In search of a topic for my autoethnographic study, I was toying with ideas around the significance of dolls in Japanese culture. Naturally, this lead me to become absolutely perplexed by the rising popularity of sex dolls as an alternative to human companionship. As I read blogs and and listened to interviews, I found myself face by an even more interesting issue, that being the reasons why such a trend has developed in Japan and the subsequent current state of dating in Japan.
As a 23 year old girl, dating has been a significant part of my adolescence. If I’m being completely honest, throughout my schooling years I would have been labelled as “boy crazy”. The dating landscape for a Sydney private school girl of the age of 16 were altogether too complex for anyone to remain unscathed and it was through the politics of these experiences that we, or I, learned how better to navigate dating in the adult world.
More often than not, it would be my school friends in tears over a broken heart than the boys of our train group. While steeped in generalisations, it was oft thought that the boys had the power in this treacherous game of dating. As we looked out the window to see if the Newington boys got on at Redfern, they would waltz on the train with their sports bags and suffocating stench of Lynx Africa. A bizarre, yet important signifier of said power.
Fastforward seven years and we find ourselves in a world of Tinder, Bumble and Grindr; a country obsessed romance and dating. Unlike of course, that of Japan who, as a country, have been described as a place where “romance is on the rocks“.
In a podcast called My date with a doll man in Japan, Steve Chao from Al Jazeera’s 101 East examines the state of dating in the country of Japan. Over a third of young Japanese have never been in a relationship and nor do they intend to be. The majority of this number are men, with the buzz term ‘”herbivore man” coining these men who as young, shy and who show no interest in romance or of course, human flesh as the term would suggest.
Throughout the podcast, the interview subjects speak of strong feelings of a lack of confidence, understanding and acceptance from women in the dating game. They speak very strongly of past relationships and their very real fear of rejection. To an extent, my 16 year old self could very much understand these feelings.
For Japanese men, these feelings have a profound effect and in course lead them to prefer superficial relationships. An example is provided where two men visit a cafe where waitresses dress like maids and this pleases them as their job as waitresses is to be less judgemental and accepting, subsequently making the men feel more at ease.
Another subject, Hiroyuki Nomura was a 51 year old man with a 25kg silicone sex doll dressed as an anime character, as his companion. While he would not categorise the relationship as one of boyfriend and girlfriend, the traits of the relationship appeared to be conventionally similar. Nomura too speaks of this concern for power as he says the relationship “is not a power relationship. I think that people choose dolls because reality is harsh”. The reality of real life dating, the fear of rejection and I assume, the power of women in the dating landscape, is what I assumed he meant by ‘harsh reality’.
After hearing Nomura’s interview, it was obvious that Japanese culture and their love for anime characters was quite unlike my own culture. However, the issue of dating in Japan was much more complicated than that.
During the podcast I learned that many of these dolls had strong girlish features, as that was the demand. Many Japanese men are said to be disappointed by women and that dolls have a healing quality and are able to make their owners smile. These ‘herbivore men’ believe that married people are unhappy. The perceived reason for this is that now women work side by side with men, they have become rivals. Furthermore, the Japanese economy is in decline, resulting in overwhelming feels of emasculation for the men of Japan. Subsequently feeding the power balance that they already perceive to exist. As a result , their population is in dramatic decline and the Government is contributing substantial funding to matchmaking schemes around the country.
As a 23 year old woman in a relationship, I found this all very difficult to understand. I had never once considered dating to be so political, nor so tied to the economy and the workforce. As a female, I will never be able to understand how this leads to such incredible feelings of emasculation and unworthiness and how this is resulting in men turning away from romantic, even human, relationships. However, I look forward to engaging in more research to obtain a better understanding of the reasons why these men feel the way that they do.