Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Matchmaking gets divine touch

July 10, 2009

I admit there was some personal interest when I volunteered to cover the praying/speed-dating event at a shrine in Tokyo recently. I wanted to see what a matchmaking event at a shrine involves and who would attend.

I did not expect, though, that I would actually get involved.

A group of 14 women and 14 men gathered at Imado shrine in Tokyo, which honours Japan’s indigenous Shinto gods of marriage. The participants varied in age and occupation, but had one common goal — finding a good marriage partner.

“We said it’s up to the gods now. If we go on as we have, we probably won’t ever meet anyone,” Rie Suzuki, a 40-year-old attending with her friend told me.

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The event, which combines praying with speed-dating, is aimed at marriage and the economic stability it could provide, as singles actively seek a partner through “konkatsu,” or spouse-hunting.

Such activities range from dating websites to participating in events like “grass-mowing for singles”. Imado Shrine’s two-hour, $65 event, is also on the list of some marriage-hunters.

“This is a shrine known for marriage and many men and women seeking a good match come here,” said Tomoe Ichino, a 32-year-old priest at the shrine.

She and her sister Kana run the matchmaking event for which over 1,000 registered.

“I would see a woman buying a good luck charm, then a man doing the same thing 10 minutes later. Then I started to think that maybe they could have ended up together if they had met. So, we’re trying to coordinate a time when they can meet.”

At the event, participants, mainly in their 30s and 40s, solemnly pray to the gods by clapping their hands and bowing their heads. They then move to a room where men and women sit across from each other, chatting as priests watch with stopwatches to make sure they switch partners every four minutes.

Women tend to be more interested in “konkatsu”, but some men are also keen to take part in matchmaking activities.

“I am just going back and forth between my office and house, and there is no chance to meet anyone,” said Shinichi Kanno, a 37-year-old working for a medical equipment company.

“Guys are also doing “konkatsu” these days. I have many unmarried friends and I want to tell them about this event.”

Increased economic clout of women and changing social attitudes toward marriage, no longer seen as de rigeur for either gender, have kept an increasing number of Japanese in their 20s and 30s single. Government statistics show nearly two-thirds of women under 34 are unmarried, while some 3,800 firms in Japan offer match-making services.

Priests at Imado Shrine don’t know of any couples tieing the knot after meeting at their 18 match-making sessions so far, but say at least eight couples began dating and even more became friends.

And me? I ended up getting asked to dinner by one wife-hunter, although I declined as I went there for work. Still, I hope the gods answer his prayers and bring him a very good match.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Kiyoshi Ota

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