A phrase heard often this winter is samusa ga mini shimiru (寒さが身に沁みる, the chill settles right into the bones), as everything — from the weather to office temperature to the predicted wintry fukeiki (不景気, bad economy, bad times) of Valentine’s Day chocolate sales — seems to have veered several degrees closer to that state known as frigid. The Japanese like to describe this island nation as ondan (温暖, warm and mild) in climate and have traditionally linked frost and low temperatures to no money and bad times. Atatakasa (暖かさ warmth) will heal and nurture everything, while samusa (寒さ, cold) deprives and worsens.

Speaking of icy, there’s also the disheartening issue of shūkatsu hyōgaki (就活氷河期, employment-campaigning ice age), which hit the nation more than a decade ago. Since then the ice, as it were, has grown thicker; college graduates scrambling to land positions (hence the campaigning) will often find a letter of naitei torikeshi (内定取り消し, employment-promise cancellation) in the mail. This now happens a lot more often than 10 years ago, and the prospect of gaining a seishain (正社員, official and formal employee) position, with its guarantee of stability and perks, gets more difficult with each shūkatsu season.

Brrr, times are tough. Makes me want to button up and crawl into bed and play games on my keitai screen for the rest of my life. Ah, tōhi! (逃避, escape!) But then I always remember talking heads in the media saying that it was this kind of escapist attitude that was to blame for the freeze that grips the nation’s economy. Shame on me.

The other chilly reality out there is that konkatsu hyōgaki (婚活氷河期, marriage?campaigning ice age) — a new but quietly terrorizing phenomenon that psychiatrists blame on the whole escapist, yarukinai (やる気ない, no gumption) attitude contaminating this country. OK, this is alarming, but mainly because — hey, do we actually have to katsudō (活動, campaign) for love and marriage on top of the daily workload? Kanbenshiteyo (勘弁してよ, give me a break)!

Seriously, though, to gain a haigūsha (配偶者, someone who shares one’s destiny, i.e., spouse) in 21st-century Japan, people are expected to campaign by first enrolling in a kekkon chūkaigyōsha (結婚仲介業社, marriage/matchmaking agency), filling out about a million forms, being pep-talked to in conference rooms with pastel-colored wallpaper and pouring tens of thousands of yen into the cause. Surely our current prime minister didn’t have to campaign this hard. And in the end, the haigusha thing will, likely as not, fail to work out; we all know that love in this country is completely on ice.

Take the case of my friend Naoko, who, like many other women in their mid to late 30s, has had it up to the gills with parents and relatives urging her to find someone nice, produce a baby and be a credit to the nation’s shōshikataisaku (少子化対策, plan to deal with the falling birth rate). Naoko is attractive and sizzlingly interesting, but the last time she had a relationship was four years ago. To avoid further her problems, she decided to put her name on a database register. And bam! — before she had the first counseling session — Naoko was asked to fill out six long forms and cough up \50,000. Naoko, however, says the fee hasn’t entirely gone to waste, for she now has her very own deai consaru (出会いコンサル, meeting-a-man consultant) who has promised to coach and guide her on the long, arduous campaign trail to marriage glory. So far the candidate pickings are bone thin, and she has already paid out \150,000.

There was a time in Japan when anyone and everyone got married. True, there were no love relationships and there was very little dating and fun, but one got one’s spouse hassle-free.

This was usually due to the Herculean efforts of the omiai obasan (お見合いおばさん, matchmaking auntie) present in every family, whose main source of joy came from hitching up relatives and acquaintances whether these people wanted it or not. (In many cases, they did the polite thing and got married, and it was sort of OK in the end.) The omiai obasan became embarrassingly feudal about 20 years ago. But a lot of young Japanese now mourn for the days when you lived a normal life, hit the tekireiki (適齢期, suitable age for marrying) and one fine day, the omiai obasan materialized on the doorstep armed with photos and resumes of young eligibles.

Call me escapist, but this seems warmer and more human than cold-blooded campaigning.

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