They say that the Japanese are no longer dating and everyone has become celibate (even The Observer newspaper had an article about that very subject.) The more popular term among us is “sexless.” I hate to be the bearer of more bad tidings but it’s actually true.

During the early years of the millennium, the sexless among the Japanese were so rare, friends would crowd around them at nomikai (飲み会, drinking parties) in an effort to set up not one, but a string of one-night stands. The logic was kazu uchya ataru (数打ちゃ当たる, fire enough bullets and you’re bound to hit something) meaning, as long as you were out there playing the field, romance was bound to turn up sooner or later.

Now celibacy has sort of become the norm, from joshidaisei (女子大生, college girls) — who for all intents and purposes are at a point in their lives when the word “sex” should only be paired up with words such as kajyō (過剰 , excess) — to the 25-year old salaryman who’s completely enwrapped in kaisha no jinji (会社の人事, personnel issues at the company). As for people over 35 — pffft. Forget it.

What’s happened to the Japanese? Some say it’s our dejitaruka shakai (デジタル化社会, digitalized society) and cramped living spaces. Sorewanaiyo! (それはないよ! Oh come on!). What about my geek friend Brian in Manhattan who operates out of a closet in the studio apartment of a friend and has six dates a week? No, the reason why the modern Japanese refuse to have anything to do with the sexual aspects of the human condition is: They’re too busy running.

You heard that right. The number of runners in the Tokyo area alone has shot up to 10-million-plus since the Tokyo Marathon kicked off in 2007. It seems everyone is running these days, from the obachan (お祖母ちゃん, old ladies) who work in the teishokuya (定食屋, diner) down the street to the breathtakingly attractive shiiei (CA, cabin attendant) who just went “sub-four” on her third Honolulu Marathon.

Hashirukoto wa ikirukoto” (「走ることは生きること」 “To run is to live”) says my friend Isao. He started running three years ago when his marriage broke down and now spends most of his waking hours when not at the office training for various rēsu (レース, races) in the Kanto area. Once a stylish yōfuku daisuki otoko (洋服大好き男, a man who loves his wardrobe), the contents of his plastic, foldaway closet now consist entirely of jyājii (ジャージー, jerseys), running shorts and various souvenir T-shirts picked up at the races (and included in the fee).

Drop by his apartment on a weekend when he’s not pounding the asphalt and you’ll find him in his jyājii, stretched out on his manen-doko (万年床, permanently laid-out futon) or sitting cross-legged on the floor, slurping a kappumen (カップ麺, instant noodles) because that’s about the only thing he can manage to make. “Tsukarete nanimo dekinai” (「疲れて何もできない」, “I’m too tired to do anything”) and “Ashi ga boro boro” (「脚がボロボロ」, “I’ve used my legs till they’re frayed”) are his two main sayings, plus of course the topic of honjitsu no sōkōkyori (本日の走行距離 the running distance of the day).

Isao states that his rikon (離婚, divorce) cured him of the desire for love and hashiri (走り, running) cured him of the desire for intimacy. “Onna wa mō iranai” (「女はもういらない」 “I don’t need women anymore”). “Hashirino jyama ni narudake” (「走りの邪魔になるだけ」 “they’ll just interfere with my running”). Isao says this a lot. He’s not a social outcast and has plenty of nakama (仲間, buddies) in the running community — both men and women. He just can’t get up the enthusiasm.

Women runners, on the other hand, are less obsessed and tend to go for the tanoshimi (楽しみ, fun) of the sport. These include being a member of a ランニング・クラブ (running club), decking oneself out in kawaii (可愛い, cute) running gear, going to brand name kaigai rēsu (海外レース, overseas races) and taking time off for sightseeing and shopping. Kayoko, a 42-year-old trader at the TSE (Tokyo Stock Exchange) by day and a kōkyo rannā (皇居ランナー, runner who runs laps around the Imperial Palace) by night, says: “Otoko tomodachi wa haitesuteruhodo iru” (「男友達は掃いて捨てるほどいる」 “I have enough men friends to sweep up and throw out in the trash”). So she sees no point in a romantic union that could cramp her running lifestyle. Kayoko sums up: “Hashitteiruhō ga zettai shiawase ni nareru” (「走ってる方が絶対幸せになれる」 “running definitely brings me happiness”), whereas ren’ai to kekkon-wa risuku ga takasugiru (恋愛と結婚はリスクが高すぎる love and marriage involve too many risks). Coming from a trader, I’ll take her word for it.

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