This week’s featured article


Giving up your nationality is not something to be taken lightly, especially in a society like Japan where so much of one’s identity is tied to citizenship. For Bolivian-born Noemi Inoue it was a necessary step to feel fully integrated in Japanese society and to become the first person not born Japanese to serve as a city councilor in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward.

In the process, she has learned about the inner workings of the city’s administrative system and the mindset of those working to effect change. Having found her own voice in Japan as a foreign-born resident of Tokyo, Inoue is now in a position to give a voice to others.

Born in La Paz, Bolivia, Inoue enjoyed a high-flying career in social development before marriage brought her to Japan.

In 2009, Inoue started an NPO, the Japan-Latin America Friendship Association, to promote cultural and business exchange. In order to take things to the next level and work for change in society, her husband suggested she take Japanese nationality.

At first the idea was incomprehensible to Inoue, she says. “My initial reaction was one of shock. I thought, ‘No way!’ But then I looked carefully at the reality of such a move.”

Inoue vowed to work as a voice for the community and decided to run for city council in her local Sumida Ward. She seeks to give a voice to foreign residents in her ward so their needs and views can be heard.

“We already know that Japan will need to rely on foreign people to supplement the population due to the low birthrate,” Inoue says. “I proposed a special committee to invite non-Japanese residents to discuss issues and solutions, and we have created an information corner at the ward office in multiple languages.

“My dream is to see more foreign-born politicians in Japan. Now I am looking for more people, particularly women, who would like to participate in local politics. I can advise them,” she says.

Even for those not interested in actually pursuing a career in city office themselves, Inoue encourages foreign residents to speak to their local representatives about issues of concern to them.

First published in The Japan Times on Aug. 29.

Warm up

One-minute chat about the politicians in your town.


Collect words related to nationality, e.g., passport, Japanese, identity.

New words

1) integrate: to make a person or group part of a larger group, e.g., “After immigrating, the family tried their best to integrate into society.”

2) incomprehensible: impossible to understand, e.g., “How could he speak to his mother in such a rude way? It’s incomprehensible.”

Guess the headline

Wanting to make a difference, B_ _ _ _ _ _-born Noemi Inoue turned Japanese and entered p _ _ _ _ _ _s


1) What does Ms. Inoue do?

2) Why did she come to Japan?

3) What is her dream?

Let’s discuss the article

1) Would you ever consider changing your nationality?

2) What do you think about Ms. Inoue?

3) What do you think Japanese local politics needs?




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