Wed, Jun 10, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Real 40-year-old virgins in Japan

As Japan’s middle-aged virgin population grows, programs are being set up to help these men find happiness

By Harumi Ozawa  /  AFP, TOKYO

A man sketches a nude model in a Tokyo studio as part of a program to help middle-aged virgins understand the female body, and hopefully eventually establish a constructive relationship.

Photo: AFP/Yoshikazu Tsuno

Takashi Sakai is a healthy 41-year-old heterosexual man with a good job and a charming smile. But he’s never had sex, one of a growing number of middle-aged Japanese men who are still virgins.

Sakai has never even had any kind of relationship with a woman, and says he has no idea how he might get to know one.

“I’ve never had a girlfriend. It’s never happened,” he said. “It’s not like I’m not interested. I admire women. But I just cannot get on the right track.”

It might sound like the subject for a Hollywood comedy, but far from being the social misfit portrayed by Steve Carell in 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Sakai is one of a crowd.

A 2010 survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research found that around a quarter of unmarried Japanese men in their 30s were still virgins — even leading to the coining of a specific term, yaramiso, to describe them.

The figure was up around 3 percentage points from a similar survey in 1992.

The period corresponds with Japan’s prolonged economic slowdown, after a stock and asset bubble burst and the one-time financial powerhouse suffered years of lackluster growth.

Matchmaking expert Yoko Itamoto says the economic emasculation has taken its toll on Japan’s men, as more of them struggle to find secure, full-time jobs.

“Many men seem to have lost confidence as they’ve lost their economic muscle,” she said.

“In the past two decades, the situation for Japanese men has been very tough and competitive.”

The pain caused by an inability to form emotional and physical relationships with women is something that one 49-year-old architect, who did not wish to be named, knows too well.

Only twice in his life has he had romantic and sexual feelings for a woman — the first time in his mid-20s and then again two decades later.

Both rebuffed him.

“It was devastating,” he told AFP. “It seemed to invalidate my life and take away my reason to live.”

On both occasions he suffered rapid weight-loss, and now fears he might live life as a singleton and a virgin.

VIRGIN ACADEMIA

Directly comparable international statistics are difficult to come by, but Japanese people across the board appear to have less sex than those in other developed countries.

In the 2010 survey quoted above, 68 percent of 18 to 19 year olds in Japan said they were virgins; a study carried out that year in Europe by condom maker Durex found virginity rates among those aged 15 to 20 were much lower.

For example, fewer than 20 percent of young Germans had not had sex by the time they hit 20, while even in socially conservative Turkey, the figure was only 37 percent.

For Shingo Sakatsume, there is something of a conundrum about modern Japan: a country where images of sex are everywhere — on television, in comic books and on many city streets — yet serious conversations about it are few and far between.

“In today’s Japan, we have no place to learn about sex or how to form a romantic relationship,” he said.

Sakatsume runs the non-profit group “White Hands,” which helps heavily handicapped people find an outlet for their sexual needs, based on the credo: “Sexual maturity means social maturity.”

“Even if the person has disabilities, one who recognizes and accepts his own sexuality tends to be able to build balanced relations with others,” he said.

“People who are not sexually mature tend to get timid socially.”

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