Marriage in Japan: An inside scoop
Hiroshima-ken JET Tristan Vick and his wife, who married in Kumamoto city.
By Tristan D. Vick
You’ve all likely seen the T-shirts that read “I want a Japanese girlfriend” and, it would seem, many have found one. Presumably, the lovely international couple fell madly in love over a plate of sushi and now they want to be more than just boyfriend and girlfriend, they want to take it to the next level, and I’m not talking about love hotels. Get your minds out of the gutter! Rather, they want to spend the rest of their days together, as they just can’t seem to get enough of each other, and off in the distance we can already hear the wedding bells chiming.
Please keep in mind, if you are going to marry in Japan you must abide by Japanese laws and procedures. If you choose to marry outside of Japan, then I can’t help you — you’ll be on your own to find out what to do there. I can only offer advice for those planning to get hitched in the Land of the Rising Sun. Additionally, if you are a member of the armed forces, then entirely different rules apply to you and I must leave it up to you to figure out. The following advice only pertains to foreigners marrying Japanese citizens in Japan.
Permit me to elucidate the finer points of international, multiracial, multicultural marriage in Japan.
So you’ve decided to tie the knot, in Japan. What next? Well, the first step is to prepare a sworn “Affidavit of Competency to Marry.” This certificate proves that you (as the foreigner) are free to be married and are not under the yoke of a previous marriage. The Affidavit of Competency to Marry is a PDF file that you print out from the embassy website. It is usually the first PDF they give you. Just print it out and fill it out. Then you will need to take it to your country’s embassy or nearest consulate in Japan to get the affidavit notarized.
Remember, you must schedule an appointment with your nearest consulate in advance by finding their information online. Depending on where you choose to get married in Japan your consulate of choice will vary. Since I got married in Kumamoto prefecture, I had to visit the United State Embassy in Fukuoka city. This visit may take a whole day or more, so plan ahead.
After you have the Affidavit of Competency to Marry all ready to go, you’ll need your U.S. passport and a $30 notarization fee (approximately 3,000 yen, both Japanese and U.S. currency as well as all major credit cards are accepted). Fees may vary depending on the rules of your home country. Once you have signed and sealed the affidavit at the embassy or consulate, the affidavit will be valid for three months. You must get married within this time or repeat the process all over again.
Once you have completed the notarization process, you and your Japanese fiance must have the Affidavit of Competency to Marry translated into Japanese. Your Japanese partner must also complete a Japanese municipal government form called the kon-in Todoke (婚姻届), which is needed to register a valid marriage in Japan. Two witnesses of any nationality more than 20 years of age must sign the kon-in Todoke. My wife’s Japanese parents signed for us.
Japanese citizens will be required to have a copy of their family register, called a koseki tohon (戸籍謄本) or koseki shohon (戸籍抄本). Your partner will likely know which one they have.
Now that all the prep work has been completed, proceed to the appropriate Japanese municipal government office. Again, we did all ours in Kumamoto since that’s were my wife is from, but you’ll want to check with your local municipality as procedural rules for marriage application sometimes vary. Also worth noting is that if you marry outside of your municipality, such as in a different city or prefecture like I did, you will have to register with the municipality you live in after the prenuptial paperwork and marriage ceremonies are complete.
So head to your local city hall and remember to bring your inkans (印鑑), passports, and all previously mentioned papers. You may also be required to submit a certified copy of your birth certificate, as I did. I would recommend you have it handy just in case (they may also require a translation of it).
Once at the front desk of your municipality (they will direct you where to sit when you show them your Affidavit of Marriage Competency), you will be issued a Japanese Langauge “Certificate of Acceptance of Notification of Marriage” or kon-in Todoke Juri Shomeisho (婚姻届受理証明書). You both need one, and the standard size (A4) costs 350 yen. There is a larger 1,500 yen version, which in some cases looks nicer, but since our copies were identical we just chose the regular size for filing convenience. Once you have received this form you are officially married! Congratulations.
This certificate is of utmost importance mainly because the kon-in Todoke Juri Shomeisho is your only proof of marriage! It would be wise to get extra copies. Keep these documents and keep records of all your paper work.
Write down the name and address of the municipal government office where you registered because you’ll need to contact them in the near future to obtain proof of your marriage.
Now that you have your proof of marriage certificate, you will want to have an English translation handy. You can also use the fill-in-the-blank forms made available online at your embassy’s website (see websites below) and you or your spouse can translate it. We did it all on the same day at Kumamoto City Hall, but remember to plan for extra time, because they will inevitably ask to verify everything two or three times. If you have everything completely ready, then you should have no problems. Just be sure to be prepared! Otherwise you’ll be making more unnecessary trips to your local municipality.
Visa application. Depending on where you decide to live, you may opt to stay in Japan or return to your home country. Either way, one of you will be applying for a Visa. If you choose to stay in Japan, the visa application is quite easy. All you need to do is apply for a Marriage Visa, fill out the paperwork, hand it in to the prefectural municipality, and you’re as good as done.
According to the U.S. Embassy: In general, marriages which are legally performed and valid abroad are also legally valid in the United States.
A Note on Visa Applications
If you wish to take your Japanese spouse to your country of origin, the difficulty varies depending on the visa rules of each individual country. The U.S. rules are quite ridiculous, actually. It seems that marriage visa applications are the one place that the Paper Reduction Act does not apply, because it’s seriously a ludicrous amount of paperwork. If you thought all that stuff just to get married in Japan was bad, think again. However, since this article is mainly about marriage I’ll leave the visa work up to you. Just keep in mind that you will be applying for either an IR-1 visa (for couples who have been married more than two years like myself) or a CR-1 visa (for couples who have been married for less than two years). But before you can even apply for these visas you must file an immigrant petition (I-130) form for your Japanese spouse with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
*Also, please keep in mind that if your spouse is female and decides to change her surname to yours, you must have all this done before you apply for a visa no matter which country you decide to live in.
About Wedding Ceremonies in Japan
Now that all the legalities are out of the way… get married!
I imagine that while this must be one of the most eventful and exciting times for a couple in love, it is also one of the most stressful. Just keep in mind that international, multiracial, and multicultural weddings are not easy! The more fun you try to have working together towards your goal, the more great memories you’ll have of your pre-wedding preparations.
Even as the wedding ceremony itself may be important to you, it means practically nothing to the Japanese government if all your paperwork isn’t complete. Unlike in certain other countries, here in Japan the actual ritual or ceremonial aspect of marriage is only symbolic, and the Japanese government doesn’t recognize it as official. Thus I suggest you do the paperwork first. It just makes it that much easier to have it all done and out of the way before you both embark on your honeymoon and new lives together. So I recommend getting on it.
Knowing your budget is the next step. Both our parents helped pay for the majority of wedding costs, and we picked up the extemporaneous fees whenever we could. If not for them we would have had an entirely different kind of wedding. Speaking from firsthand experience, just know that Japan weddings aren’t cheap, and if you go through a wedding service it will cost you approximately $30,000 (American), at least. Our wedding, including the dresses and tuxedo rentals, kimono rentals, cakes, flowers, location, dinner and reception, cooks, wedding planners, etc., all came to around $34,000 when all was said and done — an astronomical sum for those on a meager teacher’s salary, if you ask me.
Don’t let this discourage you, though. There are plenty of less expensive ways to do it and do it nice. Plan it yourself. Although negotiating in Japanese is a bit tricky, it can be done. Another option is to have a classic Japanese Shinto wedding ceremony. We did both the Western style and traditional Shinto weddings. The Shinto ceremony will only cost you the traditional kimono and yukata rental fees and perhaps a little extra for styling and makeup. The shrine we got married at, Kengun jinja, charged us 10,000 yen to rent out the entire temple and the services of the monks for one whole day. Not bad, all things considered. Our total cost for the Shinto wedding came to about 30,000 yen plus the kimono, which was around 100,000 yen (roughly $1,000 American). I think $1,300 is very reasonable for a nice traditional style Japanese wedding.
The final option is to have the wedding ceremony outside of Japan in your home country, or a less expensive one, for that matter. One of my Japanese friends recently married her Japanese husband in Hawaii because they found that, even with the plane tickets factored in along with a week’s stay, it was still cheaper than getting married in Japan.
So now you have all the information I can offer that will help you know where to begin. Good luck, don’t forget those wedding vows, and may you have a healthy and prosperous marriage full of great times and wonderful experiences together! And if you’re not lucky enough to have found that special Japanese someone yet, I recommend you try getting one of those T-shirts.