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Married or single, Japan is a desolate country

by Michael Hoffman

Special To The Japan Times

“The past century is a history of sexual distortion,” social psychologist Hiroyoshi Ishikawa told Time Magazine in 1983.

“A small portion of young people in Japan are sexually very, very active,” he added, “while the vast majority are sexually repressed.”

What would he say if he surveyed the scene today? Probably that not much has changed in 30 years — except that the “small portion” grows steadily smaller.

Japan is a lonely, lonely country, if two reports, one in Spa magazine and the other in the weekly Aera, reflect the true state of things. The former focuses on single life, the latter on marriage. Both come across as sad, abject, mournful failures. You wouldn’t choose either, if you had a choice — and what else is there?

Spa polls 600 single men aged 35-45. They are some of the freest people on Earth — accountable to no one, responsible for no one, well enough off financially. They can do whatever they want, whenever they want. Why are they miserable?

“I was sick, I had a noro virus,” recalls a 41-year-old executive — “and there was nobody around to even bring me a glass of water.”

“Who can I go traveling with?” sighs a 38-year-old civil servant. “All my friends are married and have kids — they can’t come with me.”

“With someone you love, even McDonald’s would be delicious. With my parents, the best-cooked meal is just a chore to slog through,” complains a 39-year-old banker.

“Everyone at work is forever going on about child-care issues — ‘day-care centers in my neighborhood give you such a warm welcome; medical treatment for kids is free,’ and so on and so on. What am I supposed to contribute to this?” grumbles a 38-year-old office worker.

“I see all those happy families,” confides a 45-year-old businessman, “and think to myself, ‘Even if I get married tomorrow’ — which isn’t going to happen — ‘I’ll be 57 when my kids are that age.’ “

Other questions aside, are “all those happy families” really so happy? Not if we believe Aera, whose subject — not the anomaly it sounds — is sexless marriage. Between 40 percent and 50 percent of all marriages in Japan are said to be sexless.

In old Japan, marriage was essentially a device to produce family heirs. That done, husbands typically pursued love, eros and romance in the licensed pleasure quarters while wives seethed at home in silent frustration. The sexless marriage of today is different. Aera cites research by gynecologist Kunio Kitamura showing its leading causes: for men, fatigue from work; for women, a weary feeling that “sex is more trouble than it’s worth.”

Psychiatrist Teruo Abe tells Aera of a new, or newly identified, syndrome among married couples: “sex disgust syndrome.” It seems a predominantly male affliction. It is not impotence; merely a sexual aversion for one’s wife — rooted, according to Abe, in a tendency for the marital relationship to evolve over the years into a quite different relationship: mother-son, for example, or sister-brother, or friend-friend (never father-daughter, it seems). In some cases one spouse becomes the other’s “mascot.” And sometimes, of course, there arises outright mutual hostility, not to say hatred.

Mother-son is most common, says Abe — which explains the “disgust” characteristic of the syndrome. It is, he adds, very difficult to cure.

Shouldn’t singles, instead of brooding over their loneliness, count their blessings? Why should a man get married, after all? Why should he saddle himself with family cares, family expenses, a family’s claim on his time, only to end up sexless? What’s in it for him? At least a bachelor can enjoy a syndrome-free sex life — can’t he?

Theoretically, yes; in real life, apparently not. Spa’s survey of 600 finds 72.3 percent have no girlfriend; 36.7 percent have been sexless for more than three years.

This is more than sad — it’s dangerous, warns psychiatrist Takehiko Kasuga. “It is becoming increasingly clear,” he tells the magazine, “that isolation is a factor in dementia. If you habitually spend your days off without anyone to talk to, by the time you’re into your 50s and 60s you could find yourself on the road to dementia” — or if not that, depression, to which under the best of circumstances we tend to grow more vulnerable as we age.

What has gone wrong with us? What have we done to ourselves?

Well, we work too hard; everyone knows that. It’s not entirely our fault; the economy demands it of us. Forty hours a week is considered more or less normal. Work 60 hours, and researchers consider you a candidate for karōshi (death from overwork). Gynecologist Kitamura has calculated a line beyond which we’re in danger of being too tired for sex — 49 hours.

A more subtle factor is sex education, which Japan somehow can’t seem to get right, Aera hears from Kagawa Nutrition University nutrition professor Noriko Hashimoto. She reviews Japanese sex education over the past 20 years and concludes, “No wonder we’re sexless.”

Sex education in the 1990s, Hashimoto explains, was a panicked response to the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s. Suddenly fifth-graders were handed textbooks showing mature human bodies making babies. It was too much too fast. Sex was made to look ugly, dirty, clinical. The reaction that set in seems the epitome of good intentions gone wrong. The naked human body illustrations were scrapped, and in their place — reader, you’ll never guess — copulating sea urchins.

Any questions?

  • gnirol

    But they were happy sea urchins. Here’s the problem: the line that said “It’s not entirely our fault; the economy demands it of us.” Who is this “economy”? Where does he or she live? Why don’t we go there and try to persuade him/her not to be so demanding? The economy doesn’t demand anything. The people, people, yes people, who control the economy demand it. They tell us how we are expected to live, to fulfill their expectations for their lives. They tell us we can’t possibly get along without this, that or the other gadget. These gadgets claim to bring us together, but they really separate us by the extreme distance of cyberspace. After all, while I am typing this of a Saturday night, I am not out on a date or looking for a new friend and potential partner. Ya think someone who reads this is going to respond and ask me out? And if they do — I’m not holding my breath — will I simply say, “Sorry, I’d love to, but I’m usually too tired to go out. How about January 21st, 2014 at 9pm?”

    • Omic

      That’s the reason I join meetups in Tokyo

    • rarity

      I’d go for cake & coffee with you. Then again, I’m sitting here on a Saturday night reading & replying to an article about sexless relationships, so really, what does that say about me?

  • dwhite

    “work too hard” and “work too many hours” are two completely different things. Japan has too much of the latter.

    • Timothy Ware

      Too true, sir.

      In fact most Japanese people I speak to admit to rationing work throughout the day to stave off boredom while keeping enough back to do the mandatory 3-4 hours of unpaid overtime every night.

      • Ron NJ

        All those manga and shady keitai sites aren’t going to read themselves, you know.

      • MeTed

        This is one thing that isn’t mentioned enough. The porn industry.

        There’s no doubt that Japan’s omnipresent sex industry is destroying people’s perceptions about real sex and love.

      • Cecilia Flynn

        This is not a problem exclusive to Japan but a huge problem in the West also

      • 思德

        I would say it’s fairly obvious that it’s more pervasive in Japan, and also I’ve never seen pedophelia – ish material so obviously everywhere. I was in a curry restaurant and in the waiting area there were dozens of manga volumes. I casually flipped one open and there were sex scenes all over the place. This was in a normal restaurant with families coming in and out.

        Something’s wrong.

      • Cecilia Flynn

        Thank for your replies David.
        Paedophilia is a huge problem worldwide Ie the scandal of abuse in the catholic church which was covered up, vulnerable children in care, day-care, schools et all. Paedophiles seek out children workwise ect. The internet is crawling with them manga or no manga.

        Christian societies are sexually repressed which I feel has been very detrimental to our psyche, why not pull the plank from your own eye before correcting others.
        Look at the waif like models used in the West who are so underdeveloped they look prepubescent and are held up as the ideal and the objectification of women as sexual objects which is in in your face constantly . Muslims in the West find this difficult to deal with but they have their problems also where women are bartered into marriage as young as nine.

      • 思德

        So on the one hand, pornography is a problem (implied by your response to MeTed)… but shame on those Christians (who oppose objectifying pornography) for repressing people?

        Regarding planks, I don’t have a plank in my eye, because I’m neither a philanderer nor a pedophile. So I feel quite free to criticize it all whenever and wherever I see it, in whatever forms it may appear.

        As I understand it, the age of consent in japan is pretty low (hearsay; I could be wrong). That isn’t a problem? What about the openly childlike forms of pornography, the sexualization of young girls, most obviously evident in sexualized pictures of girls in JHS / HS uniforms. One undergrad Anthropology class does not an expert make, I confess, but the admixture of “sex” being strongly bound with “young/ cute” is very uniquely Japanese. Cute, helpless, childlike women are seen as attractive. Sophisticated women are not. The difference between, say, America and Japan, is that we aren’t conditioned to associate the trappings of childhood with sex. When Hello Kitty is on dildos, maybe that culture is just a wee different from others. Just maybe.

        I understand the need to kind of generalize and say, “Well gee EVERYBODY does THAT!” It’s the same thing that people do when Japan gets criticized for war crimes. However, the discussion is about Japan, not anywhere else. There are uniquely Japanese problems, and uniquely American problems. I am talking about what I perceive as uniquely Japanese problems, or perhaps a better way to put it, uniquely Japanese “structures” propping these problems up. Failures of the Roman Catholic church does not acquit failures in Japan, of Japanese society.

        I do agree that sexual repression is present in Christian communities. Not all of them, and when i say that I don’t just mean the liberal ones. I do not consider morality repression, and having lived with it my whole life, I can say that it isn’t. As an aside, I find it a little ironic that in “everything goes” Japan, it seems Japanese marriages are (apparently) more frigid than American ones despite all our “sexual repression”.

        If self control and not following every sexual instinct is repressive, then by logical conclusion, pedophiles are perfectly right in “loving” children- they certainly *feel* they are if you were to ask them about it, and who are we to intrude on someone’s feelings and sexuality with our petty morality, right? But anyone who is honest knows lines of right and wrong exist in some form. We can discuss where the lines are, but I don’t like the idea that people who make clear lines are being repressive. The lines aren’t repressive depending on context; silence or coersion definitely can be repressive.

        Re: Models: The same Christian culture that represses sexuality is definitely not the same culture that is responsible for SI’s Swimsuit Edition, but I’m not sure that’s what you meant. There’s a significant segment of American society that takes very opposite views on the human body; that “life is a bath, and sex is the water.” It has its own place in our sexual dysfunctions; it is not all a matter of religious repression. Models are probably more just a matter of simple economics. You want a beautiful person to sell things. That’s not unusual. What’s unusual is girls not being told their are beautiful by their parents- so that they think they have to be like someone else.

      • Yolo

        Whatever helps you sleep at night.

      • Elizabeth of England

        I’m sorry to point it out, but you appear you have some form of hatred towards Japan. Would it not be more sensible to return to the USA, the country in which you appear to be very fond of?

        As for the issue of age of consent, Japan shares a very similar system as England and Wales does. Statutory, the age of consent is thirteen, as it is with the United Kingdom, however, further law implemented at lower levels (i.e. prefecture government) of Government have raised the age of consent to generally be around the age of eighteen in Japan. In the political structure of the United States, you could compare this to the “Federal Level” law stating it is illegal to make sexual advances to any persons under the age of thirteen, whereas the “State Level” legislation would raise that bar to the age of eighteen years old. In England and Wales, it is written in the common law, however, that is an entirely separate system which is irrelevant to the discussion.

        I would also like to add that age of consent is a very outdated concept, and it is common in the developed world for persons to completely ignore this concept. Research suggests that in the United States, parts of Europe, and parts of Oceania, over eighty percent of young persons have engaged in sexual intercourse. Data on teenage pregnancy (of persons between the age of 15 and 19) also rate Japan and South Korea as the two with the lowest rate, which can simply be translated into Japan and South Korea have a generally less sexually active teenage population.

        However, I would like to point out that that latter section is entirely speculation based on research data, and is not the point of this reply. The point of this reply was to simply clear up misconceptions of Japan’s Age of Consent. You must remember that the foundation of most modern countries are based on the laws of the United Kingdom, and therefore although they may functionally differ, they share many common elements, and for the layman who does not understand the legal system, there can be understandings, and from these misunderstandings, misconceptions.

      • 思德

        Thank you for clarification on the age law, as I didn’t know about it and admitted as much. What I am talking about is an issue with pedophilia, not teenage sex. Jokingly: I think Japanese teens simply don’t have the time to fool around even if they wanted to, have you seen their schedules?

        Looking at it again, I admit age of consent was a pointless thing to bring up because yes, people just ignore it anyway and there are some arguments that it is a pointless concept in some sense. I still maintain that there is an undercurrent of acceptance of sexualizing “underage” things and proliferation of media that normalizes, encourages or supports, to an extent, attraction to people who are still in grade school or bear the trappings of such. Does anyone dispute it?

        That actually informative part of your comment was tempered by the disappointing and lazy statement that I must hate Japan and should go home (does being able to make counter arguments constitute being hateful?). I have a number of criticisms with America. If I voiced them online, someone just like you would come out of the woodwork to tell me, “Well, if you don’t like America, go somewhere else,” (I did, and I took my brain and my critical thinking with me- one of the few things countries still can’t confiscate at the border). The article I’m commenting about is regarding JAPAN and its problems. Talking about some other groups’s problems is irrelevant, and doing so to normalize and thereby downplay Japan’s problems is ignorant and disingenuous. The people who truly hate a country are those who cannot stand to see it criticized- they hamstring it and hold it back by shouting down criticism, enshrining and enabling its dysfunctions rather than exposing them. No culture, Japanese, American, whatever, should be a slave to the status quo out of pride.

        I’ll tell you what I “hate”- I hate pedophilia and pornography for the things they do to people. Sadly, I had a pornography problem at one time when I was a teenager, and so I know some of the problems it causes in one’s attitudes about women, sex, and oneself, firsthand. These things have no nationality, true; I am an American and my story happened in America. However, some nationalities have specific issues with or supports of them, which anyone with eyes and a conscience is well within reason to criticize.

      • blondein_tokyo

        Why do people like you always suggest that non-Japanese have no right to criticize Japan, no matter how deserved the criticism is? For your information, I’ve spent over half of my life in Japan, and I criticize it every single day- just as I also criticize my country of origin, as well as other countries. In fact, I criticize any country where I see injustices and inequalities and wrongs taking place.

        Interestingly enough, when I criticized my country of origin I was told by someone that I had no right to criticize it because I didn’t live there anymore.

        It’s completely nonsensical.

      • 3ddie

        Is your world so small that you can only use Catholic/Christian problems?

        Paedophilia is a problem endemic in any group that has any type of mentoring or overseeing of people with vulnerable people, this goes from the boy scouts to the Jews in Brooklyn, that type of predator will normally go and sign up to those type of jobs/positions where he/she can hold power over their victims.

        The Catholic church is no different in trying to hide this, ask Penn State or the Lubavitch in Brooklyn.

  • Curtis Plagge

    Has there ever been a study about the amount of Mercury consumed in Japan and how this might effect libido?

  • Japanish

    Japan is a failed society. Mating and having children is a fundamental drive for most people. In fact, even in dirt poor, unstable societies, people manage to have a lot of children, so the fact that Japan is so bad points to something very wrong. I think the fundamental problem is that Japanese people are just too selfish. They have been brought up to concentrate on work/ earning money/marrying someone rich to the exclusion of everything else: including empathy for their fellow humans. This is why they can’t form satisfying relationships and why so many marriages break down.

    • Pari

      You Sir/Madam deserve a medal. Very true – I was so surprised to see selfishness rife here. And the lack of empathy for their fellow humans – spot on! Just a small example is – go into any station in Tokyo and walk around (or indeed the street) – unless you move out of the way, people will walk straight into you! They think of themselves so high and mighty – specially the women. And I’m from London, hardly experienced that sort of thing even in rush hour in London. Japanese people are good at showing empathy and how well they can help each other only when natural disasters occur. Otherwise daily, it must be such a struggle for them to try and be nice, and merely appear polite.

      • tank

        Been to London myself a few times, saw a lot of rude people bumping into people. Living in Tokyo currently, never had an issue.

      • Pari

        Ooh, I missed a point – If that did happen in London it was mostly foreign tourists who didn’t really understand British manners i.e. queuing for the train, not going in front of everyone else, pushing etc. If I think of British people or Japanese people, I think British people are way more polite and emphatic.

      • AsianLibertarian

        You really believe that, LOL. Brits, Aussies and Americans are known as some of the rudest people in the entire world.

      • Pari

        Seems like you’ve only met rude people then! :)

      • 思德

        Generalize much? I mean, the OP wasn’t much better but don’t fall off the other side of the horse!

      • TYoung60

        I disagree with that. Pari, you’re obviously going to be biased to your London folk because you are from there. I’m American, but I’ll admit we do have rude people here and there (especially customer service, it’s just ughh). I’m sure London and England as a whole has its fair share of rude people as well.

        That being said, in my experience, when visiting Japan for a month, I’ve never had an issue with rudeness at all. I actually got help from a stranger when looking for the shinkansen I wanted to ride. Definitely going back there next year. So it’s important to not generalize all people, whether they are from Japan, England, or wherever.

      • Pari

        I’m not from London, I’m actually originally from Europe. Compared to European people as well I thought British people were very well spoken and very polite.

    • Mike Wyckoff

      I agree with you until you mention the word “empathy”. That is probably where Japan excels the most. They even go to the point of making it clear to foreigners that we DON’T understand because we AREN’T Japanese.
      “Empathy develops into an unspoken understanding and mutual decision making that is unquestioned, and forms the basis of tribal community.”

  • I’m convinced that the writer, doesn’t like or love us so much, maybe a little, but his aversion is much more than his love toward Japan.
    I don’t feel any positive feeling of us from this article.
    He teases us, and next time appears his sympathy, and teases again, on and on and we’re coming up with no good in the upshot.
    Japanese people are no good, helpless, let’s laugh, conclusion was already there before written.
    This kind of doing might be some of his revenge, but I’m not interested in what for.
    Even I understand there has to be no such thing for him to retort on while almost all of Japanese girls are usually agreeable with every Westerner.

    • Christopher-trier

      Of course Japanese people are helpless, hopeless and no good — that’s why Japanese people have managed to survive thousands of years in an unstable archipelago with scant natural resources building one of the most sophisticated and economically successful societies the world has seen along the way. Japan has a lot of problems, just like every other country. Japan, much like the rest of the developed world, has to grapple with the problems of affluence (lower birth-rates, lower marriage rates, an ageing population, even materialism taken to an extreme) but its problems are not unique. To loosely quote and paraphrase Austin Coates, issues that would not merit a second look in ones own society take on a new, sinister light when seen in another society.

      • Japanish

        That’s a fairly typical defensive reaction: “Well, other countries have bad things too, you know!” That doesn’t change the fact that Japan has a terrible social problem, in some ways the worst: It is not currently a sustainable society. It has the lowest birth rate on the planet and has been like this for generations. Stemming from this fact, many other problems are exacerbated: Lonliness, self-centered behaviour (The accumulation of wealth in the hands of the elderly at the expense of the young is one example), a steady descent into poverty, cultural irrelevance and vapidity. This is the reality of life in Japan now, and getting upset at people stating this is just shooting the messenger, IMO.

      • Eamon

        What’s irritating is the amount of energy spent by people criticizing Japan as if it WAS the only country with these issues. In some ways Italy has more of the same problems than Japan but there’s not such an anti-Italy crowd on the internet. I wonder why…

      • TomokoHasegawa

        I think the reason is that as a foreigner you will get told that Japan is a country “superior to all others” on a daily basis. The Japanese media, politicians, and the majority of the general public are very critical of things happening abroad, and at the same time ignore or even deny the huge domestic problems. That’s where the motivation to talk about the “real Japan”, the one beneath the superficial image, comes from.

      • Eamon

        This is also pretty typical. There are people in many (and I would guess most) countries that insist that their country is better than others despite flaws (often many flaws) and despite those flaws being in the media all the time. Everyone’s experience is different but I have not experienced some “real Japan” that everyone is trying to hide. My family and friends in Japan, and the Japanese people I know in the United States love their country despite its flaws, not because they deny they are there.

      • Cecilia Flynn

        Absolutely it’s ridiculous!

      • 3ddie

        They, like most Asian countries, are terribly anti-immigrants, I bet white people in the US have similar child ratios to Japanese, but what saves us is the fact that we have a pro-immigration culture. Asides from the many people that have the opposite stand, in cities like mine, NYC most people come from another country and are able to succeed despite all the odds.

    • P. Ijima-Washburn

      I didn’t feel this post was judgmental at all. This is an actual serious social problem that could have serious after-effects on society as a whole.

      • Thank you for your response.
        I’m not talking or thinking about judgement, but maliciousness.
        He can write it in this way only because “few of Japanese people will read it”, he can’t do this in this way if “many of Japanese will read it”.
        He appears his maliciousness since he knows not many of us will read it.
        How do you think, is it possible with any of Japanese writer actually publishes in US forum about US people like this?
        Thereby, I just tried to ripple it, even it means near nothing, maybe he might be better getting rippled sometimes, than never getting rippled.
        I’m not going to do it when there’s any of love or respect toward Japanese locals felt.
        He went too far at this time.
        He or she sometimes deserves it when one shows his or her malicousness toward locals, in a matter of course.
        I don’t do the same thing with locals if I were on abroad.
        Simple dynamics.

      • Manfred Deutschmann

        Can you point out (quote) the passages you think are malicious or lacking “love and respect”?

      • Can you tell me where would I sense his love or respect but scorn or aversion, before you ask me.
        Also tell me how would you award it when you see this kind of article about your own country people, written by some Japanese author.

      • Manfred Deutschmann

        So you answer me by asking the same question? Not a good answer. You have nothing, Michiko.
        If I saw such an article about my own country written by some Japanese author, I wouldn’t care. Because I am not obsessed with nationalism.

      • Thank you for your reply.
        I see, that you’re capable of ignoring any of expressions regarding your country, maybe it is because of your matured character.
        Then I wonder, why would such a matured man have got eager to make some Japanese woman shut up?
        Why couldn’t he just ignore it, I don’t get it.
        I think it is not going to bother this matured man, with whatever a Japanese woman speaks.
        Is her English skill relevant to something making him do that?
        Then he may teach her so that she’s getting less annoying.

      • N. Yokoyama

        The article by Mr. Hoffman is judgmental from the first line. It judges that psychology is an exact discipline, one that promises to describe some disease and treat it too.

    • Manfred Deutschmann

      A very typical reaction. Are you speaking for all Japanese?

    • Timothy Ware

      Do you not see the irony in using this typical response coming from the ‘Japan is great’ perspective? Perhaps I have been here too long but I can completely understand when foreigners are tired of hearing about how great Japan is despite a 23 year recession, a failing nuclear fallout strategy, declining population, an inability to change with modern times and a pathetically unstable government who always favours inaction.
      That being said, this person is looking at a serious issue and of course the writer is being critical. Have you read an American or British newspaper? They are often critical of their own people. If you want to see malicious, listen to the Obama is Hitler rhetoric. When people are unable to write about serious issues, of course there will be no change. If there is no change Japan will be depopulated inside of 200 years.

      • Thank you for your reply.
        I think you might have overreacted, “Japan is great” or “Behold us” is never an essence of my address.
        I’ve been remarking its oppsite issue ever since.
        And I don’t think you actually understand us for a bit, if you really think of me uttering “Japan is great”.
        I’m pretty exhausted by looking at someone “self-claiming Japan well learned person”.
        There’s no such an individual except for few academics, for real.

      • Timothy Ware

        I didn’t say that I am an expert on Japan. I mentioned issues that are extremely well-known. It doesn’t take an expert to know that the Japanese have botched the clean up in Fukushima.

        I’ve lived in Japan for a long time and wouldn’t if I didn’t love Japan. But to say that a paper is not allowed to discuss a very serious problem is inane.

      • Thank you for your reply.

        A:I never addressed “Japan is great” but “We’re gone nuts”
        B:I’m not comfortable with getting harassed sexually, as a critique or scribble for entire our race, or national
        C:No one talks about Fukushima issue in here, including the writer

        I posted saying B.
        At firt you accused me of the opposite side of A.
        Then I rebutted as I’m never of what you pointed, but A.
        You igonored it and dragged C out of the blue.

        And what is the relevance you’re accusing me of C?

      • Eamon

        If you can point out a US paper that says something like this about America you get the point: “Married or single, Japan is a desolate country.” There is unhappiness in Japan just like everywhere else, but I find Japanese people to be more positive and caring about people than other countries I’ve been to.

    • OlivierAM71

      Sorry, but I wonder if you did not misread the article!
      I do think that is precisely because Michael Hoffman loves Japan that he is writing this article. He worries about Japanese people love/sexual lives. And points at some important facts that explain some of the reasons why love/sex is on the brink of a collapse in your country.
      He actually tries to say that Japan should act quickly to avert the process already too far engaged now.

  • disqus_Gvs3G32z1K

    Some Japanese men seem to have no interest whatsoever in pursuing a relationship. A Japanese guy my age who I used to work with was a model example. He worked forty hours a week, hated social gatherings and mostly played video games at home in his spare time. If a guy in his late twenties has no interest in women, why would somebody in their thirties or forties?

    It’s particularly agonizing if you’re a single male foreigner living here. My older, Japanese coworkers often goad me about trying to find a Japanese partner, largely ignorant of my situation. You’d think in a country where over half the women are still single by age thirty this wouldn’t be an issue, but it seems like more and more women are putting off having a relationship for the sake of their career. On the other end of that spectrum however, I know a couple foreign guys my age that have found a partner here and gotten married(although one of them was after dating the girl for barely over a year…). Both of their wives had also studied abroad and spoke fluent English though, so they weren’t the average Japanese woman.

    The refusals I’ve gotten when trying to ask someone out are at least polite, but their vagueness leads me to believe that I’m turned down because I’m foreign. I speak the language almost fluently, so unless they’re expecting me to speak perfectly, that’s not the issue. I also have very little to choose from as I live out in a very rural part of Japan where the declining and aging population is far more evident. My chances of finding someone that I can date seem to heavily depend on the staff shuffle that occurs after every school year.

    • Mike Wyckoff

      Do you have any J-guy friends, maybe they can invite you to a go-kon if those are even still popular. ( I think they now call them off-kai)

      • disqus_Gvs3G32z1K

        I only really have one guy friend, and he’s the anti-social one I mentioned in my earlier comment.

    • Manfred Deutschmann

      You seem to completely disregard the fact that there is still a social stigma attached to a Japanese woman having a foreign boyfriend / spouse. That only applies to couples living inside Japan, of course, but it does come at a price and many Japanese women who plan their lives in Japan are not ready to pay it.

      • disqus_Gvs3G32z1K

        Quite frankly, I have no sympathy for that aspect of their society.
        The married couples I mentioned earlier sometimes talked about the
        negative response some people had to their relationship, but they got
        married anyway and are now quite happy. Society here needs to get with times and stop stigmatizing those who are actually doing their part by starting families.

    • 思德

      Try the internet, friend. I live in a small town. I haven’t had lots of success in getting dates yet, but you do occasionally meet some women who are interested and realistic about what kind of foreign man they can get (hint: Most foreign men in Japan are probably English teachers making at or under 250k/mo, not loaded expats living in Tokyo).

      I have one potential relationship. If it doesn’t work, or even if it does, I plan on moving to a bigger city next year (in the latter case, to move closer to said individual).

  • Pari

    I’m not surprised to be honest – after living here for a while and observing hoardes of Japanese women everyday, all I can say is that I feel very sorry for Japanese men. Japanese men are just a salary to Japanese women. If you always think of the material side of life, and live a life without -actual- love, there’s always going to be bitterness in a relationship, and therefore unhappiness.

  • Mike Wyckoff

    I have a few elder mom’s as students, all with adult son’s living at home. IMHO, Its all the mother’s fault, they raise kids to be dependent on someone to cook and clean for them. To do their laundry and pretty much everything else the “western man” is raised to do by himself. I’m not blameing ALL J-mom’s but at least Showa-era mom’s didnt give their kids enough “life skills”.

    My Japanese guy friends are always surprised that i can “cook” or that I help do the laundry. They always tell me, “that’s your wifes job.”
    Yeah, if you live in the 1950’s…..

    • 思德

      I am so glad that crap went by the wayside in the ‘States. How is it manly to not know how to feed yourself and clothe yourself, anyway? It seems more weak, dependent and pathetic than strong, independent and cool / successful.

      Besides, try getting an American girl to make you a sandwich. it ain’t gonna happen ;) .

  • Tonyed

    I met my wife some 24 years ago. At the time, despite my strong attraction towards her, I found it almost impossible to get to know her in a social capacity
    because I thought she was worried about her parents’ views on foreigners,
    etc., or perhaps she just was not interested in getting to know me. I was completely unaware that, at the time, she was going through the process of
    omiai and, therefore, would much prefer to avoid the subject of going out on a date with me to a visit local mountain tourist spot. After three months of persistently, cautiously trying to persuade her to go on a date with me, having arrived at the point of almost having to admit defeat, she telephoned me and agreed to go on a date to the mountain with me on the following Saturday. Miracle!

    What ensued shortly thereafter was an amusing introduction into the ‘perils’ of pursuing our “international” relationship: intimidation in the form of threatening letters written in human blood stuffed through my letterbox, my car tires slashed, laundry thrown in the mud, having my home “staked out” by two thugs and, oh yes, I was eventually forced to leave my job by my weak-willed employers at the insistence of my wife’s parents. However, perhaps it is because I am English, I never pay heed to this sort of squeamish, spoilt child-like brouhaha.

    Today, after being married for over 21 years, we are still blissfully happy and have raised an adult son who is a never-ending source of joy and pride. We have a successful relationship. The point is, we really only accommodate other peoples’ views and opinions as long as they understand that their hang-ups about our relationship are entirely their own to bear and not ours. Oh, and incidentally, right from the very start, I have never really thought of my wife as being “Japanese” – just Nobuko. Perhaps if people focused more about pursuing their own happiness rather than trying to appease everyone, they would find it easier to form relationships. Get a life – get living!

    • Cecilia Flynn

      Those games aint gonna play themselves either, It’s very common in the West also many more single households and rising all the time. I prefer being single it’s a great life.
      I’m a Westerner and waited on my son hand and foot but he left home at 21 moved abroad learned too read and write and speak another language so it’s not always the case they become helpless, only children naturally are very independent.
      I doubt you’re being turned down because your foreign they probably just don’t fancy you. My ex-husband was Japanese and it posed no problem at all, we lived in both Japan and Britain, that he turned out to be a narcissist just like my Mother of course was a deal breaker.
      I believe you are correct Michiko, Japan is no different from any other first world country I have always found the Japanese in general a very pleasing people indeed and they should rightly be proud of this fact, if only more were like them it would be a better world.
      I think it may well be inverted racism they resent feeling foreign and are probably more used to looking down on foreigners in their homeland themselves and not only resent this but project it onto the Japanese. Couldn’t have been that great back home either if they weren’t snapped up by some babe and if it were why not go back to this Utopia.
      The accumulation of wealth in the hands of the elderly at the expense of the young is one example, this is also common in the West and becoming ever more so with the lack of opportunities for young people house prices/rent being so unafordable most are still at home with their parents in their forties, this was the headline in a newspaper only today.
      I agree with you also Michiko that the Japanese behave very well when abroad unlike these whinging, moaners who can generalise about a whole country and all of it’s people with sweeping comments.You wonder why they stay!
      Reading the replies on here no wonder Japanese women don’t fancy them they are certainly of low intelligence and sound about as much fun as being run over by a bus.
      Just because it is not the Japanese custom too queue as they do in England does not indicate selfishness and you can drop dead in London and people will walk around you as they do not want to get involved or fear the person being a drunk/druggie/violent, I know I lived there for a long time. British customs are fast becoming a thing of the past entirely in London.

      ‘British whites’ are the minority in London for the first time as census shows number of UK immigrants has jumped by 3million in 10 years
      •Just 44.9% of Londoners are White British, according to census data

      •7.5million residents of England and Wales were foreign-born in 2011
      •Census data reveal just 59% now call themselves Christian as a quarter say they have no religion and 5% are Muslim

      •Less than 90% of country is white for the first time ever
      •Home ownership declines but more people have paid off their mortgages
      •Marriage rate dips to record low as fewer than half are hitched.
      Google that if you don’t believe me Pari.
      There are nutty families in every country Tonyed.
      I applaud your comments Michiko well said and well done. They needed telling!

    • Japanish

      Tonyed, you went through courtship when the economy was booming and English teachers had good jobs , pay and status. That is no longer the case. Options have just gotten worse for Japanese women since then. There are no rich foreigners left to give them a nice comfortable life. Guys, Japanese women will not get together with you because you have no prospects as long as you stay in Japan, and they know it.

      • 思德

        I think that’s largely true but not an absolute… I know a few guys who got Japanese girlfriends fairly quickly. Not sure how long term one of those is gonna be, but the other might last. Of course, that girl is Brazilian-Japanese, so she knows a little something about being the “other” in Japan and is culturally quite different.

        I do agree there do not seem to be good prospects for foreigners in Japan- maybe if you get fluent enough, perhaps. One of my personal requisites in a relationship would have to be that the person was seriously interested in living in the US in the future and had a strong grasp of English. Any person worth going long term with will not cling to this rock. And I don’t either. I don’t necessarily want to repatriate to the US. I just want to go where there are decent opportunities, either for me, my hypothetical spouse, or both, if we could swing it.

    • PD

      Jeezus man were you dating some yakuza daughter?
      Letters written in blood are a bit over the top. I don’t doubt your story but damn, seems like the town went crazy when you two got together.
      Of course, when I asked my Japanese father-in-law if I could marry his daughter to just replied, “I’ll think about it.” hehe

      • Tonyed

        The way I got her parents to ‘back-off’ was by promising to show the letters to one of Japan’s leading criminal psychologists who was a former class-mate of a good friend. It all went quiet thereafter and my liberty was instantaneously restored.

        Fortunately, I had also made many wonderful friends in the local community who helped bolster my spirits tremendously.

      • Jared

        Your attitude toward all this is brilliant! Must’ve been pretty scary at the time though

  • El Anon

    I’d like to see statistics on sexual activity, comparing people who work too hard, versus people who often travel. I assume that people have much more sex on holiday than they do when they are working till last train every night.

  • Murasaki

    Is it no surprise?

    I was working nights and the wife was working days for close to 3 years, we only seen one another at the train station, and I am not joking, we had about 5 minutes in the morning and if lucky met again at night. We never had a meal together in 3 years, and never had body contact.

    When I ended up getting injured and being off work, we spent time together but the same no body contact, 3 year of no contact continued for another few years. In the end the marriage ended.

    I found out later, like most Japanese couples the wife was bedding her work mate, days she claimed she was working, was her days off and she was spending them with her male(Japanese) friend from work.

    Only found out because of a pregnancy test she had at a hospital close to her place of employment, she left the letter behind when she moved out.

    I was reading an Article before on sexless marriages in Japan, it said Japanese marriages are sexless, but the husband or wife will be getting their share of skinship outside the marriage.

    I found out the article was correct!

    • Eamon

      “like most Japanese couples the wife was bedding her work mate”

      Where’s your proof to back that up?

      • Cecilia Flynn

        Only the Japanese commit adultery according to the eternal whingers on here, doncha know, rolls eyes!

      • dogma

        Adultery is not an exclusive phenomena to Japan but as made famous by Ishida Junichi’s remark of it’s part of our culture (不倫は文化). Even if that was paraphrased for him by the press at the time.

        As regards Japanese woman sleeping around at the work place or in activity groups, it’s a common knowledge but and surely normal.
        But typically these are single women.

        Getting back on topic, I think most marriages become sexless because we generally don’t open up and express our feelings freely. If there is no affectionate communication and sex quickly becomes mechanical. It becomes more fulfilling to masterbate. If a physical connection is required then we have the health industry (風俗) which caters for many perverse fetishes beyond that which ones wife might entertain.

        However the real perversion that is taking place is through television, media, news and entertainment.
        Family values are constantly being eroded and in their place a self-centric freedom from commitment is being installed as the norm.

        I recall when the head of the IMF took part in an NHK special on the modern career woman and how our government is actively promoting work environments more acceptable to maternity leave.
        It was a look of dismay and confusion as if to infer “no, no… we don’t want women to leave and return to the workplace… we want women to work beyond child bearing age and to have childless families.”

      • Cecilia Flynn

        Thank you for the reply Dogma.

        Adultery is common worldwide and yes women are having sex worldwide, hymenoplasty being commonplace amongst Muslim women.
        It’s more about morality than culture and is a individual choice made by individuals individually.
        Not all men cheat and not all women sleep-around.
        It’s this forum the whingers harp on as if these things are unique too Japan.
        Colonialism and slavery by the West is so over, get over it!
        Imagine having a houseguest whom demands you change your ways to suit them, they walk all through your house with muddy shoes as it’s not their custom et al. The Japanese are far too polite for their own good.
        Not a cultural trait of us Scot’s fortunately.
        I agree with the rest of your points. IF women want a career they should not have children but if they choose to be Mothers the government should not force them to abandon their children and farm them out to strangers in day-care.
        Yes they probably would like childless families as they don’t need the workforce what with cheap labour from abroad.

      • 思德

        I can see why this might annoy you, but honestly I’ve never had multiple women pursue me aggressively to cheat on their husbands with until I came to Japan. 2 instances in 6 months. 0 instances anywhere else, including Taiwan and the US. Cheating isn’t unique to Japan at all, but I feel the scaffolding that holds it up here is unique, and therefore receives a lot of commentary. I get the sense that marriages are set up to fail almost from day one (in part because of work), whereas in the west it’s because the relationship deteriorates in some way. I have seen that there is a sense of shame about many things in Japan, but frankly adultery and philandering doesn’t seem to be one of them.

      • Cecilia Flynn

        I certainly don’t know any Japanese women who pursue males aggressively, of course they would not be my sort of person if I did.
        If they are so inclined they can take themselves off too a host club and fill their boots.
        Feminism has much to answer for many women in the West behave far worse than men ever did.
        So once again not unique to Japan.
        Now you know how women feel, I couldn’t even tally how many married men have pursued me in different countries over the years. Take my advice just say no it works for me.

      • 思德

        I have no interest in indulging someone else’s dishonesty, but appreciate the advice anyway.

        What someone will do to another person to be with you, they will do the same to you to be with someone else. I wish women especially understood this better, but men need to know it, too.

        Personally, I think cheating is going outside of the relationship to get needs met. Generally, those needs are sexual and emotional ones. If you factor in cheating to get emotional needs met, I wouldn’t be surprised if the statistics between genders were fairly even. I am not certain of the assertion, “Well, you know how men get around.” They are more brazen or stupid about it maybe, but women get theirs, especially here where the work situation makes it very easy to have an affair due to partners being separated for a long time.

        Feminism? That’s a different topic altogether. What I do think is that the a lack of mores regarding cheating or failing to take care of your spouses needs has its own flavor in Japan that is historically ingrained and *in some ways* unique to this country. I have noticed that Japanese people or fans of Japan have a tendency to equivocate between Japan’s problems and other countries’ problems. This is not a realistic or mature approach. Not all criticisms or observations of negative things are an evil needing to be denied.

        When people told me “Japan is a lonely place,” I thought that simply had to do with those people being unable to make friends. In my nearby city, I see male and female escorts on the street, either for sex or just company. There are bars that exist for this purpose as well. I think it says something about people’s sexual and emotional needs not being met in a healthy way, and a lack of understanding of how to meet these needs, when you have to pay for these things.

        I have also never been solicited for sex by a minor until I came to Japan- I actually argued with a 17 year old online (who had lied about her age initially) that she was too young (I wasn’t online for sex anyway, so it was a double loss on her part that I’m both abstinent and not a pedophile). After that conversation, I marveled. If I were any less of a man, the end result could have been quite different. And, I have to wonder if it is in many cases.

        Any casual look at Japanese media and art shows a casual attitude towards sexuality. Manga isn’t exactly niche here. Is it any surprise, in that case, that underage sex and cheating is happening? Fidelity is unraveling similarly in America. None of it is surprising. The independent vs socially conscious underpinnings just create unusual side effects in Japan (super cold marriages) vs America (rampant divorce and straight up cohabiting). I am not advocating morality per se; just observing what happens in its absence.

      • Cecilia Flynn

        If they will do it with you they’ll do it too you, agreed.
        Most stay in unsatisfactory relationships though fear of being alone in modern times it’s often about money not willing to split the money or sell the house but then many just settle for what’s on offer to begin with. It’s bound to work out even otherwise who are these men/women cheating with?
        People are people wherever you go there is nothing unique about the Japanese and I don’t say that because I’m a fan. People say London is a lonely city and for some it is. Men pick up hookers for company or sex in the West also.
        You have never been solicited for sex by a minor, my god you amaze me, it happens here all the time. In most cases yes the results are quite different from your outcome sadly but I do commend you for behaving in a responsible adult manner. In Britain we are the teenage pregnancy capital of the world, not good but true nonetheless.
        Attitudes to sex in the East are far more relaxed yes but in Christian societys we are sexually repressed which is no better in my opinion.
        Morality is a personal choice after all you can be moral sexually and immoral in other ways all at the same time.
        They sell manga in bookstores in Piccadilly Circus where children and families frequent.

  • 3ddie

    What Japan needs is a modern leader that can break from the chains holding it back, a good way to start would be to modernize/simplify Japanese and to allow more immigrants to that country.
    I visited Japan in July for a month, as a world traveller, first time in Japan, I was so surprised by its beauty, and how nice the people are. The protocol and traditions are amazing, the beauty of the Japanese woman is incredible.
    That said, I think that there’s too many limitations to immigration, Japan should be welcoming to more foreigners, this would invigorate the economy, add more young people and energy to its increasingly older population.
    The complexity of its language is also another barrier, I met people that lived in Japan for over 20 years who were still not able to communicate fluently. This is a problem, and obviously most people learn English.

    • japanish

      They are interesting suggestions. The reason many people cannot communicate after 20 years of living in Japan is that Japanese people don’t listen to them.
      All of these posts going on about “other countries have their problems” are burying their heads in the sand. Bare stats reveal that Japan, with its atomised, obsessive autistic devotion to work/money is a failed society. Perhaps some posters defending it are of an obsessive, slightly autistic bent themselves? Certainly, many long term foreign residents in Japan are often single.

  • Ian

    The author asks, “What has gone wrong with us? What have we done to ourselves?” The answer is hidden in the author’s own words: “In old Japan, marriage was essentially a device to produce family heirs. That done, husbands typically pursued love, eros and romance in the licensed pleasure quarters while wives seethed at home in silent frustration.” In fact, nothing has changed over the years, according to evolutionary psychology. All great apes, including us, are not monogamous lifetime pair bonders. Only the lowest species of great ape (Gibbons) pair bonds for life with the same partner. All other great apes either rape various females (orangutans), have harems (gorillas), or are promiscuous (chimps and bonobos). Why? Neurochemistry holds the answer. Animals that pair bond for life have a “bonding” neurotransmitter called “oxytocin” in abundance. For example, breast-feeding human mothers have oxytocin activated. In relationship therapy in Germany, for another example, therapists allow couples to sniff oxytocin vials in order to stimulate bonding. Unfortunately, this practice is not approved in most other nations.

  • Ian

    The author asks, “What has gone wrong with us? What have we done to
    ourselves?” The answers lies within the author’s statement: “In old
    Japan, marriage was essentially a device to produce family heirs. That
    done, husbands typically pursued love, eros and romance in the licensed
    pleasure quarters while wives seethed at home in silent frustration.”
    The sex apathy issue is inherent in our genetic makeup. Evolutionary
    psychology/neurology holds the key to understanding this misunderstood
    issue that affects us all.
    The human species did not evolve to be lifetime monogamous pair bonders. Such pair bonding is an ideal, but not always a realistic one. Take the cases of our evolutionary ancestors, the Great Apes. The only great ape to pair bond for life with one partner are Gibbons. They are also the lowest on the Great Ape evolutionary tree (they look like monkeys and have long tails). Next up are orangutans. The males simply rape females. Up from them are gorilla males. They have harems of females. Next, chimps/bonobos, who are promiscuous. Evidently, we do not have close genetic relatives that are lifelong monogamous pair bonders. Yet, as humans, many of us do desire such monogamy.

    Neurochemistry reveals that oxytocin in animals leads to monogamy. For example, a human mother generates oxytocin in abundance when breast feeding her baby. In Germany, relationship therapists have couples sniff vials of
    oxytocin in order to promote bonding. This practice is illegal in most other nations, including the USA. Another aid to support marriages is pre-marital counseling. Couples who seek such counsel tend to have lower divorce rates than the national average. For example, Catholics have less divorce than Protestants due in part to the Catholic Church requiring pre-marital counseling in order to obtain a church wedding. Such counseling is a form of cognitive
    behavioral therapy; knowledge/awareness creates changes in thought and
    behavior. Thus by using organic means (oxytocin therapies) combined
    with CBT (talk therapy) strategies can be achieved to help us overcome
    perceived deficits in our ability to pair bond for life. This ancient
    human emotions problem (“I can’t live with her and I can’t live without
    her” syndrome) can be treated rationally.

    • Cecilia Flynn

      Excellent commentary and much appreciated.

  • Harold Barnett

    “A more subtle factor is sex education, which Japan somehow can’t seem to get right, Aera hears from Kagawa Nutrition University nutrition professor Noriko Hashimoto. She reviews Japanese sex education over the past 20 years and concludes, “No wonder we’re sexless.””

    Go figure.

    Makes you wonder how the human race ever evolved, doesn’t it?

    Following this lady’s theory the first thing that evolved was sex educators, because without them humans would never have learned how to copulate.

  • C321

    Japanese companies need to be compelled by government to slash working hours, Japanese workers although usually diligent have among the lowest productivity per hour of any workers on the planet, that’s because they are at work such long hours they spend a lot of time doing nothing useful or suffering from lack of sleep.

  • C321

    Single people need to realise that proper dating that is going to result in marriage is pretty much a full time job and needs to be taken seriously, firstly in finding someone to date and then in dating them and then marriage means you sacrifice 80-90% of your own personal wants and desires, that’s the cost, it is worth it, but many older singles just can’t get over the loss of freedom. Too many singles are just lazy and selfish.

  • Nick Ronin

    Always a treat when an article pushes an institution with a greater than 60% failure rate. Marriage only looks good when you see one side of it. Go behind closed doors and you will see the other part. The one that will make you glad you aren’t in their situation. Yes, it does work for some. But for those who are constantly miserable, always complaining and whining, or trying to live vicariously through some other single person, it does not come across as something to be desired. The grass is always greener on the other side until you are the one in charge of mowing it.