The art of getting yes: Wedding proposals have become big business in Japan

Tokyo — It seemed like an ordinary match; Dinner in a luxury restaurant followed by a romantic walk around the restaurant. But suddenly a smiling member of staff appeared out of nowhere, ushering the couple through a fairytale-like door to the steps of an English-style chapel.

As his companion stood awkwardly, the man sprung into action, getting down on one knee and brandishing an engagement ring box. The surprised young woman barely had time to mumble her agreement before his parents appeared to congratulate him, and then, from a large monitor, her family joined the party via video link, shouting greetings from their home in Taiwan.

A man, a client of Tokyo-based wedding, event and proposal consulting firm Anniversaire, proposes to his girlfriend on the steps leading to the company’s Western-style “chapel” in the Japanese capital.

Anniversaire promotional video

Another mission accomplished for Anniversaire, the Tokyo-based wedding and events company that in recent years has jumped into the thriving business of marriage proposal consulting, a field that originated overseas but is starting to gain traction here. In Japan, this generally involves guiding men in their late 20s and early 30s through the finer points of getting to “yes.”

Anniversaire began receiving inquiries from anxious potential grooms starting in 2014. The trend was fueled by the rise of social media, said Fumika Nishimura, a “proposal planner” who also organizes weddings for the company in Tokyo.

“When guys go online to research ‘where to propose,’ they find tons of posts from women showing off their engagements in (fancy) locations,” she told CBS News.

In the age of Instagram, simply expressing your commitment in the privacy of your own home just isn’t enough.

“We get a lot of women asking for redo work,” Nishimura said. One couple — who had already scheduled their wedding — shelled out extra fees to schedule a luxurious reenactment of their engagement at the company’s lavish wedding hall.

“When women get proposed to, they want to tell their friends,” she said, adding that a plain old selfie taken in someone’s living room is a definite no-no. Young men also seem fixated on the idea that when it comes to getting engaged, the important thing is location, location, location – preferably with a dramatic night sky.

A man prepares to propose to his girlfriend on the steps of a Western-style “chapel” that is part of the wedding and engagement facilities offered by consulting firm Anniversaire in Tokyo, Japan.

Anniversaire promotional video

Maybe money can’t buy love, but it sure helps when it comes to securing the services of a proposal planner. The barebones price of around $200 allows for just an hour with a quote consultant, plus a 30-minute location rental fee. At the company’s modern Tokyo location, the chosen romantic backdrop is the chapel, a recently renovated “church” with 140-year-old stained glass windows and royal blue carpets. (Christian-style weddings, often officiated by foreign actors playing the role of priests and held in buildings resembling Western places of worship, make up the majority of such ceremonies in Japan, which is a non-Christian country.)

Nishimura helps nervous suitors put together their offers. Unless it’s short and sweet, like “Marry me!” she advises reading from carefully compiled notes. Some men also worry about which leg to kneel on (any works, but the best camera angle is on the man’s “open” side.) With one particularly tongue-in-cheek customer, Nishimura ended up writing the entire proposal herself.

But the client didn’t need to sweat. More than 2,000 offers later, Nishimura said not a single suitor has been turned down. “If the client puts down cash for the proposal, the couple is more or less already on the same page about settling down,” she believes.

Most clients are willing to shell out for extras, like renting formal wear or transporting the bride-to-be in a stretch limousine, bringing the average price to nearly $1,000 in 2022. That fee does not include the purchase of an engagement ring, nor does the modern custom of giving the betrothed a huge bouquet of 108 roses, a number that also means “forever” in Japanese. In this case, the flowering perennial weighs more than ten pounds and costs close to $400.

A young man presents his girlfriend with a bouquet of 108 roses just before proposing to her, inside the “chapel” of wedding and engagement consultancy Anniversaire, in Tokyo, Japan.

Anniversaire promotional video

Clients can opt to capture the moment on film in a cinematic style. The company’s online examples — from real customers — aren’t exactly “Notting Hill,” but they seem perfectly calibrated to trigger tear glands.

The rise of proposal consulting offers a glimmer of hope for Japan’s struggling wedding industry, which includes hotels, restaurants, wedding halls and luxury “guest houses” like Anniversaire.

During the 1980s, when celebrity weddings received wall-to-wall media coverage, the Japanese often indulged in flashy spectacles – couples descending in gondolas accompanied by clouds of dry ice, loud music and light displays. But a 2021 report on the restructuring of the domestic wedding industry by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry found that the number of couples getting married was already in decline by 2013, falling by more than 12% in 2020 to just over half a million.

Those getting married are largely rejecting the circus weddings of the 1980s, the report said. Average wedding spending has dropped to around $20,000 in 2021.

With fewer and fewer local buyers, wedding companies are starting to look to foreign tourists to help make up the difference. Destination suggestion, anyone?

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