Omiai: The Culture of Arranged Marriage in Japan

  • Not even too long ago, arranged marriages were commonplace in most parts of the world. The prime objectives of marriage were the continuation of the bloodline, and forging bonds between different families. A marriage based on mutual love is something that has only recently gained enormous popularity and became the norm in many countries. Japan is not so different with love marriages usually being seen as ideal, however, for many different reasons 30-40% of Japanese people choose to go the ‘omiai’ route and have their marriage partner picked out for them. Who are these people? And why do they use a marriage-broker to find them a life partner?



    Traditionally, the age people were expected to be married in Japan is 25 for women (refer to the expression ‘Christmas cake’ which is used for unmarried women over the age of 25) and 30 for men. The age to actually get married has steadily been increasing though, with the average age of first marriage being 29 for women, and 31 for men the last few years. In spite of this increase, social pressure is strong for people in their late 20’s and 30’s to get married and have a family. There has even been talk about married men being more desirable employees for companies in Japan (maybe because they have more incentive to go to work every day even when they are not treated well…) So what to do when you haven’t run into your Great Love yet, even though your 30’s (or 40’s) are looming, and you don’t want to end up alone? That is where the omiai agency or matchmaking relatives come along.

    Literally, omiai means ‘see-meeting’, nicely explaining the concept: you meet, see if he/she and you get along, and if the answer is positive you get married. Usually within a few months of meeting.

    The Flow

    When you sign up at an agency, the first thing you will do is fill out your own profile, and check out eligible singles in the agency’s books. Sometimes this is done by the marriage-seeker’s own relatives, in that case profiles are circulated amongst (usually) mothers.

    When a match is made, a short meeting is arranged. The undoubtedly nervous subjects are often accompanied by their mothers and fathers at this first meeting, as in Japan it is not just important to match with your potential partner, but also with their family. After all, you might end up living with them in the end when your parents-in-law become older.

    After the first meeting, which usually doesn’t entail much more than the exchange of basic information and small talk, the decision is made whether it is worth taking further. If so, only a few more dates are set up in order to get to know each other a bit better. Then more often than not, the couple will tie the knot within a few weeks to months after the first meeting. Happy Wedding!

    Happily Ever After?


    For people who come from a different cultural backgrounds the first thing they usually wonder is: are these people happy? Isn’t the divorce rate going to be very high among couples that have found each other in this way? The answer is ‘no’. The divorce rate for omiai marriages is actually a bit lower than for love marriages. Are you surprised?

    It is actually not that far-fetched in a society like Japan’s, where love is seen as something that can feel strong, but is also volatile and can be fleeting. Why base something as economically important as marriage on an emotion like that?

    What do you think? Could this type of matchmaking work out in places like the United States or Europe, the bastions of the love marriage? Could it work out better than the usual online dating and meeting at parties?

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