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TOKYO (Reuters) - With divorce on the rise in Japan, some couples are choosing to celebrate the end of an unhappy marriage by saying "I do" for a final time at a divorce ceremony before friends and family.
Divorce ceremonies were pioneered about a year ago by a former salesman, Hiroki Terai, who set up a "divorce mansion" in a small undercover space in Tokyo.
Since then about 25 couples have each paid 55,000 yen ($606) to hold a ceremony with all the pomp and grandeur of a wedding that publicly ends their relationship before they officially file for divorce. Terai said he had received more than 900 inquiries.
The latest couple, who called themselves Mr. and Mrs. Fujii, met near Sensoji Temple in Tokyo's traditional Asakusa area on Sunday and rode in separate rickshaws to the "divorce mansion."
"By putting an end to our marriage, we wanted to give ourselves fresh starts and give our lives a sense of renewal," Mr. Fujii, a 33-year-old businessman, told Reuters Television.
He said he felt responsible for the failure of his marriage as he spent too much time away from home and too much money on his various interests including cars - despite numerous warnings from his wife.
Friends and family of the Fujii couple followed closely behind the rickshaws on foot, arriving at the "divorce mansion" for a ceremony where they smashed their wedding ring with a gavel, a gesture signifying the end of their partnership.
The gavel has a frog's head as frogs symbolize change in Japanese culture.
"When we smashed the ring together, I felt like "oh, this is the end of it, really" and my heart and soul felt renewed. Now I feel I can have a new life and start all over again," said Mr. Fujii.
His wife of eight years also expressed her relief.
"The moment I saw the smashed ring, I said to myself, "Yes! That feels so good,"" Mrs. Fujii said.
Terai, who is believed to be Japan's first "divorce ceremony planner," came up with the idea of divorce ceremonies to help couples celebrate their decision to separate after one of his friends was going through a bitter divorce.
Divorce is on the rise in Japan where it was once taboo with about 251,000 divorces taking place in 2008, partly blamed on the poor economy taking its toll on romance.
Next month Terai heads off on his first business venture abroad to Korea to officially divorce a couple in Seoul.
"I started this ceremony in April last year thinking that there should be a positive way to end a marriage and move on by making a vow to restart their lives in front of loved ones," Terai said.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith