Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Omiai is a sort of arranged meeting with a prospective marriage partner in Japan. In the past, here in this country, marriages were always arranged by parents, relatives and match-makers, thus omiai was an essential procedure for such arranged marriages. Today, love marriages are much more common in Japan, but the custom of omiai still remains, not so much as part of traditional arranged marriages, but as one way of introducing those who are interested in spouse hunting. It is OK to meet with someone at omiai and still say “No, I don’t want to marry him/her” these days…

That’s the way I saw omiai --- until today. I thought the meeting was an opportunity, and whether to take it or not was totally up to you. So I thought it was totally OK to say “No” when I was asked if I want to have an omiai meeting. Maybe I was wrong….

The meaning of omiai seems to differ depending on who arranges it. If it’s your mother, or aunty, or an obachan in your neighborhood, you wouldn’t have to feel guilty about saying NO before or after the omiai meeting. But when it’s your boss or the president of your workplace who wants to arrange the omiai….

I asked around today if it was OK to say No in such a situation, and some said that you should at least attend the omiai meeting to be polite to the person who wants to arrange it --- it’s really impolite to reject the offer of omiai meeting, they say. On the other hand, I’d feel guilty about attending such a meeting just to eat a good meal when I’m not interested in getting married at all, but that probably is a deviant opinion around here ...

Now I made a multiple choice quiz out of this:

1.You’re in Japan and the president of your company wants to arrange an omiai meeting for you. You are not interested in marriage at all. You should:
a)Attend the omiai and do something terrible there so that your omiai partner would not want to marry you.
b)Attend the omiai and politely tell the go-between (or your boss) afterwards that you do not want to marry the person you met.
c) Politely turn down the offer of the meeting, telling your boss that you’re not interested in getting married.
d) Tell your boss that you will attend the omiai, but right before the meeting, call your boss and say that you have a diarrhea so you can’t attend the meeting. Repeat this (trying different disease each time) until your boss finally gives up arranging meetings for you.
e) Ask your friend to pretend to be your boy/girlfriend and show your boss how deeply in love you are with him/her.
f) Tell your boss that you snore terribly or your feet stink etc. or you have whatever weird habit that would make you look unsuitable for marriage.

Which would you choose?
posted by obachan, 2/22/2005 01:36:00 AM


Hmm, I was under the impression (from my admittedly somewhat sketchy knowledge of Japanese culture) that it's appropriate to say no to the marriage, but that a person is somewhat obligated to turn up to the omiai, especially since the third party has gone to the trouble of arranging it for you.

It's perfectly okay to go into it in the firm knowledge that you don't want to get married. After all, you're just fulfilling your duty (as an employee, daughter, relative or so on) to the person who arranged the omiai. You get a good meal out of it and you might just meet someone surprisingly nice.

As an outsider to Japanese culture, though (and knowing that you seem to bristle under some of its restraints and preconceptions), I'm not going to say "heck, obachan, just go to the omiai". If you feel that strongly about not going, then you shouldn't let anyone sway you.

So I would choose option b) . If you're really against that, I would choose option c) as the most honest and straightforward way out. Though option d) made me laugh - very cute. =) 

Posted by Darkling
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2/22/2005 9:21 AM  
Not been of Japanese tradition, I would pick "c". Although, I'd hope my boss would asked me first if I'm interested in "omiai" before setting up one. 

Posted by lance
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2/23/2005 9:27 AM  
Hi Darkling and lance,
Sorry, my English is so terrible and I didn’t make it clear…In most cases, when someone asks you “Do you want to meet someone?” or “Are you interested in Omiai? My friend’s son is still single and he is looking for a wife…,” the meeting isn’t really arranged yet. The time and place isn’t set, and no restaurant reservation is made yet usually. But in some cases, when the go-between really wants to force someone to be in Omiai, all the arrangements are already perfectly made before the victim (sorry) is informed, so that (s)he can hardly say No.  

Posted by obachan
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2/23/2005 11:03 AM  
Obachan, your English is far from terrible. One of the reasons I like reading your posts so much is because you're clear, and often eloquent, in what you write. It's a rare thing on the Internet.

And you did say your boss wants 'to arrange' an omiai, not 'wants you to attend' an omiai that's already been set up, so it's probably a case of me not reading carefully enough.

So, if your boss is just asking if you're interested in having an omiai set up for you, then you should feel perfectly justified in going with c) . Unless you feel that it wouldn't be diplomatic to say such a thing to your boss. I guess it depends whether s/he is offering it as a suggestion or as something less optional... 

Posted by Darkling
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2/23/2005 9:35 PM  
Still I think my English isn’t really good enough to communicate things clear.

Anyway, I usually go with c), and this time I was a little surprised that people around here see it as rather impolite. It was a bit of culture shock to me, and that was kind of interesting, so I thought about posting it. That’s all.
I made up the quiz just for having fun. BTW, I thought e) was something you see often in TV drama or manga in Japan. I wonder how many people actually go for this in real life…  

Posted by obachan
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2/24/2005 10:57 AM  
I've seen native English speakers who don't express themselves as clearly as you do, obachan. I've never had to stop when reading your blogs and wonder what you meant.

I've also seen e)  in anime, though I've always thought it was a bit farfetched for real life. But I'm sure there are people who have tried it! 

Posted by Darkling
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2/24/2005 11:54 AM  
I have thought of (e) before, but never used it. As I thought, "what if that person knows someone I wanted to get to know and she tells that person that I have a girlfriend". That would be a bummer.....

I'm surprised majority of the people around you think (c) is impolite. I guess culture still plays a big role in this omiai thing. I figured you're been polite to that person and the other person should be polite/respectful to you as well.  

Posted by lance
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2/25/2005 6:02 AM  
B. It's more polite. Seeing as your boss has gone through all the trouble of setting up an omiai for you, you could at least meet the person and then decide whether or not you would like to date them (from what I've heard of omiai now a days, it's more like setting someone up for dating and then deciding whether or not you'd like to continue dating/get married).
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 6/30/2007 9:26 AM  

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