Why have Japanese condom sales dropped?

Announcer: Welcome to Stuff Mom Never Told You from howstuffworks.com.

Cristen: Hey there, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Cristen.

Molly: I'm Molly.

Cristen: Molly, I think that I can speak for both of us when I say that we love the show 30 Rock.

Molly: This is true.

Cristen: It's written and starred in by one of our favs, Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin. There was a recent episode that starred another favorite of ours, Mr. James Franco.

Molly: True. Lately of General Hospital fame.

Cristen: Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. But James Franco plays himself in this episode of 30 Rock. He has this secret relationship with a body pillow that depicts a Japanese manga or anime character named Camikoton. He is in love with a 2-D character.

Molly: Right. So he needs to hide this relationship with his body pillow with a fake relationship with a real woman to fool the paparazzi who are following him around. Hilarity ensues, as it normally does on 30 Rock. That, I think, was the mainstream introduction of something called moe.

Cristen: Yes. Moe is a term for, not necessarily someone who falls in love with a body pillow, but it's more this idea of forming some kind of attachment or relationship with an anime character. Usually these anime characters are busty, yet somehow pre-pubescent doe eyed girls.

Molly: Very innocent, very naïve, not too world savvy. That kind of excludes women from being a moe object of desire.

Cristen: This is also a subset of something called otaku culture, which is the obsessive fandom that comes up with anime, manga, and video games, especially in Japan over the last decade.

Molly: Right. So you see articles every now and then. In fact, last week of the week we're recording this, so it'll be a few weeks past by the time you hear this, a man married his body pillow. Every now and then you see these sort of strange stories that will come out of Japan, like a fellow marries a video game character. There are pictures of him standing around with his Game Boy and the woman holding - the woman is on the Game Boy and he's kind of holding the Game Boy and smiling at her. They drive around, he pulls out the device and takes a picture, and they get back in the car and then drive somewhere else.

Cristen: He introduces it to his parents.

Molly: How do you think that went, Cristen?

Cristen: I really can't predict it. I don't know his parents. I think if I were his parents, I don't know what I would do. I don't know how I would react to my son marrying a video game device, but I would hope that I would be as loving and accepting as possible.

Molly: Well, that's good. Now, we're gonna examine whether the whole country, the country as a whole, of Japan is being very accepting of this new sort of romance that's blooming amidst other men because, you know what, Cristen, there is so much love between video game characters and body pillows that condom sales are dropping.

Cristen: Condom sales are dropping. It's not just because men are choosing to take home body pillows instead of women. This is actually part of a larger cultural trend that I think has been going on really since the late '90s and early 2000s. For instance, this is a USA Today article from 2004, so it's a little bit dated, but just to give you an idea of when this condom issue started. They said in a 2001 survey, condom maker Durex found that Japan ranked dead last among 28 countries in the frequency of sex and that condom shipments were down 40 percent since 1993. Now, that might have to do with Japan legalizing birth control pills in 1999, but still.

Molly: They' re pretty low.

Cristen: Yeah.

Molly: So let's examine some of the reasons why the sales might be down and let's return to this idea of 2-D love, as writer Lisa Katayama terms it in a New York Times article. It's a great New York Times article. It's called Love in 2-D. It really just goes through some of the kinds of people that his culture attracts.

Cristen: The profile begins by following a man named Nisan who has fallen in love, he says, with a character named Nemutan. I hope I'm saying all of this correctly. It's basically an x-rated version of a PC video game called Da Capo. He first encountered his lady Nemu, as he likes to call her, his little nickname for her, at a comic convention. He saw her. It was love at first sight. Now he takes this body pillow depicting Nemu out with him to dinner and outings and for walks and, of course, they probably cuddle a lot because it's a soft body pillow.

Molly: Well, he keeps an extra one, I was happy to hear, at his office, so that if he has to work late and just sleep at the office, he can pull out work Nemu and cuddle up with her. Now, I should probably mention this guy is 37 and Nisan is not his real name. In the video game, the girl calls her big brother Nisan, so he sort of adopted the name because it was part of the Nemu world, I guess.

Cristen: Now, before Nisan started dating this video game character, he was dating a lady IRL, if you will, in real life.

Molly: In real life?

Cristen: Yes. Who ended up breaking up with him and broke his heart and he was just devastated from the relationship and he really wasn't that interested in having to go through all of that heartache again, especially once he met Nemu who isn't gonna judge him. She's gonna be there with him any time that he needs her. So why not just carry this body pillow around because he says that he's finding just as much fulfillment with her. The article points out that people who have studied this Moe phenomenon attribute the rise of 2-D love in Japan to young men's difficulty in navigating modern romantic life because, as we're gonna talk about more in this podcast, the relationships between men and women in Japan have changed drastically in the past decade.

Molly: So the article makes the point that there are men like Nisan who totally opt out of any sort of real life love because they want to just pursue 2-D love. Because the relationships between men and women are changing so much there is not as much dating among young people. In the New York Times they estimate that more than a quarter of unmarried men and women, between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins and 50 percent of men and women in Japan say that they are not going out with anybody. So very little dating. Interestingly, the New York Times also points out that one of the biggest best sellers in Japan was a book called Health and Physical Education for over 30, which was this guidebook for older people and was all illustrated with anime characters. It was a guide to how to date and seduce a lady and get married when you're over 30 and only can relate to your video game characters.

Cristen: Yeah. There has been an overall decline in the marriage rate in Japan. A lot of women, especially, are choosing to delay marriage, and this has kind of had a ripple effect of men retreating back from their dating lives as well. Going back to that USA Today article, it points out that weddings dropped in 2003 for the second straight year and that 54 percent of Japanese women in their late 20's are single up from only 30.6 percent in 1985. That has also had the result of a drastic drop in the birth rate in Japan. I saw a collection of columns questioning whether or not Japan is on the verge of basically destroying itself because the existing population is aging so rapidly, but there aren't enough young people, there aren't enough babies being born essentially, to take their place. Since they also have pretty high life expectancies, you have these older unmarried people who are choosing to stay at home and they're going to be caring for their aging parents. They're not getting married and what's gonna happen when you need a new generation of employees when they're not there.

Molly: Right. To supply pensions for one thing.

Cristen: Yeah.

Molly: So, Cristen, I just want to go over a few more details from this New York Times article before we go on to some of the other issues that are happening in Japan. I was kind of struck by another guy who was profiled in the article who has many, many pillows. One of his favorites is one that is a naked girl, flushed cheeks, pre-pubescent nipples hidden by her forearms, and her underwear is down around her ankles, but where her vagina would be there's a translucent pixilated square. I don't think that we should make any sort of connection that it's a sex doll is what I'm trying to get at with that description. People are worried because these girls are so pre-pubescent is it troubling. Will there be people acting on real life impulses and picking up very young girls and having real relationships with them? It doesn't seem to be that. It just seems to be that it's much easier to get along with someone who can't talk back.

Cristen: Well, it's not entirely surprising that you think that these guys might not be doing anything physically to these pillows. There have also been reports from Japanese women who are trying to date these guys, especially a little bit older, who they might go on an out of town trip or they stay over at the house and they just fall asleep. The guys don't make any moves.

Molly: Separate rooms.

Cristen: Separate rooms. Yeah. They're not having sex. Once again, lowest condom sales among these 28 countries. It seems like not only are some of these men retreating from real relationships, but they are retreating from just sex in general. This USA Today article also points out that as many as a million young men, this is mostly teenagers, suffer from something known as hikikomori, which is a condition in which they seclude themselves up in their room for weeks at a time. They just kind of sequester themselves away. But then once we get to the older subsets I think it might be a good time to bring up something a little newer that Japanese sociologists are terming herbivore and carnivores.

Molly: Which would you rather be, Cristen? Do you think this just refers to what they eat for dinner? Are they just vegetarians and meat eaters? No.

Cristen: No. Indeed, no. This has more to do with the type of lifestyle that Japanese men are choosing. These sociologists are saying that around 60 percent of today's men between 20 and 34 in Japan are herbivores, meaning they, this is according to an article in the Japan Times, are not as competitively minded about their jobs as men in older generations. They're more fashion conscious and body conscious. They're very chummy with their mothers, like to go shopping very often, and are not interested in dating girls, having relationships, or even having sex.

Molly: So, Cristen, let's talk for a minute about some reasons why they think there's a rise in these, literally translated, grass eating boys, soushoku danshi, a/k/a herbivores. One thing that kind of stuck out to me was a sentence in an article that said men of a certain generation in Japan today have never known what it was like to live in a good economy. Thus, it's much harder for them to strike out on their own, get their own place, and afford to take a woman out. Apparently, these Japanese women expect a lot because they also, for the first time, have some disposable income of their own.

Cristen: Right. Because while we have this wave of men who are kind of pulling back from society in a way, we also have on the flip side of that, women who are really making their first big strides in Japanese society because it wasn't until the late '80s that the Japanese government instituted equal employment laws. So women finally were able to start getting a leg up in the office.

Molly: But in the early 1990s the Japanese economy has a lot of problems, so right now there is just a lot of people who the women have money for the first time, the men aren't being able to find success the way their fathers did, and it's really affecting gender roles. Japan used to have these very traditional gender roles. One article points out that the way some Japanese men would propose would be I want you to make me miso soup for the rest of my life.

Cristen: And these women are like what, no thanks.

Molly: Yes. Traditionally women stayed home, took care of the house, raised children, and now they want to go out in the workforce and buy handbags. Sound familiar?

Cristen: Why, yes, it does, Molly. It sounds a lot like something we've talked about here at Mom Stuff many a time called second wave feminism. This was over in the United States when we had women in the '60s and '70s really starting to enter into the workforce. We have our own equal employment laws on the books. Women are gaining a leg up, getting out of the house, gender roles are starting to shift a little bit. The thing that I question about when we see these trends with these Japanese men who are supposedly - you know, I've seen it in some newspaper columns calling them girlie men, they're so soft. Then you have these Japanese women who are in the workforce and have all of these high standards for men that they really can't attain right now. It made me wonder what would happen if we wouldn't see a similar kind of cultural shift in the United States if second wave feminism were happening now or in the past decade than if it had been going on in the '60s and '70s, especially because if you think of Japan it's so technologically advanced. Like, think about all of those changes that are going on coupled with this very intense social change going on as well. I don't think it's that surprising that we have all of these kind of odd trends.

Molly: Right. I think if the Internet had been around when second wave feminism was going on, then men probably would have discovered body pillows here, too.

Cristen: Yeah.

Molly: If your main form of entertainment is all of this anime comic book stuff there are these basically pre-pubescent budding innocent women being held up as part of your main form of entertainment and consumption then that contrasts so vividly with what they're experiencing in the real 3-D world. I think there is an understandable reason why they would retreat and want the simpler times. It's not necessarily good for the women because they're gonna be single and they've got no one to spend money on condoms for. I don't want to condone it, but it's understandable I think.

Cristen: It's understandable and I think it's not - we say it's not really good for the women because you're now seeing trend stories about these single Japanese women who are desperate to find some kind of husband, some man, who wants to take them out on a date. At the same time, it can't be necessarily healthy in the long run for Japanese men as well. Not to say that you go over to Japan and you're gonna see just hoards of men carrying around body pillows. This is pretty a media happy trend because it's kind of strange in our Western eyes to talk about.

Molly: But if the best selling book is an anime guide to marriage -

Cristen: That's true.

Molly: That's not great.

Cristen: That is true. But I think that when we're sorting out all of this stuff about herbivores versus carnivores because a lot of the news coverage depicts these men as "feminine". There have been trend pieces about, oh, these men are now buying bras. Which, actually, if you look at the actual trend it's like a couple of thousand bras have been sold to these men.

Molly: But if you Google Japanese men bras you'll see a thousand stories.

Cristen: A lot of stuff.

Molly: Because they'll all use the same photo and they'll all be like, oh, my goodness, OMG to use an Internet term, these men are wearing bras.

Cristen: There is also a survey from Toto International, the toilet manufacturer, that claims that a third of Japanese men urinate sitting down. Oh, my goodness.

Molly: Ultimate sign of masculinity destroyed.

Cristen: Right. But then that gets into a whole other conversation about, well, what does masculinity mean today anyway and should we be calling these - and what does femininity mean in a day of supposedly equal employment, equal opportunity, is that really a valid judgment to make. Coming back to that point about the economy, Molly, that you made a little while ago, I think that Slate did a really good job of explaining this herbivore versus carnivore thing that's going on. In terms of this down shift in the economy that has now had a ripple effect into men's lifestyle choices, it talks about how in the eyes of these guys who might be termed herbivores. They're not just trying to become extreme metrosexuals or whatever you want to call it. It's more they perceive it as more not wanting to live up to traditional social expectations in their relationships with women, their jobs, or anything else. They don't feel like they have to ascribe to this traditional idea of masculinity and now have a little bit more room to express themselves more. I don't think that there's anything necessarily wrong with that.

Molly: I do think there's something to be said for, I don't know, the confidence that it would take at least, I think, for most people here that are thinking about this to go out in public with a body pillow. To some extent, I wonder if it's better to be out in public with something weird relationship wise than doing it behind closed doors, which kind of makes it even more kind of outside the norm and perhaps a dangerous perversion.

Cristen: But then I think that also you have to, in terms of relationships, question whether or not we're creating such an attachment to things on the Internet and things in anime or manga culture that aren't real. If the whole concept of romance and love is really becoming blurred and whether or not that's gonna have positive repercussions or not.

Molly: Food for thought.

Cristen: Because at some point, if you want to keep up a species, you do have to reproduce in some way.

Molly: Right.

Cristen: But I do think that no matter what, I think it does provide some interesting food for thought for questioning what exactly are our gender ideals today, how technology impacts that, and maybe how technology is going to possibly impact our population as a whole.

Molly: Very interesting questions, Cristen.

Cristen: Yes.

Molly: So if you have things to say about any of those conversation topics that Cristen very helpfully laid out in bullet point format, e-mail us at momstuff@howstuffworks.com. Because the conversation is endless here. We haven't solved it in this country. What will Japan do with their gender problems?

Cristen: And speaking of e-mails, Molly, why don't we read a couple?

Molly: Okay. So we're gonna start with one from Kel who writes I'm the artist and writer of a web comic called Sorcery 101 which is located at www.sorcery101.net. I recently found your podcast while looking for podcasts to listen to while I draw. One point you mentioned in your episode Chic Lit caught my attention. During the discussion you mentioned graphic novels being used to get boys to read more and letting them know that comics counts as reading. I wanted to point out that this tactic should also be used for girls. With the rise of manga and web comics, more and more girls are reading comics. Manga, because Japan has a vast collection of titles specifically targeting girls, then web comics because it's fairly easy to start a web comic you're getting more variety than traditional mainstream comics. So you're seeing more comics starting up by female creators, either consciously or unconsciously, target them more. A good example would be girlswithslingshots.com and, of course, my own comic. Then you have publishers branching out to reach this demographic that they've been kind of ignoring for a long time, so you get some titles like Persepolis and Spiderman loves Mary Jane. So kind of a relevant e-mail to read here at the end of this one, but I wanted to give a big thumbs up to Sorcery 101 and our very talented listener Kel.

Cristen: All right. Well, I've got one here form Sunny and this is in response to our recent podcast about racial discrimination in ballet and dance. She says, after listening to your podcast I was surprised that you didn't mention Maria Tallchief. Not only is she one of the most famous American dancers, she is also part of the Osage Nation. When she started her career in the early 1940s the ballet world was almost unexceptionally White. She's a true pioneer with a career spanning decades. First, with the influential Ballet Russe in Monte Carlo, then as a New York City Ballet's first prima ballerina and later as founder of the Chicago City Ballet. Her collaboration with George Balanchine, who was her husband for a time, made her name synonymous with some of the most well known of Balanchine's choreography from the Firebird, Swan Lake, and the Nutcracker. As a ballet dancer and a groundbreaking role model, Maria Tallchief should be at the top of the list. So thanks for letting us know, Sunny.

Molly: Very cool. All right. If you've got something to say, our e-mail address is momstuff@howstuffworks.com. During the week, Cristen and I are blogging our little heads off at a blog called HowToStuff and if you'd like to learn more about how do things, Japanese culture, everything under the sun, then head on over to howstuffworks.com.

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