People in the Land of the Rising Sun might be spanking the monkey, but they’re not playing hide-the-salami. Why? And what does this mean for the future of Japanese society?
The Japanese media has diagnosed a ‘celibacy syndrome’: young people in Japan are not engaging in sex, and it’s a harbinger of a national crisis.The population is aging as well as decreasing, and this trend has been going on since 2007.  Between the ages of 18 and 34, 61% of men and 49% of women were not dating or in any sort of romantic or sexual relationship,  and a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. 
These numbers astound me. What are these people doing? How do they envision their future if not with some sort of partner or in some sort of relationship? At the same time, I know I’m biased towards the picture of a traditional, heteronormative relationship. Perhaps the people in Japan have different priorities, and I respect that.
All the same, this does not seem like a hip new lifestyle trend, perhaps not even like a free choice. An understanding of honor and a code of personal conduct are integral to Japanese culture. They are so ingrained in it that I, as a woman from the Netherlands, have difficulty understanding these concepts. I will never fully grasp how deeply they influence and shape the daily life of the Japanese. I do know, however, that a strong sense of duty and a pressure to perform is part of them. So if the Japanese are all choosing their careers over their personal life, could that honestly be described as a choice? If we see it in the context of the immensely internalized understanding of honor and duty that the Japanese have been brought up with, is it really so surprising that they would choose the good of the nation’s economy and its reputation over their own personal happiness?
Yet this choice, whether or not it has been made freely, is inadvertently putting the Japanese nation at a disadvantage. As the rate of procreation decreases, so does the population, and with it, the workforce the Japanese are working so hard to sustain. The people that are working so hard right now to increase Japan’s affluence will grow older and with that their productivity will decrease. They’ll need care from the young and spry, but there will be no young people out there if the current generation doesn’t have children.
Some have attributed Japan’s celibacy syndrome to the incredible inequality of genders in the country. Why would Japanese women engage in sex if, culturally speaking, this decreases their ‘worth’ or eligibility? Why would they, if it means ending their career and giving up personal freedom? Because of sexism in the workplace and inflexibility with regards to pregnancy leave, around 70% of Japanese women resign permanently after having their first child,  thereby making themselves entirely financially dependent on their husbands. That’s a pretty high price to pay for future generations
While women are more focussed on their careers than ever before, Japanese men seem to be most interested in technology and gadgets. As pornography becomes more technologically advanced and readily available, there’s hardly any need to engage in real-world sexual encounters, and no desire to, either. An interview with a Japanese sexologist describes a man “in his early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers.”  The reality of sex, the responses of a partner and the pure physicality of it disgust him. He does not, according to his therapist, understand how real bodies work. Cases such as these are extreme and perhaps more the exception than the rule, but they are symptomatic of a society where men and women are increasingly separated so that very few common interests remain. Both men and women often describe the prospect of a romantic relationship as ‘burdensome’; they associate it with responsibility and a limitation of their personal freedoms as well as an obligation to have children, rather than as a way to make life more fun through shared experience.
Here’s what I find most pressing of all: how do they do it? Is it truly possible for thousands of people to collectively suppress their sexual desires? Can you really redirect your desire for human interaction to a robot on a screen? Is it possible for them to suppress the desire to be cuddled at night, to be understood, to not be alone? I hope not. Because if it is, if the Japanese have somehow moved beyond love, that gives us a deeply bleak picture of the future of humanity.