Getting married in Japan: A complete guide

TransferWise
19.06.18
7 minute read

Whether you’re bridging family traditions or a simply looking for a unique destination, a Japanese wedding experience is like no other in the world. Japanese weddings can offer a combination of centuries-old Shinto or Buddhist rituals, the futuristic glamour of Tokyo’s modern hotels, or a tropical escape to one of country’s numerous beaches and hot springs.

Here’s what you need to know, from legal requirements to ideal destinations, about holding your special day in Japan.

Weddings in Japan: What types of weddings are possible?

Wedding ceremonies in Japan can be civil, religious, and are frequently a combination of both. But a wedding ceremony isn’t required at all to be officially married. In fact, Japanese law only considers a marriage legal once it’s registered with the city or municipal office.

Japan’s constitution doesn’t legally recognize same-sex marriage. Despite this law, as of June 2017 six cities across the country do provide same-sex civil partnerships and many of the country’s top wedding locations also offer same-sex ceremonies, including Tokyo’s Disney resort.

What are the legal requirements to get married in Japan?

You don’t need to be a Japanese citizen or resident to get married in Japan. As long as you’re able to get married in your country of origin, you can be married in Japan. Marriage in Japan can be expeditious - couples can be married on the same day that they apply for a marriage license.

The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years old for men and 16 years old for women. If you or your partner are under 20, your parents will also need to grant special permission. Finally, divorced women must wait six months before getting remarried.

What do you need to get married in Japan?

Necessary paperwork and documentation

You don't need an excess of paperwork to get married in Japan. All couples planning to wed must submit the following:

  • An application for registration of marriage (called a konin todoke)
  • A birth certificate
  • A passport
  • An affidavit of competency to marry

Every civil office has slightly different requirements, so you should contact the local Japanese office of where you’ll be married for any additional paperwork.

Japanese law requires all foreigners who marry in Japan to prepare a sworn Affidavit of Competency to Marry, affirming they're legally free to marry, from their own country’s embassy or consulate in Japan. The embassy will typically charge a fee for the affidavit and require proof of dissolution of any prior marriages. In general, this should be conducted within two months of the marriage registration date. It’s best to get in contact with your local embassy for any other specific requirements.

Japanese citizens will also require a certified copy of their family register that's been issued no more than a month prior to marriage registration. For foreign nationals, all submitted documentation must be translated into Japanese.

The process

The marriage registration must be filed at the local government office closest to the legal residence of the Japanese citizen getting married. If both parties are non-citizens, the local office should be the closest of where you are to be married. To officially register, the application must be signed by both partners and two additional witnesses. The witnesses can be from any nationality, but must be at least 20-years-old.

If one person is a Japanese national, it’s even possible to register your marriage by mail. You have to submit all required documents through the post, then the local government will recognize this application as valid.

It’s possible to go through the marriage process in Japan with relatively little fanfare. Technically, once the marriage registration is filed and approved with the local government office, a couple is officially married. It’s a very quick process. While not necessary, it’s an especially good idea for non-Japanese citizens to request a Certificate of Acceptance of Notification of Marriage from the same local office. This document will be your proof of marriage.

What fees are involved?

The estimated legal fees for a Japanese wedding are:

About ¥5,500 for the Affidavit to Marry for foreign citizens

Between ¥350 and ¥1,400 for proof of marriage

Around ¥11,000 for translation services, if required

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What should I know about wedding ceremonies in Japan?

It’s pretty typical for Japanese weddings to involve wedding planners or to work with venue coordinators for help on the big day. Traditional Shinto or Buddhist Japanese weddings aren't quite the same as typical Western weddings. The ceremonies (kekkon shiki) hiroen, or a reception at nearby restaurant or banquet hall where dinner and speeches will follow. Finally, the after-party (nijikai)

In the past, it was most common for couples to marry at a shrine to display respect for their cultural traditions and ancestors. These days, outside of traditional Shinto Shrines or Buddhist Temples, it’s increasingly common to hold marriage ceremonies and receptions in hotels, gardens, or chapels across Japan.

The following embassy and consulate websites will give you additional information:

The U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Japan

The Australian Embassy of Japan

The British Embassy in Tokyo

The Irish Embassy in Japan

The Embassy of Canada to Japan

The cost of a wedding in Japan

A wedding in Japan can be as cost-effective as you want it to be. While many luxury options are available to you, other lower-tier options can also be found. You can try searching for package deals, where a planner will combine ceremony and reception venue, catering, flowers and planning into one fixed cost. Or, you can skip the ceremony altogether and hold a low-key reception to cut down on costs.

The average Japanese wedding is comparable in cost to a Western wedding. On average, it costs around ¥3.34 million ($30,000 US) and has about 70 to 80 guests. It’s not uncommon to rent a wedding dress or tuxedos. Rental dresses range from ¥10,000 to ¥100,000 for a brand name, and traditional kimonos typically start at around ¥90,000.

Venues that specialize in weddings will more than likely have package plans and may charge extra for bringing in your own planner. While it’s not uncommon to find venues with packages that include flowers, pictures, and catering that cost well over ¥1 million, you can likely find a respectable place without the package deal for ¥200,000 to ¥400,000.

Guests attending the reception will expect to pay an entrance fee on top of the traditional wedding gift. This fee, typically ¥5,500 to ¥11,000 (about $50 to $100 US), will generally cover the cost per person of food and drink during the event.

See below for some additional estimates on pricing for an average Japanese wedding:

Item Average cost in Japan
Flowers and Decorations ¥30,000 to ¥60,000
Wedding Planner ¥250,000
Photographer ¥100,000 to ¥200,000

Top wedding locations in Japan

Here are some of the best wedding venues in Japan:

Venue Description
The Heian Shrine (Kyoto) One of the most popular and important Shinto shrines in Japan
Fujiya Hotel (Hakone) Outdoor ceremony in a national park near hot springs, with natural beauty and views of Lake Ashinoko and Mount Fuji
Coralvita Chapel (Okinawa) A chapel with large open windows and gorgeous near the sea
Ritz Carlton (Osaka) A modern hotel in the Nishi-Umeda district, close to the cultural centre of Osaka
Jardin de Luseine (Tokyo) A traditional European-style tea garden
Maruyama Park (Kyoto) Marry outdoors amongst the popular cherry trees of Kyoto
Snow Crystal Museum (Hokkaido) A quirky, charming museum with crystal chandeliers, dedicated to snowflakes and the beauty of snow
Hotel Gajoen (Tokyo) Accustomed to accommodating foreigners, with ornate Japanese lacquering and Showa era architecture
DisneySea Hotel (Tokyo) Your dream Disney wedding in Cinderella’s Castle at Tokyo Disneyland, where Disney characters help you celebrate
James Tei Restaurant (Kobe) An upscale restaurant with sweeping grounds and experienced wedding planners

Wedding traditions and customs in Japan

There are many traditions, superstitions and ceremonies in Japanese culture, so it’s no surprise that weddings are the same. You may want to choose to include some of these time-honoured in your own wedding:

  1. Dress - Most Japanese weddings are either Shinto-style, with traditional kimono dress and closed ceremony, or “white” weddings held in a Christian-style ceremony
  2. Sake - Regardless of religious rituals, most Japanese also include a cultural sake-sharing tradition at the wedding, popularly called san-san-kudo. Using three flat sake cups stacked atop one another, the bride and groom take three sips each from the cups. Then the parents also take sips, cementing the family bond.
  3. Gifts - There is generally no gift registry as guests are expected to give the newlyweds a goshugi or a gift of money
  4. Toasts - During the reception, or the hiroen, expect to see lots of speeches, a slideshow or perhaps even a video commemorating the couple
  5. Birds - It’s common to incorporate cranes as a theme, perhaps as origami on the table for the guests. The bird symbolizes a long, happy married life
  6. Celebrating - Most Japanese weddings wait to turn up the music and dance the night away until the reception is over and the nijikai, or after-party has started.
  7. Luck - Certain words are bad luck if said during the big day. It’s thought that uttering the words* kaeru*, meaning to go home, or modoru, meaning to return, you could be cursing the bride
  8. Takeaways - Guests shouldn’t go home empty handed as gift bags or hikidemono are often filled with small treats and keepsakes and left under their seats as a thank you for attending

Summary

Organizing your wedding in Japan will require time, patience and of course, money. However, the experience of the exotic location, beautiful landscapes, and amazing food and traditions will be worth it.

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