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Wedding bells toll in post-quake Japan

By Steven Jiang, CNN
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Post-quake wedding boom
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Marriage industry is rare bright spot in Japan
  • 30% more people call matchmaker after disasters
  • Importance of family highlighted, woman says

Tokyo (CNN) -- In her cramped downtown office where wedding dress displays fight for space with file cabinets, Miyuki Uekusa has been busy answering the phone for the past month.

"Before the quake, many of our members were just thinking about marriage vaguely," said the professional matchmaker, whose agency Marry Me has sent 30 couples to the altar since it launched two years ago.

"After experiencing the tremors and repeatedly seeing the tragic images on TV, they felt the fear of being alone and wanted to find a partner in life."

As existing members turn more serious about going on dates, Uekusa says phone inquiries about joining her club have gone up 30% since the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck northeastern Japan on March 11, killing more than 14,000 people.

On this Wednesday afternoon, a 49-year-old makeup artist -- who wants to be known simply as Yoko -- showed up at the Marry Me office to sign up as a new member.

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Despite the hefty price tag of a $1,200 sign-up fee and a $120 monthly charge, Yoko says the natural disasters and the subsequent nuclear crisis have jolted her into adjusting priorities in life.

"I need to act now, before another massive disaster strikes," she said.

Experts are not surprised by the seemingly sudden change of heart on marriage, especially among women.

"In Japan, women take the initiative to get married -- and the trend for them had been to focus on their career and enjoy single life," explained Ritsuko Matsui, a prominent psychiatrist who counseled survivors of Japan's last devastating quake around Kobe in 1995, which left more than 6,000 people dead.

"Seeing heartwarming scenes of couples and families staying together in the face of recent tragedies has made many single women realize the importance of relationships."

This new appreciation has turned the wedding industry into an unlikely bright spot in the gloomy Japanese economy, as other sectors ranging from manufacturing to tourism struggle to recover.

Jewelers -- big and small -- have reported strong sales of engagement and wedding rings, in sharp contrast to slumping demand for other luxury items.

Koji Fujimoto owns Concept Jewelry Works, a Tokyo boutique that specializes in custom jewelry. He has seen a 20% jump in ring buyers since the disasters.

"After the quake, couples want to create something that commemorates their relationship and that they can hold forever," he said.

At the Aldobrandini bridal shop a few blocks away, Maki Maruta echoes such sentiment. Trying on her Italian-made silk wedding gown for the first time, the bride says she will walk down the aisle on May 28 with a new sense of purpose.

"The disasters reminded me the importance of family," Maruta said. "It's so important to have someone who is precious to you."

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