If your dating life hasn’t been all that great lately, you’ve got plenty of company: according to a report released by the Japanese government, 40% of unmarried Japanese men report never having been on a date. A government survey of 20,000 Japanese citizens aged 20 through 60 shed some light on new changes in modern Japanese society. Let’s take a look at why!
According to the survey, 40% of single men in their 20s reported never having been on a date, and this number was 35% for men in their 30s and 22% in their 40s. 25% of single women in their 20s reported having never dated, along with 22% of women in their 30s, and 12% in their 40s.
Are The Numbers Correct?
The shocking headline implies that “40% of Japanese males have never been on a date,” but these numbers are somewhat loaded, as this is only 40% of “unmarried males” so they’re polling a subset of the wider population, not all males. I guess a more honest number of “23.8% of all males” (or whatever the number is) wouldn’t have had the same punch. Also, remember that this is a survey, and surveys carry a lot of inaccuracies depending on how they’re carried out.
Also, what is a “date”? While in the West we might assume all romantic relationships must begin with a formal dating process, there might be difficult cultural factors at play in Japan, a country that has always had a strong tradition of omiai. While Westerners often misunderstand this term to mean arranged marriages, it’s more like “formal meetings between two marriage-minded people recommended and overseen by a trusted third party.” My wife’s parents got married through omiai, and my wife actually met with two prospective marriage partners this way before I came along. (They were both scared off by the fact that she spoke English and had lived abroad.)
This formal system of finding a marriage partner has been updated for the modern era, in the form of konkatsu (“marriage activities”) services that match you with a potential partner based on your interests. Most municipalities also offer city-run events that help busy marriage-minded people find each other, and of course there are many “matching apps” available. In the survey, 5% of respondents said they had never been on a date, yet were married, implying they’d used some kind of spouse-finding service.
Still, the overall implication of the survey is hard to deny: that Japanese young people aren’t dating and seeking out romantic partners in the same way that their parents did, and 25% of both men and women say they don’t want to get married. The reasons cited by both genders were lack of freedom, and for females, not wanting to quit their jobs to raise children or endure the financial instability that a family would bring. Currently 65% of males and 50% of females in their 20s reported having no romantic partner, according to the survey.
As a longtime student of Japanese language, society and popular culture, it’s amusing to me that Japan is known as “the most perverted nation on Earth” but in reality, it’s not very perverted at all. Or at least, the country isn’t having enough IRL sex.
What’s Behind Japan’s Low Birth Rate?
As I wrote in my long post about understanding Japan’s birth rate challenges through anime memes, Japan’s demographic situation is complex. In a nutshell:
- Japan’s birth rate is not the lowest in the world, and at 1.37 babies per female as of 2019, it’s higher than many countries, including Spain, Italy, Portugal, Singapore and Taiwan.
- Industrialization and urbanization always lead to lower birth rates, as health and longevity expand, and people don’t need to have 12 children because six of them will die during infancy. This is of course a good thing.
- The stresses of studying for university entrance exams and then having poor work/life balance are not always conducive to men and women wanting to procreate the minute they hit age 25.
- Social trends like “herbivore males” (the trend of men becoming less aggressive when it comes to dating and sex) and “parasite singles” (many young adults grew up as only children, so they’re free to use their disposable income on Chanel bags and overseas travel, rather than building a nest) play a role.
- According to Robert Cialdini’s “social proof” concept, we look at others and decide what behavior is appropriate, which is why when all your friends started getting married, you might feel it’s time for you to do the same. But if fewer of them are getting married, or are swearing off women in favor of seasonal slice-of-life anime, or whatever, that might affect you, too.
- I am positive that technology is affecting how we interact with each other. Back in the early 90s, my friends and I would get bored and go see what cute girls we might chat up in front of the beer vending machine in front of Maebashi station, which might have lead to something romantic. But nowadays most of us are on Facebook, Twitter and Discord all the time.
Another big issue is shyness and poor social skills, something that affects many around the world. Even if you want to find a partner to go on dates with, and do sexy stuff with, many would rather go have dental work done without anesthesia. Back when I was an ESL teacher, I saw this awkwardness in my students, and it has probably only gotten worse with the spread of the Internet. But just like learning to drive or mastering the final boss battle of our favorite video game, this is just another skill we can attain with practice.
Japan’s High Number of Singles Affects Urban Planning
Once my wife was approached by a company that wanted her to invest in an apartment building that was recently completed in Tokyo, and she wanted my advice. Investing in real estate in Japan is bizarre because it’s all but guaranteed to fall in value in the future, because of the receding population and the reality that a given building is going to be older and dirtier in the future than it is today. So investors try to pick properties that will go down the least in value, and use those losses for tax planning rather than expecting to make money.
Anyway, when I went to see the “mansion” (as high-end apartments are called in Japan), I was surprised to see they were all single-room units with small kitchens and shower units, something that would be reasonably comfortable for a person living alone and working at a job nearby… but which two people could never occupy together. When I commented on this, the real estate agent said, “Yes, this kind of housing is that’s in demand in Japan right now. We don’t build anything else.” So Japanese urban planners expect everyone to be single in the future…?
Don’t Give Up On Love!
Whenever I bring up a topic like dating or romance on Twitter, I sometimes see snarky comments from anime fans about how they’ve given up on relationships because it’s too hard to find someone who will be understanding of their anime hobby, or they tried it once and it didn’t work out, so they’re taking themselves off the market permanently. But the thing is, half the commenters are male, and half are female. So maybe these people could, I dunno, somehow find each and try going out for coffee together?
I know dating is scary, and I know it sucks if you try to find someone and it doesn’t work out. One of my life mottoes is that “there is no problem that can’t be solved,” and in the 25+ years of sailing the Ship of J-List through many rough seas, I’ve often had to repeat this mantra to myself while I calmly look for a solution to some problem.
I believe what we really need is a dating service that specifically targets fans and nerds, and doesn’t let you even sign up if you can’t demonstrate some passion for anime, manga, AD&D, Star Trek, Doctor Who, or whatever genre you want to choose from. In the way that matching services for shy people (Zoosk.com) and gamers (GamerDating.com) exist, this is clearly something that should exist. And I think it should be called OtaCouple.com, since “otaku couples” are a thing that actually exists. Would you sign up for such a service?
Thanks for reading this blog post about how 40% of single Japanese men have reportedly never been on a date. What do you think Japan can do to improve the situation and encourage more people to take the plunge and try dating? Post your advice below, or tell us on Twitter!
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