For young Japanese seeking romance, beauty is in the eye of the dating app

by

Staff Writer

Japan’s millennials are apathetic about romance, and everyone knows it.

But according to Hirokazu Nakamura, chief product officer and chief marketing officer of Tokyo-based startup Eureka Inc., young people are not losing interest in love itself.

“It’s more about the whole process of falling in love with someone. It is just too much hassle for young people,” Nakamura said at a business briefing this month organized by Eureka, the developer of Japan’s popular dating app Pairs. “They have been placed in a situation where finding love is too difficult. They just have too many things that they want to prioritize.”

While the surge in people remaining single may seem unstoppable, online dating apps have become increasingly popular among young Japanese, who are more inclined to pursue better kosupa (cost-performance) in finding love.

Eureka’s Pairs is just one of many dating apps aimed at making the process of finding a soulmate as easy as tapping and swiping on a smartphone screen.

When you open Pairs, a list of photos and profiles of other registered members appears on the screen. A user who finds someone attractive can send that person a “like.” If it is accepted, the pair become a “match” and start an online conversation. Registration is free, but male participants must pay a monthly fee of ¥3,480 if they want to exchange unlimited messages.

Between its launch in 2012 and this month, the app has been used by more than 7 million registered people, and some 4,000 every month enter a relationship, according to the company. About 80 percent of the users are in their 20s or 30s.

Taishi and Ayumi Kobayashi, both 29, are one such couple. They married after becoming a match through Pairs in July 2015.

Although skeptical about online dating at first, Taishi, who works in the financial sector, said that meeting someone via software turned out to be easy and effective because it increases the chance of finding someone “attractive.”

“Even if you want to have a relationship with people around you, like in the same school or in the same circle, it’s always difficult to find someone who shares the same values,” he said. With the app, “I could meet someone who I had absolutely no chance of meeting before.”

Ayumi also said matchmaking apps fit well with young people’s lifestyles, as it makes finding love “efficient.”

“I often used the app during my free time. It was not like going to a konkatsu (matchmaking) party, where you have to actually be there and have strict time limits to talk with one person,” she said. “To start a relationship from scratch takes a lot of time. … But the service makes the process very efficient.”

The rise in such apps can trace its roots to changing attitudes regarding romance by young people, who want to avoid wasting limited time and money on things they feel are not worthwhile, said Yasumasa Kosaka, an associate professor at Wako University who studies youth psychology.

Dating apps are convenient in that they allow people to skip the conventional time-consuming efforts needed to establish a relationship — like going out numerous times to find out if the other person is really an ideal match — because such information is in the member profiles, he said.

Finding a partner outside one’s community is another advantage such apps provide today’s young people, who tend to worry about how their decisions affect their community if they enter a relationship with someone in their social circle, Kosaka said.

“Young people today are, to an extent, more conscious about how their actions affect others,” he said. “They tend to be afraid of disturbing the community atmosphere. If there is a risk, they choose the status quo and enjoy the friendships they have” instead of pursuing a relationship.

But there is still a negative image in Japan about meeting someone online, as some shady deai-kei online dating services have been hotbeds for child prostitution and other crimes.

But young people seem to be less hesitant in pursuing a relationship online as more well-known companies are entering the dating app market, Kosaka said.

MatchingAgent Inc., a subsidiary of internet services media CyberAgent Inc., has offered the matchmaking service Tapple Tanjo since 2014, used by more than 3 million members as of January. Most are in their early 20s, according to the company.

E-commerce giant Rakuten Inc. meanwhile operates Rakuten O-net, a service designed for people who are serious about finding a marriage partner.

Foreign services including Tinder, a U.S.-based dating app giant that boasts users in more than 190 countries, have also been accessed in Japan, though a Tinder spokesman declined to detail how extensively it is used in Japan as the company doesn’t have a branch here.

The dating app market in Japan is expected to more than double to ¥57.7 billion by 2022 from ¥20.8 billion in 2017, according to MatchingAgent.

At Eureka’s business briefing, Chief Executive Officer Junya Ishibashi emphasized that the Pairs app is different from dubious deai-kei services used mostly by people seeking one-night stands. The company belongs to Match Group, a U.S.-based world-leading dating service giant that also runs Tinder.

Pairs requires users to link their profile with a Facebook account or mobile phone number to avoid improper use, such as fake accounts by married people or minors, he said.

Improper messages, including obscene photos and indications of compensated dating, are scrutinized by staff 24 hours a day.

“People often have to give up seeking a relationship if they live in a remote area, or if their life is all about going back and forth between work and home, or they are simply too busy for a single’s party,” Ishibashi said.

“We believe people should have the right to make the right choice when they come to a crossroads without making compromises. With Pairs, we want people to enjoy romance when they want.”

But Kosaka of Wako University warns that providing too many options may actually hinder the search for the right partner.

“When given too many options, people start to think that maybe they can find someone better than the person they are communicating with now, and end up failing to decide on someone they really like,” he said, “Finding the right partner can be even more difficult when you have more options to choose from.”

According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in 2015, 70 percent of unmarried men and 60 percent of unmarried women between the ages of 18 and 34 were not in a relationship. The percentage grew from a decade earlier by about 17 percentage points for men and 14 percentage points for woman.