Sunday, August 28, 2011

Meeting Mr. Right

Today I had lunch with my friend Hiroko and we went to one of my favorite tonkatsu restaurants in Tokyo for juicy kurobuta tonkatsu with a special grated apple sauce. I hadn't had good tonkatsu in months. I also hadn't seen her in months and there was lots to catch up on.

"I've been very busy going on dates," she said cheerfully, as soon as we'd sat down and ordered. "I decided that this is the year I'm going to finally meet someone compatible. I'm sick of being alone or being with lousy guys."

Hiroko is a real catch, as far as I'm concerned. She's pretty, she runs her own business, travels a lot to Europe, and even knows how to cook well. She once made me a seafood linguine that I've never ever forgotten. It was better than anything I've had in Italy.

But for some reason, she's been unlucky in love ever since a steady boyfriend had proposed marriage and given her a diamond ring, and then disappeared -- only to resurface months later completely in love with someone else. Since then, she'd been on dates but had never seemed to find the perfect match.


However, in Japan, she's not alone. Meeting Mr. Right is big business in Japan as so many attractive and smart women are constantly single and looking, for some reason. Many experts have expounded on this sociological phenomenon and they've come up with all sorts of reasons for this major mismatch: from the effects of the recession and the fact that there are not very many opportunities for singles to meet in Japan to the theory that Japanese men have become more introspective and shy in recent years, and so many of them prefer living by themselves, closeted in their apartments with their computers and books.

I myself am at a loss as to why so many women are single in this society. And not a few of them have given up on relationships and marriage altogether.

But not Hiroko. She had taken a chunk of her savings and joined a matchmaking club in Japan that promised to find her a partner in 12 months or half her money back. There are a lot of matchmaking clubs in Japan, by the way, with different fee structures, ways of introductions and benefits. It's a matter of finding the matchmaking club that's right for you.


"Do you know that there's a matchmaking club specifically for women who want to marry doctors or lawyers?" She asked me. I didn't know this, but it didn't surprise me. Occupation status is a big deal in Japan, and lots of women would like to marry a doctor if they had a choice.

"So, did you join that one?" I asked her. Hiroko shook her head. She answered: "It was too expensive. Beyond my budget, unfortunately."

Apparently, the matchmaking clubs that deal specifically with introductions to doctors and lawyers are more expensive than regular matchmaking clubs. In the case of really top-rate matchmaking clubs that promise introductions to single doctors at well-known hospitals who've graduated from top medical schools in Japan like Keio University or the University of Tokyo, and who are from families of good social standing besides (translation: the father is or was a top executive or the owner of a successful business), the difference in entrance fees can be well over one million yen.


Then Hiroko added: "But I did choose a club that promises introductions to guys making at least 20 million yen."

If such straight talk about money in the Japanese business of love and dating shocks you, don't be because it's quite the norm here. Since Japan became essentially a classless society after World War II, people lost their system of ranking and classifying others. In the absence of such a system, the school you graduated from and how much money you earn in a year are often used as the norm instead.

People discuss this quite matter-of-factly and it's normal for two people meeting for the first time on an arranged date to know each other's income before they've even gotten to know stuff like hobbies, favorite tv shows or favorite foods.

In fact, if you ask a girl for her wishlist on a prospective partner, she's likely to say something like "he should earn at least 10 million yen" or something, without batting an eyelash.


Anyway, Hiroko's club had already arranged two dates for her that she deemed mildly successful. One had been a divorced executive in a multinational company, while the other had been a publishing executive, never married. She'd actually gone out on three dates with the latter and it had started to look promising; but the third date had been dinner at her home and she'd suddenly gotten turned off because midway through dinner, the guy had apparently just walked into her kitchen, opened her fridge and took out a bottle of white wine left to chill. That did it, as far as she was concerned.

I stared at her open-mouthed, not being able to imagine how something could go so wrong from a little initiative with a bottle of wine. Then I said, "If you like him, maybe you just have to teach him more manners."

She shook her head. But she wasn't too worried anyway. The matchmaking club had promised her 15 good introductions and so she had 13 more to go. More on Hiroko and the business of marriage in Japan soon.



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