Original Japanese text written by. Ryuki Ishii
Translated by. Marco Farinaccia
In a survey conducted by the Japanese government, 40% of single men in their 20s gave a response of “0” to a question asking how many people they have been on a date with. This statistic has been widely reported across Japan.
However, when looking at the response to the survey results on social media, it seems that the majority of people were not surprised. Terms such as “Never been on a date” and “Single male” began to trend on Twitter in Japan, but why was the survey data so readily accepted by such a large number of people?
Let us first look at a summary of the data gathered by the government survey. This data was taken from The White Paper on Gender Equality 2022 which was published by the Japanese government’s Gender Equality Bureau Cabinet Office. (White Papers by the Gender Equality Bureau)
- 40% of single men in their 20s gave a response of “0” to a question asking how many people they have been on a date with.
- 24.1% of single females and 37.6% of single males in their 20s and 30s answered “0” to the number of people with whom they’ve been shared a romantic relationship.
- Over 20% of both men and women in all age groups are currently not married nor have a lover and have never married before. This number includes around 50% of women and 70% of men who are in their 20s.
- As of 2020, 40.5% of women and 50.4% of men who were 30 years old had never been married.
- Participants who answered that they had no intention to marry included 14% of women in their 20s and 25.4% of those in their 30s. 19.3% of men in their 20s and 26.5% in their 30s also gave the same response.
Reasons for not wanting to marry:
- When comparing the reasons for not wanting to marry that were chosen by single men and women, the survey found that around 50% of women selected “I want to have freedom rather than be tied down by marriage,” or “I haven’t met anyone that I felt that I wanted to marry.”
- Responses differed between men and women, with the most common reasons chosen by women including, “Marriage means being burdened with work, household chores, raising children, and being a caregiver,” and “I don’t want to change my surname/it’s a hassle to change my surname.” A common reason among men was, “I’m worried I can’t support a marriage financially/My work situation is unstable.”
Apprehension regarding the declining birth rate and diminishing labor force
If we were to think about why the government has concerns about the number of people who aren’t dating and don’t intend to marry, it is due to the problems in Japan of a declining birth rate and a shrinking labor force.
In May of this year, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications reported that as of October 2021, the estimated population of Japan stood at 125.5 million people, a decrease of 640,000 from the previous year’s estimate. This is the largest yearly decrease that the country has seen since 1951.
Elon Musk made waves when he learned about this news, tweeting, “At risk of stating the obvious, unless something changes to cause the birth rate to exceed the death rate, Japan will eventually cease to exist.”
It is not just the fall in birth rate that has affected the population. The impact from COVID-19 has caused a large number of foreigners to leave the country, reducing the number of those living in Japan by 30,000. This only adds to the fears surrounding a diminishing work force.
Another point of concern is Japan’s public pension system, where the contributions that are paid by the current generation of workers are used to provide benefits for the elderly. Naturally, as the birth rate declines, the burden that this system places on each individual will continue to increase. The pension problem that today’s young people will surely have to confront in the future is just one of a variety of heavily discussed topics brought about by the declining birth rate.
Every person is, of course, free to decide whether they will get married or have children. However, it is impossible to avoid discussions such as how to create a better environment within which to raise children, or how to handle the declining birth rate problem if it continues to worsen. Debates have already been waged for many years, and this problem is likely something that Japan will have to deal with for decades to come.
When considering how these problems already lie at the forefront of the country’s issues, it is not hard to see why the majority of people living in Japan were unsurprised at the survey data that detailed the younger generation’s dating inexperience and lack of desire to marry. The lack of enthusiasm regarding romance and marriage is something that is readily understood and is not necessarily being perceived as something unfortunate.
On the other hand, Kazuhisa Arakawa, a researcher who studies single people, has found that based on past data, the percentage of young Japanese men who have dating experience has not changed since 20 or even 40 years ago. This suggests that the number of men who do not have dating experience has not actually increased in recent times.
“I don’t have enough money,” “I want to have freedom”
Even if the percentage of those with dating experience hasn’t changed over the years, we have still arrived at an era where it is readily accepted that large numbers of people don’t date.
The reasons given for why people did not want to marry, including financial concerns, an unstable work situation, and finding it easier to live on one’s own, may also apply to a degree even when thinking about dating. The current situation in Japan is one where wages are not increasing (Civilian Wage Survey) and growth in the employment rate has not reached the government’s target number (ITmedia Business Online). At the same time, online content and subscription-based services continue to become more popular, making it easy for people to find enjoyable recreational activities even if they are alone or have little money.
In response to the news of the government’s survey, Japanese informational TV program Mezamashi 8 conducted street interviews with young people to find out their views on the topic. One person stated that “These days people all have their own ways of having fun, including things like playing games. I think the range of available hobbies has grown quite wide, and that’s probably why there are so many people who don’t place much importance on dating.”
One of the guests appearing on the program was Naomi Trauden, a model in her 20s, who gave her thoughts on the issue, “I think that there are many people who are really good at using their alone time. I believe that these people can truly enjoy themselves even when alone.” She then followed up with comments in regard to dating, “People likely see dating as something that takes a lot of work, and they wonder if it’s worth it. It may be something that could end up being enjoyable, but if people find it too troublesome, then I feel like I can kind of understand why they don’t get to that point, or why a romantic relationship is seen as something that isn’t necessary.”
The host of the program, 30-year-old announcer Yumi Nagashima, agreed with Trauden’s opinion, stating, “I think that these days, we live in an environment that’s very well suited for allowing people to enjoy themselves alone.” (Sankei Sports)
Vlas Kobara, a YouTuber and commentator in Japan, gave his thoughts on Twitter, saying that he understood why so few people were dating when looking at it from a financial point of view. “Young people don’t have much money, after all. They’re already doing all they can just to provide for themselves. To go on a date, you need to have the right clothes to wear and need a reservation at a restaurant. Then if things actually go well, you have to worry about paying for a hotel room, buying presents, and so on. It all comes at a massive expense! In today’s Japan, romance has become a luxury.”
A number of other opinions have been voiced across Twitter: playing games is more fun than dating; indulging in one’s hobbies is more fulfilling than romance; even without money you can spend time playing smartphone games; and the standards that people are looking for in a partner have increased due to Japan’s idol culture and illustrated characters.
Even though the reasons differ from person to person, what these people have in common is how unsurprised and easily convinced they were by the survey results. From my own personal experience, I (the original author of this article) too understand why there are so many people who don’t date at all and have no desire for romance. The hours are long and the time and money that I have to spend are quite limited, but as a gaming news writer and editor, the amount of content that I need to experience will continue to increase, leaving less and less room for dates and relationships.
The percentage of those with dating experience likely hasn’t changed much over the years, as mentioned by Kazuhisa Arakawa earlier in this article, but at the very least, we have arrived at an era where it is easier to understand and accept why large numbers of people don’t date at all.