JAPAN|

A quick glance at the British press recently and you’d be forgiven for thinking that we can’t have too many people in our romantic relationships. So popular are stories of polyamorous pansexuality that it feels like being in a couple is so much fun, we just want to share.

The truth is that the UK is seeing a slight trend towards being happily single, particularly among women. In 2017’s Mintel Single Lifestyle report, 61% of single women said they were happy with their relationship status, compared with 49% of men.

In Japan, however, it’s a different story. While young Japanese of both sexes are increasingly choosing the solo life, it’s men who are giving it the biggest embrace.The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research recently claimed that 24% of Japanese men hadn’t married by the age of 50, compared to 14% of women. The 2015 National Fertility Survey (of unmarried men and women aged 18 to 34) shows that 60% of men – and 50% of women – stated they “do not want to get married yet.” 48% of men answered “I do not think I will be lonely even if I continue living alone” – 10 point up from 1997.

Kazuhisa Arakawa, Solo Activity Men Research Project Leader at marketing company Hakuhodo Inc and author of Super-Solo Society: The Shock of the Unmarried Nation, Japan, thinks this is just the beginning.“It is estimated that in 2035, one in three men will be unmarried for life,” he says. “The percentage of people unmarried for life (people still unmarried at 50, considered by the Japanese government as having a 0% chance of marriage in the future) began rising rapidly in the 1990s. Up until the 1980s, almost everyone in Japan got married.”

These men even have a name: Herbivore Men or Grass-eater Men, a mocking tag insinuating that this group have a somewhat diminished masculinity (it’s pretty harsh on vegans, too). And yet the Herbivores are thriving, many playing the field rather than chewing it. So, what caused this dramatic shift?“The late 1980s and into the 1990s was when the Japanese economic bubble burst,” says Mr Arakawa. “In the 30 years since then, the average income of white-collar workers has actually continued to decline. Economic concern about the future is one reason that young men have been avoiding the responsibility that marriage entails.“The main reason they have for staying single is wanting to use their money on themselves. There is a common perception that for men, marriage means having their freedom to use money restricted. This is in direct opposition to women listing ‘financial security’ as one of the benefits of getting married.”

Work-life imbalance
There’s no cash-hungry Greed is Good culture here. I can testify to this as a man who has caused many a polite and patient queue in a Japanese department store because he’s said “yes, please” to the time-consuming yet seemingly ubiquitous gift-wrapping service, applicable to the smallest of purchases.There are, however, what many would consider outmoded gender norms and an unacceptable level of gender inequality. While Japan is considered one of the safest countries for women travellers, gender politics and feminism as you or I would understand it, haven’t quite reached these shores. The country performs particularly badly against other developed nations when it comes to female representation in government and labour, which might explain women’s financial fears.

While more women are working, the playing field of opportunity isn’t anywhere near level. This old-fashioned imbalance isn’t helping men, either, who culturally still bear the brunt of an often pressurised working environment that results in people working horrendously long hours. If you’re in Japan and want to make Japanese friends, don’t go moaning about how you have to stay half an hour late every Thursday because that bloody Dave never files his weekly report on time.Sat next to me on a bar stool in a poncey craft beer bar in Shibuya, Tokyo, is 36-year-old Riku Inamoto. He is what used to be called a confirmed bachelor. For him, time is a big factor.“I have two things in my life that take up all my time: my work and my hobbies,” he says. “I can’t stop work, so if I get married, I will lose my hobbies, which means I will have no fun. That would be a terrible life.“I like having my own time and space, being able to make my own decisions, eat what I want, go where I want. I have married friends who look so old now. They don’t seem happy. Why would I want that? I have a good life.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: