TOKYO 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 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 anniversary,” Takimoto said. “But I didn’t have the nerve 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.”

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.

“An increasing number of people visit our place in groups, as if they are having a women’s party. It seems to attract people, as they can share the fun,” said the shop’s Haruka Ohashi.

It’s a family thing

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. Her son, Harumi, who wore a suit, is in his first year of junior high school.

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.

She has kept her wedding photos with her ex-husband, but she never looks back, she said. Her son seems nervous about the unusual staging. “I think this is my family’s present form. I felt younger. I also want to thank my son, who reluctantly came with me for a photo,” she said enthusiastically.

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.

In the company of pet pooches

There are also quite a few people who take bridal photos with their pets, as they are 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 not holding wedding ceremonies, bridal companies have begun to enter the market, seeing the service as a new business opportunity.

What does the public think about this kind of service? Forty-six percent of men and women aged from 22 to 34 supported it in a 2017 survey conducted by the women’s information website Mynavi Woman. The rate fell short of 50 per cent, but the survey showed that the public did not express the negativity that had been expected.

In addition, 20 per cent of women said they are interested in shooting a solo wedding portrait, which suggested that there is a certain demand for this type of business.

Superstitions and wedding dresses

Conventional belief has long warned that wearing a wedding dress before marriage will delay your marriage. Contrary to this belief, there has been an increase in the number of businesses that let people wear a wedding dress to raise people’s awareness about 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 who had applied to attend had 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.

Since June 2018, Juvi Wedding Daikanyama, a dress shop in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, has been regularly holding a paid project called “princess time,” allowing customers to wear their favourite dress and take photos freely with their smartphone.

Starting in December 2019, the shop started preparing dresses for children to have them take up the idea of becoming a princess from a young age.

For women, whether they marry or not, a wedding dress may be a magic costume that makes them feel special.

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 a growing tendency for women who learned about the activities through social media of wanting to do it themselves, she said. They become excited about the idea of wearing a wedding dress at a women’s gathering or other venue, thinking, “If I do this with someone, I think I can do it without hesitation.”

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