The headline reads: “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?” It should read: “Who killed love?” As the article lays out, the problem isn’t Japanese Millennials’ lack of sex drive. It’s a lack of orientation to the future, most essentially expressed in the procreative act.
Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060. [Relationship counselor Ai] Aoyama believes the country is experiencing “a flight from human intimacy.”
Japanese young people are “bothered with” sex. They just don’t see a deeper meaning in it beyond pleasure. They dissociate it from love. They dissociate it from family.
Aoyama says the sexes, especially in Japan’s giant cities, are “spiraling away from each other.” Lacking long-term shared goals, many are turning to what she terms “Pot Noodle love” – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality “girlfriends,” anime cartoons. Or else they’re opting out altogether and replacing love and sex with other urban pastimes.
In other words, the products of a consumer culture that, like intravenous injections, provide the body with what it needs without sating its real hunger: to commit to something greater than oneself, to see oneself as the inheritor of a moral legacy and as an ancestor to future generations. Technology and urbanization erect barriers among people, as well as between people’s souls and their bodies, alienating them from their true desires.
Unmentioned in the article is the post-war bankruptcy of Japan’s ethnocentric, uber-nationalist ethos, embodied by the state religion, Shintoism. The dehumanizing machinery of the ever-consolidating, ever-centralizing corporatist state is reflective of Japan’s cultural collapse. The “tiger” economy has the future prospects of a man stuck on a desert island. When you have nothing better to live for, you live for yourself. You forgo investing human capital in the possibilities of a future beyond yourself.
Romantic apathy aside, Kishino, like Tomita, says he enjoys his active single life. Ironically, the salaryman system that produced such segregated marital roles – wives inside the home, husbands at work for 20 hours a day – also created an ideal environment for solo living. Japan’s cities are full of conveniences made for one, from stand-up noodle bars to capsule hotels to the ubiquitous konbini (convenience stores), with their shelves of individually wrapped rice balls and disposable underwear. These things originally evolved for salarymen on the go, but there are now female-only cafés, hotel floors and even the odd apartment block. And Japan’s cities are extraordinarily crime-free.
So is Pyongyang, North Korea. Low crime sometimes testifies to robust public safety. Sometimes it betrays a dearth of cultural vitality, tamped by totalitarian government or, in Japan’s case, suffocated by short-sighted pleasure seeking.
In The Matrix, the machines farmed humans as an energy source, from infancy to old age. The machines duped people by making them believe they were living meaningful lives, when all they were really doing was dreaming. Meanwhile, their bodies were harvested.
Modern Japanese society—urban, cosmetic, saturated by commercial technologies—caters not to human desires, but to consumers. On toys that distract and edify, people spend their money that they spend themselves earning, until all is spent and they shrivel up and die.
In the final analysis, it’s people consumer culture feeds upon. Love is collateral damage.
Related reading: my Surrogates movie review.