The Dirty Secret of Japanese Sex

The British-Hungarian humorist George Mikes once wrote, in a chapter titled “Sex“, in his book How To Be An Alien, “On the continent, people have sex. In Britain, people have hot water bottles.” That comment was the whole chapter. Many British people were offended. Years later he wrote “I have never been so maligned more than for the one line chapter I wrote about sex in Britain.” But the idea must have had some truth in it, because twenty-five years later Alistair Foot and Anthony Marriott wrote a play titled “No Sex Please, We’re British” which played to full houses for 16 years, totaling 6,761 performances.

Somebody needs to write the same thing about the Japanese, because contrary to popular perception, Japan is an under-sexed society to an extent that not even the Japanese are aware of.

Many of the arguments that were directed at George Mikes back in the day will no doubt be directed at me. Some of them will be legitimate, save for one. That was the argument that said in spite of the outward lack of sexuality the British do manage to procreate, to which Mikes conceded “Strange, but true.” Unfortunately, you cannot make the same argument about Japan. The Japanese are not procreating. The birthrate is now the lowest in the world. People blame this on the shortage of childcare centers, the systemic sexism, the lack of maternal leave, the cost of education, the lack of awareness, and the lack of male participation in housework. All of those are legitimate problems, but all have seen progress in the recent decades with no improvement in the fertility rate. If anything, the birthrate is still getting lower.

Tokyo was once infamous for the chikan, the gropers who felt up women in the over crowded commuter trains. The incidence has since dropped markedly. Horror stories of men wrongly accused of groping, and publicly shamed for it, resulting in loss of careers and ruined lives are making the rounds. Then men now commute in fear. And Japan is one of the few developed countries in the world where incidence of rape actually dropped. Those things are supposed to be good news, but it upsets feminists and foreigners immeasurably. Any suggestion that incidence of sex crime is actually lower in Japan than other parts of the world receives hysterical retorts from the non-believers.

Japan’s infamous pornography market has seen a 10% drop in sales year over year for more than a decade. Fifty Shades of Grey, which sold hundreds of millions of copies around the globe in practically unknown in Japan. The love hotels that dotted the landscape are closing down, boarded up and left to ruin. formerly famous dating spots are now filled with seniors. Japan, collectively, is losing its libido.

Why is this happening? Because Japan, despite its reputation, never really was very big on sex. And yet, we have bought into our own con. Somehow, we believed the narrative that a runaway sex culture was one of our main social ills. It was easy to believe in the absence of other problems to get upset about. This is a country in which a fistfight could be broadcast nationally in the evening news. Somebody also forgot that Japan is a country that can declare war on socio-political problems and actually win. We declared a war on the obesity epidemic and now the average Japanese is consuming the lowest amount of calories since the post-WWII food shortage. So once we declared war on the runaway sex culture, closed down the discos, put restrictions on pornography, and generally leeched the blood out of anything pertaining sex, we actually got results; results which we hardly needed in the first place.

George Mikes liked to point out that if a beautiful lady walked the streets of Milan, she would be catcalled and wolf whistled by numerous men, and that London lacked the sex charged atmosphere of the cities of the continent. In case you haven’t noticed, Tokyo lacks it too. In fact, out side of Shibuya or Roppongi, you will have to bend over backwards to find any kind of sexual energy in a Japanese city. Have you ever noticed that Japanese women tend to be slim, smart, well-dressed, educated and still not getting attention from men? By the reserved standards of Japan, women are practically throwing themselves at men and not getting results.

The gaijin men get plenty of attention, because they are the only ones wolf whistling. The Caucasian women get more than their share of unwanted attention from men, due to some cultural image that is projected about them. But Japanese men are not paying much attention to Japanese women. If anything, they seem to be increasingly avoiding them. Business wise, there is still a huge sex market in Japan, but in proportion to the size of the economy, it is relatively small. There is some talk that Google, the single corporation, is making more money than all of the Japanese sex industry combined.

Still, plenty of people will tell you that Japanese sexual mores have gone down the tube. They will say that promiscuity has overrun the country and the moral decay is a major problem. Of course they will say that. Remember when the tsunami hit north eastern Japan, and debris washed up on the beaches? Millions of dollars worth of cash and hundreds of safe boxes were delivered to police stations by the people who found them. But moralists still found reasons to say that the Japanese people were not as honest as they once were. The same standards are applied to sexual morals. According to the most vocal commentators on the subject, we are living in an era where sexual morals do not measure up to those of an imaginary past. The reality is that we have an epidemic of married couples living in celibacy.

I once attended a re-enactment of a traditional geisha party. The senior ladies who are the last of the Beppu Kenban, which once counted over a hundred geishas as their members, entertained us with their song and dance and old fashioned parlor games. As the evening went on, and alcohol took its effect on the men, the sexual innuendos and double entendres from the women became increasingly obvious. The whole evening was designed to get the sexually shy men out of their shells. By the end of the evening the women made the men laugh with crude sex jokes that men dare not utter in public, and the party adjourned with the happy drunken men feeling a little bit like conquerors for having dared to talk sex and flirt. That was the entertainment that real geishas traditionally provided. Of course, inappropriate behavior from the customers was no doubt a routine occurrence. And romance between a geisha and a patron is the regular staple of Japanese literature. But the truth is, geishas existed on a backdrop of indolent sexuality. Men had to visit geishas and have their sex drive and confidence propped up before going home to their wives to have sex (though not always with success). That is the reality behind the legend.

In the West men have Viagra. In Japan they have (or, used to have) geisha parties. But not much sex.

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