The Incredible, Vanishing Japanese


The Japanese are in the mist of a serious population decline, with one estimate claiming the citizenry shrank by 75,000 in 2009, an increase of almost 150% from the year prior.

As the Japan Times noted in a 2010 editorial:

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The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research estimates that Japan’s population will dip below 100 million in 2046, below 90 million in 2055 and down to 44.59 million in 2105. If this trend continues, the labor force and consumer markets will shrink, having a strong impact on the economy. Social security costs for medical and nursing care services and pensions will exert great pressure on people. It is time to seriously consider how to stem the population decrease.

If population growth is indeed the solution (and it is), a new study of Japanese sex habits isn’t very encouraging. It appears that young Japanese men and women are not only hesitating to reproduce — a good thing at that age — but are actually losing interest in sex altogether.

In the latest survey of attitudes to sex conducted September 2010 by the agency, part of the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, fully 36% of males aged 16 to 19 surveyed described themselves as “indifferent or averse” towards having sex. That’s a near 19% increase since the survey was last conducted in 2008.

As if that weren’t enough of a red flag for a country plagued by a low birthrate and an ageing, shrinking population, women seem to be even more reluctant to consider having sex. While no one is suggesting people of that age group should automatically be procreating, a whopping 59% of female respondents aged 16 to 19 said they were uninterested in or averse to sex, a near 12% increase since 2008.

What’s in the water over there? Some Japanese social analysts are pointing to the relatively new phenomenon of sexual “herbivores.”

“A comparison of the 2008 and 2010 findings show that men indeed have become ‘herbivores,’” commented Mr. Kunio Kitamura, head of the Japan Family Planning Association. “Herbivore men” is a term that gained increasing currency in Japan in 2010, describing young men who are passive and less ambitious in their romantic relationships with women than previous generations.

I won’t pretend to understand Japanese culture. Under the xenophobic policies of the Tokugawa shogunate, Japan was cut off from most foreign influences for over 200 years, between the early 17th to the mid 19th centuries. With that kind of isolationism, it shouldn’t surprise us that the Japanese have developed a few idiosyncrasies, some of which are plainly self-destructive.


  • Brian Saint-Paul

    Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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