Japan Glances

“Miai”: Meetings to Arrange Marriages

Society Culture

Until the postwar period, most Japanese weddings were arranged through miai, formal meetings set up by a matchmaker. The practice continues today on a smaller scale, although the meetings are now typically arranged by specialist businesses.

Matchmaking Meetings

Before romantic relationships became the standard way to choose a spouse in the postwar period, Japanese men and women typically found their marriage partners at arranged miai meetings—also known widely as omiai, with the addition of the honorific o prefix. These formal events were set up by a nakōdo, or go-between, who might be a relative, a senior colleague, or simply someone in the neighborhood with a talent for matchmaking. Although no longer the usual route to marriage in Japan, miai are still held today.

The practice is said to have begun in ceremonies targeting strategic marriages among the aristocracy in the Kamakura period (1185–1333). It later spread among the general populace, becoming a mainstream custom during the Edo period (1603–1868).

In the first stage of the process, singles hoping to get married—or, frequently, their parents—prepare a tsurigaki, a type of personal profile with an attached photograph. They then give this to the nakōdo, who looks for a suitable match. If a couple seems like a good fit, the nakōdo hands over the respective profiles before sounding both sides out on whether they would like to meet.

If they agree, the matchmaker arranges a get-together with the man and the woman, who are often accompanied by their parents. The miai was traditionally held at a high-class hotel, restaurant, or other formal location, but may now take place at a more casual establishment. The nakōdo breaks the ice by introducing the families and asking questions about work and hobbies. The prospective couple is then left to talk alone together.

The relationship may continue from here, or the man or woman may turn down any further meetings. This decision is usually conveyed via the matchmaker. If the miai results in a wedding, both sides might give the matchmaker a gift of money in gratitude.

The Marriage Business

Miai are not as common as they once were. In the 1960s, the percentage of romantic marriages rose above the number arranged by miai for the first time. Since then, the majority of singles have followed their hearts in finding a spouse. Surveys by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research indicate that 69% of couples got married through a miai in 1930—including those arranged by marriage consultation agencies—but this figure had dropped to 5.2% in 2015.

For those who struggle to find a partner, whether through traditional or online dating, the miai is still an option. It is now often arranged by a matchmaking business, however, rather than a voluntary nakōdo.

Typically, users of these services pay a fee to register as members and are then introduced to possible spouses who meet their chosen conditions. Major companies have tens of thousands of members. There are many different payment systems, but if a relationship successfully results in marriage, it is not uncommon for the successful newlyweds to hand over a fee of tens of thousands of yen.

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