1909 and the family ran a strawberry farm in the area.
Both Nozaki and her father had dual nationalities, because their births were filed with the Japanese Consulate in the U.S.
“Being born in the U.S. but having resided in Japan during my teens, I have some reservation about saying ‘born and raised in America.’ There is some complexity to my identity, and I feel both Japanese and American,” Nozaki said, adding she experiences no inconvenience today because of the duality.
But during the war, the family’s link with an enemy state was deemed a threat by the U.S. government.
Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, the Tanigawa family was sent to internment camps along with 110,000 Japanese-Americans beginning in 1942.
Army Gen. John DeWitt, to justify sending Japanese-Americans to the camps, told the government that people with Japanese ancestry might engage in subversive activities regardless of their citizenship.
“I remember fragments of my days in the camps,” said Nozaki, who lived in Utah and California until age 5, revealing the internment was not as much of an ordeal as many would imagine. “I looked forward to snack time.”
Nozaki’s father, however, experienced hardships, at times being asked to demonstrate to which country he pledged allegiance.
Nozaki, who has researched the internment issue, said all internees over 17 years of age were required by the U.S. government to answer a list of questions gauging their loyalty.
Question 27 asked about their will to serve in the U.S. Army, and question 28 asked whether the respondent rejected allegiance to the Emperor and pledged unconditional loyalty to the U.S.
Those who answered “no” to the two inquiries were considered a threat to the U.S.
“My father answered the questions with a ‘no’ but added ‘this does not mean I am against the U.S.A.,’ ” Nozaki said.
Because of his answers, he was transferred to an internment camp at Fort Lincoln in North Dakota set up by the Justice Department under the Enemy Aliens Act.
Out of fear that his relatives in Japan would be interrogated — and in hope that he would be able to return to the U.S. once the war was over — he gave up his American citizenship while at that camp.
The Tanigawa family reunited after the war and resettled in Japan in 1946.
In 1990, the U.S. government sent out apology letters and redress to Japanese-Americans for the hardships they endured.
“But my father never applied to regain his U.S. citizenship,” Nozaki said.
In addition to issues of allegiance during wartime, dual nationality might lead to military obligations, including conscription, and force a person to renounce a nationality or steer clear of one’s home nation.
The Protocol relating to Military Obligations in Certain Cases of Double Nationality, adopted in 1930 at The Hague, Netherlands, states that a person possessing two or more nationalities who habitually resides in one of those countries and who is in fact most closely connected with that country shall be exempt from all military obligations in the other country or countries.
Experts say most governments are not eager to conscript holders of dual citizenship who lack a background in the country because they could have difficulties communicating with others and affect morale.
But while conditions vary according to individual cases, some countries, including Israel where even females are conscripted and must serve in the army, generally require dual nationality holders to serve if they live in the country.
Dual citizenship holders have also faced dilemmas when one of the countries has a conscription system but the other does not.
For example, South Korea does not request its nationals in Japan to report for duty if they were born in Japan or left South Korea before turning 6 and resided overseas until age 18. Those whose families have permanent resident status in Japan are also exempt.
LDP lawmaker Kono’s proposal has raised concerns that granting unlimited dual nationality could pose “state sovereignty” problems, for example in local-level civil service positions that require the exercise of public authority.
A Supreme Court ruling illustrated the issue in 2005, when it rejected a lawsuit by a second-generation South Korean. The plaintiff had demanded the retraction of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s decision to forbid non-Japanese civil servants from taking managerial promotion exams.
Although the plaintiff argued that the policy violated her constitutional right to equality and freedom to choose her occupation, the Supreme Court ruled that tasks for some civil servants involve the exercise of public authority and thus must be limited to Japanese nationals.
Kono has also proposed limiting the rights of those with dual nationalities, saying royalty, Diet members, Cabinet ministers, diplomats, certain members of the Self-Defense Forces and court judges must hold only Japanese nationality.
But experts say suspicions about the allegiance of the holders of two nationalities should not discourage the process of acknowledging dual nationalities. For example, Canada experienced no problems with having a dual nationality holder head its Parliament, as former Prime Minister John Turner, who served his country in 1984, was born in the U.K. His dual nationality never became an issue of political liability during his stint.
“There are issues with allowing dual nationalities, but countries tend to adjust and avoid difficulties,” said journalist Shigeo Yanagihara, who has covered dual nationality and voting rights issues affecting non-Japanese residents.
Yanagihara said acknowledging at least the right to hold dual nationality is “inevitable and on a par with the trend of society,” noting Japan’s ban on dual citizenship has been ineffective for years. He said he has interviewed Japanese-Brazilians who applied for and obtained Japanese nationality and have ignored Japan’s ban on dual nationalities beyond the age of 22, keeping their Brazilian citizenship.
“The government must understand that in modern society, nationality does not necessarily equal allegiance to the country,” Yanagihara said.
“Allowing dual nationality does more good than harm for Japan. Issues are likely to pop up, but those can be resolved as occasion demands,” he added.
Kyoto Sangyo University’s Nozaki agrees that Japan should acknowledge dual nationalities and be more flexible.
“This may sound radical, but I wish there were no nationalities to begin with,” she said. “Nationalities are labels,” just like borders inscribed on man-made maps, Nozaki said.