By Emma Regan
Marriages and birth rates in Japan are decreasing every year. It is estimated that by 2040, single people will make up almost half of the Japanese population, with single-person households reaching 39% and nuclear families only representing 23% of all households. The marriage market in Japan has suffered heavy losses, however, it has found different marketing strategies to promote marriage and encourage both Japanese and foreigners alike to get married in the country and boost the economy.
Here, we explore some of the ways the marriage market in Japan is dealing with their current problem.
Why is the Marriage Market in Japan Decreasing?
The marriage market in Japan boomed in the 1970s with over 1 million couples getting hitched nearly every year, with the marriage rate over 10%. Yet in 2019, there were just over 500,000 couples married and the marriage rate had shot down to 4.8%. There are many reasons as to why that is, with financial difficulties and few chances to meet the opposite sex being cited as common reasons, yet women’s shift in society seems to be the biggest factor.
There are a growing number of Japanese women postponing or forgoing marriage completely, with the percentage of women working in Japan higher than ever. Due to this, women with jobs find it harder to find a man, yet they also no longer need husbands to ensure their economic security. There is also the concept that marriage is for people that want children, so women who aren’t interested in becoming mothers see little point in marrying someone.
Men also worry they will not be able to support a household financially, thus also shying away from the idea of marriage. This leads to single people waiting to find the right person, yet sometimes never getting around to marrying at all.
How Japanese Businesses are Promoting Marriage
Traditional Shinto weddings aren’t the same as typical Western weddings. Shinto-style weddings consist of a closed ceremony where couples marry at a shrine to display respect for their cultural traditions and ancestors, with the bride wearing a traditional white kimono dress and rituals such as sansankudo (三三九度) taking centre stage.
However, in more recent years, Western-style weddings have become more popular in the marriage market in Japan. It is becoming increasingly common to hold wedding ceremonies in hotels, gardens, and chapels with 70-80 guests and Western-style attire for the bride and groom.
This may be down to the televised event of Princess Masako’s royal wedding in 1993 where the wedding combined Japanese and Western-style traditions, creating a wave of copycat brides, and took over as the preferred style of wedding, making up two-thirds of Japanese unions in the 2000s.
Offering what is considered a more glamorous and Hollywood-style marriage created variety and presented the idea as more desirable by giving brides the chance to hold a romantic, dream wedding.
Foreign Marriages in Japan
You do not have to be Japanese to get married in Japan, as long as you have the right to get married in your country of origin. The number of foreign couples tying the knot in Japan has gone up in recent years, with most coming from neighbouring countries such as China and Taiwan. Local Japanese couples are opting for more simple weddings due to the increase in costs, yet foreign couples pay twice as much.
One particular prefecture, Okinawa, famous for its tropical climate and broad beaches, has become a popular hotspot, with one in ten couples who shoot their wedding photos or hold weddings there being foreigners. The number of wedding resorts in Okinawa rose due to this, setting a record in 2015, and other wedding services such as photographers have also risen. Yet the market for foreign weddings in Japan has much room for growth, with China holding 20 times the number of Japanese marriages.
Foreign couples are promising players that underpin Japan’s shrinking wedding industry.– Naoki Suzuki, Recruit Holdings Co., Ltd.
Omiai: Arranged Marriages in Japan
Until post-war Japan, most Japanese weddings were arranged through omiai (お見合い), a customary form of matchmaking, with 69% of couples who got married in 1930 having met through an omiai. The custom still continues today but on a far smaller scale, with the number of couples getting married through omiai dropping to 5.2% in 2015. Omiai is similar to most online dating sites in the West, with couples tying the knot in just a few weeks or months of meeting.
Omiai have come under severe criticism in Japan due to its nature and reinforcement of patriarchal views, yet studies have shown divorce rates are lower for omiai marriages than marriages based on love. Users of omiai services are expected to pay a registration fee which can be rather expensive, yet MatchGroup, the owner of Tinder, has targeted the marriage market in Japan by creating an app called Pairs Engage, a more efficient, less expensive service geared to those who are highly motivated to get married within a year.
Pairs Engage doesn’t require physical stores, has a 24/7 concierge team, and was specifically created to tackle the decreasing marriage and birth rates in Japan. Other unusual methods of omiai include a DNA matchmaking service that started last year and has received hundreds of people signing up every month.
Solo Weddings in Japan
With the increase of single women, businesses in the marriage market in Japan have tried to find more ways to make their services still available, despite the lack of marriage involved.
In 2015, Cerca Travel, a travel agency in Kyoto, started organising bridal ceremonies for single women. Its two-day package includes a gown, bouquet, hair and make-up, limousine, stay at a hotel and commemorative photo album. It became very popular with married women who didn’t get to have a wedding ceremony or who weren’t satisfied with their experience. Many were sceptical of the idea, yet solo weddings are still happening across Japan, with more and more wedding businesses engaging with the trend.
Aim Tokyo Harajuku, a photo studio in Shibuya, launched a website dedicated to solo weddings and more than 300 women have used their services since its launch. The wedding portrait service allows families to record their growth and rewards mothers who thought they would never get to see their daughters in a wedding dress.
Bridal companies have also entered the market, by encouraging people to wear wedding dresses and try to deflect the superstition of wearing a wedding dress before marriage and events such as wedding dress parties where men and women meet at a wedding hall.
The Marriage Market in Japan During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Like most industries during 2020, the marriage market in Japan has been adversely affected by COVID-19. Over 60% of weddings planned for April and June were postponed due to the pandemic, with a further 50% being cancelled during August and September. It is estimated the wedding ceremony industry will lose around ￥830 billion ($7.8 billion USD) by December 2020. To combat this, wedding service firms have released COVID guidelines to stop the cancellation of weddings and prevent clients receiving high fees from the risk of postponement.
Some of these guidelines include; having fewer guests, wearing face masks, and placing seats further apart to stop guests facing one another. Despite this, the marriage market in Japan has seen an increase in other services, specifically omiai and use of marriage agencies. For instance, Sunmarie, an agency based in Tokyo, saw a 20% uptick in inquiries in April after offering free 40-minute online consultations.
Other companies such as Kekkonjoho Center also started offering free online services. The data suggests that online dating is 20-30% more successful than in person. It came about as singles in Japan started to rethink the importance of marriage and family during the pandemic. A similar occurrence happened after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, as the number of marriages in 2012 rose by 7000. Companies also wanted to avoid divorces during the pandemic too, with Kasoku offering short-term rental rooms to couples who have had enough of seeing each other, trying to keep Japan’s marriage numbers in line.
Opportunities for the Marriage Market in Japan
It’s clear that businesses involved with the marriage market in Japan are desperate to increase marriage rates, yet there are more ways to gain positive outcomes.
Currently, same-sex marriages are illegal in Japan. Venues can host same-sex wedding ceremonies, yet they aren’t required to be officially married: a marriage is only legal when registered with the city of municipal office. Yet with one in ten people publically identifying as LGBT in Japan, the inclusion of same-sex marriages would certainly boost the marriage market among domestic and foreign couples alike.
Furthermore, international businesses such as MatchGroup have only just started to branch into the marriage market in Japan, so it is possible others will follow suit in the near future.
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