Originally from Canada, I visited Japan a number of times on vacation, and I moved here long-term in 2007 on a working visa. I loved living here so much that I wanted to stay permanently and began to look into options. I had heard that citizenship was “impossible” or “never happens.” Also, even if it was possible, would someone with a disability like me be accepted? Since I figured there would be no harm in at least trying, I decided to look into it.
I came across the Becoming Legally Japanese website, and was relieved to find that a number of the rumors were in fact not true. The site even had an excellent walk-through of how to apply.
Here are the actual requirements to become a citizen of Japan. A person must meet the following conditions:
• Having continuously had a domicile in Japan for five years or more;
• Being 20 years of age or more and having the capacity to act according to his/her national law;
• Being a person of good conduct;
• Being able to make a living through his/her own assets or abilities, or through those of a spouse or of another relative making a living;
• Not having a nationality or having to give up his/her nationality due to the acquisition of Japanese nationality; and
• On or after the date of promulgation of the Constitution of Japan, not having planned or advocated the destruction of the Constitution of Japan or the government established thereunder with force, and not having formed or joined a political party or other organization planning or advocating the same.
In short: lived here for a while, not a minor, have a steady income, pay taxes and don’t commit crimes, willing to be only Japanese (i.e. no dual citizenship), not actively trying to destroy Japan.
Not really high hurdles!
Language & Interest
So, why does Japan have such low immigration numbers? I would say the biggest reasons have to do with language and interest.
While the naturalization process does not specify a required level of language proficiency, a third-grade level is suggested. Anyone who studies for a year can easily achieve this.
However, since the most-spoken second language in the world is English, people tend to immigrate to places where they can use the English they already know. So many people follow their abilities and the masses go to English-speaking countries, boosting their immigration numbers above Japan’s.
Since very few people from the English-speaking world consider immigrating to Japan, there are few “success stories” written in English (most applicants are of East Asian descent). And so, people then assume it's difficult or frowned upon by the Japanese government simply because they “have never heard of it happening.” Since it's not often heard of, people assume they can't do it and never apply in the first place.
Japan doesn't allow dual citizenship—which means if you naturalize, you must give up your other nationalities. Some people don’t want to do this, so, they don’t apply.
But if you have an interest in naturalizing and meet those basic requirements, you just book an appointment at the Ministry of Justice, get a list of the paperwork to submit, have an interview, (possibly) have a short home visit, and wait about a year for the result. It's even free!
The Becoming Legally Japanese website was an invaluable resource with a fantastically welcoming community—check it out!
As I mentioned above, I’m a former Canadian guy in a wheelchair who earns an average salary. At no point in the process was an eye batted at these facts. If I can immigrate, I’m not sure why anyone else couldn’t.
If it is your heart’s desire, go for it!