Saturday, September 15, 2007

a ring for a fresh start

Up until the '60s, the Japanese followed the shinto-style wedding ceremony, with the groom and bride wearing traditional kimonos.
Then starting in the late '60s, De Beers introduced the idea of the diamond ring as an engagement gift, a romantic ritual practiced in the west. The campaign was so successful that within a generation most Japanese adopted this costume and Japan soon became the second-largest diamond market in the world, only after the US. In the present days many couples, while still preserving the shinto ceremony, have adopted the western ceremony as well, white wedding dresses and all.
The Japanese baby-boom generation however is starting to retire this year, and in a society that is getting increasingly old, marketers have to redirect the focus of their activities. It's therefore time for another ritual to be promoted.
There's currently a campaign called "Thanks Days", starring musician and actor Akira Terao (most people outside Japan will recognize him from his role in Kurosawa's Ran), depicting a salaryman who is retiring from work. The commercial starts when he gets the flower bouquet from colleagues (a tradition for retiring people here). He then goes home, in a reflective mood, and all the while we listen to his thoughts (roughly translated):
For only thinking about work, forgive me...
For the days I got home drunk, forgive me...
For that time I lied, forgive me...
For everything...forgive me...
When he gets home his wife is preparing dinner and waiting for him. He gives her the flowers. Then, to her surprise, he produces a small box from his pocket, places it in her hands, and sheepishly looking away, says a short "thank you".
See the sequence below. You can watch the entire commercial here (click on the second link from the right).

Romantic movies usually have two types of ending. They either end in tragedy (one of the lovebirds die, sometimes both of them) or in happiness, when the couple finally meets at the end. In the latter case, the end marks their reunion but it is also the promise of a new beginning, in which they'll live happily ever after.
Well, the "Thanks Days" commercial catches this particular couple after they've been through their "happily ever after" years, revealing to us that perhaps they were not so happy after all.
This shouldn't be a surprise at all (as any couple would attest), but the problems are magnified especially considering the well-documented burden Japanese workers have to endure (presenteeism, long working hours, late-night drinking binges with co-workers).
But nothing is lost, people shouldn't despair. There's a renewed hope now.
The commercial shows that the husband, after more than 30 years of devotion to work (evidenced by the inscription "12075 days" in the internal part of the ring), is willing to start a new life.
As they celebrate over dinner, the voice-over says "propose again".
And finally, the wife toasts to a new start, a new hope, "korekara mo yoroshiku" (a bit hard to translate, but in a romantic way, it could be "from now on, let's take care of each other").
What remains to be seen, as millions of Japanese wives prepare to have their husbands at home again, is whether they'll really get their platinum rings or not.
And more importantly perhaps, will the couple live happily ever after this time around?

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