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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #16: November 12, 2002

International Marriages in Japan: Part Four – Basic Data on International Marriage in 2002

J. Sean Curtin (Professor, Japanese Red Cross University)

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.

This is the forth in a series of articles on various aspects of "international marriage" (a union in which initially one of the spouses is a non-Japanese citizen).

The number of international marriages in Japan has been steadily growing. Population statistics for 2000 show that 1 in 22 registered marriages was an international joining, representing 4.5% of the national total. When one considers that foreigners represent just over 1% of the entire population of Japan, this is a rather high figure.

The international marriage trend has been particularly strong in the major urban areas. In 2000, 1 in 10 marriages in the Tokyo area were between a Japanese spouse and a foreigner and in Osaka the figure was 1 in 12.

In about 80% of these marriages, the husband was Japanese. Chinese women are currently the most popular foreign brides, followed by Filipinas, South Koreans and North Koreans. In marriages involving foreign grooms, Koreans were the number one choice, followed by Americans. Despite the fact that Americans only made up 2.6% of foreigners in Japan during 2001, marriages between Japanese women and American men were prevalent in Okinawa and Kanagawa prefectures. Both of these regions have large U.S. military bases. In Okinawa Japanese-American unions were the most common type of international marriage.

Over the past 30 years, there has been a 6.5 fold increase in the number of international marriages, with a particularly dramatic rise in the late 1980s. In 1970, there were only 5,546 international marriages a year. In 2000, this figure had hit 36,263.

Some interpret these figures as proof that Japan is slowly becoming a multi-ethnic society. Major cities have already become quite diverse, but the international marriage trend also extends deep into the heart of the Japanese countryside. In many rural areas such unions are welcomed and seen as a way of revitalizing local communities. In Yamagata prefecture, where there are quite high concentrations of foreign wives, strong international bonds have developed.

The birthrate among couples in which one parent was non-Japanese was about 2.9 in 2000. This was a record level for such unions and much higher than the national average birthrate which stood at 1.33 in 2001. If international marriages keep increasing and birthrates for such unions remain high, then demographic momentum should ensure that Japan will become a more multi-ethnic society in the future.

Despite the enormous increase in international marriages, the Japanese legal framework for such unions remains inadequate. In the last decade, these deficiencies have become especially prominent as the growing number of such marriages put more and more strain on the already defective legal system. In the last decade, the courts have made a series of contradictory ruling on various aspects of these marriages. The government has so far failed to seriously address the vague aspects of the law. Some of the problem areas have already been outlined in earlier articles in this series and others will be covered in future reports.

Related Reference Articles

International Marriages in Japan: Part Three –Amerasian Children in Okinawa
Social Trends: Series #15, GLOCOM Platform, 8 November 2002

International Marriages in Japan: Part Two – Impact of 17 October 2002 Supreme Court decision on International Marriages
Social Trends: Series #14, GLOCOM Platform, 28 October 2002

International Marriages in Japan: Part One - Visa status of non-Japanese spouses in 2002
Social Trends: Series #13, GLOCOM Platform, 28 October 2002

Inequality in Japanese Marriage and Divorce Laws in 2002
Social Trends: Series #12, GLOCOM Platform, 21 October 2002>

The Current State of Divorce in Japan: Record Number of Marital Dissolutions in 2001
Social Trends: Series #10, GLOCOM Platform, 7 October 2002

Japanese Marriage Trends in 2002: Later Unions and More Diverse Families
Social Trends: Series #9, GLOCOM Platform, 3 October 2002

Living Longer, Divorcing Later: The Japanese Silver Divorce Phenomenon
J. Sean Curtin, Debates, GLOCOM Platform, 5 August 2002

On International Marriages in Japan
J. Sean Curtin, Debates, GLOCOM Platform, 14 March 2002

On Divorces Involving a Non-Japanese Spouse
J. Sean Curtin, Debates, GLOCOM Platform, 15 March 2002

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