JLPT BC 127 | Sex and Lies (about Sex) in Japan

JLPT BC 127 | Sex and Lies (about Sex) in Japan post image

There was somewhat recent Guardian article  that got a lot of Facebook love about a month ago. It was essentially the rehashed news report of an annual survey about Japan’s sex habits, to put it bluntly. The Guardian did a little more leg work with it and did some ‘on the ground’ reporting to fluff out the article and get more perspective. It was seemingly quite in depth actually, even going so far as to interview a few lucky people.

The people they chose for these interviews were a dominatrix turned sex therapist, a couple of Sex-and-the-City idolizers, and a young asexual man. They hand-picked a few stats from a recent survey to base most of the arguments off of and left out some other stats. Hmm, I wonder if it is biased in any way?

And normally, I can kind of blow off this kind of bad reporting, but it has become an annual event with the press. The Guardian seems to have a special thing for it actually. Here is Guardian’s somewhat more neutral article in 2011.  They seem to love to call out Japan as being the sexless wonder.

The first problem with this situation is that surveys about sex generally don’t yield good results. Nobody is going to put down that they are nymphomaniacs or anything like that, so the results have to be taken with a grain of salt. And good investigative reporters would go the extra mile and get some balanced opinions to write a good article. However, that apparently doesn’t sell as well as interviewing a dominatrix sex therapist. So let me bust some myths for you.

Granted some of this is my personal opinion/experience so you should take that into consideration as well, but the realty of Japan is at least slightly different than the picture painted by the Guardian.

Nobody is Having Sex in Japan

This seems to be a myth that is getting floated around of late. And the statistics do back it up a little bit. At least according to one survey, 25% of men age 35-39 are virgins. And that is at least a little shocking.

But, as this Slate article points out, this is also a noticeable trend in other developed countries like the US. It is just a little more pronounced in Japan. This is an unfortunate trend, but it doesn’t mean that everyone has given up. There are other things to consider.

For example, in my opinion, people in Japan don’t usually date for fun. As matter of fact, a lot of people I’ve met don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend, which is great if you are single. And I’ve never really encountered the whole ‘I don’t have the time for a relationship.’ business that sometimes happens in the States. Again, maybe this is because I’m stud, lucky, language barrier, foreign envy, etc…

But, it feels like to me that dating is a slightly more serious affair than in the States (my only frame of reference). It seems to me that dating is seen as a precursor to marriage, no matter what age, and isn’t something that is done a lot for fun. Now of course, there are plenty of hook ups and various other types of relationships, but the ideal thing is dating to get married.

And the general attitude toward sex is pretty cavalier. It really isn’t a ‘thing’ if you know what I mean. People just do it. There aren’t these religious taboos holding people back or cultural stimulus for it. For example, in America, women’s magazines are packed with 100s of ways to ‘please your man in bed’ where women’s magazines here are more about cooking, fashion, and some gossipy things.

It also doesn’t help that it really isn’t branded very well either. Sex education in Japan is full of ambiguous references, including using sea urchins to act out certain parts (in Japanese). So no wonder some Japanese might have the impression that sex is disgusting, wouldn’t you?

This is coupled with the fact that everyone has to study non-stop to pass entrance exams, which cuts down the amount of time they spend simply interacting with each other socially during those earlier years when it is important to build up these kinds of skills. But, when I ask high school girls what they talk about with their friends, they usually always answer one thing – boys. It just seems like there isn’t enough time for them to go through those awkward conversations with the opposite sex that everybody should go through in their junior high school days.

So, you essentially have 3 factors combining to make sex, not so sexy. First, members of the opposite sex aren’t so comfortable interacting with each other, due to having their noses in their books too much. Second, dating is seen as a somewhat serious affair. Third, sex is not a big part of the popular culture.

Ahh, But There is Hope!

It’s a tricky situation, but what’s interesting about all this is that 90% of Japanese according to that same survey the Guardian quoted want to get married. And if you look beneath the surface you can see this.

A lot of people I talk to in and out of class are actually a bit stressed out about finding that special someone. It’s a very clear goal for both men and women. And a lot of them are actively seeking someone, going to 合コン- gokon or dating parties, and speed dating parties (25 men/25 women).

They are typically 30somethings with a stable job, a good head on their shoulders, have stacked up the necessary qualifications they need to keep going in their jobs. They are women who have gone out of there way to get extra qualifications in things like English teaching, accounting, etc.. so that they can get back into the workforce after getting married or having a kid.

A lot of them come back from these parties complaining about how boring the people are. They have trouble keeping a conversation going sometimes. In other words, men especially, have bad communication skills or simply work too much to be interesting.

20somethings on the other hand, tend to be more focused on building a career (both men and women), and getting certifications. They also get jostled around a lot at their jobs, getting transferred from Tokyo to Kobe to Hakata and back again before finally coming to rest somewhere in the innards of the company. This is due to how well or how poorly they do in a particular department.

This 20something corporate battle is waged for two reasons – Men need a pretty good salary to get married, so they need to fight to get to at least somewhere in the middle. Women need to gather qualifications and experience to survive the marriage/child birth speed bump, they get hit with when they get married.

Women also have to have the right boss. Some (unbelievably old-fashioned) bosses will summarily fire a woman just for being married. Yes, that actually still happens. Women also get pressured by their family to stop working after marriage, too. It’s not just the office.

So having qualifications and experience can help women jump ship for another more woman-friendly company. As well as return to the workplace after having kids. I know a few women who changed jobs in order to be able to get married and have a kid and keep their careers.

So, yeah, okay, there is slightly less sex to be had in Japan, but this seems to be a trend that is popping up in other countries as well and people do still want to get married and have kids (both men and women).  And I’m going to go out on a limb here and presume that once they are married they have sex.  That is not always true of course, but let’s just suppose.  So, both sides still would like to get married, but they want to still live a decent life as well.  They takes a lot of money and qualifications in Japan, and it is a bit tough to get over that hill.  It quite honestly takes a lot of grit and determination.

The Solution?

Sometimes I feel like this is a problem that will disappear in time. As the old guard starts to retire there will be more changes hopefully, especially as Japan’s workforce shrinks. Some people call this the ‘hurry up and die’ strategy.

However, I feel somewhat optimistic that things will change for the better. I have my fingers crossed that Shinzo Abe will grow a pair and start making some of the changes he promised on the campaign trail to change how women are treated in the workplace. It might be a bit a long shot though.

What do you think?  What has your experience been?  Let me know in the comments below.

Photo by Scion_cho

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Fox January 23, 2014, 5:56 am

    I just finished your podcast and I agree with a lot of points you made. Being in the hiphop scene here ( I live in Osaka also ) Ive seen about as much as I would see in america. Sex-wise that is. Hell, even my highschool students as sexually active. But, it is a small percent still, and i also think that its going to change soon. Even in clubs now, you often see girls and guys trying to ‘seal the deal’. I’m sure alcohol has something to do with it tho haha.

    Anyways, i enjoy your podcasts, thanks for continuing them

    -Fox

    • Clayton MacKnight January 25, 2014, 2:29 pm

      Thanks for the kind words. I’ve started to get a little cranky about poor reporting on Japan of late. Everyone outside of Japan is always talking about what crazy thing is happening here, and in reality, it really isn’t all that crazy of place. Things are pretty normal here, or maybe I’ve just gotten used to it. 🙂

      Of course, there are also reports in Japan about all the crazy fat people with guns in the States so it all evens out in the end. 🙂

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