Japan’s ‘Herbivore’ Millennials Prefer Digital Girlfriends Over Sex

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Japan’s plummeting birth rate is being partly blamed on young males called “Otaku” who show far more interest in computers and comic books than sex.

Tokyo’s Akihabara district (below) is filled with gadget and manga book stores and is the favorite hangout for Otaku, reports Anita Rani, for the BBC: The Japanese men who prefer virtual girlfriends to sex

Unless something happens to boost Japan’s birth rate, its population will shrink by a third between now and 2060. One reason for the lack of babies is the emergence of a new breed of Japanese men, the otaku, who love manga, anime and computers — and sometimes show little interest in sex…

Akihabara, an area of the city dedicated to the manga and anime subculture provides one clue to the country’s problems. Akihabara is heaven for otaku.

Kunio Kitamara, of the Japan Family Planning Association, describes many young Japanese men as “herbivores” — passive and lacking carnal desire.

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Above, a guide spells out the rules for Akihabara tour.

A survey by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2010 found 36% of Japanese males aged 16 to 19 had no interest in sex — a figure that had doubled in the space of two years.

Even Japanese men in a relationship don’t have much sex, a recent survey found that less than 27% had sex at least once a week.

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The Akihabara district is packed with computer, gadget and Manga book stores

The lack of sexual desire could be linked to the poor economic prospects of millennials in Japan compared with their parent’s generation. Their lousy socioeconomic position seems to have led to a collective loss of libido — they’ve lost their mojo.

Roland Kelts, a Tokyo-based social commentator, said:

“If you compare China or Vietnam, most of those kids on scooters going to nightclubs, and dancing their heart away and perhaps having sex — they know it’s getting better, they know they are probably going to rock their parents’ income,” he says. “No-one in Japan feels that way.”

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Life-size Manga characters and anatomically correct robot in an Akihabara store

Does the US have a similar Otaku sub-culture? We should look because there’s lots about the Japanese story that is similar to here. Our male millennials love comic books, gadgets, and computers; their job prospects are lousy; plus they carry huge college debt loads; and many have to rely on their parents.

The same lousy cultural and socioeconomic factors are at play for US, and also European millennials. I’d be surprised if a survey didn’t find a sizable population of Otaku.

And how can we help them find their mojo? Because a related problem is hikikomori: young men who shut themselves away in their rooms for years. A Japanese Cabinet Office survey from 2010 found 700,000 but there could be as many as 1 million hikikomori.

Hikikomori: Why are so many Japanese men refusing to leave their rooms?

Below, seen in an Akihabara store – a man’s tie with a USB-powered fan to cool you off if you get hot under the collar — won’t be needed by Otaku.

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Tom Foremski
Tom Foremski is the Editor and Founder of the popular and top-ranked news site Silicon Valley Watcher, reporting on business and culture of innovation. He is a former journalist at the Financial Times and in 2004, became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time journalist blogger.

Tom has been reporting on Silicon Valley and the US tech industry since 1984 and has been named as one of the top 50 (#28) most influential bloggers in Silicon Valley. His current focus is on the convergence of media and technology — the making of a new era for Silicon Valley. He also writes a column at ZDNET.

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