Can apps boost the Japanese male libido?

Japan's birth rates are dropping, and surveys suggest that many young Japanese men just aren't interested in sex. But why?
Written by Hana Stewart-Smith, Contributor

The Japanese population has been dwindling steadily and some people prescribe this to the lowering sex drive among young adult males.

Recent studies show that most young Japanese men are not all that sexually active, and there has been a general decline in their sexual interests.

It might seem like an unusual issue for a country to face up to, but with the average birth rate standing at just 1.21 children per family, the figures project a population as small as 95 million by 2050.

These young men have been given the label 'herbivores' or 'grass-eaters', due to their disinterest in 'flesh', a term coined by Maki Fukasaka in 2006.

Additionally, a large percentage of Japanese marriages surveyed are considered to be 'sexless', meaning that they engage in sex less than once a month last year.

So what has happened to the Japanese libido?


For starters, the Japanese work insane hours. Often as a countermeasure to avoid 'prime time', they are allowed to displace their working hours to better suit them. There is almost no time of day they won't run into salaryman on their way in or out of work.

Many establishments are open 24 hours a day, and the time to relax and socialise can end up being dominated by drinks with your co-workers; drinks that are usually mandatory.

Could it simply be that there simply isn't enough time to meet people?

It is common practice in Japan to arrange 'group dates' to meet others, but one-on-one dates are harder to find. A friend told me that smartphones have made a significant impact on the dating scene.

"A lot of women don't really meet anyone outside of work," he told me, "so they don't have a problem with arranging dates through dating apps."

Online dating still holds a certain stigma in the West, and until recently, Japan was the same.

With big dating names like Match and Ok Cupid now having designated apps, it is possible that people find using them to be more official and acceptable. On top of that, using online dating apps on your smart phone can make the whole process a lot more immediate.

It is possible to arrange a blind date in Tokyo within minutes, simply by browsing through your chosen app and looking for nearby singles. Going out with friends and getting a little Dutch courage might help you get over any social intimidation a blind date entails. Arranging the date beforehand does away with the fear of approaching a stranger at a bar.

Apps like Skout and Flirtomatic are popular for Japanese users, and the Japanese gay community has taken to Grindr to arrange dates. My friend also explained that this has made dating easier for foreigners too, since those who are interested in meeting them tend to write up their profiles in English.

From an outside perspective it certainly doesn't seem like Japan is sexually disinterested. Sexy massage parlours, Disney style 'love hotels', hostess clubs, and sexualised characters in advertisements are standard fare on the streets of Tokyo.

Equally, some things we might consider a little fetishistic are just considered fashionable apparel here. Particularly popular are thigh high, massive six-inch heel boots that you can see hundreds of girls going about their everyday business in.

Not to mention Japan's international reputation for its fetish industry. It may be incredibly naive, but I was surprised to find a nine-storey sex shop in Akihabara with a variety of role playing costumes on display from every window.

(I'm not surprised that it exists, mind, but surprised that the sexuality on display is so open.)

Of course, sometimes the reality does not always match the fantasy. Take into account, for example, modern "host clubs". Women pay extraordinary amounts of money at these places just for the company of an interested, attractive young man. There's not even a catch, as sex isn't the primary goal. It's optional.

In fact Japan runs a whole industry on a sex trade without the sex, and it is all above board. It is your prerogative if you want to spend your money in a hostess bar to flirt with willing girls, or a "snack bar" if you're a little more casual.

For me there are several issues that could account for a lowering sex drive. Perhaps it is this exact over-sexualisation on display which is so intimidating that it drives young men to retreat from dating altogether?

Or, perhaps it is because so many young men and women simply aren't in a financial position to support a family?

As an outsider looking in, I couldn't possibly pinpoint a single overlying factor without relying on unfair and insufficiently informed generalisations. Instead, I would suggest that every one of those factors contributes to the growing disinterest in sex and more.

Whilst online dating and apps might be making it easier to hook up for casual dates, whether or not those dates materialise into relationships -- and by extension higher birth rates -- is something that remains to be seen.

Image source: Flickr.


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