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Is an elopement in Japan legally binding?

Updated: Jan 19

Getting married abroad, in a far-flung exotic location is a dream for many couples. It is a chance to forget about everything else and simply focus on the two of you, the most important people in your marriage story. However, is an elopement in Japan legally binding?

The answer is yes...and no!

The wedding ceremony in and of itself is not legally bonding.

Can foreigners get legally married in Japan?

A lot of our couples will have their ceremony and photos here and legalize their marriage back in their home country, either before or after the trip. However, for those who want to do it here, it can be done, but there are a few extra steps to follow.

We have helped couples from the US, UK, Australia, Germany, Italy and France get married here. The process for each is different and depends on nationality and their country’s diplomatic relationship with Japan. It will be next to impossible to include information on all nationalities here, and so I will speak on the authority of experience as a British national who got married here in Japan.

NB: As with all things legal, please be sure to do your own research before deciding to apply for your own marriage here. Laws are subject to change and while we have helped couples, we are not legal experts. We have to refresh our understanding of the process for each couple we help. This post merely serves as a starting point for your own research.

How do you get married in Japan?

The legal application needs to be done either before or after the wedding ceremony, but not on the same day.

In short, the process is as follows:

  1. Before you come to Japan, get an original, certified copy of your birth certificate to bring with you. There may be other documents required, e.g. death certificates, divorce papers, naturalization documents, etc.

  2. Once in Japan, you will first need to go to your national embassy to obtain a certificate of no impediment or equivalent. Check the embassy website beforehand, as you may need to book this in advance. You may need to pay some money for the documents. For the British Embassy, I had to pay the yen equivalent of £50.

  3. With the embassy documents in hand, go to the city hall. You will need to find out which city hall is willing to process marriage applications for non-Japanese couples. At the city hall, you will need to complete a 婚姻届 “Kon-in Todoke” (the request for the registration of marriage). Here you will present your certificate-of-no-impediment, passport and birth certificate.

  4. Once the application is made, wait in the city hall for the marriage certificate. Just note, the certificte is not fancy - just a regular A4 piece of paper. Important to note, the city hall is a nondescript, bureaucratic building; nothing romantic about it.

For British, Australians and Americans, that is it. Once they have the marriage certificate, and it was applied for within the laws of the land (Japan), the marriage is considered legally binding. Other nationalities, French, Italian and German for example, will need to perform a few extra steps. One of these could be getting the certificate translated by an embassy approved translator.

Again: please be sure to check with your own embassy before proceeding. This article merely serves as a starting point for your research.

Please note

As you can see, we have and can help couples fulfill their dreams of completing the whole process in Japan. However, it is important to note that our ability to do so is very much schedule dependent - it requires one or more days of over and above the elopement day itself and therefore is another cost consideration. During peak-times - Sakura Season and Autumn - we may not have the schedule flexibility to assist you in this particular endeavour...

If you want to know more or would like our assistance at the city-hall, please let us know, we will be happy to help you in any way we can. Contact us today!

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