The zeitgeist of modern love in Japan is celibacy and we might not be far behind. In fact, what if we are already there?
Abigail Haworth’s “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?” is basically my worst nightmare. Citing counselors, authors, and Japanese adults in their 20s and 30s, Haworth asserts that Japanese people under 40 are overwhelmingly disinterested in both marriage and sex. Disillusioned after the 2011 tsunami, entrenched in the “unforgiving corporate culture,” and entranced by “the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality “girlfriends”, anime cartoons,” growing numbers of Japanese people under-40 have decided that being in a relationship, dating, and even pursuing sex are simply too bothersome. Mendokusai.
“I find some of my female friends attractive but I’ve learned to live without sex. Emotional entanglements are too complicated,” he says. “I can’t be bothered.”
As men’s careers become tenuous and women take on more powerful roles, conventional relationships recede further and further into some anachronistic past. Men don’t want to and often can’t be responsible for a family, while women are more concerned with their careers than with starting a family. In fact, 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”.
Women have been trying to break free of matrimonial shackles for centuries. What is new here is the Japanese singles’ lack of interest and, in some cases, active loathing of sex. Haworth writes, “A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 ‘were not interested in or despised sexual contact’. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.” These men are referred to as “herbivores” or soshoku danshi. Due to its ubiquity, this label is no longer considered a slight.
The choice to remain single and celibate is pervasive and engendering significant demographic changes. Birth rates are plummeting as single-occupancy apartments are steadily increasing. According to demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, “Gradually but relentlessly, Japan is evolving into a type of society whose contours and workings have only been contemplated in science fiction.”
Given the genre’s preoccupation with technology, the correlation is unsurprising. Say what you will of technology’s bounty, but there does appear to be an inverse relationship between the time we spend with our machines and the time we spend with real human beings. Haworth writes, “Aoyama cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers.”
This might sound like an extreme case, but the difference is of degree, not kind. It is not only Japan that is experiencing a “flight from human intimacy.” I have heard stories of bathroom sex expectations on a first date, guilty rage at a boyfriend’s dependence on internet porn, whispered confessions of frighteningly prolonged hibernation in virtual worlds.
These are not issues exclusive to Japan. Just as Japan is ahead of us technologically, perhaps these celibate singles are a harbinger of what is to come soon in our own bedrooms.