First comes love, then comes a lot of red tape, then comes marriage
January 14, 2007
OKINAWA — Communication is essential for your relationship to survive Japan’s paper-cluttered marriage process, say couples who have persevered to complete the bureaucratic marathon.
It’s hard enough when you both speak the same language. But effective communication is even more challenging when you’re marrying someone of another nationality and don’t speak his or her language fluently, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jermy Brower, who married his wife, Rika, an Okinawa resident, in 2004.
He still recalls trying to explain to his Japanese fiancee why he needed his commanding officer’s permission to marry.
Communicating helps two-nationality couples sidestep misunderstandings that might make a partner think that “you don’t want to get married or you are trying to put them off,” Brower said.
Rika said she just didn’t understand why there were so many steps and why the process for two consenting adults to be married took so long.
It’s not just the nuts and bolts that require strong communication skills, Brower said — you also need to discuss long-term life issues and overall goals.
He and his wife talked about leaving Okinawa at the end of his tour, whether he would continue his military service and military-life issues such as short-notice deployments. That the nonmilitary partner understands what to expect as a military spouse is important, he said.
Assembling all the paperwork required by Japanese law and the U.S. military is a lot of work, say those who have been through it, no matter the nationalities of the married-couple-to-be.
That’s why you should take advantage of military agencies in place to help you, advised Lance Cpl. Travis Easter, who married Carmena, a Marine corporal, here in August.
As Marines, he and his wife were required to attend a two-day pre-marriage workshop. But even if the Marine Corps didn’t require attendance, “I would tell people they should do it,” he said. “Even the strongest couple will get something out of that workshop.”
The couple honed their communication skills at the workshop and got a step-by-step guide for Japanese marriage requirements that “made it easy,” he said.
Easy, but not quick. The Easters still needed about two months to get all their paperwork together before they could head to city hall and tie the knot.
But once they got to Chatan City Hall, on Aug. 29, things sped up. The actual marriage took only about five minutes, Easter said.
“We signed a paper and it was done,” he said.
After all that work, the quick signature making them man and wife just didn’t seem real, Easter said: “It was like buying a car or something; you’re just signing a piece of paper.”
But after the marriage is when the really hard work starts, Easter and Brower agreed.
It also means more paperwork.
Easter and his wife had to complete more documentation, for matters such as moving out of the barracks and keeping their tours designated as unaccompanied. They found there was far less guidance on navigating the paperwork needed after the marriage certificate was signed, Travis Easter said.
Married life included paperwork for Brower and his wife as well. He is due to leave the island this summer, so they have to start the immigration visa process for her.
“Just because you married your foreign-born spouse doesn’t mean that you can automatically take that spouse back to the States,” he said.
But, Easter said, being married to his wife made all the work worth it — and all that bureaucratic slogging even produced a bonus of sorts: “Going through the process here has strengthened our relationship,” he said.