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The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry wants to improve the image of matchmaking firms in an effort to promote marriage and reverse the declining birthrate, according to ministry officials.

In its first report on matchmaking agencies, the ministry urged TV broadcasters to lift their self-imposed ban on airing their commercials. METI is also pushing for a third-party certification body to scrutinize agencies’ services.

According to a paper compiled by a METI study group, the matchmaking industry generally has a poor image because it is often confused with online dating services, which are sometimes associated with prostitution.

The document says singles are embarrassed by the idea of turning to a matchmaking service to find a spouse.

Another problem facing the industry is the growing number of disputes with customers over refund policies, such as when clients seek to cancel contracts before they expire, the report says.

TV commercials and a certification body are the key to raising the profile of the industry and preventing disputes, METI said.

Ads by matchmaking companies are carried in newspapers, magazines and online, but TV stations do not advertise services that ask for customers’ personal data because of privacy concerns.

As for the certification authority, METI said such a body should examine whether matchmaking companies comply with laws on service contracts and their cancellation, clarify the services they offer to customers and make sure matchmakers allow only singles to sign on as clients.

A third-party body to scrutinize the quality of matchmakers has been introduced in the United States, according to the paper.

There are about 4,000 matchmaking agencies in Japan, 70 percent of which are operated by individuals. The market is valued at 50 billion yen to 60 billion yen. About 600,000 people nationwide are estimated to use such services, with males making up 60 percent of the clients.

The share of singles among those of marriageable age has been rising and more people are marrying later in life, two factors thought to be behind the country’s falling birthrate, the paper says.

The study group was set up in January 2005 to examine the role of matchmaking agencies after traditional ways of meeting potential mates started to weaken, the officials said.