"I wish I could find someone who would accept me, even though I'm not very talkative."
"My son is still single, so ..."
Shinji Asano, 83, of Fujiidera, Osaka Prefecture, sincerely listens to such remarks from visitors who want to marry or are concerned about their children's future.
He started providing marriage counseling in February last year at his home because it is located near Yakushido, a Buddhist temple believed to help worshippers with their marital relations. He offers his service free of charge.
Since then, he has met more than 70 people, mainly in their 30s and 40s, and arranged meetings for people looking for marriage partners. Thanks to his efforts, one couple has married so far.
At a time when more people marry later on in life or stay unmarried, matchmakers, traditionally called nakodo in Japan, have been gaining public attention again lately as the nation's population continues to decline. Nakodo are sometimes looked at as saviors as they are willing to lend a kind ear to people who are looking for a life partner.
Volunteer marriage counseling is becoming more popular, with local governments, worried about the declining local population, regarding them as irreplaceable support.
Asano not only arranges marriage meetings, but also listens to visitors and even scolds them. To a woman who insisted on a set of requirements for her marriage partner, Asano said, "The man you're looking for doesn't exist in real life." He told a man who said he likes gambling and drinking, "Either quit playing around all the time or give up on the idea of marriage."
A 39-year-old woman of Matsubara, Osaka Prefecture, had considered marrying a man she had been seeing. But they broke up after the man said he didn't want to get married.
Although she participated in some matchmaking parties subsequently, she had yet to meet a man she felt was sincere.
When she had almost given up on marriage, she was introduced to Asano by a friend, who had gotten married thanks to him.
The woman visited Asano, expecting he would bring her good luck. Asano kindly gave her such advice as, "You should write your personal profile in a way that makes more sense." She began to put her faith in him and decided to meet with a man Asano had suggested.
"Fate brought me to Mr. Asano," she said, "so I want to make good use of what's been given to me."
Local governments depend on nakodo like Asano.
The municipal government of Nanto, Toyama Prefecture, publicly invited volunteer matchmakers to form a group named "Nanto Osekkai" four years ago. Currently, about 110 group members handle about 390 people who wish to marry.
The group has helped 49 couples marry so far.
"Just having people get to know each other doesn't lead to their getting married," said a municipal government official in charge."The government office obviously isn't in a position to urge them to date, either. So we really depend on kind, pushy local elderly men and women."
The local government of Higashi-Kagawa, Kagawa Prefecture, appointed six citizens who like to help other people as "matchmaking coordinators" in spring last year. The city's population has declined by about 10 per cent over the last decade.
"Having more people marry and increasing the birthrate is one of the most urgent tasks of the city," said an official of the city's commerce, industry and tourism department. "We believe citizens who know a lot about the local community and have large networks are more dependable than matchmaking events."
Meanwhile, the number of professional nakodo providing a paid service is gradually increasing.
A company in Osaka that helps professional matchmakers exchange the data of their clients has about 1,260 matchmakers now, according to the company, Nihon Nakodo Kyokai. That is triple what it was five years ago. Many of them are homemakers and retired male company workers. The number of their clients has increased from about 4,000 five years ago to about 10,000 now.