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July 18, 2013

No Sex and the City


Photo Credit: Takashi Homa

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It's not just young women who are turned off by the confusing world of modern romance. In bustling Harajuku, Tokyo's street-fashion hub, Kensuke Todo, 20, says dating and sex are too complicated. "Either girls are not interested in you at all, or they want a serious relationship," he says. The college student, who is majoring in social affairs, says he enjoys his hobbies of photography and fashion much more than chasing girls for sex. "I'd rather spend my money on clothes than buying women dinner or gifts," adds Todo, who's wearing pricey Paul Smith pants and a Comme des Garçons shirt.

Todo is too shy to talk about whether he still has sexual urges, or what he does to satisfy them without dating. But he admits that quite a few of his male friends who are also celibate turn to virtual girlfriends and sexually explicit comics for excitement. "It's quite common," he says, blushing. Vast amounts of pornography are readily available in Japan. Many media commentators are debating whether the prevalence of such imagery—which demeans women and sets up unrealistic fantasy expectations for men—is another factor alienating the sexes from each other in real life.

Tomomi Yamaguchi, assistant professor of anthropology at Montana State University, agrees this could be part of the malaise but says Japan's outdated attitudes toward women overall are one of the main underlying reasons. "The country needs to stop treating women like either sex objects or baby-making machines and allow them to be themselves." Better sex education, more measures to help women combine a career and family, and less pressure on men to be the sole providers would also help spark the nation's collective love life, the cultural expert believes.

If such steps are not taken, young women like Asada could remain single all their lives. According to projections by the government's National Institute of Population and Social Security, women in their early 20s today have a 1 in 4 chance of never marrying. Their chances of remaining childless are even higher: almost 40 percent. Japan's birthrate has been falling steadily for years, and fewer babies were born in 2012 than in any other year on record. (The year before that—as the proportion of elderly people skyrocketed — adult diapers outsold baby diapers in Japan for the first time.) The nation is on the brink of ahuge demographic crisis: At current levels, the population of 127 million is projected to fall by a whopping one-third by 2060.

In many ways, the country has only itself to blame. For years, educated women in Japan have been postponing marriage and children because it's so difficult for them to combine work and family. Eri Tomita, 31, loves her job in the human resources department at the central Tokyo office of a French bank. A college graduate and fluent French speaker, she fought hard in Japan's overcrowded job market to establish her career and has no intention of giving it up. "My job is part of my identity now. I like having responsibilities at work and being financially independent."

In the male-dominated corporate world, workplace discrimination is blatant as soon as a woman marries. "The chances of promotion stop dead because the bosses assume you will get pregnant and leave. I've seen it many times," says Tomita. Once a woman does have a baby, she adds, it's simply impossible to keep working. "You have to work long, inflexible hours, so you have to quit. You end up being a housewife with no income of your own. This is not an option for modern women like me."

Slim and beautiful with long hair and a stylish fashion sense, Tomita has made a conscious decision not to get romantically involved at all so she can focus on her work. She lives alone and socializes with her girlfriends. "I have many single friends who are all career girls like me. We like to go out to French or Italian restaurants and have expensive food and wine."

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