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A Foreigner’s Guide to Marriage in Japan

So, you’ve met the man or woman of your dreams and the two finally decided to make it official. Here’s a quick how-to for the paperwork and procedures needed to ensure love will indeed prevail in Japan.

By 7 min read

In 2015, it was estimated that one in every 10 marriages in Japan involved at least one partner of foreign origin. While the most common form of international marriage in Japan is still that between a Japanese woman and a foreign man, an increasing number of Japanese men are also opting to marry women from abroad, according to official statistics.

Progress continues to be made for the LGBT community, with more and more cities across Japan choosing to “recognize” same-sex partnerships. We may still be a few years away from joining the likes Argentina, Australia, Belgium, England, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands and the U.S. (among many others) in fully embracing and celebrating complete marriage equality, but it does look as if Japan is heading in the right direction.

We’ve covered Japan’s same-sex partnership oaths on our sister site, Savvy Tokyo. To sum it up: it’s still not legal in Japan. Currently, these unions are only recognized with certificates for residents of certain cities, such as Iga in Mie, Naha in Okinawa, Shibuya and Setagaya in Tokyo and Takarazuka in Hyogo. This doesn’t do a lot in terms legality or protections for custody of children or tax deductions, though some municipalities do offer same-sex partnerships equal rights in terms of spousal hospital visits and apartment rentals.

So — you’ve met the partner of your dreams and you’ve decided to go ahead and make it official. What do you need to do?

Well, this depends on where you’re from. Getting married in Japan is actually nothing more than a paper exercise and takes mere minutes, provided that you have the required documents. For a Japanese person, this is relatively simple — all they need is a copy of their family register. This is a document usually held by the local city hall which shows their family tree. In many ways it functions the same way a birth certificate does in the West.

There is also an application form that both partners will need to complete together. A word of warning: this needs to be done in Japanese and you will need to have your own personal stamp (hanko) to verify it. It may sound unusual, but in Japan a personal stamp is often used on official documents instead of a signature. In some cases a signature is also acceptable.

For foreigners, however, there is one important caveat to this. You need to provide a sworn affidavit or affirmation to confirm that you are legally eligible to marry in Japan. This can be obtained from the embassy or consulate of your home country here in Japan.

The fees charged and the time taken to complete this process varies from country to country, but as an example, we’ll outline below how it works for U.S. and U.K. citizens.

Getting married in Japan is actually nothing more than a paper exercise and takes mere minutes, provided that you have the required documents.

U.S. citizen procedures

U.S. citizens need to complete the “Affidavit of Competency to Marry” form from the U.S. Embassy and present their U.S. passport. This form has both English and Japanese components, so if your Japanese isn’t that strong, it may be wise to bring your partner with you. Once the form is completed, you will need to pay a US$30 admin fee to finalize the process.

First comes paperwork, then comes marriage…

Remember that in order to marry in Japan as a U.S. citizen, you also need to meet the criteria for marriage in your home state, as well as Japan. For example, if your state’s legal marriage age is 18, you cannot marry at 17 in Japan. Any marriages for those under the age of 20 in Japan require parental permission from both parties.

U.K. citizen procedures

For citizens of the U.K., the process is somewhat more drawn out and complicated.  Again, you need to make an appointment with the U.K. embassy to make your affirmation. Note that you can only do this process at the British Embassy in Tokyo, the U.K. Consulate in Osaka will not be able to assist you in this matter.

Also, be sure to make an appointment well in advance of your intended wedding date as it can take up to a month to find a free slot, since the notary services section of the consulate is only open two days a week!

Additionally, before you can make this appointment, you will need to make sure you have a certified copy of your full form birth certificate. You can download this from the General Register Office website.

Once you have this document, download the affirmation form from the appropriate section of the U.K. Embassy website. Be sure to print out the form double-sided and fill it in — but do not sign it at this point. You will sign the document in the presence of consular staff when you make your affirmation at the embassy itself.

You will need to pay a 50-pound admin fee when you make your affirmation.

Finally, there is one last bit of bureaucracy to jump through before you can go to city hall and finalize your marriage.

The affirmation document you will receive from the U.K. embassy will be in English. This needs to be translated into Japanese before it can be submitted for approval at city hall.

Thankfully, you don’t need to employ a professional translator for this, just someone with the required level of Japanese who will put their seal on the translation for you.

Now, you’re ready to get married. Of course the process varies slightly from country to country. Canadians can find more information here; Australians can start here; those from the Phillipines should start here. For other countries, please consult your own individual embassy or consulate in Japan for more information.

Changing to a spousal visa

Once you’re married, depending on your personal circumstances, you may want to consider changing from a working visa to a spousal visa. A spousal visa entitles you to a lot more freedom in terms of work. You are basically free to take on whatever work you wish, unlike conventional working visas which restrict you to a specific type of work in Japan.

You will still have to renew the visa on a regular basis, but provided you don’t get divorced, this is a mere formality. However, the process of getting the spousal visa is becoming a little more complicated these days. Amid concerns about possible sham marriages involving those who just want to live in Japan without restrictions, immigration officials have tightened up on the criteria required to get a spousal visa.

First, you will need to be able to present the documents to prove that you are legally married. It’s better, though not necessarily a deal-breaker, if you have lived together for some time and can prove this. You’ll also need to show that your tax affairs are in order.

Your partner will also be required to explain how you met and the timeline of your relationship.

Your partner will also be required to explain how you met and the timeline of your relationship. You will need to provide photos, as well, as proof of your relationship.

To be honest, I think it’s probably better if you wait about three-to-six months after getting married before you try to convert your visa over to a spousal one. A stable home life — with evidence of shared living, activities and costs — will go a long way to ensure the visa transfer process is smooth.

Getting married, some say, is one of the most stressful things you can ever do. However, it can also be one of the most rewarding. Hopefully today’s guide has given you some food for thought. All you need now is the courage to ask your loved one that all-important question!

If you have any advice for getting married in Japan, please leave it in the comments below!

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