Population Matters

Are the Japanese shunning intimacy?

Are the Japanese shunning intimacy?

A bizarre demographic chill has stolen over the Land of the Rising Sun. According to a fascinating and bewildering investigation in the Guardian by Abigail Haworth, Japanese young people are losing interest not just in marriage but in romantic relationships. Some have even given up on sex. The national press is calling it sekkusu shinai shokogun, or celibacy syndrome.

The evidence: Japan’s population is declining and is projected to dive a further third by 2060, with fewer babies born in 2012 than in any year on record (and a corollary: adult diapers outselling baby diapers). Haworth cites a survey that found that “61 percent of unmarried men and 49 percent of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship,” and a study showing that 30 percent of people under 30 have never dated. Women in their 20s have a 1 in 4 chance of never marrying, according to the Japanese Population Institute, and a 40 percent chance of remaining child-free. Another study indicates that 45 percent of women and more than 25 percent of men “were not interested in or despised sexual contact.”

The nonstatistical details are in a way even more suggestive. A panicked government official warns that Japan “might eventually perish into extinction.” Meanwhile, a 32-year-old career woman declares relationships “too troublesome” and a 31-year-old “herbivore” (slang for a straight man who isn’t looking for sex or a girlfriend) explains that “emotional entanglements are too complicated.”

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