In the era of digitalization, the concept of online marriage has emerged as a convenient and accessible alternative to traditional in-person ceremonies. Japan, with its embrace of technology and innovation, has also witnessed a growing trend towards online marriages. While the Japanese government does not officially recognize online marriages, some platforms and services facilitate legal marriages conducted virtually.

The allure of online marriages lies in their convenience and flexibility. Couples can exchange vows and formalize their union from the comfort of their homes, eliminating the hassle of travel, venue arrangements, and traditional ceremony protocols. This approach is particularly appealing to couples with busy schedules, those residing in different countries, or those seeking a more intimate and personalized wedding experience.

The Legality of Online Marriages in Japan

Before the global pandemic, specific regions had stringent regulations mandating the physical presence of both the officiant and the couple for a marriage to be legally valid. Additionally, couples were required to personally visit the county clerk's office to obtain and file their marriage license.

In 2019, the Utah County marriage license office collaborated with the information technology departments to introduce an innovative, entirely digital marriage license application process. This groundbreaking system effectively removed the necessity for couples to physically appear at the office to acquire and submit their marriage licenses.

A noteworthy aspect of Utah's online marriage procedure is its accessibility to all, irrespective of residency. Typically, marriages conducted legally in one state are recognized across the entire United States of America, necessitating compliance with both state and federal laws. Consequently, a couple legally marrying online through Utah's system will also have their marriage acknowledged by other states. It's important to note that, in general, marriages performed legally in one country are widely accepted in most other countries.

Traditional marriage process in Japan

Getting married in Japan is open to non-citizens, and the process is relatively quick and straightforward. The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for men and 16 for women, requiring parental permission for those under 20. Divorced women must wait six months before remarrying.

The necessary paperwork includes the following:

  • Marriage registration application
  • Birth certificate
  • Passport
  • An Affidavit of Competency to Marry

Foreigners must obtain the affidavit from their embassy in Japan, translated into Japanese. Japanese citizens also need a recent family register copy.

The marriage registration occurs at the local government office, with both partners and two witnesses signing the application. Japanese nationals can even register by mail. Non-Japanese citizens may want a Certificate of Acceptance of Notification of Marriage for proof.

Fees for foreign citizens include around ¥5,500 for the Affidavit to Marry, ¥350 to ¥1,400 for proof of marriage, and approximately ¥11,000 for translation services if needed.

Japanese weddings often involve planners or venue coordinators. Traditional ceremonies may take place at shrines or temples, but modern couples often choose hotels, gardens, or chapels. The celebration typically includes a ceremony (kekkon shiki), a reception with dinner and speeches, and an after-party (nijikai).

Gay marriage in Japan

Gay marriage is not legal in Japan, although it was fully legalized in the United States in 2015. While Japanese law does not permit same-sex marriage, an alternative avenue exists for couples seeking recognition. Couples can marry overseas, through platforms such as Courtly, and secure a US marriage certificate. In countries where same-sex marriage is allowed, this document attests to their commitment.

Despite the absence of constitutional acknowledgment for same-sex marriage in Japan, there have been strides towards recognition. As of June 2017, six cities within the country facilitate same-sex civil partnerships. Additionally, prominent wedding venues, including Tokyo's Disney resort, extend services to same-sex couples, offering ceremonies and celebrations. These initiatives signify incremental progress in acknowledging and accommodating the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in Japan.

Marriage in Japan for Foreigners

To marry in Japan, foreign individuals must adhere to Japanese law, necessitating the preparation of an Affidavit of Competency to Marry. This document, affirming legal eligibility for marriage, is obtained from their home country's embassy or consulate in Japan. Embassies typically charge a fee and may require evidence of the termination of any prior marriages. This process is recommended to be completed within two months of the intended marriage registration date, with specific requirements varying, so contacting the local embassy is advisable.

The marriage registration is filed at the local government office closest to the Japanese citizen's legal residence. For non-citizen couples, the submission occurs at the office nearest to the planned marriage location. The application requires signatures from both partners and two witnesses aged at least 20, irrespective of nationality.

Japanese nationals, if one party is such, can even register their marriage by mail. Submission of all necessary documents via post leads to the local government recognizing the application as valid. The marriage process in Japan is efficient, with couples officially considered married once the registration is approved by the local government office. Although not mandatory, non-Japanese citizens often choose to request a Certificate of Acceptance of Notification of Marriage from the same local office as proof of their marriage.

Courtly: Simplifying the Online Marriage Process in Japan

Courtly provides a straightforward solution for couples seeking a streamlined marriage process. It grants couples the flexibility to complete the entire procedure remotely, removing the necessity for extensive documentation. With Courtly's efficient approach, couples can quickly and effortlessly obtain a valid U.S. marriage certificate.

Step-by-Step Guide for Getting Married Online in Japan with Courtly

Couples can seamlessly navigate the entire online marriage process in Japan through Courtly, offering the convenience of a swift and hassle-free experience, regardless of their location. 

Here's a comprehensive step-by-step guide:

1. Create an Account

Begin by clicking on the "Get Married" icon in the top right corner of the Courtly platform. Follow the provided instructions to create your account. Once completed, full access to the platform will be at your fingertips.

2. Choose the ceremony format, setting, and officiant

Take charge of your wedding by choosing the ceremony format, setting, and officiant. Courtly allows you to personalize your ceremony based on your preferences. Depending on your chosen time and day, a legally qualified U.S. officiant will be assigned.

3. Payment and Email Confirmation

After choosing your wedding package, proceed to make the payment. Once the payment is confirmed, expect to receive an email confirmation from Courtly. Explore the available wedding packages and add-ons on the Pricing Page for a comprehensive overview.

4. Online Celebration

Celebrate your marriage online with loved ones from the comfort of your chosen location with a reliable internet connection. The online ceremony typically spans around 15 minutes, marking the joyous culmination of your union.

Same-sex couple getting married remotely with family and licensed officiant via Zoom

Immediately after the online wedding, receive a digital copy of your U.S. marriage certificate. A printed copy will be delivered to you within 1 to 2 weeks. Additionally, you can download your digital marriage license shortly after the ceremony.

Registration of online marriages in Japan

When a Japanese citizen legally marries abroad, they must submit a Marriage Registration to reflect the union in their Family Registry. This registration should be completed promptly after the marriage ceremony. Dual citizens should also submit the Marriage Registration as Japanese citizens. Signatures on the form must be in Japanese, but non-Japanese spouses are not required to sign. 

For marriages between Japanese citizens, the required documents include:

  • Three Marriage Report Forms (original)
  • One Family Registry (Koseki Tohon or Koseki Shohon) (original)
  • Three County-Issued Marriage Certificates (one original, two copies)
  • One Translation Form of the Marriage Certificate (original)
  • Copies of each spouse's Japanese passport and proof of legal status in Japan
  • One Contact Information Sheet

For marriages between a Japanese and foreign citizen, additional documents may be necessary, such as:

  • Proof of citizenship for the foreign spouse (foreign passport or birth certificate)
  • One Translation Form of Proof of Citizenship (for U.S.) (original)
  • Two County-Issued Marriage Certificates (one original, one copy)
  • One Translation Form of Marriage Certificate (original)
  • A copy of Japanese spouse's passport AND proof of legal status in Japan
  • One Contact Information Sheet

If a foreign spouse wishes to change their surname due to marriage to a Japanese citizen, they must submit an additional Registration to Change Surname within six months of the marriage.

Important Considerations

  • It is recommended to submit documents by mail, with options for Certified Mail or a Tracking Number.
  • Changes in Registered Domicile (Honseki-chi) may require additional copies of documents.
  • It is no longer necessary to use a seal (inkan) or thumbprint.

Additional Notes

  • If you are a foreign spouse with a name suffix, such as "Jr.," please be sure to include this information in your given name in Katakana when submitting your documents.
  • If you make any errors on your application forms, you can correct them by drawing two horizontal lines through the mistake. Please do not use white-out.
  • If your marriage certificate includes any alternative names, please provide an explanation for these names in the "その他" section of your application.

Please note that the specific requirements for registering an online marriage in Japan may vary depending on your circumstances. It is always best to consult with your local authorities for the most up-to-date information.

Apostille certification for online marriage certificates

Acquiring an apostille for an online marriage certificate is a critical step in verifying its legal recognition worldwide. An apostille is an official certification issued by either the Secretary of State or the Lieutenant Governor, confirming that the document conforms to the standards established by The Hague Apostille Convention of 1961. This certification ensures that the marriage certificate possesses legal validity and authenticity, rendering it admissible in countries that are signatories to the convention.

Courtly offers a convenient service for obtaining an apostille certification for your online marriage certificate. It is essential to note that the entire process, from securing the apostille to its delivery to Japan following the virtual ceremony, typically takes 15 to 30 business days. This certification provides an additional layer of assurance regarding the legal standing and validity of the marriage certificate, making it recognized not only in Japan but also in other countries that accept apostilles.

For the most accurate and up-to-date information on specific requirements and procedures related to apostille certification in your jurisdiction, it is advisable to stay informed and, if needed, consult with Courtly or relevant authorities.

Conclusion

In Japan, the conventional notion of marriage is experiencing a paradigm change, with couples increasingly opting for online weddings made possible by advances in technology and globalization. Platforms like Courtly are simplifying the process, enabling couples to marry remotely and personalize their nuptials with the support of U.S. officiants and a valid U.S. marriage certificate.

While same-sex marriage remains legally challenging in Japan, progressive initiatives in certain cities and venues are signaling a growing acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights. Both Japanese citizens and foreigners can navigate the documentation process for online marriages smoothly, and obtaining an apostille certification grants global recognition. As technology reshapes societal norms, online marriage platforms emerge as a convenient and efficient option for couples seeking to formalize their commitment in Japan.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is an online marriage legally recognized in Japan?

The Japanese government currently does not facilitate online marriages. However, through platforms like Courtly, individuals can engage in online wedding ceremonies and acquire a valid US marriage certificate, recognized internationally, including in Japan. This option offers a convenient alternative, sparing couples the inconvenience and expenses associated with traveling abroad for marriage.

What are the eligibility criteria for getting married online in Japan?

The specific documents required for an online marriage in Japan may vary depending on the platform used. Couples that wish to get married with Courtly simply need to be over the age of 18 and not currently married.

Can gay couples get married online in Japan?

Yes! Gay couples can get married online under U.S. law by using platforms like Courtly. The marriage certificate would be considered valid in any country that has legalized same-sex marriage.

What documents are required for an online marriage in Japan?

The only official document required to get married online through Courtly is a valid government ID. If you have been divorced within the past 60 days, you would also need to provide a divorce decree. 

For detailed information regarding the necessary documents, it is advisable to consult the relevant state authorities or the online platform through which you are facilitating the registration process.

Can foreigners marry online in Japan?

Yes, foreigners can marry online from Japan. Through platforms like Courtly, couples have the option to participate in an online wedding ceremony and obtain a valid US marriage certificate that holds recognition wherever they may be.

How long does the online marriage process take?

Online marriages through platforms like Courtly often take less than 48 hours. A digital copy of the US marriage certificate is immediately delivered within 12 hours following the online ceremony. Furthermore, the recipients will receive a physical copy of the certificate in the mail in one to two weeks.

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