Arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles for registering international marriages in Tokyo Edogawa-ku Ward office. Have things changed?

IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog.  As we start the countdown to the end of the year, let’s turn to feedback from Readers who have written in over the months to talk about the arbitrariness of Japan’s bureaucracy towards NJ.  First off, check this out:


December 5, 2011

Hello! I love your site, first off, as it makes me feel like my frustrations, my concerns, all of it are understood by someone else. Thanks.

My fiance and I went to get married today, and from the second we walked in the door it was: “…oh.” I understand that there have been many occasions of abuse of the system, but my fiance called the offices to ask what we needed to register. We took everything, but the second we walked in the door, it all changed.

My fiance tried to convince me it was HIS fault that the office needed more “proof”. I told him to not give me a load of BS, and eventually he admitted that the staff even told him point blank: “Look, it’s different because you are marrying a foreigner. If she were Japanese you wouldn’t have this problem, but she’s a foreigner.”

We brought every single document that they asked for. He called, made a checklist, and we brought it with us. Now they need everything from all of my “foreign proof and documentation” translated, extra stamps, his parents permission for him to marry me, etc. They told him none of that would be needed when he called, but when it came time to actually “seal the deal”, and we were standing in front of them, that is what we were told. We double checked with my embassy, etc, and we got told the same thing: “You don’t need any of that in your ward, just what you already have”. The items they ask for aren’t even on the ward’s website.

What should I do, as I don’t feel this should be allowed. I looked at your site, but didn’t see it mentioned about what one should do if it is a governmental institution itself.

I’ve dealt with so many sideways looks, been asked not to enter into establishments down south, etc, all because I am not good enough. I am “gaijin”. I’m not sure how you take it. My Japanese professor in college told me he left after 20 years, despite having a fiance, as he couldn’t take it. No matter what he did, he was still always “gaijin”. I understand, finally, what he means.

You are a strong, strong person for having been here so long. My hat is off, permanently, to you. K


I responded:


December 5, 2011

Hello K. What kind of a place was this? A country bumpkin area, a city ward office? It might take an hour or so to register, but no, none of this is required. My belief if that you got bum staff that day who don’t know what they’re doing (problem is, I don’t think the staff will change from day to day). My best suggestion is that you change ward offices (reregister your husband’s honseki at a different address, via a family member; someplace more modern and used to international marriages). Marriage in Japan is supposed to be pretty easy, comparatively.

More advice in our Handbook for Immigrants at

Shall I blog this for more advice from others? I will anonymize your name, of course. Just make it clearer what kind of place this is (even if you don’t give the exact location). Please let me know. Bests, Debito


To which K replied:


December 5, 2011

Hello and thank you for replying so quickly. I know you must be a very busy person. I appreciate it.

Actually, it was in Edogawa-ku, Tokyo. I came home so mad I could spit, and bitter at the country. I was searching the Internet for advice about discrimination in Japan. I’d looked at your blog, but didn’t see information about discrimination by a government service so was checking elsewhere. You are, however, the only good site with good, current information that I could find, so I decided to email.

It is pretty surprising though, right? I’d expect Tokyo, and Edogawa-ku which is a family area, of all places, to have a more liberal view.

Please blog about it, if you’d like, as I’m interested if other Tokyoites have experienced the same. My fiancé said a lot of foreign women like me, but who wanted to become hostesses or some such, have abused the system so he was expecting some hassle. I say: why should it matter where I am from? Why should the system be so vastly different for foreigner and Japanese marriage in the first place?

I think what insulted me the most was the staff saying to him that the reason it was different because he was marrying a foreigner, straight to his face.

By the way, this was a separate office/branch of the city ward that only dealt with marriages and moving/change of residency. Thank you again! K


COMMENT: So, what are experiences of others out there? I certainly didn’t have this rigmarole, but I got married all the way back in 1989. My impression from others has always been that it’s pretty easy to get married in Japan to a Japanese, period. Have things recently changed? Arudou Debito

53 comments on “Arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles for registering international marriages in Tokyo Edogawa-ku Ward office. Have things changed?

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  • Hiroshima Taro says:

    Hm, that’s weird. When I got married to a Japanese woman (I’m an American male) I went into the ward office a few weeks in advance and had them talk me through everything I needed. They gave me a complete list and even marked out stuff that they said I wouldn’t need. We got all our materials together (basically the marriage application, her koseki, my passport, and my “not married in America” form) and took them to the office. My wife had not filled out her koseki address on the marriage form in a way the bureaucrat deemed acceptable, so she ended up having to cross out and stamp a number of entries, but otherwise there was no trouble. The whole process was very business-like without any emotion on the part of the bureaucrat. But to be fair the atmosphere inside Hiroshima’s Naka Ward Office is strangely oppressive and I would probably go insane or kill myself if I had to work there.

    @Oogui & Baudrillard
    Personally, I didn’t find the visa アンケート questions themselves to be terribly odious, just weird. “What language do you communicate in?” is pretty tame but “Do you talk through a translator?” had me checking the question twice to be sure I hadn’t mixed something up. More offensive was the wording of the form (which I don’t have in front of me now) which repeatedly says things like “How did you meet the [foreign] applicant?” or says to write “your” name below in the heading titled “Japanese Spouse.” In other words, the form had a built-in assumption that the Japanese spouse was filling out the form for the foreign spouse. When I brought this to the immigration official’s attention, (I was confused as to whether I was “you” or not) they told me it was that way because a lot of the marriages between Japanese and non-Japanese generally are through match-making services where the spouse may have never even been to Japan before, and I could just ignore the wording.

    I didn’t need phone records, though my wife and I had always lived in the same city since we had met. The office specifically told us they only wanted one or two pictures, and that they didn’t have to be of the wedding (I almost felt like they specifically didn’t want wedding photos.) We gave them one with us at the Miyajima torii arch, hoping the local touch would weigh favorably in the decision. I ended up getting 3 years on my first try. Another friend at the same office only got 1 year when he applied a few months earlier. Go figure.

    But Hiroshima immigration has not usually given me any problems. As is often the case with these things, it all depends on where you go and who’s on duty.

  • @Oogui, Ok the sexually explicit photos probably were too provactive (this is not something I have done or would do), but the other responses, said deadpan without a trace of irony do no harm, in my experience. And they usually kill any further questions. This was my intent, not to provocate them. I am trying to explain a technique for deliberately misinterpreting questions by giving answers that make sense but are not the ones they wanted or expected. Hard to think of an example but like the case of the nosy cop who asked “Who is that friend I saw you with the other day?” You know that he wants to ask about the foreign looking person he saw you with once, but you can instead talk about the other person he say you with, e.g. “That is my (Japanese) husband)”.

    Its a bit like if you have ever been an English teacher and you ask the student where they come from, and they answer “Japan”. Its a correct answer, but not the one you wanted. There is something to be learnt from this technique, as long as you dont come across as being smart.

    But youve come up with a better solution than me; Also, they won’t be able to verify about 90 percent of the things they’re asking, so you can just provide them with false information that seem to make sense but in reality don’t check out; that is the most appropriate post modern response to absurd postmodern questions.

    Can you provide an example please?
    The only one I can think of from my experience was to always give officialdom the number of my soon to be defunct,usually switched off, 2G phone.

  • Miki Sofsky says:

    I am an American male. My wife and I were married in Tokyo in April of 2011 with zero issues. In fact, I was amazed at how effortless and efficient that it was. All that we did was check the US embassy documentation (we went there in the first place because we wanted a certified English translation but found that there was a bunch of other useful info) + the J government’s info. Duck soup. Maybe we were lucky, but I got the sense that this was just routine.

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