All images by Zachary Tang unless otherwise stated.
Two months ago, Destini International Services, a Japanese matchmaking agency that mainly aims to match Singaporean men with Japanese women launched in Singapore.
With Japanese women commonly thought of as the epitome of feminine subservience, the possibility of snagging a beautiful, obedient girlfriend set forums like Sammyboy and Hardwarezone—hotbeds of Singaporean misogyny—alight. Elsewhere, news broke that water is wet.
If you’ve had the distinct displeasure of trawling these forums, you’ll find adjectives like “fierce”, “willful”, and “vocal” commonly used by these dudes to describe their Singaporean, female counterparts. And they don’t mean this in a good way.
To them, relationships are about power and they like to dominate. A headstrong woman is, therefore, a useless woman. Significant others should look pretty, sit down, and shut up. Just like how, because of clichés in popular culture, many might assume Japanese women behave.
Often, these men’s romantic preferences results in their love lives being woefully unfulfilled. In this day and age—in which feminism and female representation are strong pillars of society—finding a Singaporean woman willing to blindly obey has become virtually impossible (not a bad thing, of course).
When I first heard about Destini and the services offered, I was more than a little sceptical. Not that I’m against matchmaking or cross-cultural marriage, but something about it just felt a little … off.
It seemed to reek of opportunism: Destini gets the cash and these guys get to bring their fantasies to life. Almost as though Destini was encouraging a very specific, prevalent stereotype of Japanese (or even Asian) women.
Would Destini even try to keep the women safe? What were the “comprehensive tests” and “omiai” they spoke of? How did It all work?
I knew I had to dig deeper for answers.
Destini IS was founded on the 10 th of September 2018, by 49-year-old Hitomi Endo and 42-year-old Hiromi Kiuchi.
Between them, both Japanese women have about 30 years of experience living and working in Singapore.
Ms Kuichi tells me that she used to study in Singapore when she was younger and came back to have working experience here as well. She shares that our sunny island was the first country she ever visited and that she was struck by how clean and safe life here was. This fantastic first impression, coupled with her dislike of cold Japanese winters, meant that she eventually made the move permanent.
For Ms Endo, everything was much simpler. Her children (now aged 18 and 21) were coming here to study, and so she moved over as well. She agrees wholeheartedly with Ms Kuichi’s glowing impression of Singapore and says that in order for me to understand why Destini IS exists, I first have to understand why Japanese women like Singaporean men.
But before we get to that, Ms Endo tells me we have to start by examining the relationship Japanese women have with Singapore.
She explains that Japan and Singapore have had a good reputation with each other, and because of Singapore’s increasing appearances in movies and pop culture (think Crazy Rich Asians and various anime), more people are starting to notice the country. Interestingly, it also seems that Marina Bay Sands, in particular, has perhaps the most important part to play in Singapore’s appeal to the Japanese.
“In a TV commercial that aired in Japan quite a while ago, MBS was used as the location, and since then, Singapore itself has become very popular,” Ms Endo says.
According to MBS, Ms Endo is 100% right. In a 2016 press release, they reported that amongst overseas visitors, Japanese guests had booked the most number of nights in the previous five consecutive years.
Thanks to STB’s brilliant marketing, Singapore’s image and reputation in the eyes of the Japanese has grown, and the Lion City has become the holiday destination of choice.
Indeed, on one of the videos on Destini’s YouTube page—in which they interviewed people on the streets of Japan for their thoughts about Singapore—the response was extremely positive, despite a number of them never having met anyone from here or knowing little about the country.
From what Ms Endo tells me, the Japanese believe that a good country equates to good people. As such, Japanese women aren’t opposed to marrying Singaporean men, especially when you take into account women’s gender roles throughout Japanese history.
For millennia, Japanese women lived in men’s shadows thanks to an extremely patriarchal society that openly favours men. In the Japan of old, being a woman meant that your main role was to be a caretaker of the children and home, leaving no place for you in the strictly boys-only club known as corporate boardrooms. In fact, women were even expected to submit to male authority in 3 ways. In youth, she submits to her father. In marriage, she submits to her husband. In old age, she submits to her sons.
Granted, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged and taken steps to change all of this with his “womenomics” policies, but deeply entrenched societal and cultural norms suggest the battle with history will be a long and arduous one. Too long perhaps, for some women.
“In Japan, Tokyo is very modern but once you visit the [city’s] outskirts or countryside, it’s very, very traditional. They still have an extremely small community and an old way of thinking. It’s those girls who want to explore more but find it difficult doing so within Japan. That’s why they look for opportunities abroad,” says Ms Kiuchi.
After a short conversational detour in which Ms Kiuchi explains how the vibrant nightlife scene in Tokyo, together with the drinking and entertainment culture, acts as a catalyst to extra-marital affairs, she continues:
“Of course, there is no ‘better’ side and it doesn’t apply to everyone, but a lot of women from my generation and the next are more open and want to explore their options. They want to have a career after marriage, and that kind of lifestyle is easier to have in Singapore. Singaporean men are also more likely to not expect their wife to just stay home, cook, and look after the children.”
The Singaporean male’s appeal also lies in our country’s diversity. Unlike places like Thailand or Korea, Singapore doesn’t have a distinct, overarching culture. This means that there’s less of a culture shock when it comes to dating or living in Singapore—at least more so than when compared to the US or Europe (despite their more liberal views).
Contrary to what you might expect of an international matchmaking site (that accepts all applicants and is only out to make a quick buck), it turns out that Destini’s business model has been well thought out. It hinges on 3 clear-cut “stages” and before any proper dating occurs, applicants must first attend the aforementioned free consultation, during which Destini’s various services, tier prices, and contracts will be thoroughly explained.
If they’re agreeable to the terms and decide to enrol in the programme, they have to submit the relevant and original documents which will be fact-checked and verified. These include income statements (male applicants who have an annual income of below S$60,000 will be rejected), educational certificates, proof of Singaporean citizenship or PR status (legal reasons), and proof of singlehood (no records of a ROM certificate), to name a few.
Only when everything checks out does Destini create the member’s online dating profile—something only Destini has the power to edit (upon request).
While all of this might sound excessive for an online matchmaking service, it makes complete sense when you realise that Destini has access to a database of about 60,000 members, around 35,000 of whom are Japanese women. This comes courtesy of being an affiliate of IBJ, the largest and only Japanese matchmaking company listed on the first section of the Tokyo stock exchange.
Left unregulated, there’s potential for serious damage, which is why Destini’s verification provides the first layer of security.
With an online profile—think Facebook sans names and way more detailed—up and running, members can officially start viewing other profiles. Only then does the first stage, known as omiai (pronounced oh-me-ah-yee, and used to describe a meeting opportunity with more serious considerations for the future) , begin.
Unlike Tinder’s swiping function which allows for immediate interaction, members have to send a request to omiai to the other party. This request, however, goes through both Destini and the woman’s agency, adding yet another layer of protection.
Intended for people who are serious about finding The One, everything is transparent and not much goes unmonitored. Be warned: if you do intend to flout the rules, Ms Kiuchi tells me Destini has a lawyer on standby at all times.
If both parties are agreeable, Destini will arrange the omiai session over coffee or high tea. In cases where the lady resides in the land of the rising sun, a Skype date will be planned by both agencies.
Up until the first meeting itself, and even after, there’s no direct correspondence between man and woman save for what happens during the omiai session. In fact, not exchanging personal contact information or even your full name during this stage is not only encouraged, but a part of the contract to ensure privacy is respected, and no stalking occurs.
Members will then inform their respective agencies if they want to continue talking to the other party. If either party doesn’t, the interaction ends. If they do, they move on to stage 2.
Termed “Friendship Dating”, Ms Kiuchi explains that a clock is put on these budding relationships. More specifically, man and woman have about 2 months to figure out if it’ll work.
Reading the surprise on my face at how rigorous Destini’s programme is, Ms Endo chuckles as she anticipates my next question.
No, there will not be anyone from Destini present to chaperone any of the meetings, she tells me.
Once a member enters the Friendship Dating stage, they are given more freedom to arrange their own dates, and mobile numbers can finally be exchanged. Both parties are also allowed to request omiai-s with other members in order to have more options.
At the end of the 2 months, if both parties are happy with the partner(s) they’ve omiai-ed with from day 1, they then have to make a choice: pick one partner to move on to the last and final “Steady Couple” stage with.
Both man and woman’s profiles will be hidden from other users; this time, the couple will have just 3 months to decide just how serious they are about each other.
“Of course, it doesn’t mean that when you move on to the Steady Couple stage, you must get married. If they think she’s not the one or vice versa, they can let us know and we’ll stop and restart the entire process. Also, we do have a cancellation policy and we’ll refund the appropriate amount depending on when they decide to stop completely.”
Ms Kiuchi shares that during this Steady Couple stage, or so long as they are still members with Destini, both parties cannot go an overseas trip or sleep together. One party going to either Japan or Singapore is fine, but going on a holiday to another country as a couple is a big no-no.
She emphasises that this is to ensure the woman’s safety. Only upon “graduation” are these rules lifted.
To be considered a graduate of the programme, the couple has to remain together for at least a total of 6 months (from omiai to being a steady couple), or if the man proposes and the lady accepts.
A successful matchmaking fee would then be paid, and the couple gets to live happily ever after with a year’s worth of free support and counselling provided by Destini (should the couple require it).
And that’s about it really. The recipe for a successful marriage according to Destini IS.
As someone who believes in taking my time when it comes to relationships, and having a bit more freedom while dating, Destini’s model appears pretty intimidating with its myriad of rules that border on Draconian at times.
But here’s the thing: I’m not even close to being the person this is targeted at.
This is not a company that runs a mail-order bride service. Nor is it a site meant for casual flings or hook-ups. As far as I can work out, Destini is a legit business born out of good intentions. They do not exist to sell a product; instead, it’s an opportunity to find yourself, a life-partner, and the future that you want.
After all, both Ms Endo and Ms Kiuchi share that they’ve had such a pleasant time in Singapore that they simply want to share that experience with Japanese women seeking a better life, away from the trappings of a society that hasn’t progressed as quickly as they’d like.
With Destini’s programme, there are sufficient measures in place to separate the misogynistic Hardwarezone riff-raff from those who genuinely want to meet someone from another culture.
The Japanese women who are open to meeting, and possibly marrying Singaporean men are no pushovers either, wanting to leave their home country precisely because they don’t want to live such controlled lives.
In other words, any Singaporean man who thinks he can buy subservience is in for a rude awakening.
One of my other main concerns initially was whether a matchmaking agency aimed at two specific groups of people would perpetuate the and only amplify the differences. And yet, it seems as though the opposite is true.
From what Ms Endo and Ms Kiuchi tell me, Destini’s male members are, in fact, attending the host of Japanese workshops and language classes they organise. They’re learning about a culture they might’ve known absolutely nothing about previously, picking up the dos and don’ts of Japanese etiquette in the process.
So while I may not fully agree with Destini’s take on modern love, if both parties are safe and happy, then that’s good enough for me.
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