File No. 894.4054/20
The Secretary of Labor to the Secretary of State
Washington , August 20, 1917 .
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 30th ultimo, with which you transmit copy of a note from the Japanese Embassy replying to the observations made in my letter of June 27 addressed to you, regarding the so-called “picture brides” coming from Japan.
The Department has again carefully considered this entire matter, in the light of the statements now made by the Japanese Ambassador and their very important bearing upon previous discussions. It is glad that so detailed a discussion, of the subject has occurred; for it [Page 871] believes that such discussion has resulted in the clarification upon the records of your Department and this Department of every phase of the subject on which doubt or misunderstanding has heretofore existed, and both Departments are now in a position where they can intelligently, and without feeling that there are potentialities for embarrassment involved, meet the views of the Japanese Government fully and frankly. This Department’s letter of June 27 purposely set forth in the minutest detail every element of the proposition under discussion which in its judgment required further explanation or comment; and the response from the Japanese Ambassador is so full and explicit that the Department feels well repaid for the pains which it took to lay the various points minutely before your Department for presentation to the Embassy.
To a very considerable extent this Department’s misapprehension of the situation with respect to the modus operandi of the marriage taking place in the cases of these “picture brides” was occasioned by the impression gained from the Embassy’s note of June 4, 1917, and the discussions had with members of the staff of the Embassy that the notification required by Japanese law to be filed with the registrar of family records had to be personally signed and sealed by the parties to the marriage. Finding now from the note of the Ambassador that all that is required by the Japanese law in this regard is that the name of the parties shall be written on the notification and attested by the affixing thereto of his personal seal, and that the writing of the name and affixing of the seal may under the laws of Japan be done for the parties by any authorized person to whom the seal is delivered or in whose possession it is left, and that this is a general law which applies to the signing and sealing of documents of all kinds in Japan, of course the Department finds itself in a position where its mind is altogether disabused of the idea that the marriages are conducted in accordance with the custom, based only indirectly and partly upon the law, and not in accordance with the law itself.
A mutual understanding of the law and of the fact that the practice conforms thereto having finally been reached, it remains only to determine which of the several possible methods of furnishing proof had best be adopted. Taking every phase of the matter into consideration, the Department is inclined to think that the most logical and consistent method, and therefore the one least apt to lead to any difficulty or embarrassment in individual cases, would be this: Hereafter require all women applying for admission as the wives of Japanese men to furnish to the immigration officers at ports of entry of this country, as evidence of their marriage, a certified copy of so much of the record of the family (called in Japanese the Koseki-tôhon) of each of the parties to the marriage as contains the items recorded by reason of the occurrence of the marriage. These seem to be documents which it is customary to issue in Japan, so that no new system would have to be inaugurated; moreover, they seem to be the most complete documentary evidence that can be furnished under all the circumstances, as they contain a record, properly authenticated, of the fact that the registrar has received notification from or on behalf of the parties concerned and that the record of the marriage, and therefore the marriage itself, has been completed in accordance with Japanese law.[Page 872]
This Department will immediately issue instructions to the immigration officers to accept such documents as satisfactory evidence in this class of cases. It will also give directions to the effect that all pending cases, in which temporary arrangements have been made looking to the final adjustment of this point, shall be finally landed upon the receipt, through the local Japanese consulates or otherwise, of similar documents affecting the persons involved.
In conclusion, may I request that you extend to the Japanese Ambassador an expression of this Department’s pleasure that this subject, which at one time seemed to it to involve possibilities of embarrassment in the enforcement of the immigration law generally, has been finally cleared of all misunderstanding and adjusted in a manner satisfactory to all concerned? It is especially gratifying that the full and free discussion thereof has produced a situation under which the nomenclature that has grown up—the use of the expressions “picture brides”, “photograph brides”, “proxy marriages”, etc.—may now be abandoned, since the explanations and assurances of the Japanese Government show that the marriages in question are authorized and recognized by the former Government, which fact has led to their full recognition by the United States Government, so that the marriages involved are now to be considered by all concerned as in no sense distinguishable from marriages generally, and the women can be, and ought to be, referred to simply as wives.
Very truly yours,