MARRIAGE IN JAPAN
Traditional Japanese wedding There were 720,417 marriages in Japan in 2005. This figure is expected to decline by half in 15 to 20 years. The number of single households exceeded married households for the first time in 2007. A 2005 census found that 47 percent of men and 32 percent of women in their early 30s are single. According to a 2005 survey by the National Institute of Population, 87 to 90 percent of men and women between 18 and 34 said they want to get married someday, with many of those who were single saying they were single because they hadn’t found the right partner.
A 2011 survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research of couples who married during the five years before the survey found husbands met their wives for the first time at the age of 25.6 on average, up from 25.3 in the previous survey, and wives met their husbands for the first time at age 24.3, up from 23.7. Of the couples whose wives got married at 25 years old or older, more than 50 percent said that they felt they were at the right age for marriage. Meanwhile, of the couples whose wives married at an age younger than 25, about 50 percent said that they had to because of a pregnancy. [Source: Daishiro Inagaki, Asahi Shimbun, October 22, 2011]
When asked what marriage means to them, Japanese university students tend to use words like “respect, acceptance” and “caring, help and being there” while American university students tended to use words like “important, essential” and “unconditional.” On activities associated with love and marriage, 47 percent of U.S. students said “having dinner together, eating out” compared to 12 percent among Japanese students and 23 percent of U.S. students said “physical intimacy” compared to 12 percent among Japanese students.
Links in this Website: MARRIAGE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DATING IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE WEDDINGS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DIVORCE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;
Good Websites and Sources: Personal Account monad.com ; Legalities and Paperwork tokyo.usembassy.gov ;Wa-pedia wa-pedia.com ; Mating and Marriage family.jrank.org ;My Nippon Blog mynippon.com ; The Japan FAQthejapanfaq.com ;Japanese Legends About Supernatural Sweethearts pitt.edu/~dash/japanlove ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Marriage and Divorce Section stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook ; 2010 Edition stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan ; News stat.go.jp
History of Marriage in Japan
In imperial times polygamy was not uncommon and high -ranking aristocrats sent their daughters to the palace to be married for political and social reasons. Many of the wives and lovers who were no longer in favor became nuns.
Weddings are a relatively new addition to Japanese life. Until the Meiji Era in 1868, samurai families, which made up only about 6 percent of the population, were the only ones who formalized their marriages.
Ordinary Japanese rarely had their marriages formalized or had any kind of wedding or ceremony. Traditionally, once a man began regularly visiting a woman the were considered married. Later when the man's mother considered herself no longer able to do her household chores by herself she asked her son's "wife" to move in. This occasion was often accompanied by a small party to introduce her to the neighbors.
Japanese customs were viewed as immoral by Christian Europeans. In the mid 1800s, Meiji government introduced marriages laws and Shinto weddings ceremonies so that Japanese would appear more civilized in Western eyes.
The Democratic Party of Japan government elected in August 2009 wants to introduce legislation that allows married couples to use separate surnames.
Marriage Age in Japan
Traditionally, Japanese women were supposed to get married between 23 and 25. Unmarried women over 25 were referred to as "Christmas cakes" (a reference to a cake that nobody wants after December 25). These days women are getting married later. The mean age for first marriages was 30.7 for men and 29.0 for women in 2011. For both men and women, the figure was up by 0.2 from the previous year, setting new age records. In 1999, the average marriage age for women was 26.7, a record low. The average marriage age for men was 28.5, the same as it had been for years.
The minimum age for marriage is 19 for males and 16 for females. Nearly 50 percent of Japanese women between the age of 25 and 29 are unmarried and 66 percent of men at that age are still single. For men between 30 and 34, 42 percent are single, an increase of 10 percent from a decade earlier. Of all the unmarred adults about 54 percent of them are women, and 46 percent are men.
According to Japanese superstition, a woman in her 30s has yakudoshi (“bad luck years”) twice: when she turns 32 and when she hits 36. The years in between are also considered bad luck. Some women im Tokyo go to the Jindaiji temple for a yakubarai ceremony in which they are given shimenawa , a straw rope decorated with strips of paper, to break the jinx. Participants usually receive a bag of souvenirs, including a charm to fight evil spirits, a bottle of sake, local sweets and chopsticks.
Fewer Marriages in Japan
In Japan, the percentage of women who continue their formal education after high school is very high. In 2010, 55.9 percent of women graduating from high school entered universities or junior colleges, as compared with 52.7 percent of men. A growing number of women want to work on an equal basis with men following graduation from an institution of higher learning. As a consequence, the concept of marriage as a woman’s life objective is becoming less prevalent than in the past.[Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]
“According to a study by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, unmarried men and women consistently believe that marriage would result in the restriction of their actions, lifestyle, and relationships with friends, and that it would also add the psychological burdens involved in having to support a family. Consequently, an increasing number of people are opting to marry late or remain single throughout life. In 1980, the percentage of those who remained unmarried between the ages of 25 and 29 was 55.1 percent for men and 24.0 percent for women. By 2005, these percentages had surged to 72.6 percent for men and 59.9 percent for women. A National Institute of Population and Social Security Research report estimated that among females who are less than 16 years old today, one in seven will remain unmarried throughout life. In 2010, the average age at first marriage was 28.8 years for women and 30.5 years for men. Another indication of the changes in tradition taking place in Japan is a rising divorce rate. The divorce rate per 1,000 population rose from 1.22 in 1980 to 1.99 in 2010. [Ibid]
“Awareness among men is also changing. In the past many men had been career-focused to provide for their families, and had left housework and childcare to their wives, but now more and more men are committed to spending time with their families. Moreover, with changes in modes of employment, double-income households are the majority among working households in which the head of the family is a company employee and the like. A trend has also arisen within society to provide support for the increasing number of men who, in line with such changes, are helping out with household duties like cooking and playing an active role in childcare. More companies are encouraging male employees to take childcare leave, and municipal governments are offering parenting courses to men as well on such topics as mental preparation for childcare. [Ibid]
One in Three Young Japanese Men Feel They Can't Marry
In November 2012, Jiji Press reported: “One out of three Japanese men in their 20s think they may not be able to marry, despite their wish to do so, with about 60 percent citing economic insecurity as the main reason, a survey by the Tokyo-based life insurance company Lifenet Insurance Co. revealed. A better economy may encourage more people to get married, thereby helping increase the number of children in the nation, company officials said. [Source: Jiji Press, November 9, 2012]
The poll was conducted on the Internet in September covering 450 men in their 20s. Asked whether they think they can marry, only 27.8 percent said they want to marry and can, while 35.3 percent said they do not want to marry. The proportion of respondents who fear being unable to marry despite a desire to do so came to 36.9 percent. Topping the reasons for this was economic insecurity, cited by 60.8 percent, compared with 48.2 percent who said they are not popular with women. [Ibid]
The survey also showed that 87.8 percent of all respondents want to actively engage in child-rearing. But 74.9 percent said they are concerned about whether they can earn enough to cover financial costs such as education for their children as well as living expenses. A total of 82.4 percent feel insecure about their future, but 89.6 percent said they are not taking specific steps such as saving money to ease their anxieties. [Ibid]
American and Japanese Attitudes Towards Marriage
Kate Elwood wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: Cultural anthropologist Cynthia Dunn has made several studies of Japanese weddings and receptions, and her work reveals additional insight into differing visions of the "I do" scenario and its implications. Using data from 31 speeches made at Japanese wedding receptions, Dunn compares the image of marriage that emerges with the American model explored by researchers, including fellow cultural anthropologist Naomi Quinn, based on interviews with married couples. [Source: Kate Elwood, Daily Yomiuri, May 21, 2012]
“The studies found that both Americans and Japanese spoke of marriage as a joint creation, a union and a journey. Many Americans also spoke of marriage as an "investment," in which both spouses "give" and "get," contributing and receiving dividends, as it were. This metaphor was not present in Dunn's Japanese data. Additionally, the Japanese wedding speeches focused less on compatibility and emotional fulfillment in marriage, although this was a common theme among the Americans talking of marriage. Whereas the Americans spoke of "working on the relationship," the Japanese couples were viewed as "working together" to accomplish their personal and societal goals. [Ibid]
“The couple's emotional relationship was not disregarded by the Japanese speakers, Dunn notes, but it was seen as a component of a larger objective, not an aim in and of itself. The newlyweds were more likely to be perceived as aligned together, looking out at the world and cooperatively battling various external obstacles that might hinder happiness. Their American counterparts, while certainly not oblivious to the world at large, appeared to face each other in wedlock. [Ibid]
“In Japan, being married is often described as "like the existence of air" (kuki no yo na sonzai). The phrase has traditionally been used to suggest that the matrimonial bond is so natural that the partners are hardly aware of it and yet it is nonetheless essential. It is an unassuming but fulfilling view of the married state. Instead of "You take my breath away," it implies perhaps "You give my breath to me.” [Ibid]
Finding a Spouse and Oops Marriages in Japan
Mothers of students at prestigious universities often stay in touch with each other after graduation to share notes and gossip on prospective husbands and wives for their children.
Some men taking evening classes on how to meet women and get dates. Some women wear a ring on their middle finger which means they are available.
Some young women quit their jobs at 24 or 25 and enroll in full time bridal schools which have courses in driving, flower arranging, and performing tea ceremonies. The goal for young women is to become an okusan, or Mrs. Interior.
Couples deciding to get married because the woman is pregnant is very common in Japan. The equivalent expression of a shotgun marriage is dekichatta kekkon, which roughly means “oops marriage.” My two sister in laws gave birth to children less than nine months after they were married. In 2005, 27 percent of marriages took place after the woman was pregnant, compared to 11 percent in 1980.
The trend is so common that wedding planers offer special “stork plans” and “double happy weddings” that includes children who are born before the wedding takes place. At one such wedding the child sat with the newlywed parents during the wedding party and the couple was congratulated both for their marriage and their birth. If the woman is pregnant the wedding is often scheduled during the 5th and 7th month when her physical condition is fairly stable.
Arranged Marriages in Japan
Parents looking for a wife for their son Japanese have traditional regarded marriages as a bonding of families rather than individuals, and this is especially the case with Miai kekon (arranged marriages).
Prospective partners are chosen on the basis of education level, family position, and compatibility determined by Chinese astrology and numerology. The search, research and introduction were traditionally made by nakodas (honored go-betweens, usually older, respected married couples).
In the 1950s, about 70 percent of all marriages were arranged. In 1973, the figure was only 37 percent. Today only around 10 percent are. Arranged marriages today are worked out by professional matchmakers, nakodas, fortune tellers and detectives that specialize in marriage partners.
Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was married in 1978 to the 21-year-old daughter of the chairman of a major drug company. Their first date lasted an afternoon and an evening and Koizumi proposed the next day. Four months later they were married. The meeting was arranged by then-Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda and the wedding dates were set to meet his schedule. Koizumi’s wife later told the Asahi Shimbun "I did not known know anything about him...I had heard he had a large stack of photographs of prospective brides, so I thought it was a real honor just to be chosen by him." Koizumi was divorced in 1982 when his wife was six months pregnant.
In the old days families of the prospective partners met to size up each other and pursued the marriages like trade partners working out a business deal. If the couple liked each other and the union of their families was regarded as advantageous the couple dated until their engagement was formally announced and betrothal gifts were formally exchanged.
Today, prospective couples get together at arranged meetings with chaperons after they have been selected for one another. It is not unusual for a women to attend 50 such meetings before finding the right man. Couples that have three or four formal meetings and still like each other after that often end up getting married.
Love in Japan
It has been said that there are more words for rice in Japanese than for love and that the Japanese language has no equivalent of "I love you." One market researcher told the New York Times, "Traditionally Japan is an unromantic country, and people don't express love—so they buy expensive presents. That's an exaggeration, but you get the point."
Love has traditionally been regarded as disruptive to social harmony and in the past was sometimes more likely to occur between a prostitute and her customer than between husband and wife. Japanese literature has more stories about love between unmarried couples than married ones. There are also lots of double suicide stories involving geishas and their lovers.
When asked why Japanese don’t really express their love verbally a Japanese teacher wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Well, we would not say such a thing because it is something we should feel intuitively rather than express verbally. Once we say it, it sounds rather cheap.”
But despite this Japanese television dramas are full couples confessing their love. They often feature a male and female who are infatuated with each other, but nothing romantically happens until one confesses his or her love for the other. It also happens in real life. In one famous incident a member of a baseball team than won a big game climbed a pole and expressed his love for a particular women. The woman played along but later politely rebuffed him, when attention was not focused on them.
In a study on jealousy, Japanese men ranked the least jealous and Brazilian men ranked as the most. In a study on friendship Japanese ranked their “best friend” as being closer to them than “a lover.’ A study of women in Europe, Japan and the Philippines asked them to fill out forms that measured their experiences of passionate love. Women from all three places said they felt love with the same level of intensity.
Displays of Affection in Japan
couple in a Tokyo karaoke Asian couples don't usually express affection towards each other in public. Public displays of affection between members of the opposite sex—such as kissing, hugging and holding hands—are considered rude. Even families rarely touch, hug or display physical affection in public. Most school children have said they have never seen their parents kiss.
Holding hands and hugging among members of the same sex is perfectly acceptable although this practice is less common in Japan than other Asian countries. It is not unusual for a pair of women to walk down the street holding hands or for men to embrace one another and arm.
It has traditionally been considered taboo to touch the nape of a girl's neck. After World War II, kissing wasn't allowed in Japanese films. The first celluloid kiss took place in 1946 and the actors that did it were so nervous about it they put a piece of gauze between their lips.
Japanese couples are starting to kiss more in public. Young people can be seen embracing in the parks and wives sometimes kiss their husbands goodbye at train stations. One Japanese baseball team even offered reduced rate tickets to anyone who was willing to kiss outside the box office.
The Japanese word used by the older generation to describe a kiss literally translates to "approach the lips." Most young people say "kee-su," the Japanese pronunciation of the English word "kiss," or "choo" or "choo-choo," the sound a kiss makes to Japanese ears.
Sentiments About Kissing in Public in Japan
But not everybody is happy about the trend towards more public displays of affection. "Kissing in public—it's ugly!" a social critic complained in a popular magazine. "these people never give a thought to how others feel, the people who have to see them do it." A housewife echoed these sentiments in the Yomiuri Shimbun: "These young people have lost their sense of shame. Without shame, there is no sense of restraint. If we lose that, we're no different from animals."
A Japanese educator told the Washington Post, "kissing in public is less shocking nowadays than it would have been, say, 40 years ago. But it's still not accepted. There's a view that this is a sign of weakness. People see young people who do it as weak."
In a survey of 400 men, 71 percent of them said they never had kissed a woman in a public place. Of those who said yes more than half said they were embarrassed when they did it. A 27-year-old career woman told the Washington Post that kissing on a street corner seemed to be "a natural beautiful thing" but when asked if she had ever done it she replied: "No comment."
International Marriages in Japan
The American author of this site and his Japanese wife There were 18,774 international marriages in 2008. The number of international marriages has been rising steadily, with rate doubling between 1995 and 2005. There were only 7,000 in 1980 but over 36,000 in 2000 and 36,039 in 2004. These days six percent of marriages involve a foreigner.
Many of the Japanese men who enter into international marriages are in their 30s or 40s and meet their wives through Internet marriage agencies that charge around $20,000 for their services. In some cases the men married women that spoke virtually no Japanese and they couldn’t speak the language of the women they married. As of 2002, there were over 200 international marriage agencies and over half of them specialized in matches with Chinese women.
International marriages often get a bad rap in the media. There are or stories about bitter divorces and tales of Chinese women that marry Japanese men to get a resident visa and then disappear once they are in the country. There are also stories Russian women have entered Japan on 15-day transit visas and enter into fake marriage, sometimes with gangsters, to obtain spouse visas.
In 2003, 1 in 20 new marriages involved a non-Japanese partner and 1 in every 18 divorces involved a non-Japanese partner. The number of international divorces that year was 15,256, double the number in 1995, and almost half the number of international marriages the same year.
In international divorces involving Japanese women, the women often end up with the kids and the foreign husbands are denied rights to see them. There was one case involving an American husband who came home from work one day and found that his wife had left home and taken the kids. He never saw the kids again and was divorced by his wife through the mail. When this happens there is little the man can do.
In June 2008, a law that stated a Japanese man had to be married to a non-Japanese women for their child to be entitled to Japanese citizenship was ruled unconstitutional by the Japanese Supreme Court. Under the new law Japanese citizenship will granted to children involved in such cases if the father recognizes paternity.
International Marriage Partners in Japan
Japanese men in international marriages are most likely to marry Chinese, Korean and Filipino women. Japanese women in international marriages are most likely to marry Chinese, Korean and American men.
Many more Japanese men marry foreign women than Japanese women marry foreign men. Of the 48,414 marriage involving Japanese and foreigners nearly 80 percent were between Japanese men and foreign women, with 38 percent of the wives being Chinese, 26 being Filipina and 18 percent being South or North Koreans. Of the 10,842 Japanese married outside of Japan, 85 percent were between Japanese women and foreign men.
Some Chinese wives have a hard time. In February 2006, a Chinese woman married to a Japanese man stabbed two children to death in her car while her 5-year-old daughter looked on. The murder took place near Kyoto. The woman is said to have had a difficult time adjusting to living in Japan and had been paranoid about the way her daughter was treated at school. During an interrogation she told police: “Since I don’t speak Japanese well, I couldn’t communicate [with mothers whose children attend her daughter’s kindergarten] and was frustrated by the differences in lifestyles. “ She also said, “I felt other children were to blame for my daughter not getting along [at the kindergarten] and that my daughter would be spoiled further [if I did nothing] so I killed them.”
Daarib was Gaikokujin (“My Darling is a Foreigner”) si a popular manga series written by American husband and Japanese wife team Tony Laszlo and Saori Oguri
Arranged Marriages for Farmers in Japan
Many single rural men choose poor women from the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China and even Brazil and Peru as their wives from pictures in catalogs. "I realized that if I didn't get a bride from Thailand," one farmer told the Los Angeles Times, "I would probably spend the rest of my life alone."
The men usually pay marriage brokers around $25,000, who make the arrangements and work out the details, and travel to home country of the women, who invariable can't speak Japanese. If the couple likes each other, the Japanese man often gives her family some money (up to $30,000) and she returns with him.
The success of the marriages between farmers and foreign women has been hit or miss. The New York Times described a Filipino marriage partner who so impressed her Japanese community with her positive attitude that another local farmer married her sister. The Los Angeles Times described brides hounded by in-laws for a male heirs and farmers who were dumped by their wives soon after they arrived in Japan so they could seek higher paying jobs in the city. It is reported that of the eight marriages with foreign brides in the town of Tadami, two ended in divorce and two more were reportedly in trouble.
There is also local help for farmers in the countryside that are having a hard time finding wives. There are wife-seeking trips to Osaka and Tokyo for these farmers.
In 1995, there were more than 20,000 marriages between Japanese men and foreign women. This figure represented about 2.5 percent of all marriages and was a tenfold increase from 1970. A large number of the men were farmers with mail-order brides.
Parent-Arranged Marriage Meetings
The increasing number of singles in their 30s has worried parents who think their kids will never get married and coaxed them into using Internet marriage brokerage sites and attending “marriage meeting” events to find suitable partners for their offspring. At a “marriage meeting” in Tokyo, a 63-year-old mother of a 31-year-old man from Tokohama told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “My son matured late and has never dated women.” A 60-year-old mother of a 32-year-old woman said she found a lot of potential offers my marketing her daughter as “a nurse who likes cooking.” A 37-year-old housewife who met her husband with the help of her mother and married at 34, said, “I couldn’t have moved onto marriage so quickly from a romantic courtship.”
A representative with Matrix Co., a Tokyo-based firm that arranges marriage-meeting events, told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Parents are very focused in finding proper partners for their children. They pay no attention to the drinks prepared for the meetings. Masagiro Yamada, a sociologist specializing in families at Chuo University said, “It’s natural that these parents, who got married in their 20s, feel uneasy about their children staying with them for a long time while doing nothing” about getting married.
Ratio of Unmarried Men at 50 in Japan Grows to over 20 Percent
In May 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The ratio of lifetime unmarried Japanese--the percentage of people who remain unmarried at the age of 50--rose to a record high of 20.1 percent among men and 10.6 percent among women as of 2010, it has been learned. In 1980, the ratio was 2.6 percent for men and 4.5 percent for women. During the last 30 years, this figure has increased by about eight times for men and more than doubled for women. The ratios began increasing sharply around 1990, according to the Cabinet Office. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 4. 2012]
“By age bracket, the ratio of unmarried people aged 25 to 29 was 71.8 percent for men and 60.3 percent for women. That of men aged 30 to 34 was 47.3 percent, while for women of the same age it was 34.5 percent. The ratio for men aged 35 to 39 was 35.6 percent and that of women was 23.1 percent. [Ibid]
Fake Marriages in Japan
In May 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Metropolitan Police Department has arrested 12 Japanese and Filipinas in Tokyo over fake marriages, the MPD said. The MPD arrested Isao Tanaka, the 45-year-old owner of a bar in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, and another man on suspicion of violating the Adult Entertainment Businesses Law.Five Filipino women working at the bar and five Japanese men were also arrested the same day on suspicion of making false entries into electromagnetic public documents to be used as originals for notarized deeds. They were also suspected of using the allegedly falsified documents. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 11, 2012]
Image Sources: 1) Ray Kinnane 2) exorsystblog 3) Tokyp Pictures 4) Jeffrey Hays
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated January 2013