Online dating in Japan is growing rapidly amid a global boom

Key Points
  • Online dating in Japan has been seeing rapid growth in recent years, amid a wider trend of people going on the web to seek partners, according to App Annie.
  • Eureka is the company behind Pairs — a dating app in Japan focused on helping its users find "serious" relationships.
  • Figures from App Annie showing Japanese consumers expenditure on dating applications in the first half of 2019 more than doubling as compared to two years ago.
A couple enjoying the rock garden in one of the famous landmarks at the Ryoan-ji temple in Japanese old capital city Kyoto.
Nicolas Datiche | LightRocket | Getty Images

Online dating in Japan has been seeing rapid growth in recent years, as more and more people go on the internet to seek partners, according to analytics provider App Annie.

Figures from the app data tracker showed Japanese consumers' expenditure on the top 10 dating applications in the country surged 125% in the first half of 2019 — to $120 million, compared to the same period two years prior.

A spokesperson from the company behind Japan's top dating app, Pairs, also said the online dating industry in the country is "blooming" and may just be getting started.

"We're seeing, like, a two-digit growth in terms of market for several years and we do believe that it will keep on going that way for a while," said Emu Nishiyama, brand director at Eureka. Eureka is part of Match Group, the firm behind other popular online dating apps such as Tinder.

In 2019, Pairs had the highest consumer spend among dating apps in Japan, according to data from App Annie. On a global scale, Pairs ranked 5th overall in terms of consumer spend, the data showed.

We only have 20% of the single population who have ever used online dating. If you compare it to (the) United States where it's 60%, I think there's only growth which can happen for Japan.
Emu Nishiyama
Brand director at Eureka

And that number could see further growth, with the market in Japan still "very nascent," according to Nishiyama.

"We only have 20% of the single population who have ever used online dating," Nishiyama said. "If you compare it to (the) United States where it's 60%, I think there's only growth which can happen for Japan."

Safety concerns

Nishiyama admitted, however, that security concerns could get in the way of greater adoption of online dating apps in Japan.

"One of the biggest barrier(s) for people to enter online dating usually is about security," Nishiyama said. "I think the image that it is unsafe is one big barrier for us."

That may have to do with past media reports of social media meetups gone wrong, said National University of Singapore's (NUS) Yuen Shu Min. She pointed out that there've been "many cases" of people meeting online in Japan which eventually turned out to be a "scam" — a few have even led to murders.

Such meetings tend to happen through Twitter and Facebook, which are usually collectively termed social networking services in Japan, said Yuen, a post-doctoral fellow at the NUS Department of Japanese Studies.

"These stories have become … sensationalized in Japanese media," she told CNBC. "I wouldn't say that because of these reports, therefore people are kind of suspicious of dating apps, but I think there would be some kind of influence on how they think about social media in general."

For its part, Nishiyama said that Eureka has taken steps to improve safety on its platforms.

"What we are trying to do is, we need to get to the highest standard of safety for our users, and therefore we have full in-house customer care. Very high level of service there, and chatbots and stuff too to help," she said. "What is really important within the platform to keep it clean is the monitoring and the patrolling."

Violations and improper conduct

Nishiyama also added that the firm places emphasis on what are known as "violation" reports of improper conduct by users.

For example, she said, those who are accused of being married, or using the platform for purposes other than seeking serious relationships, will be asked to leave immediately. Asked about the frequency of such instances, Nishiyama declined to give any figures.

Beyond concerns about safety, Yuen from NUS said online dating is just "one of many" options for singles looking to find a prospective partner in Japan today.

"From my observation, I don't think this is like, one big thing that suddenly (popped up) that everybody will rush to it," said Yuen.

An alternative method for meeting a prospective partner in Japan is known as "dairikonkatsu," she said. It refers to someone going to spouse hunting parties, or events on behalf of others, in the hope of finding them a suitable marriage partner.

"In most cases, it is the eager parents who can't wait for their kids to get married who would go to these events with their kids' personal particulars and help them look for a partner whom they think is suitable for them," Yuen said.

Parents go to these matchmaking events "because the kids are too busy at work," she said.

Online dating globally

In fact, the online dating boom is not isolated to Japan. More and more people across the world have been flocking to the internet in search of their significant other.

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"Dating apps have become the defacto dating tool, accessible from wherever we are, from the device we always have on us with the simplicity and ease that mobile offers," Lexi Sydow, senior market insights manager at App Annie, told CNBC in an email.

Data from App Annie showed consumers spending $2.2 billion in 2019 on dating apps globally, 2.1 times more than two years prior.

"The affordability, ease and privacy of finding someone based on their own personal preference from the palm of their own hand is something traditional matchmaking companies couldn't offer," Sydow said.

As more people find success in finding their partners through dating apps, they are likely to "cement their role" in today's matchmaking culture, she said.