Roland Kelts, The Guardian (U.K.), 27 December 2011
It's not easy being a young man in Japan today. Every few months sees the release of a new set of figures, stats and stories trumpeting the same meme: today's Japanese men are unmanly – and worse, they don't seem bothered by it.
Tagged in the domestic media over the past few years as hikikomori (socially withdrawn boys), soshoku danshi (grass-eating/herbivore men, uninterested in meat, fleshly sex and physical or workplace competition), or just generally feckless, Japan's Y-chromosomed youth today elicit shrugs of "why?", followed by heaving sighs of disappointment from their postwar elders and members of the opposite sex…. In the most recent government study, published at the end of last month, the percentage of unmarried men spiked 9.2 points from five years ago. More telling: 61% of those unwed men reported not having a girlfriend, and 45% said they couldn't care less about finding one.
Japanese women have become stronger socially and economically at the very same time that Japanese men have become more mole-ish and fully absorbed in virtual worlds, satiated by the very technological wizardry their forebears foisted upon them, and even preferring it to reality. "I don't like real women," one bloke superciliously sniffed on Japan's 2channel, the world's largest and most active internet bulletin board site. "They're too picky nowadays. I'd much rather have a virtual girlfriend."The net result:
Virtual girlfriends became a sensation last summer, when Japanese game-maker Konami released its second-generation of its popular Love Plus, called, aptly, Love Plus +, for the Nintendo DS gaming system. Konami skillfully arranged for an otherwise deadbeat beach resort town called Atami to host a Love Plus + holiday weekend. Players were invited to tote their virtual girlfriends, via the gaming console, to the actual resort town to cavort for a weekend in romantic bliss. The promotion was absurdly successful, with local resort operators reporting that it was their best weekend in decades…
There are other thoughts on the matter:
"Maybe we're just advanced human beings," says a Japanese friend of mine over dinner this week in Tokyo, who won't let me use her real name. She is an attractive, 40-something editor at one of Japan's premier fashion magazines, and she is still single. "Maybe," she adds, "we've learned how to service ourselves."
What would be my theory?
Well first the article notes that the Japanese economy has been rather stagnant for some time. It also notes that the virtual girlfriends are not the norm, and not even within the mainstream.
I would put it down to (at least) two points. One is that modern culture is increasingly atomizing. Since I am typing this at a computer at home, rather than being out with people (granted it is 5:30am as I type this) it is probably a generally valid point. In the past, I have worked to get younger people involved in volunteer service organizations. While I have found young adults interested in helping people, the idea of having to regularly go and meet with people, if it did not involve an entertainment venue, seemed strange to them. If they went someplace, they expected it to be entertaining or to be entertained.
However, I think the stronger point is that from the guys’ perspective, girlfriends and to a lesser extent friends in general, are expensive. Even if they pay their own way, you have to go to some sort of restaurant, movie, event, etcetera. Your typical friendship in the modern world involves at least some sort of expense.
In the stagnant economy that is Japan’s, the unemployed or underemployed cannot easily afford any sort of involved friendships. When I was younger, I lived in an area that had very little money. I had very little money, and my friends had very little money. There were a variety of methods to cope with the lack money, with roommates/housemates being one of the more popular ones. Social gatherings were generally at someone’s home, and it was bring your own food and beverage. The hostess of the event, who did have to pay out a little extra, was compensated by getting inexpensive baby sitting services from her collection of friends. There was some dating by the single group members, both within and outside of the group, but the general effort was much lower than would be expected. Nobody had much money to do anything.
So I think the young Japanese males ,with their virtual girlfriends, are going the route of lest expense, within an increasingly atomized society. Their economy has been in a downturn for a lot longer than ours, so they are further along the curve. Given that we in the United States have had virtual lifestyle games and virtual pets for some time, I don’t think we are in a position to point too many fingers.
|I wonder if they are also virtual scientists (from here)|