I first heard of the Japanese population crisis when I went to a lecture by the world-renowned artist Yoshitomo Nara in 2009 during the Chicago Humanities Festival. He kept talking about how there would be nobody left to appreciate his art in his native land soon and at the time I thought he was perhaps exaggerating, especially when he blamed what he called “a dreadful state of affairs” on porn and adult games.
It turns out, however, that he kind of knows what he’s talking about, but in a very simplistic way. It’s complicated, but the essential story is that few Japanese couples have more than one child and very rarely do they have two, It can be blamed on Japan’s prolonged economic malaise and even the recent post-Tsunami nuclear disaster. Yet the truth is more likely that, as the New York Times put it, “Years of stagnant (or declining) incomes have made Japanese men less attractive as potential partners. And economic uncertainty has led couples to delay getting married and having children. The shortage of public day care centers, especially in cities, has made the cost and burden of parenthood so high that today’s couples either have fewer babies or none at all.” Indeed, Japan’s birthrate is just 1.39 children per woman.
At the same time, there is a boom in ‘Hentai,’ which is Japan’s homegrown form of porn. The word itself just means “perverted.” Japan is a fairly tolerant and doesn’t own similar puritanical roots to the U.S. There’s no moral authority that goes around condemning things as in the United States or Europe. You can see naked kids on Japanese television, for example. A penis isn’t just a sexual thing. It’s part of the body of half of the population. Yet as I get on Facebook and ask about these differences, most Japanese and Americans living in Japan believe that “Hentai” is for white people, not them. Yet, as the Japanese anthropologist Gen Itaska points out, manga porn comics books as well pornographic newspapers and magazines are openly read on the Tokyo subway.
More interesting currently are the kind of flirtatious sexualized app and video games played in Japan which are now catching on in the U.S. The craze began with a game called Konami: Love Plus, which has spawned scores of others, like Tokememi: Girls Side and Tokememi: Girls Side: Second Kiss.
Here in the U.S. we have a more literally entitled Create A Virtual Boyfriend and its follow-up Boyfriend Maker. For anyone willing to go beyond downloading the Android app on Google there is a whole other world waiting for you via social media on Facebook, Tumblr, etc.
Read the blogs and you’ll find yourself in a world where actual sex seems to be a more and more daunting concept, guarded like a virginal princess in a glorious tower, thousands of feet high, close to a stratosphere, lined with German razor wire and watched over by heavily armed, Jihadi replicants; these games seem to be redefining intimacy in relationships to a point where sex is viewed in a radically different way.
Go to the game app and you’ll get this helpful explanation: “In Boyfriend Maker, you create your own stylish boyfriend by selecting a variety of fashion items for him – hair, top, necklace and much more! Chat with your boyfriend and find out more from him. Play the ‘Make Him Say’ word game with him and earn free points everyday. He is always there for you!” Note: The language that you talk to the boyfriend is according to your device language setting.
Look for the game on a search engine and you’ll find scores of knockoffs for every gender and preference. The most bizarre of all, however, is the social media site on Tumblir dedicated to Boyfriend Maker. ‘A blog dedicated to the greatest IOS/Android app ever!’ The attached page should give you a sense of just how many courtships are going these days. And if you’re really picky, you can spend your day(s) building him. We’re talking way past dressed-up Ken dolls. You can even have your own ‘Virtual Boyfriend Party!”