The land of the rising sun can be extremely confusing to foreigners, but one thing’s for sure: you gotta hand it to the Japanese for being creative. In the face of its worse demographic crisis to date – 1 in 4 people are over 65 years old – the government is experiment with all sorts of methods to boost birth rates. Now, this might not surprise most of you, considering everywhere in the developed world people are getting married much later in life than our parents have. For the Japanese, however, it’s a sensibly different situation. You see, it’s not that they can’t find jobs or resources that will make them feel safe to start a family – the main problem the Japanese have is that they don’t seem to enjoy sex that much anymore. A quarter of the women in Japan think sex is “bothersome”, while 15% of men said they hung up the proverbial samurai sword stating they were no longer interested in sex after having children. Well that’s very pragmatic of them!

Japan today: one in four people are over 65 years old

n early modern Japan, thousands of sexually explicit paintings, prints, and illustrated books with texts were produced, euphemistically called ‘spring pictures’ (shunga). Official life in this period was governed by strict Confucian laws, but private life was less controlled in practice. Image: Sode no maki (Handscroll for the Sleeve), print artist Torii Kiyonaga, about 1785 (detail).

In early modern Japan, thousands of sexually explicit paintings, prints, and illustrated books with texts were produced, euphemistically called ‘spring pictures’ (shunga). Official life in this period was governed by strict Confucian laws, but private life was less controlled in practice. Image: Sode no maki (Handscroll for the Sleeve), print artist Torii Kiyonaga, about 1785 (detail).

According to Japanese officials,  by 2060 the population is expected to go down by a third, and, by 2100, if the trend continues, by 61 percent. Of course, developed nations all over the world are experiencing a similar situation. People are marrying much later or not at all, birthrates are plummeting and single-occupant households are on the rise – that’s if they’re not leaving with their parents at 30. But while in most countries, this trend is dictated by economic considerations and a Peter Pan-ish lifestyle, Japan’s problems seem to stem from a countrywide libido deficiency. The Guardian reports 45% of Japanese women aged 16-24 are “not interested in or despise sexual contact”, while a quarter of men feel the same way. Millions of single Japanese under 40 aren’t even bothering dating. What’s worse is that the sex drive is sharply declining.

Following WWII, Japan experienced a massive baby boom. The number of babies born in the nation in 2012 fell by 13,705 from the previous year to hit a new low of 1,037,101 and while a total fertility rate of 2.0 children per woman will maintain the population at a stable level. Japan’s rate has continued to fall since dropping below 2.0 in 1975.

Following WWII, Japan experienced a massive baby boom. The number of babies born in the nation in 2012 fell by 13,705 from the previous year to hit a new low of 1,037,101 and while a total fertility rate of 2.0 children per woman will maintain the population at a stable level. Japan’s rate has continued to fall since dropping below 2.0 in 1975.

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 30 had never dated at all.

In the face of such a dire situation, the Japanese government is trying all sorts of counter measures, some genuinely helpful, others hilariously desperate. According to BloombergPrime Minister Shinzo Abe set aside 3 billion yen ($30 million) for programs aimed at boosting fertility, including matchmaking programs. Morinaga Takuro, an economic analyst and famous TV personality, suggests the government should impose a “handsome tax”.

“If we impose a handsome tax on men who look good to correct the injustice only slightly, then it will become easier for ugly men to find love, and the number of people getting married will increase,” he says.

Needless to say it sounds remarkably stupid, although I might be hasty to judge. I’m not so familiar with the situation in Japan, but one can only assume that they’ve tried all sorts of gimmicks to spark the Japanese people’s interest in sex. For instance, Takuro redeems himself and actually makes a valid point that sort of sums up what Japan’s libido crisis is all about.

Speaking to the millions of Japanese men in love with 2D female characters from anime and manga. He expressed, in the Asahi Shimbun, “I want to tell them that human women are also great fun!” Technology, of course, gets blame: virtual worlds, not to mention porn.

Worldwide averages of mean age of marriage, the gap has narrowed only slightly over the past 35 years. The biggest differentiator of marriage age seems to be a country's income, with people in developed countries marrying later. Nordic countries and Western Europe rank among the highest for mean age at marriage at above 30 years. Afghanistan has one of the lowest at 20.2 years. Graph: United Nations World Marriage Data 2012

Worldwide averages of mean age of marriage, the gap has narrowed only slightly over the past 35 years. The biggest differentiator of marriage age seems to be a country’s income, with people in developed countries marrying later. Nordic countries and Western Europe rank among the highest for mean age at marriage at above 30 years. Afghanistan has one of the lowest at 20.2 years. Graph: United Nations World Marriage Data 2012

Ai Aoyama is a sex and relationship counselor who works out of her narrow three-storey home on a Tokyo back street. Like other sex counselors, she’s been through all sorts of therapies to convince clients to go out in the real world and seek partners; everything from tying people up and dripping hot wax on their nipples.

“Both men and women say to me they don’t see the point of love. They don’t believe it can lead anywhere,” says Aoyama. “Relationships have become too hard.”

Aoyama cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers. His case is unlikely to be singular.

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Besides the obvious problems a low nationwide libido brings with it – aging population, fewer working force etc – there are also other unconventional major social issues. Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery, from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectations of a spouse and in-laws. The men have become increasingly unmotivated and are rejecting the pursuit of both career and romantic success. Though well hidden, frustration stenches the air. And these are concerns the rest of the world should carefully follow. Japan might be eccentric, but the rest of the world doesn’t lag too far behind.

 

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