Anyone who has spent some time in Japan knows that when it comes to sexual matters the Japanese are – how shall I put it politely? – a little bit weird.
Whether it’s the Sweet Lolita fashion cult of teenage girls dressing up as bizarre sexless fusions between Hello Kitty and innocent Victorian schoolgirls, street vending machines that sell schoolgirls’ used panties, buttoned-down businessmen openly reading porn magazines on packed morning commuter trains or X-rated movies with the sexual parts of the porn stars pixellated out to hide any glimpse of pubic hair, the Japanese attitude to sexuality has notoriously been strange.
But as the Sun recently revealed, the weirdness has recently blossomed into something even more dysfunctional. A phenomenon that is causing Japan to experience a “full blown crisis over its sex life.” A crisis that has politicians, therapists and the Japanese Family Planning Association all worried about the future of the island nation.
The statistics are startling for sure. According to a new study, more than forty percent of singles in the country aged 18 to 24 are still virgins while thirty percent of single women and 15 percent of single men aged between 20 and 29 admit to having fallen in love with a character from an anime comic or video game.
Indeed, a survey by the Japanese Family Planning Association in 2013 found that 45 percent of women aged 16 to 24 said they were “not interested in or despised sexual contact”, while a quarter of men felt the same way.
The problem is that the Japanese seem to be giving up on sex, at least sex as it’s always been known up to now : that is, sex between actual flesh-and-blood human beings. In news that lonely 14-year-old geeks and nerds around the world will celebrate, it looks like a large portion of the younger population of Japan has decided that real life sex is overrated, too complicated, too messy and that techno. Sex – i.e. sexual release via virtual reality, computer games or sex dolls – is now the way to go.
Japanese-American author Roland Kelts, who is an expert on Japan’s youth, predicts that the future of Japanese relationships will be largely technology driven. “Japan has developed incredibly sophisticated virtual worlds and online communication systems,” he notes. “Its smart phone apps are the world’s most imaginative.”
But it’s not imaginative smart phone apps that young, single Japanese men are going to be excited about when for $400 they can purchase the new Illusion VR virtual reality sex suit.
The technologically advanced Illusion VR package features a virtual reality headset, a suit made to electronically stimulate the wearer’s body, and squeezable fake boobs – all of which allows the user to have “sex” with female anime cartoon characters. Eat your heart out, Jessica Rabbit lovers.
And for older, wealthier men there are now hyper-realistic, anatomically correct sex dolls made of high quality silicone, which sell for upwards of $4000. One of the companies making this new breed of sex dolls claims that its products are so good that they are being mistaken for real women. They boast that anyone who buys one will never want a proper girlfriend again.
Indeed, many Japanese men (and increasing numbers of women) seem happy not to be bothered with “proper” relationships at all. Instead of dating their real life counterparts with all their real-life complications, they prefer to go to cafes where, for an hourly rate, they can either sit and hold hands with girls dressed as anime characters, cuddle with strangers or get served tea by waitresses in frilly outfits who call their customers “Master”.
As AI technology advances in leaps and bounds, it’s just a question of time before a Japanese tech company develops life-like, walking, talking male and female sex robots/companions, but until that time (in the not very distant future) Vinclu Inc have created a hologram “wife” that not only wakes you in the morning, responds to vocal interactions and sends you texts during your working day but will also control home appliances so that the lights are on and your apartment is clean when you get home at night. And, of course, being Japanese the Vinclu hologram wife avatar is only currently available as, yes, you guessed, it, yet another anime character.
However if the idea catches on in the not-seeming-so-decadent-now-is-it West, expect new avatars to be more along the lines of the latest Sports Illustrated swimwear cover model.
These new toys and products are testament to Japanese ingenuity and technological progress. Yet their very popularity points to a disturbing and ultimately tragic future where human relationships are less valued than those between humans and machines. While the experts argue as to what is causing the tech-obsessed Japanese to shun normal sex lives (popular theories are the twenty years of economic uncertainty Japan has suffered, a post-Fukushima fear of the future and a rebellion against the rigid social constraints of Japanese society) the fact is that Japan has now got one of the world’s lowest birth rates.
In fact its current population of 120 million is projected to plunge below 80 million by 2060 unless things change drastically and the government can find a cure for its young generation’s “celibacy syndrome.”
Meanwhile a nervous Japanese media call the young men who have chosen to forsake human relationships for their own fantasy worlds “herbivores” or “grass-eater men” – as in they’re passive, unambitious and have no carnal desire. The phrase “The Future Is Green” might sound good to environmentalists but in the island nation of the “herbivores” it is starting to take on a much more sinister meaning.