If you’re single, looking for love and live in Itoigawa city, Niigata Prefecture, the local government will be happy to pick up the hefty tab for registering with an online dating agency. According to a recent article in J-Cast, the municipality of Itoigawa has taken the unusual step of partnering up with professional matchmakers Zwei in the hopes that young local singletons will find love through the web.
Declining birth rates threaten the future productivity of Japan, so it’s in the best interests of local government to help romance bloom between residents via konkatsu (marriage hunting) activities. By lending financial support to machikon (large-scale singles mixers), konkatsu seminars, day trips and group dates, the local government obviously wants its citizens to make babies.
Unfortunately there’s little hard data available to show whether spending public money on konkatsu activities actually leads to marriages. In March 2011 the Cabinet Office published a survey on marriage and family structures. Out the 1698 municipalities that took part, 552 had actively supported konkatsu activites. However, 283 of these had stopped these activities because of a perceived limit to their effectiveness, lack of funds and a decline in demand. Some simply held one event and that was it.
Itoigawa, however, don’t seem to have done too badly. Since it began supporting konkatsu activities in 2007, 18 local couples have tied the knot. Feeling it could do better and hearing about a similar scheme in Inami, Wakayama Prefecture, where the municipality helped citizens out with Zwei’s fees, Itoigawa decided to call in the professionals.
Single people aged 20 or above who’ve been living in Itoigawa for more than a year and are up to date with their residency taxes can get the initial fees of ¥63,840 (roughly $621) paid by local government; however, they will have to foot the monthly membership fees themselves. Zwei offers quite a comprehensive service, not only organizing omiai (interviews to gauge marriage potential between parties), but also mixers where people might find someone special.
It’s too early to say if this scheme will be a success. In Wakayama, four people applied for financial support with fees for Zwei in 2011, though it’s not known if any of these led to marriage. Nobody applied in 2012, despite inquiries from parents with unmarried children.
One of the key stumbling blocks might be the stigma attached to online dating in Japan. The launch of Xlace, another konkatsu website, back in April this year, however, does seem to indicate that the market is slowly growing; whether other local governments will also enlist help from online dating agencies to stimulate couple generation remains to be seen.