Renewing wedding vows a growing trend in Japan

by Sawako Obara

Kyodo

Renewing wedding vows, a practice common in Europe and the United States for decades, has been slowly taking root in Japan over the past two to three years.

Amid prolonged economic stagnation and in the aftermath of the March 2011 triple disaster, many Japanese have come to hold their family relationships more dearly. Some see such ceremonies as a means to express their appreciation and gratitude to their spouse as well as other family members.

Masataka Okubo held a vow renewal ceremony with his wife, Hiroko, in April at their favorite traditional Japanese restaurant. After two decades of marriage, the two renewed their vows in front of a pastor to “continue to get along and move hand-in-hand from now on.”

As their marriage is Hiroko’s second, the couple had refrained from holding any extravagant celebrations the first time around. But when Okubo, 57, heard his wife’s wish to “put on a wedding dress for once in a lifetime,” they decided on a reaffirmation ceremony, picking the venue, wardrobe and other details together.

The event cost over ¥300,000, but Okubo, a company owner from Yokohama, said it was “well worth the money.”

Having no children, the couple have faced various challenges together over the past few years, including taking care of Okubo’s ailing mother, who died in 2013. Okubo himself fell ill and had to be hospitalized for a spell.

“She looked so beautiful,” Okubo said, referring to his wife at the ceremony. “With this as another starting point, I feel empowered to keep going and carry on.”

Similarly, Hiroko, 59, said: “It prompted me to realize once again that I must take good care of my husband’s health and treasure it.”

Tomohiro Koizumi, 40, who runs a restaurant in Tokyo, held a vow renewal ceremony in April to convey his thanks to his wife and their two daughters. All four of them got dressed up for the ceremony, which was attended by intimate family and friends. They looked at old family photos and Koizumi read out a letter to express his gratitude.

Recalling how he has been in charge of managing the restaurant for the 10 years since they got married, Koizumi began his letter by thanking his wife, Yuko, 44.

“Thank you for always brightening up our family with your natural cheerfulness,” he said.

“A dozen years ago, I had nothing; you all gave me new life,” he said to his wife and daughters.

Yuko was pleasantly surprised. “I was moved as he is the kind of person who doesn’t say much usually,” she said, adding that there were tears in her daughters’ eyes too.

“I just can’t seem to say it out loud usually,” Okubo said of his words of appreciation for his family. “This was a good opportunity to do so.”

Marketing writer Megumi Ushikubo said the “second wedding” phenomenon has to do with the fact that “in the face of the stress and severe environment in society amid the stagnant economy, many people feel that their family members are the only ones who still believe in them.”

According to Vow Renewal Japan, a Tokyo-based company launched in 2013 that helps plan such ceremonies, there are also cases in which children arrange the occasion as a present for their parents to take place at the same time as their own wedding.

“If you put it off and wait for life’s important events like the (50th anniversary) golden wedding, you may end up regretting having lost the opportunity if something happens before that, such as if a parent gets sick,” said Asako Kihara, the company’s representative director.