Taiwanese-Japanese Leadership Hopeful's Candidacy Exposes Japan's Xenophobia


Renho, Democratic Party (Japan) leadership candidate. Screencap from official FCCJ YouTube Channel.

A female Japanese politician is under fire for her Taiwanese roots, and is accused of hating Japan itself. It is all part of a campaign to tie the charismatic former television presenter to the darkest moment in recent Japanese history.

Renho Murata, a popular oppositionist generally known simply as “Renho,” is in the running to head the newly created Democratic Party (民進党, Minshinto, or ‘DP’) Japan's largest opposition party, which will select its leader on September 15 .

Although her father was originally from Taiwan, Renho was born and raised in Tokyo and held dual citizenship between Japan and Taiwan until at least the age of 17.

Renho went on to be a newscaster in the 1990s, sometimes reporting on China.  Elected as a member of Japan's Diet in 2004, she would make the transition to a minister in the ill-fated Democratic Party of Japan (民衆党, Minshuto, known as ‘DPJ’ and now defunct) government that formed in 2010.

As the newly formed Democratic Party (DP) prepares to elect a new leader on September 15, political opponents are trying to link Renho to the much unloved Democratic Party of Japan and accusing her of secretly continuing to hold dual citizenship, something prohibited by Japanese law.

This cover of the August, 2010 issue of an in-flight magazine from a Chinese domestic airline. There's an article that asks “Will Renho become the future prime minister of Japan?” The article also says she never gave up her Taiwanese citizenship.

It doesn't help that Renho herself announced she was submitting documentation to the equivalent of the Taiwanese embassy in Tokyo to ensure once and for all she no longer holds dual citizenship.

For Renho's critics, the question about her nationality has provided them with a brilliant opportunity to question her commitment to Japan. Thanks to a recent provocative opinion piece by ultranationalist Abiru Rui published by the conservative-leaning daily Sankei Shimbun, the terms “repudiate” and “hold in contempt” (否定・軽視) trended on Twitter earlier in this week.

“Frank Talk from Abiru Rui” — By Rejecting and Holding the Concept of ‘Country’ In Contempt, the ‘DNA’ of the old Democratic Party Still Flows Strong.” — Sankei News (@Sankei_news)

Images of failure, incompetence, and even treason and racism

Abiru's contentious opinion piece has the cumbersome title “By Rejecting and Holding the Concept of ‘Country’ In Contempt, the ‘DNA’ of the old Democratic Party Still Flows Strong,” (‘国’ を否定・軽視する民進党には、やっぱり民主党DNAが色濃く流れている).

Abiru argues the newly formed opposition Democratic Party (民進党, Minshinto) essentially will always put Japan's interests last, just as its predecessor Democratic Party of Japan (民衆党, Minshuuto) neglected Japan during its time in office from 2009 to 2012.

In power during the March 2011 “Triple Disaster” before being turfed out in a 2012 general election, the Democratic Party in Japan (DPJ) conjures up images of failure, incompetence, and even treason and the very destruction of Japan itself, due the Fukushima disaster or war with China.

The Democratic Party of Japan never recovered the public's trust following the 2012 election, and was dissolved in March, 2016. The new party, simply called the Democratic Party (DP), was created by merging some factions of the old DPJ with an assortment of fringe parties after that.

There's hope that the telegenic Renho will somehow inject life into the DP, which faired poorly in a recent election at the beginning of the summer.

In his contentious article for Sankei, Abiru characterizes Democratic Party leadership hopeful Renho Murata as “basically saying” she “has no concept of what a country is” (国というものが何だかよく分からない) and that “Japan is not just for Japanese people” (日本列島は日本人だけの所有物じゃない).

Abiru is directly referencing Renho's foreign, Taiwanese heritage. Abiru also links the new Democratic Party (DP) to the older party headed initially by Hatoyama Yukio.

During his short tenure as Japanese prime minister in 2009-10, Hatoyama became infamous for his many gaffes. After leaving office he enraged many in Japan by traveling to China to apologize for Japan's wartime behavior, proof, Abiru says, of Hatoyama's allegiances to a foreign government. Successive DPJ prime ministers were widely perceived to have bungled the response to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster (known as the ‘Triple Disaster’) that overwhelmed Japan, before triggering a confrontation with China over the Senkaku Islands that continues to this day.

By considering Renho, with her Taiwanese roots, but who was born and raised in Tokyo, as a potential leader, Abiru says, “the Democratic Party can never change its image” (民進党のイメージを思いっきり変えたい). That image, Abiru says, is of a Democratic Party that hates Japan.

Abiru's Sankei article went viral, with many commenting on Abiru's twisted logic. A common complaint was that Abiru had fabricated Renho's quote:

Renho never said she “repudiated Japan”, so why is that part of the title? And if we're talking about a country with a history of selling out the country, that would be the [ruling] Liberal Democratic Party, wouldn't it?

More than a few commenters complained about Abiru's lazy prose:

(Abiru's column) has little more substance than a drunken rant, but I guess this is what the old farts are talking about these days. Maybe it goes over well out in the boonies with the [ultra-conservative] Nippon Kaigi crowd.

While there were plenty of Twitter commentators who made disparaging remarks about Renho's ethnicity, and her willingess to “sell out Japan”, she still has her supporters.

Born in Japan, speaks Japanese as her mother tongue, just happens to have a father who was born in Taiwan. This should have been *clarified* in Abiru's article. Don't give up, Renho!

A new leader of the Democratic Party will be chosen on September 15, 2016.


  • Ken Gai

    ummm.. politics.. typhoon in the tea-cup, we’ve seen some pretty nasty “Xenophobia” in other countries (*cough – Obama – cough*) as well.. right? As noted.. there is national law regarding dual citizen status, also not unique to Japan, imagine challenge if she was running in Taipei.. #_#

    • Nevin Thompson

      No need to cough :)

      Thanks for your comment (I am the author of this piece).

      We’re talking about Japan here, not the US. If you want to write about xenophobia in the US, feel free to do so on your own blog. While there may be the perception that dual-citizenship is “illegal” in Japan, it is not, and exists in a legal grey area.

      If you have been following the news, it’s very obvious that Renho’s Taiwanese roots have been used to portray her as an unsuitable leadership candidate. If that’s not xenophobia, I don’t know what is.

      I appreciate your efforts to defend Japan (a lot of foreigners do this sort of thing) but this article is not intended to be a blanket description of Japanese people themselves, who are generally pretty lovely, and many of whom are going to vote for Renho (my wife probably will).

      • Johnathan Li

        Also, the name of the Party coincides with the Chinese Name of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, 民進黨) which won the Legislative Yuan Elections as well as the Presidential Elections earlier in January this year by a landslide (President Tsai Ing-Wen took office on 20th May while the DPP Lawmakers in Taiwan was sworn in on 1st February).
        Not forgetting that Renho not only has close “links” with Taiwan’s DPP Lawmakers, but also has a distant (paternal) relative, Mark Chen, who is also a veteran DPP member serving under the Chen Shui-bian Administration.

        • Nevin Thompson

          Thanks for your comment. That’s really interesting, but I highly doubt the old Minshuto looked to Taiwan’s DPP for a name-change back in July. On the other hand, given how dysfunctional the old DPJ has been, it wouldn’t be surprising at all, lol. Still, a total coincidence. Such a rumor does point out how much people hated the old DPJ.

          • Johnathan Li

            Agreed. Although I won’t discount her being inspired by how Taiwan’s DPP are able to bounce back strongly from the Party’s lows in 2008, and probably infuse some of her own trademark leadership herself by infusing more younger members that are fed up with the ruling LDP and their old-men style of running the government, as well as their ideas for the sake of appealing to these voters a refreshed party that actually stands with these people. There are things Japan’s DP can actually learn from Taiwan’s DPP in this aspect, in more ways than one, given the more-similar-than-different situation the old DPJ found themselves in.

      • Ken Gai

        Agreed.. your wall = your call.. simply pointed out, not ‘defending’ as such, that politics and media here (as anywhere else) playing silly games.. -_-

  • Hamanotakechan

    We Japanese are angry with Renho’s career & nationality misrepresentation as member of parliament in Japan. Not Xenophobia ! This article of Mr.Nevin Thompson is coverage shortage.

    • redking


      • Nevin Thompson



        • redking



          • Nevin Thompson



          • redking



          • Nevin Thompson


          • redking


            MEET SOON。

          • Nevin Thompson

            ”MEET SOON”ってちょっと違うんですよ。正しくは:

            “Shall we meet soon?”


            “We shall meet soon!”


            “I will meet you soon.”


            “Let’s meet soon.”


          • Nevin Thompson


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