And so the government is trying other options, including a housing stipend for those who marry and free early education for families with at least three children.

At the town's recent dating event, eight couples had paired up by the end of the day.

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Setsuya Fukuda, a demographer at the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, points to the Netherlands and the U. But as Japanese officials can attest, getting people to couple up is no easy matter.

Nearly all local governments in the country are trying to play matchmaker these days.

At a recent "konkatsu," or "marriage-hunting," event, nearly 80 single men and women buzzed around the room trying to gather as many answers as possible to a list of icebreaker questions like "What is your favorite food?

" Then came speed dating in small groups so they could get to know each other better.

Our speed dating single's events tend to be the most popular speed dating events in those cities.

Online registration closes 5 hours prior to event start time.

Pictures of the successful couples are plastered on brochures in Hiroshima as a reminder to singletons to hurry up.

Private businesses have also sprung up, such as a dating cram school in Ibaraki prefecture on the eastern coast, where Kyoko Ishiduka counsels singles on how to court each other.

Many of them "strongly believe that encouraging women to work reduces the birth rate, and leads to more divorce," said Machiko Osawa, a labor economist at Japan Women's University, who has long championed women's rights.

"That is one of the reasons why many politicians are reluctant to promote women working outside [the home]." Some experts argue, though, that a more equal share of bread-winning and housework duties between the sexes will mean happier men and women -- and therefore, more babies. Both rank among the top 20 in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap index and boast fertility rates far higher than that of Japan, which ranks 101st out of 145 countries on the index.

But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to bring more women into the workforce are falling short.