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Sunday, July 9, 2006


Japanophile did not naturalize

Abiko, Chiba

Roger Pulvers' implications in his July 2 Counterpoint article, "Hedge your bets: Conform, but don't act like you belong" -- that Lafcadio Hearn "naturalized" and that his change of nationality was an "absolute puzzlement" -- distort the historical circumstances. Hearn's decision to become Koizumi Yakumo ("Haun" in Sino-Japanese) was not a puzzle to the Meiji government, which in 1873 had passed a law specifically allowing foreigners to become Japanese through marriage -- without naturalizing.

In the 1870s, nationality laws in many countries reciprocally provided that a woman who married a foreigner would lose her native nationality and gain his through automatic operation of their laws. The treatment of foreign wives under the 1873 law facilitated Japan's family laws, but it also conformed to the then global standard of linking a wife's nationality to her husband's.

Japan's treatment of a foreign husband like Hearn, who stood to become the head of his wife's household, flew in the face of widespread attitudes toward the nationality of men who married foreigners. British concern had nothing to do with race or religion, but centered on why Japan, unlike most other countries, would link a husband's legal status (marriage = family registration = nationality) to his wife's.

Naturalization did not become possible until the first Nationality Law of 1899. The new law continued to allow several categories of foreigners, including some men and women who married Japanese, to become Japanese without having to naturalize. Such avenues to nationality remained open until 1950, when the law was revised to require all foreigners who wished to become Japanese to naturalize -- by then the emerging global standard.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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