Historically, many Japanese participated in a form of courtship called Omiai. In this custom, parents hired matchmakers who would gather photographs and resumes of potential partners. When both parties agreed to a possible match, the couple would meet, typically with the families and the matchmaker present. During the first few dates, the parents and matchmaker were extremely influential in determining whether the couple should marry.
Contemporary courtship in Japan is more subtle than dating in the United States. The blossoming of a relationship from friendship to marriage can take years. The relationship begins as friendship, with dates taking place only in public places, typically with groups of friends present. Public displays of affection are frowned upon. The next stage is dating only as a couple, which is done discreetly. Women typically withhold displays of extreme affection and proclamations of love until she deems her suitor is sincere. When the relationship enters the stage of magkasintahan, which means the status of boyfriend and girlfriend, the couple typically makes an announcement to friends and family members, with the suitor asking for parental permission to pursue the relationship. The man typically brings gifts when visiting the family.
In Jeffrey S. Turner's book "Courtship in America", the author notes how courtship in Japan has changed in recent years. While arranged marriages were typically in historic Japan, these days less that one quarter of marriages are arranged. However, parents still hold an enormous influence over the eventual partners their children select. These days, many Japanese people are opting to marry later in life, with the average ages in 2002 being 27 for women and 30 for men.
Technology is one of modern Japan's key matchmakers. Text messages, instant messages, tweets, emails and status updates keep couples in contact. In this arena, dating websites are also popular. When people meet online, they may spend weeks exchanging messages before actually setting up a meeting. Typical first meeting spots are cafes, bars and restaurants. A man may do research to discover what a woman prefers and enjoys while planning a first date.
Four Point Wedding
Japanese weddings have four parts. The first step is to register to be married. This date is important, because it is the date of registration, not of the marriage ceremony, on which anniversaries are marked and celebrated. The shiki is the wedding ceremony and the hiroen in the reception, which tends to be a large affair with many attendees. The nijikai is a later party for close friends and family members, typically located at a bar. The festivities include food, drink and karaoke and may continue through the entire night.