Japanese Law on Marriage
Here is an overview of the current civil laws and procedures for getting married in Japan.
NOTE: Laws change. The following information is for guidance only and should not be regarded as legal advice. It is important that you obtain current information with the relevant authorities (listed below) before making any wedding or travel plans.
How to get married in Japan
Japan is not very much different from most countries in that if you wish to get married, and if you are legally permitted to get married, then you can.
A marriage registered in Japan is recognised as valid in most countries, irrespective of nationality; two Japanese, two foreigners, a Japanese and a foreigner, those with dual nationalities, etc.
This page gives an overview of the procedure in each case:
If you have dual nationality or if your nationality status is unclear, consult your local ward or city office, or the Japanese embassy if you are not in Japan. Note also that Japan, like most countries in the world, does not automatically confer citizenship on a foreign spouse.
Articles 731 – 737 of the Japanese Civil Code give details of the requirements and restrictions. Some wards or cities may have additional bylaws.
The strictness of the rules is not a problem for most people. It is normal for a modern society to prohibit child marriage, polygamy, marriage between blood relatives, etc. The rules are designed, in part, to facilitate the marriage being valid in other countries.
Basically, the Code stipulates:
- Minimum age for men is 18 and for women 16.
- If you (or your partner) are from a country which has a higher minimum age, that country's rule applies.
- If you (or your partner) are under 20 then approval is required from your parents or legal guardians.
- Prohibition of marriage between siblings, cousins, etc., follows international norms.
- Any previous marriage must have terminated; i.e., following death or divorce decree absolute (rikon shomeisho). Women may not re-marry within six months of a previous marriage, to avoid the legal difficulties of establishing paternity of any child born within that period.
- Same-sex couples may not marry. For transsexuals normal Japanese marriage laws apply; a person who is legally a man can only marry a person who is legally a woman.1
But as with many laws, there are exceptions. For example, it would be unreasonable to impose the six-month rule (5) for a woman beyond child-bearing age.
If your partner is Japanese and you are not, read the joys and perils of mixed marriages!
If you are not Japanese
Irrespective of nationality, marriage in Japan is in accordance with the law of Japan. For a marriage to be valid it must be registered at a municipal government office. A marriage ceremony in a chapel, shrine, etc., whether consecrated or not, and conducted by a priest, whether ordained or not, does not constitute a marriage in Japanese law.2 The only way to legally marry in Japan is through civil registration.
There are special rules for foreigners wishing to marry in Japan and they differ according to the nationality. If you are a foreigner in Japan, your first and obvious visit will be to your embassy. If you live outside of Japan, then visit the Japanese embassy in your country. Special rules also exist for military personnel in Japan, and their intended spouse.
If the minimum age requirement in your country differs from Japan, the higher age applies. For example, whilst the minimum age for women in Japan is 16, if the minimum age in your home country is 17, then you cannot get married in Japan until that age is reached.
You must provide a recent3 notarized Affidavit of Competency to Marry, which affirms you are legally free to marry, from your embassy or consulate in Japan. There is normally a fee charged by the embassy and the forms will be in both Japanese and your own language.
If acquiring an Affidavit is difficult because you have a special or long-term permanent resident status in Japan, as many Koreans have, or if you have no consular representation in Japan, you may be able to marry after obtaining a registration document (gaijin toroku zumi shomeisho) from your ward or city office (shiyakusho or kuyakusho).
In addition to the Affidavit you should also have your passport ready and if you are a Japanese resident, your Ministry of Justice resident card. Check with the ward or city office whether you need to supply other documentation, such as a certified copy of your birth certificate and its Japanese translation.
Having prepared all the documentation described above, take them to your local Japanese municipal government office to register your marriage. There you will lodge a Registration of Marriage Form (kon in todoke), counter-signed by two witnesses. If the witnesses are Japanese they will use their registered seal (inkan).
The office will give you a Certificate of Acceptance of Notification of Marriage (Kon-in Todoke Juri Shomeisho), which is in Japanese.5
You are then married!
It is most important to retain that document because it is your only proof of marriage. Take a note also of the name and address of the office that registered your marriage, since only from there can you get a copy if you need one in the future.
You will be responsible for translating the document from Japanese if required by another country, for example, when applying for immigrant visa for your Japanese spouse. Whilst another country may recognise marriages registered in Japan, they will probably not accept the Japanese-language version of the document as proof, and will most likely require the translation to be notarized. Check with your embassy.
If you are Japanese
It is most unlikely that you will be reading this English page, but for completeness, this is what you must do.
Take a recent4 certified copy of your family register or its extract (Koseki Tohon or Koseki Shohon) to your ward or city office (shiyakusho or kuyakusho). That document shows you are eligible to marry.
You then lodge a Registration of Marriage Form (kon in todoke), countersigned by two witnesses who may need to provide their registered seal (inkan).
Take the prepared documentation to your local Japanese municipal government office to register your marriage. The office will give you a Certificate of Acceptance of Notification of Marriage (kon-in todoke juri shomeisho). It is not strictly necessary for a Japanese person to have this shomeisho but it makes a nice souvenir. It is the amended Family Register (koseki tohon) that shows your new, married status. From that point you can amend your passport and other documents, as required.
Embassies in Japan offering advice
|Australian Embassy:||2-1-14 Mita, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-8361|
Tel: (+81) (3) 5232-4111
|British Embassy:||No 1 Ichiban-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-838|
Tel: (+81) (3) 5211-1100
|Canadian Embassy:||7-3-38 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8503|
Tel: (+81) (3) 5412-6200
|New Zealand Embassy:||20-40 Kamiyama-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0047|
Tel: (+81) (3) 3467-2271
|United States Embassy:||1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8420|
Tel: (+81) (3) 3224-5000
See also Western Style Weddings in Japan
|1:||This does not mean lawmakers don't recognise the diversity of modern Japan, but international recognition of Japanese marriages makes it currently difficult to accommodate the needs of same-sex couples or people with gender identity disorder.|
|2:||Anyone may have a wedding ceremony at any place in Japan, when permitted by the venue hosts. A certificate issued at such a wedding has no civil legal weight. However, the significance of exchanging vows in the presence of families and friends, cannot be overestimated. For many couples the wedding ceremony is more meaningful than filling in a few forms at the registration office.|
|3:||Issued within the last three months.|
|4:||Issued within the last month.|
|5:||At the time of writing (May 2013) the fee for this A4-sized document was 350 yen. A larger and fancier version is available if you wish, for 1,500 yen.|