File No. 894.4054/18

The Secretary of Labor to the Secretary of State

Sir: Your letter of June 5 inclosing copy of a note of June 4 from the Japanese Ambassador, in which certain proposals are made regarding evidence of marriage to be submitted by the so-called Japanese “picture brides”, was received on June 8, and the Department has since given further consideration to the subject matter. In suggesting a reply to the Ambassador’s proposals, it seems proper, first, to review the previous correspondence with the purpose of emphasizing its main points, and, second, to state the result of the Department’s entire study of the question presented for decision.

1. The occasion for the extended correspondence is the provision in Section 3 of the Immigration Law, commonly called the “illiteracy test,” which became effective May 5, ultimo, excluding from the United States aliens unable to read in some language or dialect, but exempting wives accompanying admissible husbands or sent for by husbands lawfully residing in the United States; and the question whether the so-called “picture brides” of Japan are properly to be regarded as “wives” within the meaning of said exemption and if so, how their identity and status as such are to be established. The principal features and points of the resulting discussion may be stated as follows:

(a) After considerable oral discussion had occurred between officers of the Japanese Embassy, of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs of the State Department, and of the Bureau of Immigration of the Department of Labor, the Ambassador, on April 17 last, furnished “an excerpt from the Japanese Civil Code bearing on the subject of marriage,” and the Counselor of the Embassy stated in a note addressed to an officer of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs that each “picture bride” “is expected to bring, besides her passport, a certified copy of her family register (Koseki-tôhori) in which her marriage is duly recorded,” adding:

In cases that prove inadequate to your authorities concerned we are ready to recommend to our Government to conform to whatever specific requirements for documentary evidence that your authorities might prescribe in the premises, provided a similar condition is imposed on the corresponding class of immigrants from other countries.

(b) Finding in the excerpt from the Japanese law above mentioned nothing, * * *, that would justify, of itself, the conclusion that these marriages are provided for by existing laws and recognized as complete, legal and binding in Japan,

this Department asked the specific question:

Does the law of Japan provide for and recognize as legal the marriage of a couple one of whom, at the date of marriage, is in a foreign jurisdiction and the other of whom is in Japan, in the same sense and to the same degree as though both parties to the marriage were actually in Japan at the time the marriage was contracted?

(c) When propounding the above-stated query, the Department stated that in preparing regulations putting the new immigration law into effect there was no intention to permit the exception to the illiteracy test in favor of wives to be availed of [Page 857]

by an unmarried woman who comes to a United States port and claims upon arrival that she has been sent for by a man in the United States who is desirous of marrying her at the port of her admission;

that is, it is not intended to permit an illiterate woman to qualify for admission, on the claim that she is the wife of a man in the United States, by marrying a resident man after such woman has applied for entry, or by claiming that she is the wife of a man in the United States when in point of fact the laws of the country whence she comes do not provide for and make legal and binding the kind of marriage claimed to have taken place.

(d) Examination of the excerpt from the Civil Code of Japan, above-mentioned, and of a translation of the entire Code, loaned this Department by the Japanese Embassy, disclosed that the provisions thereof that are invoked in connection with the marriage of the “picture brides” are the first and second paragraphs of Article 775 reading as follows:

A marriage takes effect upon its notification to the registrar.

The notification must be made by the parties concerned and at least two witnesses of full age, either orally or by a signed document.

It was also ascertained that Articles 776 and 777 of the Civil Code read as follows:

776. The registrar must not accept the notification of a marriage, until he has ascertained that the marriage is not in contravention of any of the provisions of Arts. 741, 1, 744, 1, 750, 1, 754, 1, 765–773 and 775, 2, or to any other law or regulation. This, however, does not apply, if, the marriage being in contravention of the provisions of Art. 741, 1 or Art. 750, 1, the registrar calls the attention of the parties to it, but they persist in their notification.

777. If Japanese in a foreign country contract a marriage between themselves, they may make the notification of their marriage to a Japanese minister or consul stationed in such country. In such case the provisions of the preceding two articles apply correspondingly.

But there was found in the Code no provision relating specifically to the so-called “picture bride marriages.”

(e) It should be stated at this point that the oral discussion of this matter that took place between officers of the Japanese Embassy, of the State Department, and of this Department have proceeded, until quite recently, upon the assumption, apparently by all concerned, that the prospective bridegroom living within the United States sends a written notification to the registrar of his intended marriage and that such written notification is made the basis of an entry in the family register and is then placed on file for possible future reference; that therefore it would not be a difficult matter to furnish in every instance a certified copy of the notification showing the date when and place in this country from which it was sent and that it bore the signature of the bridegroom. It seems now, however, that this was a mistaken assumption; that as a matter of fact the prospective bridegroom often takes no direct part in the transaction, but the notification to the registrar is made for him by his father or by whoever happens to be the head of his “house”. It seems also that the Embassy has ascertained that the notifications are merely made the basis of an entry in the family register and are then forwarded by the local registrar to the Department of Justice at Tokyo for filing in the archives of that office, the regulations of which require that such notifications shall be preserved for ten years and then destroyed.

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(f) On April 28 the Ambassador stated in a formal communication to the Secretary of State that the Japanese law provides that marriage is complete and takes effect immediately upon its being notified either in writing or orally to the registrar by both parties with the participation in the act of at least two witnesses of full age and the acceptance by the registrar of such notification; that if a written notification is employed it must be personally signed and sealed by the parties and the witnesses, but the parties are not required to appear before the registrar; that there is no provision in the law relating specifically to the case where one of the parties to a marriage lives in Japan and the other under foreign jurisdiction and there has been no decision in the courts of Japan regarding such a case; that such being the law a Japanese man residing in the United States can marry a Japanese woman residing in Japan

by personally signing and affixing his seal to the document to be presented before the registrar in Japan and the validity of such marriage is amply attested by the issuance of a certified copy of the family register bearing the official seal of the registrar, which document the so-called “picture bride” proceeding to this country is always provided with.

(g) Accepting the statement last mentioned in conjunction with the representations made orally, this Department issued instructions to the immigration officials to accept in the cases of “picture brides” as proof of marriage a certified copy of the record of the registrar supplemented by a certified copy of the notification to the registrar sent him by the party to the marriage living in the United States. These instructions were given tentatively and subject to further consideration. It will be observed that this instruction was based upon the apparently erroneous assumption mentioned in paragraph (e) preceding.

(h) The purport of the above instruction was communicated to the Japanese Ambassador by the Department of State on May 7.

(i) In carrying out the instructions the immigration officials, under advice from the Bureau of Immigration, are requiring that the documentary proof of marriage shall include a certified copy of a notification to the registrar by the bridegroom himself, this practice being based upon the fact that the Japanese law invoked in the premises requires that the registrar shall be notified by the parties concerned, which must necessarily mean the bridegroom and bride.

(j) In giving the instructions above-mentioned, the Department voluntarily stipulated with respect to “picture brides” then (May 5) en route that a certified copy of the registrar’s record might be accepted with the understanding that a certified copy of the notification would be supplied later. On May 18 the Ambassador requested that this provision be extended to include all who might leave Japan during the month of May; but the Department of Labor was constrained reluctantly to deny this request because it was anticipated that to grant it might raise complications regarding immigration cases originating in Europe.

(k) Simultaneously with the issuance of the instructions regarding acceptance of documentary proofs of marriage the immigration officials were directed to discontinue the practice which had obtained for many years of requiring “picture brides” to be married in accordance with American law and customs at the ports of arrival to the “picture bridegrooms” who had sent for them. This additional instruction [Page 859] was given because it was deemed that, if the Department recognized the validity of the marriage on the basis of the documentary evidence specified to be required in proof, it could not consistently require that a marriage ceremony should be gone through with at the port of entry.

(l) In view of the facts and circumstances above recited and particularly of the additional instructions mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the Department has been surprised to learn that the Japanese Association of America (an organization which apparently quite generally represents the Japanese residing in the United States), the Japanese of this country, and the “picture brides” and “picture bridegrooms” apparently quite generally, have taken the position (notwithstanding this Department’s conclusion to recognize the validity of the marriage if and when proved by documents of the kind specified), that the marriage ceremony must be gone through with after the “picture bride” has been delivered to the “picture bridegroom” at the port of entry. To quote all of the statements on this subject which have come to the attention of the Department would unduly lengthen this letter. It is thought, however, that a few examples should be given. The New World of San Francisco on May 11 gave an interview had with the chief secretary of the Japanese Association, in which said person discussed the possible bad moral effects of allowing the “picture brides” to land without going through a ceremony of marriage and stated

I see no guarantee that results in violation of the manners and customs of society will not be introduced; for to say nothing of American manners and customs, even in Japanese society it is the universal custom that in addition to the legal registration there must be the ceremony of the san-san-ku and the vows in the presence of Shinto and Buddhist deities, a very strict and solemn service. To omit the marriage ceremony because they are coming to a distant colony, going off immediately after landing to live together without further ado, is not proper even as seen from the standpoint of Japanese custom; how much more so from that of the more severe customs of America!

Mr. K. Kanzaki in an article in the Japanese American News of May 8 pointed out that to permit persons who had never seen each other and who had to use photographs for purposes of recognition to land and to proceed to destination without performance of some ceremony “is to omit one of the great institutions of human relationship.” He therefore urged all Japanese in this country to have a marriage ceremony performed. In the New World of May 11 this same person asserted that in his opinion one

would search in vain over the world for a country where the momentous relation of marriage between a man and woman is entered upon without any sort of a ceremony. In Japan, even more than in America, there is a magnificent and elaborate ceremony. This is for the preservation of order and morals in society. Not only so, it also has for its object the sacredness and purity of the new home.

The Japanese American News of May 13 contained a report of a meeting of the directors of the Japanese Association from which it appears that the directors decided that not to have a ceremony would be most improper; that the holding of a banquet after the parties reached their home would not be sufficient because the banquet and the ceremony are distinct observances, the latter being the one through which a man and woman must pass before they can properly come together as husband and wife; that the observance of the ceremony must be insisted upon not only out of respect for American [Page 860] customs but from regard for the entire world. From the Japanese American News of May 19 the following is quoted:

Photograph brides who carried documentary evidence of actual marriage were not given the education test and were all landed yesterday. On the same day they had their marriage ceremonies at their hotels or at the homes of friends, with the exception of the legal formalities, which were omitted. In all other respects no change has occurred in the practice hitherto in vogue.

(m) The proposals now submitted by the Japanese Ambassador are two and are in the alternative:

(I) That the immigration officials be directed to accept as sufficient proof of marriage in “picture bride” cases a certified copy of the family registry record, such copy to be regarded as falling within the scope of “other convincing proof of the performance of the ceremony provided for in Subdivision 7 of Rule 4 of the immigration regulations”.

(II) That the immigration officials be instructed to accept a certificate from the local registrars “attesting to the legal validity of a marriage in favor of the ‘picture bride’ planning to proceed to the United States”.

These requests are made because, as hereinbefore mentioned, it has been ascertained that the Embassy as well as the two Departments were proceeding upon an erroneous assumption in supposing that notifications were given in every instance by the bridegrooms and were kept in the files of the registrars’ offices.

(n) Incidentally, orally and informally, the point has been raised that, inasmuch as the original notifications are preserved, even in the files of the Attorney General’s office, only for ten years, proof of marriage in the manner heretofore specified will not be possible in cases of Japanese who, when coming to the United States, bring their wives with them if the marriage occurred more than ten years previous to the date of such man’s application to the passport officials of Japan for his passport and to the Attorney General’s office for the required certified copy.

(2) The Department’s conclusions with regard to this matter may be stated, in the reverse order of their importance, as follows:

(o) With respect to the last mentioned point, raised incidentally, orally and informally, it does not seem to the Department that there is any insuperable difficulty to be encountered. In the case of couples married when both parties were present in Japan, obviously the notification of the registrar could, both as a legal proposition and as a matter of physical possibility, be either oral or written; and, from what the Department has learned during its study of this matter, it is inclined to believe that in most cases of that kind the notification would be oral. At any rate there would not exist in such a case any such unusual circumstance as exists in the case of couples whose marriage is registered while one of the parties is in Japan and the other is in this country; nor any of the potentialities for embarrassment in the administration of the law with respect to persons coming from countries other than Japan which the Department apprehends exist in the cases that are the special subject of present consideration. Therefore, the Department would not be disposed to insist upon any technical requirements, but would be satisfied to admit the man and his accompanying wife, if otherwise admissible, and to exempt the woman from the illiteracy test on the basis of a certified copy of the family registry record.

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(p) It seems to the Department that the conclusion logically to be drawn from all of the evidence which has been submitted and adduced is that the legislators of Japan in adopting the civil code did not have in mind, in the least degree, a situation with respect to marriage of the kind which has arisen concerning the “picture brides” and their migration to the United States. The law contemplated marriages of two kinds, in so far as the loci contractus was concerned, to wit: Those contracted between two Japanese both of whom at the time were residing within the jurisdiction of Japan and those contracted between two Japanese who at the time were both residing in a foreign jurisdiction. But the ends of convenience have resulted in the establishment of a custom, based in part upon the provisions of the code, but extending much further than the code ever contemplated, under which the recognition of the so-called “picture marriages” has come about. This custom, not unnaturally when it is remembered that the country recognizing it is in a position actually to exercise control over the female party to the marriage only, has had a tendency toward laxity of both action and supervision, which tendency may have been somewhat retarded by the practice heretofore enforced of requiring the parties to the “picture marriage” to go through with a ceremony according to American law and custom on the arrival of the bride at a United States port. This tendency toward laxity is especially illustrated by the practice, which apparently has become quite common, of permitting the bridegroom’s father or the head of his “house” to send notification to the registrar, without the bridegroom taking any active or direct part in the transaction.

(q) Apparently the ethical or religious sense and ideals, or both, of the Japanese people themselves are offended by this custom, especially when it is unattended by any social or religious ceremony of a kind ordinarily regarded as calculated to impress the parties to a marriage with the solemnity and importance of the step which they are taking in becoming husband and wife. This fact of itself produces an anomalous situation and places the Department in a rather unenviable position—one in which, as may be seen from the comments appearing in the Japanese press, a few of which have been quoted, it lays itself liable to criticism by thoughtful sober-minded persons, whether citizens of Japan or of the United States, because, if it is to be at all consistent, it must hold that if the “picture marriage” is a valid marriage no further ceremony is to be insisted upon when the “picture brides” land at United States ports.

(r) It seems to the Department self-evident that it cannot, in administering a statute like the immigration law, base conclusions with regard to fundamental principles of law upon customs more or less firmly established in foreign countries, even though such customs may be predicated somewhat upon provisions of the law of that country. If this matter involved no more than the application of the illiteracy test to the cases of young women coming from Japan, perhaps so much importance would not need to be attached to it. But the Department has no intention, as heretofore intimated, to permit young women to come from other countries and qualify for exemption from the illiteracy test by marrying at a port of the United States a man already located here. If such a domiciled alien wishes to bring to the United States as his wife a woman who is illiterate he [Page 862] will be obliged, under the practice which it is the purpose of the Department to follow, to return to his native land, marry the woman in accordance with the law there obtaining, and take his chances on returning to a port of this country of being found eligible to enter himself and of his wife being found also admissible. Nor is it the Department’s intention to recognize in this connection customs that prevail in countries other than Japan. And there are several countries in which unusual or unique practices and customs regarding marriage and the relation of the sexes exist; and there is no reason known to the Department why, if it should recognize a custom obtaining in this regard in any one country, other countries should not adopt similar or even dissimilar customs with a view to having them recognized and thereby securing exemption from provisions of the immigration law for their subjects or citizens. It will be observed, therefore, that the question is of general rather than of particular interest and consequence in the administration of the immigration law.

(s) The foregoing consideration inevitably leads the Department to the final conclusion that the very least that it can with propriety and safety require in the cases of the “picture brides” is proof that the bridegroom, not someone else in his behalf either really or ostensibly, has complied with the law, not the custom, of the country of which he is a subject in contracting the marriage on the basis of which he proposes to claim exemption for a woman who would, but for her marriage, be subject to exclusion under the illiteracy test. It is to that bridegroom, who is living within this country and while here is subject to its municipal law, not to his father or the head of his “house”, who is living in Japan and in no sense within the control or supervision of the local authorities of the United States, that the communities of this country are entitled to look for the maintenance, protection and care of the woman brought into their midst; and as a particular practical proposition, as well as because of the legal and general practical considerations that have already been mentioned, it is important to know in the case of a Japanese alien, just as it is in the cases of aliens of all other nationalities, that the woman is being brought to this country because of the personal desire of the man to have her as his spouse and helpmate in life.

(t) The fact that the original notifications are destroyed in the office of the Attorney General at Tokyo after the lapse of ten years does not affect the “picture bride” cases. While it is realized that some inconvenience may be occasioned, especially at first, by the necessity of applying to the Attorney General’s office in Tokyo for certified copies of notifications, it is believed that this difficulty could be overcome by a slight change in the practice, that is, by requiring the notifications to be retained in the office of the registrar for a short period after their submission. The remaining difficulty arising from the fact that in some instances the notification is filed by the bridegroom’s father or the head of his “house” it seems to the Department is the only one of particular gravity. It could soon be overcome, however, by inaugurating a change in the practice and having the notification originate with the bridegroom. Such a practice could be based directly upon a combination of the applicable provisions of Articles 775 and 777 of the civil code, and could include [Page 863] requiring (as the physical situation itself demands anyway) that the notification in such cases shall be in writing and signed by the prospective bridegroom himself. The suggested practice would take care of all future cases. In the remaining cases (i. e., those in which the marriage has already been recorded on the basis of a notification not originating with the bridegroom) it seems to the Department that it would be possible and in no sense improper to require that the bridegroom shall return to Japan and have a regular ceremony performed.

(u) However, the careful attention which the Department has given this entire subject leads it to suggest, in conclusion, the desirability, from every conceivable point of view, of bringing about a situation with regard to these “picture brides” which will more nearly conform to that existing with regard to alien women generally in the effect upon their cases of the immigration law. The simplest and most effective remedy for the embarrassments and difficulties that must constantly arise where a situation of a unique nature must be dealt with, under a law intended to apply to all aliens alike, is to change the unique situation into a common one. Therefore, why should not young men of Japanese nationality residing in the United States, when they desire to have women join them here as their wives and these women are ineligible to enter in their individual capacity, return to their native land and conform to all of the requirements, legal, ethical and moral, that are usually observed in their country by men and women who enter into a state of matrimony with due regard to the public opinion of the community in which they live?


W. B. Wilson