Japanese parents are truly hands-on; they help their children with everything from university entrance exams to finding a job. Now, many of them are playing matchmakers for their children who are past the marrying age and at a nationwide level.
Japanese traditionally house and support their children until marriage, which has usually occurred at a younger age than now.
But as the kids stay at home longer due to job uncertainty and an unwillingness to compromise, panicked parents are flocking to mass matchmaking events at hotels and conference centers.
“Many parents are very worried about their children who are well past the marrying age. Many singles are feeling pressured by their parents,” said a spokesman for O-Net, a company that helps singles network with possible marriage partners.
Matchmaking is a Japanese tradition which is almost unheard of among the younger generation, where love matches are the unions most sought after.
But parents' worries are founded in a society where more men and women are choosing to tie the knot later in life, or sometimes not at all.
A government report from 2005 showed 71.5 percent of men aged 25 to 29 were unmarried compared with 47.1 percent in 1990. For women, 32 percent from 30 to 34 years of age were single, compared with half that number in 1990.
Marriage counselor Michiko Saito, who runs “Office Anne” in Hokkaido, has hosted matchmaking parties for parents since 2000.
Japanese newspapers have dubbed the nationwide phenomenon "parent representative matchmaking parties" and so far, events have been held in 13 cities with around 6,500 participants.
“I had so many parents coming in asking for advice that I started a little party for them to get together and discuss their problems,” said Saito.
“People who can marry for love are lucky, for others, it's more difficult. Matchmaking is not about passionately falling in love, it's about slowly growing to love someone.”
Daddy's girls, mommy's boys
Professor Masahiro Yamada, a family studies specialist at Chuo University, cited the uncertain economy and extended parental support as the main reasons for the decline in marriage.
“If you are pushed out of your home and forced to take care of yourself as young people are in Europe and the United States, it is natural to think of doing so with another person to make your load easier,” he said.
Experts also say the expectations of these dependent singles and their parents were decidedly unrealistic.
“Baby-boomer era parents in their 50s and 60s grew up and worked in the bubble economy and they do not fully understand that young people are less likely to be hired as a full-time worker nowadays,” Yamada explained.
“Parents with single daughters keep on looking for high-earning husbands.”
Saito said women were especially picky, with those in their 40s often expecting their husbands to provide the same luxurious lifestyle that they enjoyed out of their father's paycheck.
“They want someone who is handsome and with a very good income. There are mothers who come to meetings looking for a man who earns up to 10 million yen ($92,650) annually,” she added.
Marriage has never been more important for young Japanese, who are struggling to find stable jobs in a slowing economy.
But, for the time being, it seems that parents are the only ones excited about the matchmaking parties.
“I come to these parties to find someone for my daughter but she is difficult to please,” said one mother, who like many parents at matchmaking events, did not wish to be named.
“I am a little embarrassed that I have to do this, but it's this or she will be unmarried forever.”