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Digital Girlfriends Preferred By Japan's 'Herbivore' Millennials

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Japan's plummeting birth rate is being partly blamed on young males called "Otaku" who show far more interest in computers and comic books than sex.

Tokyo's Akihabara district (below) is filled with gadget and manga book stores and is the favorite hangout for Otaku, reports Anita Rani, for the BBC: The Japanese men who prefer virtual girlfriends to sex

Unless something happens to boost Japan's birth rate, its population will shrink by a third between now and 2060. One reason for the lack of babies is the emergence of a new breed of Japanese men, the otaku, who love manga, anime and computers -- and sometimes show little interest in sex...

Akihabara, an area of the city dedicated to the manga and anime subculture provides one clue to the country's problems. Akihabara is heaven for otaku.

Kunio Kitamara, of the Japan Family Planning Association, describes many young Japanese men as "herbivores" -- passive and lacking carnal desire.

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Above, a guide spells out the rules for Akihabara tour.

A survey by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2010 found 36% of Japanese males aged 16 to 19 had no interest in sex -- a figure that had doubled in the space of two years.

Even Japanese men in a relationship don't have much sex, a recent survey found that less than 27% had sex at least once a week.

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The Akihabara district is packed with computer, gadget and Manga book stores 

The lack of sexual desire could be linked to the poor economic prospects of millennials in Japan compared with their parent's generation. Their lousy socioeconomic position seems to have led to a collective loss of libido -- they've lost their mojo.

Roland Kelts, a Tokyo-based social commentator, said:

"If you compare China or Vietnam, most of those kids on scooters going to nightclubs, and dancing their heart away and perhaps having sex -- they know it's getting better, they know they are probably going to rock their parents' income," he says. "No-one in Japan feels that way."

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Life-size Manga characters and anatomically correct robot in an Akihabara store

Does the US have a similar Otaku sub-culture? We should look because there's lots about the Japanese story that is similar to here. Our male millennials love comic books, gadgets, and computers; their job prospects are lousy; plus they carry huge college debt loads; and many have to rely on their parents. 

The same lousy cultural and socioeconomic factors are at play for US, and also European millennials. I'd be surprised if a survey didn't find a sizable population of Otaku.

And how can we help them find their mojo? Because a related problem is hikikomori: young men who shut themselves away in their rooms for years. A Japanese Cabinet Office survey from 2010 found 700,000 but there could be as many as 1 million hikikomori.

Hikikomori: Why are so many Japanese men refusing to leave their rooms?

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Updated: Abigail Haworth reporting for The Guardian's sister publication The Observer: Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?

The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. ...A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 "were not interested in or despised sexual contact". More than a quarter of men felt the same way.


"It's too troublesome," says Kishino, when I ask why he's not interested in having a girlfriend. "I don't earn a huge salary to go on dates and I don't want the responsibility of a woman hoping it might lead to marriage." Japan's media, which has a name for every social kink, refers to men like Kishino as "herbivores" or soshoku danshi (literally, "grass-eating men"). Kishino says he doesn't mind the label because it's become so commonplace. He defines it as "a heterosexual man for whom relationships and sex are unimportant".

The phenomenon emerged a few years ago with the airing of a Japanese manga-turned-TV show. The lead character in Otomen ("Girly Men") was a tall martial arts champion, the king of tough-guy cool. Secretly, he loved baking cakes, collecting "pink sparkly things" and knitting clothes for his stuffed animals. To the tooth-sucking horror of Japan's corporate elders, the show struck a powerful chord with the generation they spawned.

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There was an interesting comment:

Several things at work here but it mostly boils down to "ignorant foreigner who thinks Japan is weird and is going out of there way to find something else to report on and have a giggle about"

"Honne and tatemae are Japanese words that describe the contrast between a person's true feelings and desires (本音 honne) and the behavior and opinions one displays in public (建前 tatemae).
Honne may be contrary to what is expected by society or what is required according to one's position and circumstances, and they are often kept hidden, except with one's closest friends. Tatemae is what is expected by society and required according to one's position and circumstances, and these may or may not match one's honne."

Quote from wiki as it is pretty spot on. This is just one level of complexity but most Westerners have difficulty wrapping their head around this. Makes surveys based on reported attitudes pretty much pointless no matter who conducts them.

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Another comment:

Primarily, I see the main problem with relationships here is the same as most of the problems with Japanese people in general over here; and that is just a matter of time. You note that people work a lot off-handedly, but I see it as THE key problem. People here work 10 hour days, 6 days a week, for an average job. They also generally spend a couple of hours a day commuting. A part-time job is usually 5 days a week! This lifestyle starts from primary school. Kids go to school from 8-5 (or 6), and usually go to school on saturdays for club activities, which sometimes happen Sundays as well.

People have nearly no time to themselves, and I think this is the main reason that relationships suffer. People barely have time to manage their own affairs, and its when you see the average Japanese person's life in this light that you understand why relationships are 'mendokusai'. They simply don't have time. And THIS is the real problem with Japan, for Japanese people (through the eyes of an outsider); they have no relaxation time. Everything is managed to the second; everything is wound so tight. Even holidays; the average holiday is a few days, maybe once a year. There are no evenings off, no weekends off even, there is never any time to sit back, or be indulgent. Its not surprising then that sex and commitment takes a back seat to blowing off a little steam and trying to just have some fun.

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Below, seen in an Akihabara store - a man's tie with a USB-powered fan to cool you off if you get hot under the collar -- won't be needed by Otaku.

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