March 11, 2010 / 8:05 AM / in 7 years

Japan's spouse hunters hone skills at marriage school

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - In search of Mr. or Mrs. Right, dozens of Japanese are attending a newly launched school in Tokyo that aims to turn them into marriage material.

The Infini school offers various classes for wannabe brides and grooms at a time when many people in Japan are either shunning the institution of marriage or are finding it very difficult to hook up with a partner.

The school, which is open to men and women, teaches students how to talk, walk and present themselves elegantly in a bid to capture the hearts and minds of prospective partners and their parents, who are often a major obstacle to successful unions.

Infini, which opened last month, now has about 30 female students. An almost equal number of males has signed up, but those who actually turn up to class are much fewer than their female counterparts.

"I had never even thought that my boyfriend's mother could play such a big role in my relationship, but now I've realized I need to start thinking seriously about how to impress my future in-laws," said Kozue Sugawara, 29, who joined the school after her previous marriage plans failed.

With women wielding increased economic clout and changing social attitudes toward marriage, more Japanese in their 20s and 30s are single than ever before.

Government statistics show nearly two-thirds of women under the age of 34 are unmarried, despite some 3,800 firms in Japan offering match-making services.

The average age of the school's female students is 30 years.

"Before, people would find it easy to get married because families and society would connect them in some way, sometimes pushing them to get married. But nowadays, people have too many choices and cannot seem to make up their minds," said Etsuko Satake, principal of the Infini marriage prep school.

Instructors provide critiques about students' dress, posture and even details such as how they cross their legs or get out of a car. Men and women are taught different skills, which range from how to set a table well to how to be more emotionally expressive.

Students also simulate dates, during which their instructors grade their performance and point out what they did wrong.

The school charges an annual fee of 200,000 yen ($2,217) for unlimited access to its classes.

And some students, such as 32-year-old Mei Oda, seem to think it's an investment worth making.

"I'm looking for a man who makes more than 10 million yen (110,000 dollars) a year, doesn't ask me to live with his parents and takes good care of me," said Oda, a contract office worker.

Experts say that with Japan's economy plunged deep into recession, many women are taking a renewed interest in marriage and the economic stability it could provide, and are actively seeking a partner through "konkatsu" or spouse-hunting activities. ($1=90.21 Yen) (Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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