Arranged marriages making a comeback in Japan

Until 1945 they were almost universal. They started to decline during the post war American occupation, but as late as 1960 it is estimated that 70 per cent of weddings were arranged.

Westernisation and the increasing independence of women led to a marked decline. By 1990 the proportion of arranged marriages is thought to have fallen to around 30 per cent of the total.

But things changed in the after a swathe of the country was devastated by the tsunami and earthquake.

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Japan needs to emancipate itself from generations of ideological stagnation

On a hot Friday evening in Osaka, Japan, the street musician Jun Fukuda is channelling Bob Marley on a downtown bridge. Not the feel-good, party-hearty Marley, but the mortality-questioning ballad Redemption Song.

As the 20-year-old belts out the lyrics “emancipate yourself from mental slavery”, he scans the 20 or so Japanese hipsters gathered around to be sure they are getting the point.

“There is no future in Japan for people like me,” Fukuda tells me, as a few of his buddies nod in agreement. “Our leaders are useless, our economy is bad, there’s nuclear stuff in my food. There is nothing out there for my generation.”

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Japan’s Amasan, sea women, show their mermaid skills

SHE is the modern mermaid, the living apparition that so taunted sailors and mariners for centuries. But instead of scales and fins, her honey-tanned skin is barely concealed by a saturated white cotton wrap, as sheer as transparent silk in the clear summer water. Her delicate face, disguised with an antique diving mask, is the first to go under, followed by a perfectly round bottom and then her feet, pointing skyward like a Bolshoi ballerina’s en pointe.


I’m watching this scene, not as I should, from the shore off Japan’s Toba City, but on a hazy television screen. A scratchy, 40-year-old documentary is screening in the little museum dedicated to the ama (or amasan, sea women), its walls decorated with nawa (rope), oke (shallow wooden tubs) and tegane (metal tools) for detaching awabi (shellfish).

Toba is one of the few remaining locations around the Japanese coastline where the ama work regularly, fishing in the traditional freediving method for abalone, clams, crustaceans and seaweed.

The idyllic scene has transfixed me, much as the first Western sailors must have been hundreds of years ago when they first caught sight of these athletic, uninhibited women diving in and out of the sea as if they were born to it. Actually they were. The ama begin diving in their mid-teens and continue well into their 40s and 50s, often with their daughters by their side.

In 1954, when the young women were still entering this arduous yet honourable tradition, noted Japanese scholar and ethnographer Professor Kunio Yanagita documented 24 sites around Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu where the ama still practised their traditional skills. But rather than as a field study for academia, it was popular culture and modern mythology where the ama flourished.

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In Japan, an ‘I don’t’ ceremony – Divorce ceremony for couples who want a do-over

With married couples choosing to go their separate ways about every two minutes in Japan, divorce ceremonies celebrating the end of unhappy unions and demonstrating couples’ determination to start over are gaining popularity in Tokyo.

About 15 people in their 20s and 30s attended one such ceremony this year, some formally clothed and others bearing congratulatory money in envelopes bearing the word "goshugi" (end-of-marriage ceremony).

Held at a "divorce mansion" converted from a garage in Tokyo’s Asakusa area, the man and woman about to say "I don’t" arrived in separate rickshaws.

A 28-year-old woman representing the couple’s friends made a speech at the beginning of the ceremony. "Honestly speaking, I’ve had a difficult time knowing what to say," she said. "I’d still like to be friends with both of you even after the divorce."

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