Darryl McGarry, in his Oct. 25 letter, “Family register defines reality,” is right to feel consternation with the family register system, which certainly needs revision. I know how important — and, at times, frustrating — registration can be; I went to court in 1978 and 1982 on behalf of my children, who became Japanese nationals after the Nationality Law was revised in 1985. I’ve been a registered alien since 1975.
My Oct. 11 letter, Passive influence on family law,” was merely to point out that parental rights are determined by provisions in the Civil Code. The Family Register Law generally follows the Civil Code. Nationality, however, defers to the Nationality Law.
Family registers have undergone a number of major changes in their nearly 140-year history as a national system. Since the end of the 19th century, they have been responsive to the Civil Code and the Nationality Law. Historically, nationality has also been governed by family law; early drafts of the Meiji civil code included nationality.
The 1947 Constitution required fundamental changes in family law, hence family register practices. Unfortunately, the Occupation authorities also encouraged the government of Japan to create an alien register system apart from family registers. The latter continued to function as registers of primary affiliation with a municipality of Japan, hence Japanese nationality.
Conflicts and incompatibilities between the two register systems — and ultimately between domestic and foreign status and family laws — were inevitable and have been contentious from the start. Discussions of how to merge the two systems are not new, but recently there have been serious movements in this direction. The issue is not the registers, per se, but the laws that determine for whom and how they work.