Do a Bing search for the term "celibacy syndrome" and you will get 564,000 results returned on the subject of sekkusu shinai shokogun. If this is the first time you have been hearing about this growing Japanese cultural phenomenon, The Week online can sum up the problem for you in this way:
The Japanese now have one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, and at the same time, one of the highest longevity rates. As a result, the population is dropping rapidly, and becoming increasingly weighted toward older people. After peaking seven years ago, at 128 million, Japan's population has been falling — and is on a path to decline by about a million people a year. By 2060, the government estimates, there will be just 87 million people in Japan; nearly half of them will be over 65.
According to that online post, Japan's problem of a dwindling population is twofold. A) In the past, Japanese marriages were business arrangements between two families. They had very little to do with love. Since the 1990s, the population has gotten away from those traditions regarding arranged marriages and this leaves Japanese men uncertain about how to find spouses. Instead of procreating, the Japanese men retreat into their parents' basements and peruse porn sites or online gaming because there doesn't seem to be an alternative B) in the past; Japanese women would stop working after they began having children. Modern Japanese women much prefer their economic freedom. They recognize that the alternative will bring about a decrease in their standard of living. They liken marriage and motherhood to death.
I would just like to state for the record that I do not personally believe that Japanese men are incapable of figuring out how to court women to be their wives. That sounds so inherently farcical to me that the concept borders on pathological vulgarization. Generally, where there's a biological urge to reproduce, nature finds a way. Nevertheless, Japanese men are avoiding personal contact with women, women are avoiding personal contact with men and this suggests not so much a lack of competence as a lack of drive. The question that should be asked is what is happening to drain the Japanese people of their procreative instincts.
The answer seems directly connected to the lack of long term prospects for success and prosperity. Those hardships are exacerbated by the harsh contrasts created within the technology boom. Our information age provides unprecedented opportunity for instant gratification and that is far more palatable to Millennials than the political and economic reform that would be required to improve prospects for success and prosperity. Japanese incomes have been declining at about the same rate that home prices have been increasing since the 1990s. Japan's workweek averages around 50 hours. Men and single women regularly put in 15 hour days to make a decent salary.
To rectify the plummeting standard of living, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is working hard to create an environment where women will find it comfortable to continue working after they have begun families…no, the prospect of reducing government spending so that individuals can keep more of what they earn was not discussed as a viable option, but thanks to a government program that sends female outreach counselors known as "rental sisters" to the homes of young men to coax them out of their basements, a handful of men are slowly returning to the workforce as well…
… A government program called "rental sisters." I'm sorry. I can scarcely ponder the implications of what "rental sisters" means without weeping for the future of that once notable culture. Alas, sometimes it is better not to overthink these things.
The UK Guardian and the Tokyo Weekender echo The Week's account of celibacy syndrome, but they offer a more nuanced view. Japan's crippled economy and aging population coupled with the trauma of 2011's earthquake, tsunami and radioactive meltdown intensified an already escalating environment of hopelessness. Translation: in a world wrought with disaster and devastation, who in his right mind would have children? And I get it. It's a question that is as old as civilization itself…although, I have never before heard of a generation that actually acted on such despondency. I guess that there's always a first – or a last – depending on how you look at it.
Naturally, the solutions offered for all the hardships that Japan suffers are what you might expect given the state of popular culture. From the media's perspective, Japan's social traditionalists are to blame for the reproductive drought because they won't allow for modernization of the family. Japan's social progressives believe that women must be encouraged to work rather than stay at home with their children. Traditionalists must relax social mores regarding premarital cohabitation, forget the taboos regarding married women working, and they should not worry so much about children being born out of wedlock. Otherwise, Japan might have to resort to immigration in order to fix the problem of an aging society with no replacement population.
For those of you who are too young to remember, Japan has been in economic decline since the 1990s – right around the time that its bubble economy burst leading the nation through what is now termed the "lost decade." Of course, the lost decade continued on for over twenty years, but who is counting. This has led to an environment of economic uncertainty that results in low and unstable wage earning.
Recognizing that this bubble was unsustainable, the Bank of Japan sharply raised interest rates in late 1989. This sharp policy caused the bursting of the bubble, and the stock market crashed. A debt crisis followed and the Japanese banks and insurances were now loaded with bad debts. The financial institutions were bailed out through capital infusions from the government, loans from the central bank and the ability to postpone the recognition of losses, ultimately turning them into zombie banks. Yalman Onaran of Salon stated that the zombie banks were one of the reasons for the following stagnation. Additionally Michael Schuman of Time magazine noted that these banks kept injecting new funds into unprofitable "zombie firms" to keep them afloat, arguing that they were too big to fail. However, most of these companies were too debt-ridden to do much more than survive on bail-out funds.
The Japanese culture is not particularly religious or patriotic at this point in its history. Popular culture celebrates promiscuity but the nation's twenty to thirty somethings feel no duty to God or nation to go forth and multiply. From their perspectives, marriage offers no benefits. Children are a burden on both financial and social prospects. Per the Guardian, they prefer "casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality "girlfriends", anime cartoons. Or else they're opting out altogether and replacing love and sex with other urban pastimes."
Sounding all too familiar? I think so too. In fact, it's eerily similar to what is happening in the US. Millennials are withdrawing from society in droves and living as hermits in their parent's basements where they play video games because they don't see any point of becoming adults, and who can blame them? Heavy tax burdens. Huge college loan debts. Poor job prospects. A scenario of caring for an aging population. No wonder they envision a zombie apocalypse around every corner.
Of course, some sociologists assert that this growing abhorrence for the opposite sex among Millennials may be a good thing resulting in a significant breakthrough in interpersonal relationships. It is thought that Japan may be setting a trend where society might celebrate the emergence of the new secular monk and the death of the nuclear family.
"With a vast army of older people and an ever-dwindling younger generation, Japan may become a "pioneer people" where individuals who never marry exist in significant numbers."
Yeah…a pioneering people with significant numbers of its members practicing asexuality? It sounds like a trend that could be over before it really gets started. And it's maybe a little too apocalyptic-cultish for my taste.