Meeting soulmate in Japan

Marie Ebersolt

31st July, 2023

In Japan, as in France, many couples are formed through dating sites, and this phenomenon is now a matter of course. Alongside the workplace and the network of friends, these digital interfaces occupy the podium of the first opportunities to land a tête-à-tête with love potential. However, there is one thing that seems to be specific to Japan. It is not unrelated to the traditional practice of matchmaking. How do the Japanese go about finding a soul mate? This is today's investigation.

When you're single and looking to invest in a lasting relationship, the inevitable yet most problematic step is the opportunity to meet someone. After scouring the workplace, the network of friends, parties, bars or creative workshops, the last hope lies in the institutionalised singles market. There are several of these, in various forms. Apps, websites and marriage agencies. At the same time, there are more informal systems. These are called gô-kon. Their sole aim is to bring young people together. The aim is above all to get to know each other, and more if they have a special affinity. Organisers bring friends, pals or colleagues, and the number of participants is predefined so that there are as many boys as girls. The atmosphere is convivial in the restaurant or tapas bar. The practice is now so commonplace that service providers have created a veritable marketplace of love-seeking singles. All you have to do is sign up and everything is in place, without the hassle of planning bookings or getting members together.

These arranged encounters are the modern version of the miai. They date back to the 17th century and were reserved for the nobility and families of military lineage. The aim was to seal alliances in the interests of the families, in order to gain economic and political advantages. This custom is, after all, universal, particularly in the upper echelons of society, where marital unions are an issue on which the stature of the families concerned depends. It is perhaps less so in contemporary times, where love marriages have gained ground in so-called 'modern' countries. In Japan, arranged marriages have also been growing among the working classes since the nineteenth century, accounting for seventy per cent of marriages at the beginning of the previous century. Nowadays, miai (which literally means "to look at each other") are at the origin of less than one in ten weddings, but they are just as codified as they used to be. First of all, a booklet containing a photo and a brief introduction is drawn up. An intermediary, paid or unpaid, searches his or her entourage for a suitable candidate. If there is no such person, the booklet is produced with their agreement and offered to the requesting family. If both parties are interested, a meeting is arranged. The parents may be present, but not necessarily. If the potential couple find that they are a good match, they begin dating, wondering whether their compatibility can be pursued through an official union. This is how a relationship can begin, with marriage as its ultimate goal. There is even an expression dedicated to this and used when two lovers, even if they know each other in ways other than miai, wish to start a lasting relationship. Marriage is a real concern for the Japanese, for whom it is an inescapable institution for every individual. Women must marry before they are twenty-five, men before they are thirty, otherwise they could suffer a reputation for being irresponsible. This mentality is still so entrenched today that there is a neologism, kon-katsu, literally "activity to get married".

Being actively on the lookout for a fiancée or fiancée could be a social network 'status'. Gô-kon, the modern version of arranged meetings without the intervention of a matchmaker, have become so common that today they are a breeding ground for furtive or friendly relationships. To reinforce the commitment dimension, matrimonial agencies have multiplied and modernised with the decline of intermediaries. You need to provide information about your age, occupation, annual income, hobbies and wishes regarding the candidate. After searching, the agency will propose different profiles. Registration, search, organisation of the meeting, intermediaries for possible exchanges, happy or unhappy outcome, everything is priced. For something a little more natural, but with the desire to achieve a more lasting relationship than that which might emerge from a gô-kon, it is possible to use the services of group dating organisers. Various settings and options are available. Depending on your age, your hobbies, the environment in which you want to meet and where you live, you can find a genuine repertoire that will enable you to take part in a tailor-made event. Just search, register and go to the venue. Everything is organised to make sure you look your best. It's up to us!

The magic of the encounter may no longer be there, but the fact remains that the first contact can be found on every street corner, and today, on every page of a search engine. While the first and famous step is certainly artificial, once it has been taken, there is nothing anyone can do except decide whether or not to go on a journey together. This commitment is universal.

Marie Ebersolt