Hundreds of single men and women in countless cities across the country are hopping from bar to bar every weekend in search of soul mates, or just to get to know the opposite sex, at parties known as “machikon.”
A sign of just how popular the phenomenon has become with adults here was evident in the long line formed by hundreds of people mostly in their 20s and 30s in Tokyo’s Shimotakaido district on a cold, rainy Saturday late last month.
“I hope I can meet someone to my liking,” said Tatsuya Masuoka, a 23-year-old company employee from the city of Saitama, who stood in the line with a male colleague he brought along to join the roughly 400 other singles gathered there.
Masuoka says he took part in the event because of the dearth of women in his workplace, and he and his companion spent the next few hours mingling with the opposite sex, moving around restaurants and bars in the hope that someone they like would cross their path.
Machikon is a type of matchmaking party that brings together bar- and restaurant-hopping and singles parties, with the aim of rejuvenating shuttered local shopping districts by drawing people back there.
Men and women who take part in such events typically sign up as single-sex pairs. Men usually pay around ¥6,500 per person, while women are charged around half that amount for several hours of all-you-can-eat-or-drink.
At a restaurant, they sit with the opposite sex and expect to spend the first hour or so dining as a group. But after that they are free to go anywhere, wearing wristbands as identification to gain entry to participating establishments.
If participants and their newly found friends hit it off, they can go drinking together after the parties, as they choose.
The format, which is said to trace its origin to “miyakon” parties held in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, in 2004, has caught on in many cities.
In January alone, 14 machikon parties were held on weekends in cities from Hokkaido to Fukushima, Tokyo, Osaka, Ehime and Nagasaki prefectures, according to Machicon Japan, an Internet portal dedicated to promoting and providing information on the events nationwide.
In February, more than 50 similar parties will have been held across the country by the end of the month, with many more planned in the months ahead.
“The ingenuity of machikon is that it has some merit for everyone involved — participants, organizers and restaurants,” said Ryutaro Oki, an Internet company executive who serves as an adviser for Machicon Japan.
“I think machikon will take root as an event easier and safer to participate in than existing matchmaking parties,” he said, noting that it might also help rejuvenate the economy and improve the country’s falling birthrate.
The business aspect of the events has certainly not been lost on the establishments that take part in them.
Bars and restaurants receive payments for the number of seats they provide for the events, typically between ¥2,500 and ¥3,500 per seat. But because food and drink is served in an all-you-can-eat-or-drink manner and turnover can be high, some establishments end up losing money, they say.
Nonetheless, machikon’s advertising value cannot readily be discounted, said Hiroshi Kobari, who runs Bar Harry’s in Shimotakaido and provided a venue for the throngs of single men and women in late January.
“This isn’t profitable, but it pays if PR costs are taken into account,” he said. “Thanks to the event, young people who would not come this far otherwise came to our shopping district. This is good for the district, and I’m willing to be part of a similar event.”
The success rates for the hundreds of men and women participating in these events in their quest for potential boyfriends and girlfriends are impossible to measure.
But one should not expect too much of machikon, said Junko Tanaka, a “date doctor” who has authored several books on dating and self-improvement for women under the pseudonym “Kikuno.”