During the Meiji period, upper class and samurai customs of arranged marriage steadily replaced the unions of choice and mutual attraction that rural commoners had once enjoyed.Rapid urbanization and industrialization brought more of the population into the cities, ending the isolation of rural life.Boys and girls were separated in schools, in cinemas, and at social gatherings.Colleagues who began a romantic relationship could be dismissed, and during the Second World War traveling couples could be arrested.Most weddings are held either according to Shinto traditions or in chapels according to Christian marriage traditions.
Although Confucian ethics encouraged people to marry outside their own group, limiting the search to a local community remained the easiest way to ensure an honorable match.
Approximately one-in-five marriages in pre-modern Japan occurred between households that were already related.
Outcast communities such as the Burakumin could not marry outside of their caste, and marriage discrimination continued even after an 1871 edict abolished the caste system, well into the twentieth century.
A visitor to Japan described the omiai as "a meeting at which the lovers (if persons unknown to each other may be so styled) are allowed to see, sometimes even to speak to each other, and thus estimate each others' merits." However, their objections carried little weight.
The meeting was originally a samurai custom which became widespread during the early twentieth century, when commoners began to arrange marriages for their children through a go-between Courtship remained rare in Japan at this period.