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.
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.