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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Methods for Marriage

Sep. 12, 2016

Finding the right marriage partner in Japan can be a challenge, so more and more singles are reaching out for help with romance and relationships.

A growing number of men in the country are rolling into their 40s without ever having had a date. Eight years ago, nearly half of all single men and women between 20 and 39 years old answered yes to the question, "are you dating someone?" But in recent surveys only one-in-5 men and one-in-3 women say they are in a dating relationship.

We have known for some time that young people have been shying away from romance, but their numbers are growing faster each year.

It's no wonder that attendance is growing in classes that teach people how to have a romantic relationship. Each participant had some issue holding them back. The course is held regularly in Tokyo, and participants learn about romance and relationships.

“If you challenge yourself to act, things will definitely go well," the instructor says.

The course is 6 months long and participants learn everything from communication techniques and choosing a good location for a date to building a relationship and living happily ever.

The students range in age from men in their 20s to those in their 50s. The course costs more than 3,000 dollars and enrolment has risen over the past 5 years. More than 300 people have now completed the program.

“There aren’t many opportunities like this to learn," says one participant. "And it's not very inexpensive"
"There are many people aged 30 to mid-40s who have zero dating experience," the instructor says. "A lot of men can’t communicate well with women, so their dates don’t go well and they don’t lead to marriage."

Satoshi Iwata, 41, works at an IT firm and started attending classes last spring. In his 20s, someone broke his heart and he hasn’t been on a date since. He tried to sign up for dating online, but was rejected because his income wasn't high enough. Then he started thinking he might not qualify to have a relationship.

“I didn’t want to experience negative emotions from other people, so I thought it would be easier to shut them out of my life,” Iwata says.

He spends his free time alone in his room, playing music. He's taught himself to play different instruments, but has never joined a band.

While visiting home last year for the New Year holiday, he got a warning from his parents: They said they worried that he would be single forever. Finding a date was difficult to do alone, so he enrolled in the romantic relationship course.

He also started to pay more attention to his clothing.

“The instructors told me that polo shirts are great in summer, so I ran out and bought one,” Iwata says.

He wore his new polo shirt to a party that was still actually part of the course. He puts into practice what he has learned in class, and pays closer attention to the women there.

He sits next to one woman who says her hobby is music. It’s a chance to get a conversation going.

An instructor coaches him.

“Ask about the concerts she's been to or about the music she usually listens to. Make the conversation fun for her. If it’s fun, it will more likely develop into romance. Your expression looks good,” the instructor says.

He returns to his seat and instead of monopolizing the conversation, he focuses on searching for a topic that they can both enjoy.

In the end, he's able to exchange contact information with the woman.

“I realized today that trying to learn about the other person, and the other person learning about you is the beginning of a loving relationship,” Iwata says.

On the other side of the dating spectrum, single women have their own unique problems.

Miyuki Uekusa is a marriage-hunting advisor who also lectures on marriage at colleges. The people who come to her for advice are generally career women with a good income. When they speak with men, they often compete with them and lose the opportunity to develop a romance.

“They constantly do battle with men in the workplace, so when facing a man, they see him as someone to spar with," Uekusa says. "They argue with him and try to compete.”

Exceedingly high expectations make it hard for such women to find a romantic partner.

One 41-year-old woman, who asked not to be identified, makes about 100,000 dollars a year by running her own company. She wanted a man with an income equal to her own or higher, but only about 1% of single men in Japan earn that much.

Uekusa advised the woman to be realistic and rethink what it is that she wants in a man, or she won’t have a chance.

“For example, he might have a slightly lower income than you, but you're working very hard right now, so he might be able to go home before you and do the housework,” Uekusa says.

The woman says she now realizes she has to change the way she thinks about men to have a romantic relationship.

“I realize that I have to think about this further," the woman says. "It's possible to have a family where the traditional roles for men and women are reversed.”


NHK World's Mayumi Makimoto joins Sho Beppu and Aki Shibuya in the studio.

Beppu: I thought that dating was something people learned through experience. I didn't realize it was something you could take lessons for. Anyway, recently in Japan, dating among single adults has been on a sharp decline. What's behind this?

Makimoto: I think there have always been people who are not good at finding a partner. Traditionally in Japan, when young people reach a certain age their bosses or women who are familiar with the area where they live would arrange dates for them. These women were called "osekkai obasan," or a meddling aunt. But that sort of meddling was considered helpful.

Nowadays many people think they shouldn't interfere in others' private affairs, or they don't want to be seen as bothering young people. So the number of osekkai obasan has dropped significantly. Unfortunately, that has also reduced the number of opportunities for people who tend to shy away from dating. I think that's what is behind the new trend of taking lessons.

Shibuya: I've heard that the ratio of singles in Japan is increasing. I'm single myself. Can you tell us what's behind this trend?

Makimoto: I think there's a mismatch between the needs of men and women. The data shows men tend to seek a younger partner and women look for men with a high income. But the reality is, more women are taking on greater roles in the workforce and society in general. Many want to spend time developing a career before getting married. These career women are not the type many men are looking to marry. Women tend to seek men with a higher income to provide financial security for raising a family. But with the current sluggish economy it is becoming harder to find such men.

Beppu: So I understand it's not only about how people feel but it's also an economic problem. But if this trend continues, and if the birthrate is already very low, how can these issues be solved?

Makimoto: Central and local governments have become alarmed by these trends. They are viewed as issues that could seriously affect Japan's future.
Officials started organizing and subsidizing matchmaking events for men and women seeking partners. So far, these events haven't produced any major results and a breakthrough remains elusive.

An expert on young people's livelihoods says now is the time when older adults should actively try to persuade younger ones that dating and falling in love can be fun and rewarding. I think it's important to first change the mindset of young people. If women become more flexible and try dating different types of men, their chances for marriage will improve. And for men, I'd like to ask them not to focus on youth too much. They should place more value on personality and a growing relationship based on mutual experiences and overcoming challenges together.