The political participation of foreigners in Japan

"Japan has been criticized for advocating racial harmony but practicing discrimination in reality. Indeed, Japan discriminated against Koreans in the beginning of annexation: Parliament was not in the government of governor-general, and the suffrage was not permitted, even for the Japanese in Korea. Political segregation toward Taiwanese was even further, because the difficult relationship between Japan and China was taken into consideration. Especially, it should be counted as Japan's biggest mistake in this field that they banned the political activity of Isshinkai, which, with its one million members, advocated Korea's annexation to Japan.

But in Japan, Koreans were given the same suffrage as Japanese in the mainland Japan. Park Shung Kong was elected into the House of Commons twice from the Tokyo district. There were several of them elected into the House of Lords as well. Hong Sa Yan has advanced to the post of Lieutenant General in the army. And it did not come to its fruition because the war ended, 18 members of the Common were to be elected to be from Korea in the next election."

Kazuho Baba (Translator; He resides in California and wishes to pursue a career in journalism), Controversies over the History of Japan-Korea Relations, August 17, 2000

(not available on line)

Naoki MIZUNO, "Revocations of the Suffrage Rights of Koreans and Taiwanese Residing in Japan, 1945", The Bulletin of Kyoto Human Rights Research Institute , No.1 March 1996

Naoki MIZUNO, "Revocations of the Suffrage Rights of Koreans and Taiwanese Residing in Japan, 1945-1952 : A Sequel", Bulletin of Kyoto Human Rights Research Institute, No.2 March 1997

There are many foreigners who live in Japan: Koreans, Chinese, Southeast Asians, South Americans, and so on. They have been in Japan for a long time but they do not have any suffrage. Now in Japan some foreign people are moving more and more to get suffrage. The Japanese Constitution says that all Japanese nationals have voting rights, and the Law of Local Government says that the residents in Japan have voting rights. Now, however, the definition of "the nation" has become a big issue throughout Japan. (...)

Eiko HASEGAWA, Suffrage for All Residents, 1995 (dead link)

(...) The Supreme Court last year in its February 28th decision allowed that as a matter of policy, giving non-nationals the right to vote at localelections would not violate the Constitution. (...)

Michiko Nakayama, Foreign Residents' Right to Serve in Self-Governing Bodies,  Newsgroup Pacific Asia Today, Rikkyo University, 4 July 1996

Chongryon officials says no to "suffrace"

Pyongyang, December 8, 1996 (KOREAN CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY OF DPRK(Democratic People's Republic of Korea) ) -- Kim Mu Hyon, vice- chairman of the Okayama prefectural office of the general association of Korean residents in Japan (chongryon), on December 3 met with Yoshitaki Murita, member of the house of representatives from the liberal democratic party (ldp) of Japan, and Toranoske Katayama, chairman of the Okayama prefectural branch of the ldp and member of the house of councillors from this party and urged them to cope with the "Suffrage" under discussion at diet. He also sent letters containing the same call to prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and dietmen from Okayama. The letters said the discussion of "Suffrage" failed to properly reflect Japan-resident Koreans' stand and will and warned that "Local suffrage" too may adversely affect friendship between Korea and Japan. The letters also called for an end to national discrimination against Koreans in Japan and for the normalization of DPRK-Japan ties.

N.B. There are two main Korean ethnic associations in Japan:

Japan's Local Autonomy Law says that anyone residing on Japanese soil is a resident. Japan's Constitution says that anyone who is a resident has the right to vote in local elections. What about residents who don't have Japanese nationality? (...)

Tony Laszlo, How to Assemble a Multi-cultural Society , written on December 1, 1997 for ISSHO

Foreigners living here should be able to vote (...)

Asahi Shimbun, November 2, 1998, EDITORIAL : Questions facing voters in the Okinawa election (dead link)

The question of whether the government should grant suffrage in local elections to foreigners with permanent residence is again the focus of wide discussion.

Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi pledged to examine the issue when he visited South Korean President Kim Dae Jung in March. South Korea is moving to grant voting rights to foreign residents, including Japanese.

Many government officials and Liberal Democratic Party members, however, remain cautious on the issue. Opposition parties, conversely, are supporting the plan as a tactic to gain more support in local elections. Under these circumstances, it is likely that settlement of the issue will be protracted.


The South Korean government is studying a plan to grant suffrage to foreign residents, Kim told visiting Jiyuto (Liberal Party) leader Ichiro Ozawa on April 17. He urged the Japanese government to step up efforts to achieve the same goal.

Since Kim assumed his presidency in February last year, he has been calling on the Japanese government to allow South Korean residents in Japan to vote in local elections.

When he visited Japan in October last year, Kim told Obuchi that South Korean residents in Japan are paying taxes and are contributing to Japanese society. He sought Obuchi's cooperation in helping them gain suffrage. He repeated this request when Obuchi visited South Korea in March.

But most other countries granting voting rights to foreign residents in local elections also sought reciprocity and were backed by many LDP members.

In view of this situation, Kim instructed his justice minister, Park Sang Cheon, on March 25 to study the plan to give suffrage to foreign residents in South Korea. If this plan is implemented, the main beneficiaries will be the country's 20,000 Chinese residents. As the number of Japanese residents is much smaller, the plan will have little impact on their community. Kim's instruction, therefore, is regarded as a "special message" to Japan.

The South Korean Justice Ministry has yet to take any steps other than basic studies of related domestic laws and Japanese judicial precedents. But if the plan progresses, Japan's response to it will become the focus of attention.

Vote for suffrage

In October last year, Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) and the New Komeito-Kaikaku Club parliamentary group jointly submitted a bill to the Diet for the granting of suffrage to non-Japanese permanent residents. In December, the Japan Communist Party submitted a separate bill to approve both the right to vote and file candidacy in local elections.

Behind the political parties' move was a Supreme Court ruling of February 1995. The court ruled that granting voting rights to foreigners was a "matter for the nation's legislative policies."

This ruling prompted local assemblies to vote for the passage of a resolution calling for suffrage for foreign residents in local elections.

On the level of national politics, however, there have been hardly any discussions on this issue. In the LDP, the prevailing view is that it would be difficult to adjust intraparty views on the issue. Negotiations between the ruling and opposition camps on this issue, therefore, are unlikely to progress.

Lawmakers who were cautious gave two main reasons: only a few countries have so far granted suffrage to foreign residents so far; the principle of reciprocity may not be observed.

"Even if we deliberated on the bills, it is certain that they will be voted down. If this happens, it will negatively affect relations between Japan and South Korea," said a member of the Japan-South Korea Parliamentary League.

Among the lawmakers supporting suffrage for foreign residents are New Komeito Secretary General Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, Jiyuto House of Representatives member Akira Nishino and other lawmakers representing constituencies in Kansai, where many Korean residents live. Some observers say the legislators are supporting the granting of suffrage to foreign residents because they want to expand support bases in their constituencies. This situation is making the question of suffrage more difficult to settle.

Korean dissent

According to the opposition parties' bills, about 90 percent of foreign residents eligible for voting rights (625,450 as of the end of 1997) are Koreans.

Many of them were forcibly brought to Japan before and during World War II.

Because of this, the 1991 special law on immigration control granted them special status, and restrictions on expelling them from the country were tightened.

"Earlier, the focus of popular debate was how to remove the disadvantages faced by Korean residents in Japan. Now it has shifted to how we can give them the right to vote in Japanese elections," said a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official.

The Korean Residents Association in Japan (Mindan), comprising South Koreans, is actively lobbying for the suffrage bill, calling for it to become law before the end of this year. Its members are proud of their contribution to local Japanese communities and their payment of taxes.

"Whether we will be granted the same rights as those enjoyed by the Japanese members of the local community is a matter involving Japan's democracy," said an executive member.

But the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun) is against the bill. Its members regard the granting of suffrage as part of the Japanese government's efforts to assimilate Korean residents to Japanese society.

Sachie Tsuhata and Aya Igarashi, Debate simmers over voting rights for foreigners, The Yomiuri Shimbun May 5, 1999 (dead link)

Participation politique des citoyens étrangers au Japon - Le cas de la municipalité de Kawasaki ( La Lettre de la Citoyenneté n°41, sept.-oct. 1999) 

voir ausi sur le même sujet (les conseils consultatifs municipaux des étrangers au Japon) MAYUMI UJIOKA, Residents from abroad slowly gain a voice, Asahi Shimbun - Report 2001

Diet spotlight on vote for foreigners

Political parties warm to the controversial idea of suffrage for permanent-resident foreigners as a way to enhance their support base.


Asahi Evening News 3rd November 1999

The Diet is focusing on whether permanent-resident foreigners should have the right to vote. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party approaches the issue with caution, but there is mounting pressure from the rest of the political forces, including the LDP's coalition partners, which endorse the proposal as a way to reinforce their support bases.

Management and Coordination Agency Director-General Kunihiro Tsuzuki, the only New Komeito member in the current Cabinet, has publicly pressed the LDP to follow through on a recent accord on the issue, which it was forced to accept as one of the conditions placed on forming the present coalition with New Komeito and the Liberal Party.

The accord called for the three parties to work for legislation that would give non-Japanese who are permanent residents of Japan the right to vote in local elections.

Those who support the proposal, especially politicians in New Komeito, assert that foreigners who are permanent residents and who pay taxes, just as Japanese citizens do, should have the right to vote.

Political observers say they see the increased emphasis on the vote issue as a sign that politics at the national level is under pressure to be more responsive to the need to bring together the nation's different ethnic groups--a departure from the long-held notion that Japan is ethnically homogeneous.

"The fact that the proposal has been discussed even in the ruling bloc is a landmark development, " said Yutaka Tsujinaka, a professor of politics at Tsukuba University.

"The politicians, particularly those who belong to non- LDP parties and are seeking new party images, are starting to realize that Japan would have no future if it fails to accept such pluralistic thinking by promoting the voting right for foreign residents," said Tsujinaka.

For years, the government of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), has suggested that Japan give voting rights to ethnic Koreans living in Japan, many of whom were brought to Japan as forced laborers during the period of Japan's colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula and to their descendants. Ethnic Koreans represented 554,875 of the 626,760 registered permanent-resident foreigners in Japan as of 1998.

But some LDP members have been against the proposal, which has made it difficult for the party to establish a common ground on the issue. Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi was not able to guarantee the right to vote would be passed in the Diet when he met recently with South Korean Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil.

"(The proposal) would allow foreigners to intervene in such important issues as military bases and education," was one of the points made in a petition recently submitted to Obuchi by a group of legislators led by LDP members and opposed to the proposal.

Long-time Lower House member Takami Eto, who heads an intraparty faction of the LDP, said at a recent party executive meeting that foreign residents should be naturalized as Japanese if they want the right to vote.

Those in the party who agree with Eto are concerned that granting voting rights in local elections could eventually lead to extending the vote to national elections, which could work against the interest of Japanese citizens, the experts say.

Tsujinaka said LDP politicians are reluctant to jeopardize their traditional support base, such as farmers' organizations.

But parties outside the LDP have already started pressing the issue. Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) and the parliamentary group Heiwa-Kaikaku, now called Komei-Kaikaku since New Komeito was established in the autumn of 1998, submitted a legislative proposal in October that would give non-Japanese permanent residents voting rights.

The Japanese Communist Party has submitted its own bill that would not only grant permanent-resident foreigners the right to vote but also give them the right to be candidates in local elections.

The Liberal Party supports the proposal, although it has not been its most ardent advocate.

The political parties have warmed to the suffrage issue, particularly since a Supreme Court ruling in February 1995. The court ruled that granting voting rights to foreigners is not unconstitutional, but left the question of what to do about it up to lawmakers.

The landmark ruling prompted more than 1,000 local assemblies to adopt resolutions supporting suffrage for foreign residents in local elections.

New Komeito, in an attempt to make progress on the issue, recently presented to the LDP a compromise plan to allow the right to vote for non-Japanese permanent residents whose country of origin is not one with which Japan has diplomatic relations. That would effectively exclude ethnic Koreans whose nationality is South Korean, including North Koreans.

While the South Korean government is urging Japan to grant voting rights, North Korea objects, saying that allowing suffrage is a plot to assimilate Korean residents into Japanese society.

But Lee Young Hwa, an assistant professor of economics at Kansai University and who is among Korean residents who may be excluded under the compromise plan, said it is nonsense to differentiate among Koreans through such criteria.

"Most of us Koreans do not act for the benefit of the countries we belong to, but for the benefit of ourselves on the daily basis," said Lee. "Our major concern is, for example, how tax and welfare issues affect our daily lives, just like those of many Japanese."

Lee is known to have filed applications to be a candidate in a total of six national and local elections in the past, including last year's Upper House election. All his petitions were rejected because he is not a Japanese citizen and does not have a Japanese family registration certificate.

He said that continuing discussion of the issue is a positive development, although such an effort should have come much sooner. He also said that permanent-resident foreigners should be guaranteed both the right to vote and the right to be candidates.

further developments in 2000 and 2001

citoyenneté, démocratie, ethnicité, nationalité -  citizenship, democracy, ethnicity, nationality