Please welcome Thomas Kreutzer to Riverside Green!—Bark
It’s the beginning of a new week, which means it must be time for a new article on the sexual habits of the Japanese.
Today’s trending topic, courtesy of the BBC and The Independent, is a recent study that finds 43% of Japanese people aged 18 to 34 have never had a sexual experience. The article goes on say that 64% of people in that age range report that they are not in a relationship and that roughly one in four 50 year old Japanese men, and one in seven 50 year old Japanese women, claim to have never been married. If this trend continues, warns Japan’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the country’s current population of 127 million will, by 2065, decline by nearly 40 million.
To discover the underlying reasons, BBC reporters dug deep and interviewed two people. The male perspective was provided by unmarried 26 year old comedian Ano Matsui who told reporters that men like him are afraid of rejection, find women scary, and prefer to spend time working on their hobbies. “Once,” he said, “I asked a girl out but she said no. That traumatized me.”
The female viewpoint was represented by 45 year old Megumi Igarashi, an artist most famous for creating a full-size kayak made from a 3D image of her own vagina, who remained unmarried for 44 years before finally tying the knot with a foreigner, Mike Scott of the band the Waterboys, just a year ago. “Building a relationship is not easy.” She said. “A boy has to start from asking a girl on a date. I think a lot of men just cannot be bothered. They can watch porn on the internet and get sexual satisfaction that way.”
The article concludes by stating that the current numbers of people remaining unmarried into their 50s are at their highest levels since records started being kept in the 1920s and with news of yet another survey that indicates that the situation will only continue to worsen as many young people have no intention of getting married in the years to come. Grim stuff.
Having been a serious student of all things Japanese for more than 30 years, these sorts of articles fascinate me. Not just because I get to spend a few minutes of my day sniggering at the sexual peccadillos of the Japanese, but because I think we are seeing something much deeper. The fabric of Japanese society, it seems to me, is unraveling one knot at a time like an old knit sweater. Each day seems to bring new story- the rampant “gig economy” that keeps young people employed just enough to pay for food and a place to sleep, “hikimori” withdrawing from society and living out their lives in their childhood bedrooms and now a trend away from forming adult relationships – each story another tug on the loose end of the string.
I am not a social scientist, I think it is possible that an answer to what is happening might be found in something proposed in 1943 by Abraham Maslow in his paper, “A Theory for Human Motivation.” Maslow’s work posits a “hierarchy of needs” through which human motivations generally move. From the most basic needs to the highest, these needs are physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, self-actualization and self-transcendence. The theory, as I understand it, generally goes that unless the most basic needs are met, an individual is trapped in a place where they are constantly trying to fulfill those needs and cannot effectively move to the next level. So, for example, if a person doesn’t have enough food or water, they are essentially unable to focus on safety, love, esteem, etc. It’s a famous and influential work and chances are most people have encountered it at one point or another.
Using Maslow’s Hierarchy as a guide, it seems likely to me that the seeds of today’s crises were sown in 1992 when the Japanese economic bubble burst. What followed is referred to as “the lost decade” and although the situation has improved some over the last few years, in some ways the country has never fully recovered. The working class and young people in general still struggle and, although their parent and societal safety nets ensure their physiological needs are met, they remain unable to financially prosper and thus economically unsafe. Trapped in a place of constant economic uncertainty, it follows quite naturally that their personal relationships are suffering.
It’s frightening stuff and I have been quietly watching it now for years. More frightening, however, is that I have noticed that more and more Americans are discovering that they too are economically unsafe. We can debate the reasons why – the loss of well-paying working class jobs, the failure of trickle-down economics to actually flow all the way down through society, the investor class hoarding all the cash, or the irresponsible use of credit to buy too much house or to pursue an education with no actual useful purpose, etc. – but the truth is that vast numbers of the working class and young people are failing to prosper. They are worried, and if Japan is an example, maybe we should all be as well.