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- Wednesday, July 06, 2011 - From Print Edition


LAHORE: The Japanese people are good at storing every memory of their lives, whether bitter or sweet, and this common observation is substantiated by the fact that they have even started holding ceremonies since 2009 to celebrate divorces and get over the massive mental tensions caused by unhappy marriages.


Giving discontented couples a chance to reassess their lives, the man behind the idea of holding divorce functions in Japan is a former salesman Hiroki Terai, who has set up a humble “divorce mansion” in Tokyo and advertises his new business through the relatively less expensive web portals. In fact, he has now expanded his business to South Korea on popular demand.


After one of his friends was going through a painful divorce process, Hiroki Terai had come up with the idea of holding divorce ceremonies to help couples rejoice over their decisions to part ways.


Divorce ceremonies are thus a very recent phenomenon and to witness how they take place, one will have to travel to Japan and South Korea, which are currently the only two countries where couples formally untie their marital knots. They are no different from wedding functions, but with a different outcome.


According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, divorces in Japan were on a generally upward trend from the 1960s until 2002, when they had hit a peak of 290,000. Though the Japanese ministry did not mention, a few websites had viewed that divorces in this part of the world could partly be blamed on the poor economy taking its toll on romance.


Official Japanese statistics on this subject further reveal that since 2002, the number of divorces and the divorce rate had declined in this country for six years straight and in 2008, the number of divorces had totaled 251,000, while the divorce rate was 1.99 (per 1,000 population).


However, the trend once again turned upward in 2009, when the number of divorces had stood at 253,000 and the divorce rate had rested at 2.01 (per 1,000 population). According to a July 4, 2011 Reuters report, carried by numerous leading newspapers and television channels across the world, ceremonies to celebrate divorces have gained momentum in Japan after the massive March earthquake and tsunami, followed by an ongoing nuclear crisis.


According to Reuters, the ceremony to mark a couple’s transition to being single again costs 55,000 yen (Dh 2,497 or US $606). The price includes a buffet meal and culminates with the ritual smashing of their wedding rings with a gavel.


This phenomenon has also helped the local dress designers spot a lucrative niche for themselves, as many couples like wearing the specially designed ‘divorce dresses’ to attend their ring-smashing rituals.


A CNN report of September 7, 2010 had mentioned: “One in four marriages in Japan now ends in divorce, yet it’s still considered a cultural taboo. Increasingly popular ceremonies help some Japanese cope with the country’s changing social norms, according to divorce ceremony planner Hiroki Terai.”


The CNN report titled “divorce ceremonies give Japanese couples a new way to untie the knot” had stated that divorce ceremonies begin with the couple stepping into separate rickshaws. “It’s a quiet and solemn walk through the streets. Walking behind the couple are friends, brought as witnesses,” the report said.


Quoting Hiroki Terai, the first organizer of divorce functions in Japan, the CNN said his business was booming as he had received thousands of calls and had ceremonies booked for weeks in Japan and South Korea.


The report quoted organizer Terai as saying: “There’s no mistaking that divorce is a sad process, but I believe that by declaring your new start in life in front of your friends, relatives and family, you draw a clear line. It helps emotionally.”


Yet another Reuters’ report of June 21, 2010 had read: “With divorce on the rise in Japan, some couples are choosing to celebrate the end of an unhappy marriage by saying “I do” for a final time at a divorce ceremony before friends and family.”


The report said: “Since the time these divorce functions are being organized, around 25 couples had each paid 55,000 yen to hold a ceremony with all the pomp and grandeur of a wedding that publicly ends their relationship before they officially file for divorce. Terai (the organizer) said that he had received more than 900 inquiries.”