Let me tell you a little about getting married in Japan, which is an experience I had recently. It started about a year ago with the engagement. My then-fiancee is a Japanese national, but while we'd known each other for about eight years, our relationship didn't really take hold until we were able to talk on Skype on a regular basis. She'd been living in Canada while she studied early childhood education, and I'd been bouncing back and forth between Japan and the United States.
Once I got myself back in Japan things took a turn for the romantic between us, so we decided to get married. She finished her degree, came back to Japan and started looking for a place where we both could live. With our co-habitation settled, we got down the business of setting a date and doing the paperwork.
The paperwork is the most complex aspect of the marriage contract, at least in bureaucratic terms. As the foreigner in the arrangement, you need an official birth certificate and an affidavit of competency to marriage. The affidavit must be notarized by your embassy. For Americans, the place to go is the Tokyo branch, and for this you must make an appointment in advance. Plus it costs 5000 yen. Or 4900 for me, for some reason. My mom took care of the birth certificate (a document aged to flimsiness over the course of my crazy little life and mailed protected in tissue against disintegration from rough handling across the Pacific) and I took a day off work and went to Tokyo for the notary stuff.
Lucky for me this was a three-day weekend and I was able to get two nights in Tokyo to play around, sightsee and shop. It was strange doing that solo. I'd been used to going it alone, but these days I'm half of one complete person so I felt distinctly bisected. The embassy took care of me-- my appointment was at 11:30am, I showed up at 11:00 and I was on my way by 11:26 (I checked as soon as the security guards gave me back my cellphone).
At this point, let me say the woman who handled the actual notarization was a joy to deal with. Friendly, upbeat, chatty. If you have to have your government represented on a personal level in a foreign land, you could do a lot worse, believe me. This is the second time I've had business with her and both times I've come away feeling glad to be an American. If you have to do this, I hope it's on a day she's working so you can feel it, too.
Please fill out the form very carefully. I screwed mine up but we were able to get away with it. You have to write your mother's maiden name, and I stupidly wrote her married name. And this was after botching two other versions of the same form. If you should happen to do this and come away with your document notarized, inform your local ward office before you turn it in. They told my fiancee to write a Japanese explanation of the mistake and all would be well. And it was. Bring your passport to the embassy. No food or drink. Do not forget your payment, which is accepted in yen.
The next part heavily involved my fiancee. This was the laborious translation into Japanese of both my birth certificate and my competency form. She also had to complete the actual marriage document or form or request. Whatever it is. This is where we discovered my little goof, which led to a day of worry that I'd have to spend yet another paid holiday and go to Tokyo to do the whole thing over again. Fortunately not. This poor woman worked her ass off to get everything right.
We asked two friends to be our witnesses and on the day of the wedding itself we met them at their house and had them fill out their part and sign it or stamp it with their inkan.
The ceremony itself? Well, in our case it meant simply going to the ward office on a Sunday and handing in the documents to the middle-aged security guard with two large warts on his upper lip. Oh yeah, and quickly adding more Japanese translations because we overlooked the back of my birth certificate where there was another stamp and signature. We took a quick photograph of ourselves coming out of the office in imitation of our witness friends who had done the same thing. Did I forget to tell you they're also a married couple?
Okay, so that's it. I hope this is helpful, but please understand I'm leaving out a few things because I'm an idiot. Get your paperwork in order, plan ahead and you'll have the same experience we had-- waiting for a Monday morning phone call telling you your documents are wrong. In our case, it was a minor detail they could correct over the phone. Once done, they told my wife, "Omedetou gozaimasu!" and we were married.