Marriage in Japan
In its form as a legal formality, a marriage in Japan is handled through marriage registration (婚姻届 kon’in todoke) at the local city office.
Because there are no costs attached to marriage registration, some couples go through this procedure months ahead of the wedding ceremony. Out of all married couples, around 20% only take care of the legal proceedings and skip the ceremony altogether.
The registration procedure is not associated with any type of ceremony. Requirements vary depending on location, but typically :
A filled-out marriage registration form
Personal ID (Residence card, driver’s license, passport, etc.)
Official copy of the family register (戸籍謄本 koseki tōhon, see below for details)
Certificated signature stamp (印鑑 inkan)*
*Non-Japanese nationals are often allowed to simply sign documents
You can get more information about Marriage, Childbirth and Childcare from this site:
Guidebook on Living and Working ~For foreign nationals who start living in Japan~
In international marriages between a Japanese national and a non-Japanese national, only the Japanese national has to bring their family register. Non-Japanese nationals don’t have Japanese family registers, nor do they receive one through marriage. They are simply added to their spouse’s family register.
As long as no additional proceedings are completed, international couples keep their respective nationalities and last names.
Because non-Japanese nationals don’t have family registers, they’re not able to legally acquire a Japanese surname through marriage alone. In cases where the non-Japanese spouse still wants to use a Japanese surname, they can:
- Register their spouse’s name as a common name (通名 tsūshōmei). In this case, the non-Japanese national still keeps their old surname, but can use the common name in everyday life, including for the signing of legal documents etc. ID documents will list both names.
- Become a Japanese national. In this case, the non-Japanese national still has to clear the regular requirements for naturalization, one of which is having lived in Japan for 5 years or longer.
Benefits of Marriage
In modern Japan, the majority of couples marry for non-material reasons: To have a family or a child, to live with a loved person, or to create an environment where they can be at peace.
However, Japanese society does provide some benefits that are not available to single people or non-married couples. The most important ones are the spousal tax deduction (配偶者控除 haigūsha kōjo) and the special spousal tax deduction (配偶者特別控除 haigūsha tokubetsu kōjo).
Through spousal tax deduction, married couples are able to receive a deduction of up to 380,000 JPY on the “family breadwinner’s” income tax. Once the non-breadwinner’s income exceeds a certain level, the amount of money deducted decreases. The tax deduction amount reaches zero once the non-breadwinner makes more than 2.01 million JPY per year.
In addition to tax deduction, married couples can also receive some health insurance benefits.
Same-sex marriage has not yet been legalized in Japan. In recent years, there has been a constant increase in municipalities that officially recognize same-sex partnerships. The first two to do so were Tokyo’s Shibuya and Setagaya wards in 2015.
These partnership systems (パートナーシップ制度 pātonāshippu seidō) are equal to traditional marriage inside of the municipalities they were issued in. However, they don’t allow same-sex spouses access to legal benefits on the national level, such as the above-mentioned spousal tax deduction. Because of this, activists are still demanding full legal equality.
Wedding Ceremony Styles
Below, you can find the three most popular wedding ceremony styles in Japan.
Around 30% of couples in Japan opt for a neutral wedding ceremony with no religious leanings in front of family and friends (人前式 jinzen-shiki).
The ceremony is typically held at a hotel or specialized event space. Despite not being tied to any specific religion, individual elements (like the popular western-style wedding dress or an exchange of rings) are typically borrowed from other types of ceremonies.
Western-style marriage refers to a marriage ceremony of European or American style. The ceremony is held front of the backdrop of a church or chapel, with the bride wearing a wedding dress and the groom a suit. It also features the typical exchange of wedding rings.
This type of ceremony is the most popular in Japan. Over 50% of unmarried people want a western-style wedding. With Christians being a minority in Japan (~1% of the population), most couples choose this option purely for aesthetic reasons.
Because Christianity has never been widespread in Japan, the number of churches in the country is quite low. The demand for backdrops for western-style weddings is mostly met by private companies that rent out spaces modeled after European-style churches. Priests and other clerical personnel present at the wedding ceremony are often mere actors.
Approximately 10% of Japanese couples choose a Shinto wedding (神前式 jinzen-shiki). The ceremony is held at a shrine, with the bride in a kimono and the groom in a haori and hakama.
Shinto is often described as Japan’s “native religion.” Despite this, the Shinto wedding was only established in the latter half of the 19th century. In this time, Japan came into increased contact with the world outside of its borders after a period of prolonged isolation.
In fact, before the Meiji period (1868 – 1912) there was no single event equivalent to what is now called a wedding ceremony (結婚式 kekkon-shiki). In its place were a number of traditions with secular, Buddhist and Shinto leanings. The Shinto wedding was based on the concept of the Christian wedding and developed as part of Japan’s transition to a modern nation-state.
Childbirth and Childraising in Japan
In Japan, almost all births are handled in hospitals or smaller clinics. Costs for childbirth differ depending on the area but are around 500,000 JPY on average. Included in this figure are costs for hospitalization, delivery, examinations at the hospital, etc.
Tokyo is the most expensive place to give birth in Japan, with costs exceeding 600,000 JPY on average. Surrounding prefectures like Kanagawa and Saitama are closer to the national average.
Pregnancy and Childbirth Support
Before childbirth, woman are encouraged to do regular health checkups (妊婦健診 ninpu kenshin) throughout their pregnancy. The recommended amount is 14 checkups, staggered in the following intervals:
Stage of Pregnancy
Start of pregnancy ~ week 23
1 time every 4 weeks
Week 24 ~ 35
1 time every 2 weeks
Week 36 ~ Birth of child
1 time per week
Upon the start of their pregnancy, expecting mothers receive 14 health examination vouchers, which can be used to waive the fees for these health checkups (either fully or partially, depending on the area).
One-Time Childbirth and Nursing Payment
After childbirth, all mothers can receive a one-time childbirth and nursing payment (出産育児一時金 shussan ikuji ichiji-kin) of 420,000 JPY. At some hospitals, it is possible to immediately use this one-time payment to cover the hospital bill.
Mothers who are company employees and have to take time off for pregnancy and childbirth can also receive public childbirth allowance (出産手当 shussan teate). For 42 days before and 56 days after childbirth, mothers receive two thirds of their pay, based on their average monthly income in the previous year.
Parental Leave and Childraising Support
After childbirth, parents have access to the following systems for childcare.
Every company employee in Japan is legally entitled to parental leave (育児休業 ikuji kyūgyō) until their child reaches the age of 1. Both mothers and fathers are eligible.
To receive parental leave allowance, employees are required to have worked…
- for at least 11 days per month…
- for a total of 12 months or longer…
- in the past 2 years…
- for a single employer.
Although parental leave allowance is provided by the state, it is paid to the employee through their employer. Payments are made once every two months. The amount of money is calculated based on this formula:
|Average daily wage* x Amount of parental leave days x 67% (decreases to 50% after the 6th month)|
*Average daily wage = Total wages during the 6 months preceding the parental leave period divided by 180
After the child reaches the age of 1, the parental leave period can be extended to up to one year. However, an extension is only possible if one of the following conditions is met:
- the parents have applied for admission of their child to a childcare facility (ex. nursery school), but couldn’t secure a spot in time
- the spouse who was supposed to take care of the child after the end of the parental leave period became unable to do so due to death, injury, illness or a divorce
Finally, Japan has a system for general childcare allowance (育児手当 ikuji teate) that parents can apply to at the local city office. Parents receive the following amounts of money, per child:
- 3 years and younger: 15,000 JPY / month
- 3 years up until junior high school: 10,000 JPY / month (15,000 JPY for the third and subsequent children)
- Junior high schoolers: 10,000 JPY / month
In addition to these national systems and allowances, there are often other support options of the municipal level.
Unless parents have relatives that can take care of their children, nursery schools (保育園 hoikuen) are the next option for childcare after the end of the parental leave period.
Nursery schools in Japan fall into two categories: Nationally approved (認可保育園 ninka hoikuen) and not nationally approved (認可外保育園 ninka-gai hoikuen). Both types are legitimate nursery schools, but nationally approved institutions have to meet harsher requirements regarding the amount of provided space, for example.
Because of the high density of the population in Japan’s major cities, securing a nursery school spot for a child can be notoriously difficult in some areas. In those areas, it is not rare for parents to start to scout for nursery school options as early as one year ahead or before their child is even born.
Sources for the Childbirth section