‘A Flight From Human Intimacy’
Religion & Liberty Online

‘A Flight From Human Intimacy’

Japanese man and woman lean away from each otherJapan is a nation going under, demographically speaking. It is estimated that Japan will lose 10 million people in population over the next ten years. Like many nations, Japan is not having babies fast enough to keep its population stable. One reason: what the Japanese are callingsekkusu shinai shokogun, or ‘celibacy syndrome.'” Young people don’t want to date, be intimate, get married, have sex.

There are several compelling reasons for this. The first is the Japanese culture’s saturation in social media and technology.

Japanese-American author Roland Kelts, who writes about Japan’s youth, says it’s inevitable that the future of Japanese relationships will be largely technology driven. “Japan has developed incredibly sophisticated virtual worlds and online communication systems. Its smart phone apps are the world’s most imaginative.” Kelts says the need to escape into private, virtual worlds in Japan stems from the fact that it’s an overcrowded nation with limited physical space. But he also believes the rest of the world is not far behind.

In addition, Japan still clings to rigid gender-roles, where men work long hours and women get married and stay at home. Despite the fact that the younger generation no longer wants to have this type of lifestyle, the Japanese society can’t seem to shake it off:

Ironically, the salaryman system that produced such segregated marital roles – wives inside the home, husbands at work for 20 hours a day – also created an ideal environment for solo living. Japan’s cities are full of conveniences made for one, from stand-up noodle bars to capsule hotels to the ubiquitous konbini (convenience stores), with their shelves of individually wrapped rice balls and disposable underwear. These things originally evolved for salarymen on the go, but there are now female-only cafés, hotel floors and even the odd apartment block.

Finally, Japan is a largely a nation without religion. While some Japanese identify with Buddhist and Shinto traditions, and there are other religious minorities, anywhere from about 50 percent to over 70 percent claim no faith at all. While the mythology of Japan offers some strong female figures, the influence of ancient myths in today’s Japanese culture is negligible. With no over-arching belief system, there is no moral, behavioral or systematic compass for human relationships.

Bl. John Paul II, during his time as pope, spent years instructing the Catholic faithful in what is now called the “Theology of the Body.” In this teaching, John Paul presented an “integrated vision of the human person – body, soul, and spirit,” asking fundamental questions about what it means to be male and female, and how the two sexes connect at the most intimate level.

It is a question of “receiving” the other human being and “accepting” him. This is because in this mutual relationship, which Genesis 2:23-25 speaks of, the man and the woman become a gift for each other, through the whole truth and evidence of their own body in its masculinity and femininity. It is a question, then, of an “acceptance” or “welcome” that expresses and sustains, in mutual nakedness, the meaning of the gift. Therefore, it deepens the mutual dignity of it. This dignity corresponds profoundly to the fact that the Creator willed (and continually wills) man, male and female, “for his own sake.” The innocence “of the heart,” and consequently, the innocence of the experience, means a moral participation in the eternal and permanent act of God’s will.

The opposite of this “welcoming” or “acceptance” of the other human being as a gift would be a privation of the gift itself. Therefore, it would be a changing and even a reduction of the other to an “object for myself” (an object of lust, of misappropriation, etc.).

It is clear that the Japanese have completely bungled this. There is a profound dis-connect between mutual dignity and the gift of self in a nation where the well-known adage of “marriage is a woman’s grave” is still culturally relevant, and men say things like, “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.”

We can take away two things from this. First, if the Japanese don’t get this figured out, they run the risk of economic and demographic decimation. Second, we should take heed. As Roland Kelts said above, the rest of the world may not be far behind.

Read “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex” in The Guardian.

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Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.