National

Japan wedding planners find growth in shrinking wedding parties

by Shinichi Tokuda

Kyodo

The bridal industry in Japan is shrinking, the result of demographics and changing lifestyles.

There are fewer young people now because of Japan’s declining birthrate over recent decades — and a growing proportion of that dwindling population is choosing to remain single.

And wedding styles are also changing: more and more couples are opting to hold smaller, more intimate receptions, rather than inviting lots of people to more flamboyant affairs, industry people say.

In response, the bridal industry is now offering more options for small parties to attract customers.

Yusuke Fukuda, 36, and his wife, Yukari, 26, held a wedding reception last November to which they invited only 27 people — just family and close friends.

“There were no speeches or side show, but everyone enjoyed it,” said Yukari. “If we had invited our bosses and colleagues, we would have had to fuss about a lot of stuff.”

Though the party was small, “we could pay a lot of attention to details such as decorating the venue with flowers. It looked a lot more gorgeous than you’d expect, given our budget,” she said.

Their reception was held at James-Tei, a wedding hall in Kobe on a hill facing the Akashi Strait. Initially a residence built by a British trading merchant, it has been converted into a wedding hall.

Last August, Tokyo-based Novarese Inc., which runs James-Tei, began offering reception plans for groups as small as five people at its wedding halls across Japan.

Previously, party plans for groups of less than 50 people were relatively expensive as they required nonstandard arrangements. Now to meet the latest trend in the wedding market, the company has made smaller receptions a standard offering at lower fees.

Makiko Suwa, division manager at Novarese, said, “Marrying couples who had already attended their friends’ receptions often place importance on beautiful scenery and good food rather than ordinary fare.”

The company has seen double-digit growth in sales of small-party plans since August. Demand has been so strong that in April Novarese opened a reception hall in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, exclusively for smaller parties of up to 40 guests.

Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, which has offered plans for groups as small as six for the past 20 years, has also seen growing demand for smaller receptions.

It says the annual number of wedding receptions it handles has remained relatively steady the past several years, but the number of small parties has been increasing at a 10 to 15 percent annual rate.

Wedding manager Kazuhiro Kawashima said couples with very demanding jobs are too busy to spend a lot of time planning big receptions. For such couples, the hotel offers such options as more elaborate menu selections, instead of hosting a large group of guests.

People’s preference for smaller, but finely planned, parties has also brought a change in the wedding gift market.

Newly married couples often give presents to guests at their receptions to thank them for coming to their cerebration.

Traditionally, a popular item has been a gift catalog from which guests could choose and order the product they liked best. But products in those catalogs tend to be one-size-fits-all and common, critics say.

To avoid that criticism, Ring Bell, a Tokyo-based gift company, compiles catalogs with products suitable for different age groups in collaboration with magazines and fashion brands.

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