Business / Corporate

Need for social distancing boosts Japan's online matchmaking party business

Organizers claim some prefer virtual gatherings to face-to-face encounters

KYODO

Undaunted by cancellations of parties and dating opportunities due to the coronavirus pandemic, many singles in Japan looking for marriage partners have opted for virtual gatherings.

A total of 400 people took part in matchmaking parties in April via Zoom, the online conferencing platform of Zoom Video Communication Inc. The online parties were organized by LMO Corp. in Fukuoka Prefecture, which began holding the virtual gatherings in late March.

In contrast, just 10 to 20 people had joined when the matchmaking agency launched its one-on-one online marriage-meeting service in January, before COVID-19 infections had become a major issue in Japan.

“Following the virus outbreak, we were set to cancel a face-to-face matchmaking party scheduled for March, but it suddenly came to my mind to hold it in a virtual format,” said LMO President Kota Takada, 46.

The company has been organizing the matchmaking parties daily since April 1 and recently has been holding them at least twice a day. The parties are organized based on where participants live and their age groups.

“They are no different from usual (face-to-face) parties, except that participants see others through their screens,” Takada said. “I believe people in fact find them convenient and relaxing because they don’t need to go to the venue.”

Joined by eight men and eight women in principle, LMO’s virtual one-hour parties usually begin with a group conversation in which members introduce themselves before switching to person-to-person conversations.

Men pay a monthly membership fee of ¥3,000 but women can join free of charge. Participants need to submit identification documents, such as a drivers’ license, in advance.

“We are going through a tough time at the moment and worry about meeting people directly. I’m grateful that matchmaking agencies provide this kind of service,” said a 29-year-old woman from Miyagi Prefecture who took part in a virtual LMO party in late April.

Matchmaking services have been flourishing as Japan struggles with a rapidly graying population and low birth rate. Its total fertility rate — the average number of children born to a woman — has hovered around 1.4 since 2012.

A 36-year-old contract worker in Saitama Prefecture said the coronavirus epidemic and the insecurity she feels as a result has made her keener than ever to find a partner.

“I don’t have the confidence to live on my own, working as a nonregular employee, in the economic downturn caused by the virus pandemic,” she said.

The woman had been joining several face-to-face matchmaking parties a month until all events were canceled in April. One man she wanted to take things further with told her they cannot meet until the epidemic is over.

She then expressed interest in joining virtual parties, saying that online gatherings can “ease my worries because I can get a sense of what the men are actually like” by seeing them on screen.

While participants attending conventional parties usually check photos of other participants in advance, the photos sometimes show people in an overly flattering light.

LMO’s Takada said the virtual events have some advantages.

“Let’s say some participants have common interests such as cooking or taking care of cats. They can show their home cooking or pet cats to each other easily and quickly.”

He predicted there will still be a need for online matchmaking parties even after the epidemic ends. Events targeting people working overseas are among his next ideas.

“Even in the midst of this coronavirus calamity, I hope spouse seekers don’t stop their activities and instead turn this situation into a step toward happy marriage,” Takada said.

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