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The Savvy Tokyo Guide to Marriage in Japan

When It's Time to Tie the Knot

By Hilary Keyes
January 6, 2023

Your step-by-step guide to getting married in Japan.

Congratulations! You and your partner are engaged and ready to take that next big step. Whether you’re a fluent Japanese speaker or can’t tell your migi (右 right) from your hidari (左 left), with the Savvy Guide to Marriage in Japan, you’ll be able to handle the legal/paperwork side of getting married here with ease.

So you’re ready to get married

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Hold it. There are some basic points you and your partner must meet before you should even consider attempting to get married. These might sound like obvious points, but according to a civil servant friend, they’ve seen people miss these vital rules before.

First things first. According to the Japanese Civil Code and the amendments made as of April 2022, men and women aged 18 and over are legally allowed to marry. Basically put, if you can legally get married in your home country, you can get married in Japan. You can marry someone else from your native country, someone from another country, or a Japanese national.

Only in the following circumstances can a marriage be refused:

  • Are you married in your home country, a woman that has recently divorced (less than six months ago), are somehow related to your partner, or illegally residing in Japan?
  • If you’re already married, then it’s illegal in most countries to marry another person period. While contentious, a recently divorced woman cannot remarry within six months of said divorce unless she gives birth to a child conceived before the divorce.
  • The Japanese Civil Code forbids the marriage of persons who are related by blood, adoption, or through other marriages. If you are residing illegally in Japan, you cannot obtain the necessary documents in order to be married and any attempt to do so may result in your deportation.

Who is getting married?

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Marriages between two foreign nationals in Japan tend to be either civil, religious, or both. However, only holding a religious ceremony without registering the marriage with a city/ward office does not mean you are legally married in Japan and therefore may not legally be married period.

Whether you are marrying a Japanese national or another foreign national in Japan, the same procedure and paperwork is required.

What are your options?

Technically speaking, if you want to get married in Japan, you only need to meet the legal requirements and fill out the necessary paperwork. Unlike getting married at city halls overseas where you can have a formal officiant or even say your vows to one another, in Japan you hand your paperwork to a civil servant and ta-da, you’re now legally married.

Your only options for anything else have to do with the ceremonial aspect, which will be covered in a later article.

What do you need to get married?

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You’ll need to get a lot of paperwork together in order to get married, and every document must be translated into Japanese if it isn’t already in Japanese. You can expect to spend some time and possibly money in order to get everything properly translated.

In order to save yourself any trouble or unexpected extra expenses, it’s a good idea to visit your ward office with your partner and consult with the staff there about what you need in order to get married, just in case. For example, you may need to submit additional proof of citizenship if you have dual citizenship but are in Japan on a visa from one country, or a birth certificate if there are questions as to your nationality/eligibility to marry.

Keep in mind that the date that you submit your paperwork becomes your marriage date regardless of when/if you have a wedding ceremony, so if you have a specific anniversary in mind, you’ll need to plan your paperwork accordingly.

From either partner:

  • An application for your marriage registration (婚姻届, konintodoke)
  • Money/revenue stamps to pay the registration/associated fees (may vary)

Foreign partner must provide:

  • A valid passport/visa (a residence card or My Number card may be accepted)
  • Your birth certificate (an official copy in lieu of the original may be accepted depending on your nationality)
  • An affidavit of Competency to Marry (provided for a fee by your embassy/consulate)
  • If you’re divorced, a copy of any/all divorce certificates/judgments

Japanese partner must provide:

  • An official copy of their Family Register (戸籍謄本, kosekitohon) not older than 1 month

You will also need two people to act as witnesses on the paperwork, and they must be over the age of 20, but do not have to be Japanese citizens. Marriages must be registered at the nearest ward office to where the couple will be living.

When you apply for your marriage registration you should also request a Certificate of Acceptance of Notification of Marriage (婚姻受理証明書, koninjyurishomeisho) from your ward office, as it proves your marriage is legal.

Once that has all been accepted and approved, you’re legally married in Japan. Following that, you may need to fill out additional paperwork with your embassy/consulate to register your marriage abroad as well.

How do I change my name?

Japanese courts do not have the authority to change the names of any non-Japanese citizens. Therefore two foreign nationals getting married in Japan do not have to change their names so long as they reside in Japan. That being said, if they do wish to, it will require consulting with the relevant embassy/consulate and following their name change procedures, then taking the changed documentation to your nearest Japanese immigration office in order to update your residence card/visa status.

Unfortunately in Japan, civil law requires Japanese couples to share the same last name. Although either the husband’s or wife’s name can be chosen to be the shared name, at this point in time, more than 95 percent of couples take the husband’s last name. For Japanese people marrying foreign nationals, however, their name can remain the same as prior to marriage.

A foreign national marrying a Japanese person cannot legally adopt their Japanese spouse’s name while registering their marriage. The only option in that regard is to have the married name (First Name, Japanese Spouse’s Surname) registered as a legal alias (通称名; 通名, tsushomei; tsumei). This does not count as a legal name change, however, your married name can now be used in daily life to sign up for services and so on.

If you intend to change your name, alongside any changes to your visa status, you will need to fill out a “Notification of change in name, date of birth, sex, and nationality/region on residence card” form and provide the necessary documentation to your nearest immigration office within two weeks of the marriage.

What about my visa status?

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Changing your marital status does not automatically mean your status of residence has changed as well. If you want to change to a spousal visa/status of residence, you will need to apply for and submit the necessary documents to your nearest immigration office. Either way, you will have to update your marital status with Immigration within two weeks of becoming married.

Depending on your current visa you may either be able to apply for this change while still living in Japan, or you may need to return to your home country and apply from there. The whole process can take anywhere from 1-6 months, depending on the circumstances and country or countries involved (especially if you have dual citizenship). 

As with any visa, if there are any discrepancies or issues with your paperwork, your application may not be approved despite being legally married to your spouse. Ideally, you should speak to an immigration lawyer prior to getting married if you have any concerns about your visa status.

Likewise, being married in Japan does not mean your Japanese partner automatically has visa status in your home country either. In fact, your marriage may not be legally recognized outside Japan if you do not take the necessary steps to register it. You will need to consult with your embassy in order to learn more about your marital status and any potential visa procedures necessary for your spouse should you decide to travel/move back to your home country.

In Japan, in order to prove your relationship with your Japanese spouse is a legitimate one and that you are qualified for a spousal visa you will need to provide a lot of documentation to immigration.

From either partner: 

  • Chat/texting history
  • Photos from dates/family events/vacations, love letters, anything that proves the couple is in a loving relationship and has been for some time
  • A revenue stamp (price may vary and should be confirmed on the Immigration website before being purchased at the post office).

Foreign partner must provide:

  • A valid passport
  • An Application for Extension of Period of Stay (在留期間更新許可申請書 zairyu kikan koshinkyoka shinseisho)
  • An ID photo from within the last 3 months (4cm x 3cm, plain white background, your face clearly visible, with your name on the back)
  • A Tax Declaration Certificate (課税証明書, kazeishomesho)
  • A Certificate of Tax Payment (納税証明書, nozeishomeisho)
  • Proof of employment (在職証明書, zaishokushomeisho)

Japanese partner must provide:

  • An official copy of their Family Register (戸籍謄本, kosekitohon)
  • A copy of the Immigration Questionnaire (質問票, shitsumonhyo)
  • A Letter of Guarantee (身元保証書, mimotohoshosho)
  • A Certificate of Residence (住民票, jyuminhyo)
  • A Tax Declaration Certificate (課税証明書, kazeishomesho)
  • A Certificate of Tax Payment (納税証明書, nozeishomeisho)
  • Proof of employment (在職証明書, zaishokushomeisho)

The certificates of residence and tax certificates are available from your ward office and cost anywhere from ¥200-500 per copy. If you haven’t been paying your taxes, chances are you will not be able to change your visa status and may face penalties.

Same-sex marriage/partnerships

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Unfortunately, Japan has made little progress in terms of what they offer for those in LGBTQ+ relationships. The constitution still prohibits same-sex marriage and, despite debates, is an issue that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Same-sex marriage may still be a long way off but in recent years more municipalities within Japan are offering same-sex civil partnerships. At the time of writing, 26 municipalities offer symbolic partnerships. For the full list of municipalities, please check out this link.

If you are in an LGBTQ+ relationship and would like to enter a civil partnership, you should visit your local ward office and see what, if any, extra steps are required. Please keep in mind however that, in legal terms, these partnerships do not offer the same benefits as a marriage. Having a certificate may grant you some assistance in certain matters, but this depends on the location and circumstances. For more information on marriage equality in Japan, please check out the website Marriage for All.