Parents of unmarried offspring drive surge in matchmaking parties

by Megumi Iizuka

Kyodo

More and more Japanese parents are attending matchmaking parties in an effort to marry off their children, worried that they will be part of the growing segment of the population that never ties the knot.

Although matchmaking for political or financial reasons was common in the past, with couples brought together via the services of intermediaries, these days parents are doing the legwork themselves to find someone their sons or daughters may genuinely love.

Armed with profiles of their offspring, more than 60 parents joined a matchmaking party at a Tokyo hotel in mid-January organized by matchmaking business provider Living Mariage. After carefully browsing through the details, they spent time talking to the parents of potential matches — sometimes waiting in line to do so. Sachiko Fukazawa, 64, who came to look for a partner for her 38-year-old daughter, said, “I want my daughter to find someone with whom she can live in a mutually supportive relationship. She herself is busy working so I came here to boost her chances.”

She added that she was hoping to meet parents she gets along with and with whom she has things in common, “because it would be difficult to have in-laws who are so different from us,” she said.

If both sides consent, participants can exchange their contact details and bring profiles home to show their offspring. Then, if they agree to the match, the potential couple may start dating.

Only parents who have gained prior consent from their children can attend the party, which lasts about two hours and costs participants ¥10,000 ($93) each.

Matchmaking parties for parents have been held for more than a decade, but organizers have been seeing particularly strong demand recently and are increasing the frequency of such events.

Living Mariage now holds parties three to four times a month, up from an average of once a month up until three years ago.

In 2017, the company held 40 matchmaking sessions that drew around 2,000 participants.

“In the past, parents or neighbors would introduce someone suitable for people reaching marriageable age. There were also more matchmakers called nakōdo. But these days, it has become difficult for many people to get married,” said Naoya Hirano, who heads Living Mariage.

“The biggest advantage of matchmaking parties for parents is that they can meet potential in-laws in advance and get a general idea of the family’s outlook and values.

So if their children like each other, there is a high probability that they end up marrying smoothly without parental objections,” he said. In the late 1930s nearly 70 percent of marriages were arranged, but the figure fell below 50 percent by around 1960 and had plummeted to just 5.5 percent by 2014.

In contrast, people marrying for love had increased to nearly 90 percent by 2014, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

Meanwhile, the proportion of people who had never married by the age of 50 climbed to 23.37 percent for men and 14.06 percent for women in 2015, up from 12.57 percent for men and 5.82 percent for women in 2000.

Unstable working conditions and low incomes, as well as more people opting to remain single to pursue their interests, are believed to be behind the growing trend, which researchers say could further accelerate Japan’s declining birthrate.

Still, people are not losing interest in marriage.

According to a separate survey by the same institute in 2015, nearly 90 percent of both single men and women aged between 18 and 34 expressed their wish to get married one day.

Masahiro Yamada, professor of sociology of family at Chuo University, said, “A lot of Japanese, particularly those who have reached parental age, still value marriage as a way to keep the family line going and attain financial stability.”

Hence many parents whose children are reaching middle age have been pushed to act, increasingly worried about what will happen to their children after they die.

“Many parents are eager to marry off their children any way they can, because it is too painful for them to imagine their children dying all alone,” Yamada said.

At the matchmaking party she attended in January to seek a mate for her daughter, Fukazawa spoke about the challenges involved and what drives her on.

“Finding the right person is a bit like searching for a diamond in the desert. But I will keep on searching because I want my daughter to find someone she can be with for the rest of her life.”