Dueling PR: Are consumers spending more or less on weddings during the recession?

Are Japanese couples spending more or less on their weddings during the current recession? For the answer the J-media have unsurprisingly turned to their corporate overlords, but this time it looks like they have been given mixed signals:

  • Back in April, some of you might have seen news suggesting Japanese couples are going for more “bare bones” wedding arrangements. Specifically, the story profiles Nagano-based The Y’s (it’s a pun) is offering “photo-only” and other no-frills wedding packages for bargain prices starting at 50,000 yen. The story notes that the first such service originated in Kyoto in 1997 and now about a dozen companies nationwide administer more than 4,500 weddings (0.62% of the 723,113 weddings that took place in 2008).
  • More recently, Recruit-affiliated wedding information site Zexy has released its Marriage Trend Survey 2008 (PDF). The headline figure? While the total amount spent on weddings dropped slightly from 2007, the cost of each individual wedding has gone up. The biggest reason survey participants noted as to why they held a ceremony and afterparty was to express thanks to the people in their lives.

So does that mean the recession pushes people to spend more or less (or the same) on their weddings? J-Cast seems to think data like this reflect Japan’s growing economic disparity. The key to explaining this disparity, they argue, lies in whether a couple’s parents helped pay for the wedding. Recruit’s data shows that 78% of couples did have parental support, so perhaps the other 22% had no choice but to settle for less.

I have no data to back me up (not the first time), but I suspect that weddings can be somewhat recession-resilient. Though weddings can be expensive, if you invite enough people they will bring more than enough ご祝儀 (cash gifts) to make up for the cost. Some couples even profit from the exchange (though that means they will have to attend many of the guests’ own weddings later on).

Obviously, that could still mean the poorer sections of society have to settle for less, for a lot of reasons. Without parental support, a young couple is unlikely to have the cash that’s needed up front to make deposits or pay bills ahead of time. Also, poorer couples have poorer friends, limiting the amount of financial support they can ask for. And at any rate there is a recent trend of a rising number of shotgun marriages (estimates range from 26.8%-40% of new marriages), which can make it socially difficult to hold a big celebration due to the shame involved.

7 thoughts on “Dueling PR: Are consumers spending more or less on weddings during the recession?”

  1. When did the Japanese recession become a “sky is falling” recession? My read would be around October last year when the press started going ape. Dekichatta aside, I’m thinking that many of the weddings that have taken place between October and now would have been booked/paid for before people really started feeling the recession burn / losing bonuses, etc.

    Aside from that, weddings might actually be recession proof as people who are most hard hit by them just end up putting off the wedding unless there is a bun in the oven.

    I think that we’re only really going to see how bad 2009 is in March or April next year. Cast in point – video games. People were lamenting the collapse of the industry, but it looks like July went gangbusters with 3,000,000 Dragon Quests sold. Were a few crappy months due to the recession, or was there just nothing coming out? Personally, I’m anxious to see the last word on Eco Points.

  2. Ramit Sethi did a nice blog post on the psychology of financing weddings, and I am thankful not to be getting married in the US, where the average wedding costs $28,000 and the guests only bring useless appliances.

    I agree with M-Bone. I think there are also many couples who are just having a “paper wedding” at city hall without bothering to have a ceremony at all — some would rather do nothing than have what would be perceived as an inferior low-budget wedding party. Shame runs strong in this country.

  3. I think that it is also really important to look into how they are doing the averages – if you have one wedding that costs 100,000,000 yen and 20 that cost 700,000 yen and 15 that cost 80,000 (like just a nomi-kai for friends – “young” izakaya have been advertising wedding kai here in this inaka) “the Japanese” end up looking silly rich but a real breakdown cast a spotlight on Marxy’s yankis – probably what we need if continuing to talk about freeters and whatnot after this recession is still going to have any meaning.

  4. Opps, meant to tack on a few more zeroes. This is what happens when you write it out instead of using 万.

  5. “I think there are also many couples who are just having a “paper wedding” at city hall without bothering to have a ceremony at all”

    Yup – that was me. Terribly romantic, and free. I tend to forget the date as well. But then both of us agreed we’d prefer to use the money for ourselves.

  6. I enjoy a good party, but I hate throwing them more than anything. Lord knows what will happen for a ceremony if I ever get married.

  7. “Shame runs strong in this country.”

    I’m wondering how much of that shame is going to burn out with this generation. I think that it is safe to assume that the size of a wedding in Japan often revolves around the types of friends / contacts that the fathers have. If people in Japan are going to be less rich than their parents (and I think that is pretty much a given at this point) then everything from the 1000man wedding to the 3man fruit basket for a doctor is going to be re-thought – obligatory stuff that doesn’t tend to make people on either end of the exchange happy (my wife used to work in a hospital – doctors have more $150 melons than they know what to do with) is going to go – and department stores and hotels operating with a 70s philosophy are going down with them.

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