Tokyo sees rise in 'divorce ceremonies'
As Japan's divorce rate soars, couples in Tokyo are ending their marriages with as much care as they began them.
By Danielle Demetriou in Tokyo
Saori Teshima had long dreamt of the moment. Standing nervously next to her smartly-suited partner in front of friends and loved ones, a sparkling ring appeared before her.
But contrary to conventional wedding rules, the man at Saori's side did not slip the ring lovingly onto her left hand before sealing their union with a kiss.
Instead, the pair were handed a hammer - which they held together as they proceeded to smash the ring to symbolise the end of their five-year marriage.
So goes another divorce ceremony - a bizarre, but increasingly popular ritual among Japanese couples, who choose to end their marriages with the same pomp and ceremony with which they began them.
From drinking toasts to never seeing each other again, through to symbolic rides in separate rickshaws to reflect the start of a new journey, the ceremonies consist of a string of symbolic acts to mark the definitive end of a marriage.
Their introduction is timely: more than 251,000 divorces took place in Japan in 2008, a figure blamed partly on the poor economic climate and the end of the salaryman-led family units which used to be the bedrock of much of Japanese life.
Yet with divorce still something of a taboo in Japanese society, the ceremonies have caught on as a way to publicly formalise the separation in a way that is socially acceptable to friends and family.
Pioneering the trend for divorce ceremonies is Hiroki Terai, 29, an entrepreneurial former sales man from Japan's Chiba district, who dreamt up the idea after friends of his decided to separate last year.
Since setting up a company devoted to divorce ceremonies in March, he has been contacted by more than 700 people and conducted 21 divorce ceremonies – costing from £44 to £700 - with a further nine booked.
"A ceremony at the end of a marriage gives the couple and their friends and family the opportunity to gain emotional closure," he said.
"Couples ranging from 21 to 57 have taken part in ceremonies so far. Some wear white dresses, a few opt for cakes, and it's always very moving.
"Everyone deserves a fresh new start. Two couples actually decided to stay together after the ceremony because it made them realise how much they still cared."
Roland Kelts, a Japan culture expert and lecturer at the University of Tokyo, described how divorce ceremonies were a welcome tool for Japanese to deal with shifting family structures.
"Today's Japanese women are well-educated and worldly," he says. "They watch Sex and the City and wonder why their husbands are not more dynamic." [more]