In love? In Tokyo, they shout it out loud

Love really takes to the air in Tokyo once a year, when dozens of Japanese shout out their ardour for spouses, partners – and even themselves – at an event that’s also broadcast on national television.

Japanese have traditionally valued modesty and reticence over outspokenness, but Kiyotaka Yamana, a Tokyo resident who started the “Love Message Yelling Event” after his marriage failed, said that didn’t mean they were unromantic.

“The dominant image of Japanese men is of overworked businessmen, but I wanted to tell people around world that Japanese men are actually very romantic,” Yamana says.

The event, which precedes “Love Your Wife Day” on January 31, took place at the Hibiya Park in central Tokyo, co-hosted by a citizen group dedicated to devoted husbands.

Most of the 30 or so participants took to the stage, yelling “I love you” or “Let me be with you.”

Some of declarations reflected the gloomy economic situation: one husband, his voice choked up with tears, thanked his wife for staying with him although he lost his job more than a year ago.

The increased economic clout of women and changing social attitudes toward marriage, which is no longer seen as necessary for either gender, have kept an increasing number of Japanese single.

But for those who have a special someone in their lives, the “Love Message Yelling Event” helped give relationships a boost.

“My heart throbbed with excitement. It really touched me,” said a 38-year-old Ayako Kikuchi, holding the hand of husband Kenichi who had just finished yelling “Ayako, I love you” on the stage.

Other participants said they found the event emotionally liberating.

“I feel refreshed after I yell, so, from now on, I’ll tell my girl directly that I love her … but not this loud,” said a 27-year-old businessman Kenzaburo Cho after telling his fiancĂ©e: “Stay with me for all your life. I love you.”

One kimono-clad woman, who said she was unmarried, confessed to the audience that she loved herself the most and a single man who said he wished to have a partner amused the crowd by crying out: “Anybody. Please … right now.”


Flower art blooms

Ikebana, or “the way of flowers”, dates back more than 500 years and first blossomed among male artisans and aristocrats.

Aimed at creating harmony between man and nature as well as heightening the appreciation of the rhythms of the universe, arrangements are conducted in silence using only organic elements put together in a minimalist style.

And it’s this creativity and spirituality that has attracted thousands of Japanese men to reclaim the art form that has more recently been associated with women.

“Nowadays there are a lot of people seeking something that makes them feel at ease,” said Gaho Isono, a master ikebana instructor at Sogetsu, founded in 1927 and one of the first schools to offer flower arranging courses to men.

“There are many hobbies people can do now and there’s no longer the preconception that men cannot arrange flowers. They are free to choose whatever they like and the number of men choosing flowers is actually increasing.”

Japanese society has traditionally put much emphasis on hard work and employees regularly put in long hours in the office, which increases the risk of depression, mental health organisations say.

The nation, which has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, even has a term for death by overwork – karoshi – making stress-relieving activities such as ikebana all the more popular.

Flower compositions arranged according to the traditional principles of ikebana are said to represent the relationship between heaven, mankind and earth.

There are an estimated 3,000 ikebana schools across Japan with some 15 million enthusiasts, most of whom see flower arrangement as an antidote to their hectic lives.

“Each time when the class starts at first I feel tired from work,” said male student Koji Takahashi, 45.

“But once I begin concentrating on how to combine the flowers and the vase, and I actually move my hands to create the composition, it’s a change of pace.”

Some men have spent years mastering the art form and now teach new students the therapeutic effects of ikebana.

Minoru Kagata, 61, an instructor at Sogetsu school who took up ikebana almost 20 years ago, said the art “gives life to flowers.” It usually takes students more than two years to create beautiful arrangements with few natural elements, he added.

For many male students, stepping into the ikebana studio is rewarding enough, regardless of how skillful they are.

“Flower arrangement adds that unreal flavour to my life and lets my mind roam free,” said Koji Otusbo, who has been studying ikebana for more than 15 years.

“At the same time, such an artistic hobby is like a bridge that connects me to the real world.”