From today's Daily Yomiuri Online:
A photographer zooms in on Seita Tokoi and his fiancee, Akina, as they stroll hand-in-hand on the streets of Shibuya and Harajuku in Tokyo.
Before getting married last June, the couple had a photographer follow them around for a few hours and take their photos.
"After we got married, those pictures felt like they were a kind of family portrait. We're happy to have photos that capture us at that very moment," Seita said, adding the idea was recommended to them by a friend.
Afterward, the couple visited the shop where they first met for another photo shoot.
"The whole photo session became a good memory for us," he said.
An increasing number of couples are eager to hire professional photographers to take pictures of them dating in an effort to turn "their last moments as a dating couple into a precious memory."
These pictures are known as "engagement photos," and some studios are turning the trend into a new business.
"Compared to 'maedori' [prewedding photo shoots in ceremonial dress], I can capture a more casual look and relaxed expressions," said Sayaka Watanabe, a photographer at Tokyo-based photo studio One Style who took the photos of Tokoi and his fiancee. "These photos are candid, too."
Last year, One Photo started an engagement photo business for about 40,000 yen per couple. The photo shoot is free for couples who also hire the studio to take their wedding photos.
Watanabe has taken photos for about 10 couples since the studio began its engagement photo business. Some pictures feature a couple cycling or posing in front of their middle schools. Many of these pictures are displayed on a huge screen during the wedding ceremony or printed on wedding invitations.
The number of studios offering engagement photos has increased nationwide. For example, Osaka-based La-vie Factory, which operates 10 studios nationwide, offers a similar service.
The wedding magazine Zexy featured engagement photos in its November issue. According to the magazine's editors, engagement photos are common in the West and have become popular in Japan over the last few years. When Prince William and Catherine Middleton announced their engagement, a photo featuring the royal couple wearing casual clothes was released and attracted a lot of attention in Japan.
Orie Maruyama, Zexy's deputy chief editor, said, "More people seem to consider the engagement period a precious time and want a reminder that lasts forever."
"By hanging up this happy picture at home, a couple may feel stronger about staying together forever," Maruyama said.
Some couples ask photographers to accompany them on a trip to their hometowns, or somewhere far away.
"These days, many people aren't so shy. They want other people to see them," said Chuo University Prof. Masahiro Yamada, a family sociology expert. "They're used to posting their everyday lives and feelings on blogs or Twitter, and people's understanding of privacy has changed."
"Under the circumstances, many couples might also be thinking, 'If we take photos, let's make ourselves more presentable and let people know about our daily lives.'"