Category Archives: Sex

March 14: International Marriage Day

It may be inappropriate to move on to non-earthquake topics, but it just so happens that I just now discovered that today is International Marriage Day in Japan.

I was reading about Philipp Franz von Siebold, the German physician who traveled extensively across Japan for eight years from the time of his arrival in 1823, playing a key role in teaching Europe about Japan upon his return. The wikipedia article also contains this section:

Since mixed marriages were forbidden, von Siebold “lived together” with his Japanese partner Kusumoto Taki (楠本滝). In 1827 Kusumoto Taki gave birth to their daughter, Oine. Von Siebold used to call his wife “Otakusa” and named a Hydrangea after her.

That made me wonder—if mixed marriages were forbidden during the Edo Period, when was the restriction lifted? It took very little research to see that this came on 14 March 1873 (Meiji 6), from which time marriages to foreigners were permitted—a copy of the issued order being shown below. Consequently, 14 March—today—is International Marriage Day (although it’s not widely recognized, and probably no better known than 15 March being Shoes Anniversary Day).

The first recorded international marriage took place on 27 January 1874 between Mr. Juro Miura and Ms. Crausentz Gertamier (accurate Roman alphabet spelling unknown) after they met while Miura’s studied in Germany. They were married at a church in Tsukiji in Tokyo.

Importantly, government approval was required for Japanese women to marry foreigners, and they lost their Japanese citizenship (bungen) upon marrying a foreigner. Similarly, foreign women acquired Japanese citizenship upon marrying a Japanese man. In the 1870s, Japan was still in the process of developing its legal system and the concept of citizenship and citizen were not yet clear. This was put into law by the Meiji Constitution and Citizenship Law that were both enacted in 1899, but the system remained essentially unchanged until 1916, when Japanese women only lost their Japanese citizenship if they acquired foreign citizenship.

Filipino Freethinkers hit Internet meme culture

Readers may remember that during my most recent trip to the Philippines I quite randomly made friends with many of the core members of the Filipino Freethinkers, a new advocacy group working for freedom from religious pressure in society and blogged in detail about our initial meeting. On Saturday some members of the group picketed the Philippines Catholic Bishop Conference to protest the Church’s opposition to a proposed reproductive health (i.e. birth control) bill that is being supported by the new president Benigno Aquino, and a photograph of them was printed in the Philippine Inquirer, and then picked up by Boingboing. Why you ask? Just take a look at the photo in question, as well as the installment of the geek webcomic xkcd referenced in the sign held by Red Tani, one of the founders of Filipino Freethinkers. The comic’s caption is “Wikipedian Protester.”

The part of the article about the protesters is as follows:

A group of pro-RH (Reproductive Health) advocates trooped to the CBCP office in Intramuros, Manila, to condemn the Church for interfering in government-mandated initiatives for reproductive health.

Rhoda Avila of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines told Figura her group was urging the Church to stop spreading “lies” about birth control and allow the government to do its work in providing Filipinos an affordable and accessible reproductive health program.

A slight tension occurred during the 15-minute dialogue while Figura was explaining that the Church was not interfering but “merely issuing guidelines.”

“Based on what? On your non-sexual experience?” protester Marlon Lacsamana snapped.


I’ve mentioned the problem of the Philippine government’s previous disinterest in birth control before on this blog, and hope that they have the backbone to resist the Church’s archaic stance on sexuality and birth control.

The official Filipino Freethinkers website is at www.filipinofreethinkers.org.

Andrew Sullivan Kabuki alert

As you may infer from the title, the latest pundit to engage in this appropriate and worn-out cliche is Andrew Sullivan, a writer whom I generally like but does punch out copy with such rapidity that a certain amount of cliche becomes, perhaps, inevitable.

In a recent post (fairly) criticizing Senator Harry Reid for spineless political triangulation and misdirection over the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Sullivan said:

If I lived in Arizona Nevada and had the vote, even though Sharron Angle is beyond nuts, I’d vote for her. Better nuts than this disgusting, cynical, partisan Washington kabuki dance, when people’s lives and dignity are at stake.

“Kabuki dance” is an old stand-by (Kabuki is of course a genre of drama, not a dance) and “Washington kabuki” with or without “dance” is also tried-and true, but Sullivan does stick more adjectives on the front than most. However, what he misses is the irony of insulting Harry Reid for his anti-gay political positions by calling him a performer in kabuki, a dramatic form in which transvestism is not just institutionalized, but considered a high art, and which for centuries had been strongly associated with homosexual prostitution.

I will reproduce the first paragraph of the relevant Wikipedia article here, followed by a very interesting video featuring Onnagata actor Bando Tamasaburo, which includes an interview and some actual kabuki footage. I recommend watching it twice, the second time imagining the part is being played by Harry Reid, and considering what that would mean for Andrew Sullivan’s clumsy metaphor.

Onnagata or oyama (Japanese: 女形・女方, “woman-role”), are male actors who impersonate women in Japanese kabuki theatre. The modern all-male kabuki was originally known as yarō kabuki (man kabuki) to distinguish it from earlier forms. In the early 17th century, shortly after the emergence of the genre, many kabuki theaters had an all-female cast (onna kabuki), with women playing men’s roles as necessary. Wakashū kabuki (adolescent-boy kabuki), with a cast composed entirely of attractive young men playing both male and female roles, and frequently dealing in erotic themes, originated circa 1612.[1](p90)

Things which Japan does not monopolize, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary

  1. Upskirt photography: Police in upstate New York recently ran a sting operation to catch an upskirt photographer in a clothing store, which led to the unsuspecting victim suing the store.
     
  2. Expensive airports that nobody goes to: “Local officials were so confident that tourists would flock to this beautiful, mountainous county in southwestern China that they made the terminal big enough to accommodate 220,000 passengers annually, and built a runway capable of handling a 140-seat Boeing 737. But only a few charters and budget carriers have established service here. A grand total of 151 people flew in and out of Libo last year.
     
  3. Whaling: See this piece in The Economist, then Wikipedia for the breakdown.
     

Did I miss anything?

The Google zeitgeist on Japanese marriage

There are some interesting posts floating around the blogs about what Google’s “auto-suggest” feature auto-suggests regarding love and marriage, summarized in this post which indicates that women overwhelmingly want to be loved, while men overwhelmingly want to get kinky.

I just read these today, but the near-future Mrs. Jones was telling me this weekend about a similar phenomenon she had heard of with the Japanese auto-suggest feature, so I decided to try it myself.

Here are the top suggestions for “wife” (妻):

  1. wife hysteria
  2. wife birthday gift ranking
  3. wife birthday gift
  4. wife shochu
  5. what to call wife
  6. wife gift
  7. wife honorifics
  8. wife depressed
  9. wife gift ranking
  10. wife not registered (i.e., the Japanese equivalent of common law marriage)

And here are the top suggestions for “husband” (夫):

  1. hate husband (most hits by a long shot)
  2. average husband allowance
  3. husband violent language
  4. dead husband procedures
  5. what to call husband
  6. husband depressed
  7. husband unemployed
  8. husband allowance
  9. husband space
  10. dead husband pension

Gambling and the Yakuza: An Interview with Jake Adelstein

Tokyo Vice

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan came out this past Fall. A tale of sex, scandal, and gangsters, it was written by Jake Adelstein, a former vice reporter for the Yomiuri and the only American to have been admitted into the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department press club. If you’re interested in hearing more about the seedy side of Tokyo, I recommend picking up a copy. It’s a great read, at least as interesting as Robert Whiting’s Tokyo Underworld.

Some of you may have heard of Adelstein when his name popped up a year or so ago as the author of a Washington Post article about the yakuza (Japanese mafia). He is an interesting fellow; besides his unique former press credentials he also was instrumental in the 2006 TIP report that embarrassed Japan into adopting stricter anti-trafficking measures. Additionally, he runs the “Japan Subculture Research Center,” a blog devoted to the Japanese underground. He is currently running around the world promoting his new book. This isn’t just to generate sales. The publicity he generates keeps him alive.

Continue reading

Pills for old men or young women?

The US healthcare reform bill that recently passed the House only did so after a controversial amendment was inserted banning any insurance plan which pays for abortion from accepting any federal subsidies, a clause that will probably eliminate abortion from most or all health plans if it goes into law. One reader at TPM had the following thought experiment:

What would happen if a few female members of the House put in (or merely proposed) an amendment to the health care bill which stated that men would be barred BY LAW from purchasing health insurance which covered Viagra, all hair-growth medications or procedures or transplants, etc.?

This thought experiment reminded me of the well known case of the birth control in Japan. Actually, I say well known, but when I checked to confirm the dates, the details were rather more complex than the simplistic version of the story that I had thought I knew, in which the pill was simply never legalized in Japan until a decade ago.

The first birth control pill was approved for that use by the United States FDA in 1960, but was rarely used in Japan until recently. The pill was not approved at all in Japan until 1972, but this was the high-dose formulation that was already being replaced in other countries with a low-dose version of the drug due to safety reasons. Because the safer, low-dose pill was never approved in Japan, oral contraceptives remained little used. Even after the original high-dose formulation was removed from the market in the US in 1988, the low-dose pill remained off the market in Japan.

This changed in 1999, after Viagra was fast-tracked for approval. Viagra first went on sale in the US in March 1998, and only a few months later was already being studied for approval in Japan, where it went on sale in March 1999 – only one year after the US. Feminists complained about a double standard that allowed a drug whose primary purpose is allowing recreational sex for old men to be approved almost immediately, while the safe low-dose birth control pill was still not approved after four decades. At the time, Yoshiaki Kumamoto, president of the Japan Foundation of Sexual Health Medicine, was quoted as saying that viagra was approved so quickly because old men in parliament “want to have that drug.”

The modern pill was finally approved in September of 1999, although women taking it are required to have pelvic exams four times a year, as opposed to once or twice in most countries, and there is still a widely held association with the dangerous side effects of the old formulation. According to a late 2006 study, only 1.8% of Japanese women were using the pill for their birth control needs. This compares with, according to UN figures for the year 2005, 7.5% of women worldwide, and 15.9% of women in developed countries.

Nemutan’s revenge – some fact-checking and reaction to the NYT story on anime fetishists

The New York Times has an article in its Sunday magazine section by Tokyo Mango author Lisa Katayama about a “thriving subculture” of men who prefer “2D women” to real women, sometimes engaging in serious relationships with anime characters. On the website, the story is billed under the tagline “Phenomenon” which would give readers the impression that this sort of thing is common in Japan.

Seeing as it comes from America’s most prestigious and influential news outlet, the article has already been widely read (see here for a Japanese translation of a Korean-language summary), and reactions have ranged from uncritical acceptance of the reporting (wtf is wrong with Japan?!) to absolute incredulity (she just ripped off an Internet meme and borrowed from WaiWai so this “phenomenon” is completely overblown and is an example of the NYT exploiting Japan for cheap thrills).

Responding to the reaction, Katayama said on Twitter, “imho, responses to my 2D article reflect readers’ biases + issues more than the offbeat situation of story subjects.” So at the risk of revealing my biases plus issues, I am going to respond to this article.

But before I get to my overall thoughts, I want to point out what appear to be two small but important factual errors. While the article focuses on profiling individuals who are either examples of the “2D love” phenomenon or who promote the concept, at one point she cites some government statistics to bolster her claim that there is indeed a thriving subculture of men who literally think a pillow is their girlfriend:

According to many who study the phenomenon, the rise of 2-D love can be attributed in part to the difficulty many young Japanese have in navigating modern romantic life. According to a government survey, more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins; 50 percent of men and women in Japan do not have friends of the opposite sex.

 After I asked the author via Twitter where she got the numbers, she helpfully directed readers to “the gov’t agency that monitors population and social security” which in proper noun terms means the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

So I looked around to find where she might have gotten the information. The results? I could find nothing to credibly back up either of those statements, but there are survey results that show similar but critically different results. Let’s take them one by one.

Friends of the opposite sex

First, the good news – there is rough statistical backing for the claim “50 percent of men and women in Japan do not have friends of the opposite sex.” A 2004 study “The Japanese Youth” conducted by the Cabinet Office shows that only 43.7% of Japanese youth aged 18-24 reported having friends of the opposite sex.

The only relevant figures from the population institute I could find were from its most recent survey from 2005, which state that around half of unmarried men and women are not currently dating anyone of the opposite sex as friends, as a serious boyfriend/girlfriend, or as a fiance.

Still, both figures are much different from saying that half of all Japanese people have no friends of the opposite sex. As kids grow up they are much more likely to have platonic friends, though it’s true that this is less common than in the US. But that in no way backs up the argument that men and women are isolated in Japan. And as for the stat on single people dating, it really is a coin flip whether a person surveyed will be dating someone or not at the time. And it’s completely irrelevant to the “2D Love” story.

Are a quarter of Japanese 30-34 year-olds virgins? No way.

Now let me repeat the other claim: “According to a government survey, more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins.”

Think about those numbers for a minute – if true they would be staggering news and quite possibly a major cause of Japan’s demographic problem. Yet in all I have read about the topic this article marked the first time I have ever seen that claim made. (Mostly it’s attributed to long life expectancies and low birth rates caused by late marriage, quality of life factors, etc.). 

It turns out that the real statistic from population institute states that around 25% of unmarried 30-34 year olds are virgins. It doesn’t say anything about the population as a whole. Note that a separate survey finds that around two thirds of men and women have lost their virginity by the time they are in university, so I find it very hard to believe that another 15% or so won’t have met someone special in the intervening 10 years.

I’ll admit that I have not scoured the entire Internet, so there may be a survey that I just didn’t come across. So to give her the benefit of the doubt, let’s see if this claim is even close to realistic. According to the institute’s 2005 survey (PDF in English, page 15), single people with no kids aged 30-34 (defined as one-person private households) make up 34% of all households in the age group.  On the other end, 54% of private households whose head of household is in that age bracket are married. That means in order for more than one quarter of all Japanese adults aged 30-34 to be virgins, one of the following must be true:  either a) almost all unmarried people at that age are virgins (and we already know that’s wrong); or b) even a good portion of married people fail to consummate their marriages several years into their lives together. And that I am afraid is next to unfathomable.

The WaiWai Connection?

So what happened? Some have accused the author of using the notorious WaiWai as a source. WaiWai is a discontinued feature of Japanese national daily Mainichi Shimbun’s website that specialized in creative translations of Japanese tabloid articles. It was taken down in 2008 after angry Japanese internet users discovered it and found scores of misleading, exaggerated, and false stories depicting Japan as a perverted and even deranged society.  

Katayama has claimed that the government reports were her sources and specifically denied using WaiWai. But thanks to James at JapanProbe, I have found the following June 2007 article that contains a passage very similar to one claim made in the NYT story: 

 The Japan Cherry Boy Association is facing a crisis after the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research revealed that almost one in four Japanese men aged 30 to 34 remains a virgin, according to Weekly Playboy (7/2).

Obviously I wasn’t there when she wrote the story, so I can’t tell where that number came from. But it could easily have come from this source as it makes the same mistake of omitting the key fact that the survey in question only covered unmarried men and women.

Getting facts like this wrong can lead to some unfortunate consequences. Already, the Korean daily Joong Ang Ilbo has posted a summary translation of the article in Japanese (and presumably Korean), complete with a verbatim repetition of the claim “more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins.” Without a correction, this idea is likely to spread and might end up becoming a commonly cited myth about Japan, much like the similarly unrealistic but widespread claim that over 90% of Japanese women in their 20s own a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Without these numbers, the background for this story becomes somewhat undermined. While the isolation between men and women in this country is commonly cited by both foreign and Japanese observers, this gap tends to be reflected in the different ways adult men and women spend their time, particularly married couples. For some fascinating anecdotes on the gulf that opens up between housewives who never leave their neighborhoods and their husbands who never leave the office, read this fascinating interview with author Sumie Kawakami.

 

Overall thoughts

Aside from the statistics issues, I think Katayama and NYT did readers a disservice by making Nisan the focus of the story, because that turns the real story on its head.

Yes, there is a subsection of otaku who are unapologetic about their dedication to anime porn and proudly wear their virginity on their sleeves. But it’s a stretch to characterize all moe anime fans as walking a blurred line between normalcy and 2-D Love, and it’s even more of a stretch to equate all 2-D Lovers with Nisan, who is clearly in a class by himself. It would have been much fairer to start with the Okayama character. He is a collector of body pillows but isn’t public about it, which is far closer to the typical consumption pattern for these products, though even he is on the extreme side. Most American men have seen porn, but you know you’ve lost your way if you buy one of those fake rubber vaginas. In Japan, most men are probably more like economic commentator Takuro Morinaga who grew up on a diet of anime and maybe even dabbled in some “2D Love” content but never made the plunge into Nisan territory (btw, Morinaga is not one of “Japan’s leading behavioral economists.” He teaches at Dokkyo University but only has his bachelor’s and is best known as a populist TV pundit who commonly makes no sense).

It’s also important to note that since at least Evangelion in the late 1990s there’s been an element of eroticism present in most popular animated series aimed at teenagers and adults, and in general sexual content in manga and anime is much more common and accepted in Japan than it would be in the US. So most otaku may in fact own things Americans might consider erotica such as sexually explicit manga or suggestive figurines (not exactly 2D), but that does not make them Nisan- or Okayama-style 2D Lovers nor even place them outside the mainstream. The US and Japan also have the first and second largest live-action pornography industries in the world, so I think that makes both populations rabid 2D Lovers in their own ways. The key difference is the preference in Japan for underage girls (both real-life and 2-D) as objects of desire, a topic that’s not discussed in the article but deserves its own investigation.

To the extent that 2D love is a real phenomenon, it is driven by pop culture and consumption preferences led by people like Toru Honda and Momo who have books and pillowcases to sell. The market for this stuff is a relatively small niche of the overall otaku market, and I don’t see much of a serious ethos that goes far beyond a kind of brand loyalty (but please by all means prove me wrong; you could say the same thing about NASCAR fans but no one doubts NASCAR’s importance and influence on the identity of certain subsections of the US). And yes, the erotic body pillows are a popular accessory among that demographic. But Nisan and the few people who have an abnormal attachment to their pillows are merely the extreme example of what is largely a story of private porn consumption. And while I have never met or spoken with Nisan, how much do you want to bet he carries his pillow around either as an elaborate joke or to prove his otaku street cred? The whole idea of a proud life-long virgin has the air of a joke about it, and you can read any 2-channel thread on the topic to get an idea of how common it is for people to riff on this meme.

I want to be clear that I am not necessarily against this type of reporting. Far from it, I would say that all weird stuff everywhere should be documented and presented to the world. It’s an amazing world out there with countless stories waiting to be told. Lisa Katayama wrote an interesting story in her field of specialty, so I don’t hold it against her for publishing this article or trying to entertain by finding interesting aspects of Japan to present to the world. And as someone who loves to dig through government reports, I hereby offer that the next time she wants to write a story she is more than welcome to enlist my help if she wants to know what government studies are actually saying about Japan. It’s just in this case she got a couple of facts wrong and mischaracterized what I see as the real situation.

To be honest, if I didn’t notice the potentially groundbreaking statistics, I don’t think I would have bothered to write about this story. The “weird Japan” theme in the English-language media is what it is – viewed from the outside a lot of what happens in Japan does seem odd. And the New York Times is in the business of presenting the world to Americans in an entertaining and digestible manner. Producing stories that cast Japan as a backward country that got modernization wrong lets the readers feel better about their own country and confirm the basic rightness of the American dedication to social progress. But Japan is interesting enough without having to resort to exaggeration.

(Thanks to James at Japan Probe for help with some of the research in this post)

CNN busts out its herbivore intern

Veggie Pride Parade NYC by sneakerdog on Flickr

“Some guys still try to be manly and try to be like strong and stuff, but you know personally I’m not afraid to show my vulnerability because being vulnerable or being sensitive is not a weakness.”

That’s former CNN intern Junichiro Hori, quoted in a CNN article on the “herbivore men” phenomenon. Nice to see that they have in-house experts in addition to their outside advisors, i.e. the great scions of Saitama high society.

Midori Saida, a 24-year-old woman sporting oversized aviators and her dyed brown hair in long ringlets, said “herbivore men” were “flaky and weak.”

“We like manly men,” she said. “We are not interested in those boys—at all.”

It’s an amusing article overall. The use of random weirdoes to speak for the broad demographics of herbivore men and Marukyu women reminded me of this instant-classic Onion piece:


Nation’s Girlfriends Unveil New Economic Plan: ‘Let’s Move In Together’

Bloomberg on love hotels

(UPDATED final paragraph for accuracy)

“Chris Cooper and Makiko Kitamura” of Bloomberg deliver this suspiciously well-researched report on Japanese love hotels. This comes hot on the heels of a recent Bloomberg article on the pachinko industry, and if you don’t mind me saying so it’s some of the best reporting on Japanese society I’ve seen in a while. I guess it takes a no-BS investor’s perspective to get the proper balance on these topics – none of the all-too-common falling back on superficial cliches, insensitive moralizing, and sensationalism that exaggerates the phenomenon or makes it seem uniquely strange.

Anyway, here are the relevant takeaways:

  •  There are 25,000 love hotels in Japan. (more than double the number of normal hotels counted in govt stats! (PDF from source provided in the report)

  • Stays range from 3,000 yen for several hours at low-end places to 50,000 yen a night for a “romance package” at the Westin (that hotel’s attempt to cash in on demand from the love hotel sector).

  • A London-based company called Japan Leisure operates love hotels in Japan and is traded on AIM, the London Stock Exchange’s deregulated market for startup companies. Other foreign investors are apparently also involved in the love hotel industry.

  • Love hotels are popular for their anonymity and convenience, as Japanese urban-dwellers (60% of the population) have trouble bringing dates home to often tiny apartments. The hotels also often offer a luxurious experience and amenities that would be inconvenient to keep at home. (” As well as the intimation of a Leonardo-Kate liaison, Japan’s love hotels lure customers with lower rates, jacuzzis and even maid-costume rentals.”)

Earlier this year, a mini-scandal erupted as police cracked down on hotels that registered as business hotels or ryokan (traditional Japanese lodges) but in fact operated as love hotels with hourly rates and all the rest. They had to do this in order to operate in zones within 200 meters of schools or libraries, where the construction of love hotels is banned under the law regulating fuzoku (adult entertainment and other restricted entertainment such as video arcades, mahjong parlors, and dance clubs) and local ordinances.