Generally, Japanese culture tends to handle emotional expression a little less directly than in English-speaking countries, especially where romance is concerned. In particular, couples in Japan aren’t nearly as likely to regularly say “I love you” as their Western counterparts are or be seen smooching in public.
In certain situations, though, these roles get flipped. For example, while most Westerners would feel awkward making the explicit statement, “Please be my boyfriend/girlfriend,” in Japan that exact phrase, tsukiatte kudasai, is a pretty common romantic milestone, and something that many actually expect their partner to say in order to explicitly recognize the nature of the relationship.
Now, couples can even have their affection officially recognized, as lovers in Japan can submit government documents certifying their love for each other.
While the national government still shows no interest in tracking who’s got the hots for who, the town of Nagareyama in Chiba Prefecture is currently accepting submissions of koitodoke, or “love declaration forms.”
Japan has been grappling with a falling birthrate for a while now, which poses a bit of a financial problem in a country where municipalities collect residence taxes. Such fees accounted for more than half of the taxes in Nagareyama last year, and in order to protect this crucial revenue stream, legislators are embarking on various initiatives to attract child-bearing couples to the town, including trumpeting the city’s use as a filming location for upcoming romantic movie Momose, Kochi wo Muite.
Spokesman Hideo Tsutsui, in talking about the koitodoke, told reporters that the form gives young people a way to assert their romantic feelings, and as such is hoped to be one way of helping to encourage childbirth.
So just what information does the form ask for? Well, first you’ll need to provide your name, plus the name of the object of your affection. There’s also a spot to enter to enter the time and place where you met, with the note that this data is only required if you remember, displaying a courteous understanding of some of the most common jumping off points for young passion.
▼ Place: A bar in Shinjuku (maybe Shibuya???)
Time: Sometime between the sixth and eighth round
An additional slot allows applicants to write in the places they want to go with their sweetheart, as well as the things they’d like to say, or be told, by their significant other.
So far, this all sounds sweet, if a little bit silly with its tongue-in-cheek atmosphere of formality. There are, however, a few puzzling sections of the form.
For starters, you don’t actually have to be in a relationship to submit a koitodoke. As a matter of fact, the person you’ve got a crush on doesn’t even have to be complicit in filing the paperwork. Creepiness factor aside, we’re not even sure exactly how this would work from a database management perspective. For example, is each individual limited to being named in just one koitodoke, on a first-come-first-served basis?
▼ Or, could multiple lonely men simultaneously declare their intentions of earning the love of their favorite swimwear model?
Make no mistake, the form is keenly aware that the other person may not return your sentiments. In the section asking whether or not your feelings are reciprocated, there are separate response boxes you can check to indicate “yes,” “I’m not sure,” “I’m pretty sure,” and flat-out “no.”
Those who haven’t worked up the nerve to declare their love in-person yet can even enter the date on which they intend to tell their crush how they feel, and even how they intend to do so. We’re not sure what happens if you fail to make good on this deadline, though. The koitodoke doesn’t ask for any contact information such as an address or phone number, so do the clerks crosscheck your name against other public records in order to track you down and give you a pep talk? Or do they just snicker at you from the privacy of the city archives?
But perhaps the biggest head-scratcher of all is the final question on the form, which asks whether or not if this is the applicant’s first love. Assuming you’re filing the form with the knowledge of the other party named in the form, this can be a bit of a minefield. Past a certain age, some people can feel embarrassed or self-conscious if others know they’ve never been in a relationship before. On the other hand, there’s really nothing to gain by putting down in writing that “Yeah baby, I used to make out with someone else before I met you.”
▼ Couldn’t they ask a slightly less awkward question, like “Do you dress right or left?”
In Nagareyama’s defense, the city’s heart is in the right place, and for established couples the koitodoke sounds like an innocent bit of fun, despite the first draft wrinkles mentioned above. The forms are being accepted between now and the end of May.
Incidentally, the non-legally-binding status of the koitodoke also means there’s no jurisdiction limit on it either, so people living outside of Nagareyama, or even Japan, can submit the form electronically right here, after which they can print out a copy bearing the city’s stamp of authentication. The online format means you can even fill in the blanks in English, so if you’ve always wanted to tell a city in Chiba that you’ve got a crush on Stacy from economics class, here’s your chance.
And while we’re on the subject of being forthright with your feelings, we’ve got a little something for all of you.