The Modern Tokyo Times

International news and neglected issues

Japan and herbivorous men: not interested in sex or cultural factors?

Japan and herbivorous men: not interested in sex or cultural factors?

Michel Le Bon and Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Sexuality in Japan


Several surveys of young males aged 16 and 19 in Japan appear to show that many in this age group are not interested in having a girlfriend.  The surveys relate to an increasing minority of young men in this age group who have no interest in sex.  Therefore, the herbivorous men have been highlighted in the mass media and many questions have been raised to why this is happening.

O-net did a survey of 800 young men and asked these 20 years old about certain aspects of their lifestyle when it came to sex.  According to figures released from this survey 83.7 per cent responded by stating that they didn’t have a girlfriend.  When the questions dug deeper it turned out that 49.3 per cent of the men in the survey had never had a girlfriend.

The survey by O-net appears to be backed up by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare when their survey showed that 36.1 per cent of young adults had no interest in females.  This survey was published by the Japan Family Planning Association and this figure was a big jump from a survey which was taken in 2008 on the same topic. 

Therefore, with in the space of two years according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the figure of young males not interested in finding a girlfriend went from 17.9 per cent to 36.1 per cent.  This would appear to raise doubts on the findings because the jump is too steep within a short space of time so does it raise the possibility that aspects of young male culture is geared to being single and enjoying friendships?

It could be that this is part of a new trend which is now accepted and not seen to be negative. Youth culture fluctuates often and this applies to music trends, fashion and other factors. The hype over the herbivorous young men in Japan may just be ignoring a current trend within culture.

Also, some of these statistics may ignore aspects of the dark side of Japanese culture. Images of young teenage girls are seen in the media and represented in anime, magazines, on television, the music industry and throughout society. This also relates to a minority of young teenage girls having sex for luxury items or for money in major cities like Tokyo. 

Young females, therefore, are maturing more quickly and sexuality is aimed and directed towards young ladies. However, male teenage sexuality is not in the commercial arena to anywhere near the same level and maybe many young females are also losing an attachment to their own age group in early adulthood because of cultural norms.

It is very common to see young ladies with older males in Japan and issues like enjo kosai is embedded within aspects of culture.  Enjo kosai applies to mature men paying for dating and so forth and you have countless hostess clubs and love hotels which provide a service where mainly younger females and older males mix.

Of course enjo kosai and the sexual subculture is mainly aimed at ladies in their twenties and early thirties but you also have areas which drag in younger ladies.  However, the main point is that females are deemed sexually by older males but younger males don’t have this issue.

The 16 to 19 years old generation of young male adults are not part of this reality and with greater emphasis being put on fashion and following clean cut role models then sexuality is not so important.

Of course you have some alarmists pointing the finger at aspects of otaku culture, hentai animation, young adults dreaming about AV idols and the isolationist nature of culture. However, the figure is too high to point to issues like this and clearly the reasons are more general and some individuals just desire to paint Japanese culture too negatively.

Normal factors behind the figure are also being ignored and this applies to the huge pressure being put on young adults, both male and female. This applies to school homework, cram school and other areas related to studying hard. Even belonging to sport clubs or other extracurricular areas is a burden on time and the reality of the demands on young adults can’t be ignored in any survey.

In the United Kingdom and France, for example, you have more freedom and second chances and despite cultural changes in the workforce in Japan the male is still seen to be the main breadwinner. Therefore, many young female graduates once they get married in Japan they either drop-out of the workforce or rejoin at a lower level.

However, for males the pressure is that much higher unless the female is focused on being a career woman for life. Therefore, suicide and hikikomori is much higher in the male population than the female population and males know that the education system and work system is not aimed at second chances.  Either you enter a prestigious university which really enhances the future prospects of the respective individual or limitations and life opportunities will be hindered dramatically.

Young Japanese males may be becoming more herbivorous when young but much of this is cultural and following the reality of teenage life in Japan.  Like everything, you have positives and negatives but if individuals look deeper into the issue then most of the factors are based on modern lifestyles and social pressures being put on young adults.

ENJO KOSAI – “Compensated dating whereby an older male pays a younger female.”

HIKIKOMORI – “Pulling away from society and becoming reclusive.”  Facts and Details related to enjo kosai, young females and the sex trade and other related areas.

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