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Omiai (お見合い, literally "looking at each other") or miai (the "o" is honorific) is a Japanese custom whereby unattached individuals are introduced to each other to consider the possibility of marriage. In China, this custom is called xiangqin (相親, literally "mutual familiarity").


  • 1 History
  • 2 Participants
  • 3 Nakōdo
  • 4 Selection Process
  • 5 Investigation
  • 6 Miai
  • 7 Kotowari (Excuse, Apology, Refusal)
  • 8 Discrimination
  • 9 Attitudes
  • 10 Gender and Omiai
  • 11 References
  • 12 See also


In 16th century Japan the practice of Omiai emerged among the Samurai class to form and protect strong military alliances among warlords to ensure mutual support. Later, during the Tokugawa Period (1603-1868) the practice of Omiai spread to other urban classes trying to emulate Samurai customs. After the Pacific War, the trend was to abandon this restrictive arranged-marriage system, in favor of more Western ideals of love marriages (ren’ai). [1] Currently, it is estimated that only between ten and thirty percent of marriages in Japan are arranged. [1][2]


The participants in the Miai process include the candidates who are to potentially be married and the families of these candidates. The candidates and their families are judged on a large set of criteria aimed at determining the suitability and the balance of the marriage. This criteria is formally known in Japan as iegara (いえがら). This includes level of education, income, occupation, physical attractiveness, religion, social standing, and hobbies. [3] Many modern women are stereotyped as looking for three attributes: height, high salary, and high education. This is commonly known as “The Three H” syndrome. [3] The participant’s bloodline, or ketto (けっとう), also plays a large role. Many fear that a candidate’s blood is contaminated with diseases such as epilepsy, neurosis, or mental illness. The fear is so prevalent that the Eugenic Protection Law of 1948 was passed in order to legalize sterilization and abortion for people with a history of mental defects and other hereditary diseases. [3] Social status also plays a large role in selecting a candidate. Ideally, paired candidates and their families should be of equal social status. [3] A candidate will have a hard time finding a mate if his family is not of a matching social status as the other family – even if the candidate is of equal social status. [3] Family lineage can also affect the quality of a candidate. For example, a candidate with samurai blood is more likely to be picked than one with ancestry from a different Tokugawa-era class. [3]


A nakōdo (仲人) serves the role of a go-between between families in the Miai process. Traditionally the nakōdo is a family member or friend who is very in touch with the community and who knows many eligible candidates that might match the inquiring candidate’s needs. [3] Professional organizations have also begun to provide go-between services for inquiring candidates. [3] These professional nakōdo are known as Pro Nakōdo. [3] The general purpose of the nakōdo is to provide introductions for people entering a new arrangement situation and to assist shy candidates. [4] The nakōdo is expected to play a variety of roles throughout the miai process. The first is the bridging role, hashikake (はしかけ), in which the nakōdo introduces potential candidates and families to each other. The second role is as a liaison for the two families. This role helps to avoid direct confrontation and differences in opinions between the families by serving as an intermediary for working out the details of the marriage. The third role is that of a guarantor who will help to mediate the couple in the case of marital disputes or to arrange a divorce in more serious situations. [4] In return for serving and assisting the participants, sometimes the nakōdo will be given a percentage (10%) of the wedding preparation money that the groom gives the bride. [2] Even though Omiai marriages are not as common as they once were, they still hold a place in popular media. One example is “Wedding Bells”, a game show that substitutes for the role of the nakōdo in which contestants are introduced and screened for marriage possibility.

Selection Process

The initiative for the Omiai introductions often comes from the parents who may feel that their son or daughter is of a marriageable age, (tekireiki) usually in the range of 22 to 30, but has shown little or no sign of seeking a partner on their own. Other times, the individual may ask friends or acquaintances to introduce potential mates in a similar way. Parents will often subtly interject the phrase, “Onegai Shimasu” (“I make the request”) into casual conversation, [4] which implies that both parents have authorized consent for their daughter to meet eligible men. [5] The daughter may be unaware that her parents have suggested her availability though the use of Onegai Shimasu. [5] Moreover, some parents will also send a candidacy picture to a future husband or go-between without their daughter’s knowledge or consent. [5] Parents may also enlist the aid of a nakōdo or ask a third party with a wide range of social contacts to act as a go-between. The word Omiai is used to describe both the entire process as well as the first meeting between the couple and the nakōdo. Omiai signifies that the parties were brought together expressly for the purpose of marriage on the initiative of the parents, a friend of the family or a go- between. It also means that the initial criteria of selection were objective ones. [6] The potential mate and their family will meet with the nakōdo and examine all eligible persons. The nakōdo will often possess photographs of candidates and a “rirekisho”, a small personal history. [4] The rirekisho frequently includes the name, age, health, education, occupation and marital status of all members of the candidate’s family. The families will then sit down with the nakōdo and screen the portfolios to eliminate any obviously inappropriate cases. [7] Both the photographs and “rirekisho” may also be brought to the home of the potential mate’s family for the son or daughter to scrutinize. [8] The participant and their family will examine the photos and short personal histories based on an investigation of social consideration. The educational level and occupations of the potential candidate’s family are the first aspects taken into consideration at this meeting. [8] The potential mate and their mother will create a list of primary choices and ask the nakōdo to investigate the first choice. [3]


The nakōdo will provide a substantial amount of information regarding each candidate. The family will research the iegara, of each candidate provided by the nakōdo once the preliminary list is constructed. Vast differences in iegara between the two families would cause embarrassment to both sides whenever they meet. [3] One method of investigation in urban Japan is through a Kooshinjo, or detective agency. In rural areas a common investigative method is to personally ask about the family of interest by questioning shopkeepers and neighbors, Kuchikiki (“inquiry of mouth”). [4] More recently, the nakōdo will gather information about the family in question by both asking around and comparing responses, Kikiaweseru/ toriawaseru (“inquire variously and compare”). If all criteria are acceptable, the matchmaker will arrange an interview for a miai. [6]


Before the miai occurs, both parties will scrutinize each other’s pictures to prevent future rejection. [9] Although candidates rely on their photographs and resumes (rirekisho) in the modern miai process, an older custom known as ‘kagemi” (hidden look) was once employed. Kagemi occurred when a potential male candidate attempted to catch a glimpse of the girl in secret. The objective of the kagemi was to prevent embarrassing denials based on appearances. [4] The miai itself is a casual meeting between the potential couple, the nakōdo, and the parents of both parties. The nakōdo will determine the place and format of the meeting. The miai is just as much an opportunity for parents to survey the bride/groom as the couple themselves. The meeting begins with an informal introduction between the two families by the nakōdo. The introduction is often followed by small talk between the parents. Occasionally, the conversation will shift to one of the potential candidates. Towards the end of the meeting, the potential couple will be advised to go off spend some time alone to get better acquainted with each other.

Kotowari (Excuse, Apology, Refusal)

If the initial miai introduction is successful, the potential couple will go through a series of dates, “odeto” until a decision is reached. The decision is usually expressed at the couple’s third meeting. If the potential couple chooses to marry one another, they will go through a formal marriage process known as Miai-gekkon [10], in which a “Yui-no”, or betrothal ceremony, will be arranged by the groom’s family. [5] Contrastingly, there are standard provisions to turn down an offer or proposal with relatively little loss of face on the part of the party refused. [4]


There is some amount of racial, class, and genetic discrimination apparent in the Miai process. Many Japan-born Koreans are immediately discriminated against for being “half-bloods” – not of full Japanese ancestry [3]. Also, women born on the year of the horse in the fifth cycle of the Japanese lunar calendar, “hinoeuma” – every sixtieth year, are thought to be bad luck. [3][11] Women born during this year will often claim to have been born in the previous or following year. The belief is so widespread that in 1966, according to the Japanese Statistical Yearbook, the birthrate in Japan actually took a dip. [8] The most widespread class discriminate is against members of the burakumin (部落民). This former outcaste group is composed of workers traditionally associated with trades involving blood, death, or other undesirables. Some examples are leather-workers, shoe-menders, and butchers since shoes are too dirty to be taken into the house and meat was in the past forbidden by the Buddhist faith. [3] In the era of the Tokugawa Shogunate demotion to the status of a burakumin was sometimes a way of punishment for criminals. [12] Today, burakumin members may be identified by the region of the city in which they live or by their street address. [3] Often, a nakōdo will require a candidate to bring a family history in order to prove that they are not in fact a member of the burakumin. [4] There are also other subcultures which are discriminated against in the Miai process. Members of the Ainu, an indigenous people from the Hokkaido region are commonly avoided as well. Recently, descendants of people who were exposed to the radiation from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are also avoided due to stories of possible child deformities and susceptibilities to rare diseases. [4]


Modern attitudes toward miai have changed significantly. Only ten to thirty per cent of all marriages taking place in Japan at present are arranged marriages. [8][10][2][13] The younger generation is more apt to adopting the Western philosophy of love where marriage is often preceded by romantic courtship. [3] Romantic love, or ren’ai implies that there are no constraints against selecting individuals with whom one can marry. [3] However, it is not always possible to classify a particular marriage as “love” or “arranged” because of parental influence on the candidates. [9] Women are more inclined to seek a romantic relationship than men. Gender enculturation is often seen as the cause for the discrepancy. Women are raised with the expectation that they may only find satisfaction within the home and are therefore perhaps more susceptible to modern brands of idealism, such as that true love will be followed by marital and domestic bliss. [3] There are several methods for meeting potential mates that differ from the structure of the Omiai. For example, Konpa or Compa (companion) is a method young people have adopted into modern society. [14] Konpa occurs when groups of four or five boys go out together with the same number of girls to see how they all get along. [4] This particular method has become more popular since it is highly informal and does not involve parents. [14]

Gender and Omiai

Although current rates of Omiai marriages are fairly low, encompassing only about twenty-five to thirty percent of all marriages, the persistence of Omiai in modern Japanese society can be explained by examining gender relationships. As discussed earlier, people that are past marriageable age, tekireiki are more likely to utilize the Omiai process. The idea of the cutoff age is still taken quite seriously. [9] Women who remain unmarried past tekireiki are treated as inferior and compared to Christmas cake (kurisumasu keeki) fresh up until the twenty-fifth but on each succeeding day the cake becomes less appetizing and edible. [3] A newer expression replaces Christmas cake with toshikoshisoba, or a dish of noodles drunk to see out the year on the thirty-first. [9]

Males seem to possess only a bit more latitude. A man who does not marry by about 30 is considered untrustworthy by colleagues and employers, who believe that such men have not been conditioned to learn the fundamental principles of co-operation and responsibility. [3] For males, marriage also makes an implicit statement about staying in the family business. [9] Males that engage in Omiai often occupy dominant roles within the marriage. [7] Omiai marriage has been criticized for promoting patriarchal relationships with traditional power structures and distinct divisions of labor between males and females. [7] While males are seen as the dominant providers, women are seen as symbols of cultural refinement through their participation in ceremonies such as flower arranging and tea ceremony.

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