Legalities: Babies in Tokyo

This post is intended to outline what an American parent will need to do in Japan to get their newborn baby legal here.  It’s for future reference for myself (I’m rather doubtful of the need at this moment) and for anyone other applicable person who stumbles across this page. (As a disclaimer, though Tokyo is listed in the title, we lived in Saitama)

A couple of days after the delivery of your baby, the staff of the hospital or clinic will give you a Birth Report (Shussei Todoke/Shussei Shoumeisho), which will have two sides.  One side is filled out by the hospital and the other side is for you to fill out.  This will begin the grand process of legalizing your baby… and for us, it created a giant pool of confusion!

(Random note: there is a postcard that goes along with your coupon book for the appointments; fill that out and send it in.  I’m not sure why [yet], but you’re supposed to do it.)

City Hall

Within 14 days of the birth of your child, either (or both) you or your spouse will need to make a trip to City Hall to register the baby’s birth and receive the birth certificate. The baby does not need to be present.

Documents Needed:

  • -The completed Shussei Todoke/Shussei Shoumeisho
  • -The Mother/Child Health Handbook (Boshi Techou)
  • -Your National Health Insurance Card
  • -Both parents’ Passports and Residence Cards
  • -Your Hanko (personal name stamp)– though this is needed less and less these days for foreigners

First Stop: Birth Register Desk

Present these documents at the desk and eventually, they will give you them back, with a paper attached to the Shussei Shoumeisho showing you have registered the birth.

Now here came the kicker for us: the guy at the desk insisted that our daughter’s name should not be written the way that we wrote it– he insisted the Japanese way to do it was the reverse the order of the middle and first name. (Japanese don’t have middle names, thus the fuss)

Too bad I’m not Japanese. I’m really glad I wasn’t there for this discussion.

It’s not a big deal, though a pain in the tuckus in the long run.  What complicated our situation a bit more was that he added the middle name to the last name box, so in effect, it appears that our daughter has two last names.  I don’t know what the deal is because no one else I know has had a problem like this.

Believe me, I asked around. I think it was just a power kick, or that he ran into some troublesome foreigners earlier in the day.  I don’t know.

But as the guy at the US embassy told me (though we had some dramatic pauses while they examined our daughter’s two last names…)– you can name your kid whatever you want in America.

Next Stops:

The NHI counter for health insurance, the child health program (to get the free doctor visits postcard) and the Jidouteatte counter. *Note that you will be issued a temporary health insurance card until the baby’s visa is established.

Documents to Collect While at City Hall:

-A copy of your Residence Record (Juminhyou) with your new child’s information on it.  Note: Make sure that you get everything listed on the Juminhyou– you will need your residence card number, type and expiration dates printed on there as well.  Don’t ask how we know.

-The most recent tax payment certificate (Nouzei Shoumeisho/Kazei Shoumeisho).  If one parent is a dependent, you will need that record that they were listed as a the taxpaying parent’s dependent.

Immigration Office

Note that your deadline to complete this is 30 days. One parent (or a guarantor) can do this, and the baby does not need to be present.

Documents Needed:

  • -Application form for Permission to Acquire Status of Residence- no need for a photo of the baby. Also, the working parent is to be listed as the guarantor/legal representative on the form.
  • -Both parents’ passports and residence cards (and a copy of each)
  • -Baby’s Passport (but if you don’t have it, that’s ok)
  • -A Certificate of Employment (with employer’s hanko on it) (each working parent will need this) This needs to be issued within the last 3 months
  • -The above mentioned Tax Certificates (Note that if you moved to a new city within the last tax-paying year, you will need to visit the prior city hall for this document)
  • -Above mentioned Juminhyou
  • -The registered Shussei todoke shoumeisho (birth certificate)
  • -Boshi Techo
  • -Shitsumonsho (Parent’s info form which can be got and filled out at the IO)
  • Your Hanko

Submit all these documents and viola!  You will be issued a residence card for your little one.

Once this process is complete, your city hall will then mail you a health insurance card for your baby with a longer expiration date and a “my-number card” application, which you will need to fill out (can be done online too) and send in.

Note that if you do not complete the above two processes within the allotted time, they very well may try to deport your baby. It happened to a friend of a friend, so if need be, collect all the applications and documents (beside the Juminhyou- you have to wait for that) ahead of time.

US Embassy

This one’s a doozy guys! Thankfully, there’s no real deadline for this part (unless you plan to travel soon).  We went when the baby was two weeks old because of all the unknowns with the middle name and how that would affect her at immigration (resolution below).

Also, both parents will need to be there (or a notarized document stating why it’s not possible) and the baby needs to be present as well.

Documents Needed:

Every document you possess.

Just kidding, but here we go:

  • Completed Application for Consular Report of Birth Abroad- Note about the times of physical presence in the US: though the form says you have to be very specific about dates, the rep I talked to and every other person who’s gone through the process says that only major chunks of time outside the US need to be accounted for. Don’t stress over a week here or there for vacations.
  • Completed Passport Application
  • Completed Social Security Number Application
  • The Shussei Todoke Shoumeisho (if both parents are American) and a copy
  • An English translation of the above document- you can get a template on the embassy’s website; it does not have to be done professionally.  Note: The issue date is the date that the document is registered;  the title is the title of the document and the name is the name of the person who registered the document (on the attached paper of the Shussei Todoke Shoumeisho).
  • The Affidavit of Child’s Name (which we used to fix our daughter’s name)
  • Parent’s Marriage Certificate and a copy (if divorced or widowed or unmarried at the time of the birth, refer to the embassy’s page)
  • Parent’s Passports plus a copy (we were asked for two, but the website requests one) -In our case, one parent is a naturalized US Citizen.  You are supposed to bring the original certificate plus a copy, but we were told we didn’t need it.  Go prepared though!)
  • Evidence of Physical Presence- though we were not asked for it.  Consider using transcripts, job evaluation records, tax records, medical receipts or prior passports, etc. Note that only one parent needs to present this info.
  • Both Parents IDs (plus a copy)- your drivers license or Japanese Residence card will work.  This is also something we weren’t asked for.
  • Application Fees in yen or USD or credit card
  • A Passport Photo for your Child
  • A self-addressed Letter Pack Envelope (you can purchase at a the Post Office or the Family Mart nearest the Tokyo Embassy.

You will need to schedule an appointment at the embassy (arrive early to go through security– note that if there’s a line, you can skip ahead if you have a baby!… and you better, because baby has to be there).  Print out the appointment sheet when you schedule online and take it with you.

Submit all these documents at the counter, sign when prompted, pay and swear the oath that you’re telling the truth and then wait at home for your documents to arrive!

Resolution about the Name Mishap

So, it’s a bit confusing, but all our Japanese documents list our daughters name as Last Middle (,) First.  We ran to the Embassy to hopefully get her passport issued before needing to go to Immigration but it didn’t arrive.  So we crossed our fingers and headed to the IO.

The Immigration representative told us that because there’s no essential name difference (just a difference in the order of the name), that they would issue it as is- according to the City Hall paperwork- and when it comes time to renew her residence card, it will be changed to read like the passport (like everyone else in our family).

So, no problem, but essentially we’re delaying dealing with the difference until later.

At this point, I don’t care!  The fact that after a c-section we accomplished all the above- two of the offices being an hour away- within 30 days means that I get a golden star.  Or at least a participation ribbon showing that I am now the mother of a bonafide citizen of the US and resident of Japan.

But realistically, it just means I have a lot more paperwork to file away.


Happily Ever After

Last Sunday, we attended our first Japanese wedding.  For my part, I was excited and a little nervous– and not just about keeping a toddler and a newborn happy during the ceremony, but about celebrating appropriately Japanese style.

So, I thought I’d share about our experience.  Our friends do speak some great English, and so there was a bit of an international feel to it… as compared to a super traditional wedding at a Shinto shrine….

The venue was a beautiful little cove in the heart of one of the ritzy areas of downtown Tokyo.  This place specializes in weddings, and it seems that many such places have full-service packages– from the invitations to menus to flowers to the bride’s dress(es).

Yes, in Japan, most brides rent their dresses.  When I was engaged and living in Japan, I wanted to do some dress shopping but no one could point me in the direction of a place that actually sold dresses.

So, the bride and groom were able to choose everything with simplicity (from what I heard).  Besides having a number of women who seemed to be coordinators running around, there was also a make-up artist who kept the bride and groom looking great (no, the groom didn’t wear make-up, she just made sure his tie was perfect during pictures and such).  As far as attire, the B&G were dressed western style, and later changed to something very slightly more casual half-way through the service; the parents of B&G were in tuxedos and kimono– it was very charming

One highlight for us was that our oldest daughter had the chance to walk down the aisle with the groom. It seems that in western style weddings in Japan, there is no tradition for the groom to walk down the aisle with his mother.  He said that his mom was too shy to do such a thing as well.  So our daughter had the honor, and for an almost 3 year old, I think she handled herself well!

A notable aspect was that they announced everything.  For example, each person coming down the aisle was announced beforehand (similar to an American reception??) and during the reception, there was a MC, who announced all the participating parties and some of their details. The bride and groom’s background info was also shared. Even the menu and wine menu were announced.

Reflecting on these various announcements, while teaching at the elementary school (rabbit trail: many of the groom’s students– he’s an English teacher at a middle school– showed up in their uniforms to watch the ceremony), often before I began my lesson, the teacher would signal a student to stand up and announce the previous period of study had ended and from now, we would begin to study English.  Everyone would respond with “We begin!”.  Lunch menus are also read before serving lunch and everyone confirms what they have on their plates. To me, it seems to show an inclination for organization in events, where clear beginnings and endings are defined and proper recognition is given.

During the reception, a number of speeches were given.  The groom gave a welcome at the beginning, the employers of both B&G spoke, a few friends spoke, there was a quick interview from one guy about the groom, the bride gave a speech to her parents and the father of the groom gave a speech… and perhaps others.  Near the end, giant bouquets were given to the parents and there was a lot of formal bowing from the B&G and their parents to thank us for joining them.

The B&G’s friends also prepared a very short piece of entertainment for the company. The groom’s friends- a short skit; the bride’s- a cutesy dance.

On to gifts.  If you are invited to a wedding in Japan, the gift to give is money (crisp bills) in an envelope inside a special envelope.  As a foreigner, be careful to confirm it’s a wedding envelope at the store and not a funeral envelope– they can look similar. How much do you give? Hold your breath, it can vary but the customary amount for a friend is about $300 USD (Three $100 bills).  Yup.  Employers typically give $500-$1000 and for family members, it depends on the area whether you give or not, it seems.  Two and four should be avoided because they are unlucky (4 and 2 put together in Japanese sounds like the word for death).  Even numbers should also be avoided because they can be associated with being split or divided.

In Japan, it’s custom to give a gift back.  In America, we give party favors. However, on the guests’ seats (one per couple), was a bag with two beautiful gifts inside.  One had an assortment of pretty desserts (not quite cakes, but more like breads? and some cookies) and the other contained a catalog.  A catalog from which you could choose a gift that would be delivered to you.  These were gifts similar to what you would give the B&G as a wedding gift in America and ranged from kitchen pots or pans to towels to make up bags or special jams or teas.

Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatttt? Yeah, that was my expression when I opened it. I’m not sure if that’s how it generally is here (I know that the gifts are usually very nice), but I was floored.

Each kid also had a sweet coloring book and a nice pack of crayons and snacks at their seat.  As we left, we received tiny little boxes with cute little heart cookies inside. And Rosalyn received a beautiful little bouquet. Speaking of leaving, the MC closed the reception at exactly 2pm.  Like on the dot.

Amazing, huh?  Very different than an American wedding.  Literally, every detail was thought of. Everything was sweet and beautiful and carefully prepared.  It was a highlight for us, and celebrating their marriage over course supersedes all these details.  We are excited to see what God has in store for them together!

I’m sure that there are many variations on weddings here, but the fundamentals will likely be the same.  Fascinating!  So, if you ever have the chance to go to a Japanese wedding, you have some idea of what you might encounter!


All in a Name

Well, well, well.  Turns out two kids is more than one.  I’ve been home now for about two and a half weeks.  It’s been… busy.  I’m not sure how any moms get anything done??

One of the challenges since we’ve been home is in the actual name of our new daughter.

Wait, what?

I know right.  My husband and the pastor of the church took our paperwork, including the birth paper issued by the hospital, to the city hall to get her birth registered and get health insurance, etc.  More on all that later.  However, the gentleman at the birth register desk insisted that the Japanese way to write her name was not the way that we wrote it.

Let me explain, using initials, for discretion.  Her initials will be E V A, according to how we’d write it in the States.  In Japan, using the format of our passports, her name would be written A E V or, more rarely A, E V.  That’s the way my name, my husband’s name and our other daughter’s name is written for all of our paperwork.

Well.  Gentleman-behind-the-desk didn’t care about that.  He insisted (and refused to argue) that it should be written A V, E.  So, that’s what her Japanese birth certificate shows.  Though this made me very frustrated over the phone when I heard about it, it’s not a super big deal because we can change her name for US stuff.  The problem comes in that all of her paperwork here will have to reflect her passport, which means we’re going to have to go back and file a name change here after we receive her passport.  (On a side note, after the unexpected trip to the embassy, the staff there wondered why the city hall staffer wrote her middle name in the last name box!)

Speaking of names though, something that stumped me when I was at the hospital was how many of the sore and exhausted moms I’d talked to had still not chosen a name for their baby.  I was flabbergasted.  With our first daughter, we had her name chosen even before we were planning to have kids.

I made some inquiries over breakfast of the moms and learned much in the process!  You think choosing a name in English is difficult?  We’ve got nothing on the Japanese.

Japanese obviously use kanji (Chinese characters) for their names.  Every kanji has one or more meanings and sometimes numerous pronunciations.  And every kanji has a stroke order and a stroke count (that’s how you look it up in the dictionary).

For the Japanese, the number of strokes in the kanji chosen for their name can either be lucky or unlucky. Certain numbers are lucky and others are not.  In fact, there are about five different categories (for example, love, job, money, etc.) that have to be determined, and while a name you’re considering may be lucky in 4 of the categories, parents want it to be good in all five.

It gets more complicated. The kanji of the last name have to be taken into consideration as well, as it’s the total number of strokes in a name that matters.  Apparently, the combination of kanji (first and last, first kanji of both names, second kanji of both names, etc.) matters too.

Then you want to be careful that the kanji of both names make sense together.  You wouldn’t want to have a mix-up of number kanji, or seasonal kanji or recurring syllables when you write/say it all together.  And, of course, too many over-all strokes will be time consuming for your child.

Parents these days use online dictionaries to investigate potential kanji for their child. Once they find a number that will work for them, they can get lists of kanji and start piecing together their child’s name.

Of course, then both parents (and often grandparents) have to approve of their name and it has to feel right for the child too.

(Apparently, some women who have gotten married changed the kanji for their first names to maintain a lucky balance with their husband’s last name)

It had always been a mystery to me why none of the Japanese pregnant moms I’d met had revealed the name for their child before birth.  I wondered if it was a bad omen to say the name before the birth or if it was a secret or just not their custom. We announced our daughter’s name when we confirmed the gender, but none of the Japanese thought to ask the question (whereas for our American counterparts, it was one of the first questions!).

But now I know…. it’s complicated!