National

Municipal-run services taps big data for matchmaking

Kyodo

One day in May, a woman in her 40s was browsing a tablet computer at a municipality-funded matchmaking center, searching for a prospective husband. She was surprised; the computer suggested candidates she wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

“It recommends people who were under my radar,” she said at the center run by the city of Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture. “I have a wider range of options.”

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, was one of many seeking to boost their marriage prospects through a local government matchmaking program.

The Matsuyama marriage support center has started using big data since March 2015. Based on information, such as a user’s attendance at events and search history in the system, the computer offers possible dates.

The rate of successful matches rose from 13 percent to 29 percent, while 228 couples married during fiscal 2015 and 2016, according to the center.

There are also about 240 volunteers who are available to consult with the registered members. Big data and volunteers — the two pillars are now called the Ehime method.

Amid the declining birthrate, municipalities are boosting matchmaking efforts, and people who want to get married are turning to them, viewed as more reliable and less costly compared with private operators.

At least 7,749 couples have gotten married via the municipalities’ matchmaking programs, a Kyodo News survey released earlier this month shows.

The survey said that about 600,000 people participated in matchmaking events hosted by municipalities nationwide. In fiscal 2017, all 47 prefectures earmarked budgets for such projects, totaling ¥2.35 billion, up from ¥340 million in 31 prefectures in fiscal 2012.

In August 2015, Hyogo Prefecture established a Tokyo branch of its matchmaking center, in hopes that Tokyoites who married someone from Hyogo would move to the prefecture after they get hitched.

The Tokyo branch, at first, registered only people related to Hyogo, but it later ditched that condition. It costs ¥5,000 a year to register, much less than private operators.

Only 110 people registered, with matchmaking dates fixed for 50 couples. Just one couple ended up getting married.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, meanwhile, funded a matchmaking event in March that attracted about 3,000 people.

Municipalities aren’t sure how aggressive they should be in encouraging marriage.

“It could be that we would be pressuring them into a fixed sense of value — marriage — and we should be cautious about that,” said a Kumamoto Prefecture official.

An official from Niigata Prefecture said, “It’s difficult to judge how much we should offer support because it involves a person’s lifestyle and values.”

Lawyer Keiko Ota agrees, saying municipalities should focus on increasing day care facilities and other child-care support services rather than helping singles get married.

“Many people hesitate to get married or have children because they feel they can’t afford it or aren’t sure of the future,” said Ota.