Getting Legally Married in Japan

A few days before our Japanese wedding reception, Mr. G and I went to city hall to get legally married. According to the US embassy’s web page:
“If you wish to marry in Japan, you will do so according to Japanese law. Marriage in Japan consists of a civil marriage registration by the couple at a Japanese municipal government office. Only this civil registration constitutes a legal marriage in Japan. Ceremonies performed by religious or fraternal bodies in Japan, while perhaps more meaningful for you, are not legal marriages.” which basically means you have to get legally married at city hall.

I’m going to tell you right now, getting married at the city hall in my town in Japan was absolutely the most unromantic thing ever. I think getting my passport renewed was more romantic.

Mr. G and I went to city hall quite a few days before our actual wedding reception because we live in a very small town and figured the staff would not be used to processing paper work that involved a foreigner (We were right- more about that later.) We also noticed a slight hiccup in our paper work that might prolong the processing of the paper work. My marriage affidavit (a piece of paperwork needed to get married in Japan) had my father’s full middle name written out e.g. Dad Steve Gondola, while on my birth certificate, my father’s middle name is abbreviated with just a letter e.g. Dad S. Gondola. Anyone who has ever dealt with Japanese banks, post offices, or government offices knows that something as small as this can stop any paperwork you want from being done in its tracks. Japanese rules and regulations can be extremely detailed and everything has to be just right or it just won’t happen. Exceptions are rarely made, and if an exception is granted it usually involves a lot of time and paper work. I was genuinely worried that this tiny discrepancy would stop me from getting married.

We headed to the city hall around 11am. We took a number, waited to be called, handed in our paperwork and were told to wait. So we waited, and waited, and waited.

We played around with our iPad while we waited.

We played around with our iPad while we waited.

I got a bad feeling in my stomach that my father’s S was going to actually be a problem. About 15 minutes later our clerked walked over to us. “Oh no!” I thought,”He’s going to tell us we can’t get married” but the clerk just asked if we would like to file ourselves as a single entity after our marriage or as two separate people. I immediately said as two separate people. Filing as a single entity means our incomes would be combined and both of our taxes and insurance fees would go up. (I’m not a hundred percent sure, but this system seems to penalize working married women.) He walked away and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then we waited some more.

I was able to loosen up after we spoke to the clerk.

More playing around with the iPad. I was able to loosen up after we spoke to the clerk.

After another 30 minutes our number was called. We went to the desk and the clerk told us “We’ve finished processing your paperwork.” He bowed and started to look through some other papers. Huh? That’s it?! Getting married was not only unromantic, but anti- climactic.

I spoke up after a few seconds and asked if we could get a marriage certificate (I needed one for changing my name on my passport). The clerk looked surprised that I even wanted one. He directed us to the desk where we could apply. A few minutes later we had our marriage certificate and took a few photos afterwards in front of the city hall.

We're officially married!

We’re officially married!

All in all it was pretty straightforward process until I got a phone call from the city hall later that night about my father’s name. “What does ‘junior’ mean? Is that his first name or last name?”My father is actually Dad Steve Gondola, Jr. Traditionally, there are no middle names or suffixes in Japan so inputting my father’s name into a form that only had room for a first and a last name must have been difficult for the city clerk. After a bit of discussion we decided we should put it as his first name. Thankfully this wasn’t a major problem so Mr. G and I were officially married!

Did anyone have an extremely unromantic time of getting married at a city hall? Did anyone have trouble getting their paper work filed?

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4 thoughts on “Getting Legally Married in Japan

  1. hi! how did you manage to change your family name to that of your husband? didn’t they just write down your name from your passport in the marriage certificate and the family register? did you submit an application for name change? or did they give you another document saying you will be known as Mrs [husband’s family name]?

    • Hi!
      If you are a foreigner in Japan (at least this is the case for Americans), you must first change your name on your passport and then you can submit an application for name change at your Japanese city hall.

      Here are the usual steps (if you’re American, I’m not sure how other nationalities do it)
      1) get married at city hall and ask for a marriage certificate
      2) have your marriage certificate translated into English (anyone can do it, you can even do it yourself. I just wrote my English translation above the Japanese and signed it at the bottom)
      3) Submit a name change application, your marriage certificate and whatever paperwork you may need to the American passport agency. (You can check out their website for more info.)
      4. Once you get your new passport, go to city hall (bring your new and old passport) and change your name on your residence card, insurance card etc. Then you will officially have your husband’s family name in Japan.

      • Thank you for the speedy response! After getting married in Japan I need to, by law, first register my marriage and then if there is a name change description (e.g. the wife shall be calle Mrs XXX after marriage) or an accompanying declaration that I am adopting the husband’s family name – I can then have the passport and other ID documents changed with the new name too. If there is not change clearly indicated then I can’t change my passport either.The problem is that the japanese certificate doesn’t indicate in a sentence (unlike bulgarian ones) that the wife will change her name . So now I am trying to obtain a declaration from the city office that contains my wish to change my family name. But because foreigners are exempt from the law of having the same surname as the spouse…I wonder if there would be difficulty with issuing such document to act as proof of name change when I register the marriage back home

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