More Japanese couples are getting married at overseas holiday resorts in destinations that include Hawaii, Guam and Australia, accompanied just by family and a few friends.

Some reckon that the main reason for this exodus is that couples are not satisfied with standardized ceremonies held at wedding halls and hotels in Japan, and wish to avoid prickly tasks such as asking elderly family members to make speeches and deciding the seating order for guests.

Watabe Wedding Corp., a major wedding service company based in Kyoto, revealed that about 58,000 Japanese couples held wedding ceremonies overseas last year.

This accounts for 7.35 percent of the 788,000 couples who married in Japan in that year and constitutes a five-fold increase on the roughly 12,000 who took their vows abroad in 1990.

Watabe, which enjoys a domestic market share in the wedding ceremony business of nearly 60 percent, tied up with a travel agency in 1973 to market weddings in Hawaii.

At that time, baby boomers were reaching the marriageable age and the domestic wedding service industry was enjoying a boom.

“Wedding ceremonies at hotels and wedding halls were becoming more luxurious year after year, but some clients were dissatisfied by conveyer belt-like ceremonies,” said Takao Watabe, president of Watabe Wedding.

“I happened to have a chance to visit Hawaii and hit upon the idea about holding wedding ceremonies amid that scenery.”

During the first year of the new service, around 1,000 couples married in Hawaii, with news of the novelty option spreading quickly through the grapevine. The number of couples taking their vows abroad began to increase sharply in the early 1990s.

“The consciousness among couples has spread that wedding ceremonies are not a chance to invite as many people as possible for drinking and eating, but are their own,” Watabe said.

“Parents used to say such ingratitude cannot be permitted, but recently, they feel like making overseas trips by taking advantage of their children’s wedding ceremonies.”

Around 60 percent of Japanese couples who marry abroad do so in Hawaii.

Watabe Wedding operates three chapels in Hawaii and two in Australia that accommodate Japanese tastes. The ceremony costs, including costume rental fees, runs between 500,000 yen and 600,000 yen, compared with the several million yen price tag of nuptials in Japan.

Major travel agency JTB Corp. said it handled overseas wedding ceremonies for about 16,000 couples last year, a 2.5-fold increase over 1994.

“The number of people wishing to hold wedding ceremonies overseas suiting their own tastes is increasing,” a JTB public relations official said.

Kinki Nippon Tourist Co. also markets wedding ceremony plans at bargain prices.

An official of the firm said, “Overseas wedding ceremonies with small groups of eight to 10 people are valuable for us amid sharp decreases in group tours.”

c Couples getting married in Japan are expected to number 810,000 in 2002, when the post-baby-boom generation reaches marriageable age.

But the number will likely plunge to 650,000 by 2010.

“In 2010, one-third of couples will be getting married overseas,” Watabe figured.

Domestic hotels are, however, trying to fight back by offering their own original wedding ceremonies.

Hotel New Otani, for example, in central Tokyo currently markets a wedding ceremony held in a rose garden designed by a gardener patronized by the British royal family.

Four Seasons Hotel in western Tokyo meanwhile offers a tailor-made wedding in which dishes, dresses and presents given to guests are selected individually.

Yumi Katsura, a wedding ceremony designer, said, “Couples are fleeing overseas because domestic hotels and wedding halls are selling only a one-pattern commodity despite the fact that marriage ages and the method of marriages are diversifying.

“Only those that can comply with varied needs can survive.”

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