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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:31 03/09/2007
Debate: Comment

On International Marriages in Japan

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

This comment originally appeared in the "Japan-U.S. Discussion Fourm" ( on March 13, 2002: posted here with the author's permission.

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. In 2000, there were 36,263.

The birthrate among couples in which one parent was non-Japanese was about 2.9 in 2000. This was a record high. 80 percent of these marriages were between foreign women and Japanese men with the vast majority of brides coming from Asian countries.

Some see these figures as proof that Japan is slowly becoming a multi-ethnic society. Certainly, in 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, good support networks have sprung up. On the negative side, the Japanese media quote immigration officials in urban areas as claiming that some of the increase in international marriages is the result of what are called visa or fake unions in which the real purpose is a work permit and not martial bliss.

On the positive side, if international marriages keep increasing and birthrates for such unions remain high, then the demographics should ensure that Japan will become a more multi-ethnic society in the future.

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