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OKINAWA — You’ve met the love of your life; you know this is it. And now it’s time for the next step in your relationship: marriage.

For Americans, marriage traditionally means a white wedding gown, a chapel, bridesmaids and groomsmen, lots of flowers and throwing rice at the end. But for Americans marrying in Japan, the most important detail is completing a civil marriage registration at a municipal government office.

If you want to tie the knot here, you have to follow Japanese laws governing marriage — whether you’re marrying a local national or another American, said Rudolph A. Wartella IV, an attorney-adviser with Torii Station’s Judge Advocate General’s office.

Articles 731 to 737 of Japan’s Civil Code provide some stipulations for who can and can’t marry in Japan.

Men must be 18 or older and women 16 or older, and Americans also must fulfill the requirements of their home state, according to the U.S. Embassy in Japan.

The articles prohibit marriage between most blood, adopted and in-law relatives and require those less than 20 years of age to get written approval from parents or guardians.

And it may seem chauvinistic, said Kimberly Leslie, a marriage counselor at Marine Corps Community Services’ Personnel Service Center on Camp Foster, but women cannot get married within six months of a divorce or bereavement.

According to Japanese law, this restriction is to eliminate confusion about the father of any child born close to the end of a marriage’s dissolution.

Then comes the documentation required to complete a marriage registration, which can be time-consuming, Leslie said.

For example, Japanese citizens have to get a koseki tohon (a family register), Leslie said. They also need a kon-in todoke (a Japanese municipal government form) signed by two witnesses, 20 or older, of any nationality.

You need documentation of nationalities for both, she said. And servicemembers need an affidavit of competency to marry, which they can get from their unit’s legal office. However, she said, they must also get a Japanese translation of the affidavit.

Each branch of military service offers some kind of premarital counseling or class to help servicemembers and their prospective partners collect all the necessary documentation. The U.S. Embassy in Japan also lists this information on its Web site.

Once all the paperwork is completed, it’s time — finally — to visit a Japanese Municipal Government office. U.S. Embassy officials suggest contacting that office first to make sure there aren’t additional requirements.

If you marry a Japanese national, or other non-U.S. citizen, then there’s still more paperwork in store, even after the ink’s dry on the marriage certificate — now you have to get started on visas, Wartella said.

“Although legally married to you, your spouse and any stepchildren cannot enter the U.S. without first obtaining an immigrant visa,” he said.

He advised contacting an American consulate for visa information or visiting the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site at http://uscis.gov.


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