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'Kizuna' takes many forms in post-disaster Japan, including marriage and infidelity

TOKYO —

“Kizuna.” To understand Japan’s post-quake/tsunami/meltdown, you need that word in your vocabulary. It’s probably there already because it’s become ubiquitous. It means human ties, especially the kind nurtured by Japanese society and culture.

Kizuna was credited with holding the nation together in its severest trial since World War Two. Now the ordeal itself, and its aftermath, are deepening and strengthening those same kizuna, says Josei Seven (Jan 19-26). People are marrying, raising children, caring for parents, buying gifts, savoring the pleasures of the domestic hearth, with more enthusiasm than ever before. Why? Because March 11, among many, many other consequences, has reminded people in a way difficult to ignore how vulnerable and therefore precious life is.

An upsurge of marriage was one of the first noted indications. Marriage agencies are doing a flourishing business lately. One, Onet, with 34,000 clients nationwide, found its membership dipping some 20% last March and April as people flung aside their doubts and plunged into marriage. Then marriage numbers flattened for a few months only to rise again during the Obon holiday in August. That’s a traditional time for hometown visits. Onet figures singles were in more of a mood to yield to family pressure to marry, which in previous years they resisted or brushed off. Wedding ring sales also soared – up 24% over the previous year.

Dining out is out, dining in is in. Rising sales of such appliances as espresso machines and home bakeries highlight a new feeling that there’s no place like home, and no companionship like that of one’s own family.

Kizuna is not confined to the family – it embraces the nation as a whole. Consider the Fukushima Market in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward, where shoppers can, and increasingly do, show support for the stricken region by buying its produce, from apples to pickled hakusai cabbage.

Reaching out to others need not dampen self-indulgence. It may even stimulate it. People who in the early stages of the tragedy felt guilty about anything that smacked of extravagance – and cut purchases to the point of weakening the economy – are now packing the shops buying luxury brand-name goods as they haven’t in quite a while. Life is short, as we’ve been so forcefully reminded. If not now, the thinking seems to go, when?

That mood shows up in other ways too. Not only is marriage up, so are divorce and infidelity, says Josei Seven. The Miyagi Divorce Consultation Center in Sendai reports a doubling of its workload from April through October. Many of the couples it counseled had been on the rocks before March 11. The strains of the subsequent dislocation shattered their grim endurance.

As for infidelity, “Males in a life crisis,” the magazine says, “seek to breed.” That’s how it is on the instinctive level. On the social, “You send an ex-girlfriend an email to make sure she came through okay, only to find old feelings rekindling.” That too is kizuna.

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