Japanese dating app inspired by pandemic encourages office romances, fights isolation and loneliness

Source: ABCnews

Conventional wisdom says it is wise to keep your work and private life separate. But, in Japan — with loneliness at an all-time high due to the pandemic — more than 800 companies have signed up for an AI-powered dating app in the hope of helping their employees find love.

It opens the possibility of office romances, but Japanese bosses believe that happy workers are more productive workers.

With almost two years of COVID-19 limiting the opportunity for young Japanese to interact in person, the app — known as Aill goen — guides courting couples in their text-message chats by suggesting questions to keep the conversation flowing.

It also tells the user the right moment to ask the other person out on a date as the chats progress.

Japanese companies and organisations who are using the Aill goen app say they are giving their employees access to a deep pool of potential romantic matches, who have secure jobs at respected companies and share similar values.

And the courtship takes place on “a secure and safe platform”, according to the developers of the service.

It was launched as a startup in Tokyo in November 2020 at the height of the pandemic, when many Japanese were working from home.

“My goal was to create a platform that would make it easier for employees to achieve a work-life balance and, in turn, boost the company’s growth as well,” Aill Inc chief executive China Toyoshima told Kyodo.

“Employers were worried about the mental health of their workers, who were largely staying at home, with almost no physical interaction during the pandemic.”

Young Japanese enjoy romantic movies and TV shows and were enthralled by last October’s wedding of Princess Mako to her commoner boyfriend, Kei Komuro.

Princess Mako and Kei Komoru sit at a table and look lovingly into each other's eyes.
The romance of former Princess Mako and Kei Komuro captivated Japan during their four-year engagement.(Reuters: Shizuo Kambayashi/File)

But the nation is shackled by an ageing population and a declining birth rate. In 2022, the rate is predicted to be 7.109 births per 1,000 people, a 1.33 per cent fall from 2021.

All Nippon Airways, Mizuho Securities and The Mainichi Newspapers are among the companies to have signed up for the app service, which they offer as part of their employees’ benefits package. 

The cost is 6,000 yen ($72) per month — cheaper than most traditional matchmaking agencies — with some companies even choosing to cover the ongoing expense for their employees.

Subscription to traditional matchmaking companies quadrupled between 2016 and 2020 — but then the pandemic forced many single Japanese to re-evaluate their dating habits.

The Aill goen app helps users to negotiate the awkward first text message exchanges and knows when “intervention is required to ease the situation”, according to Ms Toyoshima.

Based on how the texts are progressing, the app also gauges how much a potential partner likes the other person, and makes suggestions.

“It might also coax a man to ask a woman out for a movie date or suggest he wait a while to ask if it judges that it’s too soon to make a move,” Ms Toyoshima said.

Couple walk arm in arm in front of a closed shop.
More than two-thirds of app subscribers ended up going on dates, according to a user survey.(Flickr: Jo Christian Oterhals)

So far, its success rate is impressive, with 76 per cent of users who had used the app ending up going on dates.

The app took more than two years to develop, with Ms Toyoshima — a former pharmaceutical company executive — calling on the help of Hidenori Kawamura, a professor at Hokkaido University.

Ms Toyoshima said most Japanese professionals had little time to spare when it came to dating. And, while the pandemic had complicated an already tricky process, she hoped that AI might make things just a little easier.

It is necessary to turn to the latest technology “to avoid heartbreaks and rejections” in the ancient art of matchmaking, she said.