40-year-old vir­gins in Ja­pan share their feel­ings of lone­li­ness, up­set


Takashi Sakai is a healthy 41-yearold 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 three 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, full­time 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 midtwen­ties 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- 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- 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.”

He now also caters to able- bod­ied peo­ple whose at­ti­tudes to sex can prove some­thing of a bar­rier to their find­ing ful­fill­ment.

This in­cludes of­fer­ing lec­tures on how to find a part­ner and how to es­tab­lish a con­struc­tive re­la­tion­ship in his “Vir­gin Academia” pro­gram.

Decades ago, rigid so­cial mores helped shep­herd grow­ing adults through the key stages of life, Sakat­sume told AFP.

But nowa­days, “it is now all up to each in­di­vid­ual to find a po­ten­tial part­ner and ne­go­ti­ate for sex.”

The 41- year- old Sakai has en­rolled in the Vir­gin Academia and goes to life drawing classes, where he sketches naked women as part of a scheme to help par­tic­i­pants un­der­stand the fe­male body.

“The first time I did this, in au­tumn last year, oh ... I was so amazed. Their bod­ies are in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful,” he said.

“One thing I learned is that there are many dif­fer­ent shapes of breasts and even gen­i­tals,” he said.

Sakai feels his time at the Vir­gin Academia has been use­ful. He doesn’t know if he will ever pass that par­tic­u­lar mile­stone, but the course has helped him to see his lack of sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence as less of life or death thing.

“There is no need to be so pes­simistic,” he said. “Af­ter all, be­ing a vir­gin isn’t fa­tal.”

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