Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
A recent survey of Japanese people aged 18 to 34 by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in Japan found that of 5,276 respondents, 69.8 percent of men and 59.1 percent of women are not in a relationship, a nearly 10 percent increase compared with 2010. About 42 percent of men and 44.2 percent of women said they are still virgins, both higher than in 2010. Around 40 percent of respondents said they didn't get married primarily because of financial concerns.
Apparently Japanese society is haunted by the trend of young people not wanting a relationship. While Chinese media outlets enthusiastically offer tips for singles to prevent themselves being pressured into marriage, the focus of Japanese media has already shifted to social problems that may be triggered by the rise of lifelong singledom.
According to an earlier survey by the institute, the lifelong unmarried rate for women is expected to grow from 9.7 percent in 2010 to 19.2 percent by 2035, from 18.9 percent to 29 percent for men. The drop in the marriage rate has led to continuous drops in the Japanese population, which will constrain development in the long run.
To address these problems, the Japanese government and society have taken some steps. Matchmaking parties have been organized to enable single men and women to make acquaintances through fishing, raising pets and shopping.
In September last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed his Plan to Realize the Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens and appointed a minister in charge.
But none of these measures seem to have worked. It will be an arduous task for the Japanese government to increase the fertility rate to 1.8 by 2025.
China and Japan have lots of social and cultural differences. In China many people are passionate about introducing single men and women to each other. "Aunties" in your neighborhood, your bosses, teachers and friends are often keen matchmakers. Although some young people find this too much to take, it does give more chances for them to engage in a relationship.
But this doesn't work in Japan as Japanese see being in a relationship or not as a private matter that others should not pry into. In some Japanese companies, it can be called harassment if a man asks his female subordinate whether she has a boyfriend, and he may even get sued. This emphasis on privacy narrows the socializing scope for single people.
Many analysts attribute the decline in the Japanese population to lackluster economic growth, but in addition to economic factors, the otaku culture that originated in Japan also plays a prominent role. Many Japanese young people prefer to be homebodies which deprives them of many opportunities to meet potential partners.
As a backbone of the culture, Japan's well-developed anime industry produces a great deal of animation, manga and games that teach people how to begin a relationship with a virtual partner, which to some degree has prompted more young people to keep single or stay away from sex.
For instance, the popular animation Love Live! School Idol Project features nine schoolgirls that have different personalities in an effort to cater to indoorsy men and their imagination. When these men run into displeasure or setbacks, they can seek a lot of care and encouragement from these virtual girlfriends without courting them. According to its production company, the project has attracted more than 17 million Japanese players as of July in a country with 32 million young people.
When single homebodies devote all their emotions to a virtual figure and find it more relaxing to fall in love in the virtual world than the real world, they cannot share their feelings with another real person. This eventually decreases the probability of indoorsy young people having a relationship. In this sense, the declining population of Japan is not only an economic issue, but also a cultural one.
The author is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Sociology at Toyo University. firstname.lastname@example.org Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion