Despite the best efforts of certain individuals on Twitter, lawmaker Renho became the head of the Democratic Party last Thursday. Of course, those loosely linked online individuals that are sometimes referred to as netto uyo (internet right-wingers) don’t really care about the DP, but they were undoubtedly thrilled that the issue they raised with regard to Renho’s nationality became the most important one in the campaign — at least as far as the media was concerned.

For that they can thank the Sankei Shimbun and its affiliates, particularly tabloid Yukan Fuji, which lead the anti-Renho chorus on a daily basis. The choir master was former bureaucrat Kazuro Yawata, who posted an essay on the blog platform Agora, later reprinted in Fuji, claiming that Renho — whose father is Taiwanese and whose mother is Japanese — never renounced her Taiwanese nationality and thus holds dual citizenship. A Sankei reporter who attended the DP presidential candidate press conference asked Renho about this discrepancy and all hell broke loose.

Trying to prevent the clamor from intensifying, Renho hot-footed it to Taiwan’s representative office in Tokyo to confirm the renunciation of her Taiwanese nationality. She was under the impression her father had already done that when she obtained Japanese citizenship in 1985, when she was 17. On Tuesday she found out she still “retained” Taiwanese nationality. She is now in the process of renouncing it, but in any case her enemies were able to claim that Yawata’s “suspicions” had been verified.

But what was behind these suspicions, other than mistrust of anyone with mixed parentage? As Jiji Press pointed out in a Sept. 7 article, the Japanese government has not had diplomatic relations with Taiwan since recognizing China in the 1970s, so, theoretically, people in Japan with Taiwanese nationality are nationals of China, and China does not allow its citizens to hold dual citizenship, meaning if Renho has Japanese nationality — and she does, since she has a koseki (family register)—there’s no way she could also be a Chinese national. But then last week, the Ministry of Justice clarified that Taiwanese in Japan are not subject to Chinese law. In any case, Yawata and Sankei continually made references to Renho’s supposed connections to China.

It’s not as if the government has voiced concern about Renho’s nationality. As journalist Misuzu Kosugi points out in the online magazine Litera, while Japan does not recognize dual citizenship, it also doesn’t expressly outlaw it. Article 16 of the revised 1985 Nationality Law states that people with dual citizenship due to birth have to choose one nationality by the time they turn 22, and if they choose to be Japanese then they have to “make an effort” to renounce their other nationality. Article 15 of the law says the Justice Ministry will dispatch “warnings” to people who do not renounce their other nationality, but, as many media have reported, the ministry has never once sent out such a warning. The government itself estimates there are 680,000 Japanese with dual nationality.

Professor Atsushi Kondo explains in the Asahi Shimbun that Japan cannot make a Japanese national renounce their other nationality because it has no control over the way other countries administer the matter. China automatically revokes the citizenship of Chinese who take other nationalities, but many countries don’t have a mechanism for voluntarily renouncing theirs.

Most of the complaints against Renho have been about her inconsistency in explaining her status, but the fundamental issue for Sankei is blood. Before the Nationality Law was revised, Japan determined nationality through paternity: You were the citizen of whichever country your father was the citizen of. Now you can choose. People who accuse Renho of ambivalence toward her Japanese status still think in those terms. Yawata says only her father could renounce her Taiwanese nationality, but it’s not that simple. Law professor Yasuhiko Okuda recently explained on TBS radio that Taiwan prohibits a citizen from renouncing their nationality until they are 20. In other words, the matter was out of Renho’s, and her father’s, hands.

It’s no coincidence that Renho’s detractors are the same people who are against allowing a female emperor. “Pure blood” ideology is at the root of Yawata’s philosophy — the “scoop” about Renho’s dual nationality was merely a delivery device. The law means nothing to them because their faith is invested in an occult mythos about the unbroken Imperial line. Kosugi insists these beliefs amount to “racism,” since they limit the rights of some people born and raised in Japan due to genetics. Asahi reported on July 6, 2014 — well before the Renho controversy — that the pure blood faction wants to kick out permanent Korean residents as well as anyone with dual citizenship by making all Japanese sign a loyalty oath. They are not just rightists, said the paper, they are “anachronisms.”

Yawata says Renho can’t be trusted because she doesn’t use her Japanese married name and gave her children names that “sound Chinese.” These value judgments should mean nothing in a democracy. Zakzak, another Sankei organ, adds to the din by saying that Japanese people do not like the idea of someone with dual citizenship “rising to the top.” What about best-selling Japanese-American singer Hikaru Utada and all those bicultural athletes at the Rio Olympics? For that matter, what about former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, who was allowed to settle here and escape prosecution in his native country by asserting his Japanese nationality?

The roar of negativity just gets bigger, even though it has no legal or even logical justification. Though Sankei hates the DP as much as it loves so-called pure-blood Japanese, the DP doesn’t want to risk bad blood with anyone who feels likewise and, except for the previous DP president, Katsuya Okada, has been reticent on the issue. Even Renho reacted in a defensive manner. No wonder Sankei and its ilk are so loud: There’s no one shouting back.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.