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Wrong about Japan and Sex

Illustration for article titled Wrong about Japan and Sex
Kotaku EastEast is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

Right now, Japanese people are having sex. Not all the Japanese people at once, mind you. But it's going on as you read this. Forget what you've recently heard about the country's bedroom habits, because it's just not true.


Over the weekend, The Observer, one of the U.K.'s most respected newspapers, ran a piece titled, "Why Aren't Young People in Japan Having Sex?" It has been aggregated around the internet in pieces that range from alarmist "Japan's Sexual Apathy Is Endangering the Global Economy" (yikes!) to "Japan's Hottest New Sex Trend is Not Having Sex" (so trendy!) and "Young People in Japan Have Given Up on Sex" (all of the young people—they're done!).

In The Observer piece, data is wheeled out to prove that either young Japanese are not doing it or they're not having babies—it's hard to tell sometimes, because there are young people interviewed by the paper do talk about having sex. I didn't see any babies, though.


Some of the data is surprising! Some of it is totally misinterpreted or misconstrued. The Observer claims that "another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all." So...two-thirds have, then? Last I checked, "dating" and "having one-night stands" or simply "having sex" were different. And according to that same study, one in ten couples got married after getting pregnant. But I thought young Japanese people weren't having sex?

Illustration for article titled Wrong about Japan and Sex

One of the most damning bits of data in The Observer piece purports to say that 90 percent of women say "staying single" is better than what they think being married is like. As Twitter user Inoue Eido points out, the survey actually says that nearly 90 percent of woman who haven't married do plan on getting hitched. It's worth noting that the number is higher than it was in the 2002 and the 1997 survey. The original survey also notes that around 87 percent of women think there's merits to being single—it does not say "staying single."

Data is tricky. It might be factual, but it's not truth. Here, the data rolled out doesn't specifically prove people in Japan aren't having sex. It's correlation. Guilt by association. Innuendo. What's more, the numbers simply support the poll at hand, and are not necessarily representative of the larger population. Last year's U.S. presidential election offers proof positive of that.


Also concerning is the inaccurate assertions about the Japanese language. As noted by Inoue Eido, The Observer claims there is an old Japanese saying that goes, "Marriage is a woman's grave." There is a Japanese saying that goes, "Marriage is the graveyard of life" ("結婚は人生の墓場である"), but it's non-gender specific and a reworking of a quote by French poet Baudelaire. There is actually an old Japanese saying that goes, "Marriage is a woman's happiness" ("結婚は女の幸せ"), but that doesn't get a mention.

And then, there's the claim that working women are called "oniyome" (鬼嫁) or "demon wife." Japanese language dictionaries (here and here) define the word as pertaining to mean wives—not working wives. The word "oniyome" was popularized in Japan in 2005 with a TV show called Oniyome Nikki (鬼嫁日記) or "Demon Wife Diary" that featured a husband who was henpecked by his mean stay-at-home wife.

Illustration for article titled Wrong about Japan and Sex

Finally, there's the claim there's something the Japanese media calls "sekkusu shinai shoukougun" (セックスしない症候群) or "celibacy syndrome." On Google, the only mentions I can find of the Japanese media using the term is last December in a tawdry Japanese tabloid about the numer of female virgins at Japanese universities. The same tabloid interviewed the 52-year-old sex worker, which The Observer profiled in the Japanese sexless piece it published this weekend. There might be other instances of the term being used, but that's what Google is barfing up.


Okay, the decreasing population is a problem in Japan—a big problem. Yes, that's true! But it's the result of many things: A baby boom, changing family structure, poor child care infrastructure, and restrictive immigration policies that ultimately limit population growth. This is incredibly complex and nuanced stuff—and perhaps, not as interesting as reading about people screwing. Simply writing it off as, "Oh, well, Japanese people don't have sex" seems to dehumanize an entire country. People have sex. It's what we do.


What makes the timing of this story somewhat odd is that it comes as Japan's fertility rate hits a 16-year high, rising slightly last year. (Yes, the birthrate rose for women in their 30s and dropped for those under 30, indicating that many Japanese women, like women in many other countries, are waiting longer to have children. In Japan, the average marrying age is now around 29~31.)

And Japan isn't the only country battling low birthrates. Heck, European countries like Italy, Spain, and Germany do, too. Maybe we can look forward to outlandish claims about their sex lives, too?


Photos: Koshigayacon, KTV

Note: An earlier version of this article said the story in question was published in The Guardian. It was published in The Observer and on the website that paper shares with The Guardian.


To contact the author of this post, write to or find him on Twitter @Brian_Ashcraft.

Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

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one in ten couples got married after getting pregnant.

This is the same sentence as "one in ten couples after getting pregnant got married". All 10 couples got pregnant, but only one got married. This does not say that the Japanese are or are not having sex. It is saying that of the ones that had children, very few of them got married. Seeing as how the source material is in Japanese, you could just be paraphrasing this wrong. However, if you are getting your information using some translation software rather than knowledge of the Japanese language, (or a human translator who knows the language) then I don't believe I could truly believe that that is what it is truly saying. Because as we know, Japanese machine translation (especially the free kind online) can be absolutely miserable. (