Onuki was 15 when he had his first experience with online dating, getting together with a girl who he’d met on a gaming site. "We met at a coffee shop, and right away she started talking about sex. "She actually messaged me first," says the software engineer, who’s now 23 and working at a web startup in Tokyo [names of daters in this piece have been changed to protect their privacy].But I wasn't really attracted to her in person, so I said no." Onuki is a rarity in Japan: Somebody who will openly discuss meeting romantic partners online.
Widening their eyes, they blushed, as if I'd said something dirty and controversial.
It’s a bit of a mystery: Japanese dating sites—known as deaikei—are numerous and thriving, with apps like Pairs, Match Alarm, Niku Kai, and Yahoo Omiai attracting growing numbers of fans.
But when you ask around, no one cops to having used them.
The stigma around online dating is a bit surprising, since Japan needs help in that particular area.
The country is in the middle of something of a sex crisis.
Its birthrate is among the lowest on earth, and the number of marriages is in decline.
"Why have Japanese young people stopped having sex? In New York City, where I live, meeting potential partners digitally is normal: one in five American relationships today begin online, as Fast Company contributor Dan Slater reports in his book Love in the Time of Algorithms.
Few uncoupled twentysomethings in New York haven't at least tried a dating site, whether they’re searching for serious relationships or quick hookups.
So why is the subject so touchy in Japan, a technologically hip country (their ketai cellphones surfed the Web long before our smart phones) that otherwise seems comfortable discussing sex?
Given Japan's dating and demographic crisis, why the squeamishness about meeting in cyberspace?
To understand Japanese dating sites, the first thing you need to realize is that many don’t seem like dating sites at all.