The Japanese have developed a bit of a reputation for being the most perverted people in the world. This is a good example of what I call “the lens of the Internet,” because of the way information on the net can cause us to perceive the truth inaccurately. In reality, the Japanese often have extremely limited dating and sexual experience, and Japan might be on its way to becoming a Wizard Nation, e.g. a country populated by late-blooming virgins.
What’s the highest rated anime? Some might assume it’s My Younger Sister’s Boobs Can’t Be This Soft or whatever ecchi show is on the air this season and is being discussed on the Internet. In reality, it’s Sazae-san, a popular old-timey anime about a Japanese family that’s been running nonstop since 1969. It’s not as sensational as some other shows, so it won’t seize our attention in the same way. What’s the most popular flavor of ice cream in Japan? You might say green tea, squid ink, or wasabi — all of which are widely discussed on the Internet — but in reality, the most popular flavor is boring old vanilla. And despite the fact that hentai and JAV have come to define Japan in online culture, Japanese people often have very little experience with sex and dating, and as a group sometimes lack the basic social skills needed to date.
In a new survey, the percentage of new university students who said they have dating experience has fallen to 70%, with 30% of students reporting they have zero experience with the opposite sex. 30% said they weren’t interested in starting a relationship with anyone at present. According to the Japanese government, 42% of men and 44% of Japanese millennials aged 18-32 are still virgins.
How should we feel about this? It’s easy to make judgments about Japan based on tidbits of knowledge or memes, but the question is more complex. Here are some reasons why the Japanese have less dating and sexual experience than we might expect.
Juken and Testing Stress
Japan has always structured its education system around the idea of meritocracy through testing culture, which is a Confucian idea that allows the smartest and best candidates to get official government jobs, not just whoever happened to be the son of the current minister. Back in my teaching days, I had many students who were 100% dedicated to passing their upcoming high school or university entrance exams. When my son did his exam hell, he did nothing but study for a year, and certainly wasn’t thinking about girls.
Of course, not every high school student takes these difficult tests. Many go to less academically challenging schools, or technical schools, sometimes called suberi-dome or “stop-the-slide” schools, since they catch students as they fall down the academic ladder. Some (3%) don’t even go to high school, which is called 中卒 chuu-sotsu, and is about the last thing you want to be in Japan.
One social trend is males becoming 草食男子 soushoku danshi or “herbivore males,” happy to eat salad rather than boldly going out to get steak — in other words, content to remain friends with females rather than initiating sexual relationships. I’ve talked with girls in their 20s about this and it’s supposedly a real problem. Girls expect guys to take the lead romantically, but often modern Japanese males don’t seem interested. Sometimes they go home to sleep with a girl and… just go to sleep!
One of the saddest things I can think of is people wanting to date and find romance, but having no confidence in their social skills to make it happen. I saw this in my students (aged 18-20) at a technical school 25 years ago, so it’s not a new thing.
We have a family friend who is a rekijo, a Japanese history otaku, and could tell you twenty bits of information about Oda Nobunaga, but she was always awkward around men despite wanting to find someone to settle down with. Happily, she did finally meet someone and got married last month.
I love the Internet, but it’s brought out all kinds of bad things in our general character. Because we can suddenly find ourselves surrounded by cynical types who scoff at the idea that two people can ever find love and be happy, it’s all too easy to get influenced by this, and buy into it. It happens in threads on Japan’s 2-ch BBS, on 4chan, and it happens among anime fans on Twitter and Facebook. If you ever find yourself feeling pessimistic about something because of who you’re interacting with through the Internet, change your online habits ASAP.
Is Japan Just Unique?
In general, Japan is a very different place from Western nations, and sometimes perplexes us. Girl- and boy-only schools are still a thing, which would be unthinkable in the U.S. public school world. My wife’s parents met each other through お見合い omiai, a kind of structured meeting organized by a third party for the purpose of marriage, which we often mistakenly call “arranged marriages” though the word isn’t accurate. Before she met me, my wife did this omiai meeting with a couple of men, but happily for me, she didn’t choose them. So the bottom line is that dating in Japan does have some features that might affect romance and relationships.
What do you think of dating in Japan? Do you see any ways they could improve the situation?