National / Social Issues

Matchmaking events aim to pair rural men with city women willing to move

Kyodo

As demographic changes make it increasingly hard for rural men to find partners, authorities in Niigata Prefecture have begun holding matchmaking events in which women from far afield are invited to meet a potential mate in one of Japan’s major agricultural regions.

On a morning in March, 14 serious-looking men aged 26 to 42 exited a building in a snow-covered roadside rest area in Tokamachi, Niigata Prefecture, to await a bus carrying more than a dozen young women from a nearby train station.

Earlier in the morning, the men living in the city of Niigata and its vicinity had gathered in the building’s conference room to listen to advice from a matchmaking instructor. “Don’t be afraid of being laughed at. When they (women) speak, nod in sympathy,” Sosuke Takahashi, 43, said before the arrival of 13 women aged 27 to 38 from Tokyo for a two-day konkatsu spouse-hunting event.

The occasion was organized jointly by the Niigata Prefectural Government and various municipalities. Zwei Co., a major matchmaking agency, was commissioned to run the event.

If a match is made, the woman must be willing to relocate to the prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast.

“We have few opportunities to meet young women in the city,” a 36-year-old manufacturing worker from Tokamachi said after the round of self-introductions, the first item on the event’s program. “I haven’t spoken to so many women in years,” he added happily.

The group visited a popular modern art museum in the city in the afternoon. Some men and women hit it off on the bus and walked around the museum together.

After the first day, Takahashi and Zwei staff members analyzed information collected from the participants and worked late into the night to make seating and other arrangements for the second day.

A 36-year-old dental hygienist took part in the event because of her longing for “slow life” in the countryside. “I am tired of urban life,” she said.

During lunch at a restaurant in Ojiya renovated from an old farmhouse, many men remained too shy to speak to the women. Takahashi encouraged them to act more assertively, stressing that the women wanted to be approached.

The event resulted in the formation of 10 couples — bringing the total to more than 20 through three events. A 27-year-old man who found a partner thanked Takahashi and other staff members for their help.

But matched couples do not necessarily marry, as the physical distance poses challenges to a relationship.

After the women returned home, Takahashi gathered men who found partners and gave them advice on how to proceed. “Make an appointment to meet your partner soon and don’t send emails that are too serious,” he stressed.

Both male and female participants have since continued to seek advice from Takahashi on such issues as how to reply to emails from partners.

The Niigata government set aside ¥5 million from a central government subsidy program in fiscal 2016 to support konkatsu events. It has not yet received news of a marriage, however.

“Marriage is a personal choice and timing varies among individuals,” a prefectural official said. “It is difficult to figure out how much involvement we should have.”

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