The ancient institution of marriage is under assault on numerous fronts. The sexes are no longer drawn to each other as they once were. Alternatives formerly frowned on no longer are. Politically, socially, economically, environmentally and psychologically, the world has become such that many people fear to bring children into it.
Numbers tell the story in outline. A 2021 poll by the government-affiliated National Institute of Population and Social Security found 17.3 percent of Japanese men and 14.6 percent of women had no intention of ever marrying – as against, respectively, 2.3 percent and 4.1 percent in 1982.
Is marriage dying out? Just when you start thinking it might be, along comes something that makes you wonder. Bungei Shunju (November) highlights the soaring popularity of “matching apps.” Hyper-modernity, having roiled the waters of matrimony, now stills them and invites the marriage-averse to reconsider.
You can trace this sort of thing very far back and very far away – to 1685 for the first known personal ad (placed in a British agricultural journal by a “gentleman” seeking a “gentlewoman with a fortune of 3000 pounds”); to 1965 for the world’s first computer dating service; to 1995 for Match.com, the world’s first online dating site.
What’s new in 2022? In April, says Bungei Shunju, a YouTube video posted by a 40-ish media personality named Chiharu Arayama drew wide attention. She’d found her soulmate via a matching (or “dating”) app – a man 14 years her junior, a Japanese designer based in San Francisco. The video narrates the courtship. People were drawn to it by her frankness and her success. If her, why not me, many evidently thought. A celebrity’s stamp of approval can kick-start just about anything. A boom of sorts followed.
The soil, of course, must be right if the plant is to take root. The fertilizer is the coronavirus pandemic, three years active and no end in sight. It keeps us home alone a lot. How can people meet? Or, having met, where can they date without fear of infection? Pre-virus, 70 percent of young couples first met at work or at school, polling by Recruit Holdings shows. Social distancing has taken a toll. Tokyo University economist Taisuke Nakata measures it. Bungei Shunju cites his research. He calculates Japan lost 110,000 marriages over the past two years as a result of curtailed social intercourse.
Matching apps shrink distance. You can meet online, make friends online, and if things go beyond friendship, so much the better. Matching apps generally differ from earlier encounter sites in that, heeding warnings from tensions and sometimes crimes that bedeviled the latter, they breach the hitherto almost sacred internet asset of anonymity. Applicants must produce valid ID. They must prove themselves to be who they say they are.
Matching apps have launched more marriages this year than any other encounter opportunity, according to research by Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co. More than one marriage in five – 22.5 percent – claim an origin here. Compare that to 9.4 percent that began with introduction by friends and 3.1 percent with organized parties for singles aspiring to marriage, and you have the clear makings of a trend.
The young, always quick to grasp new possibilities, are in the vanguard. Sixty-eight percent of people in their 20s know of matching apps and 29 percent have used them within the past three years, according to Mitsubishi-UFJ Research and Consulting. Corresponding figures for respondents in their 40s are 33.5 and 6.8 percent. Of course, as the magazine observes, more among the older set would be settled in life and have less need for socializing devices.
Marriage in one form or another – defined broadly as a publicly recognized lasting union between two individuals, usually but not always male and female – has existed as long as civilization, if not longer. Our own civilization is the first to challenge marriage as a more or less universal adult living arrangement. Does the present state of things presage marriage’s obsolescence? On the one hand, one Japanese marriage in three ends in divorce. Similarly, an Asahi Shimbun poll published Nov 19 posed the question, “Do you prefer to spend time with others or alone?” - to which 71 percent of respondents replied, “Alone.” A tentative conclusion might be: this is the most solitary time in history.
On the other hand is the matching app boom. Go figure.© Japan Today