Monday, January 25, 2010

International Marriage

In 2007, more than 1 in 20 marriages (5.6%) in Japan took place between foreign and Japanese citizens [1]. Particularly striking are the figures for marriages between Japanese men and foreign women. In 80% of international marriages, the male partner is Japanese; and assuming all foreign women lived in Japan before marriage and are counted in the population statistics, 9.7% of unmarried women of foreign citizenship in Japan marry a Japanese man every year, while only 2.8% of unmarried Japanese women do [2]*. Clearly, Japanese men and foreign women are actively seeking each other out, but why?

Japanese men may be marrying foreign women because they have difficulties finding suitable Japanese partners. The average age of a Japanese man embarking on an international marriage is 43, compared to 31 for a Japanese man marrying a Japanese woman [3]. This suggests that marrying a foreign woman is not men’s first choice, but as men age, they become more willing to search further afield for a bride.

As for foreign wives, economic incentives undoubtedly lure many to Japan to live and work, but why do so many end up marrying Japanese men? Unlike their husbands, the average age of foreign women is 31, not so different from the average marriage age of 29 for Japanese women [4] —presumably these women have other options for marriage.

The nationalities of women marrying Japanese men shed some light on this issue. Chinese woman account for 37% of foreign brides, Filipina 29%, Korean 18%, Thai 5%, and Brazilian 1%. [5] Given their percentages in the population, and thus the chance that they would meet and marry Japanese men under ordinary circumstances (i.e. not through a matchmaking service or marriage broker), these percentages are surprising.


% of foreign brides

% of foreign unmarried women
















[6 – Figures are from 2007]

The table shows that compared to their representation in Japan’s population of unmarried, foreign women, marriage rates to Japanese men are disproportionally low for Korean and Brazilian women, and high for Chinese, Filipina, and Thai women.

Japanese immigration policy is very different for the high and low groups. Most Koreans in Japan are special permanent residents whose employment is not restricted under immigration law, and most Brazilians enter under the Nikkei visa program, which likewise gives them long-term residency and access to employment [7]. Chinese, Filipina and Thai women, on the other hand, face high immigration barriers, and technically are not allowed to come to Japan for unskilled work at all. For these women, marrying a Japanese man is a fast track to a permanent residency visa, and legal access to any employment. In this way, Japan’s immigration policy likely pushes certain nationalities of women towards marriage with Japanese men.

Since women seem to marry for immigration status, ironically Japan’s restrictive immigration policy may make it easier for older and perhaps desperate men to find wives from abroad. If the immigration policy were loosened, an unexpected side effect might actually be fewer international marriages, as foreign women are no longer forced to rely on marriage as their passport to Japan.

*Figures for are for women 15 years old and up.

1. Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Konin Kensuu, Nenji × Fusai no Kokusekibetsu, Dai 1 pen Dai 2 Shou Dai 1-37 Hyou, 2007 [cited 2010 January 25]; Available from:

2. Ibid.

Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, Dai 3 Hyou Kokuseki (11 kubun), Haiguusha Kankei (4 kubun), Nenrei (5 sai Kaikyuu), Danjobetsu 15sai Ijou Gakokujinsuu, 2008 [cited 2010 January 25]; Available from:       

Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, Dai 5 Hyou Haiguusha Kankei (4 Kubun), Nenrei (Kakusai), Danjobetsu 15sai Ijou Jinkou oyobi Heikin Nenrei (Sousuu oyobi Nihonjin)- Zenkoku, 2006 [cited 2010 January 25]

3. Minstry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Fusai no Kokusekibetsu ni mita Konin, 2007 [cited 2010 January 25]; Available from:

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.
Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, Dai 3 Hyou Kokuseki (11 kubun), Haiguusha Kankei (4 kubun), Nenrei (5 sai Kaikyuu), Danjobetsu 15sai Ijou Gakokujinsuu, 2008 [cited 2010 January 25]; Available from:

7. Ministry of Justice, Dai 1 Hyou Kokuseki (Shusshinchi) betsu Zairyuushikaku (Zairyuu Mokuteki) betsu Gaikokujin Tourokusuu, 2009 [cited 2010 January 25]; Available from:


  1. where's the other 7%? Who are they marrying?
    and what about Loooove?!? Not all of them can be be sheerly out of mutual convenience!

  2. I totally agree that we shouldn't discount the role of loooove. I'm not arguing that foreign women don't love their Japanese husbands, or vice versa. But I think that practical concerns (such as visa status, wanting to have kids before you get too old ect) can certainly make you more open to falling in love with someone outside your normal social milieu. How else would you explain the skewed data in the table. And re: the other 7%, no other nationality counts for more than 1%. It's a mix of everyone from Americans to Zimbabweans.