It’s been reported that if Japan’s falling birth rate continues at the same pace the population will shrink by a third between now and 2060.
Whilst neighbours China have just ended their one child policy after 35 years, brought about due to fears of a population boom, the Japanese are incentivising couples to have babies with financial reward. But money only goes so far.
There are several factors and perhaps the key one, put simply, is that a lot of Japanese women don’t want children. Women are traditionally expected to shoulder all of the home responsibilities in Japanese culture, including child rearing. Having a career simply doesn’t factor into it. Even if you think you can juggle it all there’s still huge social pressure to give up work after having children. Mothers who work are often seen as not contributing to the household. These women are well educated and don’t want to give up their hard won careers, freedom or lifestyle.
Society is now looking most unfavourably on these women, with some calling them “parasites”. This time last year the Japanese deputy prime minister, Tara Aso said “There are many people who have created the image that elderly people are to blame (for rising social security costs in Japan)… But refusing to give birth is a more serious problem”. But are the women entirely to blame?
Hentai, Japanese animated porn, is extremely popular. Young cartoon girls, with implausibly big eyes, get up to all sorts. Because it’s animated literally anything can happen. It is entirely removed from reality. The viewer can live out pretty much any fantasy you care to name simply by logging onto the internet.
Apparently a large proportion of Japan’s male population say they’re happy with that alone. Who needs sex when you have hentai?
The brilliant BBC documentary No Sex Please, We’re Japanese explored why Japanese men aren’t interested in relationships or marriage. It would appear that there’s a whole new breed of Japanese man out there. They call them otaku. These men seem to be frozen in an eternal adolescence. Manga loving, video game playing, anime obsessed man-boys who have shown no interest in growing up.
These men have withdrawn into a world of make-believe. Even their partners are of the virtual variety. In the documentary, two men introduced their girlfriends, Ne-ne and Rinko, to a baffled Anita Rani. These girls were characters on hand held consoles in a Nintendo game called Love+. The men considered Ne-ne and Rinko to be their actual girlfriends and had been
playing the game having a relationship with them for “several years”. One of the men was 39… “But I’m 17 in the game”. Okaaaay… He went on to say “With real life girlfriends you have to think about marriage. So I think twice about going out with 3D woman”.
Whilst Japan’s young women are ambitious and career driven this generation of men have effectively opted out of society. Perhaps they feel they cannot compete with the post-war generation who transformed Japan’s economic landscape? Or are they lazy? Are real women too much like hard work? Or maybe they’re just shy when it comes to the opposite sex?
Traditionally Japanese marriages were arranged between families. Things have moved with the times in the sense that women are now making their own life choices and marriages are generally no longer arranged. In 2005 it was estimated that only 6.2% of marriages were arranged and the figure has been steadily dropping.
Without the framework of Miai (arranged marriage) dating the opposite sex appears to be a tricky process in modern day Japan. Men are expected to make the first move yet seem reticient to approach women.
Society insists that you must be respectful and considerate of others at all times regardless of your own desires. Physical displays of affection are taboo. You are taught not to take people’s feelings lightly. To lead someone on is the height of bad form! It sounds like a minefield. You can see how this could prove to be problematic when trying to find a partner.
Unsurprisingly marriage rates are plunging. Those that do manage to get down the aisle are then reporting they have “very little sex”. In one 2006 survey they found 34.6% of all Japanese marriages could be classified as sexless. One article referred to this as “Japanese celibacy syndrome”.
In 2005, Durex conducted a sex survey involving 317,000 participants across 41 countries. They reported that Japan has the least sex in the world.
Another article I read was titled Sexlessness Wrecks Marriages, Threatens Country’s Future. Jeez, add some more pressure why don’t you?
And in case you’re planning to solve this issue by ruling out the dating and marriage malarkey altogether… children are an exclusive product of marriage in Japan. No wedding equals no babies. Now of course there will be exceptions but bear in mind that 92% of Japan’s single mothers are divorced and had their child/children in wedlock. To be an unmarried expectant mother in Japan is a shame like no other.
Society generally frowns on single mothers and most find it extremely difficult to gain employment. I can see why young women are thinking it’s best to steer clear of the whole shebang!
Economics, eternal adolescence, changes in family structures, shifts in gender roles, marrying later (or not at all), education level, lack of sexual satisfaction, restricted immigration, divorce rates…
Good luck Japan, you’re going to need it.