After listening to the podcast My date with a doll man in Japan, I went straight into a Googling frenzy. For the next few hours I went down a dating in Japan rabbit hole and it seemed that a lot of Western media were right there with me.
Within the last year and a half there has been a considerable amount of research, or more specifically, interest in the current state of dating in Japan and it’s causes and effects. Across the articles and videos, there appeared to be resounding sentiments of intrigue, extreme uncomfortability and more often than not, judgement. These feelings varied in degrees however upon reflection, I realised that to an extent, they mirrored my own. My googling hysteria was fuelled by intrigue and my uncomfortability drove me to desperately needing to understand more. Also too, to diminish the feelings of judgement that I was trying so hard to ignore.
Throughout the research was a popular buzzword sōshoku-kei danshi otherwise known as, herbivore men, coined by author and pop culture columnist Maki Fukasawa. Herbivore men were discussed in my podcast however the broader media appeared to be going to great lengths to deconstruct and understand the phenomenon. Fukasawa discussed how men from Japan’s baby boomer era were proactive with their sexual desires and romantic interests however with the faltering economy of today, masculinity is faltering too.
The rise of grass eating men
This served to be my first Aha! moment. To link gender roles to the economy was previously beyond my scope of experience and to then link the state of the economy to dating habits blew my mind. However, after pondering this for two weeks, I cannot believe I did not see this. As a privileged, white and straight woman with open minded parents, I have not felt pressurised by economic pressures or social expectations as a result of my gender. Additionally, it appeared that Japan was suddenly undergoing a revolution of identity politics .
Professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University, Anne Allison believes that the questions of gender and masculinity are consistent with trends around the world however it has become so problematic in Japan as they are a culture that place such enormous amount of emphasis on men being the breadwinners. With Japan’s freeters (irregular workers) increasing by 7.6 million between 1995 to 2008, this has become hugely problematic for marriage and reproduction as a man without a regular job is considered undesirable.
While processing my first epiphany I decided to look at the comments to see how others had interacted with my experience. All of the comments contributed to the discussion in a great way however Max provided me with some additional material in the form of a Vice video about The Japanese Love industry which brought me my next two epiphanies.
Ryan Duffy exploring Yakuza-sponsored prostitution rings in Tokyo.
In this video, Ryan Duffy is sent to explore “dying” country of Japan with more people over the age of 65 and the smallest number of people under the age of 15. Throughout the video, Duffy meets the places of “endless menu of relationship replacement services” with pure disdain.
Hosts in the Shangrila host club that cater exclusively for women
Upon visiting a host club, Duffy interviews a woman who has no interest in dating our marriage because ” when Japanese marry and have kids, as soon as their kids grow up, their love fades”. This was met with cynicism by Duffy however, what I realised in that moment was that the Japanese appear to have an incredible sense of self. These growing trends and opinions of both men and women show us that the Japanese put themselves as individuals first which is something I was not taught to do. To be honest, I very much respect and admire this sense of self confidence and self adoration. Importantly, as a girl who has jumped from relationship to relationship I applaud the strength of character that these women show.
Inside a Japanese cuddle cafe
Next on Duffy’s hit list is was a Cuddle Cafe where he pays $80USD for a cuddle and to have his ears cleaned. Duffy explained:
Nothing is weirder than this. Profoundly, profoundly disturbing.
Personally I found his reaction disturbing. Yet if I was being honest, when I first embarked on my journey with the podcast ‘My date with a doll man in Japan’ and sex dolls were discussed in detail, I was disturbed. However when Duffy, in his own auto ethnographic experienced spent the entire time dismissing the service it led me down a path of furious thought.
His judgement made me realise that while we judge the commodification of such intimate things, their reasons for doing so are complex and in many instances, much more developed than we westerners think. By acknowledging the need for human interaction while also acknowledging their resistance of relationships, they have found a way to have both and to me, that is highly evolved.
Finally, I realised that by calling interviewee’s “subjects” in my primary blog, I established a sense of other-ness that took me hours of research and multiple epiphanies to break down. Dating in Japan is a very real, human and emotional topic that is raw, honest and socioeconomically charged.
What started with a molotov cocktail of intrigue, misunderstanding and a hint of judgement has ended with admiration and respect for the heightened sense of self awareness and self respect that is exemplified by the trends in the Japanese dating scene.