Japanese singles looking for love are not waiting for fate to take its
course. They are actively searching through something called a
"marriage hunt." The popular phrase is giving matchmaking companies a
big boost in business. The Japanese government is even joining in on
Love songs set the mood for a matchmaking party in Tokyo's ritzy Ginza district. Tables for two line the room where men sit on one side, the women on the other.
The couples exchange something called profile cards detailing everything from their work schedules to hobbies. Both sides have one minute to introduce themselves until they are asked to change seats.
More than 50 people fill the room on this night. Exeo Japan the country's largest matchmaking company describes this as a smaller group. Spokeswoman Fumiko Nishizawa says some events draw more than 100. There is so much interest in these gatherings that Exeo can not find a room big enough.
Nishizawa says people are always surprised at the number of people taking part in the events. They are taken aback by how many men and women are still single.
This 39-year-old man is too embarrassed to give his name. He says he has been here four times now because he can not meet women anywhere else.
Matchmaking services have become a booming business in Japan, thanks to a popular book released last year. In the book Marriage Hunting Era co-author Touko Shirakawa wrote that singles had to work harder for true love, and that waiting for a soul mate was not enough.
She coined the term "konkatsu" - a play on the Japanese words for marriage and action.
Shirakawa says there was an entire industry built on matchmaking. But it was considered an embarrassment to search for a spouse so aggressively. She says people were secretly searching until her term "konkatsu" made it okay to do so publicly.
Shirakawa compares the "marriage hunt" to a job hunt. She encourages hunters to perfect the resume and dress to impress. Some companies even host seminars to prepare people for a matchmaking event. The term "konkatsu" has become so popular there is even a television drama named after it.
That popularity is welcome news for Japan, where the birthrate has been declining for more than three decades now, and the country's population is beginning to shrink. The percentage of men and women who remain single into their late 30s has tripled since the 1980s. And the government says without marriage, there are no children.
Shirakawa says in the days of lifetime employment, singles often looked to the office for a life partner. Companies took care of every aspect of their workers lives by housing them in dorms and feeding them in cafeterias. They hired single women to work, who often married co-workers. Women were forced to resign once they married.
Over the past 20 years, lifetime employment has become less common in Japan. Companies now provide fewer social services for their workers, and many women are intent on building careers, so they delay marriage. But Shirakawa says the global economic crisis has helped renew interest in marriage. She says singles are now looking to tie the knot, for financial stability.
The government says surveys show 90 percent of single adults would like to marry, so some city officials are organizing their own marriage hunts.
Back in Ginza, the 39-year-old man wraps up the two-hour event by writing down then names of his top three choices.
If one of those women pick him, the host announces them as a couple.
He does not hear his number called on this night but he is not discouraged. He says he has been picked before at these events, but still has not been able to establish a successful relationship.