Japan foreign marriage

In recent years rural Japanese men have begun taking foreign brides as a way of countering the reduced number of women who are of marrying and childbearing age that are willing to marry rural Japanese men. The phenomenon has created a new industry of foreign marriage brokering that uses both local governments and private organizations to facilitate the immigration of foreign brides. This is a largely a result of an aging population in Japan where approximately 20% of the population is over the age of 65, which is exceptionally high19 prefectures to see 20% population drops by '35 | The Japan Times Online, a fertility rate of only 1.319 prefectures to see 20% population drops by '35 | The Japan Times Online, and increased opportunities for women and increased costs in child care.


It is difficult to identify a single direct cause for the practice of foreign brides because is it really the product of an environment. However, there are several factors which have contributed to the environment that fosters this practice. Since 1955 women have increased from 15% to 40% of the work force reducing the availability to bear children. There is the undesirability of the role of a rural housewife. Many women prefer not to be in this role as it severely limits career opportunities and has a social stigma. Further the rural wives have an expectation of caring for her husband's parents. This can be a very traumatic experience as mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships are very often abusive. In other cases, a wife has the undesirable task of hospice care for her husbands aging parents. In addition to these duties a wife will have the burdens of child rearing, household and financial management, and in many cases a share of the agricultural work. Overall, the declining number of marriages is responsible for 50% of the drop in birthrate.

Another aspect that contributes to the phenomena is the aging population of Japan. For the first time since the 19th century Japan has been experiencing a decline in the population outside of wartime. While there are still many available women of marrying and childbearing age now, the trend of aging in Japanese society will become self-sustaining at some point. Since 1995 Japan has experienced a decrease in the production population those who are aged 15 to 64.Carrying on with fewer people | The Japan Times Online There will simply be fewer women to fill these roles. And, as a result of fewer women, there will be fewer children. Marriage rates for women aged 25 to 29 dropped from 82% to 52% from 1970 to 1995.

While this is still far into the future, in some places schools have been replaced with senior centers as there are no children to attend classes.A Baby Bust Empties Out Japan's Schools (washingtonpost.com)

Financial Aspects/Costs

While obtaining accurate and reliable information about the financial aspects of the importation of wives is understandably difficult since the majority of these arrangements are not widely publicized, the information that is available comes primarily from the agencies that facilitate these transactions. Japanese men have reportedly paid as much as $20,000 (USD) to these agencies for this type of transaction. Of this payment, as much as $3,000 is being paid as a dowry to the bride's family. The rest of the $20,000 is theoretically being allocated to travel expenses, and presents for the bride. Once again, however, these figures are somewhat ambiguous for obvious reasons.

The practice of importing brides is further encouraged by some local governments, which have established matchmaking and marriage counseling services. Furthermore, some local governments have also attempted to influence marriage by increasing taxes on singles, and providing financial rewards for clubs called koryukai, that provide meetings with eligible women. Local governments have even gone so far as to assist farmers with finding foreign brides in some cases.


There has only been a limited amount of study concerning the foreign bride industry in Japan. Much of what is known comes from intermediaries that work as brokers. It is common for these middlemen to be of foreign descent themselves, particularly from East or South East Asia. In fact, many brokers are former brides themselves . The broker's goal is to facilitate the transition for the foreign brides and arrange the dowry to be paid by the woman's family. In turn, the prices for the would-be husbands tend to be high, in the upwards of 20,000USD .

Scott Gorman describes in The Marriage Broker how a typical middleman works. Gorman introduces Keiko, an assumed name of a Chinese broker, and discusses her recruiting and business strategy in her native China . Her goal is to facilitate the transition for the Chinese women and arrange a dowry to be paid to the women's families. Once the dowry and service fees are paid, the final stages of the transaction occur. Immigration and Visa forms and requirements will be worked out in coordination with the broker and bride, and the actual wedding ceremony, if it is desired by both parties, will be planned Keiko will not reveal the price of her service, but she will admit that it is not inexpensive. According to Keiko, a foreign bride herself, she was one of only seven foreign brides in her area when she arrived nearly 20 years ago; today there are approximately 800, 28 of which are the product of her services .

Although much of this industry is private, local governments have become more involved due to the declining birthrates and the less than enthusiastic appeal of rural bachelors. In fact, the first government to establish a claim and promote the foreign bride service occurred as early as 1985 in a rural village of the Yamagata prefecture .

Though foreign brides are exported to all parts of Japan, the vast majority are being sent to rural villages and prefectures. This is mostly due to population decline, but also because of anti-rural sentiment expressed among many Japanese single women (due to many factors: agricultural work expectance, mother-in-law issues, etc). Tomoko Nakamatsu, author of Faces of "Asian Brides" goes on further to state:

A large number of local governments in rural areas had implemented programmes to encourage (domestic) marriage among their residents. Under the policies of supporting depopulated areas, state funds were available for implementing these programmes. In the 1970s, the terms "hanayome gink? (brides bank)" or "hanayome sent? (brides centre)" were widely used for these schemes, which aimed to make a list of available single women .

So even before foreign bride services came into prominence, during the 1970's local government boards promoted hanayome gink? (brides bank)" or "hanayome sent? (brides centre)" to encourage Japanese women from urban areas to consider marrying rural villagers . But with the 1980's economic boom, the newly cemented middle/upper middle class population seized control of the international arena, and with it came the birth of the foreign bride trade in Japan .

Typical Background of the Foreign Bride

There has been little documentation on the types of women that are recruited for immigration. However, there are many allusions to the premise that they are all from rural and impoverished families, as was the type of background the marriage broker Keiko came from . A newspaper story written The Philippines seems to corroborate that assumption. In the article, a Filipino mayor criticized the foreign bride business in his country, stating that his government was "giving away unspoiled women in the countryside." This statement leads to the assumption that the women are from rural areas .. Also, Asian women perhaps are chosen in order to make the transition to being "Japanese Wife" easier than would be the case for a Western bride. In fact, many brokers will overtly stress the Japanese qualities of the foreign brides, both social and physical, in order to assure their easy transition into Japanese culture. Gentleness, humility, and patience are all characteristics deemed important for women Japanese society, and many foreign bride services have used those social qualities as advertising slogans .


While the practice of importing foreign wives has been present in Japanese society for more than thirty years, it is still too soon to understand the long-term effects . The inability to determine the effects is because foreign bride importation is still not a common enough occurrence to get the solid data needed to comprise a thorough statistical analysis. However, the moral consequences that have risen from the industry can be examined.

The first set of consequences is the negatives. In essence, a form of human trafficking has been created. While presumably all of the participants are volunteers, there is no official form of regulation, which creates the potential for exploiting young females . The potential for this is high since there is in fact a payment to the woman's family through the third party broker. The broker and the farmer have no way of knowing if the girl has been sent willingly by her family or if this is a form of forced prostitution or perhaps even slavery. In a worst case scenario, the woman may not even be related to the family that is profiting from her dowry; the real possibility exists that woman being "sold" is a kidnap victim and the family are effectively slave traders. There are no safeguards against this.

Another possibility is that the woman is a con artist who will simply skip out of her new marriage once the dowry has been paid. As the marriage broker Keiko noted, there have been cases of the women returning to China or disappearing to urban Japan.. The unwitting husband would have no way of knowing if the marriage broker was involved in this scam or if the broker was also a victim of the woman. As the women are foreigners, it would be very difficult to track them down once they had returned to their country of origin. Even if they are able to find the woman, the Japanese men may not have the legal recourse to collect damages or compensation.

The final possible negative consequence is the possibility that women will be placed with an abusive or exploitative husband. These women are not given citizenship immediately and may or may not have the skills to seek the protection of the Japanese judiciary system should the husband be abusive. If the woman is being forced into any form of sexual exploitation, physical abuse, or other emotional distress it would be very difficult to uncover, especially if the woman cannot speak Japanese, or is afraid of shaming her family by being unable to fulfill the contractual agreement.

Positive Outcomes

While the potentially negative consequences can be dire, positives do exist. First, the birth rate in a country must be 2.1 to maintain the population. According to Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Japan's birth rate in 2005 was 1.25. Population Since the birth rate has been in a steady decline over the last 30 years, some outside force has to increase the population in order for Japanese society to continue to exist in the long term. Immigration has been one of the keys to solving the problem of the low birth rate.

Many scholars such as Kosai, Saito and Yashiro have argued that in order to reverse the declining population trend they must reduce the disparity between the advantages of continuing to work and the costs of childcare for women. There is a danger that the method of reducing the disparity would be by limiting women's career options. However, if there is a sufficient supply of foreign women who are content with the domestic lifestyle and willing to migrate to Japan, this can protect the advancements women have made in the career world. In a very tangible way the industry of importing wives can serve the advancement of women by filling the domestic void left behind by the hard fought victories of the women's movement in Japan.

Another potential benefit is the financial gains to the woman's family and to her as well. The money paid to the woman's family can be a huge financial boon based upon the humble situations that the women are recruited from. The money paid to the family can vastly improve the lives of those still residing in the wife's native country. In some cases having one less family member to support may be a financial benefit for the woman's family. The woman obviously would have been able to contribute to her family's enterprises, but having one less mouth to feed might make the difference in terms of economic success for some families. The woman's own socioeconomic status may be improved by merely marrying "upward"; in rural Japan her new family might have a greater socioeconomic status than her own family. There are some very real economic benefits for the participants of the business of wife importation.

The last possible advantage that can be taken from the industry is one of promoting international goodwill for Japan. Anthropologists have long accepted the institution of marriage as a key method of extending kinships and promoting social relations .. Japan's reputation with much of the Asian world is still negative because of the atrocities committed by Japan in the first half of the twentieth century. If the experiences of the immigrant wives are a good one then it is possible for the rest of Asia to begin to view Japan as the peaceful nation that it has become since the end of World War II. Conversely, perhaps the Japanese themselves can take the opportunity to Re-evaluate some of the xenophobic tendencies associated with the Japanese. The children of these international marriages will be the ultimate form of multi-cultural relations, as they will have ties to both Japan and the rest of Asia. This is an opportunity for more peaceful and happy relations in a region that has had strained relations for the past sixty years.

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