Naturalization under 1899 Nationality Law

And other unnatural means of nationality acquisition

By William Wetherall

First posted 28 March 2006
Last updated 1 August 2014

Acquisition of nationality by foreigners Nationality acquired other than naturally | 1899 Nationality Law under Home Affairs | Changing patterns of naturalization | Yearbook descriptions of "Naturalization" | Lafcadio Hearn did not "naturalize" | Formosan Chinese
Tables of statistics by means of acquisition
     Acquisition of Japanese nationality by foreigners, 1904 to 1913 -- By nationality and means
     Acquisition of Japanese nationality by foreigners, 1913 to 1927 -- By year and means
Estella Finch becomes Hoshida Mitsuyo

Acquisition of nationality by foreigners

Children qualified by the conditions of their birth, whether in Japan or abroad, for registration in a household register affiliated with Japan's sovereign territory, became Japanese at the time of their birth so long as notifications of birth were filed with competent authorities and the conditions of birth were confirmed and duly recorded, usually in the register of the child's biological parents. Children not qualified for status as Japanese at birth were aliens, but as such they were able to acquire status as Japanese later in life if they met certain conditions.


Nationality acquired other than naturally

Nationality is acquired "naturally" at time of birth, and otherwise later in life. Acquisition other than at time of birth can be through (1) automatic operation of the law upon confirmation of qualification, or (2) permission from a competent authority. Examples of the former are nationality through marriage or adoption, legitimation or acknowledgement, or recovery. Examples of the latter are nationality through application for naturalization or through outright grant.


1899 Nationality Law under Home Affairs

Naturalization was not possible until the enforcement of the 1899 Nationality Law (Law No. 66 of 1899) from 1 April 1899. The 1899 law also continued to recognize change of nationality through marriage, as provided by the Great Council of State Proclamation No. 103 of 1873.

The 1899 Nationality Law was under the administration of the Ministry of Home Affairs (Naimushō) [Ministry of Interior], unlike the 1950 law, which has been administered by the Ministry of Justice. Statistics showing a breakdown of Japanese nationality gained other than naturally (i.e., through operations of right-of-blood or right-of-soil provisions at time of birth) were reported in Ministry of Home Affairs publications, and in yearbooks published in English between the early 1910s and early 1930s.


Changing patterns of naturalization

The tables below show figures obtained from yearbooks published in English. It is interesting that more foreigners became Japanese through naturalization during the earlier 10-year period (1904-1913) reported by Bowles (1915), than during the 13 years I examined from between 1913 and 1927. Both sets of data include 1913, but the three cases for that year do not significantly change the patterns.

There were far more naturalizations, in terms of both numbers and percents, during the early period, and far more acquisitions of nationality through marriage during the second period. This, however, makes sense in light of the rush among some Chinese on Formosa to become Japanese after the 1899 Nationality Law was extended to the territory a few months after it came into force in the prefectures. Whereas later, there were more foreigners in Japan who might marry Japanese and become Japanese through the marriage.


Yearbook descriptions of "Naturalization"

The yearbooks from which I compiled the data for the years 1913 to 1927 contain two paragraphs under the heading "Naturalization". The first paragraph describes the conditions for naturalization as follows (1919-1920) [1926, 1930].

A foreigner may become a Japanese subject under (this condition) [the following conditions], viz., (1) That he has been domiciled in Japan for at least five years continuously; (2) is at least 20 years of age and possesses civil capacity according to the law of his native country; (3) is of good morals; (4) possesses property or ability to maintain himself; (5) possesses no nationality or will lose it on being made a Japanese subject.

The 1919-1920 yearbook has the following second paragraph.

A foreigner may also become a Japanese subject by marrying a Japanese woman on condition of being adopted into her family and assuming the family name of the wife, as did late Lafcadio Hearn who became a Japanese subject by complying with this formality and acquired a new name, Koizumi Yakumo. Permission of the Home Ministry is to be obtained in this form of naturalization, the condition required being very simple, i.e., continuous residence or domicile in Japan for at least one year and good morals. Another simple process of acquiring Japanese nationality consists of being adopted by a Japanese subject. Naturalization record still remains comparatively insignificant, the bulk being supplied by Chinese living in Formosa.

The second paragraph in the 1926 and [1930] yearbooks is more comprehensive but less detailed regarding acquisition through marriage.

The above conditions are much modified for those whose fathers, mothers or wives were Japanese subjects, and for those who were born in Japan of either Japanese father or mother. Those who are living in Japan for ten years or more may be naturalized even when they are not domiciled for five consecutive years, while those of distinguished service to Japan may, with Imperial sanction, be naturalized unconditionally, [be made] very simple, i.e., continuous residence or domicile in Japan for at least one year and good morals. The nationality can also be acquired by being adopted by a Japanese subject. Naturalizations still remain comparatively insignificant in number, the bulk being supplied by Chinese living in Formosa.


Lafcadio Hearn did not "naturalize"

The above descriptions would appear to describe the gain of nationality through marriage or adoption as forms of naturalization. However, they do not accurately reflect the law.

The 1899 Nationality Law classified such means of acquisition outside its chapter on "naturalization" for good reason: legally, the term "kika" (A) did not apply to the acquisition of nationality through marriage, adoption, or recognition under the Nationality Law.

Note also that the English overviews fail to comment on the acquisition of Japanese nationality by foreign women who marry Japanese men -- again, not a form of naturalization, but acquisition of nationality as an effect of a status action and resulting status relationship. It was far easier, in fact, for an alien woman to become Japanese through marriage. It was virtually expected as a widely accepted principle in nationality laws throughout the world -- namely, that a woman who married an alien would follow her husband's nationality.

An alliance of marriage between a Japanese and an alien resulted in the alien becoming the spouse of a Japanese. A foreign women who married a Japanese man stood to become Japanese through the operation of the 1873 proclamation on alliances of marriage and adoption between a Japanese and an alien, then of the 1899 Nationality Law. The head of the Japanese household into which the woman had married had to submit a formal petition or notification, and documents had to be vetted in order to confirm relevant facts. But the head of household and other parties to the alliance expected approval.

In Hearn's case, the approval resulted in him replacing his wife as the head of her branch of her her natal family. See Becoming Japanese in the Meiji period: Adopted sons, incoming husbands, and naturalization, and therein Lafcadio Hearn aka Koizumi Yakumo, for details.


Formosan Chinese

By "Formosan Chinese" I mean nationals of China on Formosa, not Formosan Japanese of Chinese descent. We are talking about nationality, not race or ethnicity.

The data which Bowles (1915) attributes to "Reports of Home Department" clearly show that the vast majority of naturalizers were Chinese. While naturalization sharply drops off during the two decades following the period of his report (1904-1913), all English yearbooks consulted state that most naturalizers were "Chinese living in Formosa" (1919-1920, 1926, 1930).

Why most naturalizers were Formosan Chinese is understandable when it is remembered that the Treaty of Shimonoseki made all people who were legally domiciled on Formosa Japanese subjects -- unless they relocated themselves elsewhere. The vast majority of Formosans automatically became Japanese. Chinese and other foreigners who were in Formosa at the time but were not domiciled there remained aliens. Aliens who became domiciled in Formosa after the treaty came into effect also remained aliens.

Foreigners who married Japanese subjects in Formosa were treated the same as those who married Japanese subjects in the prefectures, in that they could lose or gain Japanese nationality through marriage. Other aliens who wanted to become Japanese had to naturalize. The vast majority of foreigners on Formosa were Chinese, as one dialect or another of Chinese was the dominant language of commerce, at least during the first decade or two before daily life on island became Japanized.

Notice in the statistics compiled by Bowles that there is a clear distinction between Chinese who became Japanese through naturalization, and those who became Japanese through adoption or as incoming husbands [nyufu].

Notice also that only one Korean is shown to have acquired Japanese nationality during the decade covered by Bowles data. This single case had to have been before Korea was annexed to Japan, after which all people domiciled on the peninsula became Japanese.

Naturalization and other means of acquiring Japanese nationality after birth did not apply to Formosans and Koreans who became Japanese as a result of Formosa and Korea becoming part of Japan's sovereign dominion, because they were already Japanese. Moreover, their children, as offspring of Japanese nationals, became Japanese at time of birth.


Tables of statistics by means of acquisition

Acquisition of Japanese nationality by foreigners, 1904 to 1913
By nationality and means of acquisition
Compiled by Bowles (1915), computed and designed by Wetherall (2006)
Means of acquisition of Japanese nationality
Nationality Totals Adopted and Nyufu Regained Naturalized
Chinese 182 7 17 158
English 14 7 5 2
American 10 1 7 2
French 5 5
German 3 1 2
Korean 1 1
Portugese 1 1
1904-1913 216 18 31 167
Percent 100.0 8.3 14.4 77.3
Source Gilbert Bowles
Japanese Law of Nationality
Tokyo: Jay M. Gardener/Shueisha, 1915
Page 6
Comments The above table is an adaptation of a table which Bowles titled "Foreigners Who Obtained Japanese Nationality, 1904-1913".The heading "Adopted and Nyufu" follows Bowles.The order of the terms reflects the order of "mukoyoshi" [adopted son-in-law] and "nyufu" [incoming husband] in the Great Council of State Proclamation No. 103 of 1873.
Adopted Entered register as mukoyoshi = son-in-law adoptee
The male head of a household adopts a daughter's husband as his son to succeed him as head of the household when he dies.Her husband enters the household register and assumes its family name. (Wetherall)
Nyufu Entered register as nyufu = incoming husband  
A women who has become the head of a household on account of her father's death, there being no male heirs in the household, marries, and the bridegroom enters the household register as her husband, who assumes its family name and becomes the head of household. (Wetherall)
Acquisition of Japanese nationality by foreigners, 1913 to 1927
By year and means of acquisition
Compiled, computed, and designed by William Wetherall, October 2006
Means of acquisition of Japanese nationality
Year Totals Adopted Nyufu Regained Naturalized
1913 3 0 2 1 0
1914 6 0 0 1 5
1915 15 1 5 3 6
1916 20 0 0 9 11
1918 9 0 1 3 5
1919 14 4 0 8 2
1920 34 3 1 13 17
1921 21 4 0 9 8
1923 1 0 0 1 0
1924 12 2 1 4 5
1925 13 2 1 7 3
1926 22 7 4 7 4
1927 34 8 0 9 17
1913-1927 204 31 15 75 83
Percents 100.0 15.2 7.4 36.8 40.7
Early and later periods show significantly different patterns
1904-1913 216 18 31 167
Percents 100.0 8.3 14.4 77.3
1913-1927 204 46 75 83
Percents 100.0 22.5 36.8 40.7
Sources Figures for 1913 to 1927 are from the following editions of
Y [Yutaro] Takenobu (Editor)
The Japan Times Year Book
(Complete Cyclopaedia of General Information and Statistics on Japan
[and Japanese Territories] for the Year 19XX)
Tokyo: The Japan Year Book Office [Eibun Nihon Nenkan Sha]
Data Yearbook
1913-1916 14th edition, 1919-1920 (1920)
1918-1921 22nd edition, 1926 (1926)
1923-1927 26th edition, 1930 (1929)
This yearbook was published by
The Japan Year Book Office [Eibun Nihon Nenkan Hakkojo / Sha]
from at least 1906 to at least 1931 but NLT 1932.
The 5th edition of 1910 did not include change of nationality statistics.
The first edition to include such statistics is at this time unknown.
The last edition to include such statistics might be 1931.
The yearbook was published by
The Foreign Affairs Association of Japan [Nihon Gaiji Kyokai]
from NET 1932 to at least 1949-1952.
Editions published by this association do not inlcude
change of nationality statistics.


Estella Finch becomes Hoshida Mitsuyo

Among the ten Americans who naturalized between 1904 and 1915 was the American missionary Estella Finch, who in 1909 became the Japanese missionary Hoshida Mitsuyo (1869-1924).

Finch came to Japan in 1893 at age 24. In 1899, she and the Reverend Kuroda Korenobu, a pastor of Yokosuka Christ Church, founded the Army and Navy Mission Club [Rikukaigun Dendogi Kai] in Yokosuka. Her dedication to helping Japanese servicemen earned her the name "Mother of Yokosuka".

On 11 January 1909, at age 40, Estella Finch became Hoshida Mitsuyo. "Hoshida" [starfield] reflects "Estella", which like Estelle and Esther means "star". Apparently some of her American friends and helpers opposed her change in nationality. Reportedly she experienced some difficulties traveling in America as a Japanese.

Hoshida died in Yokosuka on 16 June 1924 at age 56. Her tomb is at Sogenji on a hill in Kugocho in Yokosuka. The tombstone reads "Hoshida Mitsuyo sensei no haka" and bears the following epitaph by Kuroda (my translation):

Ah, to be like Sensei, someone who abandoned her youth [seishun], who abandoned her nationality [kokuseki], and who in the end abandoned even her life [seimei sono mono sae]. It should be said of her spirit of offering peace [kensei no seishin]: with it, though she is dead, she still speaks.

The last phrase comes from Hebrews 11:4, which in the King James version reads:

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

The location of Hosoda's tomb at Sogenji is not without meaning. The temple was built during the Asuka period. From the Heian to the Kamakura periods it was patronized by the Miura clan, from which the entire peninsula takes its name. During the Kamakura period the temple was one of several throughout Japan that were commissioned by the shogunate to offer prayers and perform other services to protect the country.

To be continued.