Young people saying no to intimacy in Japan

-by Achim Runnebaum

Youth, as they say, is wasted on the young, and anyone above the age of 30 knows this saying holds true more and more with each passing year. One of the bastions of young people has always been their care-free attitude towards love and sex. Recently on Planet Japan though, more and more young people are foregoing the pleasures of the flesh and intimacy in favour of … well, I’m not sure exactly; more freedom and less responsibility, perhaps. Maybe their time is being taken up by the multitude of digital devices they can’t seem to live without anymore; or are expectations for a suitable partner becoming too lofty? Whatever the reason may be, it seems many people in Japan just aren’t that interested in romance or doing the hibbidy dibbidy these days.

Young Couple sitting

As a result of this fainéant attitude towards intimacy, coupled with economic uncertainty for many young families, Japan has been experiencing a negative population trend for quite a while now. Birthrates were at a record low with slightly over 1 million babies being born in 2014. This is the lowest figure on record for this country of 127.3 million – via BBC.

There is a lot of societal pressure in Japan. Young Japanese men entering the workforce these days don’t have it easy. The pressure to fit in, follow both the overt and covert company rules and expectations, work long hours, forgo the comforts of adequate sleep or a private life, butter up the right people at various after work activities while imbibing copious amounts of alcohol, and do all this while keeping your sanity intact would put a strain on any normal person. Add to that the fact that Japanese men are told through the media and popular culture that they are not manly enough, not emotional enough, not caring enough, and not strong and successful enough, and you’ve got a very confused individual. Is it any wonder men’s amorous interests are as stagnant as the economy recently?

In the latest government study, the percentage of unmarried men spiked 9.2 points from just five years ago. What’s even more revealing is that 61% of those unwed men reported not having a girlfriend, and a shocking 45% said they couldn’t care less about finding one either.

On the other hand, it can’t be easy being a young Japanese woman these days either. You have to fit in, know about the latest trends, be fashionable, cute, sexy, independently strong without being overbearing, a master chef in the kitchen, submissive to your boyfriend or husband while keeping him in line, and that’s all without counting the myriad of never-ending social obligations. They too, must be quite confused by all the pressure in these modern times. Society expects them to be rather submissive to their male counterparts, but they feel more empowered than ever in Japan; they are expected to be married and have their first child before the age of 30, yet they want to concentrate on their own careers and lives first.
They should not show too much mental (or physical) strength, yet take care of the entire household and the finances. However, the days of young girls just wanting to be housewives has long gone, and there’s a newer, bolder idea bubbling to the surface for women in Japan – independence.

There’s been a quiet, significant women’s liberation movement in recent years, and both men and women are trying to keep up with all the new expectations. The ladies have become stronger economically and emotionally, now carrying higher expectations of their men. They want a guy who is handsome, strong, has a good or even great job, makes lots of money (very important, as economic stability is always rated higher than romantic love in Japan!); someone who caters to their every whim, challenges them emotionally and intellectually, takes care of them, yet gives them enough freedom to fulfill all their social expectations. They want Chris Helmsworth’s looks, Mark Zukerberg’s wit, and Donald Trump’s bank account.

Feelings are traditionally not as overt in Japan as in many other countries, so it is still very difficult for men to express their feelings for the fairer sex, even though the media cascades images of ikemen who have the exact opposite traits, targeting women. Just mix in stronger, pickier women, more effeminate men, and don’t forget a dash of societal pressure, and you’ve got a recipe for the current situation in which people either aren’t willing to accept anything less than perfection, or are not even trying to meet someone for fear of rejection, heartbreak, and/or extra responsibilities.

“I don’t like real women” one guy admitted. “They’re too picky nowadays, that’s why I prefer a virtual girlfriend”.

What’s extremely shocking in the current Japanese Zeitgeist, is that both men and women remarked, when asked about why they prefer staying single to being in a relationship, that its “mendokusai”, or too troublesome.

Choosing to concentrate more on their careers than on finding a suitable partner, both men and women tend to stay in their own worlds these days. It can be seen daily out in any street in Japan; groups of men hanging out mostly with other men, and groups of women hanging out almost exclusively with other women. It almost seems like the two sexes are living next to each other, with some crossing the imaginary lines only sporadically for casual sex, and short-term trysts.

Could this social transition be a result of the last 20 years of economic stagnation, or is it the “Sarariman” lifestyle, oftentimes leading to mothers having to raise their children by themselves since the father is almost never home, and the couple not having any intimate contact whatsoever?

An old Japanese saying goes: “Marriage is a woman’s grave”.

With sayings like that, is it any wonder why so many young people don’t believe that love can lead anywhere and that “Relationships have become too hard?” Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery; from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectation and having responsibility of a spouse and in-laws, as well as the centuries-old belief that the only purpose of marriage is to produce children. According to Japan’s Institute of Population and Social Security, an astonishing 90% of young women believe that staying single is “preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like”. -via – Global Economic Trend Analysis

So, my original question stands… Japan, where is the love?

What do you think? What is the answer to Japan’s “sekkusu shinai shokogun” or “celibacy syndrome”? Please let us know in the comments below.

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