Tadashi Saito imagines his son leaving the office after a long day at work and trudging home to a lonely bachelor’s apartment with all the lights out and no hot food on the table.
So instead of waiting for his son to find the woman of his dreams and settle down, Saito is making the first move by joining the latest fad in the nation’s lucrative marriage market: attending a lonely-heart parent convention.
“When I imagine my son going home with nobody waiting for him, I feel sorry for him,” said Saito as he handed out photos of his 33-year-old son to parents with eligible daughters at a recent gathering in Tokyo organized by the Office Ann marriage agency.
Saito and his wife Mitsue, both 59, are among the nearly 1,500 parents who have attended one of the marriage conventions in recent years — a trend that is slowly changing the face of matchmaking for profit in Japan.
The conventions, which can gather more than 100 parents at a time, are filling the breach left by the disappearance of the traditional arranged marriage, which accounted for only 7.4 percent of marriages in 2002, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.
These meetings also reflect the growing anxiety among tradition-minded parents in a country where the percentage of unmarried people in their 20s and early 30s has skyrocketed in the past two decades, and hectic work schedules leave little time for dating.
“There’s little chance for my daughters to meet Mr. Right — we have been driven into a corner,” complained Yukio Fujita, who attended the meeting in Tokyo to seek matches for his two unmarried daughters, ages 30 and 31.
Marriage has never been a casual step in Japan, where tradition and class long dictated that unions were worked out between families or through official introductions known as “omiai.”
These arrangements, however, have declined in recent decades as more and more young people opt for choosing their own partners and marrying for love.
But with busy schedules and long work hours taking up the lion’s share of men’s — and increasingly women’s — time, finding Mr. or Ms. Right is getting harder all the time.
The parent conventions allow anguished mothers and fathers to take matters into their own hands.
Office Ann, based in Sapporo, is the leader in organizing such conventions, but they have been such a hit that at least one other major agency has started its own version and others are considering it.
The mass meetings are the brainchild of Michiko Saito, 60, president of Office Ann. The idea came to her six years ago after meeting elderly parents worried that they would die before seeing their offspring happily married.
“We each have our own values, so I don’t think everybody needs to marry,” said Saito, who is not related to Tadashi and Mitsue Saito. “But . . . I want many people to know that marriage is valuable.”
The conventions are carefully scripted affairs.
At a Tokyo hotel last month, detailed lists of the eligible — 60 women aged 25 to 42, and 55 men aged 25 to 44 — were handed out to guests. A master of ceremonies with a microphone broke the ice by cracking a few jokes.
The lists showed each entrant’s age, education and employment, family information and even blood type — believed to help determine a person’s character, much like zodiac signs.
However, one crucial piece of information was missing: names. In a nod to sensitivities about privacy, the lists assigned numbers to entrants, in part because some parents were attending without telling their children.
Guests who thought they had found a good match on the list cruised among long tables where parents — armed with photographs and resumes — were seated with their children’s numbers posted in front of them.
Parents with a possible match exchange information, and, if their children agree, a meeting is set up. The rest is up to them.
The conventions do not come cheap. Each parent paid Office Ann 8,000 yen to attend. But it is much more affordable than the 400,000 yen parents can pay marriage agencies for an individually crafted two-year spouse search.
It is not yet clear how successful the meetings have been.
Office Ann says it conducts no followup, but parents have reported some 30 marriages arranged through the conventions.
For some parents, it is just a relief to get their son or daughter out on the market.
Tadashi Saito was giddy as parent after parent stopped at his table to check out his son’s credentials.
“I thought I would have to run from one end of the room to the other to introduce my son,” he said. “But I was really surprised and happy that so many parents came to see us.”
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