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The land where sex fears to tread


No love, no sex, no marriage, no kids — such, in glum outline, is Japan today. It’s too bleak a picture, it can’t be true! But it can’t be false either. If it were, people would be marrying, making babies and having love affairs. Instead, statistics reflecting everything from marriage and childbirth to condom sales and love hotel use are falling or, having fallen to record lows, stagnant. Even many teenagers — more than a third of boys, more than half of girls — find sex a bore and a nuisance, as a Japan Family Planning Association survey found earlier this year. Overseas, they look at Japan and snicker. “No sex please, we’re Japanese,” quipped USA Today back in 2004. “Only in Japan,” it observed, “would a popular weekly news magazine” — Aera, as it happens — “deem it necessary to exhort the nation’s youth to abstain from sexual abstinence.”

The July issue of the monthly Takarajima features an interesting slant on abstinence, in the form of a meditation on the neologism himote, meaning unpopular. The article’s author is Mami Amemiya, an “adult-video writer” who is clearly nonplussed by all this non-sex. Himote and its antecedent equivalent, motenai, used to refer, somewhat derisively, to the growing number of men and women who have never had a sexual relationship. Lately, Amemiya notes, the term has shed its negative image, to the point where some people even boast of being himote. Virginity, it is said, fuels creativity. Look at “The Train Man,” the 2005 runaway bestseller that turned its poor mope of a protagonist into something of a spokesman for his generation. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t even ask a girl for a date, let alone get one. Himote became an asset, a virtue. Himote types used to suffer discrimination. Now, says Amemiya, the shoe is on the other foot — you’re more likely to suffer abuse if you’re non-himote!

Sex, boring or not, nuisance or not, is not easily banished. It is not a gracious loser. Fling it out the front door, it slinks in through the back. It haunts people, or at least tries to, and not everyone is immune. Some who aren’t figure in the weekly Sunday Mainichi’s recent report on stalking.

Stalking was made a crime in 2000, which evidently has not stemmed its rise. From 2008 through 2011, police nationwide handled some 14,000 cases. In most of them — 80 percent plus — perpetrator and victim knew each other, usually as ex-partners in aborted relationships, or relationships that never burgeoned to the stalker’s satisfaction. Sunday Mainichi’s report challenges some conventional wisdom. Stalking usually calls to mind male perpetrators and female victims. Official crime statistics bear that out — 85.5 percent of complainants are women. But some experts say that distorts the true picture. A man is less likely than a woman to go to the police about an enraged ex dogging his footsteps and making his life miserable. Orie Shimizu, a counselor who deals with the problem, reckons it’s about 50-50 — men are the victims half the time. And though physical violence against men is not generally a concern, take the magazine’s word for it, you don’t want to be the target of a woman who claims you and only you, and more of you than you would ever want to give, as the only object that makes her life worth living — flattering though the notion may be.

“I’m on the roof of a tall building, I’m going to jump!” “I’ve just cut my wrist!” Phone calls like that can drive a man to the brink of despair — which is of course the point, the woman herself having been driven to despair and wanting revenge at least, if not the return of the man’s wandering affection. It’s bad enough when it’s just phone calls, but when the woman starts showing up at the man’s office and making her pleas and threats public, what’s a man to do? There is physical abuse and there is mental abuse. Men as a rule have the advantage in the former. Women consequently master the latter.

A psychiatrist Sunday Mainichi speaks to points out that for many of us, man or woman, being abandoned by a lover can be symbolic of having been abandoned by the world. That’s rooted in infancy, he says. An infant’s needs and satisfactions, their intensity magnified by helplessness, are focused exclusively on the mother. If infantile trust is betrayed, we’re potentially insecure for life. If a lover’s trust is betrayed — ditto, it seems.

Sunday Mainichi offers a word of advice: Avoid women who are alluring, fashionably dressed, good talkers and sexually pleasing, because they’re the ones whose love is likely to turn to hate when they are crossed. They’re the potential stalkers.

A reader can hardly help noticing that that puts a lot of erotic pleasure out of bounds. Are we sure we want to go that far? And if we do, why not one short step farther? Why not send eros packing altogether and fling ourselves headlong into the passionate pursuit of himote?