Sunday, October 27, 2013

Once more on Japan

There were some interesting responses to my post on Japan. If you recall, there is an aversion to relationships and to sex amongst a surprisingly large number of young Japanese. My speculative answer to this (writing as an outsider) is that the underlying problem is one of individualisation.

That might seem an unusual answer as the Japanese are better known for conformism and for upholding a communal identity than they are for going it alone.

I'll begin briefly with terminology. I hold "individuality" to be a good thing, as something that reflects the natural impulse that humans have toward a creative unfolding of self. But "individualisation" I hold to be one of the worst things, as perhaps the very thing that traditionalists are most set against.

Individualisation means that even when people live in families or nations that they seek their fulfilment not together but separately, as discrete individuals. A society might, for instance, have begun with a strong culture of family life, in which people found their life together as a family rewarding, and felt closely bonded to each other, and sought rewards and fulfilments in life through their roles within the family. Individualisation would mean that this culture of family life grew weaker, to the point that the family had less purchase on people and meant less to them, so that they instead sought their fulfilment alone as individuals outside of the family, even if they still lived under the same roof.

Individualisation can come about through the influence of value systems (for instance, through theories about personal freedom or the expression of individuality). But it can also come about when the framework of a society no longer fits together well - and it's my theory that this might have happened in Japan.

As I mentioned in my first post, when I lived in Japan my male work colleagues had a punishing lifestyle that meant that they were rarely home during the week. They were all absentee fathers, at least until the weekend. I suspect that this lifestyle required strong beliefs in masculinity and in national identity to be sustained ("this is what Japanese men do"); similarly their wives must have acted from a sense of what was expected from their own role.

But the cracks have now appeared. For some younger Japanese men, masculinity is something that appears oppressive, rather than fulfilling; similarly there are young Japanese women who prefer the idea of remaining an independent single girl to marriage. For many young Japanese the bar was set too high.

How else can individualisation be fostered? If marriage is delayed for too long, then individuals face a dilemma. If you're a man, for instance, and you're not expected to marry until you're 35, then it becomes difficult to look to family and to family roles for your fulfilment in life; you have to think, instead, of how you can seek fulfilment outside of such relationships.

Maybe too there's a problem if there is an excessive sexualisation of very young women. If young men at a critical point in their development observe the women around them being very casual in their sexual mores, then it will be more difficult for them to imagine a commitment to intimacy with such women.

What a society needs to do is to understand what it is that draws family life apart (in the direction of individualisation) and what it is that brings it closer together. I'm not sure that there is a very honest attempt to do this in the modern world. In most of the articles I've read about Japan the preferred solution is to better integrate women into the workforce, but this is part of a drive to utilise women as a labour resource and to promote female independence rather than a serious reflection on how to uphold a culture of family life.


  1. The situation in much of the world is very similar. Throughout Europe, Russia, and to a lesser extent the US, birth rates are at or below the replacement rate of 2.2 children per fertile woman. In many countries the number is approaching 1. The process is more or less advanced across nearly all ethnic, cultural, and religious groups, though the lag will make the 22nd century very different, demographically.

    1. Agreed. Countries like Japan and Sweden have progressed a bit further along, and for differing reasons. What interests me is how you might have a traditionalist community which withstands these trends of modernity and which maintains a stronger culture of family life. I've written before about the need to reject aspects of liberalism, but I think too there are other pressures toward individualisation which we need to avoid.

    2. You can analyse the traditionalist communities which exist in Australia and work out how they maintain their traditions and strong family life and withstand the trends of modernity. The main groups are Orthodox Jews (Haredim), observant Jews, Indians (Hindu, Muslim and Christian) , Arabs (Christian and Muslim) and Iranians. All of these exploit the West economically and resist it culturally, very successfully.

      This gives you plenty of study material but you will find that they all function the same way despite their cultural and religious differences. They have a strong ethnic and religious identity which is constantly reinforced, a strong set of values which is imposed upon the group and all members of the group are coerced into directing their energies to serving the social system upon threat of expulsion for those who try to rebel. In the case of Muslims and the Haredim this includes threats of, and sometimes actual violence. All of these groups with the exception of Arab Muslims put huge emphasis on education and hard work.

      The answers as to how you build a traditional community are therefore obvious. The difficulty is how you implement it as most people of Anglo origin are too radically liberal, narcissistic and self centered to begin to understand, yet alone live under the yoke of traditional societies.

  2. You seem to be trying to analyse Japan from a Western perspective imposing assumptions which are not appropriate to that society. Many of Japan's current problems started after the American occupation with the attempted imposition of American values on that traditional society.

    Some of the assumptions which are not relevant are:

    1: individualization in the Western sense does not exist to any great degree in Japan. Family and community ties are still very strong which is why they survived the Tsunami nuclear disaster without major social disorder. (compare that with the oil disaster in the USA)

    2. there is no crisis of masculinity in Japan. Japanese men have always worked hard and been absent from home for long periods and this has always been accepted. The same situation exists in most Asian countries. The recent problems in Japan have been economic with falling asset prices rather than social.

    3: Most Japanese men are married by age 30 and not still single at 35

    4: most Japanese women are not shunning marriage

    5: The percentage of Japanese women with careers is small and the percentage of women in elite professions is significantly lower than the Asian average. A lot of Japanese women live on family money and not their own earnings. The countries which have the highest percentages of working women are India and China and they don't have falling marriage rates.

    6: 40% of Japanese marriage are now arranged, rising by 10% over the last 2 years.This article in the Telegraph has a more accurate perspective

    The Asian countries which have falling marriage rates are Japan, Korea and the Catholic parts of the Philippines. These are the parts which have been occupied by the USA and "Westernised". The Muslim parts of the Phils have naturally resisted Westernisation and continued business as usual.

    1. Anon,

      1. Clearly you are right that arranged marriages are more common in Japan than in the West.

      2. I would not be as confident as you are in asserting that there is no crisis of masculinity in Japan. Perhaps the phenomenon has been overstated, but there are reports of the rise of "herbivore" men in Japan who would rather give up on women rather than live the traditional male salary man lifestyle. Figures for herbivore men range from about one third of young men, to two thirds of single older men. There are also rising numbers of freeters (those men who opt for low-paid or freelance work) and Neets (not in employment or training).

      3. The Japanese women interviewed in recent online articles have clearly picked up on individualised attitudes, stating that they preferred a single girl lifestyle and independence to marriage and family.

  3. If Japan, like Western countries, suffers from an epidemic of singleness and childlessness, the cause may be something other than feminism or "cultural Marxism." Yes, feminism does exist in Japan, but it's much less widespread and less in-your-face. And Japanese don't castigate themselves for having too many Japanese faces on TV and in their history books. Perhaps the problem is simply excessive individualism. Everything else may be ideological rationalization for something that people would be doing anyway.

    Please note: I'm not denying that ideology plays a role in all of this, but I don't think it's the main role.