In Japan's time-scarce, results-oriented society, people no longer feel they can find a life partner through traditional dating methods, and are instead turning to high-tech matchmaking options to better their chances of meeting a compatible companion.
Rather than visiting a dating agency, attending matchmaking parties or actually finding a partner the old-fashioned way through "a chance encounter," people are peering into their screens in hopes artificial intelligence will help them find a match made in heaven.
In Japan, around 10 companies have offered such services, with each seeing their user-base growing rapidly in recent years.
The companies are not focused on delivering a solely digital date, however, as some also host events where prospective partners can meet in person to see if the profile picture meets reality.
Makoto Yamada, 30, who works in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, married Sayaka, 33, a university research fellow, in June last year after meeting through the "Pairs" online matching service run by Tokyo-based eureka Inc.
Both learned of the matchmaking service through social media ads and signed up without giving it a second thought. As other people they know were using similar matching services, the couple said they did not hesitate to take their quest for love online.
After sparking a mutual love interest via text chats about travel and other shared passions, they dated for about six months and tied the knot soon after.
"Matchmaking parties tend to be boisterous since so many people show up, and the chance of actually meeting a partner is pretty slim. Apps make much more sense," Makoto said.
Sayaka added that she was unlikely to find a love interest from her circle of acquaintances after working 10 years in the same job, so she had to try something new.
"My parents were delighted about the service as I described it as a modern-day equivalent of arranged marriage meetings," she said.
The Pairs service started in Japan in 2012, launched a version in Taiwan the following year and in South Korea in 2017, with a grand total of more than 10 million registered members.
When signing up, users must verify their age via a driver's license or another identification type.
Once in, they can report a person on the site for breaking the rules such as already being married or soliciting for other businesses. The site says it monitors messages and posted images around the clock and takes appropriate action against rule violators.
Last December, eureka launched a research project in collaboration with Toshihiko Yamasaki, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, using accumulated data and a matchmaking algorithm.
Shintaro Kaneko, director and chief technology officer of the company, said, "Even if they do not have the same hobby, some data shows for example that a man fond of walks and a woman fond of visiting cafes have good chemistry."
"By further improving the accuracy of data analysis, we want to orchestrate 'a chance encounter' (among users of the service)," Kaneko said.
Linkbal Inc., an operator of an e-commerce portal website for matchmaking events, has offered the CoupLink online dating app since July 2016. As the app enables users to "get to know 1.5 million event attendees online," many of its users became members after attending actual events, according to the company.
Even if people fail to meet someone of interest during an event, they still have a chance to get a date by sending messages to other users on the CoupLink app, company officials said. In many cases, users who have attended different events will meet later through the app.
"There is a sense of reassurance that people who attend events are very motivated to get married," an official said. "We will continue offering people that chance by further expanding the app's functions, utilizing both real (events) and net (services)."