Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

Fighting for their lives, local governments shell out for matchmaking services

Friday, May 24th, 2013

If you’re single, looking for love and live in Itoigawa city, Niigata Prefecture, the local government will be happy to pick up the hefty tab for registering with an online dating agency. According to a recent article in J-Cast, the municipality of Itoigawa has taken the unusual step of partnering up with professional matchmakers Zwei in the hopes that young local singletons will find love through the web.

Itoigawa municipality is offering to pay sign up fees for marriage hunting website Zwei

Itoigawa municipality is offering to pay sign up fees for marriage hunting website Zwei

Declining birth rates threaten the future productivity of Japan, so it’s in the best interests of local government to help romance bloom between residents via konkatsu (marriage hunting) activities. By lending financial support to machikon (large-scale singles mixers),  konkatsu seminars, day trips and group dates, the local government obviously wants its citizens to make babies.

Unfortunately there’s little hard data available to show whether spending public money on konkatsu activities actually leads to  marriages. In March 2011 the Cabinet Office published a survey on marriage and family structures. Out the 1698 municipalities that took part, 552 had actively supported konkatsu activites. However, 283 of these had stopped these activities because of a perceived limit to their effectiveness, lack of funds and a decline in demand. Some simply held one event and that was it.

Itoigawa, however, don’t seem to have done too badly. Since it began supporting konkatsu activities in 2007, 18 local couples have tied the knot. Feeling it could do better and hearing about a similar scheme in Inami, Wakayama Prefecture, where the municipality helped citizens out with Zwei’s fees, Itoigawa decided to call in the professionals.

Single people aged 20 or above who’ve been living in Itoigawa for more than a year and are up to date with their residency taxes can get the initial fees of ¥63,840 (roughly $621) paid by local government; however, they will have to foot the monthly membership fees themselves. Zwei offers quite a comprehensive service, not only organizing omiai (interviews to gauge marriage potential between parties), but also mixers where people might find someone special.

It’s too early to say if this scheme will be a success. In Wakayama, four people applied for financial support with fees for Zwei in 2011, though it’s not known if any of these led to marriage. Nobody applied in 2012, despite inquiries from parents with unmarried children.

One of the key stumbling blocks might be the stigma attached to online dating in Japan. The launch of Xlace, another konkatsu website, back in April this year, however, does seem to indicate that the market is slowly growing; whether other local governments will also enlist help from online dating agencies to stimulate couple generation remains to be seen.

Japan by the numbers (10.15.10)

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Divorcing couples seek solace in ring-smashing ceremonies

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Hammer time for a divorcing couple.

Hammer time for a divorcing couple.

When Hiroki Terai was a child he once asked his parents why there was no such thing as a divorce ceremony and they laughed at him. Now, as Japan’s first professional “charisma divorce planner,” he watches with satisfaction as soon-to-be-former couples join hands on a mallet and smash rings, beginning new, separate lives.

Last March, a friend of Terai’s from college, on the verge of his own divorce, echoed that life-long question. “Japanese culture celebrates both beginnings and endings,” he said. “Why is only the beginning of a marriage marked?” A month later, Terai held his first divorce ceremony for that friend at a restaurant in Shinjuku. Word got out, and it struck a chord. Requests started coming in. After performing a few more on his own, he teamed up with day-trip specialists Friendly Travel to run the ceremonies as a half-day package tour for ¥3,000 per person.

Just get us to the Divorce Mansion on time.

Just get us to the Divorce Mansion on time.

The parting couple meets near Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and rides in separate rickshaws with friends and relatives following on foot to a “Divorce Mansion,” a doppelganger of Japan’s ubiquitous wedding halls. There, they stand before their guests and listen as Terai recounts the circumstances leading up to the decision to separate (they’ve briefed him in individual meetings beforehand). He says that although one side, usually the wife, will often demand a blunt statement about exactly what went wrong, he opts for tact. “I won’t just come out and say ‘he cheated,’” Terai says. “I’ll say something indirect that gets the message across. And I always add that ‘there are surely circumstances known only to the two people involved.’”

The guests of honor each make speeches, and then, as at a Japanese wedding party, one person is chosen to speak on behalf of the assembled friends, preferably someone who has been divorced. This speech almost always starts with “Rikon omedeto gozaimasu” (congratulations on your divorce). The friend emphasizes that divorce is another kind of beginning, and that friends will continue to be there. Up until this point, there’s “a strange sort of vibe,” Terai says. “People don’t know how to respond, whether they should clap or stay quiet.”

Then comes the key moment: the smashing of the rings. “I based it on the image of the cake cutting.” In their “final joint act,” the two each put one hand on a mallet. In a light-hearted stroke of symbolism, the mallet has a frog on it to represent the couple “changing” into singles. (The words for “frog” and “change” are homonyms in Japanese.) After the smashing of the rings, Terai says the mood changes as well. The audience applauds spontaneously, and looks of relief and happiness come over the couple.

Staying with the kaeru theme, the Divorce Mansion’s mascot is a friendly looking pink frog statue Terai had made to order. The battered rings are dropped into the frog’s mouth and left there. Although the statue seems to be giving the peace sign, it’s actually flashing a warning of sorts: Terai said the gesture reflects the fact that, with the most recent stats at 250,000 divorces a year, “two out of six couples in Japan get divorced.”
Continue reading about divorce ceremonies in Japan →

Trends in Japan 2009: changing gender roles

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

New man? Otomen's main character is in touch with his feminine side

New man? Otomen’s main character is in touch with his feminine side

You’ve probably seen them, preening  in front of station mirrors in public, teasing their hair until it looks just so. Or maybe you’ve seen the beauty products available to them, including foundation and eyebrow tweezers.

No, not the gals; we’re taking about the much hyped new breed of man known as soshokukei (herbivorous). According to the talking heads and pop psychiatrists, the herbivore is more interested in his appearance, less interested in his career and increasingly passive with girls. The phrase was coined by writer Megumi Ushikubo back in 2007 and has caught on so much that some men now proudly describe themselves as herbivores without feeling any social shame. Typical herbivore pastimes include such things as cooking, clothes shopping and eating sweets, and naturally the older generation of carnivorous skirt-chasing careerists are appalled by this new tribe, seeing them as lazy and unwilling to take on the responsibilities of an adult man.

This year a popular TV series was launched depicting just such a man in crisis with his public identity and private desires. “Otomen” tells the story of Asuka Masamune. Adept at judo and karate he appears to be the toughest guy in high school, but behind closed doors he loves sewing and romantic manga. The manga that inspired the TV series was extremely popular, showing perhaps that the character struck a chord, albeit with the young girls at which the drama was aimed.

Continue reading about changing gender roles →

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