Abigail Haworth wrote a piece for The Guardian exploring the latest concerning trend in Japan known as "celibacy syndrome". As pregnancy rates and the number of marriages plummets to all time lows, there are concerns about what this means for the future. Are young people uninterested in sex, or is there something amiss in Asia?
Article by July Westhale Published Blog Slixa Late Night
The thoughtful advice and opinions of the author of this article are meant to be informative and entertaining and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Slixa.
Recently, The Guardian’s Abigail Haworth investigated the staggering statistics of Japan’s single populations, and the results were unbelievable. With one of the world’s lowest birthrates, a cutthroat corporate culture, and the rush towards female inclusion in the workplace, Japan has been cited as being one of the most quickly-diminishing parts of the world since the 1990 earthquake. “Japan might eventually perish in extinction,” Kunio Kitamura, head of the JFPA, is quoted as saying in Haworth’s article. Armed with an overwhelming amount of research, statistics, and information about everything from national disasters, birth rates, percentages of single young people, political climate, and the sex trade industry, Haworth presents a concrete, if slightly disorganized and chaotic, depiction of what she believes is contributing to low marriage and pregnancy rates in Japan.
However, the amount of rebuttals and responses to the article have been equally staggering. In “Japan For Lazy Journalists," tokyopurplegirl makes a valid point of addressing the imposition of Western values inherent in Haworth’s article:
“In the article there is quite a lot of attention paid to Japanese people’s reluctance to have physical contact, and again, this is an imposition of Western expectations. Japanese people are not a nation of touchy-feely people. They are not huggers, they are bowers. Japanese people are not given to displays of physical affection, with their significant other or their family, even their children. I have been told by many students that they know their mother loves them because of what she does for them, especially providing delicious food, not because of hugs and kisses.”
It’s a well-known fact that cultural superiorism is a common killer of international reporting; is it possible that Westerner Abigail Haworth is making a grave error by judging an entire country and culture using her own ideas of social norms? This would surely be a journalistic no-no; if you are going to take on the behemothic task of chronicaling the sex lives of an entire people, at least acknowledge your own background and positionality in the process.
In any case, the article does a grave disservice to the evident complexities of a country with a deep history of political upheaval, marriage folklore (Haworth quotes an old Japanese saying that states that marriage is the grave of a woman, which was traditionally used to talk about mistresses, and is now used to talk about the grave of a career), and intricate economic upward-mobility.
In another rebuttal, Brian Ashcroft of Kotaku points out that much of the content of the original article is alarmist, sensationalist, and touches much more on themes of marriage and child-rearing than sexual intimacy: “Over the weekend, The Observer, one of the U.K.'s most respected newspapers, ran a piece titled, "Why Aren't Young People in Japan Having Sex?" It has been aggregated around the internet in pieces that range from alarmist "Japan's Sexual Apathy Is Endangering the Global Economy" (yikes!) to "Japan's Hottest New Sex Trend is Not Having Sex" (so trendy!) and "Young People in Japan Have Given Up on Sex" (all of the young people—they're done!). In The Observer piece, data is wheeled out to prove that either young Japanese are not doing it or they're not having babies—it's hard to tell sometimes, because there are young people interviewed by the paper do talk about having sex. I didn't see any babies, though.” And he’s right. Although Haworth provided an extremely large body of statistics about the state of the martial institution as it currently stands in Japan, she failed to prove much evidence about the original topic, which is to say, celibacy syndrome.
Based on the amount of rebuttals, reviews, and commentary that accompany the original article on The Guardian, one thing is certain: though it does appear that Japan boasts fewer married couples, pregnancies, and stay-at-home-moms than any other country in the world, it is still exceedingly difficult to prove the impossible point of what young people are actually doing in their own bedrooms. Is celibacy being measured in this context by the end-result of pregnancies and population increases? In this case, I would have to say that it is. Haworth, though obviously well-intentioned, does the people of Japan a grave disservice in her reductionist view of the country, aligning the expectations of human intimacy to her own, chalking a supposed nation-wide celibacy up to an increase in hentai or anime-driven pornography, a spike in career-centrism, and a poorly researched look into one woman’s long-lived profession as a pro-domme.
The effect is disappointing; instead of providing insight on what could have been a potentially fascinating look on how national trauma affects national sex drives, the article serves to muddle the already-fuzzy lines between public and private. In the end, the reader is left with a lot of numbers, percentages, and marital statistics, but no actual conclusions about the sex lives of young, professional Japan.
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