Love truly blind for Tokyo singles
Matchmaking events helping people look beyond appearance
RINTARO HOSOKAWA and YUKI TAKASU, Nikkei staff writers
TOKYO -- A company in Tokyo has given new meaning to the term "blind date," and put a new twist on the country's gokon, or matchmaking parties, where timid young Japanese are brought together in the hope of finding a soul mate.
On a recent weekend afternoon, six men and women in their 20s and 30s nervously sat down together in a restaurant in Tokyo's Shinjuku entertainment district. Just as they would at any other matchmaking party, initial nerves soon give way to chat and laughter once the drinks start flowing -- the difference here, however, is that no one can see each other.
Everyone is given eye mask and led into a private room, first the girls, then the boys, and the "party" begins.
"I usually can't ask what I want to know directly, especially when he is my type," said a 24-year-old who was obviously not attending her first gokon. Blindfolded, however, the inhibition you might expect on a first date seems not to be a problem for this girl, who is seemingly happy to ask about a boy's fetishes, and even salary.
Mio Sakata, 20, was intrigued by the different ways people shake hands. "It was like you could sense who they really were," she said.
At the end of the gathering, everyone writes down the name of who they would most like to meet again and leaves it with the organizer -- without being given the chance to see each other. They get told who they matched with later.
Iromono, the event organizer, began holding blindfold-matchmaking parties in February. They say the parties produce at least one match each time.
"Appearances often matter a lot at matchmaking events," said a 24-year-old man at the party. "I guess even if I fail here, at least it is not because of how I look."
These gatherings are even attracting people who would normally hesitate to go to a conventional gokon, according Iromono head Ryo Yamada.
On a mission
Arranging parties for singles looking for a husband or wife has become big business in Japan, and even led to the term "konkatsu," or "marriage hunting" being coined.
According to Yosuke Shionagi, an adviser specializing in "love" at All About, an information exchange website, people typically take one minute to decide if they like someone at a gokon. But love at first sight does not always last, and many people say they want to look beyond a person's appearance -- after all, these parties are intended for people to find a life partner. This may explain the growing popularity of events like Iromono's, according to Shionagi.
IBJ, a leading organizer of matchmaking and marriage-hunting events, began similar parties this spring. This company, however, seeks to add an element of drama.
"Welcome to our house, have a good time," is the phrase that greets men and women as they arrive at a luxury house in Mejiro, Tokyo. One by one, they are guided to a table blindfolded. After introducing themselves, they are given little missions by the house's owner to help them break the ice. "If they can't see each other, it can really amplify the thrill," said event planner Mari Shiina.
At the end of the party, everyone gets to take off their eye mask and see who they have been chatting to. "My imagination was running wild while we couldn't see each other," said a woman in her 30s. "I was really into him, and we exchanged contacts."
Time to unwind
Some shops and cafes are now following suit. Cafeslow in Kokubunji in the west of Tokyo occasionally holds low-light events, like a candle-lit concert by cellist Chie Narita held in late April.
Kenta Sato and Rei Hasegawa, both in their 20s, went to the event together. "We usually just chat all the time, but such a quiet time together is awesome, too," said Hasegawa. While listening the music, "I was about to hold her hand," said Sato. According to cafeslow, the low lighting helps people unwind and become more open with each other.
Finding that special someone has never been easy. Hopefully attending one of these events can help at least some of these singles fall in love without first sight.