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Relationships and Sexuality in Modern Japan

Page history last edited by caroline 13 years, 8 months ago





As we all know, every culture has established acceptable ways through which to develop intimate relationships.  Although the formation of such relationships can be as varied as they are here in the U.S on some levels, there are certainly some generalities that are applicable to many cases of relationship developments in Japan.


Here, we will look at what the dating scene is like being single, and how Japanese typically act towards one another once they are considered a couple, or dating.


When Do They Start Dating?


In Japan, most do no begin to date until sometime after high school, primarily due to the high demand on the students to get into a good college. Parents typically will discourage any form of dating, and students will simply be entirely too occupied with school and studying to give it any legitimate consideration. As such, the prominence of dating rises significantly during college and beyond.


Meeting Someone and Initiating Relationships


There is an enormous expanse and variance when it comes to how people meet and start their relationships.


Although these are perhaps some of the more general ways to meet someone, things are far from as cut and dry as such. When it comes to beginning a relationship in Japan, the level of shyness seems to be significantly magnified, possibly due to the lack of developing communication or flirtation skills with the opposite sex during adolescence. Even with the potential that awaits within school or work, starting a relationship can be a daunting and scary process for many in Japan, and so they try to find ways to help eliminate this potential awkwardness and difficulty. This is indefinitely reflected through the numerous dating services and practices readily available and encouraged in the culture.


One of these practices is called gōkon, or what we might refer to as "group dating", and it is extremely popular in Japan. Essentially, if a single male and female know one another, they will typically arrange to bring an additional 3 or 4 other eligible friends and all meet up together, typically at some form of restaurant or izayaka, which are basically popular bars that also serve large meals. After some initial communicating and socially encouraging games amongst the each other, the same sexes get together and discuss who is interested in who, and hopefully phone numbers and/or e-mails are exchanged. (Side note: E-mailing is still somewhat popular in Japan even with the enormous popularity of cell phones). This type of dating is quite prevalent; most are very wary of a one-on-one situation when first meeting individuals, as most people come to know others through third party introductions in Japan.



However, it is very common for people to meet through other sources dedicated to helping people initiate a relationship, much more so than what you would typically find here in America. There are numerous places people may go to meet or talk to new members of the opposite sex. Some of the more common places are known as dating cafes or dato clubs. Here, women 16 or older sit behind a two-way mirror that only the men can see in, while the men take turns going from room to room looking at them, and if they so choose, ask to talk to her for a small fee. If the woman decides to leave with him, then the man must pay a "transportation fee" to her, and then pay a fee to the cafe (they also pay a membership fee up front). The women often get in for free, as is advertised up front, and sometimes are offered things like free manicures, coffee, manga, or other things to help encourage them to come. Similarly, there are things called telephone clubs, which operate like they sound. Men essentially pay up to $18 dollars an hour to sit in a special booth and await the calls of women seeking men from anywhere (the phone numbers are on things given out on the street around town often times).


Some forms of meeting people to date take on a more time-tested cultural approach (though not as popular as it has been in the past) called Omiai, where the parents of a son or daughter will undergo a search process to find an appropriate mate if they seem to show little interest in seeking a partner of their own, helping to ensure they marry before acceptable window of marriageable age closes (22-30). The parents may or may not mention to the child they are doing such, and will typically employ a third party called a nakōdo, who will often have a wide range of contacts, and will act as a go-between for two parties seeking to have their children meet others. Then, "portfolios" of the potential mates are analyzed as provided by the nakōdo, which typically include photographs and a rirekisho, or what we would consider as a resume, that includes other basic information concerning the individual, such as age, occupation, etc. Once the best candidates are selected, which is often based primarily on occupation and education level, there is then a further level of investigation done by either the nakōdo them self, or by a Kooshinjo, or detective agency, they hire. If all criteria are acceptable to both parties, and the potential couple do not reject based on the photos, then the nakōdo will arrange an interview for a miai, or essentially, the first casual meeting between the potential couple, the parents, and the nakōdo. During the miai, there is generally an introduction by the nakōdo, a lot of small talk between the parents, and then the couple is sent off to get to know one another better. The conclusion will be continued in the section below.  


To Be, or Not To Be....Together.


Now that you've met someone, what happens next?


In Japan, being courteous is priority number one, whether or not you enjoyed yourself at a first date/meeting or not. Generally, one party will E-Mail the other, telling the other that they enjoyed themselves and wish to continue further by going out again, or just thank them for the nice time, which may or may not imply that they would not be interested in another meeting. Typically, if a meeting is desired, either party will send another message within a week or so, otherwise, it is assumed that they wish to go their separate ways. This is the accepted way to do it; in fact, it is primarily the exception for someone to flat out deny or reject someone unless it's absolutely necessary to do so, as they would rather just...disappear, and try to avoid conflicts and confrontations whenever possible. Even after dating for years, there have been cases where the significant other just flat out disappears and drops all communication, as they find it easier this way.


If you continue to see one another, however, then the potential to date depends on a common dating custom called kokohaku, or "confession", which you may find similar to our dating culture. Basically, the man or woman must first profess their love for the other person, and then, depending on if the other person equally confesses their love, they can then begin to date one another. In a sense, this confession is much like our "I like you a lot. Would you be my boyfriend/girlfriend?" Unlike in our culture though, which arguably places the male as the expected confessor/person to ask the other out, women generally confess as much as the men do. Eventually, they enter the more serious stage of magkasintahan, or the status of boyfriend and girlfriend, and it soon becomes very serious from here. Usually from here, introduction to parents will follow, usually if marriage has already been seriously considered.


In the case of Omiai, there is very little focus on actual dating. If the miai was successful, then the couple will go on a series of dates, after which a decision is made as to whether or not they decide to marry, which is typically decided by the third or so date. If they choose to marry, they undergo a formal marriage process called miai kekkon arranged by the grooms family. If they choose not to marry, then they typically each go their separate ways.





I Love You...I Just Pretend I Don't.


In Japan, showing affection for your loved one in public is considered rude or shameful. This includes kissing, holding hands, hugging, or basically any physical contact, so often times, you would never know that people were actually couples. Kissing is even extremely rare in Japanese films. Some even consider kissing in public places to be a sign of weakness. A survey of 400 men said that 71% of them had never kissed a woman in public, and over half who did were embarrassed by it. Even most kids say that they've never seen their parents kiss or so signs of affection. As such, its obvious to see that any form of intimacy is intended to be kept to the secluded areas of your home, or other private areas like "love hotels". However, the younger generation is slowly starting to change public displays of affection, especially in some of the larger cities.



An interesting side note on affection: The Japanese will often say "I Love You" to foreigners in English, and can vary between platonic or non-platonic meaning, naturally depending on the situation. However, "I love you" is more equivalent to our "I like you", as they have their own serious words for love as we commonly think of it.


I Do! - Some General Info About Marriages

The average age for a typical Japanese citizen to get married is 30.5 for men and 28.5 for women. Legally, men can marry at 18, and women at 16. The age of 25 is generally considered a reasonable, acceptable age for a woman to get married. The average amount of people who get married per year is 6 per 1000, and the average divorce rate is 2 per 1000. Marriage rates have generally been on the decline for a variety of factors since the 70's, where 10 per 1000 got married.  As a side note, roughly 5-6% of all Japanese marry a foreigner.



In Japan, you generally pick between a more westernized style of marriage, or the classical Shinto style; Shinto mostly occurs for those who marry through Omiai, as many Japanese now prefer a more westernized style. Naturally, there is also a hybrid of the two as well.


A wedding Kimono.


Despite what is commonly assumed to be the norm, arranged marriages (which is generally considered to be the Omiai process described above) only make up 10-30% (some say less than 10%, some say 20%, some say at most 30%) of all Japanese marriages today. Marriage was originally looked at as a "had to", and was primarily done for having children/settling down with someone reliable. Today however, many more marriages are done out of love for one another, although there is still a lot of extra-marital affairs in Japan, which actually go mostly ignored in a lengthy marriage, especially one done out of arrangement and not love. The booming sex and prostitution industry may also be a problem, as supposedly, many marriages end up very stale sex-wise, with some people never having sex after having their children. This idea has come to be known as "sexless", and is widely recognized as to it's meaning and relation to Japanese marriages. One survey found that 1/6 found that sex was simply a chore, and 1/3 were completely sexless.



A random thing I came across (pictured above): This is apparently the "marriage bra", a hot new fashionable item in Japan. On it, there is a working countdown timer to your wedding, and a place to store the ring until the time comes.


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