Mar 5

Getting Married in Japan

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a JET from 2008-2013 in Okinawa, publisher of the blog and author of Revenge of the Akuma Clan

This post is an excerpt from the original on my blog, here to help anyone in Japan who might be considering settling down. Like most people, I had no idea what I was getting into but figured the process might not be quite as straight forward as going to a local court and signing some papers… I don’t think Kume Island even has a court…

I did what most would do and googled it. The American Embassy site explains the process quite clearly for US citizens. I’m sure most other countries have similar information available for their expats. It gives all the basic information, and I went to my local town hall to confirm. Since I live in such a small community it was rather easy and quick to get everything I need, but unlike large cities the offices are not open 24/7.

The first step for Americans is filling out the Affidavit of Competency to Marry and having it translated (or translate it yourself). On a side note, the legal marriage is called nyuseki (入籍) in Japan. For me this was easy as I followed the example provided on the site above. One thing to watch out for is the part where you write your passport number and issuing local. For me it turned out to be the Department of State and not a city so I had to rewrite the form at the last-minute.

To get the forms notarized you have to make an appointment with the embassy, which are limited and cost $50.  It was a pain (though the staff were very nice) and I had to make a special trip into the mainland to do it. With the added security you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time. You can’t even get to the gate without your appointment slip so don’t forget it. With the form in hand your work is done as far as preparations go.

Getting Married

IMG_2541All you should need at the town (city) hall is your passport and the competency form (notarized English and Japanese translation). Then you can fill out the form and have your partner do the same. If your partner is Japanese they’ll need their own forms (such as family register) which they can get at their own local town or city hall. You’ll also want to decide if your partner will be changing their honseki (permanent residence) at that time or at a later date. For foreigners you just write your nationality (in Japanese).

One good piece of advice I received and will pass on here is to go a day before you actually marry to have your forms checked over (you can get them in advance). Since the day you marry is often important in Japan, you can avoid having the date of marriage delayed due to a typo and re-entered form. As a foreigner, I filled in my name in Katakana and the rest in Japanese (be careful here, especially if you have a middle name. They originally tried to talk me into writing my middle and family name together, which would mean my wife would have to go by that rather than just Martin!). My significant other filled out the form in Japanese and had to fill out a separate form to take my name. Both forms are straight forward, though there’s a section about household work. For those of us who lived alone, it’s whatever work we were doing. For my partner it was the primary work of her father and mother. It’s something the person in charge can help you answer.

You’ll need two witnesses as well (remind them to bring their seals!). If everything is in order they’ll announce everything is alright and you’ll be legally married. You will also be able to get your notice of marriage certificates sometime after that (I got mine later that day).

All in all it was not a difficult process.. but you’ll see that (or read about it in a later post). It helped that we planned ahead and communicated with the town hall.

One thing to note is that when a Japanese person marries a foreigner they are removed from their family register and become a family of one. Until they have a child they are legally their own family (unless you become a Japanese citizen which does not happen automatically). That’s a big deal in Japan.

Also, if you’re reading this and you happen to be a wedding planner/cake maker/do everything so we don’t have to er/ in Japan willing to donate (cough cough) your services… let me know!

P.S. You might note this post is a bit lacking in any info on what happened around the form signing.  Keep an eye on TBS’s Motemote99 TV show in Japan to see what really happened.

Oct 18

Maccha Macadamia Cookie Recipe

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a JET from 2008-2013 in Okinawa, publisher of the blog and author of the award-winning YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

At this point I should probably get a lawyer, because I’m about to get a ton of hate-mail from dietitians. As promised, I’ve cooked up a recipe involving two of my favorite things. Maccha (aka Matcha) and white chocolate macadamia cookies. If you like maccha lattes or really any snack with that wonderfully powdered green tea in it, you’ll love these. While not a traditional Japanese food item, I hope you’ll give them a try. If you do share a photo!


  • 2.5 cups (500ml) flour
  • 1 tsp (small spoon) salt
  • 1 tsp (small spoon) baking soda
  • 1 cup (200ml) unsalted butter (or about 200 grams)
  • .5 cup (100ml) white sugar
  • .75 cup (150ml) brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 tsp (small spoon) vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (200ml) maccha
  • 1 cup (200ml) crushed macadamia nuts
  • 1 cup (200ml) white chocolate chips (or chopped bars)


Pre-heat oven to about 350 F (180C). For best results use a baking sheet.

Cream butter and sugar, add in vanilla and eggs. Stir until well mixed. Add maccha. Next stir in flour, baking soda, and salt until well mixed. Stir in chocolate and nuts. The mixture will be slightly sticky.

Cover baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the dough into small balls about 1.5 inches in diameter and place them on the tray press them slightly to flatten. Ensure enough space so that they do not join after melting into circles.

Bake for about 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Baking time will determine if they are chewy or crunchy. Remove from oven and let them cool completely before removing from the parchment paper.

Makes a whole lot of deliciousness.

Originally posted on

Oct 9

Omiyage and Gift Giving in Japan

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a JET from 2008-2013 in Okinawa, publisher of the blog and author of the award-winning YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

Do you like souvenirs?  Do you collect trinkets?  Maybe you love trying various foods that are unique to a town or area.  If you do, Japan might be the place for you.

Gifts are (arguably) one of the central aspects of Japanese culture.  For those of you that point to Christmas in western cultures, Hanukkah, or other massive gift exchanges as an argument against gifts being such a big deal, it comes down to perspective.  For single-day gift giving Japan does not stand toe to toe with a pile of presents around a Christmas tree or a mass onslaught of birthday gifts.  Yet, when I was a teacher on Kitadaito I got presents nearly every week.  Once I received seven (yes 7) strawberry plants, for no reason at all.  But then there are two major aspects to gift giving in Japan.


Omiyage roughly means souvenir.  Whenever a person goes anywhere in Japan, they generally buy a load of omiyage for their co-workers and family.  For big trips this can sometimes be toys, figures, pictures, or anything that you might normally associate with souvenirs.  More often its food.  Japan has a massive industry around tourism.  Almost anywhere you go in Japan has its own snack food that it’s ‘known for.’  There are almost always shops, small to large, that will sell the treats conveniently and individually wrapped and ready for you in a bag.  In Okinawa, benimo (purple sweet potato tarts) are the most well known omiyage.  In Kyoto there are various kinds of mochi, and on Kumejima we’re known for our Miso Cookies. Nagasaki is famous for Kastella Cakes, and most local places have unique omiyage for each location.

Often, when teachers go on trips, they bring back a packet of cookies, tea, or other snacks for the break room. Sometimes teachers will bring back more personal gifts for people depending on where they went and why.

Other Gifts

Aside from omiyage gifts are given for weddings (cash), birthdays, funerals (cash), and other special events.  Gifts are even given by new tenants to their neighbors (usually something useful, like a small towel, or food).  These other gifts have their own customs for every situation.  Cash for weddings should be new and in the proper envelope, while cash for funerals the money should be used, and in a different envelope.  Aside from omiyage most presents are wrapped as well (even souvenirs are sometimes wrapped).

Reciprocal Gifts

In Japan it is usually appropriate to give a return gift of roughly half what you received for most occasions.  The exceptions are omiyage and birthday presents, though usually you would return in kind if you go on a trip, etc.  Even mourners will return small gifts of towels or rice coupons.  This tradition is what makes gift-giving a cornerstone of Japanese Culutre.  It is one of the foundations of polite Japanese society, and the reason for my new strawberry plants.

Reciprocal gift giving forms a kind of endless circle of ‘obligations’ that help to create relationships in a society where it is difficult to break down social barriers.  When a new neighbor arrives and gives a small present, there is a unique opportunity for conversation.  A return gift (though in this instance you are not required to give a return gift, it,s they way of saying ‘regard me kindly while I am living next to you’) is another opportunity.  It goes deeper.

When you do someone a favor, they feel an obligation towards you, and want to return the favor.  It creates a cycle that goes far beyond what most westerners are used to, usually in a good way.  Sometimes when I make too much food, I’ll take some over to a friend’s or neighbor’s.  Almost without fail I get something interesting in return.   One might be tempted to take the cynical view: you are bribing someone for their friendship.  But in Japan, it’s so ingrained that many people don’t even think about it, if they get something, be it a favor, food, or gift, they will return it.

I’m not sure what I did to deserve my new plants, but I made some banana bread as a thank you.

On Kitadaito they sell soaps, cookies, and teas made from gettou a local plant.

Originally published on

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Revenge of the Akuma Clan by Benjamin    Martin

Revenge of the Akuma Clan

by Benjamin Martin

Giveaway ends October 31, 2013.

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Sep 25

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a JET from 2008-2013 in Okinawa, publisher of the blog and author of the award-winning YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

IMG_0710Yes. This past week on Kume Island, children were sent screaming as a single wild lion went rampaging through a peaceful neighborhood. Well, it was mostly peaceful. Since it was the full moon and August 15th of the Kyureki calendar, there were also a bunch of people around banging gongs and playing music. There were also some creepy Hacaburo running around egging the lion on. Warned in advance that something might be going on, I showed up with some local friends just after sunset with my camera ready. What I saw shocked me, and soon my former students were running for cover… behind me.

By the end of the night no less than 5 children had been bitten. When asked, parents responded that they were overjoyed. One parent, while holding a screaming infant, smiled widely and talked about how smart he would be while neglecting to stop the lion from continuing its rampage.

For more on this story, visit for pictures and video.

Jul 26

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a JET from 2008-2013 in Okinawa, publisher of the blog and author of the award-winning YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

Fu ChanpuruAfter nearly five years living in Okinawa, my favorite food is still Fu Chanpuru.  While it might sound like part of a martial art, Fu is actually wheat gluten (so steer clear gluten intolerant people… sorry! you’re missing out).  In Okinawa, you can buy Fu in packages, either in long roles, or in more compact forms.  Fu is baked and dry, so you will have to hydrate it before use.


  • 72g Fu- gluten
  • 1 carrot cut into thin slices
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 packet mushrooms
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 small cabbage
  • 170g meat (sausage, pork, etc)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3tbsn soy sauce
  • 1tbsn garlic powder +extra
  • 1tsp salt
  • 2 packets dashi
  • 3 small chingensai plants, cleaned and chopped (optional)
  • water
  • 2tbsn Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Visit for the full recipe.

Sep 25

Torii Gate at Kitadaito Shrine

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a 5th year JET in Okinawa, publisher of the blog and author of the fantasy novel Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

Every year on September 22 and 23 Kitadaito Village celebrates its largest Festival.  These dates mark the beginning of autumn.  Kitadaito, also known as north Borodino island, is a place of 12sq kilometers 320 kilometers east of the Okinawan mainland.  It is unique in that it was settled by residents of Hachijo Island (near Tokyo) but is part of Okinawa Prefecture.  Over the past 100 years the island has become a unique chanpuru (mix) of both cultures.

After graduating from the University of Arizona, I spent three years living and teaching on Kitadaito, and returned this year after more than a year on Kumejima.  It was great to re-experience old memories and make new ones as the festival has changed since my time there.  Watch the accompanying video for a chance to experience a few bits from this truly unique day.


Read more about the Kitadaito Festival on Ben’s blog —

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