A spouse for hard times

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A spouse for hard times


The latest buzzword sweeping across Japanese society is konkatsu. The word is a contraction for kekkon katsudo that literally means “marriage activities” but more broadly connotes the things men and women do to find the right person with whom to spend the rest of their lives. The word, coined by sociologist Masahiro Yamada of Chuo University, was borrowed from another popular term - shukatsu, or job-hunting - to maintain that finding a life partner requires similar efforts as landing a suitable job.

The term inspired a popular television drama, simply titled, “Konkatsu.” The romantic comedy involves a 30-something unemployed son of a tonkatsu, or fried pork cutlet, restaurant owner. He goes through one rejection after another until one day he gets into an interview for a public sector office job. The only setback: the post is reserved for a married man. In desperation, Amariya Kuniyuki lies that he is engaged to be married soon and gets the job. He has three months to find a wife, otherwise, his job goes in the air. Thus starts Kuniyuki’s hilarious yet painstaking hunt for a wife. Tonkatsu is the meal that Japanese make certain to have before an important exam because katsu reads the same as the word “victory” in Japanese.

The konkatsu boom is not confined to Japanese television screens these days. Bars and restaurants host dates that cost around $100 for one rendezvous. Single men and women prepare extensively to make it onto member lists at top marriage agencies. Consultants claiming to be experts in the marriage hunt have also seized upon the lucrative spousal search market. Shops sell accessories like “fortune wallets” to coax singles to buy as good luck charms for their blind dates.

Behind the phenomenon is the teeming population of unmarried men and women in an age where marriage is no longer viewed as a must. Monikers like “grass-eating male” describes those men who are happier to “graze” alongside their female companions than regard the opposite sex as “prey” or a marriage object.

“Arafo,” coined after a popular television drama “Around 40,” refers to professional, self-sufficient single women in their late 30s and early 40s for whom a partner of equal social standing is difficult to find. “Gold Miss” epitomizes the same group in Korea.

The two groups, hitherto uninterested in marriage, have suddenly embarked on a frenzied hunt for partners. The economic recession may have played the role of Cupid’s bow. Job and pay cuts have led many to believe that marriage is the best solution to combat economic hard times.

The situation is more or less the same here in Korea. Marriage agencies report growing numbers of applicants for marriages among those in their early 20s and divorcees. Still it is sad to see necessity, not love, is leading to the new boom in marriages.

The writer is a deputy economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Na-ree [windy@joongang.co.kr]
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