The tale of K.M. and the missing koseki

An American by birth, K.M. found the inquiry in our Oct. 20 column about koseki tohon, or family registration, very interesting.

“My case is not relevant to the one under discussion, as the young man is only 18 and is dealing with issues that arose after the law was changed, but I wonder if there may be other readers — looking for someone or some family history — who may have issues that go further back, before the law was revised.”

When K married 32 years ago (1977), a man marrying a foreign woman then could not, by law, leave his father’s koseki and set up a new one of his own.

“My husband was furious, felt it was an insult — as if the Japanese government wasn’t really recognizing him as an adult, me as a person, or me as his wife.”

Still, at that time there was no choice but for him to “stay” in his father’s koseki, and K was added as “wife of the second son — (plus her name in full).”

“But sometime in the 80s or possibly early 90s the law was changed and men marrying foreign women were required by law to leave their father’s tohon.

“From that point we were given a choice — stay as we were, or my husband could set up his own koseki if he wanted. By then it hardly mattered (or maybe we had mellowed!), and also it seemed it might be convenient for us and my mother-in-law (we all lived together, of course) to be ‘on the same page,’ so to speak.”

However, when K’s husband passed away, she had a terrible time.

“I needed to present koseki tohon to all manner of people and places to effect a name change on assets and property. No one would believe that having married my husband, he had remained in his father’s koseki and I had ‘joined them’ there.”

“He had to have set up one of his own. That’s the law,” people said.

One rather nasty bank manager even implied that what K had presented was a “fake.”

Finally, she went to Tokyo’s Minato Ward Office and explained her predicament. They understood immediately and photocopied pages from a legal handbook and outlined the relevant passages, the “old law,” when it had been changed, and the “new law.”

“A nice young man then gave me his name and number and said that should anyone doubt me any further, they should call him and he would explain what’s what to them. Armed with these copies that explained the situation, I got done what I needed to do.”

K knows her story is hardly relevant to the young man’s case described in Lifelines, but “for anyone interested in this issue . . . well, it wasn’t always as it is now.”

Regarding my own case, K thinks it right and proper that my own husband was able to set up his own koseki, but that I am not included as his wife is “appalling.”

She notes that she is the only one left now on her koseki tohon — a lonely-looking document with everyone crossed out except her on the far left.

With “the Japanese government, one hand gives and the other hand takes away,” she adds.

Angela Jeffs is a freelance writer and writing guide ( Send queries, problems and posers to

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