Getting a Japanese Passport for Your Child (Foreign Unmarried Mother)

Did you know that it’s very easy for your child to become stateless?

It used to be that if a non-Japanese woman gave birth in Japan, if they were not married to a Japanese person at the time, their child could not receive Japanese citizenship. 

If that woman were Kenyan (before 2003) or a citizen of some other country that also discriminates(d) against women, where women could not/cannot bestow citizenship upon their children, then the child effectively became stateless.

Fortunately, that has changed. In Japan, children born to unwed foreign mothers can get citizenship upon birth, provided the Japanese father acknowledges paternity before the baby is born.

As of 2003, Kenya reformed the law to allow women to confer nationality to their children on the same basis as men.

Hurray! From statelessness to dual citizenship!

The Japanese passport is one of the most powerful passports in the world.

Acquiring Japanese nationality

However, if you are unaware of the paperwork involved in acquiring nationality for your child, your child could still end up stateless. The number of children who are stateless in Japan is actually increasing.

Furthermore, everything is at the discretion of the father. Whether he acknowledges the baby or not is up to him. The mother’s word is ‘useless’. The constitution doesn’t even mention DNA testing or any other means of compelling a father to acknowledge paternity.

So if you plan to get a baby with a Japanese man, but can’t or won’t get married, be sure to discuss this acknowledgement issue.

When I was pregnant, I Googled about and researched on how to actually do this “acknowledgement”. Do we just write it on a piece of paper? Where do we hand in the said piece of paper? Is it a word of mouth thing? Do we need a lawyer?

This post is here to answer such questions, even though this is for a niche audience. (The proportion of children born out of wedlock in Japan is still very low, 2.2% in 2011. By comparison, in the United States, about 41% of children were born out of wedlock in 2011. The figure is around 70% in Iceland. Yes, only about 30% of children were born in wedlock in Iceland in 2017. But I digress.)

Local City Hall

The acknowledgement is done by filing a one-pager 胎児認知 届 “Meiji Ninchi Todoke” at the local city hall where you’ve registered your pregnancy. (I think it can be done at any other city halls, just inquire there). If you are not in Japan, inquire at the Japanese embassy in your country of residence.

The 胎児認知 届 is a simple form to fill: the father and mother both write their names, dates of birth, addresses, occupation, and koseki, where applicable. The staff at my local city hall were very helpful. I know I gave them a headache every time I showed up, as they had to pull up the manual or reference book (literally) to find the relevant information for my unique case.

In addition to the form, the father has to show a photo ID that has his current address, such as a valid DL. The mother (you) has to provide a valid passport and a singlehood certificate (独身証明書). A what? You ask. If one is Japanese, one can easily obtain a certificate confirming that their singlehood/unpartnered status.

This is where it got interesting.

As a Kenyan, we have no such document. The nearest such document is a “certificate of no impediment to marriage”, which one applies for when they intend to get married. You have to avail all the relevant documents to the registrar of marriages at the department of justice. But we had no intentions of getting married.

The city hall staff mulled over the issue, consulted our embassy, researched their manuals and called me with a solution.

A sworn affidavit would be acceptable.

The affidavit had to be obtained by swearing in front of a lawyer registered as a notary public in Kenya. Luckily, I was going to Kenya last year November, so I was able to obtain the affidavit swearing that “I am single and having never been married or entered into a relationship that can be presumed to be a marriage”.

I handed the affidavit and accompanying documents, and their translations (Google Translate was acceptable, they said) to my local city hall and that was it! Now all we had to do was to wait for the baby to be born safely.

If you are not single or officially divorced for more than 300 days, your child will be presumed to belong to your husband or ex-husband (See page 2 of this article). It doesn’t matter what the DNA says.

Birth Notification at City Hall Within 14 Days

I’m grateful that my baby was born safely, and once out of the hospital, I had about 5 days left to file the birth notification at city hall.

When you fill in the 出生届 (shussei todoke) that you will be given by the hospital, there is a space where you write that this is the child who was “acknowledged”. Again, the city hall staff were very helpful, even writing for me the exact words so that all I needed to do was to just copy what was written for me.

I could choose a first name for my child and any surname I wanted. Japanese nationals have no middle names, so for the surname, we registered a combination of his father’s surname and mine. It makes for very awkward optics: a katakana/Kanji surname with no spaces, but I believed it was necessary so that I could always prove relation since my surname was part of my child’s. If he grows up and decides to live in Japan, he can legally change his name in Japan to drop my katakana surname. I know it will make thing so much easier for him.

Finally, my baby was a registered Japanese national.

In such cases as my baby’s, they create a new family register for the baby alone. Poor thing is in a family register all by himself. However, there is a note in his father’s koseki register acknowledging him. (This also means that the child is entitled to equal inheritance rights as any other children of the father.)

Getting a Japanese Passport

Once your child has a koseki (family register), then getting a passport is very easy. All you need is:

  • An official copy of your child’s koseki (family register) from your ward or city office. Ask for the koseki tohon 戸籍謄本
  • Your residence card
  • National Health Insurance Card. I have company insurance, rather than the national insurance card. So for a second ID, they just used my Japanese driver’s license. My child’s insurance card wasn’t out yet, but luckily it wasn’t a necessary requirement at his age. He was 2 months at the time of application.
  • A passport-sized (45x35mm) photo of your child. The best way to get a photo is place your child on a white sheet in your home and take pictures while standing above the child. Eyes must be open in the photo. The chin line must be visible. I had to retake the photos because my baby’s chin was obscured by what he was wearing. Newborns have no neck, as you will notice! Then I went to a nearby Family Mart to print them out.
  • Proof of the spelling of your child’s name in English on a birth certificate, child’s insurance card or foreign passport. I did not have this, as we didn’t have any other passport at the time of application. Remember how you can’t have middle names in the koseki? Well, for the Romaji names of the passport, you can have a middle name. I chose to have the father’s surname as the middle name, and my surname to be the last name. So that my child’s passport and mine would have the same last names, again making it easier to prove we are related. Less questions asked when traveling
  • Your child. The child must be present when you apply. However, not necessary when picking up the passport.

If you live in Tokyo, there are passport offices in Shinjuku, Yurakucho, Ikebukuro and Tachikawa. As we live in West Tokyo, we figured Tachikawa would be better as it was easily accessible via the Chuo Line and would have fewer people. When we got there, there were only about 2 or 3 other people. I guess with Covid-19, very few people are applying for or renewing passports.

I told them I needed the passport rather urgently, as I needed to travel soon. (To get help from my family in Kenya; looking after a newborn is no joke.)

One week later, we went and picked the Japanese passport, and that is what we used to travel to Kenya.

Please Note:

  • If you are wondering why we got a blue instead of a red passport, check out this interesting link on the various types of Japanese passports.
  • If you are interested in how the koseki and family registration works in Japan, check out this link.
  • It is very important that the paternity acknowledgement is done before birth. If it is done after birth, the process of obtaining citizenship becomes long and complicated. I haven’t researched on that but there is information on the internet. Check out this link to get started.

Next, I’ll blog about getting a Kenyan passport for your child born abroad. Don’t miss it, be sure to subscribe for updates.

This entry was posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Motherhood and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Getting a Japanese Passport for Your Child (Foreign Unmarried Mother)

  1. Our Kid says:

    Very useful information especially on how the legal structure of Family Law and registration of births is in Japan as contrasted with Kenya, for instance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • SK says:

      The family registration system in Japan is totally different from the one here. Kenya’s family structure has evolved from traditional polygamous/polyandrous extended family systems to nuclear ones, to single-parent households. Things are more free/fluid here than in Japan.


  2. Freda Keenan says:

    Well done. Didn’t think of that. Assumed he’d be Kenyan! XF

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 2 people

  3. CleverBunny says:

    This was so interesting!! Thank you so much for such an informative post. For my daughter’s passport we didn’t have anything with an appropriate background at home but there are professional photographers who do baby passport photos, one of which is located right next door to the passport office in Yokohama so we went there, got N’s photos taken (¥1000, hassle-free and printed immediately so worth it for me) and then immediately rolled over to the passport centre to hand our documents in. To have the acknowledgment things sorted out before he was even born, though – I really respect how organised you were in getting ready for your baby’s arrival!


    • SK says:

      When I went to apply for the passport, it was during a state of emergency and the passport photo studio next door was closed. I had to make do with a changing mat and then going to Family Mart to print them using PrintSmash – this requires a whole new post. For the baby, I knew I had to prepare all necessary paperwork early, I know how Japan loves his paperwork!

      Liked by 1 person

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