- Economists agree Japan is a “demographic time bomb.” The population is getting older, but fewer children are being born.
- Living in Japan for a year, the author saw why: The culture seems to emphasize hard work, and de-emphasize sex and relationships.
- Now, back home in Germany years later, she’s starting to see patterns among Europeans that she saw in Japan, like people working to the detriment of their relationships and being absorbed in their phones.
“Kabukicho,” he said. “The hotel my company booked is in Kabukicho.”
That seemed a little strange to me. You might call Kabukicho the red-light district in Tokyo. Hostess bars, nightclubs, street prostitutes — not an environment where I would have expected a classic hotel chain.
When we turned the corner and I saw our hotel, it was clear to me. It had no windows, and the prices were calculated in hours. My friend’s company had accidentally booked a Love Hotel for us. Now, a Love Hotel isn’t as disreputable as you might think it is — okay, except for the whirlpool with pink lighting and the plush slippers. It is an important part of everyday Japanese culture. Young lovers who still live with their parents, married couples whose homes lack privacy, or even people having affairs meet in these hourly hotels to let go of their inhibitions.
From 2010 to 2011 I studied at a university in Japan and got to know the strange relationship Japanese culture has to love and sexuality. I’d almost call it schizophrenic. On the one hand, Japanese people would never, not even among friends, use words like “penis” or “vagina” (when an exchange student once did it, the Japanese were embarrassed). On the other hand, more than once I found myself sitting on the subway next to a businessman who, quite unashamedly, leafed through hard-core manga porn.
Japan’s sex problem
But what frightens me the most is that many of the things I found strange back then, seven years ago, I see today in Europe.
Japan has a sex problem. Economists speak of a “demographic time bomb.” The population is getting older and older, but fewer and fewer children are being born.
This is also a problem in other industrialized countries, but nowhere more devastating than in Japan. The nation suffers from the fact that declining consumption weakens the economy. This causes families to have fewer children, which in turn weakens the economy even further. On average, women in Japan have 1.41 children.
Japan has become a sexless and celibate society. In a survey conducted by the Meiji Yasuda Institute of Life and Wellness, 39% of Japanese women and 62% of Japanese between 25 and 35 years of age stated that they have never had a really serious relationship.
Lots of work, little pleasure
Why do so many young people remain alone? Two worlds are currently colliding in Japan: those of the time of the economic miracle and those of modern culture.
During the early 1950s, Japan prioritized economic growth. The government required large companies to offer open-ended jobs and, in return, those companies demanded lifelong loyalty from employees. The model emerged at that time and led to the economic miracle in the 1960s.
At the same time, however, this had the unpleasant side effect that people were working more and more. It is not for nothing that a special word has been created in Japan for those who die as a result of revision: karoshi. I remember the rush hour I had to go through seven years ago, where employees stood in their white shirts and black suit pants and skirts with their iPhones, or these white folding white phones, squeezed in the subway.
As a student, I walked past office complexes where all the lights were on at 9 p. m., people sitting in these countless rows of tables staring at their screens. At that time I was already wondering what kind of life it must be that consists only of getting up, working, and sleeping. I’m not surprised these people have no strength for dates.
Women choose career instead of marriage
But there is another problem: For a long time, it was customary for women to marry quickly after university, and take care of the household and children while their husbands earned money. This unspoken rule is still cemented in the minds of many people. A good friend of mine was asked several times in a derogatory way if she was a lesbian because she is not yet engaged or married at the age of 24. You would think that such a technically advanced country is also socially progressive, but it is not.
However, young people have nevertheless changed. Women feel pressured to give up their careers as soon as they are married, but they don’t want to. The logical consequence? You just stay single.
This development leads to strange trends such as weddings where there is only one bride and no groom — because women marry themselves. They don’t want to miss the big day with wedding dress and cake, but don’t want to tie themselves to a man.
About a year ago, a headline made the round, saying more and more Japanese people marry their good friends and acquaintances. To be honest: I also have some Japanese girlfriends who simply married their buddies, college mates, and acquaintances. “It’s not passionate love, but there is security,” said one of them. They live together in an apartment and each of them pursues their own work. Social pressure has lessened.
A strange relationship with sexuality
In addition, there is the strange Japanese relationship to sexuality. You would think that people are looking for one-night stands if they don’t want to have a relationship, but many people are too uptight for that. When in doubt, they prefer to concentrate on fictional sex objects in manga porn or video games instead of chatting at a bar.
The Love Hotel is not the result of a sexual revolution — it’s the symptom of a major social problem. Those who don’t even want to be heard peeing in the toilet (yes, that’s why there are automatic rinsing noises at the push of a button) certainly don’t want the others to know that they have a sex life.
Since rent prices in Tokyo are among the highest in the world and even four-person families often only live in a 50-square-meter apartment, you have to make a financial and logistical effort to go to a Love Hotel and have sex. According to a survey conducted in 2016, about 4.5 million people aged between 35 and 54 still live with their parents. So the question is obvious: Where should people come together except in hourly hotels?
These people, who are still unmarried at the age of 30 and live with their parents, are called “parasitic singles,” so you can imagine how much these people are worth in Japanese society.
Is the problem also affecting Germany?
So far, there is no empirical evidence that Sekkusu shinai shokogun, as the phenomenon of the sexless society is called, actually exists. However, if we are honest, certain features are now also visible in Germany.
We work as much as we did 25 years ago, according to data from the Federal Statistical Office. Obviously, one third of German companies are working above the limit,” said IW CEO Michael Hüther recently to the “Welt.” The fact that Germans are spending more time at work is associated with the economic upswing.
I see these zombies, who are stuck together with their smartphones in the subway and don’t see their surroundings anymore, more and more often in Germany. Then let’s consider another study from the “Archives of Sexual Behaviour” from 2016, according to which young people in the USA, a western country, have less sex nowadays than the generation X and baby boomers. This phenomenon is no longer as Japanese as one might think.
Technical progress is also part of our culture. High-tech snoops, virtual figures, humanized robots — what we might have always found odd about Japanese or Chinese culture up to now will soon be able to assert itself in our country as well. If no one needs a partner anymore (not to mention having the time for one), then Germany can also become a “demographic time bomb.”
I spent a year experiencing what an outdated, overworked, and inhibited society looks like. Don’t get me wrong: The year in Japan was one of my best. But I don’t wish it for my everyday life.
Read the original article on Business Insider Deutschland. This post originally appeared on Business Insider Deutschland and has been translated from German. Copyright 2017. Follow Business Insider Deutschland on Twitter.
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