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More parents in Japan try matchmaking for adult kids as number of unmarried increases

Parents introduce their children to each other at a proxy matchmaking event in Naka Ward, Yokohama, in April 2021. (Mainichi/Nao Ikeda)

YOKOHAMA -- In Japan, there is a practice called "omiai," where a man and a woman meet for the first time on the premise they may get married. Sometimes it's just the two of them, and sometimes their parents are there, too. In recent years, however, there have been more "proxy omiai" events, where the parents meet without their children present.

    As the services for finding marriage partners and the forms of marriage itself become more diverse, what do parents think about each other at these events? This 24-year-old single male reporter was allowed to cover one with the permission of the organizer.

    In early April, about 40 late middle-aged men and women gathered at a conference hall in Naka Ward, Yokohama. As soon as the start of the event was announced, the parents, who wore number tags around their necks instead of names, began to exchange descriptions of their children.

    Samples of a list of participants' children's information are seen in Naka Ward, Yokohama, in April 2021. There is a column for parents to introduce their children's personalities and strengths. (Mainichi/Nao Ikeda)

    "He's patient, so I'm sure he'll do well in marriage," said one man as he showed off his son's photo and profile. The woman he was speaking with murmured her reason for participating: "I really wanted to see my daughter's child." After the conversation, the two exchanged "personal statements" with information about their respective children, and moved on to the next table.

    In the hands of each participant is an A3-sized piece of paper called a roster. There are no names on it, but next to each person's number, in addition to basic information such as age, height, professional qualifications and hobbies, there is also a column for marital history and what they're looking for in a partner. The section that caught my attention was the "parent's view of the child's personality and strengths." This is the place to show off their children's character, such as "serious and warm-hearted," or "honest and hardworking."

    The list is based on parents' application forms, and at the venue, they rely on these numbers to find the prospective partners -- or rather their parents -- they are looking for. If the parents talk to each other and like each other, they exchange a personal statement that includes the child's name and photo as well as contact information. Then each child decides whether to actually meet with the potential match after discussing it with their parent.

    A 62-yeal-old man, who joined the event to find a partner for his son, a 33-year-old civil servant living in Yokohama's Aoba Ward, confided, "There are various services for matchmaking on the internet, but I have the impression that we don't see the real information, and I'm worried that it won't work out." He continued that he "feels safe" at this event, where he can hear things from the perspective of the other parent.

    A 66-year-old woman, the mother of a 34-year-old woman who works at a company and lives in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, said, "If someone I know gets involved, I may try to take their feelings into consideration, but at this meeting, I can say no if it doesn't meet my requirements." She continued with a smile, "It's up to the parents to participate here, but the decision is up to the child."

    The event was organized by the Association of Parents of Marriage Proposal Information based in Kyoto's Shimogyo Ward. Since its first event in October 2005, it has held more than 500 proxy matchmaking events across Japan, with some 40,000 total participants. The average age of the children is 33 for women and 38 for men.

    One of the reasons behind the growing demand for such services is that people are marrying later in life, or not at all. According to the national census, the lifetime unmarried rate, which indicates the percentage of people who have no history of marriage before the age of 50, was less than 5% for both men and women until 1985, but in 2015, it was 14.06% for women and 23.37% for men.

    Association head Shoji Wakisaka said of proxy matchmaking's advantages, "Children themselves are often aware of their own good qualities, but not of their bad qualities. Since the parents are objective, they can tell the other party about the bad aspects as well." He also said that it is easier to avoid problems between parents if they tell each other their true intentions from the beginning, such as, "My child is not a person who takes much initiative," or " "I want to live with my child at home, away from the city center."

    The parents who participate in the program are desperate. Every parent says, "It would be nice if I could find someone for my child to live with."

    A 73-year-old woman from the town of Nagaizumi, Shizuoka Prefecture, who came to look for a marriage partner for her 45-year-old son, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "It's hard to find someone who will meet our condition that the couple live together at my home in Shizuoka." It has been three years since she began trying to arrange a marriage for her son through these events, but she has made no progress, even after exchanging personal statements. Even so, "I don't want to give up on this condition," she said.

    Exchanging a personal statement does not mean that the path to marriage will be smooth. Sometimes, the children refuse to contact each other, and sometimes, when they meet, things are not as they imagined. The association doesn't get involved in what happens with the children afterwards. However, there are times when they share the joy with participating families when they receive thank-you letters from those reporting a marriage.

    Forms of marriage have become more diverse, and the assumption that "marriage equals happiness" may not be as absolute as it used to be. Still, the fact that applications are being submitted means that there are parents who want their children to marry.

    Wakisaka said, "Marriage is a way to cover each other's shortcomings. I would like to create more systems where people can get married if they find the right person."

    (Japanese original by Nao Ikeda, Yokohama Bureau)

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