As in several European countries, Japanese citizenship is still defined by decent. Inspired by the recent immigration debates in the US, anthropologist Sawa Kurotani reflects about the "cultural nationalism" of Japanese citizenship and concludes: "As long as this biologically and culturally produced Japaneseness continues to be the basis of Japanese citizenship, the mobility between citizen and noncitizen categories will be minimal."
Japanese self-analysis of their national character is widely known as nihonjinron (literally, discussion or theory about the Japanese), which centers on the unique characteristics shared among the Japanese that are the product of both biology and culture. The essence of Japanese identity is passed down through the "blood," and is nurtured through the early process of socialization to make one truly "Japanese," so the theory goes. This is why so many Japanese stubbornly refuse to accept a non-Japanese who attains near-native fluency in Japanese or who are able to grasp subtle cultural nuances: How can a gaijin (foreigner) without blood ties or proper upbringing possibly understand anything Japanese?
When Japan began to admit a large number of foreign workers into the country in the 1980s, the overwhelming preference was given to descendants of Japanese who emigrated to Brazil and Peru. Japanese seemed to believe that their Japanese blood made them "Japanese," despite their socialization as Brazilians and Peruvians, and they were truly surprised when they later found out otherwise. This instance gives us a sense of how powerful the belief in "Japanese blood" is.
Japan is now one of the few developed countries that do not allow dual citizenship. This is not a major problem in the world of "one citizenship per person per lifetime," which is, perhaps, the world in which the majority of my compatriots still live. But, it is about time that we acknowledge that the myth of "homogeneous society" is just a myth, and that an increasing number of Japanese nationals are experiencing transnational/multicultural lives outside Japan, while more and more non-Japanese are choosing to live and work in Japan.
>> read the whole article in The Daily Yomiuri (updated with copy)