An increasing number of women in Japan are wearing wedding dresses and posing for pictures — alone. The service, called “solo weddings,” appeared about five years ago.

At first, some people were skeptical about the service, saying, “It’s just too lonely” or “It’s just a passing fad”. But it now has taken various forms, with more women enjoying the practice.

Aim Tokyo Harajuku, a photo studio in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, launched a website dedicated to solo weddings two years ago.

In late November, Sayaka Takimoto, 30, a medical clerk from Tsukubamirai, Ibaraki Prefecture, and Nabiki Shintani, 30, a company employee from Itabashi Ward, Tokyo, visited the studio for a photo session preparatory meeting.

While telling each other things like, “This design is also great!” or “I want to wear them all,” the two smiled broadly as they picked up their dresses while repeatedly saying, “Cute!” to each other in a fitting room.

The two were classmates in junior high school. Takimoto, who divorced five years ago, asked Shintani to have solo bridal portraits taken together.

“I didn’t take a bridal photo [with my ex-husband] as we got married abruptly. I have no plans to remarry for a while, so I wanted to take a [bridal] photo for my 30th birthday,” Takimoto said. “But I didn’t have the courage to come here by myself.”

For her part, Shintani said, “I don’t care about marriage or dresses, but I like wearing a wedding dress as if it were a Halloween costume.”

New business opportunity

The shop receives inquiries about the service almost every day. So far, more than 300 women from their 20s to their 60s have used the service.

Some people use the solo wedding portrait service with their families. At Abe Shashinkan photo studio’s main outlet in Ishii, Tokushima Prefecture, Hisako Gotoda, a nurse and single mother from Yoshinogawa in the prefecture, donned a wedding dress and posed with her 13-year-old son for a photo.

Gotoda visits the photo studio every year with Harumi on his birthday, saying, “I want to keep a record of his growth.” After learning the studio takes solo bridal portraits, she chose a dress partially colored in pink.

The photo studio has branches in Osaka and other places. A woman in her 50s said that when she showed her picture to her mother in her 80s, mother told her, “I thought I wouldn’t ever see you in your wedding dress.”

“I thought I was rewarding myself, but as a result, I did something nice for my mother,” she said.

Quite a few take bridal photos with their pets, whom they consider as precious family members.

A travel agency in Kyoto became the talk of the town in 2014 because of its solo wedding package, with a photo shoot and a hotel stay included.

With the decrease in the number of marriages and more people who do get married without holding wedding ceremonies, bridal companies have begun to enter the market.

Forty-six per cent of men and women aged from 22 to 34 supported the idea, in a 2017 survey conducted by the women’s information website Mynavi Woman.

In addition, 20 per cent of women said they are interested in shooting a solo wedding portrait – suggesting a certain demand for this type of business.

Moving forward to marriage

Conventional belief has long warned that wearing a wedding dress before marriage will delay your marriage.

Deviating from the superstition, there has been an increase in the number of businesses that let people wear wedding dresses to promote marriage.

In July 2018, Linkbal Inc., a website operator in Tokyo that introduces events to help men and women meet, held a “wedding dress party for women” at a wedding hall in Tokyo. Six unmarried women in their 20s and 30s had the opportunity of having a bridal experience.

One of the women is a 28-year-old company employee from Chiba Prefecture. She said: “My marriage hunting wasn’t going well and I thought that I would never get married. My family praised me when they saw a picture of me wearing a wedding dress, saying that it looked good on me. Upon hearing this, I adopted a positive attitude.”

She got married in spring 2019 with a man she met after the event.

Megumi Ushikubo, a marketing writer familiar with women’s relationships and consumer behavior, said, “With the spread of solo wedding activities, the notion that women can’t wear a wedding dress if they don’t have a partner has been broken.”

In recent years, there has been an increasing clamor among women who wish to wear wedding dresses at gatherings, thinking, “If I do this with someone, I think I can do it without hesitation.”

Ushikubo thinks the reasonable prices also attract women, as it only costs a few tens of thousands of yen. “Women can praise each other about things men usually don’t notice, which is probably the reason why their satisfaction increases,” she said.

The Japan News / ANN