"My supervisor thought it was too early for me to marry."
I was having dinner with a new friend; a PhD student at Hokkaido University who not only was from the UK, but had also grown up in my own home town of Oxford. Out here in Japan's snow laden northern island, it was a bit like finding a long lost twin. We had compared schools, discussed local shops and now had finally pushed the time line up to our current affairs.
While working at a summer camp for kids in Sapporo, my British twin had met her husband-to-be; a Japanese web designer who was starting his own company. Since it was still the early years for his business, his salary was not very large and it was this that was the source of concern for my friend's supervisor.
His advice to her was that she shouldn't consider marriage until her partner was making at least 5 million yen a year (about $65.5K or £41.5K, although it should be born in mind that the yen is a strong currency, so the equivalent spending power is probably less).
Growing up in a country where money was not seen as an object to marriage, I found this very surprising. Yet, apparently this view was fairly universal.
"Even my mother-in-law asked if I wouldn't rather wait until his income was higher," explained my friend.
Curious, I asked one of my Japanese friends at work whether money was always consideration in matrimony.
"It is probably one of the main concerns," she told me.
However, I was assured that women were not expected to give up their jobs when they married and when children came along, it seemed to be a matter of choice.
My British friend had obviously not stopped working after her wedding and once she graduates, she plans to join her husband in his business and provide English translations.
"What is your visa status now?" I asked curiously. "Do you have permanent residency through your husband?"
"Actually, a spouse visa is only for one year."
... Well, that was a whole new level of cynicism for you right there!
It turns out that it is very easy to get divorced in Japan. If both parties are in agreement, the whole procedure can be done in a day or less. This, combined with possible concerns over immigration, is probably one of the reasons for initially short-term spouse visas. After renewing your documents a few times you are deemed serious enough to get a longer term visa and after five years, permanent residency. Until then, you're considered about as married as Britney Spears.
[Note to self: Find smoking hot Japanese pop star fast. This visa business is going to take a while.]
[Note to self II: Make sure he earns over 5 million.]