TABLOID WRITER RODDY KNOWS CELIBACY
A couple weeks ago the UK’s Guardian came out with an alarming article exploring the fact that people in Japan are no longer having sex. At least not with each other. The issue has led to stark concerns that by the end of the century, with an increasing aging population and fewer births to replenish those dying off, Japan’s population may dwindle to only 63 million.
Which raises the question: what is it about Japanese culture or society that has allowed such a dichotomy to exist, and can we expect such a phenomenon to ever land on the shores of the United States?
According to the Guardian: Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060. [Relationship counsellor Ai] Aoyama believes the country is experiencing “a flight from human intimacy” — and it’s partly the government’s fault.
The report goes on to mention that a 2011 survey discovered a record number of single people in Japan, finding that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all.
Which of course raises the obvious question: what the heck is going on? If it is happening in Japan, what is it about American culture that keeps us dating and shacking up, especially in light of the ever abundant proliferation of dating sites, gadgets that allow us to hook up, and not to mention the dizzy array of fantasy choices available on the web.
It all hints at some of the discord in Japan.
Unlike Americans, who enjoy and partake in the sexual offerings of cyberland to a certain extent, it seems that the Japanese have taken it a step further and instead of using cyber sex, anime cartoons and synthetic sex (more on that below) to inflame desire or act as an adjunct to sexual relations, they are now actually using them to replace the actual physical manifestation of sex.
In a nation where many have flocked to the city’s capitals in search of work, which has resulted in sky-high rents and little personal space, researchers have now found that Japanese people in desperate need of relief from being around each other all day are increasingly choosing to seek solace.
Celibacy, like the U.S., Japanese culture demands a relentless work ethic, which keeps people busy and committed in order to get ahead (or sadly just to tread water). This can also be partially responsible for why many in the U.S. are increasingly (at least in the big cities) getting married and having children at a much later age than they used to.
Yet lest one think the epidemic of having no children or little sex is a problem unique only to Japan, researchers have shown how birth rates are falling and single-occupant households are on the rise in Western nations as well.
In order to service the overriding need of being on the go and continually solo (one can thank 20-hour workdays), Japan has created gems such as stand-up noodle bars and capsule hotels. It reflects an accentuated manifestation of singleness, and technology, too, has also served to keep many further apart and to themselves.
Work aside, what may also be keeping Japanese youth from cohabiting is the absence of adherence to religious codes, whereas in the U.S., religious doctrine is ever pervasive and many here still believe in the overriding idea of the family unit, often embraced by religion and the notion that one should ‘morally’ only procreate and have sex upon marriage. Yes, you can raise your hand if you are Catholic.
Yet that, too, might be a simple observation to make, as what has really transpired in Japan’s ever dizzy postwar industrial amalgamation is the fact that not only have the delivery of goods and services become compartmentalized (one can buy laundry detergent, socks, toothbrushes in convenience booths on the side of a country road if they felt so inclined), love and sex has now also become compartmentalized.
And that, it seems, is a big part of the problem.
With one now being able to go to booths down the street to buy hugs ($40 an hour) or lifelike dolls to have sex with (because as one commentator tells about the must-watch video below, human relations are so ‘damn complicated, dolls are not’), it may not come as much of a surprise that Japanese society has gone the way of extremes in
negating manifesting their desire for love. Or rather getting the dribs and drabs they can afford on the sly and on the go.
Yet what may also be more prescient is the idea of what constitutes gender roles and expectations, which has thrown Japanese society a curveball.
With many young Japanese women (like their American peers) abandoning the idea of having to play staid patriarchal roles, Japanese women are reticent about being asked to play the role of breadwinner (or at least giving up the advantages that one attains when they can go out and make their own money and not have to be subservient or reliant on hierarchical codes), caretaker, mother, and obedient wife, conforming to their husband’s and his family’s (yes kids, for real) expectations.
Aoyama says: Japan’s under-40s won’t go forth and multiply out of duty, as postwar generations did. The country is undergoing major social transition after 20 years of economic stagnation. It is also battling against the effects on its already nuclear-destruction-scarred psyche of 2011’s earthquake, tsunami and radioactive meltdown. There is no going back. “Both men and women say to me they don’t see the point of love. They don’t believe it can lead anywhere …. relationships have become too hard.”
So what makes the Japanese abhor relationships whilst we here in the U.S. crave them as if they were our inalienable right and many of us have meltdowns if our love lives are in disintegration mode?
The Guardian offers some clues: Marriage has become a minefield of unattractive choices. Japanese men have become less career-driven, and less solvent, as lifetime job security has waned. Japanese women have become more independent and ambitious. Yet conservative attitudes in the home and workplace persist. Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work. Cohabiting or unmarried parenthood is still unusual, dogged by bureaucratic disapproval.
So while we here in the U.S. have more affirming notions about love and the attitude that love conquers all (does it really?), the Japanese have found the idea of love quite anemic after continual economic malaise, 20-plus years now (yes kids, going out is expensive and next to impossible when you are short of funds, unless of course your charm can pay for dinners, getaways and home deposits).
Another surprising fact about why there is so much less sex going on is the practical reason that many in Japan still live with their parents (whereas we here in the U.S. are rushing to assert our independence the moment we turn 15 these days).
A recent study reveals that of the estimated 13 million unmarried people in Japan who currently live with their parents, around three million are over the age of 35. Compare that with the overwhelming numbers of single mothers in the U.S. and the increasing proportion of couples who cohabit without believing that they have to get married.
Then there’s little gem, courtesy of the Guardian’s featured sex therapist, who says that some of her male clients are male virgins well into their 30s (could a male in the U.S. make it to 17 without breaking his virginity and not have his social sense of masculinity emasculated?):
…. early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers. “I use therapies, such as yoga and hypnosis, to relax him and help him to understand the way that real human bodies work.” Sometimes, for an extra fee, she gets naked with her male clients — “strictly no intercourse” — to physically guide them around the female form.
Kids, raise your hand if you have to watch female robots to find the courage to get aroused. In a society where sex is all consuming, from our magazine covers and billboards to our rampant objectification of women (to the point of rampant date rape), could one imagine an overwhelming negation not to get it on? Isn’t it the uncontested right of Americans to conquer, to love, to own, to possess, to relish in economic prosperity and to corollate that in the guise of religion and overwhelming moral notions that guide so many of us to think that family and child rearing go hand in hand?
Then there’s the corporate bureaucracy and demeaning demarcation of gender roles that makes being a woman a miserable exercise in Japan.
The Guardian says: Around 70% of Japanese women leave their jobs after their first child. The World Economic Forum consistently ranks Japan as one of the world’s worst nations for gender equality at work. Social attitudes don’t help. Married working women are sometimes demonised as oniyome, or “devil wives”.
For all the equality fights that American women have fought, one thing they can say is that they always have the right to love, to sex (as long as they are not openly perceived as sluts, in which case all bets are off) and the right to maintain a career and not be discarded to the waste bin in the event they become pregnant.
Which implicitly tells us that Japanese society has a pretty sham appreciation of women, not that many men in the U.S. necessarily have a much higher opinion. Fortunately there are laws for addressing rampant sexism in society and the workforce here in the U.S.
And then there’s this perception amongst Japanese women that caused me to wince:
Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery, from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectations of a spouse and in-laws. And the centuries-old belief that the purpose of marriage is to produce children endures. Japan’s Institute of Population and Social Security reports an astonishing 90% of young women believe that staying single is “preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like”.
No matter how bad things get for American women they are still more than willing to pursue love and dating; in fact, for many women it is one way to buttress the demands of living and for the attainment of social mobility.
What also helps is our loose interpretation of our expectations of love for women here in the U.S. Rarely does it come with an overwhelming commitment to play mother, wife and subservient role at the behest of the male partner and his ever watchful family, who mandate that women show deference and rigid loyalty.
Can one really be surprised in the end that so many women are staying away from commitment? Celibacy.
And then there’s this conundrum that Japanese men feel, which may also explain why they are reticent about dating:
Amid the recession and unsteady wages, men like Kishino feel that the pressure on them to be breadwinning economic warriors for a wife and family is unrealistic. They are rejecting the pursuit of both career and romantic success.
“It’s too troublesome,” says Kishino, when I ask why he’s not interested in having a girlfriend. “I don’t earn a huge salary to go on dates and I don’t want the responsibility of a woman hoping it might lead to marriage.”
Of course one might want to ask if the expectations of American males is necessarily any different. Being in a protracted economic decline, do American men also loathe spending their hard-fought money on women who may or may not necessarily want to be with them?
So while Japanese society may be in celibacy mode, the question we ought to be asking ourselves here in the U.S. and other Western nations is: how long before we, too, are walloped with relentless economic woes, densely populated cities and rigid work demands (if not already), and desensitized to the desire to be held or touched by another human being, save for that of a wondrous erotic cyber excursion? Celibacy.