Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060. Aoyama believes the country is experiencing “a flight from human intimacy” – and it’s partly the government’s fault.
Aoyama is a former dominatrix who now works as an “intimacy counselor,” trying to teach her clients that it’s okay to be intimate, and how to accomplish this. More:
Inside, she takes me upstairs to her “relaxation room” – a bedroom with no furniture except a double futon. “It will be quiet in here,” she says. Aoyama’s first task with most of her clients is encouraging them “to stop apologising for their own physical existence”.
The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact”. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.
Think of it: this woman has to convince people to “stop apologising for their own physical existence.” Has this ever happened anywhere on a mass level? The story, from The Guardian, makes for fascinating, if deeply disturbing, reading. There’s this one guy who can only relate to female robots. These are not isolated weirdos. Something is going on in Japan. Last year, the fewest Japanese babies in recorded history were born, and for the first time ever, sales of adult diapers outsold baby diapers. More:
Is Japan providing a glimpse of all our futures? Many of the shifts there are occurring in other advanced nations, too. Across urban Asia, Europe and America, people are marrying later or not at all, birth rates are falling, single-occupant households are on the rise and, in countries where economic recession is worst, young people are living at home. But demographer Nicholas Eberstadt argues that a distinctive set of factors is accelerating these trends in Japan. These factors include the lack of a religious authority that ordains marriage and family, the country’s precarious earthquake-prone ecology that engenders feelings of futility, and the high cost of living and raising children.
“Gradually but relentlessly, Japan is evolving into a type of society whose contours and workings have only been contemplated in science fiction,” Eberstadt wrote last year. With a vast army of older people and an ever-dwindling younger generation, Japan may become a “pioneer people” where individuals who never marry exist in significant numbers, he said.
If you read the story, and I hope you will, you see that a big part of the problem is Japan’s inflexible culture on gender roles. Another big part of the problem is, of course, long-term economic stagnation. But there’s got to be more to it. How can an entire country lose the will to reproduce itself, which is to say, the will to live?