I started watching a few currently airing jdoramas—PRICELESS, Osozkai no Himawari, and Kekkon Shinai—and while I enjoy and recommend all of them, this one is my favorite. It's also the furthest along, so I'll be playing catch-up and then recapping the weekly episodes as they come out.
Don't be put off by the class-like feel of the beginning of this show. It's a framework for the drama and actually works pretty well, as long as you give it a few episodes to take. And, for those of you who don't speak Japanese (like me) Kekkon Shinai means Unmarried.
Episode 1 Marriage is Normal?! A Duty?! A Woman who Doesn't vs. a Woman who Does!! Single Woman's Love and Marriage?!:
(Long title, with lots of punctuation that I swear I didn't add. :D) We open on a wedding scene that morphs into a university Sociology class, taught by Professor Tanigawa. (Mini spoiler alert: Professor Tanigawa becomes part of the plot of this drama, but it takes him a few episodes to get there. But he is important.) Professor Tanigawa explains that the rapidly increasing numbers of people who will never have been married by the time they reach 50. Even though the vast majority of singles plan to be married someday. One student, Sakura Mai, doodles a cute cartoon Wizard of Oz.
Tanaka Chiharu is at work at a travel agency, putting out pamphlets for a honeymoon package. One of her coworkers, I'm going to call her Boy Crazy, talks to her about marriage and points out that waiting around isn't going to help her find the nice guy she's looking for. She asks how long it's been since Chiharu broke up with her boyfriend. Chiharu cheerfully answers that it's been 5 years. Boy Crazy sighs and promises that she'll be married by 30, unlike Chiharu, who will be 35 next week. Boy Crazy wishes that the next customer will be a super-rich, super-handsome single guy to fall in love with, but is disappointed when it's a couple, and makes Chiharu serve them.
Chiharu approaches and stops short when she recognizes the man, Keisuke. He asks how long it's been, and realizes it's 5 years. Boy Crazy listens in and realizes this must be The Ex. Keisuke marvels that Chiharu is working at a travel agency, and we find out that she's a contract employee. (From what I understand, in Japan, contract employees are hired on short-term contracts, usually 1-3 years. Their contracts may be renewed by the company, but they almost never become full, salaried employees with long-term job security. They also make less than a salaried employee.)
Keisuke cagily tells the woman with him that he knows Chiharu from his university days. He introduces the woman as his wife, and they ask for Chiharu's help in planning their honeymoon. He asks if she plans to marry and she answers "Someday."
Back in lecture, Professor Tanigawa explains that the number of people who say they want to be married "someday" is moderately increasing. But he explains that this statistic doesn't reflect those who just say they want to get married someday, but actually can't. (The implication is that more and more people say they eventually want to get married, but put it off in pursuit of other things.)
We now meet Kirishima Haruko, a garden designer, who is explaining to a client that she has no intention of ever marrying. The client offers to set her up, but she explains that she has already promised her life to a partner—her work. I love how up-front she is! She explains that her work will always respond to her passion and will never betray her. It's the perfect partner.
Professor Tanigawa next talks about the rising number of people who say they will never marry, and those numbers are increased by those who have lost hope of ever marrying.
And now we're introduced to Kudo Junpei, who explains to his friend (and junior, since she calls him sempai) Kouno Mizuki that marriage is probably impossible for him, since he couldn't make someone else happy. Mizuki says that someone might just be happy to be with him, "Walking forward through life." Junpei replies that if he found such a person, he's afraid they'd end up walking in place.
Professor Tanigawa explains to his class that these people are barely able to support themselves and see no way to support the burden of another. That's why this group decides to never marry. Mai finishes her drawing with 3 signposts pointing different ways labeled "Want to Marry Someday," "Don't Want to Marry" and "Can't Get Married."
Chiharu hands Keisuke and his bride their finished itinerary and Keisuke tries to encourage her by saying "Keep at it." As the happy couple leaves, she wonders what that's supposed to mean and Boy Crazy tells her it means marriage. Professor Tanigawa explains that marriage is becoming increasingly difficult and are asking the question Chiharu poses to herself. "If I keep at it, can I achieve marriage?"
Mai rides her bike to her part-time job, passing Chiharu, who is eating with Boy Crazy and a male coworker I'll call Playa (because he thinks he is one). Playa gives Chiharu a hard time for eating so much comfort food when she's depressed, and Boy Crazy tells him he earned a yellow card. Boy Crazy commiserates with Chiharu about her ex getting married, and Chiharu explains that she's not really upset about that. They just somehow broke up—no fighting, no hating each other. They just never felt the marriage bug.
Playa explains that when men hit their 30's, they start to feel like it's time to settle down, get married, and focus on work, while in their 20's, they all want to play the field. Boy Crazy replies that women start to feel that as they near 30 they are ready to make the push to their last job—being a housewife. Playa says that for women, marriage is their final job, but for men it's just the beginning. Chiharu points out that for women it's the same, since they now have to focus on childbearing and childrearing. Playa insists that that's why women should be young when they get married. "Red card!" Chiharu wonders what she needs to do in order to get married these days.
Mai rides past Haruko and her boss, who are discussing her next project design, Grand Hills. If her design wins the bid, it will be a big contract for their company. Boss explains that today he has to go straight home, and they have a charged and awkward moment. Clearly, there's more to their relationship than we see here.
Junpei bids Mizuki farewell, with plans for a delivery to the gallery, and Mai pulls up as she walks away. Mai asks if she's Junpei's girlfriend, and he answers that she's just a junior of his from university. Mai wonders about whether she should consider marriage and asks Junpei if he wants to get married. He replies that he's too full of himself and heads into the florist shop where they work.
Haruko gets back to the office and explains Boss' absence by saying "It's that day today." When asked to come out with her coworkers for drinks, she replies that she has a prior engagement.
Chiharu gets home and overhears her family discussing the future. Her sister Chinatsu plans to move in with her future husband Yoichiru (Yo) once Chiharu gets married and moves out. Yo points out that there's no real reason Chiharu isn't married yet, if you look at her. Mom notices Chiharu and changes the subject to Chinatsu's wedding plans.
After dinner Mom visits Chiharu in her room and asks if she overheard Chinatsu. She asks her what she thinks of marriage and lovingly warns her that she's getting older and needs to consider her age in contemplating having children, too. She can't just get married unless she gets something going. Mom suggests going on an Omiai, or marriage date. Chiharu sighs and says she's going out for a while.
Haruko stops at a convenience store and buys some beer before heading to a beautiful park/garden, where she sees Chiharu drinking and eating snacks. Chiharu folds a paper airplane and then yells that she would have gotten married years ago if it was that easy. She hurls the airplane into the fountain, and her bracelet flies off and lands in the fountain too. Haruko yells at her and then jumps in to fish it out. Chiharu tries to direct her to the bracelet, but she heads the other way, so Chiharu climbs into the cold water herself. Haruko complains that it got stuck in the drain and fishes the airplane out just as Chiharu finds her bracelet.
Haruko turns, looks at her watch, and says "This isn't good," and Chiharu starts to wonder what she means, but is cut off by the start of the fountain's spray function. The women scream as they get soaked and a police officer comes and yells at them.
He takes them to the police station where he questions them, citing recurring complaints of a person drinking and swimming naked in the fountain. Chiharu insists that she's not that person. The officer insists that she was drinking and demands to know why, so Chiharu reluctantly explains it was because of her ex getting married—not that she's bitter, but she just didn't expect him to get there first. The officer sums it up in his report "Got drunk out of spite."
In the morning as they leave, Chiharu mentions that it's her first time being in custody in 34 years. Haruko says it's been 44 for her. Chiharu formally introduces herself and chats about how they both have the character "haru" in their names. Even though she was born in the fall, and haru means spring, her mother named her that because in spring, there's promise of many things to come.
Haruko cuts her off and says they should just forget about everything and go on their separate ways. Chiharu sadly agrees, but as Haruko leaves, she starts sneezing. Haruko takes her to her gorgeous apartment to change. Chiharu promises to return the clothes later, but Haruko reminds her that they're going to forget each other after today. Chiharu agrees and spots a photo of the garden and explains that she's loved it for a long time. She always goes there when she feels down.
She looks out on the terrace and starts lamenting her marriage prospects. Haruko points out that she doesn't have to force herself to get married if she doesn't want to. Haruko mentions Chiharu's changeable moods and calls her "busy." She points out the time and Chiharu runs around to leave for work. Haruko worries to herself that she may not make it.
As Chiharu runs down the hill, hoisting Haruko's too-big pants, a motorcycle pulls up and Haruko tells her to hop on.
At the office, Haruko is approached by Boss, who tells her that her design won the bid. As she talks about putting together a team, he cuts her off and asks her to look into a florist shop the company owns. He asks if she has some free time on the weekend, and she stiffly asks "Is it for work?" When he answers yes, she agrees to meet at the office.
Chiharu meets some school friends for lunch. They talk about how difficult it is to find time to meet up and sigh over Chiharu's freedom as a single person—her time and money are all her own. Although we can tell this hurts her a bit, she cheerfully replies that she lives her single life to the fullest. Another friend (Tsugumi) joins them.
Haruko shows up at Maison Floral and asks for the manager. Mai runs to the back, where Junpei unloads the delivery van and talks to a group of kids, who are obviously his fans. They ask him to name the colors of flowers, and he's really specific. One little boy points to Haruko's bike and he correctly identifies the colors, much to her amazement. He sees her and introduces himself, explaining that they're waiting for their new manager to start next week. Haruko congratulates him on correctly identifying the colors of her paint job.
Chiharu and Tsugumi are the first to leave. Her friend complains that meeting for lunch is hard for her, but they agree that they can still go drinking, since they're the last singles in their circle of friends. Tsugumi promises that she won't abandon Chiharu any time soon, since she just broke up with her boyfriend.
When Chiharu gets back to work, a customer is waiting for her—another university friend, Yuji, who was told to come here by Keisuke. He asks for her help in planning a company trip. He asks if she's free that night and offers to take her out for drinks.
Over drinks they talk about Keisuke getting married and joke around about still being single. They have this really cute rapport going, and Yuji reminds Chiharu of a promise they made way back when that if they were still single at 35, they'd get married. Chiharu awkwardly laughs about it.
Boy Crazy is amazed at this story and wonders if it was some kind of proposal. Did they plan another meeting? Chiharu says they did, but it's just as a preview of the company trip. Boy Crazy excitedly predicts that this is the nice guy Chiharu's been waiting for, and happily contemplates that she'll be next.
The next day, Chiharu and Yuji set out on their "business date." They wander all the places she's planned for his business trip, and even take a photo for a cute little family, wondering if the parents are much younger than they are. Yuji begs to take her out for dinner the next day and she agrees. He tells her it's in appreciation for her help and to celebrate her birthday.
Haruko gets home that night to find Chiharu waiting for her. Chiharu returns the clothes she borrowed and insists on cooking Haruko dinner. While she's cooking, Haruko asks if something good happened, since she's even more cheerful than usual. She tells her about the promise with Yuji, but Haruko gently chides her and says that such things are usually best left alone. Chiharu points out that Yuji was the one who brought it up.
Haruko asks when they made the promise and says that a promise made in one's 20's is not something that should carry through into one's 30's. A promise from the past should remain in the past. Chiharu says that she knows that, but she doesn't think it's wrong to hope to get married. She leaves, crestfallen, and Haruko obviously feels bad.
The next day, Haruko visits her surprised mother and offers a prayer at her father's shrine. She then goes in to greet her ailing grandmother, promising to come more often. Mother asks if she's not married because of them, but Haruko insists that it was a choice she made for her own life, and she doesn't regret it.
Chiharu waits for Yuji to show up, and when he does, he tells her that he's made reservations at a properly fancy restaurant. During dinner he wishes her a happy 35th birthday, and she teases him about not mentioning her age. He talks about how when he thinks about his age, he feels pressure to get married, and wonders what their lives would be like if they'd gotten married when they made that promise.
This surprises Chiharu, but then he says that they'd have children by now. Maybe even 2 or 3, which is his ideal family. Then comes the kicker—"That just wouldn't work out now, without a properly young wife." This deflates Chiharu's good mood, but she puts on a cheerful face as Yuji talks about how old they are. She tells him he needs to find a young girlfriend.
Haruko meets with Boss, who tells her she's being transferred to Maison Floral as the new manager. When she asks why, he explains that the company has decided to promote employees with families, so her design for Grand Hills will be handed off to another designer. He promises that he'll do all in his power to bring her back to the main office, but for now. . . . He apologizes profusely, and Haruko replies that she chose the single life, so she'll do her best at her new job.
Yuji offers to walk Chiharu to the station, but she insists on going alone. As she walks, she gets a call from Tsugumi to meet up. Chiharu says she had a sudden urge to go drinking, but Tsugumi apologizes that she won't be participating in that part. She admits that she's getting married. She just found out she was pregnant and asked her boyfriend to give it another try, and then he asked her to marry him. She apologizes to Chiharu, and Chiharu sincerely wishes her happiness.
On her way home, Chiharu walks sadly and trips in front of a jewelry store window where Junpei is setting up a display. He rushes out to see if she's all right, and she jokes about how clumsy she is at walking. As they stand there, she remarks on how easy it is for other people to walk, but after all, it's just walking. Junpei says that he sometimes feels the same way—he struggles to do things that seem to come naturally to most people. This cheers her up a bit and she heads on her way.
He asks her to wait a moment, then runs inside and grabs a Gerber daisy. He presents it to her and explains that in the language of flowers it means "one step." He goes back inside and she contemplates the meaning of the Gerber.
Chiharu says that she'll just be alone. When Haruko asks what she means, she replies that saying "I can't get married" is basically the same as saying "I'm alone." "There's really no hope for me from here on out, is there, if it's already hopeless at 35?" And then she says the most heartbreaking thing ever. "You could say I no longer deserve to have a family." She decides to be like Haruko and make her job her life. But then laments that she'll live alone, and die with nobody beside her. "Somehow that just feels so. . . lonely." For the first time, she lets her tears show.
Haruko admits that she's the same. She always thought that her job would never betray her, but today she found out she was being transferred. She grabs Chiharu's vegetable chips and morosely eats several before taking off her shoes and walking over to the fountain. She climbs in as Chiharu chases after her, and yells "What's wrong about not being married?" She invites Chiharu to join her, saying it feels good and Chiharu has some words stuck in the back of her throat. If she just swallows them, it'll be painful.
At the police station again they argue with the officer over their charges.
Junpei writes a tag for the Gerbers that explains their meaning.
At Haruko's apartment, the women hang out their clothes to dry and Haruko admits that the day they first met was "his" wedding anniversary. She admits that she seduced him long ago, and then tells Chiharu thank you. She explains that her favorite garden was the first she designed, and she never thanked her for saying she loved it.
Haruko points out that Chiharu will be late again and worries that her clothes won't be dry, but Chiharu reassures her that they'll be dry when they get home. Haruko asks who she means, and she replies that she means her and Haruko. Haruko explains that the only one coming to her home that night will be her. Chiharu tells her she'll be staying, since her sister is moving back in when she gets married. She persists that she'll only stay for one week, and they argue as Chiharu runs off to get ready for work.
Aww, I love this relationship! Too bad there's not a catchy word for it like bromance, but I'll just call it a sisterhood. Their cute bickering is adorable and I love that Chiharu is just shoving in, despite Haruko's objections. It will definitely be good for both of them, you can just tell already.
I love the themes that are going on here. Besides sisterhood, we have various reasons for not getting married, the major concerns this presents to Japanese society, and an exploration of many different types of relationships. I have to say that Yuji just about broke my heart by being so cute and flirty and then obliviously killing Chiharu's hopes for a future. If it weren't for the awesomeness that is Junpei, I would have really had a harder time with it.
I love Chiharu's personality and attitude. She's so delightfully cheerful, which could be grating in someone else, but is endearing with her. She struggles with coming to terms with her future prospects, but manages to maintain her optimism nonetheless. I also love that you can see her vulnerability and pain, but that she manages to overcome it with her positive outlook. Sometimes she just masks it, but I think she usually manages to just be happy in spite of her pain.
I also really like Haruko. Her attitude and choices are very realistic, and I appreciate that marriage is something that she opted out of for her own sake, and not because she felt that there was no other option. However, she's at a turning point in her own life and has to discover how to deal with the crisis of her work. I also love how you can tell that her relationship with Boss is a thing of the past, even though she hasn't come out and said it. I think there are some lingering feelings, but she's also put him in her past.
Junpei is still a pretty vague character, but you can tell that his cheerful facade masks his pain and insecurity. I love Tamaki Hiroshi from Nodame Cantabile, but Chiaki is such a unique character, and I wasn't sure how he would do with another character. I haven't seen any of Tamaki Hiroshi's other shows, but I love him even more after seeing him here. He's such a talented actor, and makes his characters so intriguing and lovable. Even the prickly Chiaki.
The whole lecture thing was a bit off-putting to me at first, and I admit that sometimes I want to skip those scenes, but they have significance for each episode. Also, they go along pretty well with a tendency for jdoramas to try to teach us something, besides the moral of the story. I know that the decreasing birthrate in Japan is a huge concern, so I get that they're using this show as a vehicle to educate the populace. But they are doing it while still portraying single people in a positive light, which I really like.