Decline in Japanese marriage and birth rate
June 3, 2004 11:46 AM   Subscribe

Interesting article on the Japanese "social recession" (from the back pages of USA Today) "To an astonishing degree, the sexes are going their opposite ways in Japan. Young women are revolting against the traditional role of obedient housewife, opting instead to live at home and shop and socialize with girlfriends. Startled men are retreating into solitary ways. Check-ins at the country's famed 'love hotels' are even falling. As birthrates slip, a social crisis looms."
posted by Prospero (38 comments total)
"[...] as many as a million young men -- mostly teenagers, but increasingly older men as well -- suffer from what is known here as hikikomori. It's a condition in which they seclude themselves in their rooms for weeks at a time (though the causes seem to go well beyond fear of women to traumatic experiences from the past, such as being bullied at school)."

"Many young Japanese women live carefree lives, staying at home with their parents, paying little if any rent, letting their mothers cook their meals, clean their rooms and do their laundry. Many work dead-end jobs that don't pay much but don't cause much stress and give them enough spending money to buy designer handbags, shoes, clothes and jewelry and enough time to take overseas holidays with their girlfriends.

"Emerging from the Louis Vuitton shop on Namikibashi street in the heart of the Ginza shopping district, Tokyo secretary Yukiko Matsumoto, 38, says she's happily single and living at home with her parents.

" 'I don't want to change my rhythms,' she says. 'Men expect women to stay home and take care of them.' Not likely: Matsumoto travels abroad twice a year with her best friend and shopping companion, Terumi Yanagibashi, 38. They've already been to Hawaii together three times."

posted by Prospero at 11:49 AM on June 3, 2004

Previous discussion of hikikomori from last year.
posted by UlfMagnet at 12:07 PM on June 3, 2004

"Men expect women to stay home and take care of them" - says the woman who expects her mother to take care of her.
posted by zeoslap at 12:19 PM on June 3, 2004

'She says Japanese men sometimes propose to women with lines like: ''I want you to cook miso soup for me the rest of my life.'''

I think my wife would punch me in the face if I said that. Then she'd say "What's miso soup?"
posted by McBain at 1:11 PM on June 3, 2004

says the woman who expects her mother to take care of her.

Sounds better than the alternative, for her at any rate.

So does Japan have enough of a retirement infrastructure that these women's parents won't be stuck being supported by secretary's wages in their old age?

Either way I think Japan was in line for a good shock to the system as far as male-female relationships go.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:29 PM on June 3, 2004

McBain, its a traditional way of asking for her hand in marriage. I expect most young people these days only respond positively due to it's cuteness. My wife, who is Japanese, thinks it's cute but silly. No one believes it to be a true question. It's symbolic.

That said, my cousin-in-law is "suffering" from hikikomori. Strange guy. 34 or so, lives with his parents, never comes out of his room. Everyone finds it strange...
posted by Dantien at 1:30 PM on June 3, 2004

Sounds great, if my parents would let me live at home, feed me, do my laundry and never ask me to leave my room... Reminds me of that old saying, "Why do dogs lick their balls? Because they can!"
posted by PigAlien at 1:40 PM on June 3, 2004

Why leave a life of freedom for a life of servitude? Time for Japanese gender culture to progress.

It's not easy for changes like that to happen. Role expectations are so entrenched that these women can accept mom as slave while wanting better for themselves. I think American men (and women and really other countries too) are confused about their gender roles. Open the door, make more money, clean the house, spend time with the kids, etc. These sorts of changes can take generations to change.
posted by Red58 at 1:45 PM on June 3, 2004

her best friend and shopping companion, Terumi Yanagibashi, 38. They've already been to Hawaii together three times."

True, think it's being American, but the stores are owned by the Japanese. Shopping! shopping!, good grief because they save their money at great lengths to buy over priced labeled merchandise. No viagra in Japan.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:00 PM on June 3, 2004

Referring specifically to the stores in Waikiki Beach. No wonder the islanders think we mainlander are richer than we really are.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:05 PM on June 3, 2004

Space Coyote: Japan's pension system is a pretty big time bomb. Here's a quick read. Everything I've read, just about everywhere, indicates that they're screwed.
posted by trharlan at 2:25 PM on June 3, 2004

I beat my wife until one day she got up and ran away... Can you believe the nerve of that bitch??

Same thing.
posted by eas98 at 2:27 PM on June 3, 2004

Japan leads the world with population decline, but it is a growing trend in almost every country of the world including China, India and other so-called developing countries at a pace much faster than in the developing world. It is estimated by 2070 the world as a whole will no longer be at replacement capacity. I had planed to make a FPP on this subject but it is so huge with so many different facets, as this Japan article shows, it will take a while to put it all together or perhaps make a series of FPP on it. Basically, the population of the world is getting older on average and having fewer children on average, trending increasingly in that direction since the 1970s, and while the specter of overpopulation going away solves a lot of problems it creates a lot of new ones because older people use and need more resources than babys and young people do.
posted by stbalbach at 2:48 PM on June 3, 2004

"her best friend and shopping companion, Terumi Yanagibashi, 38. They've already been to Hawaii together three times."

Sounds to me like two happy lesbians living at their parents houses. Cute, single girls..... who are japanese.......(thousand yard stare) huh? Oh right im still writing at Metafilter.
posted by Keyser Soze at 3:17 PM on June 3, 2004

Keyser Soze, if your looking for a double date, they're easily found in Waikiki, Oahu. That is a very common site there coming from Japan. Think the travel agents advertise the trips: Visit Hawaii American Style - "Shopping." Mostly what they do on their visit. The designer shop's prices were atrocious which most items had no price tags - tells you a lot there too. For reference the beer brand and gasoline purchased there was cheaper at the time than Dallas Texas, then add the 4% sales tax on everything which is still a bargain.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:56 PM on June 3, 2004

Another reader on a different board had this to say about this article:

Generalizations galore, appeal to false authority, argument by selective observation, causal reductionism, and non sequiturs left right and center!!! A stunning piece of thoroughly researched and wholly outstanding journalism from what must surely be a shining beacon of truth amidst all news media... I'm sorry, what paper was that from, again?

I wholly concur.
posted by gen at 4:34 PM on June 3, 2004

Some things in life can be narrowly viewed as far as trend's go. Do the folks living in Japan's country side live like this, doubt it. In big cities trends are more visibly seen.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:42 PM on June 3, 2004

I get the feeling that "hikikomori" is Japanese for "Everquest".
posted by AccordionGuy at 6:18 PM on June 3, 2004

Thomcatspike, what are you talking about? There is plenty of Viagra in Japan. Moreover, the fact that it took six months to approve Viagra and more than 10 years to get birth control approved probably points to further flaws that permeate Japanese gender relations.

As far as rural Japan, most of the young people are already gone, either they are far away at college or off to a more interesting life in the big city. In the rural areas that I've visited and lived in it seems like people between the ages of 18 and 30 never existed in the first place.
posted by Alison at 7:54 PM on June 3, 2004

In the rural areas that I've visited and lived in it seems like people between the ages of 18 and 30 never existed in the first place.

Rural areas of the US have some of the same symptoms.
posted by namespan at 8:47 PM on June 3, 2004

The Japanese have been a socially oppressed race for centuries, and as a result, are pretty fucked up. This shouldn't be surprising.
posted by WLW at 9:09 PM on June 3, 2004

this reminds me of when my sister taught english in japan for several years... she was constantly referred to as a "christmas cake"... because she was 25 and unmarried, you know, old dried fruit that no one wants. nice to see some of the women realizing being married is not the be all end all of anyone's life.
posted by t r a c y at 9:32 PM on June 3, 2004

T r a c y:
Absolutely. I was going to make a comment earlier to the tune that, while USA today is the fluffiest and most obvious "news"-paper in the U.S., the fact that they are reporting stories like this goes to show how obvious the psychological problems of Japan are becoming.

Gender is one issue, and admittedly a huge one (i could go on for hours, actually), but even the lonely planet guidebook describes their culture as being "morbidly ethnocentric" while having the worst of superficial american culture built on the top of it. Their tradition and pride in things like being high-priced, and having an extremely difficult written language, as well as being very ethnically "pure". Combined with an utter lack of sex education (kept down partly by conservatism, and partly by the resulting sex industry who wants to sell pure fantasy), extreme ignorance on AIDS and other societal problems (because it is something that happens to foreigners), denial of psychological problems (read: alcoholism, and of course the "forest of withdrawl"), and sheer inbred market cronieism (no anti-trust laws either, and enough corporate interests that stop very necessary legislation aimed towards salvaging their economy) has left Japan poised for many many serious problems that is going to utterly ream this society in a few short years, that the continuous denial and inability to resolve "tradition" and "culture" with genuinely damaging, dangerous, and narrowminded ways of thinking (yep, still censor their history books, nope most people dont really realize that their grandparents fought on hitlers side, and the official whitewash of Pearl Harbor is that they were forced into it -- say what you will about our governments positions on certain things, right or wrong, but at least there are dissenting views in the media, and people have an opinion about these events).

And on top of that, they have the gall to call people a fucking "christmas cake" for not buying into the mandatory superficial consumeristic "dating" paradigm. Believe me, I put up with so much stupid crap like that every day I have become, for all intents and purposes, a foreigner suffering from hikikomori.

Except I have to pay my bills.
posted by lkc at 10:55 PM on June 3, 2004

oops, overtyped once again, the last paragraph was in response to what T r a c y said...the first part was what I was going to post earlier.
posted by lkc at 11:01 PM on June 3, 2004

The Japanese have been a socially oppressed race for centuries, and as a result, are pretty fucked up. This shouldn't be surprising.

WLW : Care to elaborate on that at all, or are you just talking out your butt?

lkc - come to Korea* for a while, and you'll stop yer bitchin' about Japan toute de suite.

(Disclaimer : I love Korea, but the challenges of living here makes living in Japan look like a visit to freakin' Disneyland.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:00 AM on June 4, 2004

stav: yeah ok, fair enough. Also, stuff like that is why people become the expats in the first place, right? Cultural perspective and all. From what I have heard of Korea and Taiwan (from an admittedly small sample size) much of the same happens: all white guys look like brad pitt or tom cruise, friends of yours will still complement you on your amazing chopstick skills after they have known you for years, and some old men dress like rappers with an admirable obliviousness. Of course there are also differences. At least you get spicy food!

I think I am in the minority of foreigners living here who really take exception to Japan. A bit of my usual vitriol leaked into that last comment, but my basic point is: with the overwhelming amount of "cute" and "eccentric" things being imported from Japan, and only the occasional fluff article like this, or an article on hikikomori to balance it out, where it seems like a subtle shift over a long period of time or a mysterious isolated trend, what is really happening is the society is strangling itself with its own culture.

For example, issue of bad loans and extremely low corporate taxes has been slowly wrecking the economy here since the japanese bubble of the late 80s popped. Through having an expensive society with high volume, mandatory consumerism ingrained into the society, they manage to keep the economy afloat seemingly by the volume of capital being moved, though it has been in a serious steady decline for years.

South Korea on the other hand has been doing much better because they managed to get some real regulations through the government, and stopped excusing damaging corporate debts.

However, I see the mindset that has caused this economically has also manifested itself socially. Articles like this show a superficial trend as being in a vacuum from the circumstances that caused it. If hikikomori was the only problem facing Japanese society, it would still be a problem, but hikikomori is a personal problem for some but also a symptom of a much larger issue with the society, and the response is the same as all the others: cover it up, and pretend it never happened, it couldnt happen, we are just not like that.

yep, overtyping again
posted by lkc at 12:39 AM on June 4, 2004

Korea has its own set of problems not entirely unrelated to those in Japan (and many of which were inherited as a result of the occupation by the Japanese more than a half-century back), but it's possible that the dynamism of the people, particularly the young, will allow the nation to overcome them. I like to think so, anyway. That might not be the case for Japan, perhaps. I don't know.

Sorry if I snarked overly. I have less and less patience all the time with all the expats here in Korea that can't open their mouths without complaining about the place. Not to imply that you're cut from the same cloth, of course, but my general tolerance for disgruntled waeguk-in (or gaijin, by extension) is low lately...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:01 AM on June 4, 2004

Oh its fine, absolutely no offense taken. There are good things here, and there are reasons that I have been here as long as I have, certainly. Ultimately, I think its some of the difficulties japan is having in progressing that is what makes it so appealing to foreigners, who I generally find more objectionable than the japanese, who are usually at least polite.
Back on topic though: I dont think living with your parents your whole life is really -- as any measure of social progress --better than living with them until you marry a guy that does the same thing, only expects you to make babies and iron his clothes.

Though I can see why one might find it preferable.
posted by lkc at 1:27 AM on June 4, 2004

I'm afraid of being one of those expats who is always complaining, but the truth is people everywhere complain. My wife (Japanese) complained about NYC all the time. I complain about Tokyo often. But there are many things I like about the place as well.
I'm not aiming this at you stavros, but I think the people most irritated by the complaining are the other expats who are trying to go native, or who haven't been here long enough to have been ground down.
One of my friends made an observation that newcomers to Japan often notice the grim expressions of the salarymen on the train, with their pushing you out of the way and general unpleasantness. Once they've been working here for a year or two they see the same expression in the mirror.
posted by bashos_frog at 1:36 AM on June 4, 2004

Also, I don't think it helps Japan as a nation, or Japanese people in general, that Japan refuses to acknowledge the possibility that maybe depression and other mental conditions are actually diseases.
A litle prozac would go a long way here, if it wasn't banned.
OCD is not a disease here, just a way of life.
posted by bashos_frog at 1:41 AM on June 4, 2004

I'm not aiming this at you stavros, but I think the people most irritated by the complaining are the other expats who are trying to go native, or who haven't been here long enough to have been ground down.

Possible, and given the attraction that Japan's culture seems to have for so many (in fairly stark opposition to Korea's), I think there are many more expats there who do 'go native'.

For my part, geography is irrelevant and has been since I first started wandering 16 years ago, and there's no way that I'd ever even attempt to assimilate myself here, even though I've been in this country more than 5 of the last 8 years.

I complain too, of course. You're right -- everyone does. But there's the broken-record, 'where's-my-hamburger' stuff, and there's the wry, gentle (if sometimes vehement) sharing of 'war stories' between those who've at least made a summary attempt to understand the nature of their host country, warts and all. The former gets on my nerve after a couple of hours.

I don't go out much these days, except with the few expat friends I've made here who are willing and able to talk about other stuff besides how annoying everything and everyone is.

Of course, I have lived in what is probably the nicest neighbourhood area in the nicest area of Korea for the past 6 months, and I love my job (after two fairly hellacious years in Seoul after my return from Sydney), so I'm pretty mellow about Korea these days. But being as naturally cantankerous as I am, there's little chance that I'll ever either join the full-time complainers or the gone-native.

I'm happy to have my little nation-of-two -- my wife and I -- with the occasional forays out into the larger 'community' (and honorary citizenships at places like Metafilter, of course).

Still off-topic, I guess, but on preview :

A little prozac would go a long way here, if it wasn't banned.

Man, the happy-pill ads here are everywhere, and solidly marketed as the 'mother's little helper,' irony-free, as always.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:50 AM on June 4, 2004

I'd love to try living in Korea for a while, but I don't think it would be so easy for my wife. There is still a lot of bad blood between Japanese and Koreans.
posted by bashos_frog at 1:59 AM on June 4, 2004

Preview first: yep, the "where's my hamburger" types are here. But its ok, because there is mcdonalds everywhere and they make all the workers speak english to foreigners. Im pretty catankerous as well, and recently things have changed so that the things I like are pretty substantially outweighed.

Windbaggery second:
[sorry for the length, I write all day and drink a helluva lot of coffee, so I dont notice how long my responses are sometimes]

Eh, personally I dont like being called a complainer, and I am from a family of endless bitchers, so I try to watch that end of me, and a lot of little things I can let slide, but I would be blind if I didnt notice some huge gaping issues with the country that I have lived in for a few years now, and its not like I dont have problems with the U.S..

Bashos has hit it right on the head though: with depression and OCD (whats up with the packaging/stationary fetish? How come you never see articles about THAT?), It is a way of life here, most anything that can be obsessed on and taken to some bizarre level of mastery has a good contingent of young tokyo folks doing it: I see people playing arcade games with little cards that keep track of how many games you have played with one character and there are kids with wallets with 10,000 games on one card (at a buck a pop, and sometimes only lasting 30 seconds, thats something pretty serious), I see businessmen drinking during the morning rush-hour, and of course yo-yo champions, turntablists, and kids who master games that teach you how to do things like dance or play drums in the confines of the game. Image is obsession, relationships are obsessions, eating and comic books and anime and little collectible dolls of your favorite comic that is now an anime are all the obsessions, and just like with any compulsive behavior, part of it seems to stem from a desire for some sort of substance, a real sense of satisfaction. In the middle of tokyo, there is no peace, there is no time, there is no focus, it is an breathtakingly endless sea of distractions washing people from store to store bludgeoning them with advertising and the short-attention span spikes promising them this elusive "happiness" with one more product, one more delicacy, one more accessory to be fashionable.

Being in the middle of that, I often feel myself withdrawing, and if I were a shy teenage kid forced into a uniform with the amount of pressure these kids have, I think I would withdraw quite a bit more.

Naturally, there are parallels to the U.S., and I am sure many other societies, but Tokyo specifically has supplanted much of the creativity and spirituality of the natural human condition with adorable keychains and blue-tooth compatible 3 megapixel cellphones with GPS. The traditional culture is being eroded by the pop-culture. As the [american] fascination with japan escalates, I think more and more stories of the conditions and issues here will surface. Given this is the hub of personal and entertainment technologies, and is farther along that path than anywhere else, and how much influence this has on the rest of the world (video games, animation, strange gadgets and toys...), it would do everybody some good to see what happens to the people living in such a society.

ugh...there I go again. Anyways, its quittin time for me, so I can go home and lock myself in my room for the weekend.
posted by lkc at 2:31 AM on June 4, 2004

posted by t r a c y at 2:39 AM on June 4, 2004

Japan refuses to acknowledge the possibility that maybe depression and other mental conditions are actually diseases.

Not true. I know a number of women undergoing treatment for depression in Japan. And while Prozac may not have been approved yet, other common anti-depressant medications are commonly available.

There is mcdonalds everywhere and they make all the workers speak english to foreigners.

I have never been spoken to in English in McDonalds once. Oh, and Drummania rules.

Carry on.
posted by dydecker at 4:05 AM on June 4, 2004

For those not fortunate enough to have lived in Japan, let me offer this:

The opinions above (and probably below) do not reflect the true state of life in Japan. There are plenty of wonderful, beautiful things to be experienced in the land of the rising sun. People are healthy, society is pleasant, and all in all, it's no better or worse than any other country. It's just a favorite pastime for people who live in Japan to bust on it.

Having lived there for a few years, I too complained alot. Nothing was going "my way" or jived with "my idea of Japan". But as anyone admits, Japan is Japan and our frustration with it will not change it. And once you leave, you eventually find yourself forgetting the frustrations and remembering the fun moments...the beautiful scenery, the kind people, the parties, etc. What you are reading is just the ex-pat way of dealing with life's normal obstacles in a country we were not born in.

If you doubt me, my Japanese wife commits the EXACT same "crime" here living in America.
posted by Dantien at 8:24 AM on June 4, 2004

I just get frustrated when reporters with obvious inexperience in Asia/Japan write stories that enhance stereotypes instead of looking deeper into the culture or the statistics or the trends.

This USA Today article is a poor remix of many other article on social trends in Japan. Reporting of this caliber only confuses and obfuscates- it does nothing to help real communication between America and Japan, which to me, is a damn shame.
posted by gen at 8:51 AM on June 4, 2004

Thomcatspike, what are you talking about? There is plenty of Viagra in Japan.
Alison, that was a joke - "no viagra in Japan." badda boom
posted by thomcatspike at 2:49 PM on June 4, 2004

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