A common trend across the United States, Europe, and Asia is that birth rates are falling and the number of adults who never marry is rising...but in Japan, these trends are accelerating in unprecedented ways.
Among Japan's under-40 crowd, millions aren't dating, and increasing numbers have no interest in sex.
The Japanese government calls it the "celibacy syndrome," and it's fast becoming a crisis so serious that one official says the nation "might eventually perish into extinction" because of it.
The Shocking Facts
As noted in wide-ranging piece by The Guardian:
- Japan has one of the world's lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million has been shrinking for the last decade and is projected to decline by another third once 2060 hits.
- To wit, fewer babies were born in Japan in 2012 than any other year...in fact, adult incontinence pants outsold baby diapers for the first time this year.
- About 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.
- A third of people under 30 had never dated at all, notes a 2011 study.
- About 45% of women aged 16-24 "were not interested in or despised sexual contact," according to a survey by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) earlier this year. More than a quarter of men felt similarly.
- Of Japan's estimated 13 million unmarried people who live with their parents, about three million are over the age of 35.
- Japan's Institute of Population and Social Security notes 90% of young women believe that staying single is "preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like."
- According to the government's population institute, women in their early 20s today have a one-in-four chance of never marrying. Their chances of remaining childless are even higher: almost 40%.
"They Flinch If I Touch Them"
Clients of one Japanese sex and relationship counselor, who've taken singleness to extremes, have major struggles. One man in his early 30s, a virgin, can't get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers.
"I use therapies, such as yoga and hypnosis, to relax him and help him to understand the way that real human bodies work," the counselor says. "A few people can't relate to the opposite sex physically or in any other way. They flinch if I touch them. Most are men, but I'm starting to see more women."
Eri Tomita, 32, works in the human resources department of a French-owned bank, possesses two university degrees, and shuns romantic attachments in favor of work. "A boyfriend proposed to me three years ago. I turned him down when I realized I cared more about my job," she tells the Guardian. "After that, I lost interest in dating. It became awkward when the question of the future came up."
Mendokusai ("I Can't Be Bothered")
This is the term both men and women use most frequently when describing intimate relationships, the Guardian notes.
"It's too troublesome," says Satoru Kishino. "I don't earn a huge salary to go on dates and I don't want the responsibility of a woman hoping it might lead to marriage."
Japan's media calls men like Kishino "herbivores" or soshoku danshi (literally, "grass-eating men"), the Guardian notes — although Kishino says he doesn't mind the label because it's fast becoming the norm. He defines it as "a heterosexual man for whom relationships and sex are unimportant."
Just take a gander at Japan's cities: They're replete with conveniences made for one, the Guardian observes, from stand-up noodle bars to capsule hotels to convenience stores with shelves filled with individually wrapped rice balls and disposable underwear.
"Remaining single was once the ultimate personal failure," says Tomomi Yamaguchi, a Japanese-born assistant professor of anthropology at Montana State University in America. "But more people are finding they prefer it." Being single by choice is becoming, she believes, "a new reality."
Demographer Nicholas Eberstadt says distinctive factors are accelerating these trends in Japan, including the lack of a religious authority that ordains marriage and family, an earthquake-prone ecology that reinforces feelings of futility among the populace, 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, adding that the country may become filled with "pioneer people" who never marry.
Japanese-American author Roland Kelts, who writes about Japan's youth, tells the Guardian that Japanese relationships will be largely technology driven in the future.
"Japan has developed incredibly sophisticated virtual worlds and online communication systems," he says. "Its smart phone apps are the world's most imaginative." Kelts adds that the draw toward escaping into private, virtual worlds relates directly to Japan's overcrowded physical space...but the rest of the world is not far behind.
Here's a report from Newsbreaker:
(H/T: The Guardian)