Japan Glances

Romantic Aspirations: Japan’s “Gōkon” Group Dating

Society Culture

A growing number of young Japanese are facing an uphill struggle to form relationships that lead to matrimony. Many turn to gōkon, or group dating, which has become a popular way for men and women to meet.

A Casual Atmosphere for Mixing

Gōkon is group dating involving two or more couples. The name is an abbreviation of gōdō konpa, a Japanese compound combining the elements for “joint” and “party.” The phrase most commonly describes a get-together of a group of men and women, normally at a restaurant, where participants talk and get to know each other over food and drinks. Even as Japanese are increasingly putting off matrimony, these events serve to provide young singles the chance to find potential marriage partners.

Traditionally, social gatherings involving school friends were referred to by the formal-sounding shinbokukai (student mixer). The term konpa, which derives from the English word company, developed among university students in the 1970s as slang for similar events, taking on an aspect of group dating. These parties then began to be called danjo gōdō konpa (mixed get-togethers) before being abbreviated to gōkon.

Differing from more prescribed events associated with omiai (arranged marriage), gōkon are popular for being organized around groups of mutual friends or acquaintances. They give participants an opportunity to search for romance in a casual setting.

Keeping Numbers Small

A gōkon usually centers on socializing with the opposite sex while enjoying good food and drinks. While there are no set rules for how many participate, equal-sized groups of three or four men and women are the norm.

Setting up a gōkon involves choosing one male and one female kanji, the organizers who lead the event. It is the job of the two kanji to gather participants, such as by inviting friends, classmates, members of their school club, coworkers, or others in their social circle. It is usually up to the male kanji to plan the event, including choosing a location (often a restaurant or Japanese-style pub) and deciding a budget.

Seating at events is either mixed or with men on one side of the table and women on the other. Once participants are in their places, everyone lifts their drink for the kanpai (toast) and then takes turns introducing themselves before beginning to socialize casually. As the gōkon progresses, people rotate seats to have a chance to talk to everyone. If two participants hit it off, they may exchange contact information and set up a private date at another time.

Thematic Gōkon

Recently, themed gōkon have become popular. Often seasonally timed, these might be organized around an event such as hanami (flower viewing) in spring or a barbecue or other outdoor activity in summer.

People at a barbecue gōkon.

Other varieties of themed group dating include machikon, asakon, ranchikon, and shumikon. There are even organizations supporting regionally-based mixers, such as miyakon in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture.

Machikon are large-scale dating events in a specific area of a town (machi) or municipality involving various establishments. They have the additional goal of boosting the local community. Prior registration is required and there are often age specifications. During machikon, participants move around to different shops, spending a set amount of time at each, joining in gōkon with other groups. Small events may have as few as 100 participants, while larger ones might draw several thousand. Machikon focusing on specific pursuits are called shumikon and are designed around pastimes such as watching movies, cooking, anime, or surfing.

Early morning events known as asa gōkon, or simply asakon, may kick off at a hotel café with participants sharing a cup of coffee and then going bowling prior to heading to the office. Recently, alcohol-free socials held during the lunch hour are gaining popularity. Known as ranchikon, these gatherings have gained attention of busy office workers who lack time to join conventional gōkon. There are similar lunchtime mixers on weekend afternoons where for a reasonable price participants can socialize over sparkling wine and a gourmet lunch.

Gōkon are not only fun opportunities to find a potential romantic partner, but also provide the chance to discover new and interesting shops, expand social communities, and enjoy a gourmet meal.

(Banner photo: Young singles take part in a gōkon. © Tamura Shō.)

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