Aji, a small town in Kagawa Prefecture, has taken the step of organizing “omiai,” or introductions for prospective marriage partners, for its residents to deal with a dwindling population.

Aji is one of a number of municipalities that face a declining population. While some have turned to organizing parties for singles, the town’s marriage introduction service is “rare,” said Hiroko Yoshii of the town’s general affairs and planning division.

But contrary to expectations, most of those registering with the service are from outside Aji.

Renowned for producing fine stones, Aji has a population of about 6,700, but one-fourth are over age 65. Young people are leaving the town because there are few attractive jobs or places to live.

As a result, every year sees fewer and fewer marriages and births. To curb the decline and prevent an exodus out of the community, the town put aside 500,000 yen in fiscal 2002 for the program and began registering people in June.

The service is open to men above 20 and women above 18 who are residents of Kagawa Prefecture. Registrants fill in their profiles and their preferences for partners and submit their forms with photos attached. Based on these forms, the town decides who to introduce to whom.

Aji has been accepting applications from outside the town so its residents will have a larger pool of people to choose from and a greater chance of finding partners. However, only four registrants out of 68 (38 men and 30 women) are from Aji.

“We are definitely maintaining privacy, but still, Aji residents are hesitating, maybe because the staff of the Aji town office are from their neighborhoods,” Yoshii said.

Since the purpose of the enterprise is to increase the town’s population, it is considering a partial payment of expenses for introductions to residents outside the town.

Like other local municipalities, Aji tried arranging cruises and bus tours for single men living in the town. It arranged six such programs, but they turned out to be unsuccessful. About 400 people took part but only four pairs married.

“Even if we arrange such parties, shy people could not talk to those they like. Also, they are mainly popular with young people” Yoshii pointed out. “But this time, we are choosing couples who seem to get along well, so the chance of marriage will increase.”

But other officials worry that even if couples do marry, there is no guarantee they will live in the town.

“In that case, we are using public money on marriage mediation to serve non-Aji residents, and this may cause problems. Anyway, the first omiai will take place this month, so we will see the result,” one official said.

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