Changes in Dating and Courtship Methods in Japan
In the last 100 years, courtship and mate selection in Japan was almost nonexistent as young people relied on arranged marriages. Male and female youths were kept separate and never mingled as opposed to Western countries. Culturally, the morals and manners that were prevalent at that time did not allow young people to engage in a sexual relationship unless they were married. In addition, girls got married to suitors chosen by their parents, and they did not date other men (Farrer & Gavin, 2009). Towards 1912, the rules of courtship seemed to have changed slightly; the law required a young man who fell in love with a girl to send his friend to her father to request for her hand in marriage (Farrer & Gavin, 2009). Subsequently, Japanese youth ceased to rely solely on their parents to arrange marriages for them. Moreover, it became acceptable for Japanese men to involve their friends in the search for a spouse. Nevertheless, the popularity of arranged marriages persisted; by 1940s, almost two thirds of marriages in the country were arranged (Farrer & Gavin, 2009). In the last century, Japanese youths have stopped relying on arranged marriages as a way to find a spouse and instead they have resorted to courtship and the use of online dating platforms.
Scholars speculate that the change of the Shogun foreign policy in 1854 allowed foreigners into the country, which instigated a cultural revolution. The policy had closed off Japan from international trade and prevented entry of foreigners into the country (Farrer & Gavin, 2009). After the regulation was rescinded, foreigners introduced a new way of life that transformed various aspects of Japan’s culture including dating (Farrer & Gavin, 2009). Specifically, courtship practices started to evolve towards Western values. For instance, in the 1920s, the phrases ‘modern boy’ and ‘modern girl’ became common and were used to refer to youths who had embraced sexual and emotional independence by choosing their own partners (Farrer & Gavin, 2009). Couples who were in a relationship were referred to as abekku, which is a corrupted form of the French word avec meaning “with”. At that time, couples did not have a lot of places to go on dates, but the situation changed after World War II (Farrer & Gavin, 2009). In general, mate selection in the early 1900s was done through arranged marriages.
Presently, arranged marriages in Japan are extremely rare. Specifically, only 5% of all marriages in the country are arranged. The drastic change can be attributed to cultural shifts in the society. A century ago, women we expected to be homemakers by staying at home and being housewives who gave birth and brought up children (Farrer & Gavin, 2009). In contrast, modern Japanese women are choosing professional careers over getting married while some opt to delay their marriages (Farrer & Gavin, 2009). In addition, dating trends have been heavily influenced by post war western values. For instance, in 2010, the average marrying age for women was 28.5 years compared to 25.3 years back in 1987 (Farrer & Gavin, 2009). On the other hand, the average marrying age for men was 29.8 years in 2010 as compared to 28.2 years in 1987 (Farrer & Gavin, 2009). The change in marrying ages reveals that Japanese youths are choosing to delay marriage while arranged unions are becoming rare.
In the few cases where arranged marriage still occur, partners are introduced to each other by a mediator at meetings organized by family members or acquaintances. The person who brings a couple together is usually much older than them or of higher social status. In some cases, young people, especially those who are busy with their jobs, resort to the services of professional match making agencies. The agencies are also employed by young people lacking social skills to reduce the stress and anxiety of meeting and interacting with new people (Farrer & Gavin, 2009). Majorly, the nature of arranged marriages have shifted from primarily relying on the choices and interests of parents to prioritizing the interests of young people. In some cases, parents simply offer their suggestions without dictating who their daughter or son should marry (Farrer & Gavin, 2009). In fact, it is common for one party to turn down the other in the matchmaking process. Overall, traditional arranged marriages seem to have come to an end in Japan.
Currently, online dating is a widespread phenomenon. Japanese youths have widely embraced the use of online “apps” as a means of finding a life partner. Some of the common platforms include YYC, Tapple, Match.com, Omiai, MatchAlarm, Japancupid, and OkCupid among others (Keyes, 2017). An empirical study conducted by James Farrer and Jeff Gavin explored the online dating outcomes for people who used Match.com in Japan. The survey sampled 63 users of the platform, 40 of them were female while 23 were male (Heimisdóttirm, 2015). In addition, 36 of them were using the platform at the time when the study was conducted while 27 were previous users. The researchers asked the participants 35 open ended questions and 20 close-ended ones (Heimisdóttirm, 2015). All the respondents were heterosexual adults with a median age of 32 years looking for partners of the opposite sex. The research project established that 16 of the participants had married the partners they met through Match.com while 39 of them never got married (Heimisdóttirm, 2015). Moreover, 8 of them had briefly gotten married and divorced afterwards (Heimisdóttirm, 2015). Furthermore, 17 members of the sample class never dated anyone from the site despite being active users (Heimisdóttirm, 2015). In general, the empirical study revealed that only a quarter of Japanese youths using online platforms are able to find life partners.
Japanese youth traditionally found their spouses through arranged marriages, but cultural changes and the advent of online dating has put the practice to an end. Basically, the reversal of Shogun foreign policies brought an influx of westerners into the country. Subsequently, Japanese culture became westernized, and young people embraced courtship and dating as a strategy for searching a spouse. After World War II, dating became widely accepted, which further hastened the decline of arranged marriages. In modern Japan, young people are choosing to delay marriage, and more women abandon the role of housewives in favor of professional careers. At the same time, online dating has become popular in the country, and empirical data shows that a quarter of young Japanese youth who use the technology are able to find long term marriage partners. Overall, dating in Japan has been revolutionized by cultural shifts and technology.