Single and Japanese? The government will find you a date.

Japan is entering what some sociologists call a “marriage ice age.”
So, the government is trying its hand at matchmaking.

Japan is entering what some sociologists call a “marriage ice age.”

Nearly one third of Japanese people under 40 have never been in a relationship at all. This is, according to the country’s leaders, a crisis. Fewer marriages mean fewer kids — and a stark population decline threatening the economy and Japan’s entire way of life. That’s why the government is trying its hand at matchmaking.

Most Japanese prefecture-level governments now offer “marriage support,” usually online-based systems that pair singles looking for romance. Saitama prefecture, population 7 million, is one of them. (If Tokyo is New York City, Saitama is like New Jersey.)

The World spoke to Saitama officials to learn how Japanese government matchmaking differs from popular dating apps such as Tinder.

112 questions

Anyone applying to Saitama’s matchmaking service must upload a selfie, proof of income and government identification verifying their age and height. They’ll also have to answer an extensive personality test. Sample questions include: If you make a mistake, and someone calls you out, do you try to fix it? Do you struggle to explain what makes you happy in life? When you embark on new tasks, do you feel confident?

Once the answers are submitted, the system’s algorithm will produce three potential matches, each with a photo and basic details: height, career, age and little else.

Applying costs the equivalent of $70.

Selfie assistance

Japanese government matchmaking has a human touch. Applicants can visit the center and seek advice if they’re not getting dates. “We might have to say, ‘You’re being too picky about age,’” said Akuto Kayo, a Saitama Marriage Center administrator. “Some men also need help with their selfies — they take photos that don’t look inviting — so, we’ll help take a brighter, better photo. We want them to make a good first impression.”

A tutorial showing how NOT to take a selfie — for applicants struggling to find a match.Saitama Marriage Support Center

No chatting before the date

Unlike Tinder and similar apps, Japanese government matchmaking doesn’t allow couples to text online before the date. An applicant receives three matches, chooses one and — if the match also wants to go on a date — the system spits out a location and a time to meet. That’s it. No interminable chatting beforehand.

How good is the algorithm at selecting matches? Not bad, according to Erina Kato, a former applicant. She met her match outside a cake shop, went out for dinner and, by the end of the date, “I felt like I was meeting an old friend. Someone I’ve known a long time.”

They’re now married.

It’s not for hookups

Japan’s government wants to facilitate marriages — and ultimately kids — so, the system disincentivizes casual encounters. It’s assumed that people only looking for sex won’t answer an extensive questionnaire, nor submit government documents.

There are anti-creep safeguards

Saitama’s matchmaking system helps people guard their privacy. Singles can go on a first date without disclosing much about their lives. Only upon the second date are fuller biographical details — including complete names — revealed to both parties. Kayo, the administrator, said, “If you’ve met up once, but the other person can’t get over you, they have no way to find out who you are.”

But does it result in more babies?

According to Pew Research Center studies of US couples, roughly 10% of American married couples met through a dating app. In Japan, the figure is closer to 25%, though that includes all matchmaking services, both government-assisted and for-profit apps.

Saitama’s matchmaking center, in the past six years, has facilitated more than 12,000 dates, but this led to only about 500 marriages. As for how many of those couples have had children, the center actually doesn’t know. The matchmaking center is fixated on privacy and deletes each applicant’s profile once they’re on the marriage track.

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