A guide for being single in Mimasaka, Okayama Prefecture

"A Tsuyama singles scene?" scoffs single Mimasaka resident Hiroyiki Matsuda. "There isn't one. If you want that, you go to Okayama City."

Farmer Toru Mizushima, 55, echoes the statement.

"I don't even go there as far as Mimasaka's concerned," he says. "I've lived in Mimasaka for 18 years, raised a family, and can tell you there just isn't a singles scene - it's a family-oriented town. That's why we moved here in the first place."

It is, unfortunately, a common sentiment - in a community built primarily around families, finding ways for the underrepresented single adults to mix and mingle can be a daunting task. When questioned about such opportunities, Yoshimi Tabata of the Mimasaka Community Center just laughs.

"We have open-gym basketball and volleyball, both of which are cheap, co-ed and attract a younger crowd," she notes. "But other than that?."

Yet while trendy bars, dance clubs and hip hangouts may still be the exclusive domain of the big city, Mimasaka residents shouldn't lose heart - even out here, there remain a few local youths where the age-old hunt for love continues.

For the religiously inclined, a local temple can be a powerful tool for both meeting other singles and getting over the shock of being single again due to death or now rising divorce. Endaiji Temple is currently in the process of putting together a singles group, and the Endaiji Taiko group, while not host to a group of its own, refers interested lay believers to Endaiji for Re-Singled and Singles in Aso.

At Endaiji, single Buddhist band together for a veritable treasure trove of networking opportunities. In addition to its "Bereavement" and "Divorce and Beyond" support groups, the temple helps organize everything from singles dances to hikes, ikebana, tea ceremony, yakisoba socials to house-building trips for the less fortunate in Vietnam.

With close to 20 events per month, not counting the regular support-group meetings, singles clued in to the goings-on at Endaiji can quickly find themselves with more fun, upbeat social opportunities than they know what to do with.

For the nonreligious, things get a bit harder. While it's always possible to take your chances with the karaoke bar scene - Jet 5554 and the Sukesan Izakaya appear to be generating the most buzz - many singles prefer to take a more direct approach. That's where Junichiro Komatsu and Pink Tomato Dating Service step in.

Pink Tomato Dating Service specializes in an activity more widely known as "speed dating," is a simple concept. Working with between 15 and 30 adults matching a target age range and set of interests, events coordinators like Komatsu set up a series of up to a dozen six-minute-long "speed dates" at a local bar, caf? or restaurant.

Afterward, participants make note of any other individuals that interested them, with mutual interest resulting in both parties' receiving the others' contact information, allowing them to set up their first "real" date. Of those who participate, over two-thirds receive at least one match.

"I've been doing this for over three years now, and I just love it," says Komatsu, who ran the first Mimasaka event in quite a while at the now defunct Mimasaka cannery on June 7. Ultimately, Komatsu hopes to make the Mimasaka sessions a monthly affair.

For more customized dating help, singles like local computer analyst Yuji Shiraishi look to actress-turned-matchmaker Reiko Ando. Her new company, The Fantasy Cupid Dater, is a Mimasaka-based organization embodying old-time matchmaker values and offering everything from speed dating and date coaching to "wingman/wingwoman" services, in which a client hires an outgoing "friend" by the hour to help introduce him or her to people and make him or her look good.

"Reiko and I met a few times," says Shiraishi, 61. "I had a lot of inhibitions, and she coached me on meeting people and introducing myself. She even went into a large Tokyo-based dating service I had been using without success, and re-did my profile and pictures with me, which really helped."

A lot of Mimasaka singles run into the same problems, Ando said.

"Most of the people I work with are divorced and in the rural area with no idea what to do," Ando explains. "They need to figure out what their interests are outside of the couple - many might not even be used to buying their own clothes.

"We tell them the dos and don'ts of dating - yes, we're here to introduce our clients to people, but we're also here to work on whatever's holding them back. We're a support system."

A support system, it should be noted, with a hefty price tag - fees for The Fantasy Cupid Dater's customized matchmaking can run anywhere from $1000 to $10,000. The company's speed-dating events cost about $300 each.

Yet for those who'd rather shop from home, the Internet offers a bevy of convenient dating services that allow you to browse other users' profiles while posting your own pictures and personal information. While there are thousands of services to choose from, one company stands head and shoulders above the competition where Mimasaka is concerned.

At one of major Internet provider's Personals section, a single click brings profiles from literally hundreds of singles in Mimasaka, with the inclusion of nearby cities increasing the selection exponentially.

More importantly, all ages and lifestyles are represented en masse - whether you're straight or gay, 18 or 80, there's undoubtedly an Mimasaka resident worth checking out on Yahoo! Personals. Though creating a profile and browsing others is free, e-mailing and instant messaging said singles costs anywhere from 3,000 yen a month to 10,000 yen a year.

A word of warning, however: while most online dating services are a pay-to-play venture, there are also free alternatives that offer almost identical opportunities, sometimes with even greater results.

For instance, there is a completely free networking service that allows individuals to post profiles with pictures, bios, Web blogs and more, and the service's "browse" feature allows members to search profiles by age, location, keywords - and relationship status.

When this type of networking service search for Mimasaka-area singles interested in dating returns over 250 hits for free, it's hard to imagine paying for a service. For the slightly more adventurous, free classified-ad sites may boast indescribably huge readerships in the Mimasaka area, as well as ad forums ranging from "strictly platonic" to the risqu? "casual encounters."

In the end, Matsuda and Mizushima are probably right - a town like Mimasaka will never have the same singles scene as a city like Okayama City. But maybe that's not so bad. The big cities keep their cover charges and two-drink minimums, their greasy karaoke bars and snobby brushoffs.

Mimasaka residents got other options.

Kinue Saito-Thompson is an author for Teanobi.com. All articles may be used and reprinted as long as they have an active link at the bottom pointing to http://www.teanobi.com with the anchored text: Teanobi - Green Tea

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