A boy and a girl meet at a bar or a party, experiencing that special spark that will forever linger in their minds. If they successfully manage to ride out the usual bumps that arise in a typical relationship along the way, they end up tying the knot. Once upon a time, love was simple.
However, finding romance in 21st-century Japan — a country where the population is on the decrease and the average age is on the rise — is a completely different story.
“Japan’s population spread was in the shape of a stable pyramid in the 1960s, when the average age of the country was about 29,” Tomonori Morikawa, a professor at Waseda University, told The Japan Times On Sunday.
Quite literally, Morikawa said, it was very easy to bump into a potential spouse back then.
Today, however, the pyramid is crooked; the population is shrinking and Japan’s average age is about 45 years old.
“It’s obviously getting more and more difficult to encounter someone just by luck,” Morikawa said.
Morikawa is a political scientist but is also known for his research in rennaigaku (science of love). He teaches a scientific course at the university on how men and women interact with each other and start romantic relationships, looking at how love is ultimately related to social demographics and beyond.
He acknowledges that even in the good old days, there were men and women who had difficulty finding their mates. Individuals at that time relied heavily on the arranged omiai tradition, in which relatives and third parties introduced eligible singles to one another.
Omiai accounted for seven of every 10 marriages before the war. Today, only five percent of couples end up marrying via such introductions.
It is unlikely that Japanese genes have mutated over the past few decades and the urge to mate has diminished. “This suggests that there are many people who want to fall in love and get married, but simply don’t have the chance to,” Morikawa said.
Morikawa believes the time has come for politicians to step in and help sustain the country’s population.
If couples don’t meet, there will be less marriages and without marriages, there will almost certainly be fewer children born, he said.
The declining population translates into a smaller labor force, a reduction in income tax and a social-welfare imbalance — all of which are fundamental issues Japan is already beginning to face today.
However, the government’s focus is on providing child allowances and supporting married couples that already have kids, Morikawa said. “There should be policies focused on helping young singles to meet each other,” he said.
Morikawa believes that machikon (citywide matchmaking parties) and shumikon (a matchmaking party based on a hobby) are important tools that could be utilized to achieve this.
Although he agrees that such encounters are somewhat artificial, they are highly efficient ways of aiding interaction — the first and foremost step in starting a relationship.
A regular gokon (matchmaking party) would usually feature five males and five females, he said, noting that it’s often unproductive to start with such a small sample.
“People generally judge others based on their first impressions of them after 0.15 seconds (of meeting them),” Morikawa said. “If you happen to not like someone at a gokon party, you are likely to spend the next two hours wasting time.”
In contrast, that is unlikely to happen at a machikon event involving thousands of people who are single.
“You have a better shot at finding someone special if you have the opportunity to meet more people,” he said.