Marriage-shy Japanese turning to temple priests for help with matchmaking

Posted the Japan Times by Akane Sujino on November 1, 2016

Although traditionally seen as conductors of funerals or memorial services, some Buddhist monks in Japan are carving out a new niche as matchmakers for singles looking to marry.

In a country where an increasing number of people are marrying relatively late in life or not tying the knot at all, some are coming to temples after trying online dating or other avenues without success.

For one thing, in the traditional view, potential partners who consult monks for marriage advice are likely to be of good moral character, and the fact that monks tend to charge far less for their services than commercial matchmakers doesn’t hurt either.

Monks, in turn, are counting on the matchmaking business to provide a new stream of revenue at a time when religion is losing its appeal.

On a weekend in early October, around 60 men and women in their 20s to 40s gathered at Tenryuin, a temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. Together they chanted lines from the Heart Sutra, one of the best-known Buddhist texts.

Later, chief priest Shinichi Kitaori, 46, addressed the group in the main hall: “Today will never return. I want you to form a strong connection with each other at this temple.”

The event was planned by a group called Kichienkai, which translates as auspicious bond society and was formed in 2010 by a group of young Rinzai priests.

Koshi Kimiya, a 38-year-old deputy chief priest of Ryuunji, a temple in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, founded the group after a friend asked him for advice on finding a spouse.

At the Tokyo temple, the average age of participants in what Japanese call konkatsu (marriage hunting) was 34. More women were keen on participating in the October event than men, with five female applicants per vacancy, compared with 3-to-1 for men.

Among them was a 39-year-old female clerical worker who said she has little opportunity to meet eligible men because “all (her) male co-workers are married.” Her mother, who lives in the countryside, is also pressuring her to wed because she wants to see a grandchild before she dies, she added.

Unable to afford matchmaking companies that typically charge more than ¥500,000 ($4,800) in fees, she found Kichienkai online, noting the ¥3,000 charge for participation.

“I have no other place to rely on,” she said. “I applied, hoping for sincere support.”

A 37-year-old woman working as a temporary employee said: “I’m afraid of online matchmaking because a friend of mine fell victim to marriage fraud. I feel the people coming to events at the temple are honest.”

Participants also had a chance to speak one-on-one with each other after making gift-wrapping ties together as a recreational activity.

At the end of the proceedings, they wrote their names and email addresses on cards and placed them in envelopes bearing the names of those they found attractive, indicating willingness for future contact by email.

“Being shy, I find it nice to start out from email,” said a 35-year-old male company employee while preparing envelopes. He said he had been without a steady girlfriend for 10 years.

A 2015 survey by a government institute shows among singles aged between 18 and 34, 70 percent of men and 60 percent of women said they had no steady romantic partners.

Yet nearly 90 percent of both men and women said they wanted to get married eventually, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

People who stay unmarried until age 50 formed only 1.7 percent of men and 3.3 percent of women in 1970 in Japan. But the ratio rose to 20.1 percent for men and 10.6 percent for women in 2010, according to the institute.

Against the backdrop of a growing number of people in financially unstable temporary employment, the institute predicts the figure to rise to 29 percent for men and 19.2 percent for women in 2035.

Akiko Nirasawa, author of “Konkatsu Nanmin” (“Marriage Hunting Refugees”), said temples are giving hope to those in their 30s or older who are fed up with other matchmaking services, where the focus is on selection criteria.

“Appearance, age and annual income tend to receive greater attention at arranged one-on-one meetings, online services or parties,” Nirasawa said.

Kichienkai has joined hands with some 800 temples across Japan and so far events have been held in Shizuoka, Tokyo, Aichi and Gifu prefectures. In November, it will host an event in Oita for the first time.

While such events are held essentially to help people in need, some monks said they are hoping that the new mission will draw more people to temples, which may help to address the drop in revenues amid the declining number of parishioners.

“People in their 20s to 40s, who usually stay away from temples, trust us priests” to conduct konkatsu events, said Kimiya, who heads the group’s secretariat.

According to a voluntary survey on the Kichienkai website, the matchmaking service has successfully paired at least 95 married couples, out of some 7,000 participants, since 2010.

I’m in my early 30s. Many women my age are pretty desperate to get married . I find it usual to hear some got married simply because they gave themselves a deadline (usually 30). One wants a divorce after 6 months but the husband won’t give it to her unless she does what he wants (like repaying 100% of the wedding costs, when she didn’t want an expensive wedding ;and having her parents bow down to him to apologize) After mediation the only solution was to ‘live apart’ for 5 years and until then she can’t remarry,by then she’ll be 35+? …the deadline thing really backfired.

Another one was depressed after her fiancé got cold feet and called off the engagement . I can’t really blame the fiancé tho- through my limited time with them, I observed she would always ‘hint’ at him to propose (“oh he hasn’t proposed yet, I wonder if he’ll do so soon?” in front of the guy) , I guess he felt pressured to finally do so and when he did he regretted it. She’s 32 and and tried to get me to matchmake her with anyone ‘who has a nose, two eyes, two legs’ and ‘who can give her at least Jpy 200 000 a month’ (for which my boyfriend, also a foreigner destroyed her by saying why doesn’t she earn her money and kissing me in front of her and being thankful to me for not being Japanese)

And yet another one also my age, is schizophrenic and is desperate to find a husband. Because of her condition she can’t hold down a job and is seriously worried about what ll happen when her parents pass (they are in their 70s). The govt locked her up at an asylum for a certain time and released her, but she’s afraid next time they come for her it’ll be for good (apparently it’s mandatory) , so she wants a white husband to ferry her away from Japan. She spent a couple of months in Australia trying match maker services to no avail. Her medication unfortunately makes her face twitch uncontrollably so I find her prospects of finding a hot Aussie mate (she likes only the hot ones, who are 6-8 years younger than her) low.

Another one, also my age, is parading herself around foreigners (somehow, many Japanese men seem very strict with the age thing – the eligible and well employed bachelors all want the 20somethings) who are more forgiving of the age.. .
I told my other non Japanese friends I find it really amazing, the effort these women put in trying to get hitched. I told my schizophrenic friend if she can’t just find a hobby and maybe meet guys naturally instead of going from one dating site like tinder (where guys probably don’t want to get married anyway) to another. Nevertheless she ends up getting used, having sex with guys who want sex while she wants the whole shebang.

Way before, I had talked to my head chef who was Japanese and I said maybe it’s the Japanese guys who are too picky that’s why there are so many unmarried women. But he said, no, it’s not that, it’s the women who have enormously high standards that they make it difficult for men, with all these “stages to clear” even tho the women are clearly “not high standard” themselves.Many Japanese women, it seems, are aiming too high.

When I date guys, I rarely consider the $$-because at the back of my head I can earn my own $$. It’s hard enough to find a great guy you click with that fits all your requirements (physical +intellectual +emotional) so I always thought I’d do without throwing in any financial requirements in the mix.

I don’t know maybe, their true love doesn’t make half a million yen a month but still a great guy— but how would you know if you filtered him out just because the salary quota doesn’t meet your standards? And just because he’s flipping burgers (or teaching English now) now doesn’t mean he’ll do it forever.