Recent studies in Japan have found that about a quarter of Japanese people now have no interest in a romantic relationship and it is projected that 40% of young Japanese women will never have children. One study found that nearly half of Japanese women aged 16 to 24 were not interested in or despised sex.
The question is why. The newspaper articles I've seen mostly take the easy way out and blame men for old-fashioned attitudes toward women. It's true that if you have a society in which men are brought up to be traditional, and women to be feminist, that you're likely to have incompatible expectations between men and women. But the evidence I've seen is that Japanese men are, if anything, rejecting the masculine ethos of the past rather than clinging to it.
I'm not exactly sure from this distance why Japanese men and women have turned so much from each other, but I can throw in some possibilities.
When I lived in Japan I was struck by the lifestyle of my male colleagues. They were married men in their 20s and 30s. They would stay at work until about 7.00pm, then play mahjong, then get something to eat, then play pachinko, get home at 11.00pm, get served supper by their wives, go to bed at midnight and then get up at 6.00am the next day to start the process over. They were proud of this punishing schedule.
It's not a lifestyle that's likely to hold together a culture of family life. It seems that the younger generation of Japanese men are unenthusiastic about it, and it's hard to blame the women for not finding it fulfilling.
It's ironic that Japan is known for a corporate culture, when such a male lifestyle was likely to bring about individualisation, by which I mean a sense that men and women are to lead separate lives and to find their fulfilment separately from each other.
It doesn't help that the Japanese have apparently divorced sex from marriage to a greater degree than elsewhere. Supposedly it is more common in Japan for wives to begin to shut down marital relations some years into the marriage, and there is something of a culture of porn and paid sex in Japan.
It seems too that young Japanese women have picked up an independent career girl lifestyle that is familiar to us here as well:
I meet Eri Tomita, 32, over Saturday morning coffee in the smart Tokyo district of Ebisu. Tomita has a job she loves in the human resources department of a French-owned bank. A fluent French speaker with two university degrees, she avoids romantic attachments so she can focus on work. "A boyfriend proposed to me three years ago. I turned him down when I realised I cared more about my job. After that, I lost interest in dating. It became awkward when the question of the future came up."
Tomita sometimes has one-night stands with men she meets in bars, but she says sex is not a priority, either.
If I'm correct in this, then what are the solutions? A society has to be careful to allow men to fulfil a masculine role not only at work but also within the family home. Competition at work to provide for a family is good, but the bar shouldn't be raised too high, to the point that men have to give everything to the breadwinning role. If there is no chance to give the best of yourself in a relationship with your wife and children, then can we be surprised if family life falls away?
The drift toward individualisation has to be combated. This means, amongst other things, creating a culture in which sexual fulfilment is found within a marriage rather than outside of it. It means finding a high value in marital love and parental love - higher than the value of shopping or travel or work routines.