With things burrowed and new, Japanese wedding industry vows to make a comeback

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Japanese wedding business in Hawaii was decimated by the pandemic.

Today, there are still a handful of industry survivors holding on ― waiting for the business to come back.

And in the meantime, they’re getting creative.

At Something Borrowed Wedding Hawaii, Joan Lizo-Urbano and her network of small business owners look for second chances. She started a rental boutique and planning businesses during the pandemic.

“My husband thinks I’m crazy,” laughed Lizo-Urbano. “But I love weddings.”

She was looking to borrow a dress for anniversary photos. Normally there would be a plethora of rental boutiques specifically catering to Japanese tourists that she could borrow from.

She found that many places had gone out of business.

“I was looking at the wedding dresses that were getting liquidated by the Japanese companies that are closing out,” Lizo-Urbano said. “I walked in to pick one. And I came up with 200 dresses.”

She expected Japanese visitors to come back. So she recruited employees that catered to them before.

Like Saeko Yanase is a makeup artist and owner of Cheeks Hawaii.

“My customers were mostly Japanese people, before the pandemic,” said Yanase.

Yuki Akana, owner of Hanapua Flowers, also joined. The wedding businesses she and Saeko originally worked for closed down.

“Before the pandemic, the business is booming,” said Akana. “So many weddings are scheduled.”

Shayne Gatchalian, owner of Unscripted Tales Photography, was looking for an opportunity as well.

“It just took a massive hit when COVID came,” she said.

The four of them all hoped Japanese visitors would return.

They didn’t. Some of their friends even moved away.

“Yeah, I’m so lonely. I’m sad,” said Yanase. “Maybe next year? Some people coming back?”

But instead of feeling blue, they decided to take up any and all work they could.

“Everybody comes here, right?” said Gatchalian. “Because they want to see the beauty that is Hawaii.”

According to state data, about 60% of marriages last year in Hawaii were people who came here for their wedding. Many wanted the occasion documented with a photo in wedding wear.

“They want to wear wedding dresses and have their pictorial done on the beach,” said Lizo-Urbano. “Or unknown venue or have it on the chapel.”

There’s also now a trickle of Japanese visitors hoping to get wedding photos and ceremonies.

“Finally, the Japanese tourists are joining us now,” said Akana.

“But I want people all over the world to have a happy wedding here,” added Yanase.

They’re turning some old skills, into something new.