Wedding planning is a big deal in Japan, where it often involves a ceremony, formal reception with coworkers (including your boss, who’s expected to make a speech), an informal after-party after the reception winds down, and in many cases a second after-party that may stretch on until the next morning when the trains start running. Putting the whole thing together can be costly and require a lot of work, but it’s all worth it when everything goes smoothly. And besides, getting married is a once-in-a-lifetime event, right?
Well, actually, that’s not always the case. As in many modern, economically prosperous societies, the divorce rate has been rising in Japan, and along with it the potential number of remarriage candidates. In an attempt to keep up with these changing cultural norms and values, one of Japan’s largest wedding planners has gone so far as to coin a new term for those who remarry: maru ni.
The formal Japanese word for “divorce” is rikon, and by extension a divorcee is, formally, a rikon shiteiru hito. However, the term rikon shiteiru hito is a little long and unwieldy even by the standards of the filled-to-the-brim-with-multisyllabic-vocabulary Japanese language. In casual conversation, it’s common to refer to someone who’s marriage fizzled out as batsu ichi.
The label batsu ichi comes from Japan’s legal family registry system. The name of a spouse who marries into the family is written on the document, but should the marriage end in divorce, the name is marked through with a large “X,” which in Japanese is called a batsu.
Getting divorced once means you’ve got one batsu on your family registry, so you’d be a batsu ichi, or “one X.” Get divorced twice? Now you’re a batsu ni/two X.
But while batsu ichi wasn’t designed specifically as a pejorative, linguistics did conspire to give it a less than favorable sound. In Japan, the symbol X is used to show rejection. You’ll see people crossing their index fingers to say something can’t be done, for example.
▼ “Hey baby! How about coming back to my place?”
The “batsu = no good” stigma is so strong that it even affects electronics design. Most international versions of PlayStation games use the X button on the controller for confirming choices, since the button is positioned where a person’s thumb most naturally sits. In Japan, though, using X to signify “yes” is so counter-intuitive that for Japanese versions of the same games, the X button is for canceling, and the circle denotes “okay.”
▼ The Japanese Language: it’s not just for obfuscating business negotiations anymore!
Wedding planning organization Zexy, part of the Recruit family of personal and professional service providers, thinks it’s time to give the batsu treatment to the title batsu ichi itself. Setting their semantics crusade in motion were the results of a recent survey the company conducted on remarriage, which overwhelmingly pointed towards a greater societal acceptance of people taking a second trip down the aisle in Japan.
When asked how they felt the image of remarriage had changed since the days of their parents’ or grandparents’ youth, 72 percent of respondents said they felt it had become more positive. When asked for more specific information on how they viewed the practice, detractors were in the clear minority, with only eight percent saying they felt remarriage created burdens for the family and acquaintances of the couple, and a mere one percent saying they found the idea of remarriage “shameful.”
▼ Incidentally, the survey also revealed that one percent of people are horrible human beings.
In contrast, 15 percent voiced their approval of remarriage as a way for divorcees to create a new family. 14 percent said that a union born out of an affection so strong it makes one want to try marriage again is a good thing, and another 10 percent said there’s nothing wrong with a person getting married as many times as they can find someone they feel they want to settle down with. Eight percent of the survey participants even felt that the experience and wisdom gained from first marriages gives the remarried couple a better chance at happiness together.
▼ Marriage is like an omelet, in that sometimes it’s hard to get it right the very first time. Also, it’s best to make sure you and your partner feel the same way about onions before you share one.
In light of these shifts in attitude, Zexy has proposed doing away with the failure-focused batsu ichi and replacing it with maru ni. In Japanese documentation, the opposite of the X is the circle, or maru.
Thus, maru ni, “two circles,” doesn’t stick a spotlight on your one screw-up, but instead illuminates your second shot at lasting happiness. A bit corny, perhaps, but still a sweet sentiment for those about to take another crack at wedded bliss. Besides, if you’re old enough to get married for a second time, you’re old enough to call yourselves whatever you want.