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

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on December 15th, 2011

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

    New novel IN APPROPRIATE 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 Debito.org 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 http://www.debito.org/handbook.html

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

    1. Michael Says:

      Married a Japanese woman five years ago in Minato-ku. Got the permission to marry from the US Embassy the day before and it took about 40 minutes at the ward office in Akasaka.

    2. Chand Says:

      “his parents permission for him to marry me”
      Unless he’s under 20 years old surely that can’t be a legal requirement for marriage for Japanese or Foreigners?

      – It’s not. The marriage needs two witnesses of adult age, but they can be anyone, regardless of nationality and family connection. I was a witness to a friend’s wedding a couple of years ago. Just wrote my name and added my inkan, didn’t even have to be present.

    3. Loverilakkuma Says:

      >“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.”

      Golly. This is so unbelievable. I know some ward offices in Tokyo have problems with staff’s behavior. But, this one is way off the mark. I really wonder the language public office bureaus use for communicating with ordinary Japanese and non-Japanese residents. I don’t think she’s the only one who gets offended with their rude remark. It could offend anyone–regardless of nationality. If I were in the same position, I would not hesitate to throw the “Arrogant, Robotic, Clueless” (ARC) card at them.

    4. Charuzu Says:

      A friend — also Dutch and white — married a Japanese with no problems and nothing hard.

      I have been told that by black Africans and those from poor countries (like China, Thailand, etc.), that bureaucrats will erect barriers perhaps because of prejudice, perhaps because of legitimate concerns about economic sham marriages, perhaps both.

      Also, I would suspect that gender may play a role.

      In a related, though admittedly separate vein, what about a gay marriage (say one in the Netherlands between a J and NJ) in which the couple then move to Japan?

      I know that Japan will not recognize it.

      But what is the social reaction in Tokyo?

    5. Michael Says:

      Hi.
      I got married in Edogawa-ku about 6 months ago. My story is different in a few ways.

      1) Because I heave heard so many stories of bureaucratic troubles with this kind of thing, instead of calling, we went in first to ask what was going to be required for our paperwork and from that conversation made my checklist. Perhaps that allowed them to take everything into consideration from the get-go. They told me I was going to need “foreign proof and documentation” and that it was going to need to be translated (but that I could do the translations myself, and they gave me the forms for it). And this matched up with information on my embassy’s website, which said I was going to need some kind of affidavit of eligibility to marry or some-such, as well as copies of my Foreigners Card, etc. which also basically matched up with what I was seeing mentioned other places on the internet. I did have to go to my embassy and pay extra fees for these documents. So, to me, when they said “it was different because he was marrying a foreigner”, it is just a factual statement, because these documents are not required for Japanese, seeing as they can confirm everything internally, and do not need various papers from foreign embassies.

      2) I am a foreign male marrying a Japanese woman, so that is different from the author of the email. Also, I was the one doing all the questioning of required documents, only getting a little lost when they got into technical descriptions, but I was able to second guess and ask lots of questions and make sure nothing was being forgotten.

      3) “His parents permission for him to marry me” sounds very odd to me, unless he is under 20. But, again, I am coming at things from a different perspective.

      4) Perhaps my attitude is just very different. I expected all types of bull$–t from the beginning, and went in about 2 months in advance to start getting everything in order, and went back multiple times to confirm that I had everything and all the i’s were dotted and t’s crossed. And since I started out expecting so much trouble, that when it was all a lot easier than I expected I was pleasantly surprised. And my personal take on the Edogawa-ku staff were that they were just a bunch of office ladies kinda doing their thing, and I had no problems with them.

      This is all just my 2 cents, but my friend got married in Chiba about 4 months before me, and his required documentation was exactly like mine, and was all listed on our embassies website.

    6. Steve Says:

      It might be worth while to go back to the same office again. It is possible that persistence will be rewarded. If you have faced all that resistance and have not been deterred, they may accept your bona fide intentions. (I have heard that orthodox Jews require a non-Jew to apply seven times before they can get approval for marriage!)

    7. Norik Says:

      When we married, although we are both foreigners, we both needed this affidavit of eligibility, issued by the local government or the embassy, to prove that we are not currently married to another person in our home coutries, and we are over 20 and don’t need any permission by parents.

      I have the feeling that Japanese komuin just don’t know what are they doing(=incompetent). On different occasion I heard completely different instructions concerning one issue from different komuin.I heard that is because they rotate-few months at the koseki department, few months at the hoken department, then working with foreigners, and so on.

      My advice is , ask a lawyer, if you can afford it.There are specialists in family issues, and not only about divorce.

    8. Olaf Says:

      what is it with Edogawa-ku? Last night a hotel clerk wanted to Gaijin Card me. I refused. He threatened me with “Then you can’t stay here” to which I did not budge. He flashed a laminated A-4 page, presumably from the kuyakusho (he hid it in a drawer a second later, so I could not see it clearly). “Its the kuyakusho’s rule, you see”.
      I replied “Then, I want speak with the guys at the kuyakusho. Please call them.”
      He blinked first and gave me my key.

    9. Scipio Says:

      I had the same stress-free experience of others.

      Sadly I think it has a lot do with which nationality is marrying the Japanese spouse. Having lived in Shinkoiwa/Edogawa many years ago, and knowing some of the non-Japanese bar girls, the system was abused by some of them to change their visa status and a way for jnr Yakuzas to earn a little more cash.

      I’m not condoning such racial profiling, but you can’t blame the Japanese for being a little more careful to stop such abuses. It’s a sad fact in a more globalized world and being practiced all over the world; Thai women in the UK and Russian brides in the USA.

      Good luck to the OP and don’t see this as a personal slight but official policy by a bureaucracy which will always see the glass half empty when it comes to issues of the racial ‘other’.

    10. James Annan Says:

      I don’t think the OP mentions it, but telling us her ethnicity/appearance/nationality may help to confirm or deny some suspicions. I don’t think either of my two white colleagues who have recently married Japanese women had any problems. OTOH, my Indian colleague was randomly stopped and asked for his gaijin card more times in three years than has happened to me in 10.

    11. ML Says:

      I am living in Edogawaku too. My advice:get lawyer.
      When I just went this, my wife just wanted use lawyer. In the beginning, I thought its not big deal ,and it would be waste of money to find lawyer. But my wife just strongly urge me to get lawyer. So I did it. It was smooth, but what interests me is what lawyer told us. Basically the game is a trap. It doesnt said anything detail about what you need. According to those simple guide from government, all you need is just telling some story about you and your spouse. Simple right? No, cus what happened is, you need to be VERY VERY DETAILED. Lawyer told us to collect photos since the date me met, and even old passport. Lawyer also told us that, basically government can reject us WITHOUT TELLING US WHY, but they may tell the lawyer the reason or something like that. For couple months, I thought maybe lawyer was just bluffing or so…until I see this blog.

      To foreigners, the social game in Japan is like:
      you need to have A to finish B.
      but
      you need to finish B to have A.
      dead loop

    12. ML Says:

      >Charuzu

      From what I have heard from lawyer before, if you are female foreigner, you may get more trouble. To immigration people, female foreigner=fake marriage …

    13. beneaththewheel Says:

      First, I disagree with what they did, and think you’re in the right to be angry about it.

      To try to look at their actions pragmatically. It sounds like they flagged you two as suspicious (could be your nationality or the first impression you both made, or anything else) , and are now making you jump through paperwork to “ensure” that it is a real marriage (not sure how successful this would be). You think this is morally wrong, and i agree with you. The ward office doesn’t, and it looks like thinks it’s a solid method to do X (which I assume is stop sham-marriages).

      What can you do about it? I’d first go to your embassy. If it’s because of your nationality, they would know something about it (and possibly how to get around it). Another possibility is talk to someone else at the ward office. Did one person flag you, or did the entire office flag you as being suspicious? Who knows. Eventually, I guess your choices will be a) jumping through their hoops, b) getting married elsewhere, c) not getting married.

      Lastly, if you’re planning on living in Japan longterm, I hope you can notice the positives too. Despite the negatives, there’s a reason the people here made it their home, and that love of Japan should be the reason to want to get rid of racist laws/attitudes. This is not for right now though, whenever I have problems with my local city hall, I am frothing at the mouth (not usually a race problem though, just that I filled out the 10th form slightly wrong and forgot the special 43rd home at work, and need to revalidate Y etc. etc. etc.).

      I hope your problem is solved as easily as talking to a different person at the Ward office.

      All the best.

    14. K Says:

      Hello! I am the person who emailed, actually.

      The night before we registered, my fiance did in fact warn me of the issues that Scipio covered: the foreign girls abusing the system. He warned me that they might be a bit suspicious, and might even want to check to affirm he isn’t a yakuza. (Nope, he’s a salaryman, actually.)

      I also do believe that it has to do with two issues: location, (where we are in Tokyo and the seeming long history of girls abusing the rules), and the fact that I am a female. In general, it is said that foreign female and Japanese male relationships are more uncommon. Whether that is true or not, I don’t know, but I have been told this on occasion. Of course, it does seem that there is also a higher ratio of foreign hostesses marrying Japanese men to stay here, than foreign men doing that. So I think that does end up affecting the way people look at us.

      I have an African American friend who married her husband in Tokyo with zero issue at all. It took 30 minutes, on a slow day, and they were married.

      I am offended as hell, to be very honest, and hurt, but since I’m less “seeing red” now, we are going to attempt to go on Monday. I’ll let you all know what reaction we get this time.

      I will say it does sadden me to have to face a situation like this. It’s hard to imagine, in this day and age. Or maybe I’m simply too idealistic and naive. No idea.

    15. K Says:

      James: I am a 28 year old, (I look about 18, though, I’m told), white American. I guess that is perfect grounds for wanting to play the: “Foolish young foreign hostess” card. (though I look NOTHING like a hostess, I’ll say that right now.)

    16. K Says:

      Michael: My fiance’s parents asked his parents, and they spoke to his original home shiakusho, and they told him that he would need about 3 or 4 extra papers, actually. So, apparently Chiba is ridiculously strict.

      To be honest, I wonder why there should be separate rules for each place, and why there can’t be a standardized set of rules for all. This hardly seems fair.

    17. Jay Says:

      Charuzu-

      Related to your question about same-sex marriages, I do have a couple of close friends who got married (one is Swedish and one Japanese) and ran into some trouble with it. Now that Japan has removed the “sex” section of the official I’m-not-married form that is required to get married abroad, it’s possible for Japanese nationals to enter into a same-sex union in countries where it is allowed. This should, by extension, oblige Japan to recognize those marriages, but–as with all things in this country–the officials aren’t fully aware of the laws. The Swedish national in this situation took his husbands surname and so ended up with a new passport and ran into trouble trying to get his visas moved as the immigration office people said there was no proof that it was the same person even though he had the marriage certificate. Then he needed a new ARC and the kuyakusho people wouldn’t let his husband pick it up saying that they weren’t married (two people at the same address and with the same surname, though, should be assumed to be family and therefore allowed to pick up documents from the kuyakusho so this one sounded like outright bigotry to me). Since Japan allows the marriages, though, it’s not really the choice of some office worker to make that kind of decision. But it is a real gray area since, technically, they’re married, but they’re not married here. It makes no sense for the law to allow this sort of ambiguity since this in particular would allow people to marry someone of the same sex abroad and then the opposite sex in Japan which would give them two legal marriages.

      They both told me that the people in the kuyakusho were nice and they didn’t feel like there was some sort of judgment from them, but it just sounds like another case where rules are made and then ignored because no one has bothered to think them through. There really is so little respect for the law in this country and that leaves it open to individual interpretation. (that is, of course, until it isn’t)

    18. Mumei Says:

      Here is the relevant info from the Edo-ku ward office:
      http://www.city.edogawa.tokyo.jp/kurashi/todoke/koseki/ichiran/konin/index.html

      If they require more than what is listed here, ask them for official documentation and/or ask them to correct their webpage. There is no need to bring it down to a personal, individual case.

      As for marriage permission, it is only for minors. (Quote: 未成年の方は父母の同意が必要です。)

      Life in Japan as a foreigner is not always easy, but try to keep your spirits up and hope/push/fight for gradual improvements. And congratulations!

    19. Jim Di Griz Says:

      This might not be racism per se, but more a case high-lighting the ineptitude of koumuin in general. My personal experience is that some are very good at their job, and highly knowledgeable of the rules, regulations, and procedures of the department they work in, whilst others seems not to have a clue about their own job (much like back home). After all, they aren’t really under much pressure to excel at their job, are they?
      On the other hand, I have heard strange tales about the ‘koumuin of Edogawa-ku’ before. I have an Australia born Hong Kong Chinese friend (female) who lived their 6 years back, and she had an ‘experience’ with a koumuin when she applied for her ARC card. The koumuin insisted that she couldn’t be a ‘proper’ Australian citizen, but must be some kind of Australian Zainichi Chinese. When she told him to look at her passport, he said that he didn’t need to, because it was in English, and since he couldn’t read it, how was he to know what it said? In the end she returned on a different day with a member of Japanese staff from the university where she was employed, who helped to clear the whole thing up.

    20. Manisha Says:

      I am an Indian and worked at a research institute in Tsukuba for more than ten years before my marriage. Stayed at the same place for that period of time. Therefore many staff at Tsukuba city hall knew me well. I was almost 40 when my Japanese husband and I got married. We inquired by phone about the required documents and they told the usual stuff written on their web page. But later we went to the city hall to ask some details, and that time I was told that I would need a ‘certificate of eligibility to get married written by my parents’! It felt like some sort of joke to even think of asking my father to write such an affidavit. So I asked the lady at the counter whether I can write it myself but she did not agree. The document had to be authenticated by various government offices in India and finally by the ministry of external affairs of India. I inquired about it at the Embassy of India in Tokyo and was told that it is indeed a requirement for Indians. And all my Indian friends who got married to Japanese people needed this document. So I guess it depends on the country of your origin.

      I have been following this site for many years now though I never commented. Very good site. Keep up the good work.

      – Thanks for commenting! We appreciate your feedback!

    21. Loverilakkuma Says:

      I’ve never been to all 23 wards, so I cannot say which one is best and which one is the worst. In my experience in receiving service, Minato-ku is pretty generous. There are several foreign embassies out there, and you can save time by using public transportation to find the ward office(s) in that area.

      I haven’t heard bad news about Shinagawa, Shibuya, or Shinjuku, either–dunno if it’s because of limited information, though. As for some wards off the central Tokyo–i.e., Akabane, Arakawa, Edogawa, Ota, it’s quite a mystery. These areas are comparatively cheap for both Japanese and NJs to rent an apartment, but I would feel a bit uncomfortable being there, since most of what I hear about these wards is not-so-good news, such as homicide, murder, suicide, etc. I have no idea how safety concern within these areas connects to ward office’s general attitude toward Japanese and NJ residents, per se.

      Anyway, I think finding the ward office that makes you feel comfortable talking to over your needs is a wise choice for the people living in Tokyo.

    22. Andrew in Saitama Says:

      Sounds like either incompetence, someone arbitrarily throwing up barriers, or a mixture of both.
      And why is it only NJs who are capable of abusing the system? (At risk of thread drift, I’ve heard tell that clairvoyant Kazuko Hosoki managed to “marry” a senile rich scholar this way)

      Luck of the draw.

    23. Charuzu Says:

      Jay,

      Thank you.

      I agree that the conflict of laws situation creates bisarre results.

      In theory, a Japanese could be lawfully bigamous by having an opposite gendered spouse married in Japan, and a same gendered spouse who was married abroad.

      Thus, because of the conflict of laws situation, Japan may technically permit for some purposes polygamous marriage, as occurred historically in Japan hundreds of years ago.

      As such, I quite agree that statutory changes are necessary.

      There is a group in the Netherlands, I think, that periodically offers suggestions to our legislature on statutes that conflict with one another, and proposes options on how to resolve these problems.

      I do not know whether Japan has such a group, but it, like every sophisticated country with a complex legal system, should do.

    24. Piglet Says:

      If we look at the bigger picture here, the main problem seems to be the use of arbitrary rules by the bureaucracy. This is not only a problem for people wanting to marry or foreigners. I often encounter this kind of things when I go to the kuyakusho or other public institutions: many of the rules are seemingly strict but in fact leave a lot of leeway to bureaucrats to act the way they wish.
      For this reason, it is often difficult to obtain a specific list of documents needed for a bureaucratic procedure, or your demand might be rejected for no stated reason.
      I think a reorganization of the bureaucracy should involve the establishment of strict guidelines and procedures both for employees and citizens. For example, in the case of foreign marriage, the guidelines should be published, as well as the criteria for proof and rejection (proof of shared residence using mobile phone bills for example), etc.
      This is a huge task as the managerial organization of the Japanese bureaucracy is stuck in the 70’s. If I was the Minister in charge, I would probably hire a private consulting firm to prepare a reorganization plan (asking bureaucrats to reform would be useless as most higher ranks have no will to implement any change or improve the efficiency of their organization).

    25. Piglet Says:

      On way to improve service would be to require each employee to input their ID (unique employee number) in all the forms they fill or validate. Therefore if you have any problem with a bureaucrat (who doesn’t follow the official rules), you can always report their number to the claims department. Many countries have implemented this system (including partly China recently) but I haven’t seen it in my kuyakusho.

    26. beneaththewheel Says:

      K,

      I don’t mean to come off rude here, but I wanna reply to this:

      “To be honest, I wonder why there should be separate rules for each place, and why there can’t be a standardized set of rules for all. This hardly seems fair.”

      This is hardly your call. The Japanese system gives lots of power to local authorities, and it is what has been seemed as “fair” or “right”. I’d argue it leads to ward offices being able to treat their area with specialized care. There is frustration with a heavily bureaucratic system, and there’s suggesting reform with very little knowledge of how the system works. I want to suggest to not do the latter until you have a better understanding of the system. If I am making an assumption and you do have a very good knowledge of the system, I apologize.

      The fact that you’re American to me means that either your fiance made a mistake, or (as I said before) they flagged you for whatever reason (this is where it could be their incompetence/racist attitudes (see Jim’s story), or something either of you said or did). Maybe you looking young and pretty was all it took? They think if a woman looks young and pretty, it could be a sham, and they need to check it out. Finished. Sucks for you, and not morally right (in my opinion), but there you have it: a local solution against sham marriages. Sham marriages being used usually I’m assuming to exploit the woman, so while the ends don’t justify the means, the ends are something worth their while to fight against.

      Lastly, if you don’t mind, I’d love to hear how it all works out in the end for you. I hope you stick around to post the conclusion to your troubles (in the past people have asked Debito for help, and never told us how it turned out). I think your experience will be helpful for future foreign women in Japan (like Manisha’s experience). It’s an area that most of have know very little about, and it’s great to get it out there.

      Also, congratulations on getting married! :)

    27. Bucky Says:

      Ahh, such fond memories I have of the treatment my wife and I received when filing our license at said kuyakusho in 1987 — NOT! I can still remember the surly look of disgust on the face of the bespectacled middle-aged clerk (OK, maybe it was just his hemorrhoids acting up that day?) as he processed our papers. Didn’t even give us an “omedetou”.

    28. crustpuner Says:

      kind of off topic but about 5 years ago when I went to immigration where I live in Takamatsu, Kagawa with all the usual paperwork I needed to renew my marrige visa, the staff actually said to me, “look, why don’t you just go ahead and apply for PR as well?” She said that all I needed was one additional form that I would have to get from city hall (about a 15 min. walk) and then just write and submit the PR application along with the marrige extension. (I also didn’t realize that you could share documents when applying for 2 types of visas??)

      At the time I couldn’t be bothered cas I was on lunch break and didn’t have the time etc.. She was kind of like, “Ok well, up to you but if I were you I’d just go ahead and apply for it now since you are here now, have all the paperwork and since you have been here long enough, I’m sure it will be granted to you”. Now, I have been living in the same place for about 14 years and I dunno, maybe they recognize me or whatever but I was really quite surprised!

      Just sayin, the immigration peeps, they ain’t all bad. It really is a totally unique experience for each individual and while there seems to be “guidelines” of sorts, rather than actual “rules” NOTHING seems to be writ in stone. It really is the luck of the draw in dealing with immigration here. Having said that, the staff I was speaking to was younger, in her 30’s or so…Maybe that makes a bit of difference?

    29. Nevin Says:

      I got married in Japan in the late 90s. It helped that we completed the necessary paperwork in Canada first, although it definitely was a hassle on the Japan side, mostly dealing with the police station here in Fukui.

      I can’t recall any special problems dealing with Tsuruga city hall about the marriage, and what has been described in the original post doesn’t seem particularly unusual – Canada is pretty strict about international marriages (and is even more strict about one parent taking children out of country than is Japan, for example)… A marriage visa qualifies one for just about any type of work in Japan, plus access to the social welfare system, including unemployment.

      As for city hall, for some reason the functionaries there are jerks. They’re just petty functionaries who happened to be good at taking tests, and that’s it.

    30. TJJ Says:

      @ K:Re percentages of J-men marrying Non-J women and vice-versa.

      “Many more Japanese men marry foreign women than Japanese women marry foreign men. Of the 48,414 marriage involving Japanese and foreigners nearly 80 percent were between Japanese men and foreign women, with 38 percent of the wives being Chinese, 26 being Filipina and 18 percent being South or North Koreans. Of the 10,842 Japanese married outside of Japan, 85 percent were between Japanese women and foreign men.”

      http://factsanddetails.com/japan.php?itemid=633&catid=18

      Please let people know whenever you hear them say the opposite.

    31. Kakui Kujira Says:

      The first time I got married was to a Japanese woman in Shizuoka. When asking what papers we needed, the shiyakshou staff told us one of them was a Certificate of Non-Impediment for Marriage. The odd thing was that they told us that the Embassy (Australia) had changed the form, and they needed the old form.
      To solve this problem, I had to get the new form and write a letter explaining why I could not get the old form.
      I asked them if I understood correctly, and I had to write them a letter to inform them about something they had told me about.
      They said I understood the problem perfectly!
      So I got the new form, got out the thesaurus and the dictionary and wrote a 3 page letter using the most complicated and archaic English I would write.
      After that, everything went smoothly.
      The second time I got married was to a completely different Japanese woman, but also in Shizuoka. They did not ask for any letter explaining anything at all, the only extra bit was the divorce papers from both our previous marriages. Got a cheery wave and omodetou from nice shiyakshou chap, even though it was New Year’s Day and he was working alone behind a little window.

    32. Tom Says:

      Yeah about the only place you can go to find related stories and empathy concerning discrimination in Japan is debito.org Everybody else is either a hater, apologist, obsessed, long term P hound (as not to be offensive, please use imagination as to what P means) or others such as diplomats/base types; their blame it on you for coming here response only makes it worse. We salute Debito san for his efforts- his deeds have helped many.

    33. Meat67 Says:

      When I got married (despite Debito’s advice about getting married in Japan) last February in Ichkawa, Chiba, things went smoothly in terms of paperwork. The Canadian embassy website has all the information that a Canadian citizen needs to get married in Japan. Also, a week before we went in to sign the papers I went and asked someone at the kuyakusho if I had all the paperwork I needed, since my wife wanted to get married on Valentine’s Day and I didn’t want any mistakes. The only problem we had was the attitude of the stupid oyaji who married us. I’m sure he thought he was being helpful when he told my wife that she should write my name for me since, obviously, as a foreigner there would be no way I would be able to write my name in katakana. It’s not like it was one of the first things I learned to do when I moved to Japan or anything (of course since the guy pissed me off and I was paying more attention to being angry than my writing, I did actually make a mistake with my name…sigh). That and a few other comments were enough that he actually pissed off my wife too, when she was trying to be happy about getting married. Other than that, though, everything went smoothly.

      Speaking about marriage, this happened to a friend of mine from the UK who got married a couple of years ago in Chiba Prefecture. He left work as early as he could so he could meet his fiance who had the day off. As he was walking from the station to the city hall he met his wife walking to the station. He asked her, “What’s wrong?”, to which she replied, “Nothing. I’m already finished.” It turns out that he didn’t even need to be there to get married, she just gave all the stamped paperwork to the staff and that was that. He was shocked and so was I. I told this to my girlfriend (now my wife) and suggested, half jokingly, that it would be easy for some crazy person to stamp the papers either with the real hanko (not so hard to get if the crazy person is dating the person they want to marry) or one bought at the hundred-yen shop and marry anyone they like even if the other person doesn’t want to. She told me that this has, in fact, happened a number of times. Sigh.

      – Then maybe my advice about anyone getting married in Japan (qualification: if you’re going to have kids) wasn’t all that untoward? :)

    34. oogui Says:

      I got married to my wife about a year ago in my home country in Europe. Back there everything went through pretty smooth, we had to provide translations but that was mainly it. We registered the marriage with the local Japanese embassy and that proved to be no problem either.

      After that we came to Japan for the first time about 3 weeks ago and were planning to stay for a while. Registering at the local kuyakusho is no big deal, as people there are friendly and do everything to support us.

      I was shocked in disbelief at what kind of documents are required for my 3-year-visa at the 入国管理局 in Osaka though. Going there and talking to the staff was one of the most unpleasant and humiliating experiences of my life. We had our marriage certificates, including the koseki of my wife and all the neccessary translations as well and kind of expected to fill out some forms and get the visa right away (it worked pretty smoothly in Tokyo when I came as a student a few years back).

      However these are some of the things they wanted us to hand in:

      1. Phone records, showing that we were staying in contact after meeting and living apart from each other for a while.
      2. Personal photographs, showing us in everyday situations together (also, if possible, shots from our 結婚式).
      3. A very, very lengthy アンケート about all kinds of private things. Like how and where we met. If we have told our parents about the marriage etc. We assumed this one was not mandatory and just left it blank, only to have them send it back via post, demanding us to fill it out.

      All in all I felt like being accused of being a criminal the whole time. The lady at the information was exceptionally rude (not an Osaka thing here) and I was seriously on the brink of just giving them a big fuck you and head back to Europe on the spot.

      Only are these kinds of measures not able to stop someone from making an arranged marriage to someone, but it discriminates everyone who is trying to get a spouse visa. I knew that Japan was xenophobic (been living here for 2 years before) but this just takes on a whole new level of been given the gaijin treatment.

    35. AJ Says:

      Good luck to all of you getting married out there in J land. The practicalities may be a trial, and you may meet the occasional obnoxious bureaucrat, but I wish you all a happy and healthy relationship and future with your chosen partners, and any children you may have. Congratulations and many happy returns.

    36. blimp Says:

      I married in Edogawa-ku a couple of years back, and it all went very smooth. No parents involved and no having to go back multiple times. All in all I believe it took 10 min. This even at the 区民間 so not the proper kuyakusho.(one non-Japanese and one Japanese citizen)

    37. sendaiben Says:

      @Oogui

      The Osaka immigration people are (in my limited experience) incredibly rude and ignorant.

      I had the misfortune of dealing with their Kanazawa satellite office when I was applying for a re-entry permit just after the earthquake.

      I had some stupid woman tell me repeatedly that I couldn’t do it at their office, but rather had to do it at my home office in Miyagi (this was on March 14th, so that office wasn’t operating for obvious reasons). In the end I had to pull rank, demand her name (which she refused to give me) and ask to speak to a supervisor. After that she gave me the information I wanted. It only took 30 minutes on the phone for her to admit that, yes, her office did issue re-entry permits and tell me the opening hours.

      The people in the office when I actually went in to get the permit were not much better, speaking to people (not me) in a rude and dismissive fashion, calling people by nationality rather than name (Next, Brazilian) and just behaving like some kind of feudal lord.

      It made me realise that our office here in Sendai, while not perfect, could be a lot worse…

    38. Baudrillard Says:

      I am more and more convinced that the reason the procedure is arbitrary and almost random (everyone above having quite different experiences)is because a lot of J bureaucrats are following a mythology created by belief media or hearsay- what they think is common sense but actually not following the real procedure. Or, there IS no agreed procedure; its too open to individuals interpretation. Or its just crap; the fact some Japanese person you date could go and marry you without your permission, for instance.

      Belief in mythology trumps the law, especially if it involves foreigners. I laughed at the ojisan at the kuyakushou who said foreigners couldnt do their tax returns online, even though a nearby govt office had said I could! Everyone stared. He bowed in apology (and refusal).

      The signs just refer to other signs. Maybe just laugh at the ridiculousness nonsensical aspect of it? (Its ok to do that in Japan, we Japanese often laugh when we are embarrassed, etc etc)

      Try to have fun.

    39. Baudrillard Says:

      @ Oogui, I hope you are wrong and they dont really want all the below

      1. Phone records, showing that we were staying in contact after meeting and living apart from each other for a while.

      -I talk to my GF on MSN or Skype. There are no phone records. Save money on international calls of course!(probably this is from the mindset of all relationships only being domestic)

      2. Personal photographs, showing us in everyday situations together (also, if possible, shots from our 結婚式).

      – We dont have any pictures together. I take pics of her, and vice versa.

      3. A very, very lengthy アンケート about all kinds of private things. Like how and where we met. If we have told our parents about the marriage etc.

      -My GF is an orphan, and I rarely am in touch with my parents. I am a westerner, I do not need their permission.

      I do remember when my ex was refused entry into Japan, the immigration officer questioned me for 45 minutes as to how I knew her. I told her I had met her at my friends shop, she was a customer, and he just could NOT ACCEPT the idea how I could have from that situation have started dating her!

      So, because that oyaji does not have the pick up techniques or social skills I do, my ex was refused entry into Japan!

      Seems like, once again, their criteria is based on a cultural mythology of a “normal” lifestyle which is just outdated and has no connection to the modern reality.

      The “map” the bureaucrats are following no longer represents the reality, which has changed beyond their recognition or comprehension. (“Skype tte nani sore?”)

      Hire younger people, Japan? Ah, but you do not have enough…

    40. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Sendaiben,

      I have seen the immigration office in Osaka do exactly the thing you describe to an American guy. I heard the whole thing whilst I was waiting my turn. However, I must say that they have always been extremely polite and helpful to me.

    41. sendaiben Says:

      @ Jim Di Griz (great alias, by the way ;)

      So it’s a quota thing? A ‘depends on who you get thing’? Some customer service and sensitivity training in that office would go a loooooong way…

    42. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Sendaiben,

      Yeah, maybe some kind of unofficial quota? lol.
      I get the impression that this is all just another example of how a systemic unwillingness to take responsibility for making rules in black and white, leaves massive scope for interpretational ‘grey areas’ that have the potential to be resolved differently on any given day.

    43. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      If I may offer one piece of advice to people dealing with these procedures, it’s this: don’t get emotionally invested in whether or not, or in what way, government officials accept your marriage, and what hurdles they make you jump over in order to gain their acceptance.

      Your marriage is between you and your spouse, and secondarily between your family and your spouse’s family, and, optionally, between you, your spouse, and your chosen deity and its accompanying religion.

      Do you consider the date that some government functionary stamps some papers to be your wedding day? I hope not — it should be the day that you and your spouse pledged to love and obey, until death do you part, etc., etc.!

      And the real wedding is not a stamped paper and not even a one-day ceremony; it’s the sum total of all the conversations you had, all the things you shared, all the events you lived through, all the travails you endured while on the road to discovering that that person is the one you want to spend the rest of your time with.

      And some city-hall wonk thinks that your “marriage” is dependent on your submission of this paper or that one, or the possession of some number of photographs or phone records? If he won’t consider you married until he gets that detritus, just walk away. You’re a husband and wife because you consider yourselves to be so.

      You will of course have to go through this bureaucratic nonsense to get marriage-related visas and to file taxes as a married couple; I’m not suggesting that you ignore that. Just don’t let yourself get depressed or emotionally affected by their arbitrary hoops.

    44. fly Says:

      The bureaucrats just interpret the law how their venerated sempai trained them 40 years ago, or whatever.

      Slight tangent but for a while I was getting 6 month visas from Yokohama immigration in the nineties because I once quit a job after just two months. After a couple of years of this my employer had to write a letter to them saying “Can you give him a year this time? He has been here a while now”

      The word on the street was “They are funny down there in Yokohama”. When I moved to Tokyo, I got a three year visa first time.

      The laws are quite vague and so the bureaucrats add their own guidelines, often to the point of changing or trumping the law, as we see on the new PR thread. This is why some of them are arrogant, act like daimyo, and think the public serves them, not the other way round. They ARE making laws, largely unchallenged.

      But as the frontliners have got younger, and I have got older and less of a pushover, they have treated me better. Back in 1989 they were older, very nasty and abusive. Same old, same old.

    45. Johnny Says:

      One thing that has always concerned me re immigration is that nobody seems to have a name tag. Even if you ask who you are dealing with, half the time they won’t tell you.

      Part of a culture of unaccountability.

    46. sukitup Says:

      One thing that has always concerned me re immigration is that nobody seems to have a name tag. Even if you ask who you are dealing with, half the time they won’t tell you.

      You should find they are wearing a badge with a number. That number is their accountability.

      That’s not so unusual, in Japan or in international terms. (e.g. PC179 in a UK police force).

      It is safer for the immigration not to provide the personal information in such emotive situations.

    47. kiki Says:

      Hi K, first, I’m so sorry you got the runaround. Getting married should be a happy occasion! As other posters said, maybe you got the wrong staff on a bad day. No excuse though.
      I got married last year in Katsushika ward, and our experience was very different. My husband was very particular about getting the paper work right and took time off work to go ask the ward staff exactly what was required. The requirements differ according to your nationality. At that time, I happened to have my passport and ARC with me, so they took a photocopy and kind of started a file for us – this meant when we came back on the day, they were like, “oh, ok, we know you!”.
      Katsushika ward also has volunteer staff every Monday who speak English and Chinese. The Swedish lady who helped me was fabulous – as she knows the staff, she could cut through any nonsense and give me exactly the info I needed. Also, most of the staff seemed to be younger women, and perhaps they just have a more normal attitude to these things? They were very helpful. When we went back on the day we chose, it went smoothly. I think going in there before – ‘showing your face’ – really helps, more than a phone call – they can see you as a person, not just a ‘random gaijin’. And unfortunately, every ward does seem to have a slightly different way of doing things, so a phone call or visit will be much more useful than anything you find on the internet. My experience when dealing with any bureaucracy here, is if you can get them to see you as a person and not just an application form, they remember that they are human too.

    48. oogui Says:

      @Baudrillard
      I am not making this up. These are the actual prerequisites. You will have to fill out these papers or you’re not going to get your visa. I also doubt that these paper vary over the different prefectural offices. The place I went to is NOT the 市役所 but the 入国管理局. If there are no phone records, you’re going to have to tell them in written form. Also I am pretty sure that they’re going to want proof of the whole orphan thing.
      You will also have to provide pictures. Any will do. We actually took some shots of us right before going there and printed them out in the nearest kombini. Again, you will probably get your application refused if you don’t provide pictures.

      The thing is: Your initial visa can be for a time period of one to three years. You can state how long you want it to be (obviously 3 years) but in the end it’s up to them to decide about it. I suspect that depending on their satisfaction with your application they will give you either a long (read: 3 years) or a short (1 year) visa.

    49. Baudrillard Says:

      Ok, I ve been thinking of solutions, ways to act rather than just complain. Oogui suggests a good one when confronted by a ridiculous request:
      “You will also have to provide pictures. Any will do. We actually took some shots of us right before going there and printed them out in the nearest kombini”

      So it is just a box that needs checking on a form; reminds me of a shop that would not sell me something unless I filled out their form (to get junk mail). Suddenly, in a flash of inspiration, I wrote my name as “M. Mouse” and my address as “Disneyland 1 chome”. Obviously you cannot be so blatant at the immigration of Kyuyakusho but you get the idea.

      Or maybe just embarrass them with super intimate answers to personal questions? “Ok, here is a picture of our private parts joined together in coitus. I hope this proves beyond a doubt we are intimate”.

      Ditto their absurd question on the PR Men in Black thread, gets a post modern answer: “You dont sleep together?” Your answer: “Its the Samurai tradition. Traditionally in Japan people just have sex in the bed” “Naru hodo”.

      If they are going to expect NJs to be more Japanese than the Japanese, then you might as well go way back in history, to before Japan became the post war American construct of what the “Japanese” brand is.

      Trump absurd questions with absurder answers. It worked for Vaclav Havel in another silly bureaucracy in Communist Czechoslovakia.

    50. oogui Says:

      @Baudrillard
      Being provocative is going to get you nowhere in your situation I am afraid. In the end it’s up to them to decide whether you will get a visa or not.

      I would rather propose to do systematically falsify your information. This is actually what I have done: The reason why I didn’t want to give them any private pictures of us is that they are just that, private. So I took some pictures that didn’t have any other private meaning but to be used for getting the visa.

      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. I think this is the smarter way to get what you want without sacrificing your privacy or behave like an ass. In the end it’s not the people at the Nyūkanrikyoku that make the rules and I guess they’re just as pissed as you, having to deal with these things every day.

    51. 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.

    52. Baudrillard Says:

      @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.

    53. 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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