Racing with Marriage - A Peculiar Trend of Modern Japan
Thursday, November 21, 2019
The rise of konkatsu "marriage hunting" in Japan.
Japan has seen a sharp decline in the number of people planning to tie the proverbial “knot” and the Japanese government is struggling to implement solutions to stimulate marriage amongst the youth. In this fragile climate of population decline, matchmaking companies and agencies are booming with their konkatsu services in an attempt to remedy this social “problem” and of course make a pretty penny while doing so.
The origin of konkatsu
Konkatsu is formed by the combination of kekkon 結婚(getting married) and katsudo 活動(action) in Japanese. Konkatsu can be roughly translated into English as “searching for a potential partner with the purpose of marriage”. The concept of konkatsu was created by sociology professor Yamada Masahiro at Chuo University in Tokyo, and journalist Toko Shirakawa in 2007. The argument from their research and analysis in their co-authored book “Konkatsu Jidai” (The Era of Marriage Hunting), is that young Japanese people nowadays cannot passively wait for marriage and need to become more proactive in their quest of seeking a partner.
Konkatsu might strike one as a seemingly merry and light-hearted journey in pursuit of romance but the reality of konkatsu is that it is no easy feat for all parties. Similar to shukatsu 就活 (job hunting), konkatsu requires a tremendous amount of time, effort and even strategy if one hopes to be successful. People who participate in konkatsu often need to distribute their profiles on a wide array of matchmaking platforms for wider exposure to other singles. These include, but are not limited to, mingling and socializing at gokon 合コン (meetup parties for singles) in person, creating accounts on dating apps and surfing them often to get matches, to registering for counseling services from professional matchmaking agencies. Furthermore, in order to portray a favorable image in the eyes of bachelor/ettes, many people also sign up for classes in table manners, conversational skills, cooking, sewing, etc. The process can be time-consuming and daunting; however, with the mentality that finding one right person will make the effort worthwhile, many people are willing to take on these challenges.
While konkatsu in theory bears many similarities to omiai お見合い (traditional matchmaking) in Japan, konkatsu stands out for its unique characteristics that are appealing to the Japanese youth seeking marriage. Both konkatsu and omiai create opportunities for singles to meet, but konkatsu participants have the freedom to decide to further pursue a certain person or to put a stop to a fledgling relationship. Furthermore, konkatsu is not simply limited to having a meeting with the parents of both sides and already deciding on a proposal through the setup by a professional go-between as in omiai. Konkatsu serves more as a springboard, the first step for potential couples to form connections.
Then budding couples are free to engage in a broad range of activities to get to know each other more, from cooking together, going on day trips, playing sports, etc. Therefore, konkatsu boasts significantly more freedom of personal choice than traditional arranged matchmaking for people to find the real compatibility in their relationships, rather than just a “marriage partner” as was the case in the past.
Soaring popularity of konkatsu
How popular is konkatsu in Japan, exactly? Konkatsu as a keyword on Twitter gathers 90,000 search results, showing a widespread interest in the activity. A couple of Japanese dramas have been created with konkatsu as the central theme of the show, such as Konkatsu! 2009 or Konkatsu Deka (Marriage-hunting Detective) (2015) and garnered wide public attention. In Konkatsu Deka, the predicament of the female protagonist, Yoneko Haneda struggling to find a marriage partner because of her demanding career, is a common sight in reality.
However, it can be speculated that konkatsu is simply a social media fad, but the evidence says otherwise. Ten years following the birth of the term, konkatsu has undeniably become a noticeable social phenomenon in Japan. Mass media outlets including well-established newspapers such as Nikkei, Asahi, Yomiuri and many more have addressed this phenomenon in a number of articles and reports. Konkatsu is continuously solidified its position and importance in modern Japan, which can be seen through government efforts to leverage matchmaking efforts for its citizens. In 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to dedicate three billion Japanese yen in order to cover the expenses of nation-wide matchmaking efforts, such as marriage counseling services, gokon events in different regions, etc. and Tokyo mayor Yuriko Koike also affirmed that there is a considerable demand for governmental support in order to raise the record-low birth rate in Japan.
Why is konkatsu popular in Japan?
Konkatsu emerged as a result of Japan’s economic woes in the post bubble era. The assurance of having permanent employment was no longer a possibility for every Japanese of working age, coupled with a decrease in the possibility of promotion were the main reasons why people reconsidered and/or postpone marriage. Furthermore, there has been a gradual shift in the mindset of the society with men no longer actively pursuing romance, and women gaining more financial independence and freedom. Therefore, a generation of Japanese people resisting the pressures of getting married, bearing children for fear of losing personal freedom and anxiety of financial burdens.Against the current trends of Japanese people delaying marriage, there are still young people that believe in a long term future with a partner; aging parents who long to see their children settle down with stability; and a government concerned about population decline, and thus, konkatsu was the inevitable response to the mikon shakai (unmarried society) of Japan.
...others believe that konkatsu ... is still a better option than staying in and hardly ever getting to meet new people.
Does konkatsu actually work?
Around the idea of konkatsu, many people express skepticism about its effectiveness because of the “saturation” in both the quantity and quality of people participating in it. There is a possibility of meeting new potential partners through different channels, but the percentage of finding the optimal partner is undoubtedly rather low because of possible discrepancy in education, interests, mindset, income, etc. In addition, encountering new people only once at matchmaking events does not give one sufficient time to get to know the other person’s personality or interests well enough. However, others believe (including Chuo University professor Masahiro Yamada, the father of the term konkatsu) that konkatsu is slowly gaining traction as the first step for potential couples to find each other, which is still a better option than staying in and hardly ever getting to meet new people.
While the konkatsu process can seem daunting, complicated and more oriented towards the domestic dating market, foreign residents in Japan who are interested in joining konkatsu can choose to sign up for online dating apps. These apps are great gateway starters to help expand your social circles thanks to their accessibility, low cost and a large pool of participants.
Whether konkatsu is truly a life-saver for the unmarried society in Japan is a question open for debate. The odds of finding the right partner, forming a romantic relationship that leads to a successful marriage is inherently a difficult endeavor. Nevertheless, the success of konkatsu until now should still be celebrated for the happiness and satisfaction it has brought to many married couples in having found their “other half”.
About the Author
Economics student based in Tokyo. Focused in writing about socioeconomic issues in modern Japan.