Dating is hard, especially early on. It's awkward, stressful, and expensive. I would know. If there were video footage of any of my many first dates, they could likely be used as torture in some countries. So many unfunny jokes. So much sweating.
I doubt I'm alone. Speed dating parties, matchmaking services, and apps like Tinder clearly serve a need helping lonely individuals to connect. This is even more so the case in Japan, where typically reserved singles often struggle to form intimate relationships.
Indeed, dating is increasingly difficult for younger generations. With busy schedules and long commutes commonplace, overworked employees barely have time to rest, let alone find a significant other. Burdened by responsibilities, an increasing number of young people are giving up on love and resigning to solitude, possibly becoming so-called "parasite singles." Some, on the other hand, are turning to their parents to help find a mate.
The situation seems dire. According to a 2017 Yomeishu survey, 60 percent of single women are not interested or feel unable to involve themselves in a romantic relationship. Like their male counterparts, they are overworked and too exhausted to engage in activities outside of work.
According to the Japan Times, many appear to have sadly given up on love. By and by, working women feel reluctant to "waste time" on dating opportunities they feel won't lead anywhere. Men, on the other hand, express more of an interest in dating but are reluctant to get hitched. They feel that marriage will burden them with responsibilities they are too busy to shoulder.
Despite all the bad news, Japanese singletons still entertain the notion of "true love." Historically, arranged marriages were common here. While single people struggle to find the opportunity to date, only a minority currently continue the tradition. Rather, most are instead looking to konkatsu (matchmaking parties) and speed-dating parties to fill the gap and help them find that special someone. A sign the future is upon us, lovelorn individuals in lockdown are meeting virtually while shier singles are turning to AI-powered bots to do the talking for them.
Matchmaking Parties Turn High-Tech
Over the last decade, perennially single adults have increasingly turned to matchmaking services such as matchmaking parties as they search for a partner. These events are held at upscale venues such as hotels and provide the lovelorn a chance to mingle over finger food and drinks. Participants are screened, and certain requirements like employment status and salary are often stipulated.
During the current pandemic, although in-person parties have been canceled, the need has not decreased. Respecting the need to maintain social distancing, matchmaking services like LMO Corp are using Zoom to hold their parties online. Although the service was available before the lockdown, sparsely attended events jumped in popularity in March and April.
According to the LMO President, Kota Takada, "Following the virus outbreak, we were set to cancel a face-to-face matchmaking scheduled for March, but it suddenly came to my mind to hold it in a virtual format." The quick decision seemingly paved dividends as hundreds have joined LMO's online parties in recent months.
Japan is experiencing a rapid decline in fertility as single people struggle to find the time to meet. As such, Takada predicts that this shift online will persist even after the lockdown has ended. He remarked, “[Online matchmaking parties] are no different from usual parties, except that participants see others through their screens. I believe people in fact find them convenient and relaxing because they don’t need to go to the venue.” As workaholic young people typically prefer to stay in on their day off, he may just be right.
AI Assisted Speed Dating
LMO Corp is not the only matchmaking service leveraging technology to bring individuals together. Contents Innovation Program launched a 2019 event that employed AI robotics bridging the gap between tongue-tied daters.
The event centered around RoBoHon, a charmingly cute miniature droid developed by CyberAgent and Sharp. Participants answered a 40-question survey and loaded their responses into the droid. As singles "mingled," a pair's robots openly discussed their "client's" history. If the daters liked what they heard, they had the option of initiating a real conversation.
Apparently participants found some value in using RoBoHon as a wingman. Speed-daters didn't have to worry about overselling themselves, but rather could focus on listening and learning about others. One participant remarked, "It was easy because the robot explained everything about me, and I didn't have to say anything during multiple interactions." The event ended with four couples finding love.
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