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Sunday, May 30, 2010

COUNTERPOINT

Studies highlight a 'heartwarming' resu of the real thing in Japan


Nothing gets the circulation going like sex.

I am, of course, talking about the circulation of magazines and newspapers; and if you had different associations, perhaps you are just the kind of person who should read this article.

When it comes to sex, the Japanese like to view themselves and their concerns and troubles as being unlike those of other nationalities. They cherish extreme statistics that portray them at the very top or the very bottom of a scale. The worst thing for them is to admit that they are somewhere in the middle, pretty much like people in most other countries.

So, recent studies — and there have been a slew of them — depicting them as enjoying less sex, less often, than people elsewhere actually warm the cockles of their heart, if of nothing else.

Yet another survey of the erotic habits of the Japanese appeared in the May 3-10 edition of the popular news magazine Aera. Based on a study of the do's, don'ts and would-rather-nots of 520 single women in their 30s, the piece was titled "The Sex We Really Like."

One woman, age 35, has been seeing her 39-year-old boyfriend for seven months, the last four of which have been characterized by very slim pickings between the sheets.

"Honey, you want it?" she asks, seductively.

"It's even harder for me to do anything," he replies, "when you put it to me like that. Why don't you do it with someone else."

It's nocturnal conversations like this that have given rise to the image of contemporary Japanese females as nikushoku (meat-eaters), as opposed to the males, who are supposedly soshoku (plant-eaters).

And it apparently gets no better when Japanese Jane the Carnivore goes and marries Herbie the Heribovore. One such married Japanese Herbie told Aera that he lost interest in sex with his wife after she gave birth.

"I kept thinking," he confessed, "that making love to your wife was like an act of incest."

This guy should definitely stop eating parsley for breakfast.

The English word "sexless" is now so much a part of everyday Japanese parlance that its ending, "less," spelt "resu" in Japanese, is used alone to denote the dearth of hanky-panky. But if it is true that Japanese are not doing it in droves, then at least they are watching it on the Internet and reading about it in weekly and monthly magazines like nobody's business.

The very popular young women's magazine, anan, puts out a sex special once a year. I remember one of their very early ones, back in 1989. Titled "Sex Will Make You Beautiful," it caused a sensation, particularly among its young female readership. The magazine's more recent sex specials have featured gorgeous nude male hunks, eye-fillet for voracious females to turn into steak tartare in the quiet of their own home.

Here's where the circulation comes in. Magazine House, the company that publishes anan, trebles the print run of issues carrying these sex specials. The feature piece in the April issue of anan this year was titled "The Complete Sex Manual." Earlier issues had come with how-to DVDs, but who needs a DVD when you've got YouTube hot at your fingertips.

Curious about this phenomenon, I contacted my old friend Hiroshi Yoshida, an editor at anan in its early years.

"In my day," said Yoshida, "it was specials on Kyoto and Kamakura that sold three times the number of copies. It seems that the readers would take the magazine with them as a guide to those places."

This set me to thinking.

Do the women who buy these sex specials today use them as a manual, holding them up and referring to them as they plow their way through the aerobics of the erotic, all the while turning the pages with their tongue?

As for the men's magazines in Japan, there has been a marked decline in how-to features about sex. If you're putting parsley in your sandwiches instead of pastrami, it stands to reason, I suppose, that you'd rather read about the safest way to get your chest hair removed than the quickest way to bed a belle.

But . . . are the Japanese really so different from the rest of us, or is it just that they are more forthcoming about the truths of their sexual relationships? Are they really enjoying less sex than their counterparts abroad?

Judging by the amount of bumph out there — printed, electronic or whatever — they would seem to be no less or more obsessed with sexual practices than people in other open societies, where it is easy to gauge these sorts of things. In fact, it is plain to anyone that American society is more hung up on sex in private and public than almost any other. It may be that the more people talk about sex acts and get vicarious kicks from watching other people perform them, the less frequently they are actually partaking in them personally.

This was certainly the case in Japan in the mid- to late Edo Period (1603-1867) — a society in the larger towns and cities so thoroughly obsessed with sex that it permeated every popular art form. Shunga (erotic woodblock prints) were created by major ukiyo-e artists. They were most likely used as masturbation images by men who were obliged to leave home on duties for long spells, much as pornographic Internet sites and videos are used in hotels today. The proliferation of shunga images in the Edo Period may be proof not of a robust sexual life, but rather its opposite: men opting for women in two dimensions when they are deprived of them in three.

There are, however, no statistics covering the frequency of sex acts among Japanese people during the Edo Period. But my feeling is that the situation in Japan was probably equivalent to what was seen in the Europe of the time. The difference then — and to a certain extent, now as well — is that the Japanese relatively lacked the sense of guilt about sex that many Europeans harbored . . . and still cling to.

To Christians, sex for non- reproductive purposes was sin. The fact that the Church today spends such an inordinate amount of its energy on the suppression of the sex drive and its consequences within and outside its walls prevents many people in the West from being open and frank about their sexual habits.

Japanese religion isn't remotely as troubled by sex as are the three Middle Eastern religions, and this, I believe, accounts for the frankness of the Japanese.

Personally, I don't buy this business about carnivorous females and herbivorous males. Japanese women, despite the demure decorum that this society demands of them in public, have always been healthily and intensely interested in all the facets of romance. As for Japanese men, they have not hidden the shy or naturally feminine sensibility that most men around the world possess (but mortally fear to express). None of this makes women more aggressive or men more timid today than they have been in the past. It's a myth perpetrated by the media.

But features on sex, and cleverly labeled journalistic categories, boost circulation — and add to the notion that the Japanese are once again different from everyone else on the planet.

This form of sociological self-gratification is very Japanese. If harmless, it doesn't give birth to new ideas or genuine culture. It just provides a sense of specialness that is as narcissistic as it is shallow.



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