How to Get Japanese Citizenship: The Complete Guide

How to Get Japanese Citizenship: The Complete Guide

Japan is a fascinating place with a rich history. In fact, some people fall so much in love with the country’s lifestyle that they dream of one day becoming a Japanese citizen.

However, obtaining Japanese citizenship is no easy feat if you don’t have local ancestry. Japan has some of the strictest citizenship laws and lowest naturalization rates among developed countries.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the process of acquiring Japanese citizenship, the requirements you must meet, and some alternative paths like citizenship by descent.

We’ll also explore why the barriers to citizenship are so high in Japan and if pursuing a Japanese passport is even the right move for you in the first place. Let’s dive in!


Challenges of Becoming Japanese

Gaining citizenship in Japan is a long and involved process that can take many years. There are several hurdles that make it difficult:

  • Japan doesn’t allow dual citizenship, except for those who acquire multiple citizenships at birth. Anyone who naturalizes must renounce their original citizenship.
  • You must live in Japan for 5 consecutive years before applying for citizenship. Time spent in Japan on a student or trainee visa doesn’t count towards the requirement.
  • Citizenship is not automatically granted after the residency period. You still need to apply and pass a screening that examines your moral character, financial stability, and assimilation into Japanese society.
  • You must demonstrate Japanese language proficiency and knowledge of Japanese culture and customs. This is evaluated through an interview.
  • The naturalization process is lengthy, usually taking 1-2 years from application to approval. The screening is very thorough.


As a result of these high barriers, Japan has one of the lowest naturalization rates in the world, with only around 1% of its foreign population becoming Japanese citizens.

Compare this to over 50% in countries like Canada and Australia. Clearly, Japan is very selective about who it allows to become a citizen.

If none of these challenges deter you, we’ll proceed with going over all the ways to get Japanese citizenship!

Paths to Japanese Citizenship

There are three main ways to become a Japanese national:

  1. Citizenship by descent (being born to a Japanese parent)
  2. Marrying a Japanese citizen
  3. Naturalizing as a long-term resident

Let’s look at each of these paths in more detail in order to better learn how to get Japanese citizenship.

Japanese Citizenship by Descent

The easiest way to become a Japanese citizen is to be born to at least one Japanese parent. Japan operates on the principle of jus sanguinis (right of blood), meaning it grants citizenship based on having Japanese parents or ancestors, not by place of birth.

Under Japan’s Nationality Act, you are automatically a born Japanese citizen if:

  • Both your parents are Japanese citizens
  • One parent is a Japanese citizen and the other is unknown or stateless
  • You are born in Japan to stateless parents
  • One parent is a Japanese citizen and you are born outside Japan. However, you must be registered on your Japanese parent’s family registry within 3 months of birth or you will lose Japanese citizenship.

If you were born abroad to a Japanese parent but they failed to register you, you can still claim Japanese citizenship later as an adult. However, you will likely have to give up any other citizenship you hold.


Japan Town

Japanese diaspora exist on practically all corners of the globe, from Thailand to Brazil (pictured above). You might be relieved to know that descendants of Japanese citizens are offered Long-Term Resident status with relative ease. 

One thing to note – even if you are eligible for citizenship by descent, Japan does not allow dual nationality, except for those who acquired multiple citizenships at birth.

If you have another citizenship, you’ll eventually be forced to choose between them when you turn 22 years old. Yet we’ll discuss more about Japan’s very strict stance against dual citizenship later on.

Citizenship by Marriage

To be clear, marrying a Japanese citizen by itself doesn’t automatically grant you Japanese citizenship.

However, it can greatly speed up the naturalization timeline. The residency requirement is reduced from 5 years to 3 years if you are married to a Japanese national.

You still need to meet all the other criteria for naturalization like language proficiency, good character, and financial stability. Your Japanese spouse will also need to sponsor your application.

Also, getting divorced before you naturalize can complicate matters, as you would lose your spouse’s support and may have to wait longer to apply for citizenship.

Japan’s naturalization process isn’t easy even with the help of a Japanese husband or wife.


Long-Term Resident Naturalization

The most common way for a foreigner to become Japanese is to live in Japan as a resident for at least five consecutive years, then apply to naturalize.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be over 18 years old
  • Have lived in Japan for over 5 years with a valid visa (working, spouse, permanent resident, etc)
  • Be of good moral character with no criminal record
  • Be financially stable and able to support yourself
  • Agree to renounce your current citizenship and swear allegiance to Japan
  • Speak and understand Japanese
  • Understand Japanese culture and customs


The screening process is rigorous. Immigration officials will examine your employment, tax records, assets, and even interview neighbors to make sure you are a fit candidate.

Lying on your application or failing to disclose information can lead to your citizenship being denied or revoked later.

The process typically takes 1-2 years from submitting your application to approval. If successful, you attend a naturalization ceremony, receive your Japanese citizenship certificate, and register your new status at your local ward office.

Oh, and also, you absolutely must hand over your foreign passport and renounce your previous nationality.

Japan’s Stance on Dual Citizenship

Japan is one of the few developed countries in Asia that does not allow dual citizenship after childhood. 

The Japanese government requires citizens to choose one nationality, as they believe holding multiple citizenships leads to divided loyalties.

If you have another citizenship along with your Japanese one, you must choose between them before the age of 22. This applies even if you acquired both citizenships at birth.

And if you fail to choose, the Ministry of Justice may force you to give up one of them.


Passport Ranking

Ranked among the best in the world, Japan’s passport will let you into over 190 different countries without a visa. You can’t have dual citizenship though, which is one of its main drawbacks.

There are a few exceptions. For example, Japanese citizens who naturalize in a country that does not allow renunciation of citizenship (such as in Qatar) may be allowed to keep both.

But in general, Japan requires single citizenship. This means that if you naturalize, you must give up your original citizenship and passport.

This is a big decision that you should not make lightly, as it can impact your ability to live and work in your home country later on. Consider your long-term plans carefully.

Benefits & Negatives of Japanese Citizenship

So why go through the long and difficult process of becoming a Japanese citizen? There are a few key benefits:

  • You gain full rights and privileges in Japan, including the right to vote, access social services, and sponsor family members for visas
  • You can obtain a Japanese passport, which provides visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 192 countries as of 2023, making it one of the most powerful passports in the world
  • Your future children will be Japanese citizens by descent
  • You may feel a stronger sense of belonging and acceptance in Japanese society

However, there are also significant negative aspects to consider:

  • You must renounce your current citizenship as Japan does not allow dual nationality
  • The naturalization process is long, complex and invasive with no guarantee of success
  • You may face discrimination and never be fully accepted as Japanese by some, as Japanese society tends to conflate nationality with ethnicity
  • Japan has very restrictive laws around personal freedoms compared to the West (for example, it’s illegal to own firearms, certain knives, or even some over-the-counter pills)

Weigh these pros and cons carefully before pursuing Japanese citizenship. For many people, the requirement to renounce their original citizenship is a dealbreaker. 

Think carefully about your goals and what you hope to gain from becoming Japanese.

Permanent Residence & Alternatives to Citizenship

If getting a Japanese passport is not realistic or desirable for you, there are other ways to live long-term in Japan:

  • Permanent residency: Japan offers a permanent resident visa that allows you to live and work in Japan indefinitely. The requirements are similar to naturalization (10 year residency, language proficiency, etc.) but you can keep your original citizenship.
  • Long-term work visas: Japan has a variety of work visas that allow you to stay for 1-5 years at a time. These include the Highly Skilled Professional visa and Business Manager visa. Some of these can lead to permanent residency.
  • Spouse visa: If you are married to a Japanese citizen or permanent resident, you can qualify for a spouse visa that allows you to live and work in Japan. The visa must be renewed every 1-3 years but there is no limit on the number of renewals.

These are good options if you want to make Japan your home without losing your original citizenship.

In many ways, permanent residency in Japan offers similar benefits to citizenship without the drawbacks.

The Bottom Line

Getting a Japanese passport is not impossible but it is very difficult. Japan intentionally created a long and complex naturalization process with many barriers to citizenship.

If you have a Japanese parent, then citizenship by descent is the most straightforward path.

For others, you should expect to spend at least 5-6 years living in Japan and preparing your citizenship application.

Consider if Japanese citizenship is truly necessary for your goals. Permanent residency offers many of the same benefits without forcing you to give up your original passport.

With that said, if you’re intending to live in Japan for the rest of your life, applying for citizenship here makes sense despite the difficulties.



Does Japan Allow Dual Citizenship?

No, any new Japanese citizens must renounce any other nationalities.

Japan doesn't allow dual citizenship except in very rare cases.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Japanese Citizen?

It's possible to apply for naturalization after residing in Japan for five interupted years. However, the application itself will take at least another year or two.

You should expect the entire process to take about 7 years, from originally arriving in Japan to becoming a citizen.

Do You Need to Learn Japanese to Become a Citizen?

Yes, anyone applying for citizenship must take a Japanese language test, along with a civics and government test.


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