The history of arranged marriages in Oriental cultures
Marriage is one of the most complex social institutions not only in Asia but in the world. This is the legal means of union between a man and a woman so that they could live together and produce children. These children will become their legal heirs – the heir to their properties and wealth. This means that no one else other than this legal heir can have claimed to the properties owned by the married couple.
This is why in a lot of cases, marriages are often taken with great care and intellect. There was a time in Asia when the concept of “marrying for love” rarely existed. Oftentimes, the parents (or elders) get to choose who their younger generation can marry. More often than not the choice is made for the benefit of both families.
In most cases, they marry to “maintain” something. For instance, a person is only supposed to marry someone of the same race to “maintain ethnicity”. Another case would be when a person is only supposed to marry someone within the family – a third cousin twice removed, or the daughter of a great aunt – to keep the wealth among the family.
In many historical situations, marriages are considered to be a very political move. This is especially true during the feudal times when clans inter-marry their family members to make loyalties and clan relationships stronger. The daughter of a strong clan from the east can marry the son of a feudal lord in the west. This is so that when their forces are combined, they have strong allies on either side.
As modernization reached its peak in Asia, the concept of arranged marriages started to lose its luster. The younger generation starts to have their own take on things and start to marry people that they love. On the other hand, the older generation becomes more respectful and trusting of their decisions as well.
The problem with arranged marriages in many historical Oriental cultures is that there are a significant number of cases when the age is not taken into consideration. A parent can marry off their daughters as soon as she is of a fertile age, regardless if she is fourteen or younger. Then they could be married off to someone that is three times their age. There are cases as well when an older woman is married off to a younger man. The good thing is that there are legislations in the modern age to protect young children against this.
The value of marriage for the modern Japanese
Marriage is one of the most important social institutions held by the Japanese culture. The concept of family and honor are held as important pillars of their society. They put their families first and always uphold the honor of not only their parents but their ancestors as well. This is strongly instilled in their culture.
Through the years, there are two methods to find a partner for marriage. One is through the Omiai and the other is the ren’ai. The omiai is when two people are arranged to be met with the intention or possibility of marriage in the future. This is similar to matchmaking but with more consent, the couple will have a say on whether or not they are compatible with each other. The other method is the ren’ai or the method for which an individual marries someone they chose.
However, over the past few decades, there had been a significant decline in the number of people getting married. According to some statistics, there are a number of men and women who prefer staying unmarried. To add to this, the age of men and women getting married have significantly increased as well. This means that people tend to get married much older than the previous generations. There is also an increase in the number of couples who choose to live together without getting married first.
The divorce rate in Japan is about 2 for every 1,000 population in 2016. When asked about this, a lot of the younger members of the Japanese society believe that the value of marriage has declined through the decades. They have seen their parents get divorced and suffered through all the pain and difficulty of ending a marriage. They, as children of the marriage, have indirectly suffered as well due to the breakup.
In hope of avoiding the pain and the difficulty, couples choose to stay together despite having no marriage rituals. They think that they are happier this way. Although their elders might frown upon this choice, it will be quite difficult to encourage the youth otherwise.
What is the Japanese Omiai – the modern take on match making
Based on some researches, there are a number of factors why the rate of marriage in Japan significantly decreased. One of these factors is that women now have better standing or status in the Japanese society. They have more roles to play other than a housewife or a mother. Because of this, there are a number of women who choose not to get married young. The problem is, when they get older, it gets much harder to find a perfect match for marriage. The same is true for men who choose to get married at an older age.
Because of this, their families are now quite concerned about their sons and daughter getting married which is why many people opt to help their kids through match makers and a matchmaking activity known as omiai.
Japanese Meaning – Omiai
The omiai is a modern means of match making in Japan. It is a process for which friends or family members set up people they know with the intention of marrying them. However, for more formal conditions a match maker is still hired.
Japan, as well as other Asian countries, have grown out of the traditional arranged marriage set up where it is only the parents who are doing the negotiations. The couple is only to meet days before, or worst, on the exact day of their marriage.
Nowadays, a match made marriages are not necessarily “arranged” without the knowledge of the couple. More often than not they are just given an opportunity or a bridge to meet each other. Through that meeting, they will decide if they will meet again in the future to start “dating”. This is where the courtship begins. If they feel no mutual chemistry, then they can decide not to meet again in the future.
Etymology of Omiai – A Japanese word
The Japanese term “miai” or “omiai” literally means “looking at one another” it is the method for which men and women who are looking for marriage partners are introduced to each other. This meeting usually has an intention of allowing two people to check their compatibility and chemistry for marriage.
There is a number of misconceptions outsiders have for arranged marriages. Oftentimes, they think that it is made without love or with too much coercion. What they must understand is that the modern means of arranged marriages require courtship between the couple, this is to help them build a better relationship with each other.
Understanding the ‘Selection Process’
In the earlier times, match makers are hired to check the compatibility of two people with the prospect of marriage. They use star signs, birthdates, Zodiac and many more considerations to find out the compatibility of two people. Nowadays, the process is not as intricate and only requires the minor involvement of friends and family members.
What is considered as a marriageable age in Japan would be between 22 and 30 Parents of children within this age range usually interfere when they see that their child shows no interest in finding a partner. Just like a job application, photos are sent to the match makers and the individuals are asked to fill out a form of their personal information. This is known as the rirekisho, or a short personal history of the candidate. This is where the first stage of selection is based on.
Family members (or whoever requested the assistance of the match maker) shall select first from a list of candidates. A few of the considerations for selection would be educational level, social class, occupation, and appearance. For a lot of people, they usually check the height, high salary, and high education –a stereotype that many people are always looking for.
The second stage of the omiai process is the investigation. Once a party has decided on a short list of candidates, they now search deeper into the individual. In some cases, for pickier clients, the balance between the two individuals are still checked – their zodiac, their age, their birthdates, and more. There are even cases where medical histories are considered, a family does not prefer anyone whose bloodline has possible heredities for certain diseases.
It is also the task of the match maker to find out any significant differences between two people and their families. This is to avoid awkwardness and embarrassment during the first meeting. Believe it or not, some families actually hire private investigators to check out on a person’s background.
The third stage of the omiai is the introduction. Both parties would be brought to a single place for their first meeting. However, there are some match makers who like to traditionally test the waters. Before actually letting the two meet and showing them photos of one another, they try a simple experiment known as the kagemi. This is the process for which the man will try to catch a glimpse of the girl but in secret. This is to see if the male will approve of the female or not based on looks, without actually meeting in person first.
The meeting, compared to the earlier times, is very informal and casual. This is to create a lighter mood between the potential couple. At first the families, the parents, are to talk to break the ice. However, it is strongly encouraged after the meeting that the two spend time with each other (alone) so they could get to know each other better.
The final stage would be the kotowari. This is the time when both couples will decide if the date was successful. If it is successful, then the couple shall decide to marry and go through the formal marriage process. If not, then there is a proper way of refusal and apology.
Successes of a Japanese Omiai marriage
Not all omiai is successful even if the Nakado has done their best to match make two people. If the chemistry is not there, then it would be difficult to force it. However, there are a number of factors that affect the success of an omiai. For instance, there are discriminations between race, class, or even ancestry in the process.
Often, non-Japanese born individuals are highly discriminated against. Many parents will prefer individuals with full Japanese ancestry. In another case, people will prefer individuals of a certain religion over another. Some physical deformities are also discriminated against. Individuals who are older will have a much more difficult time in choosing a partner.
Where to find a Nakodo in Japan
In a less formal match-making process, friends or family members serve as “go-betweens” in marriage meetings such as the miai. However, for a much larger network, people would prefer hiring a nakodo (or matchmaker). There are groups and offices in Japan that offer up Nakodo or match-making services. They make sure that they help the individuals meet their potential spouse no matter what kind of candidate they are.
Tips to remember on an Omiai
Meetings like this can be nerve-wracking, it is best to keep one’s cool and just go through the process naturally. Avoid creating an image that is not one’s true self. Marriages are for long term and the other party must meet the real personality of their potential spouses. Make sure to be respectful at all times – be it in accepting the marriage or declining it. It is to help the other party save face during a rejection. For omiai, it is best to wear comfortable and appropriate clothes – not too formal and not too casual. It is also best to wear proper articles of clothing for the season be it in the months of November or August.