4 Japanese Inventions That Will Revolutionize Marriage
Japan has a problem. Recently, a large portion of the country's population decided that marriage is some sort of scam meant to trick you out of your hard-earned money, and that they want absolutely nothing to do with it. Luckily, Japan apparently saw this coming, because for the last couple of years they've actually been working to update marriage for the modern age, looking for that idea that would make people want to go out there and just marry the crap out of someone.
There was only one problem with that plan: Their ideas turned out to be really, really weird. Now, you might be wondering where the hell I get off criticizing the customs of other countries, so let me explain: I'm not an expert on Japanese marriage or anything like that, but I did manage to pretend to be a responsible adult long enough to convince one poor Japanese woman to marry me, and I distinctively remember that, at the time, it didn't include stuff like ...
Hiring Detectives to Vet Your Future Spouse
First, we have to talk a bit about arranged marriages. In the West, the words "arranged marriage" tend to conjure horrific images of parents swapping their kids with strangers for political or business gains like a bunch of terrified and crying baseball cards. But in Japan, "arranged marriage" is actually just a bad translation of the age-old custom of omiai, which today has become little more than a live-action eHarmony service. The modern omiai consists of a person engaging the services of a matchmaker who brings you binders full of women ...
... or men, and lets you choose whomever you want, after which the two of you will be introduced and discuss the possibility of marriage. The really great thing about this service is that it often comes with the option of a background check. The process usually involves the matchmaker hiring private investigators to check out someone's family history (which can reach many generations back), their education, and their employment record, followed by talks with their neighbors to find out what kind of person they really are.
"So, I hear that you're 'an asshole who plays his asshole music at 1 a.m.' Fascinating. Tell me more."
This used to be reserved primarily for wealthy people who actually had something to lose besides a collection of anime posters if their spouse-to-be turned out to be some kind of monster that pours the milk into the bowl before the cereal. But now, private investigations have become a pretty standard service for matchmakers, who won't dare to recommend you to another person until a private dick first establishes that your privates don't sport an erotic Hello Kitty/Pokemon tattoo.
Recently, though, the detective agencies decided to cut out the middleman and started telling people to buy girlfriend/boyfriend reports directly from them. At this very moment, there are posters for two detective agencies around my neighborhood, both of which specifically mention that they'll gladly spy on your future husband or wife. The most common "horror story" that's used to justify this is the (probably completely made-up) tale of a 30-year-old office worker whose fiancee lied about being a doctor. I always laugh at how this story is retold on TV or the agencies' websites, because they tend to make the fake-doctor guy sound like a time-traveling Hitler trying to trick Japanese women into marrying him for some clearly nefarious reasons.
And obviously succeeding, with a face like that.
I must mention, though, that the overwhelming number of Japanese couples definitely don't engage the services of detective agencies, but that may change soon. Their prices have been dropping rapidly (last year, the average was $80 per hour; in June, I managed to find a place that would do it for $40). So don't be surprised if one day you come across a story on the Internet about a Japanese groom whose wedding vows specifically mention never getting drunk and urinating in a mailbox like an irresponsible jackass ever again.
The problem with marriage is that it technically requires the presence and cooperation of another human being, and where are you supposed to find those? The outside world? Where bears and spiders live?
"Yeah, why don't you tell me more about this whole dying alone thing."
Well, Japan has a solution for those of us who prefer to find a spouse from the comfort of our own home, with their patented konkatsu (marriage-hunting) share houses.
The basic principle behind share houses is simplicity itself. They are meant as apartment complexes usually rented out to single men and women looking for a relationship so that they can find each other more easily. The buildings are often designed with plenty of common areas to facilitate mingling between the residents, effectively turning any share house into a giant Fortress of Seduction where winks and meaningful looks have long replaced "good morning" as the standard greeting. Basically, imagine a multistory structure with the atmosphere of a winding-down frat party where young, horny people are just hanging around, looking for someone, anyone, to get totally clingy with for the next couple of decades.
Only without the used condoms and empties littering the halls so, yeah,
nothing like a real frat party now that I think about it.
One of the most famous konkatsu share houses in Japan is the Comfort Kamata, where, according to the TV reports, the building's 260 residents constantly troll the shared areas as if they were supermarket aisles stocked with potential fathers/mothers of their children. How does that work out for them? Well, some sources say men have a 20 percent higher chance of finding a wife in a share house than anywhere else, but I don't know how accurate that number is, seeing as men usually outnumber women 3 to 1 in such places. Also, I really doubt that the women being able to escape has been the one thing stopping these men from finding true love this entire time.
There's also the issue that not everyone living in the (relatively cheap) share houses actually is looking for a relationship, because it's not like they only rent to people who can prove their single status by disclosing their Internet-browsing history. On the other hand, you can always look at the konkatsu buildings as landlocked cruise ships that might get you laid/married, and which definitely won't sink or give you diarrhea powerful enough to make you airborne. Or in other words: kind of a great idea.
Giant Meat Dumplings Instead of Cake
Big, fancy cakes have always been an essential part of any proper wedding reception. The tradition, of course, goes back to Ancient Rome, where the bride and groom were each given a knife to cut a celebratory pastry, and if they didn't try to violently stab each other after realizing what a huge mistake they had made, it would supposedly guarantee their happy union.
The custom sadly died after we started limiting couples to just one knife.
But if you happen to be in Yokohama, where I live, you can always choose to eschew cake in favor of a huge meat dumpling stuffed with dozens of regular-sized meat dumplings, because Japan is really adamant about stopping vegetarians from marrying and breeding.
Actually, let me rephrase that: You will absolutely find cake and other pastries at any Japanese wedding, but for the last couple of years, the Jumbo Shuumai (a Japanese spin on a traditional Chinese dumpling) has been slowly replacing cake as the main event of many receptions in Japan's second-largest city.
Regular-sized shuumai have always been popular in Yokohama due to the popularity of Chinese culture in the city. But then, one day, a shuumai producer called Kiyoken lost the dictionary page with the definition of the word "excess," causing them to come up with the Jumbo Shuumai and market it as the new must-have wedding menu item. And the people went completely crazy for it. Kiyoken is now reportedly producing 100 of these bad boys a year despite there being nothing inherently "wedding-like" about a giant dumpling made entirely from spam and stuffed with 30-50 of its own babies.
I mean, yeah, sure, it could represent the bride and groom having loads of children, but wishing four dozen of them on the couple seems a tad extreme, unless the country is experiencing some devastating clown shortage that I'm not aware of.
Elaborate Divorce Ceremonies
As many of us had to eventually learn, there rarely is such a thing as "happily ever after" in real life. People fall in love, get married, and then some of them end up divorced and miserable, so why even bother with the whole matrimony thing in the first place? Well, according to Japan, you do it because even if things don't work out, you'll at least get to do a super fun "divorce ceremony."
Also, there'll be frogs because frogs make everything better!
First, it's important to note that a divorce ceremony is nothing like a divorce party. Celebrating your newfound freedom with copious amounts of alcohol and stranger genitalia (strangenitalia) is a proud, ancient tradition found in every corner of the globe. In contrast, a divorce ceremony (rikonshiki) is a formal event that requires the attendance of both parties, who must also have all of their clothes on, making it pretty much the exact opposite of a divorce party.
Your typical rikonshiki opens with the facilitator addressing the crowd and explaining the couple's decision to get divorced, though hopefully leaving out the most embarrassing bits, like the time the wife called her husband by his grandfather's name during sex. This is followed by what can only be described as "divorce vows" from the couple.
"I promise to call you drunk off my ass every year on our anniversary."
"And I promise to tell all my friends that your penis is hilariously tiny."
Next, someone gives a toast, the couple breaks a symbolic wedding ring with a cartoonish frog hammer, and everyone gets to eat. The ceremony in and of itself isn't legally binding (see: frog hammer), but it has been touted as a great way for two people to separate on good terms, and all for just $600. That's the starting price, anyway. If you want your split-up to be the envy of all of your married friends, then you will have to shell out about $2,000 for the premium package to celebrate never again having to handle your husband's package.
The origins of the ceremony can be traced back to 1963, but its current, festive incarnation is mainly the brainchild of one person: famous divorce planner Hiroki Terai. Yes, Japan has divorce planners, sort of like in that Amy Schumer sketch. Terai has reportedly organized over 70 divorce ceremonies already -- they're growing in popularity every year -- and also helped codify the proceedings a bit, like deciding on bush daisies as the traditional divorce flowers, or dressing the bride-to-not-be in a matching yellow dress.
Which I think symbolizes all the money that the couple is pissing away on this.
But Terai is not done yet. He already offers "reconfirmation" ceremonies, where divorced couples can pay to confirm their continued undying hate for each other, followed by some cake (or meat dumplings). And Terai is even considering holding his ceremonies at Disneyland in the future, if everything goes right, which I know will be great news for at least two Disney princes.
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist and editor. Contact him at email@example.com.