There remain persistent untruths among Americans in Japan that you can get married and divorced at the Embassy or one of our Consulates; you can’t and never have been able to do so. Many people also believe that they have or must register their marriage or divorce with the Embassy or one of our Consulates. The U.S. does not have a federal marriage or divorce registry and the Embassy does not maintain any records of marriages or divorces involving American citizens.
Did I Get Married at the Embassy?
The only place you can get legally married in Japan is at a ward or city office. We get requests frequently from persons who recall “being married” at the Embassy or Consulate in the past. While they may have done some paperwork here, it was not a marriage ceremony.
The Japanese government requires Americans who wish to marry in Japan to obtain a Certificate of Competency to Marry from the Embassy or one of our Consulates; this is not a U.S. requirement and signing one at our office does not make you married. The Certificate only enables you to get married in Japan at a city or ward office. The Embassy and our Consulates do not maintain any record of the issuance of these Certificates.
Obtaining Copies of Marriage Certificates
Many couples seek a notarized translation of their Japanese marriage certificate. This translation can be a handy English language document for use in the U.S. It is not a formal marriage certificate issued by the U.S., and is not required by us.
The Embassy and our Consulates do not maintain any record of these translations or any other record of your marriage (or divorce) in Japan. The only official record of your marriage is the one issued to you by the Japanese ward or city office at the time of your marriage, and copies can only be obtained from that issuing office. The Embassy or one of Consulates cannot obtain such documents on your behalf. You will need to contact the issuing office directly.
If both partners are non-Japanese, these records are maintained at the city or ward office for 50 years.
If one of the partners is a Japanese citizen, marriage documents will only be kept at the city or ward office for one month or one year. They are kept one month if the Japanese partner registers his/her marriage at his/her office of permanent domicile, and one year for other cases. After that, marriage records are forwarded to the nearest Legal Affairs Bureau, where they are kept for 27 years.
If your partner is a Japanese citizen, then the facts of a marriage or divorce in Japan are also recorded on their family registry, the koseki. This record is kept in the ward or city office where the Japanese Citizen is permanently domiciled, and can only be obtained directly from that office. The Embassy or one of Consulates cannot obtain such documents on your behalf. You will need to contact the issuing office directly.
Follow this link for contact information for ward offices in Tokyo.
Because the U.S. does not have a federal, central or nationwide marriage or divorce registry as in some European countries, if you were married or divorced in the U.S. you will need to contact the state in which the marriage or divorce took place directly. The Embassy and our Consulates do not have access to marriage and divorce information.
Registering Your Marriage with the Embassy or Consulate
While we are happy about your marriage and know that sometimes divorces are necessary, there is no need or requirement to inform us of either event. No U.S. state requires you to register either event with the Embassy or one of Consulates. Your legal marriage in Japan is automatically valid in the U.S.