Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Speed dating in Japan
On Sunday I tried Japanese speed dating. Here it is called "Coupling Parties", and the goal is to find someone to get married to (there may be speed dating parties with the goal of just finding someone to date, but during my research I only found ones where the main goal was marriage). Many years ago I thought about trying all kinds of things in Japan just to see what it is like, and speed dating was one of them. Since I am busy with work, I never got around to most of the things, and one of the things I never got around to trying was speed dating.
Since a few weeks back (and for two more days), a girl from Sweden is visiting Sapporo and since we are both born in Sweden someone once introduced us (because having lived in Sweden, it is so exotic to meet other people born Sweden, perhaps?) here in Sapporo. She comes here every one or two years or so, and we usually meet up and go to some Japanese festival or some strange night club or whatnot.
This time, we met and had dinner a week back. I asked if there was something in particular she wanted to do, since at this time of the year there is nothing out of the ordinary going on in Sapporo. She said she wanted to try speed dating in Japan, and that it would be great if I could look up the opportunities for that and if we could go together.
I once heard one of my friends talking about how she met a guy at a speed dating party, so I e-mailed once of the people involved in that conversation and asked for tips. She recommended a company and when I checked their web page they have several speed dating parties every day! There are different themes, like: "People in their twenties" (neither me nor the Swedish girl qualifies for that one), "Men in suits" (I have only one suit, and it is pink with embroidered roses; good for stage performances, not good for 'everyone should look serious in suits'), "People who love outdoor activities" (I don't mind outdoor activities, but ever since being in the army I strongly prefer sleeping in a bed over camping etc.) and much more.
I suggested a few days and times (and the themes at those times) to the Swedish girl and we ended up going together on Sunday evening. The theme was "Wedding plans start at 28 [years old]; men with a salary of 4 million yen [per year] or more and popular jobs". I have a fairly good salary so I earn a lot more than 4 million yen per year (4 million sounds like a lot but one yen is not worth that much), and fit the age criteria of 28 to 40 years old, and would probably pass as 公務員 (government employee), since I work at a state run university (I am in the same labor union as the government employees at least). For women the only requirement was to be between 27 and 39 years old and not married. Not being married is a requirement for both men and women in every party. The price was 4000 yen for men, 2500 yen for women, which makes it one of their more expensive parties. Other parties were 2000 yen for men, 1000 yen for women.
When we arrived, we were asked to fill out profile sheets. The basic info was name, age, what part of the city you live in, if you live alone or not, what part of the city you work in, what type of job you do, blood type (used for horoscopes in Japan), star sign, how tall you are, siblings/parents, if you smoke, if you drink alcohol, if you have been married before, if you have children, if you have pets, what days of the week you do not work, and within what amount of time you want to get married (6 months, 1 year, 3 years, "decide after we start dating").
Then there were bigger fields to fill in: what you do on days you do not work, music you like, what you see as ideal in women, how you would describe yourself (your personality) in one phrase, and a field for hobbies/certificates/abilities out of the ordinary.
Men also filled in their yearly salary, while women filled in "the food I can cook best".
Since the Swedish girl lived 4 years in Sapporo she understands spoken Japanese very well, and speaks fairly well (though she does not use Japanese much so sometimes she has problems finding the words she want to use). She lived her when she was a kid, though, so she does not read nor write Japanese. So she asked me to fill out her profile sheet too. Since I write at something like one tenth of the speed of Japanese people (when writing Japanese) I was stressed for time with just my own sheet already, haha. I know how to write my star sign in Japanese (since people ask me about it a lot), but I had no idea how to write her sign. A dictionary look-up with the cellphone solved that, but took more time. She later told me that she had been complemented by lots of people on how good she was at writing difficult kanji like 獅子座...
I wrote down "magic" under hobbies, but after the first person I talked to asked the obvious "And what country are you from?", I figured I should have written that down too somewhere. There was nothing that obviously fit, so I put "Speaking Swedish" as one of my skills out of the ordinary (hopefully people did not take it to be a hobby of mine). I put "house work" under what I do on the one day of the week I do not work (I have to do it sometime and I have no time any other days, so I clean and do laundry on my day off). Lots of people thought that was funny.
I showed up in trousers with black cherry blossom pattern on black, a little weird but not that strong colors, and a t-shirt with the Facebook "Like"-button (thumbs up sign) and いいね (the Facebook "like" in Japanese) written on it. This is considered a funny (but weird) shirt to move by Japanese people. I figured that if people are looking for someone to marry and having no fashion sense is a deal breaker for them, I should let them know right from the start so we would not be wasting our time unnecessarily. Hiding your flaws to get a good start at something that is doomed to fail eventually was what people recommended me to do, but I did not think that sounded like a good long term plan. Or nice to the other people.
Once the actual party got started, all the women sat on one side of a long row of chairs, and the men on the other side. You were assigned a number and sat on the corresponding chair. You handed over your profile sheet and received theirs in return, so you could quickly scan that for any deal breakers (if you cannot stand people who smoke, for instance) and to look for ideas of things to say. I looked at the "hobbies", "what I do on my day off", "pets", and "food I can cook" mostly. I do not think I ever even noticed the age of anyone. And why would you check how tall someone is when they are in front of you and you can see that (though perhaps not in as much detail)? The field for "describe yourself in one phrase" was sometimes interesting too.
You had about two or three minutes to read the profile and talk to this person. Then there was an announcement that it was time to move to the next person, and all men switched to the chair to the right of them, and the process started over with a new person in front of you and three more minutes to talk to them. After an hour, you had talked to every person there. There were 13 women and 17 men, so at 4 occasions I ended up with an empty chair in front of me. That was actually great, because it meant you finally had time to jot down some comments about the people you had already talked to. Without that, I would not have remembered much about the first people, or who had talked about what.
I had a lot of fun. There were lots of interesting people there. I talked to one girl who complimented my t-shirt and had written "cake" as the dish she was most confident in, who seemed funny. I talked to another who liked travelling, and when I asked where she had had most fun she said Bulgaria! I have been to Bulgaria twice, and had fun too. So we spent most of our (really short) time talking about Bulgaria. Another girl had written "soup curry" as her best dish, which was interesting. We talked about soup curry a lot since I had spent the last two summers doing a soup curry tour with one of my colleagues, visiting lots of soup curry places. She said one of her hobbies was to visit soup curry places and then try to imitate that particular taste at home herself. Another one that was funny specified that in the summer she plays golf and in the winter she is hikikomori. This might be close to "hibernating" or isolating yourself. It is a funny way to describe yourself. She hates winter sports, she said. Another girl and I talked about visiting Paris and the Louvre, and she had a good job and told me she even had a master's degree in something else too. One woman asked me if people in Sweden get stiff shoulders (a very common problem in Japan). I said that I think so, but perhaps not to the same degree as here. I suggested that it may be because in Sweden we work only 8 hours per day and only 5 days per week, and actually have vacations too. (My Japanese friends average around 10 hours per day, six or seven days per week, and use perhaps two vacation days per year.) One girl told me she has a cat, a dog, and a pet turtle. She also wanted to learn how to say "hello" in Swedish, and then said "Hej!" to me every time we met anywhere (the corridor, around the buffet table, when leaving, etc.). Another girl had listed "marimo" under pets. Marimo is an aquatic ball of algae. I asked if this is actually a pet, and she said that it is a pet anyone can take care of. This struck me as a great thing to list under pets.
When I ended up in front of my Swedish friend, I asked her how it was going. She said that most people did not speak much English, so when she could not find the Japanese words the conversation was somewhat lacking. She also said that pretty much everyone asked: "So, you are from Sweden but you live here?" "No, I am here on vacation." "Then what on Earth are you doing at a party like this?!" Which is understandable, I guess, haha.
In general it was very stressful since you had just a few minutes to talk to each person, and no breaks in between. After just one hour of this, I was completely drained. You get about one minute to learn enough about the other person to make a decision and one minute to give them enough information to base their decision on. What can you say in one minute to achieve that? I should have thought more about that beforehand, perhaps. But since I spend several nights per week talking to random strangers and entertaining them with a large amount of talking involved, I am fairly good at quickly adjusting to other people in the conversation and finding funny things to say in response to what hey are saying or doing, so I think I did OK even if my Japanese is not good enough to make me really good at this here (I would probably be much more impressive to people speaking Swedish, or even English).
Once everyone had talked to everyone, you filled out a card with the numbers of the people you would rank as your number 1 to number 6. I had 8 women that I found funny and interesting. My number 1 and 2 were pretty clear. Then 3 and 4 were pretty evenly matched, and 5 not far behind. Then there were three more that could all be number 6. So there were some difficult decisions there.
These notes were collected and the information put into a computer and you got a personalized result sheet back. It told you the computer's idea of your chances with the 6 people you had chosen (probably based on if they chose you in return, what positions they and you assigned you to, and how popular they were with other people, and whatnot). My number one was listed as a 69% match, and the rest were around 20%, and the last two around 13%. Not that great.
You also got information about your top 3 choices. It specified how many other men had chosen them, and there were also text descriptions of their popularity (perhaps based on the positions all these people assigned them to). My number on choice had been chosen by 14 other men. So 15 out 17 chose her. A tough competition. My second choice had 11 other competitors and my third had 13... I guess at least this disproves the theory that all of my friends have that I have bad (or not the same as Japanese men) taste in women and go for only weird ones, at least.
You also got a list of the people who had chosen you as one of their 6 choices, and any of them that you had chosen yourself were helpfully underlined. With 14 women making 6 choices each and 17 men to choose from, you get an average of almost 5. I got a disappointingly low two people that were kind enough to list me. One of them I had chosen myself, though.
Armed with this information, it was time for 15 minutes of "Free Time". There was sushi, some light snacks, small sandwiches, sweets, and drinks (tea, orange juice, beer) on two tables and you could eat as much or as little as you wanted. The idea was that you would go and talk to people that you wanted to know more about or that you wanted to try to make a stronger impression on. I spoke to another man for awhile because he wondered if I ate sushi and if could use chopsticks etc. Then I also thought that since I was there with my Swedish friend, who looked a bit lonely at the other table, I should at least check with her how she was doing. She said she was having fun too, and she found lots of sushi and sweets that she liked. The girl who learned how to say "Hej" in Swedish came up to us and said "Hej!". She also drank all her beer quickly and then saw that there was no more beer on the table, so she took the initiative and went back stage somewhere and asked around for some staff member (they were busy with inputting things into the computer) to ask if there was any more beer. There was more beer, so she came back with lots of beer. She was funny. I was thinking of going over to my number one choice to say something, but she was deep in a conversation with someone else and I did not really have anything more to add to our previous (very entertaining) conversation. Then the Free Time was suddenly over.
Finally, you wrote down your current top three choices (in order), possibly the same as before, and these were put into the computer again. You could also write some feedback to the organizers. I wrote down that the girl who was directing everything ("Now it is time to go to the next chair!", "The people with number 13 please stand up so everyone can see you and your number again!" etc.) was too good looking, so she stole the attention from the women paying to be there.
You could also write up to three messages with your contact information, one line of free text, and the number of the person you wanted to receive that message. This would then be collected and put in an envelope with any other messages from other people and given to that person when they left. I sent my contact info with a short personalized and hopefully funny line to my number 1 and 2 choices, and a message to the girl who has a pet marimo moss ball congratulating her on having had the most memorable pet (or other information) that really stuck in my head.
Then the party was over and they presented the results. They said that no less than 8 couples had been created this time. So 8 men and 8 women that both had chosen each other as one of their top 3 candidates had been found. This is pretty impressive in a group of 14 vs. 17. We were told that when we left we would get an envelope where the message slips and a note specifying who if anyone you had become a couple with. I got an envelope that contained no couple information and no message slips, but had five flyers for other parties organized by the company. Themed Christmas parties etc.
If you were paired with someone, the men (who all left first) were supposed to wait outside for the girls to come out and then approach them. The idea was that you would then go and have dinner right then (it was about dinner time) or set up a meeting for some other day.
My Swedish friend had the same result, I think, so we went to Starbucks and had some matcha green tea and talked about the experience. While it is a bit sad to get picked by only 2 out of 14 people (less than half the average), get 0 messages, and fail to be paired, we both agreed that it had been a lot of fun. That people would not choose someone who lives in a city 16 hours by airplane away or a crazy foreigner with strange clothes is not that surprising, I guess. I got to talk to many interesting women, and my friend said that there was a wide spread among the men too. She had talked to someone in the health business, a guy who worked at a gym (he got paired with my number 1 choice, we noticed when we left the building), a guy who had his own rice fields, and many more.
The guy who sat next to me during the whole first session also leaned over towards me during one break and asked: "You are a magician, right?" He said he has been to our magic bar several times. I said that the next time I will probably remember him, since it was surprising to meet under these circumstances. If not, he could just say "coupling party" to jog my memory. When he left (with my number 2 choice, that he was paired with), he said he would come to our bar again soon. He seemed nice and funny. He was constantly laughing and seemed to enjoy the party as much as I did. The girl said "Hej!" again, and then they disappeared.
Having been slightly disappointed with the unimpressive results, my spirits were lifted a little in the middle of the night when my number 2 choice messaged me. The message just said "Hei" in Japanese. But then there was another message saying, "Ah, this is number 11". Which was still a bit unclear, but after awhile it clicked in my head and I figured out who this unknown phone number must belong to. She then asked me if I had been paired with anyone and when I said no she suggested that if I had done magic in front of everyone during the free time I would probably have been the star of the party. I said that I would probably have been thrown out for ruining the talk time of everyone, but if not, probably yes, haha. But while doing magic does impress people (at least if you do it well), it rarely makes them want to date you. My experience is that people that watch and are amazed by magic together bond, while the magician seems more and more as someone outside the group.
So, I was somewhat back in spirits that at least one of the three people I sent a short message to got in touch with me. At lunch the next day I got another message that said: "Hi, I am the one who has a marimo moss ball". And then in the afternoon I got an e-mail from the last girl too. So these message cards seemed to be really useful.