Japan is on the brink of a population crisis - it's in decline and its young people are to blame. They're not having sex. They're not getting into romantic relationships. And they're not getting married.
60 percent of women and 70 percent of men aged 18-34 identify as single. While this could be dismissed as a possible trend of young people in Japan rejecting traditional relationships, they're not hooking up either. Around 44 per cent of unmarried women and 42 per cent of unmarried men have reported in a government census that they are virgins. In just 2017 alone, Japan saw a 403,000 population decline. For a country of 127 million people, declines like this could be catastrophic if the trend isn't reversed.
Host of The Feed, Marc Fennell, went to Japan to investigate the crisis for the documentary Sex In Japan: Dying For Company. The Guide spoke with Fennell about what viewers can expect from the special.
What was the inspiration for visiting Japan?
We went over there to find out why young Japanese people have stopped having sex. They have done so, statistically speaking, in massive numbers. The Japanese government have put millions and millions of dollars into encouraging young people to date, have sex, marry. Because their population is shrinking. Unlike Australia, which is growing faster than anyone expected.
There is a booming industry of spouse-hunting parties, which are called konkatsu. Sometimes they are screened on looks, sometimes they're screened on income. It's an entire environment designed to make you want to hook up with people. The girls get in for free. The guys have to pay something in the vicinity between $15-18 per half hour. Pricey, but once you're in there, there is a complete self-service bar with everything you might possibly imagine. And the robot who pours beer for you.
It's such a uniquely Japanese solution to a problem. That's not government funded, that's a commercial industry. But there are grants the government will give out to small towns who want to hold dating parties. They're that serious about it. They've got what demographers call a population time bomb. The population is shrinking, they're aging. The number of adult nappies is about to out-sell the number of kids nappies.
There is a trend called hikikomori, which is where young boys, as they pass adolescence, live isolated lives where they don't want to engage with other people. Is that contributing to this?
I'm very careful about stepping into a country and making pronouncements as the westerner, but based on the people we spoke to, that does appear to be one of the elements. As you've sort of clocked onto there, sexual gratification itself is not hard to come by. Particularly in Tokyo. There's a huge industry of maid cafes, which isn't necessarily sexual, but it can take that edge in some areas. There's love hotels. There's sex shops. There is a whole bunch of sexual gratification that is on offer. And Japan is famed for its kink. The issue is when it comes to building relationships and what young men and women are after in relationships, and whether those things clock over into sustaining themselves to the point where they're building families.
With many of us now living more of our lives online, are we learning from this that there needs to be a much stronger layer of physical real-life engagement with people in order to maintain a society which can continue to populate?
It is certainly an element. I spent a bit of time with a fascinating sex therapist who also used to be a dominatrix. She made the observation that the easy access to not-real sexual gratification that isn't couched in a relationship is playing a significant role. And the extremely digitised lives that that particular generation engage in is a contributing factor. Though, the amount of technology available to a young Japanese person is not vastly dissimilar to the amount of technology available to a young Australian person. There are other things at play there that are uniquely Japanese that you don't see replicated here. Though you do see aspects of it in places like South Korea.
As soon as robotics become more sophisticated and tele-dildonics become accessible, should Australia be looking at this issue as a sign of things that we may see ourselves?
It's funny, a lot of the pattern of behaviour you see in Japan, I don't see replicated in Australia. Over the years of doing technology and media reporting, I've spoken to a lot of dildonics and tele-dildonics creators. Some of them are really fascinating... you can have a device, male or female at one end, and another device at the other end. What you touch can be felt on the other no matter where you are in the world. There's all sorts of interesting ways in which technology and tele-dildonics can be used to bring people together, particularly in long distance environments.
It is interesting to note that [technology] has had an impact and changed the shape of behaviour for teenagers and adults into their 20s and 30s. It turns out it does come at a cost and they're not scrambling to solve it before the population ages to a point that it's a real problem.
Sex in Japan: Dying For Company airs as a The Feed special on Tuesday 25 September at 7:30pm on SBS VICELAND and will stream anytime after at SBS On Demand.