Divorce, sadly, is very much a fact of modern day life, at least for a high percentage of those who tie the know in the first place. Frightening statistics on the likelihood of the one you commit to 'until death do you part' actually lasting that long often put divorce statistics at in the region of a massive 50%, or in some places, higher. It isn’t even that unusual to have gone through several husbands and wives these days. Japan's response, in typically forward-thinking style, is to embrace the problem.
Divorce parties are a growing trend in Japan, and have a lot in common with the wedding ceremony itself: not so much a moment of mourning, as it often is in western culture, but a moment for the couple to celebrate a time to move on. The entire family are invited to a buffet and dance; the couple of collaborate in a civil way in undertaking the proceedings, and the ceremonies often end with the symbolic smashing of the wedding rings with a large hammer, all in a similarly luxurious and pricey venue to the original ceremony itself. The practise is a fairly new one, but it's really taken off since the recent tsunami disaster, with a lot of couples taking the event as a marker, and aiming for a new start.
Though there are plenty of standard wedding practises, from inviting the family to celebrate 'the end of love' (sounds a little morbid to us), to a full on wedding buffet, the divorce ceremony is taking on its own unique culture, too. The woman's dress, for example, has a special niche aim, with designers telling Time Magazine that they aim for a dress that "looks particularly alluring when the woman walks away". That seems a touch intentionally cruel, but it's an amusing image nonetheless. There aren't the same venue options for location of a divorce, of course, and many choose either non-religious venue buildings or restaurants. The divorce party certainly hasn’t become a cultural requirement; most divorces in Japan still have more in common with the western style, but when couples are still on reasonable terms, the argument seems to be that the ceremony offers closure.
Traditionally, there are a few unlucky days every month in Japanese culture, some of which coincide with significant dates in the death of Buddha, and while those would be seen as terrible days to schedule a wedding ceremony, they're common for the divorce equivalent. The festival of Obon, a celebration of the souls of the dead, is a particularly common choice. The ceremony itself often features a pictorial slide show of the couple’s life, and on some occasions wedding planners have found that the slide show has even lead to an instant reconciliation, and the wedding band never being smashed. While the ceremony - especially a celebratory one - seems extremely odd to the outsider, therapists might agree that the 'closure' aspect of the idea has a certain amount of logic behind it. Could we be mature enough to deal with it? Personally, I suspect not.
Phot by JCoterhals (no actual finger amputation involved in Japanese divorce ceremonies!).