After promising to raise Japan’s birth rate from 1.42 to 1.8 per woman in the next 20 years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must be breaking out in a cold sweat at the results of a recent survey conducted by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.
The results showed that over 40 per cent of Japanese men and women between 18 and 34 admitted to never having sex. Over 60 per cent of young, unmarried Japanese people aren’t in a relationship either, and 30 per cent say that they don’t want one at the moment – claiming that it’s just too bothersome.
Japanese singles aren’t looking for love, and the youngsters don’t even seem to be interested in sex. At the age where teenage boys in the West are getting turned on by anything and everything, their peers in Japan are steering clear of love and sex completely.
This phenomenon, paired with a rapidly declining population, is making the Japanese government stumble and fall while they try and fight the uphill battle of, basically, keeping the country alive.
When you combine a healthy diet of fresh fish and fermented soy beans with universal health coverage, you can see why Japanese people live so long, and why 25 per cent of the population is over 65 years old.
In theory this is great – they seem to have cracked the secret to life over there – but when you consider it against the Japanese people’s apparent refusal to repopulate the country, you’ve got a recipe for disaster on your hands, one which is threatening to ruin the country.
There are many factors which are contributing to Japan’s lack of sex and subsequent declining population and low birth rate, but one of the main ones is undoubtedly the male population.
Roland Kelts has written extensively on Japanese pop culture and youth. In an article for The Guardian he says: “Japanese women have become stronger socially and economically at the very same time that Japanese men have become more mole-ish and fully absorbed in virtual worlds.”
Japanese men were once honourable samurai warriors, badass ninjas and legendary war generals. But the days of hara-kiri are long gone.
The great warriors of yesteryear must be turning in their graves, with Japanese men nowadays being berated as ‘unmanly herbivores’, aka people with no interest in ‘flesh’. The term ‘soushoku-kei danshi’ was coined by author Maki Fukasawa in 2006, and means ‘grass-eater men’ who aren’t interested in marriage or sex.
‘Otaku’ is another term used to describe a new generation of Japanese men. They are the geeks – like we have in the West, just way, way more hardcore and obsessive. It is estimated that over 2 million otaku live in Japan.
Just over four decades ago, adult males began watching children’s anime for the young, female characters. Since then things have escalated and sexual appeal towards fictional female characters, despite being a taboo, has become a huge part of anime culture.
Otaku are to this very day contested by many, and their presumed preference of fictional girls over real ones is seen as unacceptable.
‘Hikikomori’ are another group within the Japanese male population, and these guys hate going outside. In the West we’d call them recluses or loners, but things are a little more serious in Japan, with some hikikomori not leaving their house for 6 months at a time.
In his book Hikikomori: Adolescence without End, Tamaki Saito, the psychologist who came up with the term, says that over 700,000 hikikomori are living in Japan, while another study by the university of Nagoya in 2013 estimated the number of hikikomori was between 500,000 and 1 million.
Another report by the Japanese government estimates that over 1.55 million Japanese people are on the verge of becoming hikikomori – getting closer to locking themselves off from society completely.
Taking advantage of these social trends, Konami Corporation – the entertainment company that brought us Metal Gear and Yu-Gi-Oh – has capitalised on the country’s introverted men by bringing virtual dating to ‘life’ with LovePlus (ラブプラス), a DS game which enables users to create their own virtual girlfriend and start a relationship.
While their sales are increasing, this advance in virtual dating will only encourage Japanese men to make even less of an effort to pursue real women, as they’re now able to live out a romantic relationship from the comfort of their couch.
But of course, when it comes to Japan’s population crisis it’s not only the men who are at fault.
“Many women would rather not be married and become someone’s wife, and have a child and become someone’s mother, because of the economic and social limitations that come along with it,” says Patrick W. Galbraith, a writer and anthropologist in Japan, when I ask what he believes is the main reason for the country’s low birth rate.
Patrick has spent his life studying and researching Japan’s social and economic issues, as well as the Japanese people themselves. His most recent books, Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan and Media Convergence in Japan delve into many of the deep-rooted issues in Japanese society today.
“Gender and social norms in Japan trap women and suffocate them as dependants and caregivers, and many are simply not accepting this, and are instead continuing to work to support their own lives,” says Patrick. “The state could intervene by supporting day-care centres and preschools, but it does not, because the ideal is still the stay-at-home mother.”
Patrick also states that, with the current economy and low wages in Japan, it is simply impossible to raise a child on a one-person income.
Women are choosing to avoid marriage all together, and with no help from the Japanese government, they are focusing more on their career and not on the ‘burden’ of starting a family.
While a large number of virgins, young people who don’t want a relationship, and men who love hiding in their bedroom may not seem like a big deal, all these things are already affecting Japan’s future.
As the population shrinks in Japan, the economy is shrinking alongside it.
The rapidly ageing population and low birth rate may corner the Japanese government into encouraging immigration, something Japan has always been against. That would mean the government will have to invest in ways to entice immigrants, and also completely alter certain sections of the Japanese government, in order to help migrants with their integration into Japanese society.
“I don’t think it’s a fixed goal of the government but, in my opinion, doubling the number of foreign workers cannot be avoided in this global market situation,” said Masahiko Shibayama, a special adviser to Prime Minister Abe, in an interview in Singapore last month.
Another main concern of the government is who’s going to physically do the labour and pay the taxes to support the next generation, ageing population and the country’s infrastructure.
Japan is investing heavily in care-giver robots, which might make their citizens less worried about the increase of immigrants, but as these robots cannot pay taxes and invest in the country, this means that Japan would need to adapt to being a smaller economy.
The future of the country is both in the hands of the Japanese government and the pants of their young people, hopefully someone will break the celibacy and get the country back on track.