Masanobu Ota, a farmer in Ureshino, Saga Prefecture, and his wife Etsuko, married last year thanks to the help of a matchmaker — the prefectural government.
Masanobu, 28, met Etsuko, 38, at a konkatsu (spouse-hunting) event held by the Saga Prefectural Government in November 2015. Working as a nurse in Tokyo, Etsuko was aware of the importance of diet and nutrition and wanted to produce her own food.
During the event, Masanobu took to Etsuko, who listened attentively when he explained his pesticide-free approach to agriculture. They agreed to see each other again whenever possible.
Within two months of that first meeting, Masanobu decided that Etsuko was the one. Their difference in age did not matter to him.
One day in January 2016, when Etsuko was on a flight from Tokyo to Saga to see him, Masanobu suddenly appeared on the plane, went down on one knee and proposed. In his hand he held a beautiful ring.
Etsuko, who had been expecting Masanobu to meet her at Saga airport, had no hesitation in accepting.
The midair proposal was arranged in cooperation with the airline and was followed by a surprise airport welcome ceremony involving Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi.
The prefectural government began konkatsu events in fiscal 2015, targeting women in Tokyo interested in relocating to the prefecture. It arranged get-togethers between women and agricultural and fisheries workers looking for wives. Two couples have married over the past two years including Masanobu and Etsuko, who tied the knot in April 2016.
Masanobu, together with his parents, grows green tea and rice. He also hunts wild boar and other animals. Etsuko has begun working on the farm with Masanobu’s support.
“Every day is full of happy surprises,” she said.
As the aging and declining population becomes a more serious problem for the country, all 47 prefectural governments have conducted matchmaking events.
The Tottori government held a matchmaking event in February for local men to meet women from Tokyo, but it struggled to woo enough female participants as they were required to pay their own travel costs.
By contrast, a separate two-day event organized the same month by the Tottori Municipal Government, inviting 10 women from the Kansai region to meet local men, attracted five times as many applicants as the city office charged only ¥3,000 to participate and paid train fares.
Behind regional governments’ redoubled efforts at matchmaking is the trend among some women to forsake urban living for life in the country.
In 2014, a government survey found that 40 percent of men and women living in Tokyo have considered moving out of the capital. A large number of women between their teens and their 30s were eager to relocate to the countryside when they marry — which should bode well for the farmers and fishermen in rural areas in search of a wife.
Some 80 women filled a room in the Shibuya Hikarie commercial complex in Tokyo in mid-April to listen to women who have done just that. One of the speakers moved to Iki Island in Nagasaki Prefecture, married a local man and became an ama diver, collecting seaweed and shellfish.
A 41-year-old woman from Chiba Prefecture, who works as a temporary staffer, was inspired by what she heard because she commutes in a packed train every day and wonders, “Why am I doing this?”
When she turned 40, she grew eager to have a family and began serious spouse-hunting, including taking part in a konkatsu event in Niigata.
“Many of the men were more straightforward and sincere than those in Tokyo, and I’d be willing to attend such an event again,” she said.
A 28-year-old female sales representative with a manufacturing company in Tokyo often returns home on the last train because she has to work late. Too tired to go out, she stays in bed on the weekends. She plans to relocate to the countryside by the time she turns 30.
“I will hardly have any chances to fall in love and marry if I stay in Tokyo,” she said.