The current state of dating in Japan

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.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 4.41.15 pm.png

The devil wears Lynx Africa

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’.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 4.36.17 pm.pngMazayki Ozaki putting his silicone doll to bed

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.

6 comments

  1. Great blog!! It was a great account of your autoethnographic experience of dating in Japan, a topic i personally really know nothing about. The narrative you’ve developed is strong with a clear amount of research undertaken, going into detail into specific examples. It’s interesting to see how these examples of dating in Japan are widely accepted and undertaken within their borders, how socially ‘the game’ has changed. Through this research and then your own personal understanding and experience, it’s clear you’re engaged with your topic as well as able to keep a balance between personal and researched work, one of the keys to how autoethnography is successful. Looking forward to reading your further posts!

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  2. Great work! You are so good at applying autoethnographic methodology in this topic. While showing your own point of views towards the situation, you give evidence to support your idea. A few months ago was my first time know about the app Tinder. Before that, I have never heard about it. It was always a question for me: Why do they create that app? As from my own view, I consider meeting someone online is pretty unreal and even dangerous. After hearing from my Japanese friend who met her boyfriend through Tinder, I got really surprised. But now, thanks to your post, my question is answered. Thank you for such a great work. This is a completely new topic for me. Just like you, I have never thought that dating/ marriage can have that big effect on the country. I get really interested in your topic and looking forward to knowing more if you want to continue doing research about it.

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  3. The idea of dating as a political and economic product is fascinating to consider. Emasculation is an interesting concept. The past century or so has seen the women of different cultures follow one another into the workforce, due to factors such as war. Suddenly we exist in a world where power relationships are shifting really fast and nobody knows how to act. Here is an article you might find interesting (http://chadhowsefitness.com/2013/03/the-emasculation-of-men). It argues that masculinity is declining and that women desire assertiveness. I don’t think this is scientifically-backed whatsoever; moreso it’s just one man’s opinion – but it’s interesting to consider nonetheless on top of your statements on emasculation/women in the workforce/sex doll companions. Your introduction about your own ‘power’ experience with boys in high school provides a strong foundation for your curiosity and research on this topic.
    I’m really keen to see what else you produce! Beautiful meme also.
    -Claire

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  4. This is just an awesome topic to be researching and a topic I have been following ever since I first heard about it through my newsfeed almost two years ago.
    I liked the links you drew to your own experience of growing up and going to a private school in Sydney as its shows you are diving very deep into the subject in relationship to yourself.
    Vice have been following this story for a while now too and it might be a good place to go to get some solid information on it.
    https://video.vice.com/en_us/video/the-japanese-love-industry/563a6b1b168d315d6407932a
    Thats one of their videos.
    Thanks for the read and good luck!

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  5. This is so fascinating, such a great and different topic to explore. As uncomfortable as the topic may make some people (me, one of them) I feel like it’s a valid topic to explore. The way you relate it back to yourself in a way that doesn’t undermine your research but complements it. I relate to your experience of boys when you were young and how you felt, and honestly it makes me feel like the way these men react is not actually that far out of reality. Still uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good topic.
    Hope that makes sense.

    Like

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