"Special Permanent Resident." It's a term that plagues Japanese immigration legalese, and I've only ever had a vague inkling of what it means. It identifies a group of people that, for some reason or other, has been granted special permission to be in Japan indefinitely without needing to notify the immigration bureau of working situation or marital status, but whose members are still not recognized as actual citizens in Japan.

I'd heard stories of how, especially in the late 80's and early 90's, the MOJ wrote out some special immigration laws to encourage ethnically Japanese Brazilians and other South Americans to come to Japan as laborers. And I knew that there were a lot of ethnic Koreans in Japan whose families had lived here for generations but had been and sometimes still are marginalized to certain communities and severely discriminated against. They had been encouraged to come into the country and stay here for the long haul, but not as citizens.

All these people were the ones the government was talking about when it used the term "Special Permanent Resident," right?

As it turns out, my suppositions were an uninformed mishmash of fact and fantasy. The history behind the "Special Permanent Residency" is actually very specific, and quite interesting:

Following World War II, the US impressed upon Japan a peace treaty, known as the "Treaty of San Francisco." It contained a lot of stipulations from the US and from other nations, mostly with the intent of reforming Japan into a modern, free democracy. One of those stipulations was meant to provide for the thousands of Koreans and Taiwanese nationals who had moved to Japan or who had been forcibly relocated to the country during the war and the years leading up to it--back when the Empire of Japan was the self-proclaimed organizer of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and claimed Korea and Taiwan as its colonies.

In the Treaty of San Francisco, Japan's claims to Korea, Taiwan, and other "mandates" were renounced, and as a result the peoples of these territories were no longer to be considered as belonging to the Empire of Japan. However, this put all the non-Japanese nationals already living in Japan in a pickle: Over their years of residence they had established lives in Japan, but they had no claim to Japanese citizenship and no claim to stay in the country. In reparation, the Treaty of San Francisco offered these individuals "Special Permanent Residence" in Japan so they'd be able to, if they chose, remain in Japan instead of having their lives and jobs again uprooted.

Here bears mention the several years it took for the Treaty of San Francisco to be discussed, drafted, and finally ratified by all its participating nations. When the treaty came into effect, nearly seven years had passed since the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri. Seven years is a long time, and of course the region and its people hadn't frozen in place awaiting diplomatic decisions. World War II was over, but civil unrest was building in the newly divided Korean peninsula, with war anew there just as the official end came to Japan's.

Despite national tensions stemming from Japan's wartime actions, to many Koreans in a war-torn peninsula, Japan was still attractive as an economic prospect, an educational haven, and a stable environment. Thousands fled destruction and war and settled in Japan. Thousands more were still coming in as the Treaty of San Francisco came into effect in 1952, and because of the political turmoil of the handover, it was hard to distinguish immigrants who had already established themselves in WWII-era Japan from those who were just arriving. "Special Permanent Residence" is thought to have been awarded to thousands of families for whom it wasn't originally intended, and this generated a lot of negative attention for an allowance that probably many contemporary Japanese found distasteful to begin with.

This didn't bode well for special residents' social acceptance. Though the law guaranteed them a place in the country, they were still broadly discriminated against and found resistance in securing educational opportunities, jobs, and marriage outside their own circles. Many ethnic Koreans chose to adopt Japanese names and surnames to hide their true identity. Some chose to naturalize, but many more were (and are) proud of their heritage and uninterested in becoming "Japanese".

Heated debate surrounds issues such as allowing these residents to participate in municipal elections. More than a few modern nationalists hold that it's high time for the "Special Permanent Residency" to be done away with altogether.

As the law stands, "Special Permanent Residence" is available to all descendants of this original group. Any child born to at least one parent of a "Special Permanent Resident" is eligible to apply for the status himself. Thus, the status of residence is still fairly common and its position in regard to modern immigration law revisions is so clearly and prominently outlined.

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