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Call for social distancing strengthens Japan’s online matchmaking party industry

Undaunted by the cancelling of parties and dating opportunities owing to COVID-19, many singles in Japan seeking marriage partners have opted for online gatherings.

In April, a total of 400 people participated in matchmaking parties via Zoom, the online video conferencing platform from Zoom Video Communication Inc. The online parties were arranged by LMO Corp. in Fukuoka Prefecture, which started holding the virtual parties late in March.

In contrast, when the matchmaking agency launched its one-on-one online marriage-meeting service in January, only 10 to 20 people had joined, before COVID-19 infections became a major issue in Japan.

“We were scheduled to cancel a face-to-face matchmaking party planned for March following the virus outbreak, but it quickly came to my mind to hold it in a virtual environment,” LMO President Kota Takada, 46, said.

Since April 1, the company has been organising the matchmaking parties daily, and more recently, they have been held at least twice a day. The parties are organised according to where the participants are living and their age groups.

“They are no different from the normal (face-to-face) gatherings and members see others through their devices,” said Takada. “I actually believe people find it convenient and relaxing because they don’t have to go to the venue.”

In principle, LMO’s virtual one-hour parties, joined by eight men and eight women, typically begin with a group discussion in which participants introduce themselves before shifting to individual discussions.

Men pay ¥3,000 per month membership fee, but women can join for free. Participants need to submit proof of identification in advance, such as a drivers’ license.

“We are now going through a difficult time and concern about meeting people directly. I am thankful that this kind of service is being provided by matchmaking agencies,” said a 29-year-old woman from Miyagi Prefecture who took part in a virtual LMO party in late April.

As Japan struggles with a rapidly greying population and low birth rate, matchmaking services have flourished. Since 2012, the total fertility rate – the average number of children born to a mother – has hovered around 1.4.

A 36-year-old contract worker in Saitama Prefecture said the coronavirus epidemic and the insecurity she experiences, as a result, has made her more eager than ever to find a partner.

“I don’t have the confidence to live alone, working as a non-regular member of staff, in the economic downturn caused by the virus pandemic,” she said.

The woman had been attending several face-to-face matchmaking parties a month until all online parties were cancelled in April. One man she wished to take things further with told her they would not be able to meet until the epidemic had passed.

She then expressed interest in joining virtual parties, saying that online gatherings can “relieve my worries because I can get a feeling of what the men are actually like” by viewing them on screen.

While participants attending conventional parties usually check other participants photos beforehand, the images sometimes show people in an overly flattering light.

LMO’s Takada said the virtual events have some advantages.

“Let’s say some participants have common interests such as cooking or taking care of cats. They can show their home cooking or pet cats to each other easily and quickly.”

He predicted there will still be a need for online matchmaking parties even after the epidemic ends. Events targeting people working overseas are among his next ideas.

“Even amid this coronavirus calamity, I hope spouse seekers don’t stop their activities and instead turn this situation into a step toward happy marriage,” Takada said.

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