In Japan’s larger cities, you don’t have to look far to find some form of commercialised sexual pseudo-gratification. Host and hostess bars exist in abundance, as do maid cafes, cuddle cafes and sex shops, and advertisements for pleasure seeking businesses are plentiful – particularly in central Tokyo. But the patent love industry’s boom sends out a message which might not be immediately obvious.
The Japanese have been under scrutiny with regards to their sex life – or lack of – as a result of a sharp population decline which began in 2004. In recent years, research on (single) Japanese attitudes towards marriage and family shows a waning desire for sexual relationships, which reflects the fact that the Japanese fertility rate is one of the lowest in the world. Why the prolific and diverse love industry then?
One of the main factors contributing to the appeal of seeking no-strings-attached commodified intimacy is undeniably the career driven nature of Japanese society. The emphasis on having a career is so strong in Japan that it appears people often don’t have the time -especially in their 20’s- to pursue romantic relationships. Furthermore, increased female economic participation and a lack of support programmes for young mothers that wish to continue working has resulted in growing numbers of people choosing careers over families.
It seems ironic, perhaps, that the Japanese government has attempted to boost the amount of workers supporting the economy by tackling gender inequality and including women in the work force, yet that the converse effect of this is a decreased desire for women to have children. Whilst there is an act which allows a years leave of absence for child care, maternity-leave discrimination is common in Japan and many businesses look down upon it. Subsequently, over-worked salary men – and increasingly women – have become consumers of a variety of sex-related businesses offering recreational love – and indeed money – as an escape from a daily routine which leaves little time for personal relationships, and as an opportunity to socialise with the opposite sex.
One of Shinzo Abe’s administration’s most coveted goals has been to increase the birth rate in Japan, through measures seeking to make it easier for families to raise children – for instance by creating an increased number of available places in nursery school. However it appears that the issue runs deeper than economic or infrastructural pitfalls: A study released by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in 2016 found that around 42% of men and 44.2% of women between the age of 18 and 32 (out of 8,754 single people surveyed) were virgins – a statistic which has increased by over 5% for both genders since the survey was last conducted in 2010.
The ‘apathy’ of the Japanese towards sex is worth discussing within an economic context: Japan developed in leaps and bounds from a feudal to an advanced capitalist country in an incredibly small amount of time, putting tremendous pressure on the rate of industrialisation and the mobilisation of the work force, which ultimately produced a highly efficient, ultra-capitalist society . On account of rapid development, Japan did not have the time that other Western societies had to adjust to capitalist reverberations. Consequently, we see a society is socially traditional in nature, operating under a vastly modern capitalist system adopted from western societies. Perhaps this pays contribution to the gender gap that exists today and fuels the lack of desire for younger generations of Japanese people to start families as they grapple under a political system hell-bent on the retention of capital and growth, which has proliferated the ‘advanced’ commercial world of sex.
Despite the statistics and media coverage which point to Japan as a near-sexless nation, the data is not conclusive. The Fourteenth Japanese National Fertility Survey 2010 for instance – data from which is used by a number of secondary articles including an article in the Washington Post – has based its findings on 11, 487 questionnaires out of a total population of 127.3 million. Data from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research also covers a relatively small proportion of the population. Moreover, attitudes toward sex in rural, less developed parts of the country may be quite different from those in urban hubs like Tokyo. If one thing seems obvious, though, it is that the Japanese love industry capitalises on repressed sexual appetite, which appears to have become a much wider problem than one might realise at first glance.
By Robyn Kelly-Meyrick