Tokyo, Tokyo, make me a match! Metropolis hopes AI app will spur marriages By Reuters

By Mariko Katsumura

TOKYO (Reuters) – On an overcast day in Tokyo this week, three dozen men and women strolled through a botanical garden in groups of four, making awkward conversation as they searched for clues to a mystery-solving game – and a potential partner for life.

They are participants in one of the many matchmaking events the government of Japan’s capital has been hosting for years in an attempt, so far unsuccessful, to reverse declines in marriages and births.

Having organised parties and offered dating and fashion advice, the metropolis of 14 million now hopes for a broader reach and better results by releasing an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered dating app as early as this spring.

The app will ask matrimonial hopefuls more than 100 questions, such as “What kind of person can you not stand?” and “Are you comfortable sharing your feelings?”. It will suggest matches using big data gleaned from responses from 150,000 couples.

Tokyo plans to vet users through online interviews and require a certificate proving their single status in a process that Kaori Shiratori, a 56-year-old civil servant who won the lottery to the event at the botanical garden, found reassuring.

“I’d like to try the new app,” she said, before leaving the Vernal Equinox Day function without a match. “I tried to work up the courage to talk to this one man I thought was attractive, but everyone rushed to him so I had no chance.”

A 32-year-old who asked to be identified only by his last name, Fujita, said he used to hesitate to look for a partner because he was a part-time worker. After securing a stable job at a nursing home, he is now keen to find someone to spend time with, mountain climbing and visiting temples.

“I can trust the app if it’s overseen by Tokyo because I think they would more carefully handle personal information,” he said.

With a population set to start shrinking from 2030, Tokyo will nearly double to 335 million yen ($2.2 million) its budget for marriage-support services in the fiscal year starting next month. The capital joins nearby governments such as in Saitama and Ibaraki prefectures in offering matchmaking app services.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government has also identified Japan’s sagging birthrate – the national population has been falling since its 2008 peak – as a top problem requiring action this decade.

Nearly one-third of Tokyo men in their 50s have never been married, while data gathered by Recruit Holdings shows 46% of men and 30% of women in their 20s in Japan have never dated.

“We’re trying to create an easy entry point for those wanting to marry but who don’t know where to go or are afraid to start,” said Tokyo government official Asako Suyama, who leads the city’s marriage-support services.

The new app, which will be available for those residing, working or studying in Tokyo, will also require proof of income.

($1 = 151.5700 yen)

(This story has been refiled to remove an extraneous word from paragraph 3)



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