Japanese Disaster Sparks Rush to the Altar

Mari Natsuki, a popular Japanese actress, lived with her partner for four years without marrying, explaining that the arrangement was “more natural”.

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Seiya Kawamoto | Taxi Japan | Getty Images

So, fans were stunned when she revealed that she had married Nobu Saito, a musician.

“The disaster made me think again about what it means to love someone, what it means to be husband and wife, and have family ties,” Ms Natsuki said, referring to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of the north-east of the country.

Ms Natsuki, whose voice starred in Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Spirited Away, is not alone in feeling a sudden urge to tie the knot after the worst disaster to hit Japan since the end of the second world war.

Although official statistics for marriages since the March disaster are not yet available, dating services and wedding halls are reporting a surge in demand as many Japanese decide they would rather not be alone during the next crisis.

The news is a silver lining for Japanese policymakers concerned about the declining marriage rate.

In 1971, Japan had 10.5 marriages for every thousand citizens. By 2009, that number had fallen to 5.9, partly because later generations of Japanese were less willing to enter the kind of arranged marriages that were more common when their parents were young.

O-net, Japan’s largest dating service, said the number of couples meeting on their site and subsequently deciding to marry rose roughly 20 per cent after the crisis. Inquiries to the dating service shot up 30 per cent.

“Half of those who have newly registered with us have said that their reason for doing so was that they were afraid to be alone after the earthquake,” said Kazuhide Unozawa, president of Prime Marriage, another dating service, which in May saw a 50 per cent increase both in new memberships and marriages between members.

The nuptials rush is also proving something of a boon for Japanese retailers. Takashimaya, a high-end department store, sold 43 per cent more engagement rings in April, and more than a quarter more wedding rings, than a year ago. One employee said the company had “never seen anything like this”.

In another sign that people are sprinting to the altar, Yoshikazu Yamada, head of marketing at Tasaki, a jewellery company, said many couples were skipping the engagement ring and going straight for the wedding band. The company has also seen double-digit growth in bridal goods in the two months since the disaster.

Reflecting the divergence in reaction to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, Mr Yamada said the marriage uptick was only occurring in parts of Japan affected by the disaster and not, for example, in the western region of Kansai.

Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, a popular wedding venue, said 500 people attended its wedding fair in May, a 10 per cent rise from last year, despite the mood of self-restraint prevalent in Japan at the time.

“It’s a very natural thing,” said Masahiro Yamada, professor of sociology at Chuo University. “When a terrible disaster happened, people feel insecure if they are alone”. He added: “[March 11] has left a lasting impression on people that in a crisis, it’s scary to be alone.”