Rising Number of Japanese Divorce Ceremonies

Posted On: January 5, 2011

This article first appeared on Good Vibrations Magazine.

In Asia, what is one to do when one’s marriage conditions are right and your life partner has not appeared? Or, conversely, what should one do to mark the end of a marriage? Now, there are ceremonies one can hold in both scenarios.

In October, I reported here that a Taiwanese woman, Chen Wei-yih, was set to marry herself, as she wanted to be married, but has yet to meet Mr Right. She said: “It’s not that I’m anti-marriage. I just hope that I can express a different idea within the bounds of a tradition.”

I loved that she used the ceremony to celebrate her life and her sense of individualism. Having such spunk, I have every confidence that Chen will go on to lead a full and fulfilling life.

Earlier in the year, Reuters reported that some Japanese couples are choosing to celebrate the end of an unhappy marriage at a divorce ceremony before friends and family.

Japan’s divorce ceremony ‘pioneer’ Hiroki Terai started offering such services in April of 2009, thinking that there should be a positive way to end a marriage and move on by making a vow to restart their lives in front of loved ones. Its reputation has spread and in March he began organising so-called divorce ceremony tours in cooperation with a travel agency. A total of 54 couples have participated so far and according to Terai his schedule is booked up until the end of January.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in Japan, the number of divorces last year was 253,353, or one divorce occurring every two minutes and four seconds. A population survey report by the ministry shows the number of divorce cases in 2009 was about 3.5 times that of 50 years ago.

It would appear that the Japanese are onto something. Ceremonies are events that are of ritual significance, performed on a special occasion. They may mark a rite of passage such a birthday, puberty, graduation, marriage, retirement, death, or burial. They help us to express feelings and attitudes through a set of ordered actions of a symbolic nature. It may involve stereotyped bodily movements, often in relation to objects possessing symbolic meaning.

Having put so much time, effort and money into holding the perfect wedding, it certainly makes sense to hold a similar event at the end of the marriage. A Japanese divorce ceremony involves bringing down a hammer to smash the wedding rings to signify the end of a partnership, and concludes by placing the smashed rings in a frog-shaped monument. Even if the ceremony were kept small or private, the human need for acknowledgement, support and closure remains.

Kokushikan University lecturer and business etiquette consultant Chiyoko Anju self-published a series of booklets entitled “Rikon o Purasu ni Suru Rikon Mana” (divorce manners to make the divorce a good thing). One hundred copies sold instantly upon release on rikonmana.com in March.

Chuo University Prof. Masahiro Yamada, an expert on family sociology, felt that the divorce business is beginning to be recognised overseas and compared it to ‘konkatsu’ (activities to find a marriage partner). He hoped for a time when “divorce might be considered more positively and create a certain kind of trend”.

It is my guess that this business in divorce ceremonies may well spread from Japan to the rest of Asia. There has to be time for closure, if it should happen (hopefully not!).

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