A continued autoethnography on dating in Japan – a work in progress

Upon reflection of my first experience with autoethnography, I can see it has been quite the journey.

In my first blog I started to grapple with the concept of a country where “romance was on the rocks” due to economics and the emasculation of men due to changing gender roles. Herein lay my first epiphany. As a middle class woman, unburdened by the gender roles that I have come to understand are deeply embedded in Japanese culture, I have never understood dating to be anything more than matters of the heart.

My second blog was a product of frenzied googling fuelled by an unhealthy amount of intrigue and uncomfortability. With a strong focus on sōshoku danshi (herbivore men) as portrayed by Western mainstream media, I attempted to examine concepts of masculinity and gender. The terminology that frequented these articles and on occasion, my own writing,  was detrimental to my initial research.

From the onset, the ‘investigative journalists’ continue to use words such as “subject” and “disturbing” when reporting on aspects of Japanese dating culture. Terminology like this is highly problematic as it immediately establishes a sense of otherness between the journalist and the members of the Japanese community. If anything, these words serve to sensationalise the story which I have now realised is the opposite of autoethnography.

In order to refocus I decided to spend some more time with Ellis et al.

To study a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders and outsider better understand the culture

This quote reminded me of an article I had read where pop culture writer and coiner of the term sōshoku danshi, Maki Fukasawa described how the western media has manipulated this term for the sake of wonderment. Fukasawa describes a western fascination with a “weird Japan” and how a sexless and dateless Japan has become another signifying trope.

Screen Shot 2017-10-26 at 10.32.45 am

An image from ’22 weird and wonderful things about Japan’, The Telegraph.

It is here that I realised the problem with my initial blogs and also where I realised that the current state of dating in Japan was a much more systemic issue than I had initially realised.

Whilst herbivore men are now often synomymous with asexuality, this is not, as it turns out, what Fukasawa meant or intended. Fukasawa maintains that herbivore men are very much interested in sex, but they are significantly less aggressive about it. This is indicative of the extreme changes in gender roles that has been occurring over the last 20 years and something that I will go into at length in the next blog.

However the lack of understanding of this term and it’s meaning lies at the cause of my misunderstanding of my area of study. Perhaps also of autoethnography as a methodology.

At the beginning of my exploration into the topic, I had acknowledged my own personal experiences and history with dating, however I was thinking of dating as occurring in a vaccuum. I forgot to acknowledge the differences in culture, history, media and politics.

In the following blogs I will try to keep this in mind as I look at the role that women play in contributing to a supposedly “dateless Japan”.


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