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Can't Buy Me Love

   According to the Tokyo Reporter, police in Fukuoka arrested seven suspects on Tuesday for registering non-existent users on an Internet matchmaking site. “Officers from the prefecture’s anti-cybercrime division took Keiichiro Yokomizo, 37, the former president of Garage Inc., and six employees into custody for defrauding 45 members of the deai-kei (or encounter) dating site Deai BBS out of 85 million yen.”

   “Deai BBS had 120,000 male and female members on its books. Since its establishment in 2005, the site generated two billion yen in revenue. According to police, the majority of its users consisted of sakura, or fake, profiles fabricated by company employees.”

   About ten years or so ago, a young university coed told me that she had recently interviewed with a company that ran these “deai” (encounter) sites. She had been looking for a part-time job, something to in the evenings after school and came across a want-ad seeking young women with “computer-related experience” for “clerical work”. She called them up and arranged an interview.

   As soon as she had entered the company’s office, she suspected that something was not kosher about the business.

   There was a large room with banks of computers. A small army of young women were typing away on keyboards or sending text-messages from cellphones. All of them were these so-called sakura, women hired to send messages to the male subscribers to entice them to reply (for a fee, of course) in the hope of eventually setting up a date that would never take place.

   The manager, a flashy young man of only twenty-four years of age, tried his best to sell the coed on the merits of the job: good pay, hands-on experience using computers and business software, and the chance to have fun “role-playing”.

   “I don’t think I could ever . . .”

   “Sure you can!”

   “No, it just doesn’t seem right to me.”

   “Think of it as helping these guys. You’re giving them hope, a dream. You’re putting a skip in their step.”

   “I would be deceiving them,” she said and stood up to leave.

   “Well, if you ever change your mind . . .”

   The TR article continues: “One victim, a 25-year-old male from Fukui Prefecture, was allegedly defrauded out of 160,000 yen ($2,000) between February 5 and March 24 of last year. A Kanagawa man, over the age of 70, was swindled out of 10 million yen ($125,000), while a woman in her 30s from Aichi Prefecture lost 20 million yen ($250,000).”

   You would think that a person would start to catch on after losing only 10,000 yen ($125), but guess again. Fools and their money, the saying aptly goes, are soon parted.

   “Saki”, another woman I know, confessed to me the other day that she had registered with a matchmaking service in November. While she has no trouble meeting or dating men, she has reached the age where she would like to settle down with someone and start a family.

   Late last summer, Saki had seen an interview on TV of a woman who ran a successful matchmaking business in Tôkyô. The key to the woman’s success, she claimed, was her selectivity in choosing clients. Saki immediately called her up and made arrangements to meet with her the next time she was in the metropolis.

   As the matchmaker deals mostly with clients in the Kantô area[1], she said couldn’t make any promises to Saki, whose first priority was finding a partner who lived closer to home.

   I was curious how much the service cost. The sign-up fee, Saki told me, was 100,000 yen ($1,250)—though she was able to get the price knocked down to 30,000 yen ($375) because she didn’t live in Tôkyô. There was also a “modest” fee of 10,000 yen ($125) for arranging an initial date with a prospect, which Saki has already done—she will meet Mr. Goodbar this Sunday. And, in the event that this or another one of these encounters actually leads to marriage, she will have to pay the matchmaking service a final fee of 300,000 yen. ($3,750).

   “What if you just don’t tell them about the marriage?” I asked.

   She replied that a friend of hers also suggested doing the same thing, but then added that she would be so happy to have finally found someone that she probably wouldn’t mind paying.

   I hope everything works out for Saki.


[1] The Kantô region includes the Greater Tokyo Area and encompasses seven prefectures: Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa.

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