Is Ranma and Akane’s Engagement Legally Binding?

Perfect couple, or bitter rivals?

Perfect couple, or bitter rivals?

Aah, the excitement of young love. If you spend a lot of time watching romantic anime or reading shojo manga, you’re quite familiar with the concept of two young people falling madly in love, dating, and (assuming the series runs long enough), getting married. Where Ranma 1/2 differs from this stereotype, though, is that the two parties to the relationship happen to hate each other. Since their parents had already decided that the two are to be betrothed, does that really mean that they have no say in the matter?

Ranma and Akane don't ALWAYS hate each other...

Ranma and Akane don’t ALWAYS hate each other…

It’s no secret that Asia in general (and by extension, Japan) has a bit of a bad rap for a long tradition of arranged marriages, generally either used to cement power of one or both of the parents or to otherwise reinforce a desirable relationship between the two families – a sort of quid pro quo situation.1 “You scratch my back, I scratch yours,” kind of thing. Though arranged marriages used to be more the rule than the exception throughout the world, they started to fall out of favor in the western world around the 18th to 19th century and is officially against law in most countries, but the practice still carries on in some small communities.

And what about Japan? Well, to the disappointment of old fashioned families everywhere, the act of arranging marriages has been forbidden as of World War II. Specifically, Article 24 of the Japanese Constitution provides that:2

“Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.” (emphasis added)

What this essentially means is that both parties need to be willing participants in order for a marriage to be valid, which throws out the possibility for arranged marriages. Article 742 (Grounds on Which Marriage is Void) of the the Civil Code goes further:3

“Marriage shall be void only in the following cases:
(i) if one of the parties has no intention to marry due to mistaken identity or other cause; or
…” (emphasis added)

It’s important to note, however, that though the Civil Code dates back to the Meiji period (1868 to 1912)4 and was promulgated in 1896,5 Article 742 was added as a revision to the Code after World War II and there were no such restrictions prior to the war. That essentially clears away any and all possibility of arranged marriages post-war.

Here come the meddling parents...

Here come the meddling parents…

“But,” you interject, “I’ve heard about Japanese people being set up for marriage!”

And you would be right – to a certain extent. The practice of two strangers being arranged to meet up purely for the prospect of marriage out of convenience is known as miai (見合い; matchmaking),6 which – if successful – would ultimately result in an arranged marriage (お見合い結婚; omiai kekkon; an arranged marriage). This is in contrast to ren’ai kekkon (恋愛結婚; love marriage), in which the couple has met, fallen in love, and married out of their emotional connection. While the marriage trends have shifted around the 1960s from the majority being arranged to being out of romance (and arranged marriages are now hovering around a paltry 5%), it is still very much a thing.7

The important thing to note here, though, is that the people attending the matchmaking meeting are grown, consenting adults who actually want to be married to someone who meets their specifications rather than spend the time to try to fall in love (and hope that person is good spouse material at that!). In fact, according to a recent survey, 89% of women8 and 84% of men9 said that they would consider it for finding a spouse. But if so many people are interested, why is it on the decline and only 5% actually choose an arranged marriage?



Considering that there’s a booming industry in Japan of marriage counselors (結婚相談所; kekkon soudansho) which introduce men and women to potential marriage partners based off of their pre-chosen criteria, I’d say it’s more likely that people simply are not reporting truthfully.

One of the largest of these companies, IBJ Members, has over 50,000 active members, and charges up to 15,000 yen per month with a initial registration fee ranging from 145,000 to 378,000 yen.10 Though you probably can’t take them at face value, they boast a success rate (of their members getting married) of over 50%. I could be wrong, but this sounds suspiciously like a traditional miai introduction, does it not?

Now that we’ve gotten way off track from our original question, it’s time that we take a serious look at Ranma and Akane.

First and foremost, it’s important to note that they would not fall under a miai marriage, since they didn’t even know each other prior to their marriage being decided by Genma and Soun. This type of marriage arrangement (i.e., without the bride- and groom-to-be being involved) is known as iinazuke (許婚; permitted marriage),11 wherein the marriage is decided by the parents without regard to the wishes of their children. This type of marriage arrangement was popular from the Muromachi period (1336-1576)12 and remained in practice until the end of World War II.

Alas, due to the aforementioned changes to Japanese law, such agreements would no longer be enforceable when the story of Ranma 1/2 took place assuming that Ranma and/or Akane actually refused to go through with it. Interestingly enough, unless Soun and Genma had actually made their promise prior to May 3, 1947,13 when the Constitution of Japan went into effect, their promise was never valid to begin with.

That said, as the series progressed and the two (… seem to?) begin to develop feelings toward each other, this is a bit of a moot point.

Maybe Genma could fulfill his legal contracts...?

Maybe Genma could fulfill his legal contracts…?

Now, what I’d really like to know is: if all the promises of marriage that were exchanged throughout the anime and manga actually were legally binding, just how would it actually play out in the end since there were so many conflicting promises? It sounds to me like Genma would need a pretty good lawyer to get his way out of this!


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