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Measuring Citizenship: Is Japan an Outlier?
By: Paul J. Scalise and Yuki Allyson Honjo

Abstract: This paper explores the notion that Japan is an outlier in its definitions of citizenship. It looks at 190 states around the world and their sample political aggregates in order to test if "jus solis," or "citizenship by birth," is a common feature of all states. Analysis of the data indicates the opposite: that jus solis conferring states are within the minority. Japan is not an outlier.


Is Japan an outlier in its definitions of citizenship? Japanese Only author Debito Arudou asserts that Japan is, indeed, an outlier. “Because Japan’s citizenship laws are jus sanguinis,” he writes, “only those with blood ties to Japan may be Japanese (as opposed to just about every other developed country, where if you are born there, you are automatically a citizen). This means that if Japan behaved like a normal developed country, the Zainichis [JRN eds.—Japan-born children of Korean and Chinese decent] would be Japanese citizens.” (Arduou, pg. vii) This assertion is taken at face value by Daily Yomiuri staff writer, Tom Baker, when he repeats from the book "Close to half of all registered foreigners in Japan were born and raised here as native speakers and be would citizens already in just about any other developed country [JRN eds.—emphasis added]." 1

We explore the validity of this claim: we reviewed “Citizenship Laws of the World” by the United States Office of Personnel Management Investigations Service (IS-1, March 2001) which had a summary of the citizenship laws of 190 states. Our study included a tabulation of each state’s citizenship laws in terms of jus solis, jus sanguinis, dual-citizenship and naturalization.

We employ both their definitions of citizenship and statistical population sample. Jus sanguinis, or “citizenship by decent,” is a method whereby citizenship is “passed onto a child based upon at least one of the parents being a citizen of that nation, regardless of that child’s actual state of birth.” Jus solis, or “citizenship by birth,” is a method whereby citizenship is simply “granted due to birth within the state…regardless of the parents’ citizenship or status.” States that do not automatically confer citizenship upon birth, but carry complicated ethnic2 , religious3 , political4 and/or temporal5 exceptions to the general rule—including Japan’s own exception of conferring Japanese citizenship to “children born of unknown parents”—are ignored for the purpose of this study.

Our analysis includes discussions of “samples and populations” in the statistical sense—that is, a sample of sovereign states with publicly available information on citizenship laws and the rights to citizenship, the aggregate of such states from which these samples are drawn (a population), and their respective quantitative analyses. Thus, the percentages below treat each state and its respective citizenship laws as a sample datum within larger political aggregates. A census of the civilian population is not considered. Therefore, if we consider the G-7, for example, 42.9% or 3 out of 7 states at the time of this study employ jus solis as a means of obtaining citizenship.


The results indicate that Mr. Arudou’s assertion does not hold up to close scrutiny:

1. Japan falls within the majority—not the minority—of states worldwide without automatic jus solis conferral, regardless of whether or not a definition of “development” is necessary.
2. Jus Solis conferring states are only prevalent among the Organization of American States (OAS)—a political entity of the Western Hemisphere that combines both “developed” and “developing” states.
3. There is no obvious correlation between “development” and jus solis conferring states.
4. Japan, to be sure, does fall within the minority of developed states that do not offer dual-citizenship.
5. However, trend analysis and anecdotal evidence both suggest that states are moving away from—not towards—the automatic conferral of citizenship based on birth, or at least increasingly question its theoretical and constitutional legitimacy in these changing economic times.

Sample Aggregates

Most social scientists compare Japan against its peers in either the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or G-7. We expand that list to include the other permutations of the G-7, the European Union (EU), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the world population of states. Table 1 tabulates our findings.

In contrast to naturalization opportunities afforded legal aliens in Japan, there are only seven states worldwide that explicitly frown upon naturalization.6 As they are a small fraction of Third World states, we have excluded that column from Table 1. Jus sanguinis is also omitted because of its virtual7 universality among the world population of states.

States that confer citizenship to all foreign nationals born within its borders, regardless of the nationality of the parents, and under all circumstances, including those born unto foreign diplomatic personnel, transient parents, or ships flying the state flag in international waters, are a small sample of the world population of states. This phenomenon we call “pure jus solis.” Only 22 out of 190 states, or 11.6%, according to our analysis of the data, offer such citizenships rights. Moreover, only three states within that category may be considered truly “developed” by way of their OECD membership: Ireland, France and Mexico.

Table 1: Percentages of Total Membership by Political Identity
Jus Solis and Dual-Citizenship



Jus Solis 1

Jus Solis 2


























European Union























[1] automatic (read: pure) conferral under all circumstances
[2] automatic conferral plus states with restrictions on children born to transient parents and foreign diplomatic personnel

Source: "Citizenship Laws of the World"; Wikipedia; JapanReview.Net

However, our definition of jus solis—for the purpose of this study—is more generous. In our tabulations of jus solis, we consider states that carry exclusionary caveats against transient parents (e.g., Canada) and children born to foreign diplomatic personnel (e.g., New Zealand) to still confer citizenship based on birth as jus solis. The point was to test for trends and clusters that showed how different Japan was from other jus solis conferring states such as those exemplified in North America, following the definitions and parameters of the United States Office of Personnel Management Investigations Services.

As Table 1 indicates, "developed" nations conferring citizenship by birth fall within the clear minority regardless of the political identity used; in the EU, only two states (i.e., France and Ireland), or 8%, confer such rights; in the OECD—a larger definition of "development"—registers 20%. Those states are Canada, France, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, and USA. Indeed, the only political identity conferring jus solis as a majority is the OAS—an American mixture of "developed" and "undeveloped" states, and not considered to be representative of the "developed" world by most social scientific definitions. But, again, the OAS is neither representative of the world population of states.

Our conclusion: Japan is not an outlier in its definitions of citizenship.

Countries with Jus Solis Citizenship Laws as Percentage of Total Membership by Political Identity

“Development” and the Birth-Rights to Citizenship

Is there a correlation between economic development and a state’s adoption of jus solis citizenship laws? Again, we tested this hypothesis on a statistical sample of world states (170) where data were available for both real GDP per capita (constant US dollars, inflation adjusted) and legal status.

Generally, developed nations are defined as states that have achieved (currently or historically) a high degree of industrialization, and which enjoy the higher standard of living that wealth and technology make possible. This so-called “standard of living” is generally measured by real (i.e., inflation adjusted) income per person. For the sake of this study we employ real GDP per capita—FY2000 data sourced at Penn World Tables 6.1.

A bivariate display is used to examine the relationship between two variables: GDP per capita (a measure of economic development) and states with jus solis. These variables are categorical. The relationship is depicted below where states with and without jus solis are represented by values of 1 and 2, respectively. A problem arises with the graph because cases having the same or similar values on the Y-axis (real GDP per capita) are sometimes plotted on top of each other and cannot be discerned—an instance of overplotting. We reduced this problem by adding a small random value to each case’s score on the X-axis, which helps spread out the points. This technique is known as “jittering.”

Jittered Scatter Plot: GDP per capita v. Jus Solis

In assessing our jittered scatterplot, column "1" plots the number of states that automatically confer birth-rights to citizenship and column "2" plots the number of states that do not. Our parameters for "developed" states are defined by statistical observations from the OECD: the range of real GDP per capita values are from approximately US$8800 (Mexico) to US$44,000 (Luxembourg). The large oval drawn around a portion of column "1" represents the theoretical area where—assuming the hypothesis were correct—"developed" states conferring jus solis would be found en masse. Nevertheless, we can see that there is little correlation between the two variable sets. In fact, among the so-called “developed states” the percentage of those states adopting jus solis citizenship laws was statistically low: 13:41, or 32 percent of the sample states in column "1".

Our conclusion: there is virtually no correlation between economic development and the adoption of jus solis citizenship laws. If "truth" is really nothing more than a "correspondence" with the facts, it is incorrect to argue that Japan's definitions of citizenship are inconsistent with those of "normal developed countries."

Are States Moving “Towards” Jus Solis?

The previous sections have disproved some of the conventional wisdom about Japan’s allegedly abnormal behavior towards its permanent residents: that Japan is an outlier in its citizenship conferral based on place of birth (jus solis); and that most economically developed states tend to confer such rights on its residents. This section presents rudimentary tests of the contending argument: that developed states are slowly adopting jus solis citizenship laws. To be sure, from January 1, 2000, Germany adopted some jus solis provisions (see footnote 5), albeit not automatic, provided that “one parent has lived in the state for eight years.” Is this part of a much smaller trend?

There are several ways to approach this question. Both trend analysis and anecdotal evidence seem to indicate that more states are “moving away from”—not “towards”—the automatic conferral of citizenship based on a child’s state of birth, as well as question its theoretical, economic and constitutional legitimacy.

First, let's go to the numbers. According to data collated by the United States Office of Personnel Management Investigations Service, 26 states8 —including Germany—have (or had) statutory limitations and restrictions (suggesting change) and/or clear changes to the law. Of those 26 states, at the time of this study, half do not confer birth-based citizenship automatically. But by themselves these absolute percentages tell us nothing about the reasoning or type of citizenship conferral behind the decisions. For that, one should also look at other measures.

Only four "developed" states (i.e., Australia, Canada, Germany, and New Zealand) changed their laws, indicating a mostly Third World phenomena. The observation is not surprising as many states were former African and Asian colonies that gained their independence from a European power. Of these four developed states, Canada and New Zealand allow for automatic birth-rights to citizenship; Australia and Germany do not.

What makes some states adopt such citizenship provisions and others not? This is a complex issue, but we suspect the roots lie in the national interest. States that have traditionally sought immigration allow for such carrot-and-stick birth-right incentives. Technologically developed states with already high standards of living obviously have less political incentive to increase immigration, thereby forcing more workers to compete for limited public and private resources. Indeed, a June 2003 study conducted by the The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, part of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, concluded that "the overall net gain in income of residents [to an increase in immigration] is likely to be small and maybe even negative."9

Anecdotal evidence reinforces the hypothesis, and suggests that anti-jus solis trends will continue among developed nations as globalization intensifies. In the United States, for example, discussing the subject of citizenship—its rights, requirements and refusal—is no longer a right-wing exercise. Scholarly writings10 on the subject are offering up new theoretical and constitutional challenges to such things as jus solis, non-citizen local voting, campaign contributions, and the right to certain forms of public welfare. But while the United States has yet to seriously present amendments to its Constitution or changes to Title 8 of U.S. Code 1401-1409 conferring citizenship to children born in the state, other states have.

Consider Ireland—only one of two states in Europe to automatically confer citizenship based on place of birth—it began discussing its modification in 2001. A referendum proposed to insert the following section into Article 9 of the Constitution:

Notwithstanding any other provisions of this Constitution, a person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and its seas, who does not have, at the time of his or her birth, at least one parent who is an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen is not [JRN eds.—emphasis added] entitled to Irish citizenship or nationality, unless otherwise provided for by law.

France, the other European state affording pure jus solis citizenship rights to children born to non-citizens, appears to face similar doubts. In 1998, the French Civil Code (Act n° 98-170 of 16 March 1998, Articles 21-7: 21-11) implemented restrictions on birth-rights to citizenship and now follows the Italian legal model. This was followed by the surprising rise of French nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen and the National Front, a political party composed primarily of urban and working class, that seeks to completely replace jus solis with jus sanguinis citizenship rights.

Indeed, the entire EU appears to have mixed feelings about the nature of immigration and the birth-rights to citizenship. "Although the numbers of Europeans who are actively tolerant outnumber those who are intolerant, the most common responses can be classified only as 'passively tolerant' or 'ambiguous'", according to a study by The Foreign Policy Centre. The study goes on to note: "In 2000, 48% of Europeans felt immigrants had enriched the cultural life of their country. However, a majority of Europeans voiced concerns over minorities and think that they threaten social peace and welfare. The polls show that Europeans tend to be particularly concerned about the impact which migration can have on unemployment, social welfare and educational standards."11

Final Thoughts

The evidence cited above belies the notion that the Japanese government's definition of citizenship falls outside the norm of either "developed" or "developing" states. More importantly, there is little correlation between birth-rights to citizenship and economic and institutional development. While some prominently developed states afford children born to non-citizen parents such automatic birth-rights, Japan's legal convergence with this world minority is neither automatic nor inevitable. Indeed, as the net benefits of globalization to domestic economies and their existing inhabitants are weighed and calculated, public policy among the handful of states conferring such rights may even shift someday to join the global majority.


1. Baker writes that such "background information" is "startl[ing]." Tom Baker, "The Water's Fine, But Don't Come In," The Daily Yomiuri, Book Review Section, January 16, 2005.

2. Based upon the Law of Citizenship (1961), Sierra Leone, for example, only confers jus solis to persons of "African Negro" (sic; Constitution) descent.

3. Several states do not confer automatic citizenship to children born out of wedlock. According to the Citizenship law (1965) of Austria, for example, a child born out of wedlock to a foreign mother and an Austrian father is not considered a citizen.

4. The British Commonwealth (ex Canada) tend to impose restrictions on the conferral of citizenship. In Australia and the United Kingdom, for example, one parent needs to be either a citizen of that state or a permanent resident. Conferral of citizenship is not automatic. Under the Nationality Act (May 4, 1950), Japan carries a similar law: a child, whose father is a citizen of Japan (jus sanguinis a patre), regardless of the child's state of birth, or a child born to a Japanese mother and unknown or stateless father, is awarded Japanese citizenship. The Nationality Law was subsequently amended in 1985, so a child now acquires Japanese nationality if either of the parents is a Japanese national. Nevertheless, conferral of citizenship is still not automatic.

5. Several states impose time constraints on children born within their borders. Conferral of citizenship is not automatic. In Iran, Italy, and Mozambique, for example, children born to non-citizens must wait until the age of 18 and continue to reside in the state for at least one year thereafter before being granted citizenship. Sometimes constraints are imposed on the parents. In Germany (post-2000), for example, citizenship can be acquired only if one parent has lived in the state for eight years. We hesitate to include France in the temporal restrictions category. According to one source, the French Civil Code (Act n° 98-170 of 16 March 1998, Articles 21-7: 21-11) implemented restrictions on birth-rights to citizenship and now follows the Italian legal model. If true, France cannot be considered jus solis, let alone "pure jus solis." However, we defer to our primary resource for methodological consistency.

6. Those states are Brunei Darussalem, Ghana, Kuwait, Malaysia, North Korea, Palau, and Syria. Naturalization may only be possible with a "special act of government" or other extraordinary requirements. North Korean citizenship, for example, is only granted by the Presidium of the Supreme Peoples' Assembly. It is unclear if a defection implies eventual naturalization. (viz. Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins.)

7. We say "virtual" because only 12 out of 190 states fail to provide information on its conferral. In most cases, the omissions are logical; the state either exists in name only (e.g., Yugoslavia) or is in legal transition (e.g., Iraq).

8. Those states are Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belize, Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Grenada, Guyana, Indonesia, Kiribati, Lesotho, Libya, Malta, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinnea, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, and Uganda.

9. CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis Home Page. 30 June 2003. Hans Roodenburg, Rob Euwals, and Harry ter Rele, "Immigration and the Dutch Economy," <>

10. Recently, there has been a growing trend within the Anglo-American literature to discuss the boundaries of citizenship. See, for example, Holston, J., A. Cities and Citizenship (Chicago University Press 1999), Steenbergen, B.V. The Condition of Citizenship (Sage 1994), Hutchings, K. and Dannreuther, R. Cosmopolitan Citizenship (Macmillan 1999), Jacobsohn, J., Dunn, S. and Williams College, Diversity and Citizenship: Rediscovering American Nationhood (Rowman & Littlefield 1996), Vogel, U. and Moran, M. The Frontiers of Citizenship (Macmillan 1991). A new journal has even been launched devoted entirely to the study of citizenship, appropriately entitled Citizenship Studies.

11.Migration Policy Group (MPG) Website. Mark Leonard and Phoebe Griffith, "The European Inclusion Index: Is Europe Ready for the Globalisation of People?," <>

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