Christiane Amanpour’s “Sex and Love Around the World” kicked off with an enlightening pilot in Japan. Specifically, in our very own Tokyo. However, with her focus being strictly on love and sex, Amanpour managed to skip around what seems to be a much more serious concern. Fewer and fewer Japanese are getting married. Even less are having children. This is a much more complex riddle; to put it simply would be an injustice, but there are key traits of this society that do exasperate the issue. Time, diversion, finance and even social hierarchy are all significant factors.
First of all, we must address the fact that the average 20 or 30-year-old Japanese individual is kept very busy with work. A frequent answer, when they are asked why they are single, is that they have no time to find a partner. There is a widespread sense of obligation and loyalty to one’s place of work but the side effects, unfortunately, include lack of socialisation.
Beyond the obligation to employers, there are also reports of aversion towards the challenges that new relationships can bring. Love is a risky business — time, effort and money are often involved in trying to form a bond. There are individuals who would argue it is simply not worth the effort, when relationships carry the potential to fail.
They do, of course, want to feel love. This is where fetishised “Japanese culture” comes in, with manga (Japanese comics) or anime (Japanese cartoons) characters being used as “virtual lovers.” Phone apps and games also add to this phenomenon. On the other end of the spectrum, male hosts and cabaret clubs are also frequented. Irresistible despite being taboo, money is thrown into these industries. AI and “rental” girlfriends are no longer a distant prospect; they are simply an alternative.
The average age of marriage for both men and women is increasing, but even after a couple is married, there are still some unresolved issues. Low salaries mean both partners must work full time. Many believe they have neither the time nor money that they truly need to start a family. Because of lack of funds, both partners must start working as soon as they can after giving birth. This has caused nurseries to become incredibly selective in whom they accept. In some cases, parents are expected to garner points in a point-based system that means if you don’t have enough points, you’re not able to go back to work just yet.
Bowing to Seniority
In such a hierarchical society, it’s quite easy to imagine that seniority would play a role in family-making decisions too. There are cases in which younger Japanese females choose to delay their pregnancy because senior women in their offices have yet to take their turn. While this may not be as common as other causes for this phenomenon, it does occur — some women really do miss their best window for pregnancy because of social expectations.