Marriages (or lack thereof) in Japan

wedding rings marriage in japan
--Photo by FotoRita

Think of a typical bar- it's a place for casual drinks, socialization, relaxation- a place to let off some of the daily steam and meet and converse with others. A place where you kick it back with friends, and often times make new ones.

But bars aren't so popular in Japan. The equivalent would be an 'izakaya', a restaurant like venue with finger foods- similar to tapas- and a generous menu of alcoholic beverages. These aren't like bars, however, because they're partitioned. Walls and curtains separate one table from another. It markedly limits open socialization between different parties.

And that's the way people like it. That's why the 'izakayas' have made it that way.

And you see this sort of thing quite often- fences and blinds, rules and manners- that make it difficult for one to meet new people in Japan. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, that's entirely up to the style of socialization that you prefer.

But there is an observable result- and a seemingly negative one- that's been a consequence of this social trend: lack of marriages.

Will you marry me if I pay you?

Asahi, a major newspaper in Japan, has been publishing an interesting series called "Kozoku-no-kuni", or roughly translated to English, "A Country of Solitary People".

'Solitary' sounds voluntary. The reality is much closer to 'lonely'.

One of the pieces (Japanese) in the series focuses on unmarried Japanese men, a category of people that are seemingly on the rise. The article specifically looks at older Japanese men, those in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, who have never married, or divorced early, and are continuing (unsuccessfully) to find a match.

And it's not just the elder. Men in their twenties are already worried that they'll "die alone", having lost their faith in their ability to find someone.

So what are these people doing? Looking abroad. Particularly China.

Marriage related companies are sprouting all over the nation, and many of them offer to introduce men to Chinese women. This service definitely has created successfully and happy marriages. Inter-racial marriages are visibly on the rise in Japan compared to ten years ago. But, as you might expect, these marriages can also go horribly wrong, as in the cases reported in the Asahi article.

Men are spending excessive amounts of money on these services. One man in the Asahi article spent 4,500,000 yen- that's about 45,000 US dollars- on two marriage attempts. Most of the money goes to the 'match-making' company, and the rest to the bride. The first 'wife' left after spending only five days living together. The second, 20 days after arriving in Japan.

A significant group of these women are 'marrying' just to get in the country, and to find a job. But there are enough marriage-hungry Japanese men that these services continue to be utilized.

I want to say 'Hi', but..

Why is it so hard for some people to find a match in Japan?

Well, one visible reason, is that meeting people simply isn't as easy as it is in some other countries. People aren't as open here when meeting others. It's normal for people to meet, work and spend an entire day together without ever telling each other their names. Bars and clubs are out there, but again it's not as open and friendly as in other places. There's a greater sense of 'un-welcomness' when you want to go up to someone and say 'hi'.

The Japanese are a wonderfully modest people, but such a culture can also create a marvelously shy people. Sometimes problematically so. Not being able to talk to the woman/man of your dreams is one thing- Japan has been experiencing the widespread phenomena of 'hiki-komori'- individuals who in fear of society have opted to permanently remains in their rooms and not interact with people.

Going back the marriage problem though- a single man shouldn't have to literally spend his entire life savings just to talk to a woman and spend a few days with her.

It seems something's gone a little awry in the love scene in Japan. There's got to be a way to fix this.


  1. I think the main issue with this topic is the "salaryman culture" that has taken over so many layers of Japan society. When you live for your work, you don't have time to socialize in any other way. And if you still manage to get married, you don't see you kids grow up, and those kids don't learn how to communicate properly with the other gender, because their parents don't communicate with each other, and her mom socializes only with other females and you end up with generations of girls that can socialize only with other girls and boys that simply can't socialize.

    OK, I portray a pretty bleak picture and while one cannot generalize, I think it's not too far from the truth concerning those man that can't even simply say hi to a woman they're attracted to.

  2. I think you're right on track David. Like you said, generalizing is never a safe way to look at things, but what you describe is a very visible phenomena in Japan.

    There are certainly couples who have found ways to work around 'live-to-work' mentality and make the best of what they have, but the opposite pattern certainly stands out.