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Japan Couples Get Married Cheap

October 20, 1998

TOKYO (AP) _ Growing up, Emi Shinozaki dreamed of a wedding with the works. There would be vows before a Shinto altar, a dramatic lightshow as she entered the reception, two or three different gowns and kimonos for her to model.

Then the economy intervened.

Japanese wedding ceremonies have long been among the most lavish and expensive to be found anywhere in the world _ averaging tens of thousands of dollars.

But as a measure of just how deeply Japan is feeling the pinch of nearly a decade in the economic dumps, this bastion of conspicuous spending is taking a major hit.

Industry analysts say young couples and parents who usually foot part of the bill are now opting for simpler nuptials. Originality is replacing gaudiness as the wedding buzzword, and some venerable but expensive traditions are falling by the wayside.

Shinozaki and her husband, for instance, chose to skip the cash gift from his family to hers, didn’t hire a traditional go-between and left off a ceremony at a Shinto shrine.

Instead, the held the wedding at a less expensive non-denominational site and put on the reception at a hotel.

``Couples are spending less and bringing more ideas of their own into their wedding,″ said Rika Hoshina, spokeswoman for Staff Promotion Co. Ltd., a bridal consulting company in Tokyo.

Hoshina said the average spent on weddings has declined the past five years. ``Because of the bad economy people prefer to save their money for future,″ she said.

Weddings still aren’t cheap, though.

According to a survey by the bridal magazine Zeksi, the average newlyweds in the Tokyo area spent nearly 11 percent less to tie the knot in 1997 than they did the year before. But the tab for the average 1997 wedding ran 5.9 million yen, or about $44,400.

Included in this figure are engagement gifts, the wedding ceremony itself, the honeymoon and furnishings for a new home.

During the go-go 1980s, when Japan’s economy was awash in easy credit, the already gaudy bent of weddings reached new highs.

It was almost de rigeur for couples to be brought into a banquet hall filled with fog from dry ice machines and for the bride to change gowns several times before the reception was over.

But the tighter economy is changing that.

According to the Zeksi survey, nearly one in every 10 couples had their weddings overseas last year as a way of cutting costs by combining ceremony with honeymoon.

The honeymoon itself is also becoming less of a given. Couples forgoing it last year represented 15 percent of all surveyed by Zeksi, twice as many as in 1996.

Bridal watchers say the plethora of magazines like Zeksi helps couples become more cost-conscious by giving them information on their options.

One beneficiary has been restaurants, where more and more receptions are being held rather than in more expensive hotels.

Hideyuki Yoda, manager of Ramages, a French restaurant in Tokyo, puts on about 150 weddings a year. He sees such weddings becoming more acceptable and shedding their former social stigma as cheap.

Yoda said a typical wedding at his restaurant costs less than $15,000 for 80 guests, while hotels average $22,600 to $30,000.

But amid all the cost-consciousness, Nagoya, a city in central Japan famous for its expensive weddings, is a glaring holdout.

Nagoya couples still spend an average of 7 million yen ($52,600) on their weddings.

Trucks specially built with big windows or open sides to show off furniture _ a required gift from bride to groom _ ply the streets.

Neighbors are invited to inspect the furniture and wedding gown, and four to five gifts are given to each guest attending the wedding itself, though one is the norm in the rest of Japan.

``People in Nagoya care what other people, especially relatives, say about them. People here tend to show off,″ said Misaki Fukumochi, who heads Birth Co., a Nagoya-based bridal consultant.

``But it’s true that if you’ve got three daughters, the household will go bankrupt marrying them off,″ she said.