Japan from the inside out


Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 3, 2012

“I have a lot to say,” said the fish, “but my mouth is full of water.”
– Georgian proverb

WHEN last we met, I promised that the next post would discuss Japan’s best options for responding to geopolitical conditions in East Asia. That post has required a lot of time to collect, translate, and organize the information, however. At the same time, my primary attention shifted to a large influx of paying work, which still continues. Finally, it has been difficult to resist the temptation to slide over to YouTube and watch and listen to the videos in the excellent Pakistan Coke Studio series.

The stimulus which pulled me out of that mini-orbit was the festival of cheap thrills in the English-language blogosphere this week touched off by another provocative bit of Japan-related flummery.


A startling number of Japanese youths have turned their backs on sex and relationships, a new survey has found.

The survey, conducted by the Japan Family Planning Association, found that 36% of males aged 16 to 19 said that they had “no interest” in or even “despised” sex. That’s almost a 19% increase since the survey was last conducted in 2008.

If that’s not bad enough, The Wall Street Journal reports that a whopping 59% of female respondents aged 16 to 19 said they were uninterested in or averse to sex, a near 12% increase since 2008.

Not only did everone fall for it, they sucked it up so quickly one could almost hear the kids loudly slurping the last drops of the beverage at the bottom of the cup through their straws.

Now really: Are the popular perceptions of Japan so warped that anyone anywhere 16 years of age or over could take that story at face value? I’ve regularly associated with Japanese kids of high school and college age — in the Japanese language — since 1984, and the idea that they have a widespread aversion to sex caused a snort louder than any straw slurp. But then I’m also familiar with the dissatisfaction many Japanese have with the inferior quality of local public opinion surveys, which seldom finds expression in English.

Some research on the Japanese-language sector of the Internet was in order. The first place I headed was the website for the Japanese Family Planning Association, which is the Japanese affiliate of Planned Parenthood. I spent a few minutes at their Japanese-only site looking for the report, but found nothing. Then I plugged their name into the Japanese version of Google News, but I still came up empty.

I returned to the original article, published by that paragon of accuracy and sobriety in journalism, the Huffington Post. The headline read, “Japan Population Decline: Third of Nation’s Youth Have ‘No Interest’ In Sex”. Part of their article is quoted above, including the claim that this is a “new survey”.

How odd that nothing about this new survey and its remarkable findings can be found on the Japanese Family Planning Association’s website or Google News Japan. The reason became apparent when I accessed the link at the HuffPo piece to a related Wall Street Journal article. Rather than being “new”, the survey was released in January 2011 — more than a year ago.

That explains the absence of stories in Google News; links to Japanese newspaper stories seldom survive longer than a year. After I added some terms to the search query, some information finally started turning up. It helped that the survey was sponsored by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

Nevertheless, it was curious how little information actually surfaced. Blog post links last longer than a year, but Japanese bloggers were rather uncurious about this report. Then I ran across this comment from University of Tokyo grad school researcher Furuichi Noritoshi, a sociologist who specializes in studies of contemporary Japanese youth. Mr. Furuichi — who is just 26 himself — wrote in the weekly Pureiboi:

The viewpoint is growing among young people today that it is “smart” (i.e., stylish) to behave as if one has little interest in sex. People think they should not superficially demonstrate that interest, even when they are interested. They even consider it a pain to put up with the generation that spun their tales of triumph, bragging about how many people they bagged. I suspect that viewpoint is reflected in the answers to the survey.

In addition, they only surveyed from 61 to 162 men or women in each generation. That’s a rather small sample size. Further, the response rate was only 57%. It would be difficult to gain an understanding of an entire generation from this survey alone.

N.B.: In Japan, “difficult” is usually a euphemism for “impossible”.

After that observation about the sample size, I knew I was getting close. Sure enough, the next site that turned up was the original Japanese-language report from the Ministry itself on the survey. (You can read the .pdf file here.)

Here’s how the survey was conducted: 3,000 people from the ages of 16-49 were selected at random from residential rolls. The association explained and distributed questionnaires to 2,693 people, eliminating from the original 3,000 those who were never at home or not at the address. They returned to pick up the completed questionnaire later, and received 1,540 (671 from men and 869 from women). That’s a recovery rate of 57.2%.

As page four of the .pdf file shows, they broke down the respondents into seven different age groups. For the age group of 16-19, they received responses from 61 males and 65 females.

In other words, the Internet was agog over a report that 22 males and 38 females aged 16-19 said either that they had no interest in sex or despised it. When the Huffington Post spun this story as “a third of the nation’s youth” disliking sex, they were basing it on the response of 60 self-selected people. The HuffPo also thinks 38 girls is a “whopping” number.

That explains why so few people in Japan took the survey seriously. We already knew there was little reason to take the HuffPo or Wall Street Journal’s coverage of Japan seriously, based on their track record. This story follows the pattern: Discovering the essentials of this survey took only 10 to 15 minutes, but then I was interested in the truth instead of entertainment.

Another peculiarity was the survey’s finding that only 6.6% of the boys and 1.6% of the girls had their first sexual experience at the age of 16-19. That’s not even close to the numbers from this data reported by Kyoto University for surveys of high school students in Tokyo over a 20 year-period. In 1984, the percentage of the no-longer virgin among the big city boys and girls in their senior year was 22% and 12% respectively. By 2002, a decade ago, that had risen to 37% and 46% respectively. (Yes, the girls were getting more action than the guys.)

Is this not curious? If a survey with findings that goofy were to appear in America, folks on the Internet would have mobilized immediately, and the information to refute it would have been found, presented, and widely disseminated in fewer than 24 hours. Recall what happened to Dan Rather of CBS News when he tried to use bogus documents to discredit George W. Bush in 2004. Just last week, an attempt to discredit Newt Gingrich among Republicans by deliberately misquoting his comments about Ronald Reagan was also exposed in less than a day.

When Japan is the subject of goofy surveys, however, the same people forego their critical facilities and become Grade-A suckers.

This phenomenon demands ruthless truth-telling, and it is not possible to be too ruthless. Here’s the truth: If you choose to believe what you read in the English-language mass media about Japan, you choose the course of ignorance.

Conrad the Gweilo

I read this report on the Instapundit website run by University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds. A rational man, Prof. Reynolds presented only the link and a quote, and offered no comment of his own. He did, however, later add a comment mailed in by an ex-blogger whose site he once enjoyed. The commenter identified himself as the former author of the Gweilo Diaries. That would have been “Conrad”, a man writing from Hong Kong who chose to remain anonymous even when active.

I bring up his comments only because they are a superlative example — even for the Internet — of a person unwittingly exposing himself as a horse’s ass through the confident assertion of ignorant nonsense. Here’s what he said:

As a preface: my wife — yes, I’m now married, monogamous and very content — is Japanese. Many of my friends and clients are Japanese. I speak passable Japanese and I am still intrigued (and sometimes repelled) by Japanese culture.

Here’s what he’s telling us: He doesn’t live in Japan, knows a few Japanese people, and is not fluent in the language. Any time spent in the country has been short and shallow. He might fool the linguistically challenged Americans (and himself) with this “passable” business, but there is no “passable” when it comes to language skills — you’re either fluent or you’re not.

What is “passable” supposed to mean? Passable is going to the dentist with a toothache and getting it fixed, explaining why Barack Obama is now so unpopular in the United States after the false euphoria of 2008, or describing the difference between an alpha male and a beta male without any English dialogue or recourse to a dictionary. Passable is being able to read the first 25 signs you see walking down the street. Passable is explaining to someone in English the content of a Japanese newspaper article selected by someone else at random.

His primary means of communication with his Japanese wife would seem to be in a language other than Japanese. My Japanese wife and I will have been married 25 years in May, and she does not speak English. One learns early that the choice is simple: either get fluent fast or live forever behind the eight ball. Passable is not an option.

And of course, if he could read or write Japanese, he would have mentioned it.

His admission that he is “sometimes repelled” by Japanese culture demonstrates a disqualifying bias. Somewhere in the world there is a nation that is the gold standard for culture, from which the Japanese are so far removed that their behavior is repellent? Or does that cultural gold standard only exist in the kingdom between his ears?

If you wonder why that would make a difference, try this perspective: Picture yourself as an American who is listening to someone commenting authoritatively about the United States, but whose culture sometimes repels him. The commenter doesn’t live in the US, speaks only “passable” English, and can’t read the language. He knows a few Americans, including his wife, with whom he converses in some other language.

Now ask yourself how seriously you’ll take whatever this man has to say.

We do learn, however, about the Japan of his imagination.

Young Japanese guys are as horny and desperate to get laid as any guys in the world. Probably more so, since only young Arabs get less actual sex.

The Japanese Family Planning Association survey found that the age at which the 50% threshold was crossed for the first sexual experience was 19, but Conrad the Gweilo in Hong Kong, or wherever he is now, knows more about the frequency with which people in Japan (and the Arab world) get laid. He must be a lucky man to have avoided arrest as a Peeping Tom for all these years.

Unfortunately, three lost economic decades has resulted in a plethora of un- or under-employed young beta men, without real jobs or prospects of success, and young women who look at these prospective suitors and despair.

Unfortunately Conrad the Gweilo seems to be under the impression that the years from 1980-1990 were an economic loss in Japan. He also isn’t aware of the statistics showing that Japanese economic performance in recent years has been comparable to that of other developed countries. Nor is he aware that the nation with a plethora of young beta men without real jobs has an unemployment rate just a skoche more than half that of the United States, where the official unemployment figures are just as fraudulent.

Then there is the deficiency in his reading skills. The report on this survey covered only the results for people from ages 16-19, when most kids are in high school, and many in the first year of college. It is not clear why figures dealing with full-time students prompted him to discuss un- or under-employment among young men.

His use of the term “beta men” is also noteworthy, especially in combination with the following:

Young Japanese guys who can’t attract women turn to magna, gaming, and juvinalia (sic) Young Japanese women, in a society without f*ckworthy guys, turn to fashion, girl friends and the passive/aggressive “cute culture” prevalent among Japanese girls. It turns out that economic stagnation if the enemy of hot sex.

Though the Pukka Sahib of East Asia has “many” Japanese friends and clients, he doesn’t have a high opinion of their masculinity. For all his extensive experience and knowledge, he seems to have overlooked the fact that the dynamic for interaction between the sexes is different here. But perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on him. Unable to read Japanese, he doesn’t have access to this information.

Nor is the cute culture among young Japanese women a recent phenomenon, but Conrad the Gweilo is probably too young to know that. Why he thinks the buzzword “passive-aggressive” applies to it is beyond my ability to speculate.

That facile use of the term “beta men”, by the way, also identifies him as someone who is likely familiar with what has been called the manosphere and the new masculine awareness. Yet it is strange how quickly he buys into this:

Many commentators in the Japanese and international media have laid the problem squarely at the feet of soshoku danshi — “herbivore men” — a term coined by pop culture columnist Maki Fukasawa in 2006.

One of the staples of the English-language manosphere is the presentation and takedown of articles written by women (especially pop culture columnists) publicly airing their dissatisfaction with contemporary men. As soon as one is brought up as the subject of a manosphere blog post, the author is pelted with a volley of spitballs and put in her place as a whiner frustrated that she isn’t hot enough to attract guys.

But when they turn the cyberpage and see the Japanese version of the same thing, the suckers swallow it whole. Perhaps that’s because American men are so studly compared to those geeky Japanese grass eaters. After all:

Once upon a time, video games were for little boys and girls—well, mostly little boys—who loved their Nintendos so much, the lament went, that they no longer played ball outside. Those boys have grown up to become child-man gamers, turning a niche industry into a $12 billion powerhouse. Men between the ages of 18 and 34 are now the biggest gamers;… almost half—48.2 percent—of…males in that age bracket had used a console during the last quarter of 2006, and did so, on average, two hours and 43 minutes per day. (That’s 13 minutes longer than 12- to 17-year-olds, who evidently have more responsibilities than today’s twentysomethings.) Gaming—online games, as well as news and information about games—often registers as the top category in monthly surveys of Internet usage.


Today’s pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn’t say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can’t act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.

Single men have never been civilization’s most responsible actors; they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers. So we can be disgusted if some of them continue to live in rooms decorated with “Star Wars” posters and crushed beer cans and to treat women like disposable estrogen toys, but we shouldn’t be surprised.

Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men’s attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There’s nothing they have to do.

Ah, so sorry. That was Kay Hymowitz writing about American men.

Perhaps his time overseas has left Conrad the Gweilo behind the curve:

The US is not Japan, but if present trends of debt, unemployment, lack of mobility and stagnation continue, the end result will be similar.

Well, we know that the US is not Japan, but a report last year from the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the percentage of young Americans aged 15-24 with no sexual experience had risen from 22% for both sexes in 2005 to 27% for men and 29% for women. That’s an extra five years of prime sexual time beyond the ages referenced in the Japanese study. The percentage of high school virgins was 53% for men and 58% for women, not so different from Japanese surveys. In fact, that percentage for girls with their innocence intact is higher than the percentage for Japanese girls in the study of Tokyo I cited above.

What would Conrad the Gweilo make of the book Furuichi Noritoshi published last year? Mr. Furuichi wanted to examine why people were so concerned about Japanese youth when a 2010 survey found that 65.9% of men and 75.2% of women in their 20s said they were “satisfied” with their current lives.

Perhaps if he could read it, he might tell us.


Please use this link to Instapundit to access the HuffPo and Wall Street Journal articles. Links are only for the legit.

Next time for the geopolitical post for sure!

To say that the Pakistan Coke Studio videos are excellent might be an understatement.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

16 Responses to “Suckers”

  1. Marellus said


    How long does it take to read, write and speak Japanese fluently ?
    M: When I was studying at university, people used to say that it took six times the time and effort to master French or Spanish (for a native English speaker). If you’re already fluent in a foreign language, the process will be accelerated somewhat, as I found when I studied Korean.

    – A.

  2. Marellus said

    … and i love your rants …

  3. James A said

    Another teardown of a popular media mantra about Japan. I’m really not surprised that Japanese experience the same amount of sexual activity as any other industrialized nation. The only people who think otherwise are the overinflated libidos of your average boisterous English teacher, much like Conrad the Gweilo/Gai-Jin.

  4. toadold said

    You’d think that by now Mr. Reynolds would know better than to pass on anything from the Huffington Post. They’ve been wrong, caught lying, and in general faking the act of reporting for some time now and that is on stuff that is in country. The tabloid newspapers are more accurate.
    Speaking of playing “cool and disinterested” to get the chicks.
    I remember a Rock Star of decades gone by, who was considered sexually ambiguous. In an interview during his later years he said it was fabulous, because so many groupies thought he was harmless….he surprised a lot of girls. Kind of like some of the male Kabuki actors who play women’s roles. Every once in a while I’d read or hear stories about their parents reigning them in.
    T: People who claimed to know used to say that Prince got a lot of action, which would be a classic case of the phenomenon you mention.

    – A.

  5. σ1 said

    It seems that in the mind of many the Japanese can only be either deranged sexual sickos or conservative prudes. It will depend year on year/decade on decade which one it is, but like so many other Japan narratives there is an untenable contradiction lying at the heart (Pacifists/Nationalists, painfully honest people/masters of deception, economic animals/masters of inefficiency, harmonious lovers of nature and peace/brutal whale killers etc). I suppose the Japanese could for the most part be conservative prudes with that small number of deranged maniacs making up the rest. God forbid anyone be relatively average.

    Nevertheless I feel the attack on Japanese youth started with Japan’s own media and a number of useful idiots were all too happy to tell their Western counterparts with “passable Japanese” what they wanted to hear.

  6. toadold said

    David Bowie was who I was trying to recall. He’d crank out a new persona almost every year it seemed like. Boy I’m feeling old.

  7. Jane said

    Excellent article. I was getting worried about you because you hadn’t posted for a while. It was worth the wait.

    I have seen other articles about low rates of intimate relations for married couples in Japan (Korea came in lower, I believe.) Could the divorce rate affect those figures? If you are only asking married couples and not divorced or single people, that would affect the figures in a place like Japan where more people stay married (yes, I know the divorce rate has risen.)

    Like Ampontan, I never believe the results of any international survey with results for Japan these days until I actually see the wording of the Japanese questions – and then in most cases, I can spot the problems with the results even for large-scale surveys.

  8. toadold said

    Off topic though there may be some suckerage involved?

    HRP party???

  9. Marellus said


    Watch this video. Japan is quite prominent therein as well.

  10. Marellus said


    An article which mentions that the Nikkei’s lows are in.

  11. […] Here’s the link to the take-down of Walter Russel Mead, among others, for seriously reporting that studies show […]

  12. AlphaGenix said

    This blog was… howw do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something
    which helped me. Kudos!

  13. […] natural treatment fibroids […]

  14. […] the late wunderkind Japanese-translator blogger Ampontan (Bill Sakovich) utterly debunked one of the three studies the Guardian story relies upon, the one making the particular claim that 45% of women aged 16-24 […]

  15. […] (at least covered in this article The Guardian and even the Huffington Post, even if the latter blew one survey’s results completely out of proportion). The BBC team did at least have a few minutes on Japanese career women, though this was rushed in […]

  16. […] (at least covered in this article The Guardian and even the Huffington Post, even if the latter blew one survey’s results completely out of proportion). The BBC team did at least have a few minutes on Japanese career women, though this was rushed in […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: