How virtual meet-ups could help reverse Japan’s declining population
Ah, the dating app. It’s a love/hate relationship. I’ve done my fair share of swiping through a variety of them– Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, you name it. I can’t tell you how many first dates I went on during my two years in New York as a single lady.
Like many parts of the world, Japan has seen a huge boom in dating apps in the past decade.
While apps like Tinder and Bumble dominate the western market, in Japan the landscape is a bit different.
Pairs (owned by the US’s Match Group) and Tapple (owned by media company CyberAgent) are the most popular in the industry. Despite lingering skepticism around the concept of meeting up with strangers, usage in Japan is growing every year. In fact, Pairs has seen two-digit market growth over the past several years and is expected to keep climbing.
Beyond simply swiping and chatting, virtual dates have also become popular due to the pandemic. A November 2020 survey by online dating company Parasol showed that 10% of people who met on a dating app after the outbreak of COVID-19 chose to go on a first date online.
There is also a growing belief that the pandemic has encouraged more ‘serious’ dating, as those who only seek physical contact are being weeded out as most people are now connecting digitally, not physically.
With no workplace romances, school romances, or blind dates, Parasol also expects dating apps to be the most popular way to meet people in 2021, becoming more mainstream.
They also expect that there will be more dating app ‘revision’ services for those who are struggling to find their special someone online. Such companies review one’s profile and improve it for a fee, with the hope that this will lead to more matches and success for their client. They provide a range of services like photoshoots, tips to increase matches, and profile creation. Prices range from an affordable 500 yen ($4) to a premium fee of 30,000 yen ($274).
In addition, the number of Gokon, or group blind dates, are expected to decrease. At a typical gokon, a single man and woman who already know each other will invite their friends or coworkers to a dinner or drinking party so that everyone can mix and mingle. The men sit on one side while the women sit on the other, and it usually involves heavy drinking. If two people hit it off, they can then continue to date privately afterward.
Keisuke Kamijo, CEO of dating app Dine, believes that Gokon-daters will shift over to dating apps due to the pandemic-induced hesitancy to dine out and meet new people face-to-face.
A new industry has also emerged from COVID-19. Online singles parties, kind of like online speed dating, have been popping up in the past year.
One such company hosting these parties is Fukuoka-based LMO, which holds blind dates on its video conferencing app. The parties typically begin with 8 men and 8 women. After each person introduces themselves, participants can then meet each other and chat one-on-one as they like. If two people get along well, they can request to have a one-on-one session at a later date. Following that, if both parties are still interested, they can then get each other’s contact details and take their relationship off the app.
The company originally began as a face-to-face matchmaking service but shifted to virtual meetings once the pandemic hit. Now, it holds at least 2 parties a day with hundreds of participants every month. There are many more companies like LMO. Aeru.party and Good Will Planning are such companies providing similar online dating parties.
Dating apps could also help to reverse Japan’s declining population. In 2020, the Japanese government decided to invest 2 billion yen (19 million USD) into dating apps that utilize AI. Although current dating apps consider things like one’s age, educational background, and income, the government is hoping that investing in apps that account for other things like interests, hobbies, or values could lead to more successful couplings.
Japan’s online dating scene has truly developed into its own economy and ecosystem. Given the dire situation of Japan’s declining population, one can only hope that all of this activity will lead to more relationships, and hopefully, more babies.
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