Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
I recently had conversations with several Japanese friends about Japanese DPJ lawmaker Marutei Tsurunen. What interests me is that no Japanese I spoke to can avoid modifying Mr. Tsurunen’s identity by mentioning his foreign birth. Admittedly, his Finnish origin is one of his most noted and notable features. But I am more concerned with his social and political ideas than with anything else, which is how it ought to be, I think.
When I asked my friends, “Do you know this man?” and showed them a photograph, their immediate reply was that he was a “foreigner”in the National Diet.
I said, “No, he is Japanese” (present tense), “not a foreigner.”
“But he is from Finland.”
“But he is Japanese” (present tense, again) now.”
In conversation people often make the mistake of replying with what they think you want to know or hear, without addressing the conversation topic directly. Or, they cloud conversation topics by volunteering more information than is asked for, or that is even necessary. In the case of Mr. Tsurunen, I was stressing that he is Japanese (naturalized), but my speaking partners could ot/would not budge beyond his blue eyes and white skin. What he “is” is Japanese, not Finnish. Nationality is, or ought to be a matter of citizenship alone, not of ethnicity or race, and I think it does Japanese people good to see Japanese with different faces. You might say that the face of Japan is changing these days, but the truth is that the notion of a “homogenous” society was never anything but a myth anyway.
The government of Japan awards passports to its citizens, including naturalized citizens, equally. I mean, all passport holders are equally Japanese. Naturalized citizens are not less Japanese, unless one wants to admit the existence of different classes of citizenship. And I think that would be a shameful and morally bankrupt admission.
Similarly, my children are not “half”Japanese. They are entirely, completely Japanese. In fact, they are 200%, not 50%, because they possess two passports. Everyone else is “half.”
Published on Sunday, August 20, 2006 as “Challenge for the naturalized.”