WHEN did you last put pen to paper? In Japan, the art of letter writing is coming around again, for one specific purpose - to woo - and it is proving appealing to those tired of online dating.


Letter writing is something of a dying art?

Remember the days when it was not unusual to find a handwritten letter on the mat or even to write to not just loved ones, but pen pals? If you think about it now, though, when did you last receive a letter or write one yourself? 


It’s been a while?

Research for the entire 2010s found that in an entire decade, 54 per cent of Brits received less than five letters, with 26% of Brits receiving no letters at all. And when Brits did write letters, they were most likely letters of complaint (18%) rather than love letters (13%).


Love letters…

…used to come straight from the heart, but now words of affection are more likely to come via WhatsApp.


Changing times?

Letter writing was, of course, the major way of communicating across long distances during the 19th century, but with the invention of the telephone, the Internet and mobiles, speed has become of the essence and we now email and instant message and the charming days of expressing emotions and tenderness with ink on the page are of the past.


So what is happening in Japan?

Singles in Miyazaki, the capital city of Miyazaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in Japan, are taking part in a matchmaking letter-writing initiative that has proved surprisingly successful, with around 450 singletons signing up so far - twice the number the city had been expecting, with 70 per cent of participants in their 20s or 30s.


How does it work?

Officials in the southern city, endeavouring to address Japan’s low birth-rate, launched a scheme two years ago to encourage love to bloom via letter. Participants write about themselves, their likes and dislikes, offering insight into their personalities, before a team screen the correspondence and pair potential partners based on the information provided. Personal data such as full names, jobs and addresses are withheld and unlike online dating, there are no photographs.


So no swiping right?

Unlike the Tinder dating app, where users ‘swipe right’ to confirm they find a potential suitor attractive, the letters are on another level. Rie Miyata, who is in charge of the scheme, said that unlike online dating, “it takes longer, and inspires you to imagine the person you're in communication with” and that more than anything else, it is about “the fact that you write every single character sincerely and with care, thinking deeply about the person you're writing to That's what makes letters so powerful," she told Agence France-Press. "Looks are often a decisive factor" when looking for a partner, "but in letters, you are judged by your personality.”


So far?

Face-to-face meetings have taken place between 32 pairs, with 17 couples embarking on relationships and plans are now afoot to expand the programme beyond Miyazaki.


It’s not that unusual in Japan?

Japan hit a new record low of 811,604 babies born last year, with the birth rate far below the rate needed to maintain a population. Efforts are ongoing to address the issue, with a variety of matchmaking plans undertaken, including the government allocating 2 billion yen (£14 million) last year to boost the birth rate, even funding artificial intelligence schemes to pair people up via sophisticated hi-tech analaysiss