Television shows are a window into the culture of their target audience. They’re built to entertain but also be full of images that people can relate to. When viewing television from another culture, it is often easy to immediately see cultural differences that might lead to stereotypes or misunderstandings.
Though I’ve lived in Japan for quite a while, I’ve never really made the transition to watching much Japanese TV. When friends started asking me if I was interested in participating in a show that would feature Kume Island, I was wary and unsure what sort of program it might be.
Eventually, I figured out the show would be an omiai. In ancient Japan, arranged marriages were common, and even in modern times, many marriages were negotiated by a third-party close to the family. Only in recent times has the idea of love marriages become popularized, yet with the changes in women’s roles has come a turbulent time for many young adults in Japan, with the number of marriages dropping as depopulation becomes a significant social issue. There are many social pressures at play, but essentially young people are finding it harder to meet potential future mates while also being less driven to do so.
Omiai parties and events are chances for people to meet with the eye towards future marriage. These events can be local, personal, or wide flung. One particular show on TBS, Motemote99, has developed its own formula for omiai events, creating a hugely popular show on prime time tv. The show focuses on rural ares in Japan where various issues make it difficult for men to meet local women. By showcasing the local areas and men, they seek women from around Japan to travel to the destination for a two-day event to meet men and hopefully create new relationships. The results become the Motemote99 television show.
Motemote comes to Kume Island
Earlier this year Kume Island was chosen as one of the locations for filming an omiai event. I have lived on the island for two years and was single, so friends from the local radio station who also planned on participating encouraged me to join. Having never seen the show, I really did not understand what I was getting into, but at the last-minute agreed to attend an information session.
At the session we got a schedule of the upcoming events and we were asked to fill out personal profiles. I quickly realized that the information session was not for prospective participants, but for those definitely participating. While I struggled to write about my personal interests in Japanese with a camera in my face, I was wondering just what I had gotten myself into.
A few days later, I finally had a chance to watch the show (featuring a town in Hokkaido) for the first time and was blown away by the scale. I decided that the worst thing that could happen would be they would cut me out, and at best I might meet some interesting people from around Japan.
Shooting the Promo
Before every omiai event, the location and a few of the men are showcased in a short video at the end of a show as a call for female participants. It turns out I was their first foreign participant, so they asked to film me at my work and also record the video profile that participants would get to see. At the time, I was just finishing up my time as an English teacher with the JET programme, but had yet to start my new work with the Okinawa Prefecture Deep Sea Water Research Institute. I am also an author and photographer, so we filmed at Ara Beach.
We filmed over two days, with me driving over after work. The first day they filmed me alone, taking pictures, writing, and exploring the beach. On the second day, roving talent Yuji Murata interviewed me. Later that evening, all male participants finished recording their video introductions, and then we participated in a group dinner where we were all able to meet the talent. His job was to support the men and offer advice throughout the event and also introduce Kume Island.
The introduction to Kume Island aired in late July and another video was uploaded to the TBS website. From those, women from around Japan interested in meeting Kume Island men were asked to send in pictures and information packets to the producers. We didn’t hear much else until just before the event.
Prior to the Event
With a typhoon bearing down on the Okinawa Islands, camera crews began arriving two days before the event took place. They once again interviewed me at my house, along with a friend who was standing in as a local representative (in lieu of family). The next day they shot me at my new place of work, even though they were not yet sure if the ferry or airplanes would be able to bring the other participants.
Friday night, we were finally allowed to find out who would be coming for the next day’s event. More than sixty women came to Okinawa (with their own money) to participate. I felt humbled that so many would come to see Kume Island, and felt a real obligation to present an honest representation of myself. Meeting with the other male participants and Murata, we watched the 64 profiles then had a few minutes to look through the other profiles. With my imperfect Japanese skills I found it exceedingly difficult given all the names and the brief time we had, but with things starting the next day, we left after sharing who we thought was our best match.
We began at the ferry port. More than 800 people joined together to welcome the participants who just managed to make it to Kume via the ferry. It was a rough ride, but the female participants worked hard to smile and be energetic despite the high seas. The women paraded through the townspeople and then were whisked away for the first event.
Have you ever heard of conveyor belt sushi? The restaurants which have conveyor belts running before your seat with sushi plates you can just grab? The first event is always similar on this show. All the men sat in a circle. The women arrived and one minute conversations were held with each participant. It was a fast paced slew of introductions that left me rather boggled. By the time I finished one conversation, trying to greet the next person graciously in Japanese pushed the previous name out of my head.
Afterward, we were asked to share our thoughts in a brief interview while the next even was set up. Due to rain, it had to be moved into a school gym rather than the planned field. As I had already been sunburned at the port, I was quite pleased with the location.
Free Time Number 1
Free time was an hour for everyone to mingle and chat. We had all prepared large profiles in advance to highlight our talents or work. I was honored that so many friendly women came over to talk with me. Unfortunately, there were so many it was hard to talk to any one on one, and I’m afraid it felt more like a class (with me as the subject) than a real social encounter. Still, I was able to get to know a few of the women a little better.
Dinner at Home
The last event of the night was the home visit. Every male participant had to prepare their houses for visitors, yet we were filming all day. Luckily, some very gracious friends of mine stepped in to prepare things while I was away. Every woman was able to choose the house she most wanted to visit. The men were left not knowing who would come or not. To my surprise, twelve women came to meet me that night. We talked and ate, and again since there were so many it was hard to get to know any very well.
The female facilitator Kei Yasuda, arrived about midway through the night to talk with us and helped by getting each woman’s reaction to a few questions. The night went later than expected, and although everyone seemed very nice and I felt bad, with only one day left, I knew I had to limit the amount of people I would talk with on the next day.
Since the women would be leaving by ferry in the afternoon, we started off early the next day (I completely forgot to shave). The women were given the chance to bow out, and to my surprise, none of the women who came the previous night left (I felt sure some would leave after meeting me). From there we moved to Tunnaha Mountain.
Free Time Number 2
With only one hour left to make our decisions, I ask to talk to only three women. I felt bad that I did not have time to thank everyone else individually. I spoke with each of the women, then on advice from Murata spoke to all three together at the end. It was a little awkward to be sure, but after talking to everyone I felt pretty confident in who I should ask.
The omiai event culminates with the men proposing to the women. At this point it’s not a marriage proposal, merely to be a couple and work towards marriage. There was never really any obligations placed on anyone, yet with both sides lined up on opposite sides of the field it was pretty nerve-wracking. Again, I felt back that I could not say thank you to the other participants, but I was confident in my choice. Being last in line, I got to watch each person walk the field and make his proposal, waiting to see if his choice accepted or refused. There were both.
Finally, my turn came and I walked down the line. It’s hard to describe the feeling when she said “Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu.”
With the ferry departure looming, we just had time to exchange contact information before we were whisked away to our separate buses for the departure. All together it was an incredible experience. You can see how things are going and more from the Kume Island event on Tuesday October 22 at 7:00pm on TBS.
More on the Experience
I started this off talking about how wary I was about the whole TV experience. The staff and producers allowed all of us to be ourselves. They didn’t script us, and although the events were scheduled, merely found the drama within the events as they unfolded. None of them knew who I would pick until I made the choice.
It’s not the most common way to find a soul mate, but this experience enabled two people to meet who likely never would have had an opportunity to do so outside of the show. I have to thank the producers, Murata, and Kei for giving me the opportunity.
If you are a single male in Japan planning on staying, they’re doing an all-foreigner episode. While it might sound strange, it could be the perfect opportunity for you.