Tokyo gives Cupid a helping hand

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 November, 2002, 12:00am

A marriage of convenience between matchmakers and the health ministry may usher in a new age of romance in Japan.

The country's declining birth rate is forcing the ministry to play a more active role in affairs of the heart, rather than its usual concerns with cardiac health.

'Babies are not born unless people get married,' a ministry official said.

While the comment lacked accuracy, the concern behind it was clear - in Japan, where single mothers are rare, the numbers of people getting married has a direct bearing on the birth rate. But the country's economic plight means that fewer people are risking marital commitment.

Even those that would like to start a family are finding it difficult to find the leisure time to devote to relationships. To give matters a helping hand, the ministry sanctioned matchmakers, employed by local authorities, to better guide cupid's arrow .

In a move reminiscent of a more genteel age, communities in towns and cities are hosting matchmaking parties subsidised by both the health and finance ministries. Cruises, hikes and social get-togethers are also being organised to allow people more time to get to know each other away from the pressures of work and the intrusive eyes of parents and friends.

Japan is an increasingly greying society - more than 36 per cent of the population are over 50 years of age and the birth rate is in long-term decline. Government figures show that the population of 126 million will start to decline in 2006. In 2001, the birthrate stood at 1.33 babies per woman down from 1.36 in 2000.