The bride wore a birthday cake of a dress, with a scalloped-edge bodice and a large hoop skirt. A veil sprouted from her black bob. Moments before the wedding began, she stood quietly on a staircase, waiting to descend to the ceremony.
“Wow,” she thought. “I’m really doing this.”
This was no conventional wedding to join two people in matrimony. Instead, a group of nearly 30 friends gathered in a banquet room in one of Tokyo’s most fashionable districts last year to witness Sanae Hanaoka, 31, as she performed a public declaration of her love — for her single self.
“I wanted to figure out how to live on my own,” Ms. Hanaoka told the group, standing alone on a stage as she thanked them for attending her solo wedding. “I want to rely on my own strength.”
Not so long ago, Japanese women who remained unmarried after the age of 25 were referred to as “Christmas cake,” a slur comparing them to old holiday pastries that cannot be sold after Dec. 25.
Today, such outright insults have faded as a growing number of Japanese women are postponing or forgoing marriage, rejecting the traditional path that leads to what many now regard as a life of domestic drudgery.
The percentage of women who work in Japan is higher than ever, yet cultural norms have not caught up: Japanese wives and mothers are still typically expected to bear the brunt of the housework, child care and help for their aging relatives, a factor that stymies many of their careers.