Now here’s an anomaly: eight years into a “marriage activity” boom, marriage itself, minus the “activity,” is so torpid that within 20 years, Shukan Toyo Keizai (May 14) fears, one man in three will, like it or not, end up single for life.
“Marriage activity” is a severely literal translation that fails to capture the trendy ring of “konkatsu.” Most young adults want to marry, as poll after poll shows. Their parents want them to marry – they want grandchildren. The government wants them to marry – it wants children as a buttress against population decline and economic stagnation. Thus "konkatsu." This includes match-making parties, match-making sightseeing trips, match-making websites – an abundance of them. Some of these “activities” are organized by private companies, others by local governments. You’d think after eight years – the “boom” dates back to 2008 – there’d be a spike in marriages, with a corresponding rise in the sluggish birth rate. It’s not happening, Toyo Keizai reports.
The magazine enlists two experts to discuss why. Sagami Women’s University professor Toko Shirakawa, who advises the government on demographic issues, says marriage flounders because it has failed to keep up with changing times. Getting married used to be easy, she explains. Competing lifestyles had no status, and everybody in your life, it seems – your parents, your community, your employer, helped pave the way. The word “gokon” was unknown, but the activity it describes went on – feverishly – beneath society’s surface, not a “boom” because it was simply taken for granted.
Parents and relatives arranged traditional match-making parties known as “miai.” Bosses pushed and prodded – the “company marriage” became second nature. “There was nothing like this anywhere else in the developed world,” says Shirakawa – and well into the 1990s, “97% of Japanese got married.”
The economic collapse of that decade is one of two key changes. The other is the Internet revolution.
A result of the latter, says Shirakawa, is the development of the sort of mentality that places an order and demands satisfaction: “When your fridge breaks down, you go to an auction site and find a fridge that suits your price range and the dimensions of your kitchen.” A marriage site can be much the same. You input your specifications, “and maybe you get 1,000 hits – but you can’t check them all!” It tends to be overwhelming rather than encouraging.
Takanori Fujita, founder of the anti-poverty NPO Hot Plus, makes the chilling observation that, economic realities being what they are, “marriage and having children have become luxury indulgences.” Average young adults can’t afford them – or at least feel they can’t. “Those who do marry,” Fujita says, “are people who, in economic terms, are still living in the old Japan – public servants and full-time employees of big corporations.” But the public service can only absorb so many, and as for full-time employment, some 40% of the work force in the “new Japan” must now settle for generally underpaid part-time status.
The key, says Fujita, is policies that raise people’s disposable income. “In France,” he says, “there’s an abundance of public housing; a young couple can rent an apartment for the equivalent of 10,000 yen a month. In Japan, public housing constitutes only 5% of the housing stock. A young person earning 150,000 yen a month can end up paying half that on rent.” The alternative is to live with parents, as some 80 % of low-income people do, at the risk, in worst cases, of slipping into a sort of eternal childhood.© Japan Today