Few things in life are irrevocable, but renouncing your citizenship from the U.S. is one of them. And yet that is what I plan to do in order to gain Japanese citizenship. The words sound so crazy, and I always feel like I have to explain my reasoning right away, even though I’m sure most people’s brows are already furled up or the look of disapproval has already set in.
The decision to become a Japanese citizen was not done capriciously, nor was it done to make a symbolic point, or to look fashionable. The career that I am entering (becoming a Buddhist monk, looking to help run my father-in-law’s temple in Japan) requires Japanese citizenship. Plain and simple. If I want to do A, I have to do B.
As it’s written in “Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai” (a book that illustrates samurai thinking through anecdotes): when it’s raining, you can run under the eaves from house to house, but you’ll still get wet. If you know you’ll get wet and resolve/resign yourself to this in the beginning, you’ll get the same soaking, but without all the worrying.
So yes, there will be difficulties involved. Opportunities will be lost but new ones will arise. That’s how life is. What’s important for me now is how to overcome the obstacles in my future, not worry about the fork in the road miles behind me.
Losing U.S. citizenship has obvious disadvantages, such as never being able to live in America again and losing out on the money invested in social security, from what I understand. But that’s easily countered for me, because I’ve lived in Japan for the past five years anyway, and have more invested in my Japanese pension than social security. But the biggest and most difficult challenge for me is to give up a part of my identity.
I’ve never felt as “American” as I do when I’m in Japan. I often begin a conversation by mentioning that I’m American, so people don’t think I’m crazy for looking Japanese but not being able to speak it fluently. This goes out the window if I actually become Japanese. Right now, not being able to read a newspaper here seems normal for me. It’s like saying I can’t read Italian. It’s a foreign language. But if I become Japanese and I can’t read a local newspaper, then I’m just plain illiterate.
Growing up in America has affected my way of thinking, my method of doing things, and my beliefs of what is right and wrong. Having a different passport can’t and won’t change that. Becoming Japanese won’t change me as a person one bit; but it will change other people’s perception of me. And while that’s the most difficult thing for me to accept, it’s also the thing that I have the least control over.
Changing your citizenship is not a simple thing. I went to the naturalization office with my wife to start the whole process and was left a bit dazed. The meeting took about an hour and a half, and we discussed my family (mostly to figure out which documents I’ll need to submit) and my employability/skills (to determine if I could survive in Japan on my own). The woman processing my request was very helpful and regularly checked to make sure that I understood everything.
Most daunting is the amount of paperwork involved. I need all sorts of documents proving my identity and mapping out my family tree in America, going so far as needing an official copy of my brother’s birth certificate!
“Good conduct” is also important, which means that even a parking fine or traffic ticket will make naturalization that much more difficult.
Once I submit all the paperwork, I’ll still need to pass an interview test in Japanese as well as submit an essay about my intent to become a Japanese citizen. After that, the naturalization office sends their recommendation to the Ministry of Justice in Tokyo and the whole thing gets processed there; a process which can take up to a year or more.
I lamented about the disadvantages of losing American citizenship, but there are benefits of becoming a Japanese citizen. I love America, but I love Japan as well, and life here in the past five years has been wonderful. Gaining citizenship will allow me to contribute more to society here, and give me a voice in building the community my children will grow up in.
There will be challenges in the road ahead of me, but I am looking forward to facing them and I hope to continue writing for the Nichi Bei and outlining the process in the future!
Jeff Asai, a Yonsei originally from Northern California’s South Bay Area, writes from the town of Asuka, Nara Prefecture, Japan, where he is teaching English. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.