As Japan continues to age and to shrink, as its fertility rate remains stubbornly low and the number of new babies born declines, the country is facing a bleak demographic future. Its government is trying to reverse, or at least halt, the population decline and to do this it needs more babies to be born in the future. The trouble that the government faces is that its young people do not seem interested in making that happen.

According to, the Japanese people are turning off sex, or have already done so. There is a “celibacy syndrome” in the land of the rising sun: almost half of those under the age of 40 are still virgins. Sex is no longer a priority for the younger demographic. But what is the cause of this abstinence? Part of it is a punishing work schedule: young people are too busy climbing the corporate ladder to work on relationships. Young workers are expected to keep up with bosses who might go out drinking until midnight and a 15 hour day is not exceptional. But then again, relationships are unnecessary for intimacy: there is always pornography, escort services, brothels, massage parlours.

According to Ai Aoyama, a former dominatrix turned sex and relationship therapist, there is little incentive to be in a relationship:

“There are lots of places for men to have fun. Men don't have to bother having a girlfriend,” she said.

“Young people in today's Japan are into a virtual world where they meet very pretty girls. A flesh and blood girl is scary, she might disobey you.”

Local governments have set up “konkatsu” or marriage hunting speed dating services to get young people back into dating, relationships, and ultimately parenthood. And there is a huge pool of young Japanese who need this help to get into relationships: in a survey conducted in 2011, it was found that 61 per cent of unmarried men and 49 per cent of unmarried women were not in any type of relationship. A further study found that 30 per cent of men in their 20s and 30s had no experience of dating a woman.

Part of the problem also lies in the strong emphasis in Japanese culture on men being breadwinners. This is an issue if Japanese men are becoming less career-driven and less solvent and if lifetime job security is waning. At the same time, women are becoming more financially independent and ambitious both in the job and marriage market – a market in which men are becoming less “valuable” as breadwinners. In short, relationships and marriage and babies are becoming harder for young Japanese, for all sorts of reasons. This in turn is making it extremely difficult for the Japanese government to do anything about its declining fertility and birth rates.

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...