Registering your Marriage in Japan (if you and your Japanese partner were married outside of Japan)

One of the first things I learned when Ryosuke and I moved to Tokyo (shortly after our wedding in Texas) was that apparently our marriage was not actually valid in Japan (yet).

We had a beautiful, legally binding ceremony in Texas several months earlier, and we both assumed that marriages in one country were valid internationally.

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Isn’t that how weddings work? Because I’ve definitely seen enough TV shows and movies where one character suddenly realizes that the crazy, drunken wedding they had on some tropical island ten years earlier was, in fact, valid and now they need to track down their spouse and legally divorce them before they can marry their sweetheart (except, plot twist, they usually end up actually falling in love with their current spouse and live happily ever after together on said tropical island).

In fact, the US Embassy of Japan’s website says: “In general, marriages which are legally performed and valid abroad are also legally valid in the United States. You do not have to report your marriage to the U.S. Embassy/Consulate. “

So while a legal marriage in any other country is automatically valid in America, the reverse is not true for Japan. Which we found out the hard way.

A week after landing in Tokyo, we went to the city hall near Ryosuke’s family house to my name put on his family koseki (Japanese family registry) – only to discover that our marriage wasn’t valid. Oops.

The process to register our marriage was simple enough and only took two trips to the local city hall. We ended up choosing to register our marriage at the city hall near his parent’s house, instead of in Tokyo, because we were informed that wherever we registered our marriage would be the only place we could ever pick up important, marriage-related documents (I have no idea whether that is true or not, but we didn’t want to take that risk). If it is true, we made a good call, since we only lasted in crowded, expensive Tokyo for about a year and a half before packing up and moving to the countryside.

The documents we needed to register our marriage in Japan were:

  • Marriage registration form (provided by the municipal hall / city hall office)
  • One copy of my Japanese spouse’s family register
  • Official foreign certificate of marriage (proving we were legally married in America) + Japanese translation
    The office only needed a rough translation, thankfully, because I’ve heard some places are very strict. Ryosuke and I translated the document ourselves on a Word document – but there are also places in Japan where you can go to get the document professionally translated and formatted.
  • Both our passports and my alien registration card (if you have an alien registration card)

It was quite easy.

Once our marriage was valid in Japan I was able to apply for a spouse visa at the immigration office, which took about three months to arrive (after five trips to different immigration offices and one particularly nasty lady telling me to just “go back to America and apply for a Japanese spouse visa at the embassy there.” Ugh. Never going to THAT office again.

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

19 Comments on Registering your Marriage in Japan (if you and your Japanese partner were married outside of Japan)

  1. Try having a Japanese partner and a child out of wedlock and then trying to register the child as a Japanese citizen. A whole world of pain.

  2. Sounds exhausting. These things should be easier. I mean, it’s our life, why do they have to meddle so much in it? Why is there so much red tape when all we want to do is get married or live our lives honestly? Sorry, I’ve recently had some problems with declaring my taxes in Portugal (as I’m living in the UK) and it’s been so frustrating. And 5 months to get a simple Spouse Visa, when you are legally married in both countries is just ridiculous!

  3. We wanted to avoid any future hassles, so my wife and I got legally married in both the US and Japan. I got an affidavit from the US consulate in Fukuoka, then took that and the paperwork her mom and brother filled out to her hometown, and we registered. It only took about an hour and we even got a fancy certificate to frame. Three months later we were married in the US with my family. Then, a month after that we went back to Japan and had the actual wedding ceremony at a shrine in Hiroshima with her family. Kinda crazy, but it all worked out nicely. :)

  4. Marriage registration is so easy in Japan :)

  5. Tomoyuki Kumagai // 31 May, 2016 at 9:26 am //

    Marriage registration is easy, spouse visa and permanent residence permit years after that is a lot more mendokusai, and you have to wait for hours for your turn at the immgration. I had to accompany my wife to do the translation for my wife, so I know all. lol.

  6. Glad things worked out in the end.

  7. We married in Britain, and were able to register the marriage at the Japanese consulate here, where for some reason they needed 2 official copies of our British marriage certificate. Our marriage was then able to be added to my husband’s parents’ koseki. My husband later discovered that a separate registration was required to change my surname on the koseki. One thing that bugged my in-laws was their discovering that for me the surname had to be written in katakana not kanji because I am not a citizen.

    Similarly we also had to register the birth of our children at the consulate as well as the local registry office in Britain.

  8. Anonymous // 30 May, 2016 at 6:15 pm //

    Japan is not alone in this regard! A tale from the early 90’s from Germany shows how bad it was, and not really so so long ago….
    An English friend of mine met a German woman in the UK, they married and had two children and then some years later moved to Germany. This was some time ago, and things have changed since then, but after some months in Germany, the officials at the kids’ school gave notice that since the couple were “not legally married” the children were bastards and the man would have to move out of their house.
    The UK marriage would have been “legal” in Germany if the woman had deregistered before moving to the UK (Everyone must register with the police, and change registration when they move.) The problem was, in order to deregister, you first have to show your town officials your new registration and since they don’t do that in the UK, she had no new registration to show. The thick- headed Beamte (official) in her town said that she had to get a letter from the UK authorities proving that they do not register people and at that point she gave up and forgot about it, until years later the system came down on them. The one solution was simple enough, to go to the marriage authority and get officially married (you can be married in one million churches, but none of those ceremonies counts in Germany!)
    The next step was trickier, because now that they were newly married and with children older than the marriage, they needed to wipe off the children’s “unehelich” (bastard) status. They got their old Pastor from England to come and visit, and oh by the way pay a visit to their new church, where they cajoled the Priest into telling the authorities that in fact the children were ehelich – the church in this case got to tell the town officials what to do.
    Thankfully times are easier now, but it wasn’t so long ago!

    • I find that hard to believe – I’m German and know many couples who lived in Germany who have and have had children without being married, since the 50s, and it’s absolutely not true that someone can be asked to moved house because they are not married to said partner or the children were conceived out of wedlock. The only factor where this can play a role is the tax bracket someone is assigned (and if they get an additional tax free allowance because they have children).

      Having lived in the UK for a decade, I know it’s still a nightmare to proof German officials that there no such thing as “registering with the council” in the UK, though. There are still very conservative priests in rural areas who refused to let people get married because they have children conceived out of wedlock etc.

    • Completely unbelievable. Unmarried families are common in
      Germany, nobody would be asked to move out.

  9. Harold Godsoe // 30 May, 2016 at 12:22 pm //

    This might be specific to overseas marriages involving Japanese citizens.

    My wife and I married in Canada and have had no problem applying for a spousal visa in Japan on the strength of our Canadian documentation alone.

    Glad you didn’t have to “go back to America” ;)

  10. This might be specific to marriages involving Japanese citizens.

    My wife and I married in Canada and have had no problem applying for a spousal visa in Japan on the strength of our Canadian documentation alone.

    Glad you didn’t have to “go back to America” ;)

  11. George Hunt // 30 May, 2016 at 11:13 am //

    So now you have two anniversaries to celebrate.

  12. We got married in Japan, to make it legal in my country (the Netherlands) I had to go there to register it as well. Also required a bunch of paperwork, proofs and official translations from Japan. Actually to get married in Japan, the Japanese needed proof I wasn’t married from two countries I had previously lived, and with those my embassy in Japan needed to issue a document that officially gave me permission to get married in Japan. Getting married was a lot of work! Even when you don’t have a wedding or ceremony, like us. But it was worth all the trouble :).

  13. We got legally married in Japan, instead of a marriage certificate + translation I had to fill out the form “Affidavit if Conpetency to Marry” get it signed by my US Embassy, and turn it in with our konin-todoke (signed by two witnesses).
    It was a bit of a process but it went smoothly! After we submitted the paperwork the little old official at the ward office said “congratulations, you’re married now! Shall I take your photo?”
    so cute^^

  14. Katsumi Hagiwara // 30 May, 2016 at 10:19 am //

    I had no idea. Good, maybe Denise and I could do a Japanese wedding soon in Japan.

  15. Very interesting and informative. Are you going to do a video about this in your YouTube channel? P.S. Please ask Ryosuke to wear the poop hat! It is hilarious.

  16. Although I’m not planning to register my marriage in Japan, I felt interested to read this post about it. I currently live in HK and will through the process of registering. Luckily things are quite straight forward here, if I had done this in Thailand (where I was living previously) they really make you jump through a number of hoops (back and forth kind of hoops).

    I’m happy things were not too complicated for you and Ryosuke. Theres nothing like the unromantic red tape to put a damper on things.

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