Japan’s troubling lack of romance

Nearly 40 percent of single people in their 20s and 30s do not want a romantic partner, according to a survey by the Cabinet Office released in June. The survey was included in a government white paper on Japan’s notoriously low birthrate that also found 46.2 percent of singles claiming that relationships were “bothersome.” That phrase may in part explain why Japan’s birthrate has dropped precipitously, but it also points to what improvements might help all people in or out of relationships.

Of those surveyed, 28.8 percent said they are unmarried and are not in a romantic relationship. Of those, 39.1 percent of women and 36.2 percent of men said they did not even want a romantic partner. The percentage of people who have never married by the age of 50 is also increasing, the survey found.

Low-income earners were even less interested in romantic relationships. Perhaps they have already given up on the possibility. An earlier survey found that 30 percent of unmarried women would only marry someone who made over ¥5 million a year. In Japan, romantic potential and financial security seem to be linked closely, but the full effect of the economy on relationships is hard to ascertain.

The government has vowed to provide support for all stages of individuals’ lives to encourage couples to have children, but it could start by helping to curtail long working hours. Working until midnight, it is hard for people in their 20s and 30s to meet anyone outside of work, much less potential partners. Insufficient leisure time means no chance to unwind and recharge, but also no chance to socialize.

Gender inequality also affects attitudes toward romantic relationships. When 70 percent of women quit their jobs after their first child, with few returning afterwards, it means men remain the breadwinners in most families. But if it were easier for women to return to work, find stable employment and earn more, relationships would change considerably for the better. Gender inequality puts pressure on the nature of all relationships in society.

Other factors causing this rejection of romance are harder to comprehend, and to combat. Many young people complain that relationships have simply become too complicated, and surely the omnipresence of technology, which dominates off-work time and mediates many relationships, makes face-to-face contact less common.

The government can’t do much to engineer social attitudes and suddenly make relationships easier and having children inviting. However, the government can do a lot to help reduce overtime hours, ensure that work stress is reduced and work toward erasing gender inequality. Focusing on those issues it can influence, the government can create the conditions for young people to pursue what in other times and places is one of humanity’s most common pursuits — romance.

  • kyushuphil

    It’s worse, much worse, than falling births and people losing interest in romance.

    Minae Mizumura gives the necessary larger perspective on why these things are worse than they at first seem. This is in her book, finally out in an English edition (from Columbia U Press), “The Fall of Language in the Age of English.”

    The Japanese language is also falling.

    It makes logical sense, too, for birthrates to fall, romance to decline, sex to go non-existent, and a once-great language to atrophy, dissipate.

    This reduction in humanity — Mizumura calls it destruction, “horobiru,” comes because, as the editorial noted, “Many young people complain that relationships have simply become too complicated.” And correct they should feel this way. If they are learning group infantilisms in their schools, everything will appear more “difficult.” And if consumerism keeps telling us all human development comes easily, just by buying stuff, then of course no one’s going to want to grow as people the old-fashioned ways — by observing others carefully, and by the arts that express those observations.

    Over 100 years ago, Mizumura says, Japan advanced rapidly thanks especially to the few who gave the language such capacity to deal with modernity. Japan then had its great novelists, its great film makers, because the culture was linguistically amped up to face all issues, and people welcomed the challenges.

    Not now. School reduce to regimented pabulum. Textbooks seek new lows in infantilism. Everyone avoids essays or anything hard or remotely personal.

    There’s less apparent need of any good language. So, Japan has new declines in human expectations (along with more hikikomori, more youth suicide, more autism, and more ADHD and other behavior problems).

    It all makes pathetic but logical sense, this total betrayal of humanity and the humanities.

    • 151E

      And yet, it’s often the most illiterate and least academic among us who have the largest broods! Their most primal instincts do not seem dulled for want of more essay writing and literary criticism.

  • Firas Kraïem

    So those who don’t want to be in a relationship are 40% of singles, and singles are, if I understand correctly, 28.8% of those surveyed. That means we’re talking about roughly 11.5% of the population. Doesn’t seem as horrible as the editorial suggests, to me. What is the figure in other countries?

    • kyushuphil

      Scariest figures in advanced countries often show declining populations.

      This bodes as ominous to the natives of those countries, who in their declining numbers feel themselves besieged — by Gypsies, Arabic-speaking people, and blacks.

      I guess we all know the recent history of rising xenophobia and nationalism in many “civilized” countries. But this gets made much worse when the schools cut back on the humanities, so people are less equipped humanly to welcome new and different neighbors.

      And it all gets much worse as corporate types keep pushing materialism and consumerism, as if venalities were the highest expected of anyone.

  • Liars N. Fools

    How about a few less carnivore females and a few less herbivore males? How about getting to know you cheap dates? Lots of cheap date places in Japan. Girl has to be a “good sport” and not expect too many expense, and guys need not to be a jerk.

    Good luck. Those are the starters.