A game of rock, paper, scissors doesn’t exactly scream romance.
But the government in Gifu Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, is willing to try anything. Their marriage and birthrates are at record lows, the population declining fast. Nearly a third of adult residents under the age of 50 are single, a 10 percent drop compared to a decade ago.
On a recent Saturday in Kani City, two dozen men and women paired off to play the schoolyard game at a pre-Valentine’s Day matchmaking party organized by the prefecture.
The three hour event held at a rose garden also featured separate hour long self-help sessions: makeup and styling lessons for women, dating role play and voice projection exercises for men.
“A lot of men don’t know how to make themselves appealing to women,” says organizer Tomoyo Matsuda. “They only know to talk about their jobs and hobbies, but that conversation doesn’t extend beyond the first meeting. We prep them beforehand to make sure it does.”
Gifu is among a growing number of Japanese prefectures stepping in to play matchmaker as the number of single men and women climb to record levels.
In a recent government survey, 61 percent of unmarried men aged 18 – 34 said they did not have a girlfriend. Half of unmarried women surveyed were single with most saying they were content with their status.
“Between work and home, there are few opportunities to meet people anymore,” said 40-year-old Megumi Shiga, who attended the matchmaking event.
The romantic malaise isn’t limited to adults. A separate study found more than a third of teenage boys aged 16-19 showed no interest in sex.
“Japanese boys are shy,” said 16-year-old Sadakazu Ootsuka said. “We are afraid of getting rejected and hurt.”
It all amounts to a national crisis for a country with one of the lowest birthrates in the world. Already the oldest nation, more than a quarter of Japanese are over the age of 65. The population is on track to shrink by nearly a third in 50 years.
“The sustainability of the social security system is becoming very difficult,” said Kuniko Inoguchi, former Minister of Gender Equality and Demography. “We have to finance the pension fund and medical services through taxes and payment of the working generation. But [that number] is declining.”
Local governments are setting aside big budgets to make love attractive again, establishing online dating sites and offering cash rewards for couples who tie the knot.
Ibaraki Prefecture budgeted nearly half a million dollars for their “Marriage Support Center” last year. Out of 3,100 singles registered for the government’s matchmaking services, an average 10 couples get married every month, according to a spokesperson.
Back in Kani City, 36-year-old Yasunori Hibino says his company signed him up for the Valentine’s Day event.
He’s one of a dozen men Shiga exchanges personal profile cards with, a paper detailing an individual’s job, salary, and hobbies.
Sparks don’t fly this time, but Shiga says she plans to attend other matchmaking events.
“I need to be more aggressive,” she says. “Or else, I’ll miss out on love.”
Just the attitude, the government hopes solves their problems.