Japan is currently struggling with an aging and shrinking population. The average age for first marriage shows that both men and women are getting married later than their previous generations. Numerous factors exist behind this trend such as the lack of confidence in their job security nor financial resources, increasing number of career-oriented women with social and economic independence and the changes in personal values that marriage should not be considered as the only option in life. Along with this trend, a survey that was conducted in 2017 found that about 28% of the male and 30% of female students in higher education had never experienced dating in their lives. However, this does not mean that Japanese are not seeking any committed relationships. Not long before, Japanese people first met up through friends, family, workplace or a matchmaker. This still remains as the mainstream medium for dates, but with the changes in people’s responses towards dating/marriage and the mixture of the current situation, the Japanese have developed unique ways to seek their potential partners. Here are some recent approaches Japanese have taken to meet with new people.
This is a more modernised group blind date. The word emerged from the combination of ‘goudo’ meaning ‘mixed’ and ‘konpa’ for ‘casual meeting.’ Usually, Goukon is being carried out in a group of 6 or 8 in total (No odd numbers- the number of men and women should be equal). There are organisers respectively for the men and women group who know each other and bring their single friends or coworkers with them. The venue will typically be at Izakaya(a type of Japanese bars) in a private room (there are many izakayas that offer rooms/ menus for Goukon!) with men and women sitting opposite to face each other. The gathering kicks off with a toast and a self-introduction by each member. The conversation might be carried out as a group at first but will eventually be separated into smaller group or pairs as the time passes by. Drinking games or seat swapping takes place if the groups are vibing well. Unlike the traditional blind dates where you’re entirely on your own, Goukon is more casual and allows people to meet in a more relaxed atmosphere with the comfort of being with your friends. However, Goukon may sound like a fun gathering, but it can be unusually complex. For one, you consistently have to learn from the atmosphere and people’s expressions to seek if there are any people attracted to one another. There might be a scene where all or some female excuse themselves to the restrooms to discuss the situation. This is very important, as there is potential to leave some awkwardness in their friendships after the event if the person they are attracted to is the same. If the group gets along really well, they may transfer to another venue for additional drinks/ food or even karaoke. The event concludes with the exchanges of contact information within the groups. It might elaborate to something more serious by sending individual messages and setting up another private meeting.
Machikon / Shumikon
With the increasing popularity of Goukon, some local communities or event companies have modified it to a bigger scale. Machikon is more like speed dating with the aim of boosting the interactions of the people within the area. Prior registrations can be completed by paying the admission fee. Anyone can be eligible as long as they pass the age restriction. Because the participants can surpass 100 or even 500, it is challenging to accommodate all of them in one venue. Therefore, some people would move around the designated izakayas or restaurants and have a small goukon with anyone there. Now machikon has extended to what is called shumikon- where people who enjoy the same hobbies gather together. Izakaya and restaurants are not the only options for venues, these machikon/shumikon have moved to even zoos, beer gardens, bus tours and even at kickboxing studios! Also, participants may require to have a prerequisite for certain machikon/ shumikon for entry. For example, all men need to be taller than 175cm or earn more than the average annual salary. They will need to provide ID or some kind similar, to certify that they have met the prerequisites.
While Goukon has become a popular approach in bringing people together, you only get to meet 2 or 3 potential partners within the same time, even despite lots of time and energy that’s been put for the arrangement. People were seeking a more casual and simpler way to meet people in a short time. Thus, izakaya was designed to meet those demands for daters. Aiseki Izakaya only offers tables to share with the strangers to have a chat over food and alcohol. The time-based system works at this Izakaya as male customers are charged around 1,500yen (roughly around AUD$25) for every 30 minutes. Because the system relies on gathering more women, it is complimentary for female customers. Once you enter, it’s all you can eat and drink! A self-serve alcohol bar is often furnished to make your own drinks, as well as a comprehensive food bar to eat all night. Customers will either be guided to the table with people already sitting down or will have to wait until somebody comes to their table. There is no time limit (but remember- male customers are charged every 30 minutes) so customers can stay as much as they want to get to know each other. When there is no spark in the interactions, anyone can change the partners by simply filling the ‘table exchange cards,’ that are placed in the restrooms and then secretly handed to the staff. After a while, the staff will come to politely ask them to exchange the tables by giving them a solid reason, such as explaining that they will need to balance out the number of male and female customers. The twist comes here as the staff are well-trained to act this out by not telling the real reasons for the exchange so that no one will be embarrassed.
With the increasing popularity of online dating, offline datings are still relatively predominant in the Japanese dating context. Goukon, Machikon, and Aiseki Izakaya have certainly established its presence in the current Japanese society. Although, the methods of how Japanese meet have varied over time, while good communication and an understanding for each other still remain as the core principle to build better relationships. Even if it does not evolve to something romantic, there is potential to form a new friendship, expanding their social network.