Monday, January 01, 2007

The Hard Truth: Japan is Dying

Japan is doomed. It's partly a problem that other develped countries are facing, but partly a consequence of decades of inflexibility, racism and formality.

The agent of Japan's death is simple: depopulation.

The fertility rate in Japan is 1.29. That is 1.29 children per woman, whereas demographers consider replacement fertility to be about 2.1. All developed countries have lowering fertility rates, and its a problem of varying degrees. The liberation of women, higher age of marriage, the cost of raising and educating children, all contribute towards low fertility. Japan suffers more than most (only Italy's fertility rate is lower) but it's a country-killer especially in Japan because

Japan refuses to take immigrants.

Immigration is the lifeblood of America, Canada, Australia and Europe. It keeps the economy, culture and pension systems alive in those countries. It provides young people (who have babies) and workers that both produce goods and consume them. Immigration causes some problems and the process is rarely completely smooth. But the target cultures are immeasurably enriched. New ideas, languages, cultures, food, all serve to enliven and stimulate the host country.

Japan is desperately in need of new ideas, culture, and languages, not to mention babies.

It is ironic that the need for immigration in Japan is in almost direct reverse proportion to its likelihood of getting it.

Japan's government, police and bureacracy are all deeply racist and xenophobic. Restrictions on foreigners are extreme; foreigners (labelled 'aliens') have to carry foreign identification cards at all times, and are routinely discrinated against in employment, housing and the law. The process of obtaining permanent residency (e.g. for spouses of Japanese citizens) is fiendishly and purposefully complex. Public conservatism and reluctance to accept foreigners is exacerbated by sensationalist and one-sided media reports of "foreign gangs". Foreign workers find it increasingly difficult to stay on as years go by, and even Westerners, who hold a certain charm and fascination for the Japanese, are expected to leave after a few years. Meanwhile Japanese hold the Chinese and other Asian people in open contempt. Many Japanese do not consider themselves Asian, but rather 'Japanese'.

This (partly imaginary) homogeneity is partly the root cause of the problem. Only Japanese are (or can be) Japanese. And Japan is only for the Japanese. The idea, more or less accepted in countries like Canada or Australia, that you can become Australian or Canadian by living there for a long time or at least by being born there, is alien to Japan. If you don't have Japanese blood, you can't be Japanese. That simple. They also expect other nationalities to be similiar. All Americans are blond and blue eyed, for example. Many Japanese were confused, for example, when I told them many Australians are Asians. For the Japanese, even living there for many generations will not make you one of them. Koreans, whose ancestors were kidnapped and brought to Japan centuries ago, who look like and sound like Japanese, who no longer speak Korean, must carry Korean identification cards.

If excluding foreigners from the country was not dangerous enough, Japanese culture and government policy make it unlikely that the demographic crisis will be solved from the inside. The fertility is set to decline even further. Fewer women choose to marry, fewer couples have children, fewer children are being born to those couples who decide to have them. For Japan's powerful, professional and independent women, a life as a housewife is increasingly unattractive; and women are rarely expected to work after marriage.

And who wants to marry anyway? Japanese people are about as romantic as cement, sex is so unpopular that sex rates are the lowest in the developed world, and the typical marriage has about as much passion as a bank account. Sex within marriage is reportedly so rare that it must be planned around yearly holidays, while men typically (and, from my experience, without much objection from their wives) go outside the marriage for sex, to host bars and 'soaplands', where their money can buy what their personality can't otherwise obtain for them. Meanwhile women learn the lessson that only men want sex, and women are paid for it in one way or another. My girlfriend seemed honestly surprised that I expected her to enjoy sex, apparently 'women don't enjoy sex', and the idea that women in the West can enjoy it and even seek it out took her by suprise.

This is the background for kaso, rural depopulation. Combined with the natural drift of population from the country to the city, the result is demographic disaster in the countryside. Some prefectures have upwards of 70% of residents over 70. The Japanese countryside is rapidly becoming a collection of nursing homes with attached nursing residence and collections of rice farms being farmed by over 70 year old couples.

This leaves many areas completely overserviced in terms of, for example, education. There are primary schools in Minami Osumi Cho, where I was living, with 6 or 7 students. I attended a beggining of year opening ceremony with two students entering the first grade. Meanwhile, the 6th grade had 8. A rapidly shrinking school with more staff than students.

Things are hardly likely to change. The government recently exhorted Japanese women to "pay attention to their duties and not be so selfish". Couples can't hold hands in public, and many men remain so sexually immature they are virgins in their thirties and forties. Both men and women lack flirting skills, while the costs of marrying and raising children are extreme ($350 for a school backpack, anyone?)

The end result is not good. The latest statistics suggest that the population peaked last year; it will decline slightly this year, and will go down steadily...forever.

Unless they take migrants.


Victor said...

seriously, why are more people not commenting? good stuff.

Anonymous said...

Sad, since I know so many people who would like to move to Japan. The change in attitudes will take at least a couple of generations though.

Anonymous said...

I wish I can go and live part of my life in Japan but no matter what it seems impossible and this article does a great job in pointing that out.

I have been into anime, jpop and japanese women for a while now - but the furthest I ever got was the anime and music. Now from the article I can understand why the women part didn't work out. I am a foreigner in the US and far from blond and blue eyes - so I suppose that this is a major factor.

When I was going to grad school in Philly, the place I was staying at was sort of an international students' apartment complex and it was amazing to see all the asians simply gravitate to their own basically. There was always a Japanese or Chinese or Korean group and there was no way to get in.

However, if the Japanese government and media keeps spreading propaganda and convinces the people that immigrants are all bad, then the country will keep tanking; just like the hysteria with the Mexicans in the US

Dale said...

That's ridiculous. Just because a country's populatin is decreasing doesn't mean it's dying. Nor can one say how long this trend will continue. Not too long ago people feared that massive overpopulation would strip the world of its resources. That trend reversed, for some countries, and so will this depopulation trend as soon as the population decreases to a psychologically acceptable level.

Unknown said...

Looking at the birth rate is certainly a sound way to look at the health of a population, but it is far from the whole picture. Japan is listed as the 32nd highest nation in the world in regards to population density. 339 people per square kilometer... for reference the US has a population density of 31 people per kilometer squared.

Obviously they're two very different nations, however as the second datapoint makes clear, birth rate is only part of the picture.

Anonymous said...

Dale, did you read the article?

Your ignorance is excessive.

Greg Selover said...

Wow, how utterly and blatantly you stereotype these people. And all of you who buy into it just like that, didn't the lack of any sort of qualifications of these outlandish statements tip you off? Not one time does the author mention "some Japanese," or "many Japanese." It's always "the Japanese."

While your points about the fertility rate certainly could be true (I have no idea my self), you make assumptions such as "there is very little sex in marriage (or whatever you said)" to mean that it's because Japanese people don't have loving relationships. The truth is that many businessmen are stuck in the city for the entire workweek, struggling desperately to feed their families whom they love very much. Sure, some of them look outside their marriage for sexual satisfaction, and that is a problem, but not because of the reasons you made up to explain it.

You are expected as a foreigner to carry papers around with you etc, but I've never heard of anyone being "expected" to leave. And if anything, I've only heard of the Japanese as considering themselves not an ethnicity, but rather anyone engaging in the Japanese culture.

Now you've got people thinking they can't go to Japan, or that they can't have relationships with Japanese women. Their attitudes about sex may be different, but that doesn't mean they don't engage in human relationships, or that they won't do so with a foreigner.

"The Japanese are xenophobic" my ass. It's YOU who just characterized an entire group of people as completely unloving and inhuman.

Anonymous said...

Why would it be wrong to restrict immigration? why is it wrong to reduce population?

Japan choice is no better or worse than your country choice, it is only different. You are fascist if you cannot understand that people can choose different society than yours.

Avi Abrams said...

good insight here... sad about Japan countryside - it's quite beautiful!

Anonymous said...

The argument that Japan's population is falling is well made and basically undeniable.

However, it does NOT make a compelling argument for that being a bad thing:

Per an earlier post, japan is among the most densely populated countries on earth, second only to bangladesh and s.korea, not counting nations with less than 30mm citizens.

All this an island that is mostly bare rock poking out of the ocean. Further, Japan is among the worst off in the world in terms of self-sufficiency in food and energy, both at well below 40 percent.

If you believe the peak-oil/global warming theories that have 2-3 billion people dying in the next 20 someodd years, Japan is simply getting to equilibrium with it's environment in an efficient and relatively painless manner, compared to mass starvation.

I would argue that Japan's ideal population is closer to 50 million than 120mm -- a number that would place it at about the same population density as the UK, and not coincidentally, a number at which it would be self-sufficient in terms of food, if not energy. This being the case, a better title for this piece would be: the Japanese Solution to Catastrophic Overpopulation.

dislaimer: I am an American of half Japanese descent.

Anonymous said...

"Why would it be wrong to restrict immigration? why is it wrong to reduce population?"

A country without children is a country with no future.

Who is to care for these 70 year old Japanese? Granted, elderly Japanese are more capable health-wise than Western elderly people, but at some point they must still be cared for.

If Japan is to continue to be a great society they must ensure that someone is still alive to tell the story of its greatness.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be silly to encourage immigration to one of the most over-populated nations on earth?

Having said that, the Japanese are totally racist/xenophobic, but not to a larger degree than all Europeans hate each other, for example.

I think the perspective that populations must always grow in order to be healthy is particularly American, as the US could easily support 3x it's current population, if not more.

However, imagine the USA with 3 BILLION inhabitants and tell me the biggest problem facing the country would be how to encourage more immigration.

Look at the history of China before modern agriculture -- every hundred years or so it bounced from 20 to 100 million -- because they couldn't find an equilibrium.

Just because modern techniques have raised the level of sustainable population beyond levels previously imaginable does not been it has made them infinite.

In the end, it's supply and demand -- resource scarcity makes children more expensive, so populations facing it naturally tend to reproduce less and less as they seek equilibrium.

dislaimer: I am an American of half Japanese descent.

Anonymous said...

Depopulation is only a problem for those people and entities that are not able to change with the times. An example of such people are old people who can no longer easily support themselves. An example of such entities are government entitlement systems, like pensions and health care, that require tax revenue to support. If the population pyramid is becoming extremely top heavy as it is in Japan, the collapse of the entitlement system is inevitable without massive reform. Even in the United States, whose population is growing about 10% per decade, the entitlement system is living on borrowed time. The lesson to take from Japan's depopulation and the consequences thereof is not that mass immigration is necessary to solve the problem, but that entitlement reform is necessary to solve the problem.

Anonymous said...

That Japan chose "Small Japan" rather than "Big Japan" isn't much of a surprise. It also isn't much of a surprise that Japan is the center of development for "Anthropomorphic Robots". Many demonstrations of these emphasize how the robots will be able to "take care of the elderly". Well, apparently because there won't be youngsters to do it due to exactly this demographic issue.

WorldWithoutToil said...

I'm in the camp that says negative growth rates are a good thing, in the long run. The long run being 2 or 3 generations. In the short term there will be economic consequences, but hey, that's the fault of the people who had way too many kinds a few generations ago. oH, sure, you could extrapolate a negative population growth to zero, but you can extrapolate a positive population growth to infinity. The population is going down now because it needs to to be viable. When the numbers get too low to be viable, then people will breed more or change immigration policies.

Javbw said...

People who talk about Japan's Population as if it is one static thign in these rebuttals.

Japan is broken up into the 3-4 major cities, and then everywhere else.

and everywhere else is suffering badly becuase of the said population loss. the Town I visited for 5 months has had the outlying schools and towns folded into it year after year for 10 years becuase there are so few residents and kids. he's not kidding about the elderly, their care, or the lack of children.

as far as sex and relationships go, he is a bit harsh, bu overall correct. go to any site dealing with westerners dealing with Japanese boyfriends and girlfriends, and you will be surprised how spot on they are, and how it mirrors my own experience, as well as a friend of mine. Japan is not the Japan of the boom in the 80's, and their overzealous nature of immigration control is spot on. Forigners get blamed for violence, bad grades in school (which are usually the Japanese kid's lack of motivation by a school system where NO ONE can fail EVER) , and other small socially ecomonic issues.

People can see the difference, but as my friend commented, they will not do a lot to change it (even if some recognize that immigration is the key) because the government will keep tabs on things just enough to make it a "soft landing" rather than a hard one.

Japan is a wonderful place. the culture, the people, the customs, and even their environment. And even though you might love the place (as I do) you come to realize their biggest roadblocks to fixing their issues are The culture, the People, the customs and their environment distorted through an absolute reliance on the power of conformity through shame, an idea that is VERY "foreign" to foreigners, at least westerners, where acting like a prick is deemed a god given right. Being immersed in it for a while, you start to understand the difference.

There are ALWAYS exceptions to those observations, as there are to any rule. I've met them. but overall, that is Japan.

And I'll be going back soon, bringing my foreign butt back to haunt Gunma again for another year.

Anonymous said...

"Who is to care for these 70 year old Japanese?"

Robots. Just wait 10 years.

Anonymous said...

It will sort itself out.

1. Only people get kids who want kids
To a very small extent this will propagate child-friendly genes. To a larger extent it will sooner or later lead to a child friendly culture, simply because all other culture memes have died out.

2. A declining population is not "dying out". While stability would be preferable, there will be no crash, but a wave-pattern, an ebb and flow.

3. From the standpoint of an japanese racist immigration wouldn't be a solution. He would prefer a "pure" japanese nation of 80 million in hundred years instead of a stable 120 million population which consists of 60 million "native" and 60 million immigrants (which also clinch to their own culture.)

I also find it noteworthy that Japans research in very advanced robots is owned to this anti-immigrant stance. Because their is no cheap labor, they promote instead automation.

Anonymous said...

"Couples can't hold hands in public"??

I've never heard that Japan puts legal limits on interaction between consenting adults; is this true? What are the laws regarding contact?

Anonymous said...

When I recently visited Tokyo I met many immigrants from Korea and China.

Immigration is growing to Japan. They tend to only take people who have skills and contribute.It may be done slowly but it IS being done.

Farhan Abid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Farhan Abid said...

As much as I loved this article and am completely amazed and agree with the negative sentiments, but what are your sources?

This is my first visit to your blog, so may be I should read more about you. I apologize if I sound condescending but would like to get some form of citation.


Anonymous said...

Honestly, the entire world could use a population decrease, or at least a plateau right now. It's just sad that it's the developing nations that still produce the highest birth rates considering that they cannot even sustain what they have.

I am from Canada and it's very obvious how immigration does boost your economy. I haven't exactly been following Japan's policies but it seems like they're being very shortsighted in all of this.

Interesting article though, thanks for the read.

Anonymous said...

As a Westerner having chosen to settle in Japan for life/career purposes for nearly 10 years - I can say 100% confidence that I disagree with almost everything in this article. Birth rates are declining - there is no doubt about that but these ideas about antagonism towards foreigners, blatant racism, lack of sex/passion/desire to have children etc. are little more that hyperbole and stereotypes themselves.

Japan does have strict immigration laws for sure - but so do countless other countries. Japan's rules are no more strict than countries like Mexico or Sweden. And, I hasten to point out, that "alien" is the proper word - it's not an issue of racism. And given the changes in US border policies over the past years - I don't think we are that much different.

There is a startling degree of homogeneity in Japan and while it has come at a cost there are also benefits - Japan is probably the safest country I have ever lived in or visited. The worst parts of Japan are safer than the majority of the US for example. This might seem "boring" but I consider it a good thing.


Anonymous said...

it's not its (grammar!)

Anonymous said...

You do make some good points. But you're pretty harsh? To all the readers who say, I'd love to spend a few years in Japan but clearly I can't. That is not correct and I don't believe it is the intention of the author. You can do that, you won't be hassled on the street by police, in fact far from it, their police are some of the nicest I've ever meet. Crime rates are so low there most police never leave the Coban, and their jobs basically consist of giving directions(which is probably more important in any case, due to the ridiculously difficult addressing system). As for racism, I'll give you that, but it's not like we experience it in the west. I mean it's not like South Africa in the 70's or Southern USA back in the day or Australia during the WAP. It's an underlying vibe, on the surface everything is very very pleasant. I've visited Japan twice, and have found it to be one of the most enjoyable experiences of my like( I've seen most of the world too BTW); and I have many friends who have lived there for 2 years of more, generally without hassle. But yes living the rest of my life in Japan, well that's not going to happen...

Anonymous said...

After two years there I was 50/50 between staying and going back to Canada. This column pretty much summarizes why I left. For me the discrimination was actually kind of fun, always the center of attention. I had heard and read bad things, though, about what it would be like for my hypothetical Japanese-born kids and grandkids.

That, and I couldn't take being an English teacher anymore. But that's covered in the column too. In other countries, there are tons of jobs I could have. In Japan, whiteys are English teachers.

Anonymous said...

You got reddited.

Anonymous said...

Awesome point about immigration. We artificially keep economies alive by importing people from poor overpopulated countries. The solution to a variety of other problems then is the opposite, cut off immigration. In turn, we learn to live within our means.

The idea that Japan is dying is ridiculous on its face. It is overpopulated now. It will shrink to a sustainable population. All countries do it sooner or later as long as artificial means aren't introduced (immigration in or out).

Anonymous said...

For some people, changing their way of life is just a different kind of death. I don't think it's fair to judge a society that's been insular for centuries to be hesitant to open up. There is a comfort to familiarity and to ethnicity.

With regards to robots and immigration, consider that this is what drives technological innovation. The USA kicked out hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in the 60's to howls of protest that fruit costs would skyrocket because of the lack of cheap labor. Instead, we improved fruit picking processes and everything ended up costing less. Cheap labor actually undercuts innovation because it becomes cheaper in the short term to just use brute-force solutions. This is part of why the South lost the civil war--slavery actually hampered the economic and technological power of the South. Extremely high immigration levels accomplish roughly the same thing.

Unknown said...

Declining populations are not necessarily a bad thing, and given energy, food needs as well as environment concerns might very well be a good thing.

After all all the world, and Japan too at one point had significantly less population.

In terms of the economy, for corporations it is GDP but for people it is GDP/head and as long as that is growing it is fine.

In terms of the caring for the elderly and needed more young people like in the US, that is a Ponzi/pyramid scheme where each succeeding generation pays for the one before it, and unles each succeeding generation is bigger it becomes more difficult. The solution is not more younger people but for each generation to pay for their own services (retirement, medical, soc security etc).

Instead of the articles negative tone and that population reduction is bad, I would rather look on it as an instructive way of how to improve peoples lives and the quality of living, as Japan learns so can the rest of the world and understand that population reductions can be great.

In terms of the city/rural divide that is a problem, if one thinks that if a place once was a city, it should always be a city. What about the countryside becoming wilder, only the most productive parts are lived on in a sustainable manner and the rest beocomes beautiful national parks.


Anonymous said...

If Japan wants to die off...then let them. Why cant they make their own choices? Why must everyone follow the Anglo-USA-Canadian-Australian way of life???
Let them be and stop telling everyone what to do.
We here in the "West" can not go around dictating what we dont do.

Anonymous said...

The US also calls immigrants "aliens", that's what I am. My friends sometimes wonder why I glow in the dark...

Anonymous said...

I have several relatives who've emigrated from taiwan to japan and live full lives, raised families, and love it there. so i don't understand the assertion japan doesn't except immigrants.

Anonymous said...

Nothing new in this post, it's the same old sour expat grumbling, jazzed up a bit, and a little harsher (to follow the earlier commenter).

As to the idea that you cannot go and live in Japan, or that permanent residency is particularly hard to get--that's nonsense.

Japanese _citizenship_ is hard to get.

Chris said...

You're an idiot, just because birth rates are low isn't a bad thing, places where birth rates are high (developing nations) usually mean poverty and the need for children as cheap labor sources. As countries become more developed and the citizens become more educated and more wealthy the birth rates always go down.

Anonymous said...

Really good post. I learned alot of interesting stuff.
Apparently Japan is full of 40 year old Virgins, which begs to ask would happen if we showed them the movie with Steve Carell.
Definetly a sad thing, a place where Sex dosent happen and when it does, it isnt enjoyed, is a pretty sad place.

Anonymous said...

this is a hit piece. in January 2008 japan had hearings on 9/11 and concluded the US government is practicing fraud.

Anonymous said...

Ask any Asian: "What Asians are weird"?

Most will answer: "oh, Japanese".

In Europe: "The Germans".

America: "Canadians"?

Anonymous said...

Really good post. I learned alot of interesting stuff.
Apparently Japan is full of 40 year old Virgins, which begs to ask would happen if we showed them the movie with Steve Carell.
Definetly a sad thing, a place where Sex dosent happen and when it does, it isnt enjoyed, is a pretty sad place.

Anonymous said...

Should I care about a xenophobic culture unable and unwilling to change? I think not.

Anonymous said...

The two bombs the Americans dropped 50 years ago was soooo big!!

Even their penises got smaller and women don't want to have sex with their man anymore.

That's why there are so many old people now in Japan.

Anonymous said...

Its funny to read these posts of Expats that find it difficult to fit in and think it is necessary to have a country or culture change to accommodate them. As a American living and working is Japan, I can relate to some of the feelings this person has. Some of his comments are a little off based like $350 for a backpack these backpacks are usually bought by the child's grandparents as a gift to celebrate going to school. You have other choices and not saying so is unfair. This is not a factor in choosing to have a child.

Japan is a unique country from it's food, religion and customs if they they do not restrict immigration Japan will lost its identity and who are we to judge that??

MacArthur saw the uniqueness of Japan and let the Japanese keep most of their customs and policies so if he didn't find anything wrong with it, why should we?

Plus..I don't teach English for a living. there are lot of good opportunities here if you are educated and want to do more.

If you cannot read and write a language how many opportunities does a person have anywhere? Don't make it an excuse by saying "whiteys" can only be English Teachers. For the most part English teaching is really the only thing they are qualified to do here.

Anonymous said...

This is hopelessly simplistic. I am afraid it is most interesting as an extreme example of "expat bullshit". It is understandable that some people, when isolated in a foreign country that is in some ways dissimilar to their own and with limited access to information about that country because of language hurdles, slip into hackneyed and often self contradictory rants about the host country. These sorts of ideas are often nurtured in conversations with other foreigners rather than being exposed to proper scrutiny because those foreigners are either completely ignorant of the country or facing similar problems. However, this does not make the ideas useful in understanding the country and it is unfortunate that many people who do not know Japan might take this blog post seriously.

This post is especially unfortunate because it sketches the rough outlines of a real social challenge for Japan - falling birth rates. There are certainly issues that need to be addressed with the rules governing foreign immigrants, with making it easier for young couples to have children etc. But there is no way that this is an existential threat to the country. A Japanese person could do just the same and pick out a problem faced currently by the US/Europe and blow it up into some sort of millenial threat. It is an important social issue and, despite what this post would have you believe, many Japanese policy makers are trying to address it in various ways. Yes there is conservatism in the system, but isn`t there always conservatism in any society when dealing with complex social issues (sometimes, of course, the Conservatives turn out to be right!) A good, considered, piece could have been written about this topic, but it wasn`t written here

There are more than a million foreigners living in Japan and has been steadily increasing. You may not see much evidence of this growing presenc in rural Japan, of course, but it is there. It is true that its number of immigrants is significantly lower than a colonial/immigrant built country like US/Australia and also lower than Western European countries (that have taken the large majority of their immigrants from their former empires, incidentally). However, it is still a significant part of the population and a much more significant part of the working population. Parts of the big cities are almost completely immigrant. It is worth noting that many westerners trot out this "homogenous" line when walking through areas full of immigrants because they cannot tell the difference between the far east asian immigrants, who make up the vast majority of this population, and the Japanese. This is a bit of a "they all look the same to me" problem.

Actually, looking at it, almost every sentence in the post is either a misunderstanding or totally overblown. I can`t pick all the problems out but, for instance:
"The process of obtaining permanent residency (e.g. for spouses of Japanese citizens) is fiendishly and purposely complex." As someone who has gone through this process, it is complex, like any major bureaucratic procedure but I wouldn't call it "fiendish". In fact, my wife had previously gone through the same process in the UK and it was much more "fiendish" there, including all sorts of interviews and form filling and double checking and proof giving, all on the assumption that we were lying.

But the post gets most crude when it talks about sex. Perhaps sentences like "Japanese people are about romantic as cement" were not meant to be taken seriously (I sincerely hope not) but when they are then followed up with garbage like "sex within marriage is reportedly so rare that it must be planned around yearly holidays, while men typically (and, from my experience, without much objection from their wives) go outside the marriage for sex, to host bars and 'soaplands'', where their money can buy what their personality can't otherwise obtain for them." This is just utter bullshit. From what I can see, the sex industry is no larger than the UK, my own home. So shall we ascribe that offensive sentence to all British men and all Americans and all Europeans, for that matter? It is ironic that this post started by talking about racism and then really verges on it with these sorts of offensive generalisations:

"Meanwhile women learn the lessson that only men want sex, and women are paid for it in one way or another. My girlfriend seemed honestly surprised that I expected her to enjoy sex, apparently 'women don't enjoy sex', and the idea that women in the West can enjoy it and even seek it out took her by suprise." I am going to refrain from being rude about the author's private life but will only appeal for sad personal experience not to be daubed into terrible generalisations about a country and the women in it. Suffice it to say that millions of people, Japanese and foreign, men and women, have very loving and fulfilling sexual relationships in this country (why am I having to write that? Shouldn't we know, a priori, that that is going to be the case with any human group)

"Couples can't hold hands in public" - rubbish.
"Many men remain so sexually immature they are virgins in their thirties and forties." I am sure there are some. I don't know any. Why haven't they gone to the soaplands?
70 per cent over 70 in some prefectures - I would like a reference for that.

"Koreans, whose ancestors were kidnapped and brought to Japan centuries ago, who look like and sound like Japanese, who no longer speak Korean, must carry Korean identification cards." It is a lot more complex than that. First, many Koreans came to Japan in the same way Indians came to the UK, seeking economic opportunity in the Imperial metropolis. There was certainly, like there was in the UK, a despoilation of the Korean economy but they were not all "kidnapped" and "brought to Japan" (that would be the black population of the US). Second, the continued holding of Korean nationality by second or third generation koreans is a subject of real debate in the Korean community. It is not a question of Japan imposing a blanket ban on becoming Japanese, but a case of Koreans wishing to protect their identity and nationality. About 10,000 koreans naturalise every year but it is true that many others choose to stay as Korean. Like all foreigners, have to carry their ID (the same is true in many countries and many more, in these terrorist times, are discussion similar plans)

Anonymous said...

First of all, don't worry about Japan, they'll have enough robots to take of themselves. Second of all, sure there are a lot of sexless marriages but the Japanese girls I've had sex with all enjoyed it immensely. (Of course I probably spoiled them for those less skilled in the art.)

Anonymous said...

Just an observation: almost every one of the longer comments on this post from people with experience of Japan says it is bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Japan is dying... it's the truth man.

You better leave that country, before it's too late!

Anonymous said...

The Japan has 120 million people in a country roughly the size of California. California has 30 million or so. I think your exaggerating the risk of the Japanese going the way of the spotted owl. even if their population decreased by half over then next 50 years, who cares, they would still have 60 million people all of whom would have had the best education possible. The future is not about how many people you have but the knowledge and expertise of those people. China gets it, they are purposefully trying to reduce their population to levels like japan because they know that they dont need anymore rice pickers, they need engineers and scientists. Furthermore, Japan is leading the world in robotic technology in many ways to offset their dwindling population, having robots do all the mundane work seems like a good idea.

Anonymous said...

What you are trying to say is...

The less Japanese there are, the better it is for the rest of the world!

Hmm, yes.

Anonymous said...

The most wealthiest man in Japan for a long time was Masayoshi Son. He was 3rd generation Korean in Japan (zainichi). He couldn't start a software company w/o the proper papers and to get the paper you needed to be Japanese with an adopted name meaning he would lose his Korean name. But rather than giving up his Korean name he had his fiancee change her last name to his last name Son and then married her and changed his name back to Son so now he and his holdings are registered under his Korean name. This was all legal under Japanese law. And now he's the richest Japanese. But he's actually Korean.

Anonymous said...

Chances are big he would also be the richest Korean if he went back to Korea.

Wouldn't he rather be the richest Korean?

Anonymous said...

But he identifies as a Japanese. He is 3rd generation.

Anonymous said...

Japan refuses to take immigrants

10% of the population of my city here in Japan are immigrants, mainly from Latin America. Brazilian and Peruvian make up the bulk of them. The same is true of Toyota and Nagoya cities. Recently we are seeing more are more Philipino and Chinese immigrants, married to Japanese men.

Oh, and I'm an immigrant myself.

Well written article, just unfortunately lacking in truth.

Paul Weiss said...

Japan is not an immigrant country and it is overpopulated as it is. Seventy percent of Japan's terrain is mountainous, leaving little room for residential development.

Anonymous said...


You are so completely full of shit. Do you actually believe the stuff you write? So you couldn't get your Japanese girlfriend to enjoy sex and now you are bitter with Japan? You couldn't adapt to the country and claim racism? Your "article" is full of factual errors, prejudice, bias and sensationalism.

I really hope nobody believes this joke of an article. It is completely ridiculous and lacks almost no truth. It's just a pissed off white guy who couldn't fit in to Japanese society, so instead of looking for faults in himself he decided to make up faults for Japan.

Anonymous said...

I have found my purpose in life. I will be japan's savior.

Anonymous said...

This is why we still can't let the country have an offensive army. The Japanese still believe they are superior to everybody else.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Been to Japan loads, and as long as you make an effort to try and speak a bit of Japanese and respect them, then they are the most friendly, helpful inclusive and open people I have ever encountered. Of course if you go there expecting them to speak English and act like americans then they might get a bit annoyed :-)

Also, just to reiterate: The safest country I've ever spent time in, even though the streets can be sooooo crowded sometimes - not bad for a country thats 'dying'.

Anonymous said...

Captain Cassowary could hardly be more wrong.

Japan has made the next step in the evolution of society. To choose an increase in the quality of life instead of the quantity of life.

For most of history, most people just survived. With the advent of the Green Revolution people predicted and end to world hunger. Norman Borlaug even won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

But it didn't work. Irresponsible people just had way more children and drive the population right back to the brink of starvation again.

You claim loving children is the key to the future? Don't you realize that Mexico already has to import over 30% of their food and some countries in Africa have to import over 70% of their food?

Without aid from from more responsible countries there would be massive die offs in just weeks. Suggesting that all countries need to have more kids is in a word, retarded.

Anonymous said...

I was born in Japan, and I am Korean. No things are not perfect there. But you have taken every negative blanket falsehood about Japan and cast it in the least flattering light possible.

I have no idea what ur problem is but u could make an equally disastrous picture for any nation in the world. Japan is cool.

As far as sex and romance, you could make blanket statements about americans too. They're fat, hopped up on porn, and immoral. wtf? no we're not. but yes we are. or something.

maybe ur one of those dorky, pasty white guys who gets a fetish for asian girls. now when you have an asian girl and shit goes wrong, who do you blame?

Casey D. said...

Japanese woman like sex, damnit! They just prefer to have it with tentacled creatures.

Seriously though, how can you like sex if your only role is to fulfill rape fantasies?

All joking aside, I'm not convinced Japanese don't like sex. Although censored porn is pretty good indication. Okay, I'm convinced.

Either way, Japan is not dying. Just Japanophile pipe dreams of being Japanese. Two paragraphs into this blog, I was already waiting for the author to mention his Japanese girlfriend, and he did. Even his racism couldn't mask his Japanophilia, fueled by the contempt towards a culture that won't accept him. My question is why should they? That, and who cares?

Anonymous said...

Athens, the open city, was the place where artists, poets, achitects... thrived.
Sparta, jealous of its cultural exception, allowed no influence from outside... and disappeared leaving no mark on history.

Matt said...

Give me a break. Every country in the world should have a birthrate like Japan's. There are 6+ billion people in the world today, and at this rate it'll be 9 billion within 40 years.

Overpopulation is the much more serious problem.

Anonymous said...

I don't think this article actually contains as little truth as the comments make it out to be. Personally, I have found (like some of the commentators) the Japanese to be very kind when approached, if shy.

But when you think about what it is like for a foreigner in a Japanese firm, the reality is much different from that of a person who merely goes to school or has spent a year or two living in Japan. I believe I can say this with some authority. My uncle spent the period of his post-graduate life through his early 40's working for a large Japanese broadcasting/media company. He is currently abandoning his job completely and utterly and moving to America to work for an American firm. He said that, as a foreigner, he could never really be accepted by his coworkers and bosses. There was, so to speak, a glass ceiling beyond which he could not ascend in the company. When I spoke with him about this, he discouraged me from pursuing work in a Japanese company and instead to look towards an international company working in Japan. This experience was not his own. He said that some of his foreigner peers were able to break past this barrier, but by in large, this was not possible.
It all goes back to the Japanese concept of uchi (in group) and soto (outgroup). Foreigners will find it very difficult to become in-group members in the Japanese business world.

Regarding the romantic/sexual parts of this piece:
The current generation is balking these trends. Holding hands is not illegal by any means, but is still extremely rare. It is almost shocking to see any form of PDA in Japan (Tokyo being somewhat of an exception), at least in my experience. His notions about sex are, I think, way off, but I haven't had sex with anyone in their 30s or later, so maybe his generalization is more true for them, or maybe it is not.

News Commentary said...

Japan is ludicrously overpopulated, especially compared with it's natural resources. The island of Japan can probably only sustain an order of magnitude less people, the low birthrate is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I wish to suggest why Japan is not producing Babies.
The first problem, is one of Intimacy. When I see Japanese people being intimate on the Internet, they are usually practising something called 'bukakke'. Now, this is good for the Complexion, but it does not lead to Children. Perhaps more education would be of Help.

The other reason is that many Japanese women find their husbands inadequate, because during their School years they were Intimate with Tentacle Monsters. The average man simply cannot compare. Perhaps more Superheroes would be of Help.

Anonymous said...

Japan's population is certainly decreasing. The pros and cons of this are discussed in this Glocom article.

With respect to immigration policy, Japan is a jus sanguinis and not a jus soli country. However, immigration is rapidly increasing.

According to a recent Japan Times article, the number of registered foreign residents grew by about 50% in a decade, and the number of Japanese marrying non-Japanese has tripled in the past 20 years to 6% of all marriages.

Also, the family visa process is much faster and cheaper in Japan than in many other countries. The "half" and "quarter" children and grandchildren from these marriages have already raised questions for schools and communities throughout Japan on what it means to be Japanese.

In schools, parents, teachers and community leaders in Japan need to work together to create safe learning environments that encourage children of all backgrounds to learn and play together. I hope that as more "foreign-looking" kids grow up speaking native Japanese, and more Japanese kids welcome them as equals, the more international amity will preside.

If we don't take the time to understand each other as human beings, it would truly be もったいない.

Anonymous said...

When I worked in the US, I had to file taxes as an "alien". So Japan is racist and the US is not?

Unknown said...

Here's a National Geographic article which described the effect of declining population in North Dakota. It's pretty powerful. And here are the photos for the article.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: "Sparta, jealous of its cultural exception, allowed no influence from outside... and disappeared leaving no mark on history." Erm, but you are saying that nearly 2500 years after the Battle of Thermopylae! And I am sure I am familiar with that word "Sparta" from somewhere in my education.
There is certainly racism in Japan, as there is in ALL advanced industrial countries. It is true that some aspects of racism in Japan are currently less challenged than some aspects of racism in the UK/US, for instance (and, incidentally, far more challenged than in some countries on mainland Asia and in central Europe). But to try to say that the Japanese are unique in the existence of glass ceilings for racial minorities is nonsense. Eg.
What is perhaps unique about this situation is that it is a glass ceiling which white people experience and that can be a very bemusing experience for some white people. I remember having a conversation about this with a Nigerian chap in Japan and he was very amused that white people thought that this was somehow a special Japanese phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

The link to the link to the article about a particular glass ceiling in the UK that I included above did not work. So here it is again.

Anonymous said...

Japan is dying, there is no doubt of it. But not only because of the population, but also because of the lifestyle of the Japanese people. To work for 16 hours a day when the country faces a crisis is understandable, but to keep that situation permanently ends up the viability of the family. When you treat with them for a few years as I did in Tokyo, you find out that behind that forever smile there is nothing but loneliness and sorrow. And who is responsible for that? The fucking Japanese government, which is rotten.


Anonymous said...

As someone that lives in Japan and works in a High School, I can tell you for sure, this is absolutely true.

Anonymous said...

Which bits are true? Even the bits that are categorically factually incorrect (holding hands, fiendish permanent visas for spouses, romantic as cement, all japanese men buying sex because they are inadequate) etc. etc. etc. I am afraid this is just ex pat nonsense by ill informed and bitter people.

Anonymous said...

I heard that the legal age in Japan is 15, which is in contrast to the widespread of the age 18 in other [developed] countries. Perhaps, the popularity of "yaoi" themed animes are less restricted to be accessed of their youth in order to encouraged early onset of giving birth. I do not know if this is a sweeping conclusion.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Japanese (not living there at this moment) and this was interesting.
I agree with your point about them needing to open up the door for immigrants, though I think some of your points on marriage are not entirely correct. I think Japanese are more prudent on marriage than, say, Americans who get married, have kids, then get divorced.

FYI, foreigners are labeled as aliens in US too.

Thanks for the post! Good insight here. I didn't mean to dis your opinion, just wanted to add mine :)

Israel B said...

As a happily married, >10 year resident of Tokyo pretty well integrated into society, with a wide circle of local friends, I'm going to cast my hat in with the "this is mostly if not all bullshit and exaggerations" crowd.

If the poster is so unhappy here, I'd suggest contemplating a move before the stress affects your health. YMMV, but I love my life here as an immigrant.

Anonymous said...

I can't belive I read all this article, what a load!
I read most of the comments too, I agree with the sentiments of Tokyo resident. I lived there for a while, a beautiful and it seems mostly misunderstood culture. It is strange how it is easy to see some things through the lens of another culture that exist within your own. For example I have worked longer hours in my home country and taken less holidays than I ever did working in Japan, yet the stereotype of overworked Japanese Businessmen still dominates.
The trend of decreased birth rates is present in most countries where the population have high levels of education.
To make a sweeping generalization of my own I would guess that the author is a ugly white guy who thought it would be easy to get girls in Japan but it never really worked out because Japanese women aren't stupid and he never really bother to learn Japanese. I defintely met plenty of those!

thrax said...

> I attended a beginning of year opening ceremony with two students entering the first grade.

Sooner or later the rest of the world will reach this sad state.

Anonymous said...

"That's ridiculous. Just because a country's populatin is decreasing doesn't mean it's dying. Nor can one say how long this trend will continue. Not too long ago people feared that massive overpopulation would strip the world of its resources. That trend reversed, for some countries, and so will this depopulation trend as soon as the population decreases to a psychologically acceptable level."

A population decreasing for matters such as birth/death rate is absolutely considered a "dying country". People are also STILL fearing massive overpopulation and a loss of resources. Which, by the way, is inevitable. Wonder why they're so interested in mars? It's because of COLONIZATION!

Anonymous said...

The most serious environmental problem on earth is overpopulation. Overpopulation results in global warming, species extinction, pollution and so forth. Japan is overpopulated and the decreasing population is great news ecologically (think of the marine stocks that are under severe stress, for example. Or perhaps old growth forests being destroyed for paper in other parts of the world, or the Amazon rainforest being cleared for soybeans for livestock, or the farming of livestock causing the spread of the Sahara desert and the greatest mammal extinction rate in the world currently occurring in Australia. These practices are partly driven by demand in Japan, among other countries).
Preserving the health of the planet should be the TOP priority of governments.

Anonymous said...

You forgot mention in your article that the Japanese Technological Sector is working on robotics that would one day replace the ever recurring circumstance of ever aging, retiring, or unfilled jobs within many public and perhaps private institutions in and around metropolitan Japan. It has been even been funded through government contracts and grants, almost without asking by many within the Japanese government to make up for losses in population and liable sources of human resource. It has become a paramount endeavor made for the express purpose of forgoing the allowance of increased immigration quotas (currently at only 3%). With this being the case. It will be very unlikely that Japan will ever have nothing more than an extremely homogenous society with little change for years to centuries to come. That's xenophobia for you.

Anonymous said...

ugh, this article is seriously blowing things outta proportion. YOU GENERALIZED AN ENTIRE COUNTRY. SHAME ON YOU. This post seriously has a antagonistic tone against Japan.

Where are your sources to back up these claims??

cyr3n said...

ok.. i've lived in Japan for years before moving back to the USA. I'm 1/2 japanese (my mom's a descendant of the fujiwara clan)

In my experience:
- women are expected not to enjoy sex. Not intentionally.. but there's little to no sex-ed there.

- women expect a husband have a mistress/consort at some point in his life

- men AND women love to date western people! Especially blond hair blue eyed English guys, white women, and kickass black guys. Marriage is a different story though.

- Shinto is matrilinial so its important for the bride to be Japanese.. for the kids to have any spiritual protection by the local deities.

- japanese men are extremely hardworking and devoted to their families. Both men and women are very particular about whom they marry. Sometimes marriages are arranged between influential families for strategic reasons.

- Japanese men dont trust a guy who doesn't drink with them.

- if you're a foreigner.. the easiest sure-fire job you can get is to be an english teacher. It's a very highpaying job but there's little to no advancement. Businessmen should seek out an international company doing business in Japan. Japanese companies are tough to get ahead in (unless you're married into the 'clan') because they're basically feudal entities disguised as modern corporations. That's not a bad thing though. Companies ARE your family if you're a businessman. Being fired = exile.

- yes there's racism.. moreso if you're a guy because japanese men have this idea that foreigners are sex-fiends that are here to steal their women. If you're a woman, not so much.

Hope this helps. =)

Anonymous said...

Good words.

cendolpulut said...

This article somehow opened my eyes. I'm interested in the part where 'Japanese doesn't consider themselves Asian, they consider themselves Japanese'.

Maybe I'm not too literate to give my opinion in this issue. But I would like to admit, it opens my mind.

Anonymous said...

I dont see anything wrong with japan's culture thank goodness they have not bent to the west. Most of my friends end up being from either Japan or Korea, and i am the typical southern black girl, If westerners had ever bothered knowing about blacks then japanese would be easy to figure out.

They do their own thing, mind their own buisness and dont want anybody's opinion about it, they easily spot and squish the toxic parts of western culture and they thankfully dont let it in.

They dont want to be run by the west, europeans dont even know how much of their residual crap is all over everything, Japan is one vacation from it.

The birth rate will go up as soon as the yankees go home, there is a limit, you drop two nukes on people and you want tea and to shag their daughter? Already Japanese men are constantly humiliated by these foreign men who wont go home, they dont mean any harm they are doing what all the other people are doing, smiling nicely and giving the annoyance what he wants in hopes that he soon leaves.


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ao shen said...

The Japanese live on an island country and are racist just like the Brits. They got cocky running over the Chinese and Koreans, thus, believing their race is superior. In any case, the real reason behind the governments' opposition towards immigration is brain drain. Korea already has a firm grasp over Japanese technology institutions. If they were to allow the Chinese which will be their main source of immigrants, Japan which heavily depends on its technological edge in the world market, will lay flat.

ao shen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ao shen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

This is an unnecessarily negative view of the Japanese, but on racism it is essentially true. The thing to remember is foreigners are always welcome as guests--indeed they are better treated than virtually anywhere else--but if you want to stay, then it is basically as the Captain says it is. You can still have a really nice time there, and really like it, but you should not expect to be treated as an equal. No foreigner ever is. Fluency in Japanese makes little difference.

Anonymous said...

As an American living in Japan I will agree that most if not all Japanese I have encountered are polite but never overtly friendly to me. I am "the other", and I accept that. Do I like this - of course not. In my culture (or better in my immediate circumstances in the US) we accept people regardless of race. But I certainly can't tell a nation to change because it makes me uncomfortable. I can chose to leave or adapt. Do I think most Japanese are taught to be "racist"? Yes. But they don't think of it in as negative a sense as we do in the US.

Brian said...

"And who wants to marry anyway? Japanese people are about as romantic as cement, sex is so unpopular"

LMAO. Try to explain love hotels while using "sex is unpopular" in the same sentence.

Anonymous said...

I saw several negative or disagreeing comments here, I guess those opposers have not lived or even stayed in Japan before, their knowledge of Japan/Japanese are from comics and unrealistic inspiration. I completely agree with the writer, I was in Japan for a year and had known many people who spent years in Japan either studying or working, but most of them, if not all left Japan at the end, the reason was simple, you can never be part of them no matter how good your Japanese is.

That was an Caucasian English teacher in Japan who once described Japanese people are hard to be understood, if you speak lousy Japanese language they will comment you as very good, but if you speak perfect Japanese they will distant you and leave you alone, because they are feeling threatened.

Japanese people are extremely proud of themselves, they regard themselves more European than Asian. According to my experience, Japanese look down ALL asian people, pride can be their biggest obstacle.

I can clearly see Japan is a dying nation in all ways unless they are willing to take the humble pie and begin to accept others are as good as they are.

Anonymous said...

For 15 years I was in Japan: enjoyed the end of the bubble when the country could do no wrong and lived through the Lost Decade and beyond. Married a Japanese woman and raised a child. Made lots of money. Had good times and bad. In no way do I consider myself an expert on the country but it is a damn interesting place and would like to say I was never bored, but in fact I was. Could have stayed forever I suppose but grew weary - weary of that tiny bit of psychic space that is alloted most gaijin. Five years after leaving I cannot really articulate those years well but know now that Japan was not responsible for the weariness I felt; how could it be? Yet, when people I knew then, both Japanese and gaijin see me today they marvel at how much younger I look. Don''t know about that because I look at myself in the mirror everyday but damn do I feel younger! And lighter. A German friend of mine here in the States chooses to stay here because the energy feels lighter and newer to him compared to Germany. Japan has a similar energy to Germany I believe, old, heavy and oppressive, yet compact. Haven't seen too many foreign men (the women seem to do no better, unless they have no ambition in life) do really well in Japan, psychologically that is. Then after years of living in Japan they say say the same thing - "At my age what would I do if I returned home?" Well, I couldn't spend my life in regret and despair so I simply left with my family. Can't say the years here have been easy but I don't regret coming back here - it is as if I have been given my life back. Sometimes I fantasize about going back to Japan to live. Maybe I will. But I have a new elan and couldn't fall back into my old comfortable patterns in Japan. Would I recommend going to Japan? Yes. Go and spend a few years there in your 20's and get out and get out fast and do that thing you REALLY want to do with your life, which probably isn't living in Japan and being a gaijin. Then, later in life, if you really want to go back, do so. But don't make Japan your life.

Unknown said...

"Racism" is bs.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to keep Japan "Japanese".

Once the depopulation issues really start to create a crisis, the culture will adapt.

The Japanese culture will start to promote ideas and attitudes that will encourage child rearing.

Let's look at it a different way.

Lets say every other human on teh planet was to dissapear tomorrow, and only Japan and the Japanese were left.

Would the human race be doomed because Japan can't create a stable birth rate?

Hogwash. The japanese would be fine.

This is a bogus argument.

The one thing this issue does prove is that the human race is not like bacteria in a petri dish that will grow until a catastrophic mass extinction event.

We adapt.

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mchrgr said...

1.2 children per family => need of immigrants => Japan does not favor immigration like other countries => Racism...

I call this "superficial analysis" (but in reality this is "racism")


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Well, at least the whales can breathe a sigh of relief. :-)

Unknown said...

I agree. I have a theory that human populations tend to have a self regulating nature. Absolute necessity changes everything; the need just isn't very pressing right now. Just like how water flows to the lowest point, as the pressure slowly builds over time, people slowly respond to relieve it.

Anonymous said...

Gross mischaracterizations of Japanese throughout. I must think that this blogger has lived 1) in the backwaters of Japan; and 2) has a personal axe to grind. Couples can't hold hands in public? Ridiculous. Any urban area in Japan shows otherwise. This blogger apparently believes in the myth about Japanese repressed sexuality and thinks nothing about distorting the sexual drive of young Japanese and mating skill. There is nothing wrong about government policy that wants to restrict immigration and requires foreigners to keep an ID card, especially in a country with the highest population density. This blogger seems not to consider comparative situations in other countries. It is as if racism only exists in Japan, along with marriage infidelity, dying rural towns, and restrictions on immigration and work visas. Complete bull.

Anonymous said...

That was an interesting comment thank you for your insight !

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