The Truth About Sex in Japan

The Truth About Sex in Japan

Ah, sex in Japan, always a hot topic in online forums.

If you’re a man, and you post:  I’m having lots of sex in Japan!

then someone will surely reply:  The women you’re seeing are all hoes.

Or, if you’re a woman and you post the same thing, then:  You yourself are a ho.

Okay, so the internet’s never been famous for politeness.

On the other hand, if you post: Japan sucks and I’m not having any sex.

then someone will reply:  You’re such a loser, since there are so many hoes.

Or, if you’re a woman, then:  You’re still a ho.

Well, you can’t argue with logic.

This rather banal discussion recently took a turn for the interesting, however, after the Japan Family Planning Association reported that 45% of young Japanese women, and over 25% of men, “were not interested in or despised sexual contact.”  The Guardian followed this with a piece entitled Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?

So why have they?

Why Japanese People Aren’t Having Sex

After living in Japan for a few years, this actually makes sense to me.  Okay, I’m not like a sociologist or anything.  I’m just some dude in Japan who tries to find a clean pair of socks so he can put one on and run to the station to cram onto the train with ten thousand of the unhappiest Japanese people you’ve ever seen.  I don’t pretend to have discovered the Unified Field Theory of Japanese sexuality, but I’ll give you four factors that I think are contributing.

Thing One:  Work in Japan

People in Japan, and Tokyo in particular, work a ridiculous amount, in a way that’s hard to comprehend if you live in, say, sunny California.  Take a former student of mine, Naoko, who worked as a programmer.  She worked—wrap your head around this—twenty hours a day.

“Every day at 4 a.m.,” she said, “they’d turn off the lights and we’d sleep at our desks for four hours.

“Did you have locker rooms?” I asked.  “What about clothes?

“I just wore the same clothes, but on Sunday I’d go home for half a day, to shower.  The men only went home once a month.

“That must have smelled pretty nice.  How long’d you do that for?

“Five years and three months,” she said.

Okay, so maybe that’s an extreme example.  A more typical case is probably my former student Masahiro, who’s an executive at a famous beverage manufacturer.  He works from 9 a.m. until to midnight, six days a week, with a 15-minute lunch break at his desk.  He has Sunday off, which is when he studies English.

“I have it easy,” he said, “since I work at an international company.  Japanese places are a lot worse.”

“Do you ever see your wife?” I asked.

“I see her on Sunday,” he said.

“But Sunday’s when you come here to study English,” I pointed out.

“Ah, good point,” he said.

For most people, it comes down to two choices:  work like mad as a single person and have a tiny apartment full of dirty clothes and half-eaten Cup Ramen containers, or get married.  That way, the man goes off to work, and when he comes home after midnight, his dinner is sitting on the table covered in Saran Wrap, and there’s hot water in the tub.  His wife and daughter are already asleep.  Shopping, ironing, cleaning, paying the bills, everything’s taken care of for him.  All he has to do is bring home a paycheck.  The woman gets to do all the fun, fulfilling things like taking care of baby, grocery shopping, cleaning, and cooking meals.  Sometimes I’ll ask my adult students how often they see their spouses, or ask the kids when they see their fathers.  The answer is roughly on par with how often I’ve seen the Easter Bunny.  I am, however, a big fan of marshmallow Peeps, so maybe it’s not as infrequent as you think.

The young Japanese people of today grew up watching their parents live this life, and it’s understandable if they’re not thrilled about this option.  Marriage isn’t a great choice; it’s just the second-worst option.  For a man, it means he’s working to pay for his wife.  For a woman, it means a life of indentured servitude.  A lot of people are apparently “just saying no” to the whole thing.

Thing Two:  Prostitution in Japan

Again, this is a hard thing to reconcile if you don’t live in Japan, but being in a relationship and having sex have precious little to do with one another.  For a Japanese male, it’s possible to get sex almost anywhere, at any time, for little more than the price of a decent lunch.  Anyone who’s been in Japan for even a short while has seen the rows of shops offering all the usual services.  (As an aside, I’ll add that “foreigners” aren’t allowed in.  You can be that crazy dude who lives under a bridge and rides a bicycle with garbage bags full of tin cans hanging off the back, but as long as you’re “Japanese,” you’re good to go.  But Japanese racism is a whole other subject.)

Now, I’m in no way saying that the majority of men and women participate in this, but the fact that the institution exists changes the social dynamic.  All Japanese people innately recognize that:

If you’re a man with just a little bit of money, you can have sex with as many attractive women as you want.

and

If you’re an attractive woman, well . . . Look, I teach English for a living.  Every week, people pay me to sit in Starbucks and simply talk with them.  Afterwards, I go to a bar, and every week, sure as hell, someone will approach me and say, “Wow, let’s speak English together!”  Now, I may even want to, but really, who gives away what they can sell?  It’s my job, not my hobby.

So prostitution has turned sex in Japan into a commodity.  It’s something that’s available for purchase, like movie tickets or a head of cabbage or something.  Sex isn’t an expression of love between two people; it’s something that can be bought or sold when necessary.

Now don’t get me wrong—again, I don’t mean to imply that there are a lot of men going to these places, or a lot of women working there.  It sure seems that way, but I don’t actually know.  What I mean to say is that the fact that it exists changes the way people view relationships.  As in, I once dated a girl who told me, “You know, a lot of men would pay good money to be dating me like you are.”  Which I really couldn’t argue with because, well, she was right.  They would.

Thing Three:  Japanese Social Relations

Recently, a friend of mine got married to a man through an arranged marriage.  She used to get drunk and try to kiss me whenever my girlfriend ran to the bathroom.  She was awesome like that, actually.

“Do you love him?” I asked.

“He does train maintenance,” she said.  “That’s a stable job.

“I’m pretty sure you just answered a different question,” I said.

“Well, I will eventually,” she replied.

I’ll try to put this in the best light possible, but Japanese social relations . . . um, well, they’re terrible.  Okay, that didn’t come out so well.  Abysmal?  No, that’s worse, not better.  [*Note to self:  insert more nuanced term before posting this.]

The society functions with robot-like efficiency because your boss tells you what do—or your parents, or your teacher—and you do it.  There’s a hierarchy.  If you work in a ramen shop, you don’t say, “Hey boss, how about if, instead of two pieces of pork in the noodles, we tried three?”  Are you insane?  That’s not how things work.  The fact is, you don’t challenge what you’re told, you don’t offer up original ideas, and you don’t initiate conversation with strangers.  Which presents a koan-like riddle:  If you don’t talk to people you don’t know, how do you get to know people?

I’ve lived in my current apartment building for, let’s see, about a year and a half now.  Man, time flies.  Anyway, in that time the number of neighbors I’ve met is . . . zero.  I actually rode the elevator down with a guy yesterday.  He was about my age and was tying his tie while I was still fumbling into my shoes.  Okay, so here’s a little quiz for you, to see how well you know Japanese culture:

I figured I’d break the ice with a non-threatening situational observation, so I said in Japanese:

“Yeah, another busy morning, huh?”

To which he replied (choose one):

A. “Yeah, it sure is.”

B. “Oh jeez, I can’t believe my alarm didn’t go off.”

C. “Do you know how to tie a Double Windsor?”

D. “Holy crap, a white guy in my building!”

E. Absolutely freaking nothing.

If you chose “Absolutely freaking nothing,” then congratulations, you’re about halfway to earning a Bachelor’s in East Asian Studies.  The reality is:  people don’t have a lot of contact with each other.  For Japanese folks, it’s insanely difficult to establish friendships and connections, which is no doubt why so many Host and Hostess Bars exist, so people can at least pay someone to talk to them.

Japanese people excel at social interactions when there are clearly defined roles:  Boss and Worker, Clerk and Customer, Drunk Salaryman and Gaijin.  There are clear rules and precedents for those situations.  But for two Japanese people to strike up a conversation while in line at the grocery store?  Well, it’s hypothetically possible, I suppose, like Dark Matter or something.

Thing Four:  That Sexy Sexy Atmosphere

People are massively impacted by their environment and the people around them.  That’s the Ken Seeroi Theory of Human Behavior.  Wikipedia it.  That means that if everyone else is having an awesome, sexy time, you’re more likely to as well.  That’s why we have New Year’s Eve.  When it’s a sunny day, everybody’s happy, and when it rains, everybody’s glum.  Life’s funny like that.

So I was talking this over with my colleague Fujimoto-sensei last week, and he said,

“Ah, Ken, you should have seen it in the 90’s.  Japan was different then.  Everybody was making money, people were positive, it was more fun.

To which I replied, “Uh, it’s ‘Seeroi-sensei,’ remember?  But yeah, I’ve heard that from a lot of people.

“Sorry, Ken-sensei,” he said.  Then, “You know I used to have a wife and a girlfriend in those days.

“And now all you have is a wife?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he sighed.  “I think we’re in a recession.”

So then after work, I went to my usual shokudo, which is basically like a cheap restaurant.  It’s a tad dingy and run-down, but the food’s solid.  I think of it like an extra living room, which helps since my apartment’s so darn small.  The place was packed full of about thirty guys and gals in dark suits all sitting alone in silence, eating and reading manga or staring at their smartphones with glazed eyes.  I stayed for about an hour and a half, ate some grilled mackerel and rice and miso soup, drank an Asahi beer, and watched TV.  Their grilled fish is really good, I must say.  The only person I talked with was the waitress, which is pretty typical.  She’s about sixty and doesn’t say stupid things like, “Wow, you can use chopsticks,” so I like her.  Then I walked the concrete corridor to the station and silently waited in line for the train.

When it came, it was packed as always, so we put on our faces of resignation and forced ourselves on since we had to, then rode without a word.  When I got to my neighborhood it was dark, which was fine since there’s really not much to see anyway, nothing like a river or a tree or anything.  Well, there is a little brown canal nearby, so I guess that’s something.  I stepped around some rain puddles on the asphalt as I walked past the same gray blocks of condominiums I do every day, and thought, There must be a thousand units, and someone living in each one.  Why is it I never see anyone on a balcony or in a window?  And suddenly that seemed kind of strange, but then the feeling passed.

Eventually I got to my own dark building and rode the elevator up.  Did I simply come to Japan too late? I wondered.  Like 20 years too late?   Then I opened the door and found my apartment just as I left it, full of dirty laundry and Cup Noodle containers.  Nah, Japan’s still wonderful, I thought as I took a can of malt liquor from the fridge.  I just need a Japanese wife–that’s the ticket. Someone to clean this place up, cook me some hot meals, and love, eventually.



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177 Comments

  1. This post was incredibly written, Ken. You picked a fairly cheeky topic to write about, yet you made it flow like poetry. Well done!

    • Thanks much. It’s a subject that everyone has an opinion on, that’s for sure. It’s complex, and I think there are different ways to read it, but right or wrong I figured I’d add my perspective. It’ll be interesting to see what others have to say.

    • Ditto what Tanabata said, well put!

    • Not sure if you read this blog anymore but anyway…
      I got on to your article because of reading lots of Anime/manga specially Ecchi stuff, so i google Sex in Japanese culture. Like most people here it seems as if the media perspective or entertainment media shows a horny Japanese culture and the way they structure their sentences and dialogue in these magazines are weird. a Very masochistic like behavior.

      Ive read some of the replies below and what stood out was one of your answers. It’s as if the Japanese culture is of an alien persuasion and we as Westerners need to treat them with the Prime directive. Look up Star Trek if you not familiar. Basically interfering with their way of thinking will damage more than help the culture or people. i guess Japanese people are more about pleasing others than themselves.

      Thx for the very good article.

      • Glad you made it here in a roundabout way.

        In terms of sex in Japan, it’s pretty clear that real life here will do little to sustain your erection. Japanese folks, although reasonably good at marketing, don’t seem exceptionally interested in pleasing others, or themselves. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just the way it is.

        But the food’s really good, and everybody works hard, so that’s wonderful. I mean, Who needs sex? Beam me up, Scotty.

        • Hi ken, guess you still read the comments. I understand what you mean when you said “reasonably good at marketing”. I spoke to a Honda representative when they were here in South Africa releasing their new line of Motorcycle and he told me to them (Honda) and Japanese people it’s all about the customer and how to please them. So by your statement it would appear their marketing way of thinking is this but not their social life.

          Very interesting indeed. Almost a Borg like existence then ;0)

          • I had a few things in mind when I said that Japanese folks are good at marketing, and you touched on one of them.

            Which is, that Japanese people are remarkably good at self-promotion, while simultaneously pretending not to be. At Honda, “it’s all about the customer and how to please them.” Not like those other companies. Chrysler: we could give a shit less about our customers. Pretty sure that’s their corporate slogan.

            This self-promotional myth-making runs deep throughout Japanese culture, and few people seem to have considered that it might not be factual. Of course, Americans will also tell you they live in the greatest country on earth, so there you go. Apparently, no matter where you’re from, the key is to find a way to think you’re the best.

            The real trick is to hide the arrogance. Here, people tell me that Japanese are very humble, so I believe them. Not, you know, like those foreign nations. We’re freaking number one in humility. And I’ve got a big, red foam finger with “You’re #1” written on it, just in case you forget who’s the humblest of them all.

          • When I was there in the 90’s the running joke from “First Contact” was exactly that – “Self-determination is irrelevant. You will adapt to service us.”
            When chix found you compelling, they blew it by being very overtly huntresses: they were out to find good husband material, and you were to agree to it that very night. I averaged one of those PER YEAR there.

    • Man, if you write I book I will be first one to buy it.
      You’re a genius. Read your post is a real pleasure. Extremely well written and entertaining.

      • Thanks so much, seriously. Tomorrow, I start on the book tomorrow. And today I mean it.

        • I got into town (Tokyo) the 24th then leave for other parts the 31st and fortunately or unfortunately when I googled getting sex in Japan for a westerner your articles and other likeminded did not come up. What I found was if you are white just walk into a club in roppongi etc and the Japanese women will fall at your feet and don’t worry about learning to speak the language because they want to learn yours. Soon as I got here and started back online I landed on some PUA sites that basically said I was 10 years too late and the women would rip you off and make fun of you w the other nationals behind your back or if like me you know 4 words in Japanese in front of your face. So I got a little bummed as I came here solo and ready to conquer w my LA cockiness. I went out my 2nd night to an expats type club bar which a Dj who was a friend of my cousins who used to live here invited me to. Instantly another American and I started chating and we ended up hitting club after club and bar after bar till it was 7am. I added about 5 local fb friends that night. Regarding the Japanese women I met they were perfectly nice and friendly but had no sex vibe going on and now it makes sense why Japanese nationals who I had met online back on la seemed so awkward around relationships kind of immature. But if their model of what a relationship looks like based on their parents is as you say it makes perfect sense. So the next day I met this gal via on my new expat friends and last night we met up for karaoke. Her friend was with her but basically had to run out just as we sat down in the room. She had broken up I believe w her bf earlier that day and was being consoled by her friend before I got there. I took her abrupt departure as the international sign for thumbs up on this guy I will leave you alone to have some time together. We spent two hours singing and dancing in the small sauna type room where we were basically on top of each other non sexual but just always touching each other w legs or arms etc. ( not sure what the etc would be but I digress) and then she said she had to go home to get up early. Which in la means “she’s just not into you” I walked her the 20 mins or so to the area that was around her place but never got my eyes on her walking into said place. It was just after midnight so I assume she was really going home. I gave her a nice long hug but didn’t dare go in for a kiss as I didn’t get that kind of vibe and I have been on 100s of dates in the past 7 yrs since being divorced so I know the vibe well. Anyhow she texted me a little later telling me how much fun she had had and that she hoped I enjoyed the rest of my time in Japan. I walked from yoyogi to another party I had heard about 30 mins away which was just ending when I got there so I walked into shibuya for once last hurrah last night (Sunday) and was denied entrance to gaspanic (the only place that seemed to have music blaring from it) for not having a membership but it might have been because they were refusing a doctor from Uganda when I tried to get in so I got tossed into that racist salad. We chatted for a bit in the street out front before a white guy from Alabama with cross tattoos on his neck and a new employee at GP was trying to sell paul the Ugandan and myself some crudely written hip hop CDs that his band had made. I was done and caught a cab back to my Airbnb in Minato and for the 3rd time in as many nights got lost going from the location I was dropped at to the actual location around the corner. About to head out now just waiting for my cell to hit 100% because if it goes out I have no google maps and that equals the little match girl freezing to death in some dark alleyway. I will throw down some breadcrumbs today. Texted w my girl again from last night to meet up again before I leave and in conclusion to my dear Ken letter what advice do you have for me on what to do w my gal and on getting some love in general (no interest in lady boys btw) before I fly back to la. I mean I did pack 8 condims and wouldn’t want them to go to waste. Don’t want to get taken advantage up but if there is clean sex to be had w a beautiful or at least cute Asian I am willing to pay for it. Cheers

          • Wow, what you’re describing is 100% the most typical experience for foreign dudes in Japan. Don’t think it’s just you. Honestly, there are great countries for casual sex, but Japan’s, uh, not one of them. Hey, it happens, sure, but it’s not exactly Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale, if you know what I mean.

            The solution? Well, Japanese guys have figured one thing out: whenever they have a vacation, they’re always flying off to Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Canada, wherever.

            And sure, there’s prostitution in Japan; plenty of it. There, the “Japanese girl” you end up with will probably be Chinese, but perhaps that’s not important.

            I’ll add that a lot of Japanese women are in fairly dire straits. They’re looking for a good future with a good guy, so I’ll pass on to you what a Japanese guy told me years ago: Don’t screw them over. Try to understand their lives: living in tiny, cold apartments, working 10 hours a day under slave-like conditions, and then finally going out for drinks once every six months. Sometimes it’s not that bad, and sometimes, it’s worse. For Americans, often sex is a game, part of a casual hookup culture, but not all Japanese women understand that. Rolling in the hay for a fling is only cool if both parties know what they’re getting into.

            Jeez, I can’t believe I’m actually being the voice of reason here. I gotta quit making so many female friends. Anyway, good luck, and let me know how things work out for you.

  2. I love your posts and have read them all (laughing in a Japanese office, too). Your last post’s tone reminded me of something I wrote to a friend last year. Maybe you’ll like it? Shared feelings all around. I live way up in depopulated Akita for context:
    “Just saw where a friend’s blog decried how unhelpful French people are in contrast to how Americans take care of their people.

    At the same moment the Board of Education took my car keys to change my snow tires for me.

    The goose.

    Many people have called me “brave” for skidaddling to Japan right out of college. “I could have never done that!” they say, “it must be so scary! All alone like that, trapped in a foreign country!”

    I am much more scared of coming back.

    Real horror, to me, is living at home with my mother. Another horror is living on minimum wage in America.

    Not that I need a lot of money. I think my current salary – $42,000, rising towards $50,000 the longer I stay – is more than perfect. My apartment is cheap, while my Kei car – a car with a smaller motor – does its job. Everyone I know has about the same salary and Japan does not flaunt its wealth, so as long as I can save enough money to travel, I am good. In my small town things are cheap, though the $20/hour toll roads and $600 train tickets kill me.

    All the while Japan’s depopulation makes my heart sink at least once an hour. It is more than a newspaper story where I live. Sometimes I drive off the main road – the only road – and find an entire abandoned street. I teach at three schools – one junior high and two elementary schools – but in April I will only teach at one: the junior high and one elementary will be dissolved into the renovated elementary school building, which looks like a stark, clean Discovery Kids Science Museum. Many Americans would be eager about such a new-looking building, but Japan has a tragic sense of life. I attended the festivals for the passing schools. A vice principal dug in an attic and found all the old photos of the school. He told me he thinks a lot of people will come to the festival because it is the last one before the school closes. “Looking Back” read the headline in the main headline. Parents stood in front of the pictures for ten minutes each. Ninth-graders gave a presentation with pictures of the new school they will move into, trying to be excited about the nice new bathrooms, and then gave a history of their junior high, which opened in the early 70s. “Guess how many students we used to have? 500! And now? Now we have only about 100 students! Wow!”

    The passing elementary school is more sad. My sixth grade class has six, my fifth grade four, second grade, two.

    I keep looking at all the dusty murals and mosaics and paintings on the school walls, there from the mining days – Kosaka’s mines once made it one of the richest in Japan, one of the first areas with running water and electricity – and the Golden Days of Japan, the Golden 60s, 70s, 80s, before the bubble burst.

    The teachers try to behave like the passing of Japan is not real. They still strive to “celebrate the school,” to perform school festivals for a thousand for a school of few, to put the students in classrooms big enough for sixty. The teachers decorate the old walls with colorful,smiling cut-outs of creatures, cheerful in the dark and empty hallways.

    When the festival ended, the vice principal never took down the black-and-white “looking back” photos at the junior high. The elementary school put up a large, glossy photo taken by a professional of all the festival attendees. The cameraman stood on top of the building, looking down, the crowd of suits looking up. The English teacher played a game with me during a break – see which faces you can identify. I spotted the principal. He looked quiet. Then the vice principal. She looked up optimistically. Then a teacher. Her face was scrunched red. She was crying.

    An overpopulated nation is depopulating toward extinction.

    In love with Japan’s natural beauty, I think of what it may be like if contrary, if the mountains were being smooshed down for apartments. I think of the samurai book, which said, “Everyone says that no masters of the arts will appear as the world comes to an end. This is something that I cannot claim to understand. Peonies, azaleas and camellias will be able to produce beautiful flowers, end of the world or not. If men would give some thought to this fact, they would understand.” I imagine nature growing inside these darkened rooms, and the bears among my town, like those of Go Down, Moses, having a little more room to walk in.
    Is it so bad, I wonder, if they can find care for their elderly?, if they stop competing so hard, if they go home before midnight, if they have less work to do, less people?

    In America depopulation means Detroit. It means crime. It means drugs and depression and rage. My cheap living style could mean dangerous apartment neighbors. I recall dying St. Paul, Minnesota, walking in the night on University Avenue, one night a black man following me down the street asking me for money, “You hear me? I saw you flinch. You hear me. Come here,” another night, about to cross the street, when a man on the phone cussed about not having a job, drunk, pacing down the intersection, throwing a glass bottle into shards on the street. Shaking.

    Here it means rust and contemplation. Japan is the country who sits on the ground when the cherry blossoms fall and watch.

    With less people, they care for the few even more. I get the best apartment because there is no competition. They gave me the refrigerator, the bed, the washing machine – they didn’t need them anymore. What car do you want?, choose any, there are many let here. Once I went to the wrong post office to pick up a package, but the other branch had a postman motorcycle it to me – he wasn’t busy. My yoga class has four people, so I am watched more carefully, while my Japanese class has a few, so I get more private lessons for free.

    The young have gotten it into their heads that this is the way it is now, though, and don’t even think of marrying anymore.

    There is a scene I keep turning over in my head.

    I went to the tourist information stop at Akita Station to figure out where I should leave my car while I was gone. One girl there could speak English pretty well. Typical of Japanese people, she walked out with me to show me where I can take my car. I let her get in my car to show me. During the drive I complimented her on her cute uniform and her English. I told her her English is very good. “What a great day” she said, “An American girl said my English is good!” No, no, I said. It really is. You could get a good job with English like that.
    When the tourist shop closed and we could leave together – so she could help me sign the papers and get a good deal – she pointed to her silk skirt. “Look!” she said, “I changed my skirt. This one is cuter.” It is cute, I said. She gave me a water bottle as a present.

    I asked her about her boyfriend. “Oh, I don’t think I have one.” Oh, I said. I am sure you will find one.

    No, she said. She does not know anyone. There is no one left.

    She is thirty three now.

    I will look for you, I said.

    When it was time to get on the night bus, she waved at me through tears.

    I stayed in Kyoto an extra day, as I said, but I neglected to tell the parking lot owner. I expected a ticket when I came back.

    I knocked on the door of the owner’s stall and apologized to him in Japanese. I said it was a bit difficult, with the festival and all, coming back. He walked me to my car. How much can I pay you?, I said. No, no, service, he said. Free. It is free. Service. But you have something.

    I looked at the windshield and saw a big white envelope. A ticket, I thought. I will have to write an apology to the mayor for my ticket, I thought.

    From the girl, he said. She was worried about you.

    Inside was a postcard welcoming me home with an Akita scarf.

    Japanese hospitality!, I said. So nice! I told him I would come back again, and thank you so much. So sorry to make you worry. So sweet that she remembered me. I bowed and bowed again.

    Driving away, I kept thinking of how I might have been the only young girl she has seen in weeks, how she remembered me when she had nothing else to do.”

    • That was really beautiful and moving, Madeline. Thank you so much for writing it.

      • Madeline, I really enjoyed reading your post and want to thank you for your time and your words, it was truly beautiful (though sad also) to read.

        Ken, Her post was so touching and sincere that I hope you understand how your blog affects people and how it evokes that kind of emotion and heartfelt sincerity from other human beings. That is your power of writing Mr. Rogers!

    • I almost skipped over this comment due to its length, but thankfully thought better of it. This was beautiful.

    • Madeline, what an amazing but sad story. It’s nice to hear that the young woman cared about you too …

    • Like an anecdote written in haiku. Poignant and edifying at the same time.

      • Just wanted to say thanks to all the nice comments. They were really encouraging. I hate to be discouraging to you! It is really sad, and I see it all the time, but I should add that Akita is at the top, if not the top, of the list of depopulating prefectures, and Tohoku in general is in decline. If you drive south, hour by hour, things will look a bit better. Still, it can get to you should you decide to live in rural Japan.

        As for the girl, she emails me occasionally. I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse.

        • As you mentioned, it’s good to keep in mind that things vary from region to region. There are some underlying cultural issues that seem to be present throughout the nation, but there are certainly places where things are better and worse.

          It’s good that you keep in touch your friend. I think you’re probably a very important person in her life.

        • I visited Akita a couple of years ago. I was very impressed. The people seemed more friendly and less taciturn than in Sendai where I live. The surrounding countryside and seaside is captivatingly beautiful. I am told the region can be a bit grim in winter, but I visited there in the late spring.

          So, I took a special interest in your essay, Madeline. It is very moving, and it reflects the sadness and needling worry that affects many of us living in Tohoku.

          I believe that Tohoku is a distinct culture, as indeed other regions of Japan are in their own way. After the 3-11 disasters, there were indications that many Japanese were not familiar with their Tohoku countrymen. Japanese were learning about their northern cousins. There was even a popular TV drama series that focused on the lives of neighbours in a small seaside town fractured by the tsunami. The young heroine seeking success in Tokyo is drawn back to the cradle of her youth. The daily instalments were cheerful, often comedic. Behind the weave of stories that illustrated the characters, there was a pervasive optimism that celebrated a fading way of life.

          Let us hope that some day the trends reverse— that people will find their respective ways out of the crammed cities and back to places that have been the well-spring of Japanese culture for hundreds of years.

          Thanks Madeline. I will remember you, the girl at the info centre — Akita-shi itself —and wish you all the best.

    • What a beautiful account. That was very touching. That was about the most profound experience (without actually being in Japan) one could have regarding life in Japan. Thanks for sharing.

    • Great article Ken, again! if I may say so. 20h work day, going home once a month…Crazy Tokyo! Never heard of this in Kyoto.

      Thanks Madeline for this piece of beautiful writing. I love the fact that you and Ken single out individuals in your stories. Although the “us versus them” is sometimes useful to make sense of an unknown culture, I think adding these individuals shields your stories from the generalization we sometimes get from blogs on Japan.

      That’s why after such a long time people still got through old posts like this one.

    • Very nicely done, Madeline. I had no idea this was going on. I came “back home” in ’98.

      Wow. Your post really gets to me.

    • I’m in Akita now, after 6 years in Iwate. I love Tohoku. Nicest place on earth.

    • Madeline, please PLEASE publish this! You are an excellent writer, and this is really an essay or article I would expect to find in a fine magazine. The quality of your writing really stands out. Kudos!

    • Downunder they would say: love u luv :-). So will I. Arigato.

  3. Great article. The social issues addressed are really interesting, and really sad. It seems like a really lonely life most of them live.

    It makes it easier to understand why there is such a big issue with Hikikomori in Japan.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23182523

    • Thank you very much.

      Yeah, I’d say loneliness is one of the defining traits of the Japanese. They really push it to a whole new dimension. And I have no doubt that loneliness is in part why some people work so much. It’s not always just because they have to. Some people really just have nothing better to do. It’s strange.

      • I had a vision, an epiphany one night as I stood at my train station in suburban Tokyo. I watched the steady stream of dark-suited Japanese workers and uniformed students passing through the turnstile, and it struck me. Just as Japan is an island nation, the Japanese live as walking islands. Together (crammed in the train) yet separate. Even the ubiquitous face/sanitary mask serves as a metaphor for the solitary human island protecting itself from having to interact with the island occupying the neighboring seat.

  4. Really well written man. And yeah, I get the exact same feeling. Twenty years too late.

    I know this photographer here in Kyoto, kind of famous, he has been running this absolutely, insanely decrepit bar for thirty odd years, every night of the year (during the day he has a decrepit cafe). Anyway, he would take photos of all the beautiful women. The books of these women in his bar from the 90s, yeah… their faces are different. These days the young people stay away. Probably can’t afford to drink in a dingy bar and don’t see the point.

    • God, I know a ton of places like that. My favorite one finally went out of business. On the last day, we all sat around and drank with the proprietor, and cried like crazy. He was incredibly thin and old and he held my hand and we were drinking shochu and crying. I asked him, Where will you go? At his age, we both knew he’d never get a job. He just sat there shaking with tears dripping off his face and it occurred to me that maybe his only option was to end his life. I poured him a little more shochu and everyone gathered around to say goodbye to him. That was the last I ever saw him, and later the bar became a motorcycle shop. It was tragic.

  5. That was an awesome article – I really enjoyed reading it, and having a good laugh as well. I have lived in Japan for 17 years, and can really relate to what you’re saying. However, it’s the way you penned it that made it so interesting. One needs a sense of humor to survive in this country, especially if you’re not Japanese. I currently live in Matsusaka, in Mie prefecture. I look forward to reading more of your blog. Have a great week, take care and best wishes. Regards, Chris

    • Thanks, Chris. You’re right about the humor. Every day I wake up and think, Man, I gotta take this place less seriously. By evening I usually forget, so I guess that’s what mornings are for.

  6. Pretty grim indeed. And a great article! I especially like that literary figure (whatever it’s called) in the last sentence.

    Japanese government-run policies seem to have created a lot of economic prosperity, but then it may have come at very high social costs, such as intense sexism, discrimination and alienation.

    I wonder, however, if this has really been that different previously (Japanese society does not seem like the most talk-active from whatever historical perspective), and if it can be undone now.

    • Yeah, you’re really right about that–I doubt if Japan was ever a very chatty country. That could be partly why arranged marriages came to exist in the first place. It’s a lot easier to agree to an arranged marriage if you have zero other options. So I don’t know if Japanese social interrelations are better now than in the past, or worse. But they’re certainly not great.

  7. Can I just put my hanko below all of what you’ve written?
    I think those of us who’ve been living in Japan for quite some years all know exactly what you’re talking about.

    It’s so sad, but it’s true. For someone who has never been in Japan, it might sound weird with all the “rental boyfriends”, host bars and whatnot, but it all makes sense.

    I live in the countryside – always have – and I think it’s not as bad here. People have a bit more free time, don’t work such crazy hours and there’s more conversation in general.

    But it’s true that it’s so damn difficult to get ot know new people – all the more when you’re a foreigner.

    My previous co-workers – all beautiful and smart Japanese women about my age (I’m female as well for those who don’t know) – didn’t even have a single date in the four years I worked together with them.
    Ok, our working hours made things complicated. We started in the early afternoon and didn’t finish until 10 p.m. … and as it was the countryside, there was nothing really where we could hang out after work.
    It was really difficult to get ot know people our age AT ALL!

    On top of that a lot of them freak out once they turn 30. That’s the magical age when you should get married.
    One of those things that others have planted into their heads and now it’s believed to be the one and only truth. *sigh*
    Some have considered omiai (arranged marriage) just so they won’t end up alone.
    Others end up as “Himono Onna” (dried fish woman) – I wrote about that in my blog a while ago.

    There are more and more singles and less sex – and I fear it’s just getting worse from here on! 🙁

    • Boy, that is the truth. From 30 onward, the future for a Japanese woman looks pretty bleak in terms of relationships. In the U.S., I felt that many of my female friends were finally achieving their goals at that age. Their careers were starting to pan out, and many were settling down with someone and starting a future life together. Here, I see a lot of women working until late at night and living in tiny apartments. The contrast is alarming.

  8. I find this topic interesting because from the Guardian article it made it sound a lot like Japanese people just weren’t interested in sex in itself, but obviously I don’t think that is the case and as you’ve pointed out I think a lot of it is to do with the working hours and the societal circumstances which prevent it from being an option for many people.

    Something you also mentioned briefly- the gap between men and women’s roles in marriage, I personally think has a lot to do with it. But not just in marraige, also in girlfriend- boyfriend relationships and in the way that sex is veiwed in general. As in many countries it seems like it’s very much viewed as a ‘disgrace’ for the girls and a ‘whooot, nice job’ for the guys if they are getting a lot of it. I guess the other thing is that it’s very much the guys responsibility to have the condoms and the pill, whilst totally available, isn’t used that much.

    My boyfriend is Japanese and he’s mentioned to me a few times that it surprises him that I’m so honest about telling him when I, well you know, ‘want to do it’ and in general just expressing my like of us doing it. According to him this isn’t ‘something Japanese girls do’… and I can see why since there is, just as in most countries, a lot of stigma towards girls who are open about it…

    It always surprises me how many intelligent, kind and beautiful Japanese girls there are out there who tell me they want a relationship but can’t find one. I have a feeling it might come down partly to the whole ‘guys must initiate’, ‘women are not meant to be interested in sex or make the first move’ thing.

    Another thing though, just seems to be the way people think about the idea of ‘cheating’ in Japan… I hear about it a lot and I’ve been approached on more than one occasion by married Japanese guys, not to mention guys who have girlfriends… It’s talked about on TV a lot as well and the overall impression I get is that it’s not that out of the ordinary and it’s not a ‘relationship’ deal breaker in the way I think it is often thought of in the west.

    All these things combined seem to make the idea of ‘sex’ and ‘relationship’, seem like two totally separate things, both not necessary for the other.

    • I agree with everything you said: the women not expressing what they want, how they feel about sex, the expectations, the infidelity, the double-standards.

      The only thing I’d add—and this for me is a whole new twist—is that a number of Japanese men and women have told me that Japan is a matriarchical society. The women actually run things, not the men. They make the decisions and they make the moves when it comes to choosing a partner, rather than the man. I’ve heard this enough and I believe it makes some sense, despite other spheres in which the society would seem to be male-dominated. In my own experience, I’ve also seen women being far, far more assertive and directive than Western women, in certain situations. (As you know, how people behave in Japan is very situation-dependent.) I’m sure there are a number of men married to Japanese women who can attest to this.

      Japanese people love to use passivity as a tool to avoid responsibility and decisions. I think we sometimes confuse that passivity with an inability to express one’s desires. A lot of control can be exerted through this passivity, or passive-aggressive behavior.

      This has made me consider that maybe we’ve gotten it all wrong. Everybody’s stuck in their own role in this society, both men and women, but who’s actually working for whom, and who’s exerting influence over whom, is more perhaps more complex than it appears.

  9. Hi ken, great post! Actually what i like most is the discussion this blog generates. About japan and sex, don’t you think it is weird that society, tv etc. seems to be so massively filled with sex in all its facets while people tend to do less of it? Isn’t it a sort of masochism(which by the way seems a big component of japanese sexuality–i mean maybe it’s stereotype but why media present women having sex more as if they are umdergoing violence?)

    • Thanks very much. I’m also really impressed by what everyone has added so far. This is a very interesting thread.

      You know, I don’t really see much sexuality on TV or in Japanese society, but maybe it’s just the way I’m looking at it. No doubt others view the same things differently. I see a lot of fashion and cuteness, but not much I’d actually call sexual, outside of the specific shops that I mentioned. In daily life, Japan seems like a country very uninterested in the pastime.

      As for the S/M-violence thing, my opinion is that it’s massively exaggerated by the adult video industry (something not unique to Japan, of course). Pornography in every culture seems to reveal something deep within the psyche of the people, some repressed combination of desire and fear. But it doesn’t seem like a very real representation of what goes on in the bedroom. I haven’t found much evidence of it in real life either, although my research is still ongoing.

  10. Ken Seeroi, what a troubling post. I want to feel like things can’t be “that bad” in Japan, or maybe just the Tokyo area. But reading Madeline’s post about the countryside makes me sad. While in the city you face a more stressed out and overcrowded lifestyle, it sounds like there is something inherently lonely in the Japanese psyche no matter the surroundings.
    I try to tell myself it will be better in Kobe/Osaka (where I want to work in the future).

    Can you see any kind of solution to these problems? Relaxing immigration and letting in all the gaijin sounds both interesting and sad, if Japan were to lose its so called uniqueness. But times change, even in Japan.

    Now, Ken it seems from your writing that you have no problem getting laid and it sounds like you have had a few girlfriends while living in Japan. How do you break the ice if one of your neighbors won’t even acknowledge you are speaking to them on the elevator?
    Ken, go repopulate Akita.

    • You really touched on a lot of important things, so let me try to formulate a decent response.

      The main thing that I want to convey about Japan is that, the good things and the bad things—they’re the same thing. People rave about how good the service is in Japan, how clean it is, and how timely the trains are. Those are good things. But they’re made possible because people are working hard, long hours under incredibly strict bosses. And people praise the orderliness and politeness of Japanese society. For a city the size of Tokyo, with millions of people living in crowded conditions, the amount of yelling, pushing and horn honking is amazingly low. But that’s because most folks are keeping their true feelings inside, as they’ve done their whole lives. Open expression isn’t an option in this society.

      So, as you hinted at, if we were to come up with a “solution,” it would make some things better, but other things worse. You gotta be careful what you wish for.

      As for getting laid in Japan . . . well, foreign women complain about never meeting good men here, but looking around, I think the situation isn’t much better for foreign guys. The key factor, I’d say, is how “foreign” you want to be, and how much English you want to speak. There are a few women here who are willing to go out with a foreigner, so if you can be “that foreign guy” then it may work out. That doesn’t really suit me, so I end bound by some of the same constraints as the Japanese people. So I guess what I’m saying is that, if you want to break the ice, speak English. Then everybody’s happy.

      • Yeah, that’s one of the most striking ideas I get from your writing, and something that I don’t really get elsewhere: that the good and bad are two sides of the same coin that is Japan.
        I’m just applying for JET now, I’m a 27 year old grad student. Of all the research I’ve been doing I find your take on Japan to be really refreshing, entertaining, and relevant.

        Keep it up.

        • Thanks a lot. I’m always trying to understand what I see around me here, and the only way it makes sense is by looking at the entire system, because the components don’t make any sense. They’re just crazy snapshots. A salaryman passed out drunk in a bush; a children being smacked by his mother in the grocery store; a family enjoying the cherry blossoms in the springtime. It’s tempting to focus on the isolated events, and makes for an easy portrait. Look how nice Japan is, with everybody enjoying the flowers! Look how horrible Japan is with its discipline.

          But things don’t exist as separate phenomena; they’re connected, and they impact each other. If you pasted all of these snapshots of Japan onto a giant piece of paper, and then drew arrows showing how one element influenced another, well, you’d probably have a big mess and then you’d go insane, but somehow in my brain, that’s how I see Japan.

  11. Hi Ken,

    I came across this graph of Japan’s fertility rate graph from 1947 to present at this link.

    Japanese Birth Rate Plunges To Record Low As Death-Rate Hits Record High
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-06-07/japanese-birth-rate-plunges-record-low-death-rate-hits-record-high

    Don’t know if images can be posted but here is the address for just the graph itself.
    http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user3303/imageroot/2013/06/20130607_fert_0.jpg

    Japan hasn’t had a minimum replacement fertility rate since 1975! That’s almost 40 years.

    • That graph provides a good snapshot of the population issue. It’s clear that the population has been decreasing for a long time, and will continue to do so, which doesn’t look too good for the old social-security system. Bring on the immigrants to save Japan.

  12. HAHAH a recession so you only have a wife!

    I was talking to my co-worker about this the other day. I mentioned reading somewhere that in Japan, you get to take naps during the day at work in which he replied “well do you know the ridiculous hours they work?” I guess I would much rather not take naps and continue working just 8 hours a day.

    • And yet, ridiculous hour aside, I must say it feels very nice to take a short nap after lunch. I remember when I worked in the U.S., so many times trying to stay awake at my desk. Sometimes just putting your head down for ten minutes is all you need to get back in the game. That’s one of my top 100 things about Japan.

  13. Whoa, that’s very sad. And now my Happy Meal is all soggy too.

    If that sounds kind of like sarcasm, it’s not supposed to be. It really is sad. So yeah, I think there’s a lot, a lot of young people in Japan who feel that way. The thing that’s often overlooked is that folks here aren’t simply making a choice to behave a certain way. They’re bound by society. All people are in all cultures, though. But maybe Japan’s wound a bit more tightly than most places.

    Here in Japan, my observation of the culture is that you keep your nose to the grindstone and don’t talk to people you don’t know. You don’t go off and do your own thing just because you think it’s fun. I see this in the people waiting on the platform for the train, or silently riding together without a smile or a glance. Everybody’s on that program. I don’t mean to say you can’t find a bunch of people out having fun after work, because there’s that too. But during the day, and even at home, there’s a way of doing things that one is bound by.

    Which isn’t to say that there aren’t good things that result from that as well. There are. Japan is remarkably clean and everything functions smoothly. But for people who don’t want to be bound by the rules here, often the only alternative is to go somewhere else.

    • Wow, that’s both wonderful and sad. Funny how life’s like that too.

    • I think you have to keep in mind that there are generational differences, and that two people from two different cultures can share the same mindset if they’re in the same age range.. because they’re experiencing the same time.

      Also, the “work hard” mentality is also present in America.. mostly with immigrants. So if you’re not an immigrant, you won’t feel that pressure. The difference is, there’s the image of the American Dream that media enforces and even though we get to voice our opinions, we still get nothing done. So I see it as pretty much the same. In America we have it just as bad, teen pregnancy, lots of depression and suicide, mental health disorders. To be honest, I think we’re all going through pretty much the same thing. So if you’re going to take pity/ or be sad about Japan.. take a look at America. We have it just as bad. Japan is overworked. America is fed grand delusions.. and for that, we are ignorant and often uneducated.

      The way I see it is, people who want power, aren’t going to give it up until the majority rise and stop accepting the ways of the minority. Culture doesn’t have to be discriminating.. if it were a matriarchy, things would be more peaceful. So if you want a solution, stop valuing the individual over community. A society that keeps competing to put self above others will end up self destructing. As you can see with the alarming rate of depression, eating disorders and declining mental health. It’s obviously destroying us. Keep valuing differences and we miss what binds us together. We’re a whole lot more similar than we are different. But living in a society that values differences, has made it harder for us to connect as a whole. And every human being wants to connect. That’s the tragedy of our society. It’s why we’re all so lonely.

      The struggle now is trying to connect in a disconnected world. Until we start valuing the need for feminine qualities, humanity is done for. But you can already see that with more same sex couples, they’re tipping the scale. Men expressing female qualities, Women expressing male qualities, blurring the lines. The only kind of society that will allow for that to exist would be one that is more accepting, not a patriarchy. Now I hope no one goes as far as to think I hate men (it’s my first time posting on here.. especially something so serious.)

      Well that’s my take on it.

      • Thanks for a thoughtful post. I agree that many of the cultural differences between Japan and the U.S. are superficial. It’s easy to point out all the details where things are different, but there are many commonalities as well.

        I also agree that the U.S. would be better off being a whole lot less macho. Emphasizing more “feminine” qualities might mellow things out there a bit. Do you really need to carry your AK-47 into Starbucks? I mean, wouldn’t a Glock 9 suffice?

        Japan, on the other hand . . . seems like it’s gone too far in the opposite direction. Men quietly slink to their jobs, then shuffle home to their wives. A lot of guys appear to have just given up. Their big passion is to spend Sunday mornings quietly tending the garden. Few people take any leadership or initiative, and the few who do often find it quashed by the group. I’ve heard more than a few Japanese people, men and women, comment that “I don’t care if I die or not.” That’s not exactly a good sign. Basically, the entire nation could benefit from a massive shot of testosterone.

        So I guess, you know, you’ve gotta be careful what you wish for.

      • Pretty well said (y)

      • Well said, sad …

  14. Yep, I just snickered a bit of orange juice onto my keyboard with the “crazy Japanese dude with the cans” reference. Everybody has seen that guy at some point or another here in Japan.

    I actually had a conversation with some former Japanese coworkers of mine (all Japanese women) about cheating in Japan:

    “Is it okay for your husband to cheat?” The answer: “No.”
    I then followed up with the question “Is it okay for your husband to pay for sex?”
    The answer? Surprisingly in three out of four cases, they said “Yes.”
    HUH?!?

    I guess it kind of cements what you were saying here. In Japan, sex and love (or sex and cheating) aren’t necessarily synonymous. That’s why some husbands have girlfriends and some wives have boyfriends. Sigh, I think the longer I stay here the more mind screwed I get.

    Really good stuff, Ken.

    • Somehow I’m surprised and not surprised at the same time. How’s that even possible?

      What I see is that yes, sex and love aren’t necessarily related. But perhaps that’s anywhere too. What really blows my mind is that marriage and sex, or even marriage and love, can have so little to do with one another. Like, You do all the cooking and I’ll go to work, okay? It’s a deal. Have sex? Where’s that written into the contract? Oh, yeah, there is something about it in the small print at the bottom. Well, how’s Thursday the 28th for you? Great, I’ll pencil you in.

      I keep wondering, at what point does the mind-screwing stop?

    • Japan guy!

  15. Well, that explains the ‘soshokukei danshi’ phenomenon. …it also put the final nail in the coffin of my aspirations to learn Japanese and acquire and doe-eyed kawaii kanojo. Thanks, both literally and sarcastically.

    Now, back to my senses and learning that god-awful-sounding Chinese… >_>

    • Yeah, I wonder about this. Like if I were going to pick a country again and go live overseas somewhere, would I pick Japan again? I guess maybe not, but then I’ve been here for years and I’m all jaded. There are still plenty of doe-eyed kanojo waiting to marry a good man so he can go to work until midnight so she doesn’t have to. Hmmm, maybe that didn’t come out so well. Anyway, yeah, perhaps Chinese would be a good backup plan.

  16. Japan might be a forefront of this, but I’m convinced that Europe, North America and others will follow the suit.
    Ken and others seem to mention that people are looking for “point”, which may be an indicator. The structured, civilized societies start to justify everything, and relationships are probably just another thing that now needs to have a point.

    I find there’s no point in relationship, or sex, or whatever. But that’s fine 🙂 It’s still great!

    If population will continue to decline, and it sure seems this way in developed nations (if you subtract the immigration, that is), culture will just have to adjust. Urban families won’t have 12 kids, there’s just not enough cabinets and credenzas in a regular Tokyo apartment for them to play hide-and-seek in.

    • It seems reasonable that people living in urban environments, and people who place a high value upon their careers, might choose to have fewer children, or to have them later. The days when your six kids could help feed the chickens and plow the cornfield are receding. Yet beyond that, Japan has something else going on.

      It’s not just an overcrowding issue, or the fact that people work unusually long hours. There’s something fundamentally different about the social connections in this society that I don’t see at all in the West—an isolation, even from those you’re closest to. And in that respect, I don’t see Western nations following suit.

      • If there is so much fear of offending, people must be easily offended, and the consequences of doing so must be significant. I also have the sense that the formality of the society in Japan is causing a great deal of loneliness and depression. The Japanese sense of obligation seems to lead to transactional relationships, as transactional relationships caused balanced ‘books’ regarding obligations. Transactional relationships once again lead to isolation and loneliness, which causes depression.

        • I think you’d be surprised at how informal Japan really is. In the absence of a server-customer relationship, it’s often far more rude than, say, the U.S.

          But that aside, I think you’re right about how easily people are offended, and how transactional relationships lead to isolation. Basically, Japanese folks aren’t great at talking deeply with others, because they’re not raised learning how to do so. It’s hard to form friendships when your culture is based upon hierarchy, rather than care for others. I’ve heard them termed as “shy,” but I think a better description would fall somewhere between “terrified” and “socially inept.”

          Perhaps that’s why gift-giving is so big here. It’s like, I don’t know how to actually open up and discuss things with you so, uh, here’s a nice a box of little cakes.

          And foreign people are like, “Wow, you bought me a box of cakes? That’s so polite!”

          I love that.

          • Navigating any kind of relationship with Japanese people can be a bit tricky. I shared a house with some Japanese students for about three years during uni and it was interesting to say the least. My rule of thumb when dealing with people from a different culture is ‘expect nothing’ and maybe that’s why I can still maintain friendship with them. I can only speak from my experience, but my impression is that their culture is so high context and rigid. The first times they wanted my help for anything, they went to great lengths to explain why they needed help, how sorry they were to bother me, and then they thanked me profusely. I was like, chill, it’s no big deal. After that, they seemed to relax a great deal. It’s like, once they knew I was a reliable friend, they opened up, but of course, still in a Japanese way i.e not with as much warmth as I would expect from non-Japanese.

            We don’t keep in touch that much but every time I visit Japan, they always want to meet up with me. They welcome me into their homes, introduce me to their families, etc. When people said that Japanese are cold, well, yeah, they somewhat are. They just do relationships very differently. As an outsider looking in, it’s fascinating but it also feels really lonely sometimes. No wonder they have so many shiny toys.

  17. In China, I actually meet a slew of Japanese people that are just realizing that the rest of the world doesn’t work as hard as Japan does, so it makes me wonder if people in Japan think working that much is normal, or if they just kind of shrug their shoulders and deal it with knowing that it’s merely a Japanese way of life?

    I had a classmate from Japan studying Chinese with me, and she said that after meeting foreigners and Chinese people working in China, she was alarmed by the fact that they went home on time and had a work-life balance. She told me, “Before coming here, I thought more than anything that work was priority. There was no leeway to go home and relax or take time off—after university, we’re taught to devote ourselves to our jobs, and basically kiss our life of free time and leisure good bye.” After China, she realized that the overworked lives of Japanese people were, indeed, not normal or healthy and hoped that she could live life more like her foreign classmates.

    Although I’m in China I work at a Japanese company. I had dinner with the two youngest Japanese staff at my company (one is a world-traveled, very westernized Japanese woman; the other an herbivore man and Japanese to the bone). When we were talking about working overtime, the Japanese girl and I said we left around 7PM, while the Japanese man literally worked until 5 AM on a daily basis. The Japanese girl started talking about the west, life-work balance, learning to work to live not live to work—and she might as well have been speaking Arabic, because the herbivore man couldn’t understand. Really. His eyes glazed over when she talked about work-life balance and he just kind of ‘ehhh’d and brushed it off like it was some far away fairy tale from lala land.

    Really, sometimes I think Japanese people have no idea that the rest of the world isn’t overworked and dying from it.

    Excellent post btw, you always manage to describe Japan perfectly with a neutral tone that gets people thinking.

    • Gotta love that working till 5 a.m. Really leaves a lot of time for socializing.

      And yet, I feel we need to acknowledge that there’s a flip side to this whole picture. Certainly, some folks have no life because they work too much, but others work too much precisely because they have no life. There’s a whole segment of Japanese society that, for a variety of reasons, simply has nothing better to do.

      When I lived in the U.S., it seemed like everybody had some hobby or activity that kept them busy after work (and sometimes during). But a lot of people in Japan, if they’re not at their job, well, they’d just be sitting in some tiny, cold apartment eating convenience store food and drinking beer. Hmm, that actually sounds familiar. Well, whatever. It’s not that they’re trapped in that world, but without a supportive community, they might as well be.

      • Hey, sitting in a cold Japanese apartment eating a convenience store bento with beer was one of my favorite hobbies!

        I told my Japanese boss, “when I lived in Japan, I’d come home late, buy discount sushi at the supermarket, wash it down with a few beers at home under my kotatsu and watch TV alone.”

        Her response?

        “Now that’s what true happiness is.”

        In a weird way, I kind of agreed with her. But I think only someone who had lived in Japan would be able to think eating leftover sushi and drinking alone was a great way to relax.

        So… go drink a conbini beer for me. Miss it so (I’m sure they have those fall flavors out now too, damn!)

        • . . . although I suspect the “Fall” beer is just the summer beer in an orange can. Whatever, it still has the great taste of mountain spring water mixed with new fallen leaves, so refreshing.

          And I’d certainly agree that the kotatsu is one of life’s great pleasures. Once you’re under it, you pretty much never want to get up again.

  18. I wanted to comment as someone that is in a country that is sinking but in the opposite direction. So for me moving to japan will be like night and day.

    I am from Venezuela and here the people, the way the economy works, what people thinks of sex, the whole thing is just the opposite of Japan.

    As Ken said, you have to be careful with what you ask, because it can end bad, very bad in the other side too, actually it ends worse than in Japan.

    Let’s see, where should I, start, yeah work.

    People in Japan is work centric and that is great to develop your career to some extend, the opposite is probably Venezuela, where it can get exasperating because people is not getting anything done and well, we have a socialist government… you know, work? that is so capitalist.

    People in this country is pretty conformist, as the government gives then just enough money to survive and they are ok with that, as long as they avoid having to work a lot.

    If in Japan the life-work balanced doesn’t exist and you just have work, in Venezuela you work (just, just) enough to have life.

    At least in me, it created a little trauma, I want to get stuff done, I want to work a lot and I want to be surround by people that works a lot too (because I don’t want to work a lot so someone else gets money thanks to me working a lot too). That is one of the things that makes Japan interesting for me.

    I have a sense of purpose I want to do something and I have a very defined goal in life (that is not life related but work related), so maybe that puts me in a different position.

    Where some people just wants a place to live a good life, I search for a place that allows me to attain that goal so, Japan and it not getting the way makes it great for me but then it does have bad repercussions and that brings me to the 2nd point: They way people see sex.

    You see, here in Venezuela, sex and women is the big thing (well having 7 M. Universe that is an easy guess), hey, the term Latin lover exists for a reason.

    I will say that something like 60 to 70% of men here just makes money to give to their various “girlfriends”. They expend the money so they can have sex, and so when they are 50 they don’t have a penny since they didn’t save while they were young to buy a house or a car. You know how well that works for the economy.

    Then there is the social relations stuff.

    Well it is kind of really good in the sense that people in Venezuela is probably in the top 10 of the most easy going people in the world, and we have a lot of immigration, so the overall society is pretty happy, probably in a stark contrast to Japan’s. I believe that is something I may miss from this country upon arriving in Japan, but here in Venezuela, people just can’t avoid getting in stuff of someone else.

    Every time I talk with a Japanese person and ask about the country and how the life is going, they will say, “Oh it is pretty bad here, you know life is getting harder and harder” and if you come here (right now Venezuela is in a REALLY bad situation) and ask how are the things going they will say “Yeah, you know everything is good, the family is great. Yes, the government is bad, we have the world’s highest inflation, but life just keeps going, so it is ok”. For me these answers say a lot about the psyche of both.

    In japan the “how life is going” scale seems to be pretty absolute. So if we have 100 points we just have 3 steps of 33 and one step of 1

    (33) very bad,
    (33) bad
    (1)maybe it is not bad
    (33) good.

    While in Venezuela, people seems to be beating the computers at calculating pi’s decimals.

    Someone else mentioned that people in japan seems to think that everyone else actually works the same way they do, well thanks to the few Japanese sources I have, I think, they think people overseas work even more than them.

    I have this Japanese friend and she is great, but she will always say to me this: “I like how People in others countries studies a lot more than Japanese people do” (maybe for universities this is true, but western universities are just fixing the mistakes the educational system has).

    So I think that people has to value a lot more what Japan got right, since it is way harder to attain as a society than, well this side of the coin (unless you just focusing into having sex, then it is great, I guess).

    Those are just my opinions and I may be totally wrong, but at least I am pretty sure about this side of the coin where I live in.

    That is not to say that everyone is like that, you know here you can find people that is really really cool like 3 in 10 people are like that have a great work-life balance (I am sure there is people like that in Japan too but like 1 in 10 )

    It is late at night here so maybe I just wrote a lot of stupid things, I will check tomorrow and maybe, just maybe, I will laugh at myself.

    • That was an interesting comment.

      I know some people here in Japan from the old Eastern Bloc, as well as some South American’s, and it seems like they really appreciate how things at least “work” how they are supposed to. There is a system, and the system largely does what it is supposed to do. That is quite an achievement and why you can say that Japan is “developed” I guess. People don’t need to worry so much about connections, bribes, back-doors, or also missing packages, unresponsive departments and so on.

      What I can’t stand though is how high the human cost of this program is. Everywhere you look you can see mind-numbing waste. All those hours a child spends cramming for tests are hours they can’t spend developing their own ideas and interests. All the time an office worker spends at their desk is time they can’t spend feeling lonely enough to try and get a date.

      • I’d say you described the situation in Japan perfectly. The system works well, but it comes at a high cost. I’ll always say, this is the country in which you want to be the customer, not the worker. It’s a great country if you’re on the right side of the counter.

  19. You have to look at it this way.

    The system in japans distributes the pressure equally throughout all sectors of the society so that is why everyone there is affected by it.

    Other systems just move the pressure to the low income/poorest sectors.

    A good example of that was Venezuela before Chavez. I hated Chavez and his government (and the current one too) as it made EVERYTHING worse but he did some good stuff.

    Back in the day this country was amazing, beautiful, the society was right but if you went to the low income sectors you could find people feeding on dog’s food.

    The low income sectors suffered a lot and in exchange the mid/high-income sectors had a great life and made the “face” of the country.

    So while in Japan you see the bad effects in everyone in other countries you just have everything in a single sector.

    • That’s a very insightful comment, and I never fully considered that. So in layman’s terms, Japan just spreads the suck around? There certainly is a very large middle class. Most people are educated, and most can earn a living and have a roof over their heads. It is, at least compared to the States, a very level society. There are some real advantages, and disadvantages, to the system. But it does help to keep things working smoothly.

  20. Wish I had a better comment than “that was awesome,” but that was awesome. Can’t wait to read more of your blog. You describe the kind of boring but awesome life I led in Japan as a student in a hilarious way…

  21. Hey there,
    I just want to add my own two cents.
    Japan was my seventh country to live in, and I moved here when I was 17, so I, for better or worse, and absorbed a lot of the isms here. I suppose I’m working class over here, English teacher getting paid less than the average per month. And, I’m married to an American, !the best wife ever!

    Having lived in Aichi ken , for over six years since 2004, so I suppose I have a little different perspective than you Ken(I’ve also lived in 6 other countries), but the overall same problem.
    Nagoya, !the best city ever!, is very young and fashionable, has jobs and is growing. There are a bunch of opportunities to meet new people, work is good and life is not so bad.

    But…….. Sex in Japan is a problem,
    My first time was with a woman at least ten years older than me, who didn’t want sexual pleasure, at all, never. No to mention that I had asked out and been asked out, at least forty different times over the years. And, the “cougar” was the only time I ever gotten that far with a Japanese woman! And, that was the end of my Japanese woman dream! hehehe

    And, working for Japanese bosses sucks. *hard*. Never reasonable, never flexible, always doing counter-intuitive shite at work, and (regardless of what other people my say) “客様は神様” is not how it is here, more like (上司は神様). And that’s the same mentality in marriage. Your Japanese wife is god, she dictates and you have to follow, never flexible always conforming.

    Maybe I overstate it a bit, but there are definitely problems here. But, Nagoya is still a great place to be.

    • Can I just add my name to the bottom of your comment and use it for my next post, because that’s basically been my exact same experience. The part about 上司は神様 (your boss is god) also got me laughing, followed closely by 奥さんは神様 (your wife is god), which made me cry. Among married men, the terms “god” and “wife” (both 神様) are often used interchangeably. The whole thing reads like a weak joke:

      Q: How do you know when you’ve finally assimilated into Japan?
      A: When you dream of marrying an American.

      But as you said about Nagoya, I’d say about many of the 2nd-tier cities in Japan—they’re great places to be and life is not so bad. At the end of the day, it’s about the people close to you. That and the food.

  22. David Dunlap (drdunlap)

    My experience in Japan seems to be completely different from that of every other foreigner with whom I’ve ever spoken. I attribute a lot of that to being thoroughly entrenched in a rather… special… culture in Osaka: the craft beer community. Everyone is hell-bent on having as much fun as they possibly can in this life and I’d say they’re doing a damn fine job (for being in Japan, anyway). Among them there are certainly those that work too much. There are the eternally single folks. There are the married-but-hey-whatever-let’s-cheat-on-the-wife folks. Yeah, it’s Japan. Even outside of this community, it seems that Osaka is a last bastion of good times and laughter in an otherwise quite dark country.

    I think one of the most saddening things in this country is that, even if you find a partner and have time to spend with them, it’s almost like an understood part of life that Man = Cheater. And recently, with the country becoming slightly less sexist, Woman = MaybeCheater. I was just talking to my friend and his girlfriend last night at one of my favorite pubs when I started talking about a date I have on Tuesday. I don’t know the girl very well and we were talking about the process of getting to know each other. At some point I said, “And I’m just going to throw it out there as bluntly as I can. I’m just going to tell her- I don’t cheat and I don’t like people who do. If you cheat on me- we’re done. You can go play with that other guy.” — To which my friend’s girlfriend responded, “Really? Aren’t guys all cheaters? I mean, I think the same way (scary eyes at boyfriend)- do you?” Boyfriend’s smart response, “Yes!” (Although I’ll believe him. He’s a good guy.) Anyway- I feel like there’s not a whole lot of sense in cheating if you’re not at least going to get something out of it. Actually if you’re just hanging out with another woman with no sexy times or otherwise risky behavior, wouldn’t that just make you friends? Maybe just a perv? And maybe warrant the question “why didn’t you bring your wife instead?” But anyway… If cheating is so rampant- I’m going to *imagine* sex is not at all abnormal. The sad part of the Sex in Japan story, as you write about in the prostitution bit, is that much of this sex isn’t going on with one’s married partner.
    PS- I once got treated to a massage in a.. decidedly “grey” (and quite upscale) massage parlor in Osaka. Nothing happened, I’m not a huge fan of that sort of thing, but I’m fairly sure it *could* have. And I’m not only white but have a big, mountain-man beard! Oh, Osaka. I like you a lot.

    Cheating aside (or perhaps not aside at all and actually quite important- considering the topic of sex). The “enjoying life to its fullest” crowd seems to embrace quite readily the idea of sexy times. We don’t talk about it all the time but I’m under no delusion that it’s not going on. I remember the words of one girl whom I dated a few times before she gallivanted off to Tokyo to hate her life- “Every time I get drunk I have sex.” Hobby: drinking beer. So that worked out well.

    Anyway- everyone in this community seems pretty genuinely happy. They have time to go out in the evenings on weekends. Sometimes every day. If they were to have a significant other, they would certainly be able to spend that time with said significant other. Some of them bring their significant others to the bars and the events and everyone has a blast together. And, because the focus is on having a good time, I can only imagine that more sex is going on than I hear about. It’s a nice place. I’m not sure I could live here if I weren’t in touch with this slightly off-center world.

    All that to say- if a depressing atmosphere and the inability to spend time with one’s lover (or inability to have a decent life if one gets married) is what is holding back many Japanese people from having sex- I’d like to invite everyone to Osaka to party.

    Even so- sex is happening. A lot of it just involves angry wives and/or money.
    Many people are actively searching for a partner and just need a better way to make acquaintances.
    It’s not as bad as it seems- or maybe that’s just Osaka.

    • You know, what you wrote reminds me of when I visited San Diego for the first time. It seemed like a rather sleepy town, the nightlife was dead, and I stayed three days without meeting anyone or having much fun. I went to the beach and the zoo. I believe the elephant exhibit was the highlight of my trip.

      The next time I went, I randomly ended up falling in with a bunch of hippie surfer people, got invited to a backyard barbecue, wound up with about eight other people naked in a hot tub and then we all fell asleep on the couches and floors of some house with the doors wide open, people and guitars everywhere, and a giant black dog. San Diego was awesome.

      This same pattern has repeated itself in other cities around the world, leading me to one strong conclusion: it’s all about the people you meet. Click with the right folks and become part of their circle and you’ll have a blast. Don’t, and you won’t.

      It’s probably harder to break into a group in Japan than in many places of the world, but it’s certainly possible. Having a hobby helps. Drinking helps. You’re probably going to have a lot more fun, and sex, if your hobby is beer than, say, playing shogi. But I’ve never played shogi, so I can’t really say.

      Location also helps. Osaka has a reputation for being a much more open city than, well, pretty much anywhere else in Japan. Whenever I visit, I find that people are louder, more gregarious, and actually speak with others, which is surprising. Y’all have a funny accent though. I might have to make another trip there.

      • David Dunlap (drdunlap)

        That funny accent allows us to have more fun! 😛 Crazy intonation.
        Osaka lives up to its reputation just as soon as you go south or east of Umeda (the hub of activity and trains and etc.) The further south you go (generally speaking) the more Osakan things get. There’s also a little hub of oldschool Osaka called Tenma which is almost straight east from Umeda.

        If you wind up in the area yell at me and I’ll get you a beer and talk at you in weird Japanese.

  23. I think you nailed it.

    Here are my thoughts (unrepentant generalizations, all): In Japan, there’s the “social” side to sexual relations and then the “biological” side. The biological side (i.e. pure gratification) is catered to by the pornography industry, the soaplands, the prostitution, hentai manga culture, etc. And it’s true that the Japanese treat the biological side of sex in a much less Puritanical way than the West does. It’s very prevalent and very available, and there’s very little shame attached to it.

    But then you have the social side of sexual relations. By “social” I mean the cultural and interpersonal baggage that gets attached to two ordinary people who decide to have sex or date or get married. And in Japan, the social weight of sexual relations is infinitely more heavy than in the West.

    You don’t see as many people dating in the semi-casual manner that happens in the West. There’s very little co-habitation, very little “dating for the sake of dating.” It seems like people remain nearly completely virginal until it’s time to get married and have kids (usually through a quasi-arranged introduction or whatnot). And that’s just less fun, in my opinion. And the reasons for all of that baggage are exactly as you stated–long working hours, a lack of women’s liberation, cramped living conditions, restrained social norms, and maybe a Confucian sense of familial piety that keeps people from living that “Sex in the City” lifestyle.

    • No Sex in the City would probably be a fair summary of Japan. It’s really true that there is so much baggage attached to things here. And not just sex. Everything. It’s all a big deal in Japan, how you hold your chopsticks, how you open your FamilyMart onigiri. Don’t drink without saying kampai, don’t bow without taking off your hat. It’s just not a casual place.

      Dating too seems very heavy. It’s a very short road from going on a first date to being the sole breadwinner for a family of three all living in a tiny apartment, as many an English teacher has found out. Japan can be a scary place.

  24. That’s what I hate about Japan… The roles of male and femal here… At company my collegues always try to match me with somebody, say that I will make a good wife when I tell that I usually prepare my meals and clean my tiny apartment as fast as I can in 10 minutes (I hate cleaning and cooking so its really the best way) and so on… I didn’t came to Japan in a search for a husband and definitely not your typical Japanese one… Last time when I told them that if I will ever get married I want a husband that I will share housework with, my male collegues answered that “your husband will bring salary so at last you should clean for him and cook for him”. And what..? I’m supposed to quit work I have been prepering myself five years at Uni? Or on top of working I have do all housework… ? I prefer owing a can that a husband like that so probably there is no man for me in Japan 😉 Although my female collegues (yeah Japanese) say that as they return from work late they share housework with their husbands and boyfriends so maybe its changing.

    • Still… If I will stay in Japan for good it is more possible that I will become a cat lady than that I will marry a Japanese man…

      • Hey, nothing wrong with cats. At least they’re affectionate.

        Yeah, a lot of women seem to be in the same boat. Although interestingly, a lot of men (myself included) have the same concerns about Japanese women.

        Rather than having shared roles and responsibilities, men frequently bear the task of bringing home most or all the money for the family, then handing it over to their wives. There’s a lot of pressure to put in long hours and bring home more cash. It’s not really a great situation, with both parties in a position to blame the other for not keeping up their end of the bargain.

        Though, as you noted, it varies depending on the individuals involved, so I guess keep looking.

  25. Read through this entire thread and I find this is a very heavy topic. I don’t really have much to say other than I hope it gets better, because Japan is truly a wonderful place and the fact it’s depopulating due to there social ways sucks. I plan on staying in Japan after University, so I just hope I find the right people who can have fun and not end up falling down the rabbit hole of isolation.

    • The topic is indeed heavy. And yes, Japan is a wonderful place. But if I had to pick one thing that could be improved, it would be the social relations. Better get busy cheering everyone up; we’re counting on you.

  26. A very good read. I’ve recently been baffled about Japan’s view on sex then later on with how their society plays a part on it. As an outsider, you see they have media and services focusing on sex (hentai, porn, host/ess clubs, brothels) and are all legal, then you’d suddenly see or read news about the declining birth rate, more men becoming herbivores, career-focused women, etc and then it’s hard to wrap your head around it.

    So I tried to research some more (just out of curiosity since I’ve always been entranced by Japan and wanted to work there before) and ended up in gaijin forums. You have foreigners complaining that dating or marrying a Japanese wasn’t all what they had imagined it to be. Then there are some who were able to sleep around with married women and hear about their complaints about their husbands. And vice versa where they hear drunk husbands’ complaints about their “pig wives”.

    Then there are news site who write articles about the waning interest in sex with young people and the responses would be different. Some would say that they’re not impressed on seeing their parents’ married life and don’t see much point in it aside from having a baby and making sure that you do the house chores and have food ready when your spouse comes back from work. Then there’s the blame on the otakus and the hikikomori having almost or zero interest in real life people and interactions.

    Then I stumbled into this article and realized that hardly any Japanese news site or Japanese posting on forums/etc blame it on ridiculous work hours, cram schools and everything else that robs them of a social life.

    So after reading all these just to satisfy my curiosity, it’s really sad. You can see that the Japanese aren’t really happy with what’s happening but with how they are, they just accept it and live with it because it is how it is. It wouldn’t be surprising if they’ve already accepted the fact that they might be off the map in a few years if the birth rate keeps declining and with no improvements on their system. But as Mariko’s line in The Wolverine, “I don’t expect you to understand, you’re not Japanese.”

    • You summed it up pretty well. Social relations in Japan aren’t simple, and being married brings with it a raft of problems for both the husband and the wife. Balance that against the easy availability of pornography and prostitution for sexual needs, and you begin to see why people might opt out of relationships.

  27. Would you suggest that I come to Japan when i’m in pension and bring my “future” wife and children (because they are also very interested in Japanese culture) ?, but then i would have to educate my children in Japanology and they would have the burden of that “cruel” social life

    • I wouldn’t call the social life here “cruel” exactly, although it is strict and frequently awkward. Okay, maybe with pockets of cruelty. But either way, let’s talk logistics, because you’d need to find a way to move the family over here, secure a place to live, get the utilities turned on, cell phones for everyone, and enroll the kids in school.

      You’d then be living in a country where, I assume, not everyone could speak the language or read anything. Not everybody’s equipped to deal with that. I’d certainly recommend a family vacation to ascertain whether it’s a country that would work for all members, at which time you could work out some of those logistical issues as well.

      Just bear in mind that, as with all places, a vacation is a wee bit different than everyday life.

  28. Japan’s Olympic Dream Rests in Hands of Foreign Workers (because the Japanese aren’t interested in reproducing)
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-27/japan-s-olympic-dream-rests-in-hands-of-foreign-workers.html

    • I love that article. I especially like this line: “a 1990 revision in immigration laws allowed Japanese descendants in foreign countries to work in Japan.”

      Does that mean that if two Brazilians apply to work in Japan, only the one with “Japanese blood” will be accepted? Seems kind of, what’s the word? Racist? Nah, that can’t be it. No way Japan could be that.

  29. You need to come to kansai man, Its way more friendly.

    • This is true. Sometimes I get the impression that people think Tokyo is more tolerant because there are more foreigners in a big city, but I think it is about ratio. There are so-many-Japanese in Tokyo, that foreigners just disappear in among all the suits. Then you get all that looking multiplied by ten. Yikes. Kansai is much easier to deal with for sure.

  30. On one side, a pretty depressing post, still interesting. The most interesting things not about sex itself, but, both in the post and the comments, about work, love, life, family, economy. You see I know a little about what you speak about. My wife is Japanese, I am Italian. We live in Italy, I have been tempted to try to go live there though. Did not try yet as I am trying to build a career here I can try to sell somewhere else in the future, maybe. Anyway I am connected to there. My wife goes to Japan with our son every summer, when I can I go there. Her family comes here often too, now her parents are pensioners. I know the people you speak about. I think Kansai (my wive’s family is from Otsu) is quite better. My wive’s sisters are both married, both have a relatively modern family life, they both have children. Most of her friends are the same. Now the ones who moved in Tokyo, averagely, it’s worse. What I don’t get is why everyone wants to move to Tokyo, I mean, young people are attracted to Tokyo like mosquitoes to those electric nets you see outside restaurants in the countryside here. Tokyo is a big concentration camp for human beings I think. People move there because they want a dream job, money, they want to fullfill their expectations in career and life. Then they find themselves in cramped apartments two hour of commute from work. Owning a car is difficult, building a family is difficult, people are even more overworked than they are in the rest of the country. Yet they keep going and depopulate places in Japan where people still can have a family and children and life is comparatively quiet.

    Not just Tokyo. My bro lives in London, and I think many of the same things apply. And Milan too, a little, in my own country. Sex and how you are able to build your life is just a facet. But if you look at it, and not just in Japan, I think we are globally making a mess. I used to love Japan and I used to love America (where btw my parents now live). I think for different reasons, Europe, Japan, America… we are screwing up in different ways, still screwing up. America where the schools try to spend their money building big science labs and where they can’t seemingly teach spelling to young people. America the violent, the religious. The old, hard working America who is the old people. And the young America the heavy drinker of home parties fueled by tons of weed. My bro studied computer science there… most of the other students were from India, Taiwan, China. A couple of Americans. But young people there want to study humanities, become lawyers maybe? And people who can’t afford universities? Out of home at 16 and doing odd jobs and trying to live on their own. Yet, America is for some things (like, finding a job) the best of the three. Except if you fail, or fall ill, and you have to buy (or hell, rent!) in the shitty area of every town where people kill each others.. They don’t have that in Japan, we used not to have most of that here in Italy.

    And here.. where 40% of people under 30 can’t seemingly find a job, yet they stay at home with their parents living off their pensions. Where tons of people grow up in a culture where studying is not cool, and they later try to find jobs through family connections, but then avoid trying to manual work where now you see only foreigners. Where school is a factory of ideology and technology is even derided. Where the powerful and connected can do what they please, and the educated few without connections run away abroad. In here too, people don’t have children. We have the same natality they have in Japan, I wonder how that would be if you removed the millions of arabic and eastern immigrants who are included in the same stats. People sure don’t work too much. If you work 8 to 17, at 17 people are already in the car. Working hard is uncool, same as studying hard. Yet people feel that they have a “right” to work and the laws are with them. If a company has an employee, laying off is next to impossible. The paycheck is considered a godgiven right no matter how much you want to work. If no work around, people feel the state should provide.
    This resulted in the proliferation of “temporary” and irregular work contracts which do not have the same pay nor the same rights. So now young people start working for basically 800 dollars a month, which when I started work was more like a 1000. Yet if somehow they find themselves in a “real” work contract, most of them will promptly become the stereotypical Italian worker who comes back from a week of sick leave all sunburnt and raises hell with the unions if anyone has anything to say.
    Yet no children… both because they can’t afford it, and even more because they don’t want. I even hear young women say “I know this friend who had a baby and it’s crazy, they can’t have fun anymore” or things like that every time. We have this hedonostic culture where you mainly have to have fun. It’ll be fun to watch when this generation grows old and they will have to be cared for by foreigners (which most people hate, Italian people are the most openly aggressively racist people I have seen around and yes I have seen the Japanese: to just give an example out of many similar ones, once my wife was walking to (unpaid) work and this big dog came barking towards her, she shouted in fear and the dog owner replied “Ya ya, he is right, cause you yellows eat his kind”).
    Worse thing, if you live some parts of our towns, you can actually figure out why some people generally dislike foreigners… our first home was in a not really hip part of the big city, and there were romanians and moroccan kids down in the street having wars with broken beer bottles in front of our home every evening after 6. The store down the street was stopped by a city ordinance from selling glass bottles for that reason. After we moved away a couple romanian guys had an argument, and the bottle ban did not stop going home, taking his katana (!) and slaying his opponent in front of the market. This did not make my wife sympathetic when she read some editorial in a Japanese paper saying how they need to bring the foreigners in like lucky Europe did.

    We are a small formerly beutiful, now growing old, country. Culturally divided if you look at it from inside (and believe me, even if we now more or less speak all the same languages – because when people speak their dialects you cannot make out a word of it if not maybe in the central parts of the country) the cultural differences are big indeed even for the young people. Uniformally byzantine if you look at it from outside.

    Of Japan, the OP has spoken already. Does China look good? With their child ban and people getting cancer from all the poison they are putting in the air, water and earth? Do the over religious, angry arab masses growing to our South make the future look good?

    I don’t know, I think we are globally making a mess of our future. Hope the direction is changed soon, but I am not seeing much change. At least Japan does seem like it is a peaceful place…

  31. I’ve never visited your website before, so when I found this article on Google, I wasn’t expecting anything profound–no offence! But by the time I got to the last part of the piece (where you’re at the shokudo), I actually really started to appreciate it. And, I would venture to say that the last few sentences are really quite beautiful, in a sad way. In any case, this managed to effect me positively and I believe that’s a sign of good writing. Bravo~

    • Wow, that’s probably the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me in my whole life. No offense, everybody who ever tried to be nice to me. But seriously, thanks.

    • I think like Ceclia, I also came across your blog by chance. I was curious about what sorts of perspectives on Japan’s declining birth rate there was out in the World Wide Web. I think the thing that struck me the most is the collection of pretty deep, sincere and thoughtful comments your post has gathered. Especially since comments now have been running on for over 4 years here?

      Personally I visited Japan back in 2006, traveling across it from Sapporo down to Hiroshima. In a few weeks time it will be the second time I’ve been back to Japan and I am excited to see what changes have occurred and the effects of the upcoming Olympics. I’m a Canadian and between our major two cities, Toronto and Vancouver, (our French city, Montreal, is another big one but is very European/French unlike the other two), we host a significant number of East Asian people especially Japanese people. Through my studies, first in art history and fine arts (with some concentration on Japanese history/culture) and now architecture, I appreciate the many faceted elements of Japanese culture… It’s sensitivity to emotion and fragility of life that is in contrast to modes/rules of duty, obligation, family… Choices on what wants to get out of life. The many young Japanese travelers (20s-30s) and new immigrants I meet often they are seeking for a better understanding of themselves or frankly most often just in Canada for English or to consume the mythos of the fabled “Anne of Green Gables” which seldom a Canadian (even myself an East Asian Canadian), would actually really think about or even call our national heritage.

      Anyways, to end I thought your piece was insightful and a good infusion of humour and frank comments (which I agree are true… The cold, solitude of uniformed workers/students/people that makes up the city centres like Tokyo). I never knew about your Ken Seeroi human behaviour theory. Haha, is this true?

      I look forward to seeing one of your future or present posts soon!
      Please keep up with the inquiries into Japanese society/culture!

  32. I rarely read any blogs anymore but this article is so well written, am subscribing your RSS feed. I was in Japan 2 months ago, i loved it, i loved the people, their attention to detail, the respect towards customers and of course, the ladies.

    Your article reinforces what everyone has been telling me. Now i have a clearer picture of my chances. Am planning to head back for a week before christmas. Hoping you will write more regarding this topic.

    But anyhow, good work Ken. Keep it up.

    • Thanks a bunch. Christmas in Japan is the one time of year when all Japanese people forget that they’ve saved electricity by not running the a/c or the heat for an entire year, and illuminate the entire nation with Christmas lights. It’s magical, and you’ll love it.

  33. Isn’t it kind of sad that the man with “only a wife” is unhappy about his situation? It sounds like he takes his wife for granted. Maybe infidelity and a lack of trust also has to do with why no one wants to get married.

    • Yeah, I’d say those are “features” of a typical Japanese relationship. That and secretly stockpiling money that your spouse doesn’t know about. Can’t imagine why that might dissuade anyone from getting married though.

  34. Thank you for the post. Reading the post and the comments gave me so much more real knowledge, compared to reading online news articles or Wikipedia. This has been extremely insightful for me.

  35. Re-reading this, I think it is maybe my favorite post. The last few paragraphs especially capture it nicely for me.

  36. I love, love the way you write, it’s so honest and smart and clever and it just flows so beautifully. Just discovered your blog today, what?!

    • Thanks much. That might just be enough to get me out of my current slump of actually doing my job at the expense of writing. Surely a bad habit that needs correcting.

  37. I’m actually a bit confused by this post. I freely admit, most of my knowledge of Japan is based on their video games and anime, but that’s part of what confuses me. Both mediums often have a heavy focus on teamwork, and the importance of friendship. Things like reaching out to the lonely seems praised, as well. But it seems odd, if not outright cruel, to indoctrinate the young to focus on these concepts, then push them into a world that seemingly shuns such notions.

    • I’ve never played a Japanese video game, and I’ve watched exactly two anime series. So I’m not sure if it’s a case of watching Batman and then thinking that’s what New York is like. But here’s what I would say:

      Watch some Japanese dramas. Something that portrays more-or-less everyday life, love, and the type of relationships that people have. They may not be exactly real life, but they’ll give you some idea. Watch 誰も知らない (daremo shiranai: nobody knows) or or とんび (tonbi). I think they may be available with English subtitles, if you need them.

  38. so hey – about “meeting your neighbors”: I’m from Czech Republic and it’s VERY uncommon here too. My american friend who moved here ~7yrs ago says it still amazes him that people are a little weirded out when he tries to engage in smalltalk with random neighbors in the elevator. And as a general rule: certainly NOBODY welcommes you when you move in and you don’t welcome anybody either … that’d be like “what’s that guy’s problem?!?” :-DDD so … you know, dealing with neighbors is different in different cultures.

    • Yeah, I feel that. The interesting thing is that I often see Japan portrayed as a country where everybody’s so friendly. Don’t know if people say the same thing about the Czech Republic.

      What I’ve witnessed is, generally speaking, that Japanese people are friendly depending upon the situation and one’s relationship with them. Whereas Americans (and perhaps “Westerners” in general) seem to be more or less the same—friendly or unfriendly—regardless of situation. Or maybe “oblivious” is a better word.

      • That sounds about right. I was chatting with an Indian co-worker today and he was feeling pretty bewildered at how people here could be so friendly to him at a party or somewhere, and the next day at work it would back to passing each other in the hallway with barely a nod. After a few years here now I get it, but its a very different way of organizing your society that’s for sure. This is were it makes it weird being around foreigners, because if you act too Japanese and polite people will think you’re a stuck up prick, but if you are too friendly to somebody who has adjusted to being reserved they might hate you also. Fucking potential minefield. I err on the side of friendliness.

        Congrats on the job etc. btw.

        • Thanks man. And may I say that “its a very different way of organizing your society that’s for sure” is a masterpiece of subtle phraseology. My hat’s off to you, sir.

  39. This makes me seriously reconsider finding a job there. Maybe Korea might be a better option for me right now xD. Much more gregarious and open people.

    • Korea reminds me very much of the American way of friendliness and openness to strangers or new co-workers. They are also more thin skinned like Americans… whereas the Japanese are generally more reserved in reaction to a social mistake. I prefer Japan any day over Korea. Sorry, Korea, the Japanese service mindset is unmatched.

      Ken, I came across your blog while hoping to find some key to better understand a Japanese lady friend. I had a huge crush on her; she’d drop anything to be attend dinners and museums, and day outings. but it was complicated and now that I can ask her to marry me.. I am under the distinct impression that I waited too long.. my time has past . Or simply she was just spending time with me to pass her time. I just don’t understand it. I think I pissed her off.. Then I read how the Japanese wife has to be treated/ acts like a little god….. that’s not the relationship I desire. Marriage yes, kids… not so much.

      • “Or simply she was just spending time with me to pass her time. I just don’t understand it.” Welcome to the party.

        So a couple of things to consider: one is that Japanese people—and this goes double for women—don’t do things by themselves very often. Of course, people anywhere can feel self-conscious going to a movie or dinner by themselves. But (at least in America), getting together with friends isn’t that difficult. Here, it can be a major challenge just to meet people you know a couple of times a year. A man might be able to go to an izakaya by himself, but an attractive woman, not so much. To put it bluntly, I feel that women sometimes use men just to get of the house.

        The other thing is—and again I hate to say this, but—paying $50 to $100+ an hour just to speak English with a native speaker isn’t uncommon. To get a free day of it is a hell of a bargain.

        Of course, that’s the cynical way of looking at things, and I don’t know your circumstances. But from what I’ve seen, the situation you describe is not uncommon.

  40. I’ve been here in Tokyo for three years and had my share of dating and relationships, and I think this article is pretty much on point. As is your other article on dating in Japan. Nice work!

    I found this after doing a search on “sexuality in japan”. It still amazes me how asexual and repressed this place is, in terms of actual social interaction. In almost every other country, I can get a decent impression of who is interested and who isn’t, what the relationships are between people, etc with very little or nothing said. There are signals everywhere. In Japan (well, Tokyo, at least), the signals are basically gone. Finding a romantic partner of any kind is remarkably inefficient…

    I also find women here to be, at least on the surface, the least accepting of their own sexuality. I tend to think this is how mothers teach their daughters to be, and how Japanese men prefer them to be anyway. Honestly the very few women who have struck me as being comfortable with their sexuality/femininity in this country were most likely in adult entertainment, where they are officially permitted (and paid) to be sexual beings.

    I guess my days in Japan are numbered…

    • Yeah, Japan’s about the most un-sexy place on earth. Well, maybe Antarctica would be close. Between repression and passive-aggression, it’s just not a great place for healthy and satisfying relationships.

      There are definitely better countries for dating, and anyone who’s single should think mighty hard before moving to Japan. There’s a lot to like about this nation, but interpersonal relationships of any kind (friends, lovers, coworkers) present major challenges. They’re the biggest drawback to Japan. Food sure is good though.

      • Do you have any theory on why are things like that? I have been watching and reading a lot of stuff lately, but cannot find anything behind the general lack of spare time. Do you see any other reasons?

        • Absolutely. Culture is self-reinforcing. If everyone around you is happy and supportive, you’re likely to behave the same way. And if everyone around you is constantly discouraging you and worrying about “what might happen,” you’ll tend toward that as well. Now imagine being born into one of those two societies.

          I’ll let you guess which of the two is Japanese.

          Now, why are Japanese folks less optimistic than, say, folks from the U.S.? Well, just look around. One is a small country with scarce natural resources, that closed its borders to hostile neighbors for generations, until it was horribly defeated in a brutal war. The other is … the land of opportunity. Streets paved in gold. All men are created equal. Anyone can be President. Seriously, anyone.

          The mindset is entirely different.

          When I was in America, it seemed like everyone was going skydiving, bungee jumping, surfing, or buying cars, boats, or motorcycles. You go to a club, lay down a credit card, and “leave it open.” Balling, party on. Here in Japan, I constantly hear, “Save money. Be careful. What’ll you do when you get sick have to go into the hospital?” Watch Japanese dramas—they almost always feature a hospital scene. It’s part of the national psyche.

          And because that’s the society they’ve set up, that’s the society they live in. That I live in.

  41. I love your story and point of view. It gives me totally different ideas and thinking about Japanese. Thank you so much for your story. If you have anything else to share please do. I would love to learn and know more about Japanese like yours. Thank you

  42. I recently moved to Japan and stumbled across this piece. Man, really good stuff. Interesting, insightful, and funny. I even laughed-out-loud at some parts… *She was awesome like that*
    Anyways, nothing insightful or profound to add (like some other members on this thread), just wanted to give credit where credit is due.
    Keep it up!

    • Ah, thanks a bunch. Stuff like that really motivates me to keep writing. Well, that and half a dozen cans of malt liquor. But thanks, seriously.

  43. If the Japanese are so obedient the government should require them to attend some co-ed social clubs and set policy that encourages reproduction, including shorter work hours and regulating prostitution. If a strong will was there ways could be found.

  44. I have been 4 times in Japan performing classical music (I am a pianist). it is an amazing place for a classical musician, probably the best country in the world for a pianist from Poland performing Chopins music. I guess Chopin is more popular in Japan than in Poland.. Now, why on earth Japanese folks love classical music (particularly Chopin!) ? There is some incredible sensitivity and true humbleness which makes so many Japanese study classical piano, both in Japan and abroad. now, does it have anything to do with sexuality..?The Japanese I met seemed very classy and refined, I had an impression that the significant part of population is like that. I guess being horny, sexual, is not ambitious enough for them..? they prefer to contemplate, to meditate the activities of the heart, spirit and mind rather than of the body. Maybe Zen influenced Japanese mentality? I was invited to Onsen and, while in Europe I would feel strange in similar circumstances, suspecting half of the people would be perverts, in Japan the feeling was completely free of any sexual ‘smell’. In Europe we try to confront our sexuality, for example letting public saunas be coeducational, having nudist beaches, sunbathing topless etc. , it seems Japanese want to avoid that confrontation. They prefer security rather than risk of confrontation. And the porn business hentai etc. matches the secure, private, risk free standards. You know, the Japanese politeness does not come from nowhere. The whole culture is about dealing with others in the best possible way, avoiding tension and risk of confrontation. But I suppose there is always a counterpoint, other side of the coin – so that is why there is so many fetish and ‘perverts’ in public transport etc. etc. (at least there are legends about it) Nevertheless Japan is probably the most fascinating country in the world. Both for sex and for no sex :))

    • Your time in Japan sounds wonderful, and your description tends toward the rose-tinted. I think, however, that you’ve begun with some preconceptions and reached conclusions that aren’t necessarily accurate. Referring to Japanese people as “polite,” and saying “the whole culture is about dealing with others in the best possible way, avoiding tension and risk of confrontation”—well, I don’t know. A less generous person might say Japanese people are “disciplined,” and that the whole culture is about keeping others in line and dealing harshly with those who fail to comply. You might want to dig a bit deeper into the culture, is all I’m suggesting.

    • Piotr,

      You sound like a very interesting worldly person that has experienced much in life. For reference, I also played a musical instrument thru high school in the band/Orchestra and my uncle was a concert pianist and later a conductor, so I have very some small experience with classical music, though not anywhere near the level of an actual performing pianist. I actually did not appreciate classical music until much later in life, but after watching a Japanese TV series, I began to understand much more about the classical music industry. For that reason, I would recommend for you to watch the Japanese live Drama/TV series/Movies (with English subtitles) called “Nodame Cantabile” (though it might also be in Polish).

      This TV series and movies played from 2006 until 2011 in Japan and I believe I read that it won several awards at the Cannes Film Festival and was critically acclaimed in Europe. It was also very popular in Japan and created a phenomenal appreciation of classical music all over the land of Nippon. FYI, in the Final episode of the last movie, the main protagonist – “Noda Megumi”, plays Chopin’s piano concerto no 1 and that might also explain the popularity of Chopin in Japan now. This series has become extremely successful and viewed many times in countries all around the world, even here in the United States. I personally still watch it over again on a regular basis because I enjoy it so much. It has led me to re-explore classical music and since my Uncle has recently passed away and left me many records, DVDs and recordings, I have the time (as a retiree) and the resources to accomplish this.

      I found a 2009 master’s thesis written about the popularization of western music in Asia by the “Nodame” series done by a Chinese student in the US:

      https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=bgsu1229915111&disposition=inline

      Though I don’t agree with all the assertions of this paper, I do realize that the extent of the research done by this paper was formidable and is very interesting to read. It might possibly help explain the recent Japanese raised level of interest and awareness in classical music. Interestingly enough (IMHO) the theme of the whole “Nodame” series seems to be a condemnation of the existing classical music industry (and therefore Japan’s norm for creating classical performers) that oppresses free expression and exploration to instead regiment and limit classical performances to a rehashing of classical pieces according to a rigid accepted interpretation… with an eye for the technical capabilities of the musician to match that “accepted interpretation”.

      Nodame is a victim of the Japanese RIGID discipline and unforgiving attitude for free expression and only reaches her potential because she was discovered by a German Conductor at a Japanese musical academy. The love affair (and relation to sexuality in Japan) between the two main characters might represent /characterize the conflict between regimentation and discipline over creativity and freedom of expression raging in the music industry and Japan today.

      Note: Shinichi physically (with slapstick regularity) and mentally brutalizes Nodame (who falls in love with him) to much comedic affect in the beginning of the series and only later realizes how he didn’t really understand her potential talent; [while the German conductor Hanz Stresseman and a French Pianist Charles Éclair, an instructor in the Paris conservatory of music realize instantly]. Nodame finally decides to accept the music industry and perform, though she really wants to become a regular kindergarten teacher, so the moral of the story seems to be that if want to find love and true happiness, you have to live through hell and then get really lucky.

      Of interest is the fact that Hanz Stresseman (a conducting maestro visiting Japan) is portrayed as a very perverted person sexually (to the chagrin of most of the Music students and teachers) and Nodame is also portrayed as a bit of a pervert as she steals and smells Shinichi’s clothes and secretly takes pictures of him in the shower and in bed, so the role of sexuality as it pertains to music talent level seems to be linked in this series. I must admit that my uncle was also a very perverted man that never got married and until his dying days was pursuing much younger partners, so I also wonder about that connection myself… LOL!

      Here is a link to a popular Drama sub site that has some of the series and movies:

      http://www.dramago.com/drama/search?key=nodame+cantabile&stype=drama

      I believe that there were two seasons of TV shows and 3 movies and a TV special, but there is also an anime series of the same name and though it doesn’t have the best animation, and differs from the Live action, it also is beneficial to watch, so here is a link to the anime:

      http://www.gogoanime.com/category/nodame-cantabile
      http://www.gogoanime.com/category/nodame-cantabile-paris
      http://www.gogoanime.com/category/nodame-cantabile-finale

      I also thought to include a small excerpt about some of the awards that this series has garnered:
      “The live-action drama received the 2007 Japanese Drama Academy Awards for Best Drama, Best Lead Actress (Juri Ueno), Best Direction (Hideki Takeuchi), Best Music (Takayuki Hattori), and Best Title Song; the show was also recognized overseas as Best Miniseries at the 2nd Seoul Drama Festival.[citation needed] Juri Ueno also was named Best Newcomer at the Élan d’or Awards for her performance, and the next year was named Best Actress at the International Drama Festival in Tokyo Awards for reprising her role as Nodame in the television special. The New Year’s Special in Europe received an average household rating of 20.3% and 21.0% for the two nights it was broadcast in Japan, making it them the highest-rated drama episodes of the week. The first soundtrack album for the drama, Nodame Orchestra LIVE, reached number seven on the Oricon album chart, breaking the record for highest ranked classical music album.”

      “Nodame Cantabile” was also an award winning manga and game in Japan… hmmmm!!

    • I think that for many Japanese, performing (Western) classical music can be a way of combining both personal discipline (given the hours of practice necessary) and emotional expression. It’s true that it was frequently said in the past that, in classical music competitions, the Chinese and Japanese competitors would have high technical skills but lacked expressiveness, but that has now changed.

      It must also be said that Western classical music derives from pan-European culture, of which Anglo-American culture is just a small part. This must be attractive for some Japanese trying to escape the “foreign equals American” mentality.

    • Finally, a comment about the heart and the mind! So many Westerners propose to talk about interpersonal relationship, then immediately proceed to their real interest-sex. I’ve been looking through this whole post and comment chain, waiting for somebody to describe what’s happening with LOVE, not conquests, not cheating, not porn. Granted, it doesn’t sound like kindnesses, congeniality or loyalty are in any great supply, but I’m not interested in how easy it is to get laid in Tokyo, I’m interested if I could find a friend. And, frankly, the economic observations I’ve encountered in this chain are abysmal. People think of economies like they think of the weather: Things just happen for no reason. As if Supply-side economics, globalization, or the policies of the Fed and the BOJ has nothing to do with the Lost Decade or the Great Recession.

  45. Interesting article. It makes me wonder if they’re going in peril to their own society without too much of realizing that they are. It kinda makes sense when I’ve watched and read other people’s experiences/stories how social life is minimal to none over there or perhaps my perspective is exaggerated. Is it really because of work, college, marriage or something? I mean, I’m not much of a social person but at least a small talk would suffice and I don’t even like small talks yet I still somehow be okay with it.

  46. You said Japan don’t start conversation. I went there few times for cycling. They will shout “がんばって!”

  47. Great writing and wonderfully civilized comments (just had to say it). First allow me to preface my comment with some background. I’ve been working in Tokyo for over 15 years now and since I’ve been married for the last few of those fifteen, my experience is not up to the minute. That having been said:

    1. Tokyo strikes me as one of the freest places I’ve seen, if and only if you’re able to stay out of having to work for a large company (i.e., freelance or run your own biz)
    2. Even if you do work for a large firm, there is still an incredible diversity of work life balance and also attitudes towards sexuality, etc. One thing holding many Japanese back from marriage and kids seems to be that many of them take the external expectations/duties associated with such an arrangement far too seriously and are not adjusting to today’s realities.
    3. On the positive side, given 30M people in the Tokyo area and the ease with which foreigners can be remembered, you can find groups of people who aren’t as repressed as pointed out by many of the people above.
    4. Given the lack of Christianity, I found in my single days, a more open attitude towards sex than in North America. In fact, the phrase “shooting fish in a barrel” did sometimes come to mind. (But this assumes you either speak good Japanese OR are willing to compromise a lot and hang with English seekers. Let’s face it, some level of communication is required if you’re after more than just a roll in the hay)
    5. People who are somehow non-average, somehow on the edges of the mainstream tend to be much more able to keep an open mind — e.g., female graduates of prestigious universities, women with a cool career, artists, photographers, fashion designers, etc.
    6. People (even younger ones) who are willing to take sensible risks and do things differently without being controlled by societal and parental expectations do seem to be able to sidestep a lot of the downside of depopulating Japan. As always a little luck and perseverance also seem to be needed.

    YMMV

  48. This awesome article reminds me of the very arousing Japanese porn videos I have watched. Lol

  49. The smell on the trains explained. Thanks.

  50. In America we value happiness. If someone asks us how we are we say “good” even when we are tired or pissed off. In Japan, hard work and loyalty are valued much more than happiness. When I asked my co-workers how they often said “tired” which I’m sure was true.

    On the issue of arranged marriage: My parents met, fell madly in love and were married. It lasted 6 years. My boyfiend’s parents had an arranged marriage, have been together 40 years, and seem to truly love eachother, so when you asked your friend if she loved her husband and she said “I will,” that might have been the truth. As a disclaimer my boyfiend’s parents are Indian and have lived in America for their entire marriage, so the situation is a little different than your friend’s. Still, although the suicide rates are proof that lonliness is a real problem in Japan, the fact that arranged marriage exists does not necessarily mean in and of itself that social relationships are horrible.

    One a last aside. I have to take issue with the assumption in your blog that all married Japanese women are housewives. I know a lot of Japanese women in Japan who were married and also had full time jobs.

    • Point taken. If I said that, then I retract my statement. I have no idea what percentage of women, Japanese or otherwise, are housewives, but I’m pretty sure it’s not 100. Although it’d be interesting to know.

      • From what I gather, the level of full-time and part-time housewives is higher in Japan than equivalent developed countries.

        Around 40% of married women in their twenties think married women should be primarily housewives. About 66% quit their jobs after their first child.

        Perhaps it’s the only way to support a husband who is away most of the week, and only comes home to sleep.

  51. Amazing man. In past, I though, Japan is “BIG WOW”, it isn’t, it’s a sad place actually.

  52. Thank you for spending time writing about a hot topic. I just arrived in Japan a couple of days ago and now am having a feeling kinda like what is written in this article.

  53. Thanks a million, Ken, and Madeline!
    What you peeps wrote have shed some light on the ethereal funk I sense whenever I read Murakami.
    I have always been fascinated with Japan, and have viewed it through the lenses of History, yet never had the chance to visit and personally engage with either the place or its people, at all.

    • Thanks for the props. It’s cool to read Murakami, although it’s a bit like using Steinbeck to learn about America. Japan is suuuuper glorified in media. A good long trip here would give you a lot of insight.

  54. As an ex-pat I have to admit this was an outstanding post. I’ve Live in Japan for quite some time probably because my job does not pay enough to move back and ramen noodles aren’t that bad. and for those who don’t have the experience living over here, it’s a trip, good and bad, where you’ll fall into the culture, or skip back to Disney land USA or wherever you came from.

  55. big city always be….not human anymore.

  56. Well here’s a strange notion I was thinking of, that led me to this article:
    If the Japanese are so sexually repressed, but the media that they create, and we consume is hyper-sexualized, what sort of culture is that building in the US?

    I live in the US and am involved in a scene that is very heavily influenced by Japanese media. (Games\Anime\Etc). I’ve heard that in Japan these still just belong to a particular niche market, but here they are becoming ingrained in mass media pop culture. To the point where women seek to dress like idealized Japanese male fantasy figures. I don’t have anything against this morally, and I can enjoy it, but it tweaks a tiny paranoid part in my brain that starts to think that western sexuality is being manipulated by Japanese men who never leave their rooms or ever speak to women.

    Are American ideals of sexuality being affected by a culture who is known to be socially and sexually repressed? And if so, what impact does that have? Maybe it reveals to us fantasies that wouldn’t be cultivated to such a degree without such repression. Maybe it just opens the sexually liberated mind to all kinds of new fun fantasies. Maybe I’m just speaking from my own ignorant and limited, male experience and it’s all good.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever said this about a comment before, but yours is . . . enigmatic.

      It’s probably fair to say that Japanese people are sexually repressed. I meant, it’s not exactly Ibiza over here. I’m certainly not aware of much “hyper-sexed media.” You do realize we can’t even buy the equivalent of a 1970’s Playboy here, right?

      If you go looking for bizarre comic books or perhaps cartoons, you can certainly find some, but they pale in comparison to the amount of sex on a typical U.S. cable channel. My guess is you’re buying into an image of Japan that’s pretty far from reality, and one which few Japanese folks would recognize.

      So are you being “manipulated by Japanese men?” Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the content you’re viewing was ultimately being produced by another nation, looking to cash in Westerners’ eagerness to buy all that seems “Japanese.”

      And in other news, Your favorite sushi restaurant isn’t really run by Japanese people either.

  57. I’m 34 , I’ve a bachelor of Arts in diplomatic studies . Is there a job for foreigner like me who is seeking to live and work in japan ? I’m hard working , I can do any kind of work .

    • That kind of depends on what you can do, other than study diplomacy, because I doubt many folks will pay you to do that.

      It would help if you could brand yourself as something, anything. “I’m a translator, a programmer, a fork-lift driver.” I hate to say it, but hard-worker isn’t a job title.

  58. Ken, I came across this article and your blog this morning after Googling some things related to the recent articles about why Japan is so sexless – while on the other hand as you point out, sex is available everywhere. I can’t remember what the search criteria were, but I came across your article and essentially you wrote what I have been theorizing for a while now. But you wrote it really well and I found myself laughing outloud at time. I have lived in Japan off and on for 30 years now (last month) and I was an English teacher back in the late 1980s so I can totally relate. But it does feel different now than it was then. I remember I could date (ethically questionable!) my female students from time to time, but there was never an issue of money for sex, but that seems to be the modus operandi for so many young women these days. Anyway, thanks for the well thought out read. I will bookmark your blog and read the other articles later. I’d be happy to contribute to “buy you a beer” but I think it would be more interesting to actually meet you and buy you a beer. Thanks, Geoff

    • Hi Geoff,

      Thanks for the comment.

      You know, it’s not just money for sex per se, but rather the transactional nature of all relationships in Japan. You go to Osaka and bring me back a souvenir, so now when I go to Sapporo, I have to bring something back for you. You teach a girl English, and she feels obligated to cook you breakfast. There’s a real quid pro quo to the whole thing. I think it partly stems from an inability to express emotions in words. I can’t tell you how I feel, so instead I’ll give you a gift.

      Oh, and by the way, thanks for the donation. That was very cool of you, in a Japanese sort of way.

      Ken

  59. Ken,
    I have read this entire blog and at first was very discouraged then had an immense feeling of sorrow for the people of Japan and what appears to be a downward spiral into a disconnection from basic human needs and desires. I grew up in Northern California and currently reside in Hawaii. A recent trip to California brought to a Bar / Grill at the airport in Honolulu. While sitting I noticed a woman eating alone ( obviously Japanese or would not be on this blog) and decided to strike up a conversation. When I first entered the conversation it was seemed very cold, I would ask a question the answer would be very direct and short. Because of my personality I kept pressing and talking. After about 30 minutes of this her eyes changed and she began talking freely and opening up. We ended up talking for about 2 hours she taught me some Japanese and said I was helping her with her english (which I doubt, she spoke and anunciated very well). Long story short I will be traveling to visit her the first part of the year and she is planning to come back to Hawaii mid next year. I dont think all hope is lost I truely believe the social part of life is desired but may have to be reintroduced. Maybe open bars and social events where technology and media get checked at the door and we all get back to basics. I appologize that I do not right as well as others on this blog.

    • I love the idea of Japan, and the world, checking its technology at the door. Not so sure we’re really heading in that direction, however.

      Nonetheless—even if Japan as a nation or a culture doesn’t embrace social connections—its still possible to make meaningful connections with people individually. I hope things work out well for you and your new friend.

  60. I read this blog first a couple years back and remember thinking: “what the hell is this guy talking about?”. I just couldn’t recognize any of the things you go on about. Reading it again now, almost a year after moving to Tokyo, I came to a realization: “oh, he lives in Tokyo!”. The only time I’ve ever experienced culture shock was not moving from one country to another but moving inside Japan, to Tokyo.

  61. How incredibly depressing

  62. Not depressing at all – thank you much Ken chan 🙂

  63. Wow i didn’t realize japan was in this “situation” , at first i thought by searching “sex in japan” would show me ways on how to do approaching Japanese gals , i always thought that all those JAV and humorous tv shows being created in japan ,the people there must be full of sex,laughter and imagination. After reading your blog i kinda feel of being into the process of extinction. Hopefully there is a solution to all the problems in japan. I truly feel that the people in japan need to have more gathering and parties. And get everyone to stop being in stress mode and be more open towards strangers. Anyways it was nice reading the truth about living in Japan. Sorry about my bad English.

    • Yeah, sorry for my bad English too.

      I completely agree that Japan needs to have more gatherings and parties, and then not whisper behind their friends’ backs the next day because they somehow said the wrong thing and now they’re ostracized from all future parties. That would be progress.

      A lot more openness toward everyone would help this country considerably. But it starts not with the speaker, but the listener. As long as people are being judgemental, the problem isn’t going away.

      But judgemental in Japan? Heh, don’t guess that’s a thing.

      Sorry for the digression. Your comment just made me think about this for some reason. Cheers for writing in though, seriously.

  64. The repression of sex nature perhaps in counties like Japan is unhealthy, but the glorification of sex in the west is also so. I just can hardly imagine going to a country with the intent on finding sex… as if that’s all there is to life.

  65. First of all thank you very much for this well written article. I really enjoyed reading it(only reading, not the facts!).

    I was just collecting information about Japan when I saw your “frightening” observations. I am working in Spain right now(though I am Turkish) and I will be moving to Japan soon for a year or two to work as a post-doc in a university. I have been studying japanese language for some time so I can at least make small conversations. I just wanted to see how people in Japan starts conversations or what do they talk about generally but WOW it turns out that they actually dont..

    As far as I understood, Japan is the exact opposite of Spain. In here people work really low hours(max i heard was 8, i work 5!). Everyone, and when i say everyone i mean like all people: old, young, female, male.. they all go out and they are really warm people that u can have random chat anytime anywhere, even the sexual life here is insanely satisfying.. I assume this huge social change might actually crush me when move to Japan. It’s so bad that i love their culture, I also studied their history as a hobby and I know a lot of stuff about Japan but the things you pointed out : “dark tiny houses, never talking japanese people, youngs working insane hours, etc.”, this is not what I a had in my mind at all.. I wonder how I will be able to socialize there.

    Other than that, I always wanted to have sirious relationship(in here all u do is random sex) in Japan, I actually look forward to meet a cute japanese girl and get a sirious relationship with her. What are the chances this to happen now..? I see that it is quite slim since there is this “gaijin” thing, their work hours etc. so how the hell am i gonna get in a sirious relationship if i can’t meet with anyone..

    I always liked the challange but this seems a little bit off the chart.

    Cheers!

    • I’d say not too worry unduly. The school you’re going to—roughly where is it located? Where you are in Japan can have a big influence upon your experience.

      You’ll also only be here for a couple of years, so that’s within the Golden Window. Most importantly, you’re going to be a university student—forgive me for saying it, but there’s probably no better way to be insulated from society than that. I’ve known international students to stay here for years without seeing any of Japan. Hanging around with other international students, speaking English, and then going to a foreigner-friendly Japanese restaurant twice a month won’t get you much exposure to the culture.

      The only thing I’d caution you on are the women. You say that you want a “serious relationship.” To a Japanese girl, that means marriage. To me, it sounds like you’re setting yourself up for a situation that’s painful and difficult to extricate yourself from.

      To me, that’s clearly your biggest worry.

      • Dear Ken, I will be going to Kyoto for my work. Also just want to correct one thing because it seems that it effects lots of thigs, I won’t be a student there, I have already completed my PhD years ago, I will be working as a full-time scientist, work 9 to 5 weekdays, and I will have weekends free and I will be earning somehow good money. That changes a lot i guess. However, I won’t be having lots of interraction with the students as you have mentioned because I will be their teacher mostly for few classes(I am 29 years old). Therefore, the only people that i can socialize with will be the working group of mine i think. That quite troubles me.

        By the way, I don’t mind a serious relationship I will have there to turn into a marriage. I have had enaugh of my share with the fun part so It’s also okey for me to settle down with a girl I love. Though of course first few months I would love to experience the society and ugh i dont know how say “rules” maybe, you know the things like the most usual thing (go to a club/bar etc. , hit a girl or wait them to hit you, take one to home) works there too ? or not? or the paid services you mentioned how it works and the establishments are really only for japanese people? That also narrows down my options.. A year is quite long time and i honestly don’t want to spend my time without having fun at least for the few months..

        I honestly don’t know what to expect anymore..

        • You sound like a smart, cool dude with good career prospects. You’re doomed.

          Saying you wouldn’t mind getting married in Japan is like waving around a wad of cash while strolling into a convention of used car salesmen.

          The “rules” for dating and hooking up are sometimes the same, sometimes different. There are paid services. In some ways, everything’s a paid service. How’re you going to make sense of it all, and not be tricked into some situation you don’t want? There are smart girls from the country, and dumb girls from the city, women with kids and women with careers. Everyone’s got a story, and family that wants to meet the foreign boyfriend. Everyone’s chatting about you behind your back.

          That’s what you’re wading into. Now, I really don’t know what your time here will be like. Could be great, could be terrible. It’ll likely be a mix of both. I think you shouldn’t worry about life in Japan too much—but be careful of the women!

          It’s going to take you years to figure out what’s really going on. And in the meantime you’re going to meet people who latch onto you like you’re the last train home.

          • My apologies for all of my posts but I couldn’t help myself from replying to this one as well. I don’t mean to take over this blog.

            On a recent visit to Seattle to the 42nd Annual Cherry Blossom & Japanese Cultural Festival I found myself speaking to an older Japanese woman at an arts display. She had immigrated from Japan many years ago. When I mentioned to her that I planned on visiting Japan she told me “Oh, you will be very popular there. Just be careful of Japanese women, they are very dangerous.’ I could tell she wasn’t joking, she was quite serious.

            So if our own Ken Seeroi warns any gaijin about Japanese women and a Japanese woman warned this gaijin about Japanese women…well…there must be something to it. Buyer beware…

            • Haha. My tour guide (who is a Japanese woman) told me that once Japanese women marry, they remove that white cloth cover over their hair (during the marriage ceremony) to reveal their horns!

              Also once they get a whiff that you’re in a relatively stable situation (financially) and seem like a decent person, you WILL be hunted (even on cyberspace, check out the so-called language learning app, Hellotalk). By hunted, I mean kind of lured.

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