Oct 28, 2013

    The lust behind Japan's sex drought


    AN OCCUPATIONAL hazard for foreign journalists is traipsing into "exotic Japan" and getting lost in a forest of stereotypes, fuzzy data and tarted-up headlines.

    Such is the case with the media's renewed obsession with reports that the Japanese have given up on sex. This canard emerges every couple of years, but it's snowballing anew, thanks to an Oct 19 Guardian headline screaming: "Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?"

    Let me offer my own two yen. The root of Japan's supposed sex drought isn't culture, but economics.

    "This is the typical weird and wacky Japan story that overseas editors seem to gobble up and encourage," says Dr Jeff Kingston, head of Asian studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University. "Of course, Japanese have sex and if the number of love hotels is any barometer it seems like many are getting plenty of it."

    Part of the problem is cherry-picked data. Take the 2011 survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research on which sex-drought stories are often based.

    Its finding that 61 per cent of unmarried men and 49 per cent of single women between 18 and 24 years of age weren't in any kind of romantic relationship is mentioned up high.

    Rarely cited is this fact on Page 2 of the report: Almost 90 per cent of respondents intend to marry someday. And what about international comparisons? A recent Pew study found that 71 per cent of unmarried Americans aren't in committed relationships.

    Japan's low birthrate is a result of exorbitant living costs, elevated stress and diminished confidence.

    Even after two decades of deflation, prices in Japan for everything from rent to food to entertainment remain among the highest in the world.

    Economic stagnation means the exclusion of more and more Japanese from the lifetime-employment system that's long been the cornerstone of Japan Inc, forcing many to work additional jobs.

    If you leave for work at 6am and get home close to midnight, including weekends, where is there time for dating?

    Japan's demographics are worthy of study. But portraying Japanese as libido-less oddballs and looking for clues in their culture only dehumanises a nation.

    It misses Japan's pioneering role in one of the biggest economic challenges of this century as developed nations mature.