Getting married in Japan comes down to filing the correct paperwork. The process and required documents vary depending on the expat’s home country and the nationality of the person they are marrying. With proper planning, getting your marriage legally recognized in Japan can be accomplished in a few hours.
Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Japan, but same-sex partnership certificates are issued from a few municipalities. See the LGBTQ in Japan section below for more information.
Marriage requirements in Japan
- All marriages have to be registered at your municipal government office. Religious ceremonies cannot take the place of this.
- The legal age to marry is 18 for males and 16 for females. Anyone under age 20 must get approval of one of the parents.
- As a female, up to 2016 you couldn’t get remarried within six months of your official divorce. The rule, however, changed and the period was reduced to within 100 days. Furthermore, if you were not pregnant at the time of your divorce and you have an official document from a doctor to prove this, you can remarry whenever you wish, even if 100 days have not passed. No such rule exists for males.
Necessary documents for non-Japanese nationals
- Proof of identification (residence card or drivers’ license) and passport
- Certificate of Marriage Notification = Kon-in-Todoke (婚姻届書)
This is a form you can get at your local municipal office and fill out there. You will need two witnesses for this form. You’ll either need them to come with you or do this part beforehand. Witnesses should be over the age of 20 and can be of any nationality.
- An “Don’t worry, I am not already married” confirmation = Konin yoken gubi shoumeisho (婚姻要件具備証明書)
A document issued from your country or embassy in Japan that proves that you are legally single and that you are of a marriageable age. This document should be translated into Japanese and show the details of the authorizing party. In case the document is issued in your country, it needs to be officially verified through an apostille. In regards to the translation, you don’t need to be a licensed translator for this, the person who is getting married can do it as well.
- Do not forget to sign with your full name and hanko (personal seal)
Note that these are the very basic documents you will need to submit to the city hall when registering your marriage in Japan. However, as each case varies, make sure you contact the city hall in advance and ask if you need any additional documents depending on your case.
After registering your marriage in Japan, you are also required to register it in your native country, typically within three months. As each country has different requirements, please contact your embassy in Japan in advance to ask about all the documents you need to prepare.
Changing your name
You won’t be able to change your surname to your partner’s in Japan. The only country that can legally do this is the country you hold a passport of. If you wish to change your name after your marriage, contact your embassy. In most cases, you will simply need to issue a new passport, but again, this varies from country to country.
Things to remember
- In order to marry you also need to meet the criteria for marriage in your home country, as well as Japan.
- Be sure to keep an original copy of the Certificate of Acceptance of Notification of Marriage = Kon-in-Todoke no Juri Shomeisho (婚姻届受理証明書) which you will receive from the ward office upon request.
The city ward will not issue this document automatically. Most foreign embassies and consulates do not keep any official record of your marriage so you will have to contact the ward office the marriage was originally registered at if you need additional copies in the future.
Read more about the experience of getting married in Japan.
Here is a complete list of embassies and consulates in Japan, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Check with your own embassy for specific information on marrying in Japan for your nationality.
As complicated as divorces can be, the actual procedure of finalizing your divorce in Japan can be quite simple. That is, given the condition that the divorce is amicable, mutually agreed on, and the couple does not have children. If this is the case, a divorce can be finalized within an hour or two at the city hall where the two individuals are officially registered in.
- Divorce by agreement = kyogi rikon (協議離婚)
If this is the case, all you need to have is a rikon todoke (離婚届), a certificate of divorce, which you can obtain at any city hall in Japan, but submit only at the one you are registered in. This document needs to be filled in by both parties in the marriage, as well as two different individuals above the age of 20. These individuals do not have to be your relatives. You will also need to present your legal ID, such as a passport or your residence card. Ideally, you should both be present when submitting the divorce papers, but one of the two can submit the document on behalf of both parties as well. In this case, indicate on the certificate whether you would like to be informed by the city hall when the divorce is finalized.
- Divorce through arbitration = chotei rikon (調停離婚)
This typically occurs when one of the parties wants to get divorced and the other doesn’t, or when the couple does not want to communicate directly to each other. In this case, the family court will mediate the divorce. To apply for this, consult a legal representative as each case and documents that need to be submitted differ.
- Divorce by judgment of a district court = saiban rikon (裁判離婚)
This is when a divorce cannot be completed by family court. Instead, an application is sent to the district court for a decision. After a decision, the court issues a copy (which is certified) and a certificate of settlement, which is then attached to divorce registration. To go through this option you will need to hire a lawyer to represent you in court. Typically, this will cost you somewhere from ¥300,000 to ¥500,000, though these fees largely depend on the actual case and the lawyer.
Know your rights
According to the Japanese law, everything you have acquired after your marriage should be split into two in case of a divorce regardless of who was directly responsible for the divorce. This includes your savings and property. You are also entitled to ask for alimony, called isharyo (慰謝料), in case your partner had an extramarital relationship, was abusing you physically or emotionally or there had been a clear reason for the divorce that your partner can be held liable to. To obtain such kind of compensation, remember that more often than not you will have to go through the family court or the district court, which in other words means that you will have to hire a legal representative.
Regarding children, joint custody is not common in Japan. In most cases, the mother will be given custody, but the father will still have to pay child support.
|Nagoya International Center: Getting Divorced in Japan||http://www.nic-nagoya.or.jp/en/e/archives/5018|
|For victims of domestic violence||http://www.gender.go.jp/policy/no_violence/e-vaw/siensya/pdf/01english.pdf|
Friends and dating
There are a handful of ways to meet people in Japan, though initially breaking the ice may prove a bit harder.
While bars may be considered a great place to meet someone in your home country, depending on the area or type of bar, it may be a little more complicated here. Checking out British-style pubs instead of izakaya will make it easier.
- Language exchange
Typically, there are local organizations even in rural towns who are eager to do language exchanges. Less official, there are typically local business owners who are open to speaking English and can be a local hangout — it just takes some exploring. There are online options to do language exchange and possibly make new friends such as the app HelloTalk.
Find local meetup groups in Japan by city
The Japanese term for “organized group dates.” Gokon are drinking parties where men and women can meet, get drunk, and get to know each other. It’s kind of like a group blind date as the aim is generally to find a potential partner, either just for the night or for the long haul. If you are asked to go on one of these, now you know what you’re in for.
Dating apps are growing in popularity in Japan. While there are a few Japanese dating apps, other apps more popular in the West are also used here. (For LGBTQ-specific dating, see the LGBTQ in Japan section below.)
- OK Cupid Japan
- Japan Cupid
- Match Alarm (in-app purchase)
- Omiai (free for women; ¥1980 per month for men)
- Tapple (free for women, monthly subscription fee for men)
Going to a Japanese wedding
Whether the ceremony is traditional or western-style, Japanese weddings follow a very strict protocol with unspoken rules and non-negotiable customs.
Traditional weddings are held at a Shinto shrine with the bride and groom donning wedding kimonos. The ceremony is performed by a Shinto priest with the couple exchanging a ritual cup of sake to symbolize their union. Western-style ceremonies with the bride and groom wearing a white dress and tuxedo have become more commonplace recently, usually taking place at a hotel.
Customs and protocol
First of all, no matter if you plan to attend the wedding or not, you are expected to send a written answer. You will find a card along with your invitation, which asks you to confirm your presence or absence. If you’re attending, circle 出席 (shusseki) and if you’re not, circle 欠席 (kesseki). Write a short congratulatory message, and send the card back as soon as possible.
- Don’t bring a gift
Rather than gifting a household appliance as is common in western countries, guests are expected to give gift money, known as goshugi (ご祝儀). The standard amount for friends and colleagues is ¥30,000. If you’re attending with your partner, hand in a single envelope with approximately ¥50,000. It’s rude to gift worn bills with any markings or folds, so withdraw the money from the bank and make sure the notes are crisp. It’s okay to give less if you can’t afford the typical ¥30,000, but it’s taboo to give an even amount like ¥20,000— a bad omen for divorce as the money can be evenly split.
You’ll want to put your gift money in a special envelope called a goshugi-bukuro, which can be found at any stationery store. Don’t make the mistake of buying a black and white one, as these are reserved for mourning.
Do’s and don’ts at the main event
- Do give your gift money to the receptionist rather than the bride and groom directly.
- Do not get drunk at the wedding reception — drinking is typically reserved for the afterparty which only friends and colleagues attend.
- Don’t bare your shoulders or knees if you are a woman, or wear any outlandishly patterned ties for men.
- Don’t forget to take the little bag under your seat home with you — it’s a gift from the bride and groom.
LGBTQ in Japan
Attitudes toward queerness in Japan vary but in the past few years, the LGBTQ rights movement has gained the majority of the public’s support, despite the lack of laws supporting such rights.
Though same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan, some cities and municipalities do recognize same-sex marriage by issuing “partnership certificates.” However, these are largely seen more as more symbolic than anything, as they do not grant tax benefits, parental rights, or social welfare benefits to LGBTQ couples.
Cities that recognize same-sex marriage:
- Sapporo, Hokkaido
- Shibuya, Tokyo
- Setagaya, Tokyo
- Iga, Mie
- Fukuoka, Fukuoka
- Takarazuka, Hyogo
- Naha, Okinawa
- Osaka, Osaka
- Chiba City, Chiba (legally non-binding marriage certificates start in April 2019)
Nightlife and events
Japan has a few major gay hubs for ways to meet friends, lovers and everyone in between.
- Ni-chome, Tokyo
Shinjuku’s Ni-chome is a bustling hub for LGBTQ activity. There are a variety of gay and lesbian-specific bars, restaurants, and adult shops jam-packed into the small neighborhood commonly known as “Tokyo’s gay town.”
- Susukino, Sapporo
Located in Hokkaido’s largest city, Sapporo, Susukino is one of the first cities to recognize same-sex partnerships and has a history of actively supporting LGBTQ businesses.
- Doyamacho, Osaka
Doyamacho is one of the hottest nightlife spots in Osaka. Located near the busy Umeda business and entertainment district, it is packed with bars, clubs, izakaya, and karaoke, as well as love hotels and host clubs.
See the LGBTQ section on GaijinPot Travel for more LGBTQ-friendly spots all over Japan.
Pride fests in Japan
There are more and more pride fests popping up in Japan, with the biggest event held in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo.
- Kansai Rainbow Festa https://travel.gaijinpot.com/kansai-rainbow-festa/
- Tokyo Rainbow Pride Fest https://travel.gaijinpot.com/tokyo-rainbow-pride-fest/
- Sapporo Rainbow Pride https://www.sprrainbowpride.com/ (Japanese)
- Iwate Rainbow March https://www.facebook.com/2018irm/ (Japanese)
- Pink Dot Okinawa http://pinkdot-okinawa.com/
- Kyushu Rainbow Pride https://9rp.biz/ (Japanese)
For people who identify as being on the queer spectrum, dating in Japan has its fair share of hurdles when trying to navigate the landscape. Although, it might be easy to establish a relationship with a kindred spirit, initially meeting them can be the tricky part. (See more on do’s and don’ts for queer dating).
Keep in mind that while there is a thriving LGBTQ community in Japan, you may find a larger percentage of people here who wish to remain in the closet. But that shouldn’t stop you from going out and meeting people. Along with the growing number of nightlife areas in Japan, there are some dating apps to check out. After meeting someone on an app, it’s likely they will ask for your LINE ID to continue the conversation.
Free apps for LGBTQ dating
Resources for queer life in Japan
|GaijinPot||GaijinPot has blogs about queer life in Japan, as well as its queer travel section|
|GPit||Transgender Women Helping Transition (Japanese) – a support group but mainly in Japanese|
|Stonewall Japan||A group that often posts about LGBT events and happenings in the community. They also have a general Stonewall Facebook group, as well as regional Stonewall FB groups|
|LGBT Youth Japan||A Tokyo based LGBT support group|
|TELL||This Tokyo-based non-profit mental health support group has a list of resources for parents of transgender children|
|Not Alone Cafe||Language exchange for gay men held every first Sunday of the month|
|Dyke Weekend||A networking community for lesbian, bisexual, and trans women. They host semi-annual events including parties, arts and crafts sessions and BBQs|