Attendees decorate a cake at the Match.com party in Tokyo Photo: AFPJapan’s population might be ageing and shrinking, but the Japanese are not short of an idea or two to tackle the trend. With marriages rates well below those of an older generation, today’s 20- to 40-somethings are fuelling a new fad known as “konkatsu” or “marriage hunting”, pursuing Mr or Mrs Right with the seriousness of nailing down a job.

Dating agencies and websites are heavily subscribed and run matchmaking parties that ring the changes on traditional family matchmaking and make it easier for shy people to meet.

The whole country seems to have gone konkatsu-crazy, reports Harumi Ozawa from Tokyo, “with the trend spawning countless magazine articles, a weekly TV drama and a best-selling book.”

A Tokyo shrine now offers konkatsu prayer services, a Hokkaido baseball team has set up special seats for those looking for mates, and a Tokyo ward office arranges dating excursions to restaurants and aquariums. A lingerie maker has even come up with a konkatsu bra with a ticking clock that can be stopped by inserting an engagement ring.

Toneko Bando, who runs the Pay It Forward Love Prepschool, thinks the recession has helped the trend, leading many women to look for a husband with a steady job and income rather than pursue their own career.

The government supports konkatsu, hoping to lift the country’s perilously low birth rate of 1.37 children per woman, and following a precedent set by Singapore’s government, which has been promoting love and marriage for at least a decade.

Marriage rates in Japan have fallen sharply between 1975 and 2005 — from 85 per cent to 51 per cent for men aged 30 to 34, and from 90 per cent to 63 per cent for women of the same age.

Some 620,000 lovelorn Japanese currently use 4000 matchmaking agencies and about half of local governments also provide matchmaking services. But Yoko Itamoto, a marriage counsellor and gender equality expert, warns that the successful mating rate through such agencies stays as low as 8 per cent.

"But the successful mating rate through such an agency stays as low as eight percent," she added. "People don't have communication skills good enough to find a partner, no matter how many candidates they meet.

"Konkatsu is not a bad thing," she said. "But we need to study what brought the marriage crisis to the country in the first place."

Some guesses: the sharp “gender divide” in traditional Japanese marriages; overwork, mainly by men “wedded” to their company; too much focus on economic growth at the expense of other values…

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet