By Charisse, Max and Georgia.
After listening to the podcast My date with a doll man in Japan, I went straight into a Googling frenzy. For the next few hours I went down a dating in Japan rabbit hole and it seemed that a lot of Western media were right there with me.
Within the last year and a half there has been a considerable amount of research, or more specifically, interest in the current state of dating in Japan and it’s causes and effects. Across the articles and videos, there appeared to be resounding sentiments of intrigue, extreme uncomfortability and more often than not, judgement. These feelings varied in degrees however upon reflection, I realised that to an extent, they mirrored my own. My googling hysteria was fuelled by intrigue and my uncomfortability drove me to desperately needing to understand more. Also too, to diminish the feelings of judgement that I was trying so hard to ignore.
Throughout the research was a popular buzzword sōshoku-kei danshi otherwise known as, herbivore men, coined by author and pop culture columnist Maki Fukasawa. Herbivore men were discussed in my podcast however the broader media appeared to be going to great lengths to deconstruct and understand the phenomenon. Fukasawa discussed how men from Japan’s baby boomer era were proactive with their sexual desires and romantic interests however with the faltering economy of today, masculinity is faltering too.
This served to be my first Aha! moment. To link gender roles to the economy was previously beyond my scope of experience and to then link the state of the economy to dating habits blew my mind. However, after pondering this for two weeks, I cannot believe I did not see this. As a privileged, white and straight woman with open minded parents, I have not felt pressurised by economic pressures or social expectations as a result of my gender. Additionally, it appeared that Japan was suddenly undergoing a revolution of identity politics .
Professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University, Anne Allison believes that the questions of gender and masculinity are consistent with trends around the world however it has become so problematic in Japan as they are a culture that place such enormous amount of emphasis on men being the breadwinners. With Japan’s freeters (irregular workers) increasing by 7.6 million between 1995 to 2008, this has become hugely problematic for marriage and reproduction as a man without a regular job is considered undesirable.
While processing my first epiphany I decided to look at the comments to see how others had interacted with my experience. All of the comments contributed to the discussion in a great way however Max provided me with some additional material in the form of a Vice video about The Japanese Love industry which brought me my next two epiphanies.
In this video, Ryan Duffy is sent to explore “dying” country of Japan with more people over the age of 65 and the smallest number of people under the age of 15. Throughout the video, Duffy meets the places of “endless menu of relationship replacement services” with pure disdain.
Upon visiting a host club, Duffy interviews a woman who has no interest in dating our marriage because ” when Japanese marry and have kids, as soon as their kids grow up, their love fades”. This was met with cynicism by Duffy however, what I realised in that moment was that the Japanese appear to have an incredible sense of self. These growing trends and opinions of both men and women show us that the Japanese put themselves as individuals first which is something I was not taught to do. To be honest, I very much respect and admire this sense of self confidence and self adoration. Importantly, as a girl who has jumped from relationship to relationship I applaud the strength of character that these women show.
Next on Duffy’s hit list is was a Cuddle Cafe where he pays $80USD for a cuddle and to have his ears cleaned. Duffy explained:
Nothing is weirder than this. Profoundly, profoundly disturbing.
Personally I found his reaction disturbing. Yet if I was being honest, when I first embarked on my journey with the podcast ‘My date with a doll man in Japan’ and sex dolls were discussed in detail, I was disturbed. However when Duffy, in his own auto ethnographic experienced spent the entire time dismissing the service it led me down a path of furious thought.
His judgement made me realise that while we judge the commodification of such intimate things, their reasons for doing so are complex and in many instances, much more developed than we westerners think. By acknowledging the need for human interaction while also acknowledging their resistance of relationships, they have found a way to have both and to me, that is highly evolved.
Finally, I realised that by calling interviewee’s “subjects” in my primary blog, I established a sense of other-ness that took me hours of research and multiple epiphanies to break down. Dating in Japan is a very real, human and emotional topic that is raw, honest and socioeconomically charged.
What started with a molotov cocktail of intrigue, misunderstanding and a hint of judgement has ended with admiration and respect for the heightened sense of self awareness and self respect that is exemplified by the trends in the Japanese dating scene.
In search of a topic for my autoethnographic study, I was toying with ideas around the significance of dolls in Japanese culture. Naturally, this lead me to become absolutely perplexed by the rising popularity of sex dolls as an alternative to human companionship. As I read blogs and and listened to interviews, I found myself face by an even more interesting issue, that being the reasons why such a trend has developed in Japan and the subsequent current state of dating in Japan.
As a 23 year old girl, dating has been a significant part of my adolescence. If I’m being completely honest, throughout my schooling years I would have been labelled as “boy crazy”. The dating landscape for a Sydney private school girl of the age of 16 were altogether too complex for anyone to remain unscathed and it was through the politics of these experiences that we, or I, learned how better to navigate dating in the adult world.
More often than not, it would be my school friends in tears over a broken heart than the boys of our train group. While steeped in generalisations, it was oft thought that the boys had the power in this treacherous game of dating. As we looked out the window to see if the Newington boys got on at Redfern, they would waltz on the train with their sports bags and suffocating stench of Lynx Africa. A bizarre, yet important signifier of said power.
Fastforward seven years and we find ourselves in a world of Tinder, Bumble and Grindr; a country obsessed romance and dating. Unlike of course, that of Japan who, as a country, have been described as a place where “romance is on the rocks“.
In a podcast called My date with a doll man in Japan, Steve Chao from Al Jazeera’s 101 East examines the state of dating in the country of Japan. Over a third of young Japanese have never been in a relationship and nor do they intend to be. The majority of this number are men, with the buzz term ‘”herbivore man” coining these men who as young, shy and who show no interest in romance or of course, human flesh as the term would suggest.
Throughout the podcast, the interview subjects speak of strong feelings of a lack of confidence, understanding and acceptance from women in the dating game. They speak very strongly of past relationships and their very real fear of rejection. To an extent, my 16 year old self could very much understand these feelings.
For Japanese men, these feelings have a profound effect and in course lead them to prefer superficial relationships. An example is provided where two men visit a cafe where waitresses dress like maids and this pleases them as their job as waitresses is to be less judgemental and accepting, subsequently making the men feel more at ease.
Another subject, Hiroyuki Nomura was a 51 year old man with a 25kg silicone sex doll dressed as an anime character, as his companion. While he would not categorise the relationship as one of boyfriend and girlfriend, the traits of the relationship appeared to be conventionally similar. Nomura too speaks of this concern for power as he says the relationship “is not a power relationship. I think that people choose dolls because reality is harsh”. The reality of real life dating, the fear of rejection and I assume, the power of women in the dating landscape, is what I assumed he meant by ‘harsh reality’.
After hearing Nomura’s interview, it was obvious that Japanese culture and their love for anime characters was quite unlike my own culture. However, the issue of dating in Japan was much more complicated than that.
During the podcast I learned that many of these dolls had strong girlish features, as that was the demand. Many Japanese men are said to be disappointed by women and that dolls have a healing quality and are able to make their owners smile. These ‘herbivore men’ believe that married people are unhappy. The perceived reason for this is that now women work side by side with men, they have become rivals. Furthermore, the Japanese economy is in decline, resulting in overwhelming feels of emasculation for the men of Japan. Subsequently feeding the power balance that they already perceive to exist. As a result , their population is in dramatic decline and the Government is contributing substantial funding to matchmaking schemes around the country.
As a 23 year old woman in a relationship, I found this all very difficult to understand. I had never once considered dating to be so political, nor so tied to the economy and the workforce. As a female, I will never be able to understand how this leads to such incredible feelings of emasculation and unworthiness and how this is resulting in men turning away from romantic, even human, relationships. However, I look forward to engaging in more research to obtain a better understanding of the reasons why these men feel the way that they do.
By the end of this weeks class I think it is safe to say that most people left more confused than when they arrived.
I for one most certainly was.
In theory, I (think) understand autoethnography. Autoethnography aims to take note of personal experiences of a culture other than your own. By reflecting on ones own socialisation, an autoethnographer seeks to better understand the culture of another.
When Chris talks through the theory and after reading the Ellis reading I thought to myself “yeah okay, no worries. I can do this”.
For sure I can think about my own socialisation and how that has affected my worldview. Sure after acknowledging my cultural framework I can proceed to experience a culture quite unlike my own with absolute no judgement or other-ing thoughts.
However… when the class began to discuss this notion and what it practically meant, my confidence was shot.
A class member brought up an article about a Japanese man and his sex doll. I had recently read a similar article myself as I have been contemplating studying something around Japanese dolls. As I listened to Chris and this class member discuss the problematic tendency to judge and then to understand where that judgement comes from, I realised the very real challenges of this kind of research.
By nature I can be an extremely judgemental person and often the thoughts come without thinking about why. This lead me to thinking about how judgement or experiencing the unknown can lead to a sense of ‘other-ness’ for the new cultural experience.
I feel that this will be my most significant issue when undertaking my autoethnographic research. As discussed in class, research does not exist in a vaccum and comparisons from what I believe I know or feel will undoubtedly effect the research that I undertake and I am curious to what degree I will be able to identify that.
I have never been a lover of foreign films. I find myself easily frustrated by subtitles and my inability to understand the language being spoken.
This is altogether surprising to me as I come from a home where another language is spoken. While my linguistic talent is somewhat limited, despite an exchange, French or more accurately creole has been spoken both around me and to me for my whole life.
My mother’s side of the family are from Mauritius. Mauritius is a small island with a population of just over a million, that sits on the East coast of Africa. Mum was born in the capital Port Louis and moved here when she was seven. My grandmother, whom we call mémé, speaks only limited English and so for love (and our sanity) creole is the dominant language. Subsequently out of habit, mum and her siblings often slip unknowingly in and out of English and creole.
So in regards to my dislike of foreign films and especially subtitles, upon reflection, this truly is dumbfounding.
But when I think about it, creole has become familiar to me and my way of understanding the world. The Japanese language and the film Gojira however, were not. So, when Chris first told us that we were going to watch to watch Gojira which is obviously in Japanese I thought, “oh my god how? This is going to be a long two hours!”
By the end of the film I was hooked. I was personally invested in the characters and the emotional and ethical issues that the film presented. I found this surprising because my supposed dislike for foreign films assumed that I couldn’t relate because of the language barrier.
Because that’s why we all watch movies, right? Well I do. Like any story I hear, I search for what is relatable to my life.
Gojira presented so many tangents that I could think about such as historical references, romance, ethics, nationalism and so many more. There are so many different ways to access the film, which made me realise that films are layered with so many human elements that will stretch across any language barrier.
Perhaps I do like foreign films after all.