No this isn’t the plot of a new movie starring whatever the Japanese equivalent of Steve Carell might be. There are apparently a growing number of heterosexual, single men in Japan who are still virgins. A 2010 survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research found that around a quarter of unmarried Japanese men in their 30s were still virgins — so much so that they even coined a term – yaramiso – to describe them.
Takashi Sakai, a 41 year-old with a good job and charming smile had never had any kind of relationship with a woman – and does not even know how to begin having one. “I’ve never had a girlfriend. It’s never happened,” he said. “It’s not like I’m not interested. I admire women. But I just cannot get on the right track.”
Matchmaking expert Yoko Itamoto says that the Japanese economic slowdown is to blame for the virginity conundrum, as years of lackluster growth has created a sort of economic emasculation. More men are struggling to find secure, full-time jobs and, “Many men seem to have lost confidence as they’ve lost their economic muscle,” she said. “In the past two decades, the situation for Japanese men has been very tough and competitive.”
A 49-year-old architect who wishes to remain unnamed has only had romantic feelings for a woman twice in his life – once in his twenties and once twenty years later – and both times he was rebuffed. “It was devastating,” he said. “It seemed to invalidate my life and take away my reason to live.”
Both times caused him to suffer rapid weight-loss. The pain caused by the inability to form an emotional and romantic relationship with women is something real for him and others like him.
Amongst other developed countries Japan ranks the lowest when it comes to sexual frequency. In fact in the same survey quoted above, 68 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds in Japan said they were virgins. Which compared to Europe in a survey done by condom maker Durex, virginity rates amongst 15-20-year-olds were much lower.
These results may come as a surprise to outsiders, because who are we kidding, when we think of Japan we think sushi, gadgets and weird sex stuff. Images of sex are everywhere in Japan – television, books, on the streets, comics and yet somehow real conversations about sex are few and far between.
I’m not surprised, when you have young blue-eyed girls with enormous boobs having sex with tentacled beings in hentai comics as a norm, it’s hard to go back to talking to real girls who want, you know, conversation and such. It’s almost as if giving in to all their sexual fantasies has made it difficult to have regular relationships where people get rejected, are not down for subway molestations, and women want regular sex. Has being a society that has crossed the line of sexual fantasies to the max, created a sexless society?
Who can tell, but for people like Sakai he is now taking it slow and exploring sexuality by participating in a program called the Virgin Academia program. He goes to life drawing classes where he sketches naked women so he may understand the female body. “The first time I did this, in autumn last year, oh . . . I was so amazed. Their bodies are incredibly beautiful,” he said.
“One thing I learned is that there are many different shapes of breasts and even genitals,” he said.
Time will tell whether or not programs like Virgin Academia will be useful, but for now the course has helped him to see his lack of sexual experience as less of a life or death crisis.
“There is no need to be so pessimistic,” he said. “After all, being a virgin isn’t fatal.”