Booze, Sex and Old People: Japanese Youth Culture
Japan, the land of the rising sun, has always peaked the interest of people throughout the Western world. From its rich history to its distinct cuisine, technological innovations to anime sensations like Pokémon and One Piece, Japanese soft power has intrigued millions across America, drawing them ever closer to Japan’s rich culture and economy. But what of Japan’s youths? Many, like their American counterparts, share similar interests in their consumption of media, but the same cannot be said when describing their social lives.
Having a cold Bud with your friends on a Saturday night comes with being an American, come the age of 21. Although the United States is far from the most alcohol-consuming country in the world, it far outpaces Japan. The average American will drink approximately 9.2 liters a year, while the average Japanese drinking 6.5 liters a year. Compared to 1996, when alcohol consumption in Japan was at an all-time high, consumption rates have since fallen by 89%. The economic consensus is that over-taxation is at fault. A pint of beer in places such as New York would cost you no more than $7 with about 0.14 cents going to the taxman. A beer of the same price in Tokyo would have you spending $1.89 in taxes, that is, if you even find a price for your drink that low. In other words, it’s very difficult for youths to drink. “If you want us to drink more, then lower the tax on it…” says a Japanese citizen during an interview with Nico Video News. “…We’ve been raised with the knowledge that cigarettes and alcohol aren’t good for you, [that] only scum drink…stop blaming the cost…it’s the economy. There’s no big mystery here.” While ideas of spring break or their first drink at a bar occupy the thoughts of many American teens, the same cannot be said for Japanese youths.
Sex is deeply ingrained into American media. A simple Google search for a nearby strip club in Las Vegas would give you over 30 results within a 5 km radius of your location. However, when trying to look up a gentlemen’s club in Tokyo one would find no more than three results, with only one of them properly advertised. Japanese teens are essentially much less likely to be sexually active than young Americans, with 43% of Japanese still virgins by 34 years old, while 90% of Americans have intercourse before turning 22. With the country’s porn industry worth $20 billion and “fan service” (sexually pleasing an audience) ubiquitously used in its anime and manga, why aren’t Japanese youths having sex? To many in Japanese society, this problem lacks importance, but seldom does it to the government.
The population is shrinking. By 2060, if nothing is done, a third of the population will disappear, leaving 38% of its population well over the age of 65. To some, the answer lies in the sex industry itself, where the advent of virtual reality provides an alternative to those unlucky. While others say it’s just become part of everyday culture, to many men, the idea of a girlfriend is more of a turnoff than a turn-on as it forces them to empty their wallets and demands emotion. To women, some will claim that men are just too unambitious and would be more of an obstacle than anything. A boyfriend “would be a good think if it comes along…I’m not desperate,” mentions Mayu Kase, a single 22 year-old Japanese girl during an Economist interview. Romance in itself doesn’t seem all too appealing, let alone marriage. While in America, love, dating, and marriage is commonplace, 88% of Americans do believe that marriage should be about love; seldom should it be about money, politics or even time. As of 2013, 54% of Americans stated being married, with 21% wanting to get married and 20% having been previously married. Strikingly as of 2015, 1 in 4 men and 1 in 7 Japanese women have yet to marry by the age of 50. Ai Aoyama, a sex counselor in the backstreets of Tokyo who claims to have “squeezed the testicles” of a top North Korean army general upon her visit to the autocratic country in 1990, claims that many people are turning to “Pot Noodle Love” – instant forms of sexual pleasure. Instead of having long-term relationships, people prefer a fast-paced relationship, or to state an earlier point, finding what they need online or virtually. Aoyama blames the government for its tendencies to force too much work onto people and not enough fun, “making [it] hard for single people to live however they want” in the Land of the Rising Sun, a notion often repressed in the mythical land of opportunity.
“Samurai,” means to serve. Being the all-obeying and battle-hardened guardians of Medieval Japan, many metaphorical forms of samurai can be found within Japanese youths. With a greatly ageing population, providing to older family members has never been more difficult for the youngest Japanese. Providing for grandparents or even for their own parents takes a lot of demanding time from one single individual. Since Japan boasts the highest life expectancy rate at 83 years-old, with 25% of the population being over 65, the problem won’t be going away any time soon. This gives less time for those wanting to explore themselves and use their own money for themselves. Additionally, as more of the population gets older, taxes for the care of elders and for facilities of the like go up, not to mention social security. Given the attitudes of their elders, some youths suffer from “Little Emperor Syndrome.” Although a condition akin to China, the problem arises in the land next door as well, where parents and grandparents both intensely spoil the child or grandchild. Although they succeed in school or work, they are not taught how to do simple mundane tasks or learn necessary social skills. Finding a job in the workforce or getting the best grades to go to the best university is much more of a concern than being able to make an impression or manage stress. In a much larger population with healthy migration patterns, a higher birthrate and a life expectancy still manageable, American youths seldom feel the pressure their Japanese counterparts do day-to-day.
It’s no surprise that a large amount of American youths are directly involved in various forms of political activism. Japanese youths find their education, income and jobs much more pressing. Being an extremely competitive and densely populated society, work-mobility in Japan is difficult compared to America. It therefore becomes a high priority to find a job and to do whatever necessary to keep it in Japan, thus being deeply integrated into one’s future and personal culture. Homogeneity is a crucial factor in this issue as well. Foreigners tally 1.5% of the total Japanese population, and as a relatively homogeneous society, Japanese youths are often cut-off from the world linguistically. With half the world being bilingual, Japanese youths are finding it difficult to compete internationally. Only 1 in 10 Japanese children are beginning to immerse themselves in English, and even then they are finding issues learning the language with its complex syntax and verb tenses. While some may advocate for higher wages, working hours and in some extreme cases, communism, Japanese youths just want the job. A Japan Times article defending discriminated Ryukyuans living in Okinawa is the wrong page to the average youth flipping through to find job listings, while public protests in the United States make the front page of the New York Times. ∎
Jake Gouchie is an Education student at McGill Universtiy.
Edited by Sarie Khalid