A Look at the Social-Marital Issues in Japan


Having had my own personal experience with the Japanese concept of “marriage”, finding that other parents (both males and females) had virtually identical experiences with their Japanese spouses, and having spent many long hours in talks with Japanese business associates that seemed to all have a similar form of martial woes – had led me down a path of thought.

Below are some articles adding numbers and statements which seem to support my own anecdotal experiences:

From the Mainichi Daily News — Nov. 26, 2011:

  • “Record 61% of unmarried Japanese men 18-34 have no girlfriend”
  • “The percentage of unmarried women with no boyfriend in the same age group also hit a record high of 49.5 percent, up 4.8 percentage points”
  • “13.5 percent of men and 11.6 percent of women aged between 25 and 34 said they do not know how to be in a relationship
  • “11.9 percent of men and 7.0 percent of women aged between 18 and 24 gave the same answer

From the JapanTimes Online — Sep. 6, 2011: 

  • In 2005, Durex, the world’s largest condom maker, conducted a Global Sex Survey (see www.durex.com/en-jp/sexualwellbeingsurvey/documents/gss2005result.pdf) involving 317,000 respondents in 41 countries.
  • The survey found that Japanese had the least sex in the world, at 45 times a year — far less than second-from-bottom Singapore (73 times a year), and even farther from the world average (103 times a year, meaning twice a week)
  • Moreover, less than a quarter (24 percent) of Japanese surveyed said they were “happy” with their sex lives, significantly lower than the global average of 44 percent.
  • Durex’s more recent Sexual Wellbeing Survey, involving 26,000 interviews from 26 countries, found Japan at the bottom again with even lower results (15 percent satisfied).

From JapanToday Online — FEB. 26, 2010:

  • The survey polled 1,077 men, 17.8% of whom say they’ve suffered some form of abuse—physical, psychological or sexual—at the hands of their wives.
  • One husband in a thousand, the survey found, has felt his wife was ready to kill him

—— My Analysis ——

The Japanese “traditional” view of clear separation of wife and husband duties, essentially cause them to lead largely separate and independent lives. Over time, instead of growing together, they grow apart. To the point where the wife resents the husband’s presence and any attempt by the husband to participate in the home life (especially if children are present in the marriage).

The Japanese children of yesterday grew up in this environment, leaving them ill-equipped to participate in healthy relationships themselves. This problem is continuing to perpetuate itself at ever increasing rates.  This problem has been compounded by the modern, technological world.

When you add to that that fact the Japanese legal system is structured in such a way that divorce with children means the complete destruction of the parental relationship between the child and one parent AND that the court uses abduction to determine custody, instead of more meaningful factors that would actually looks at which parent might be healthier for the child, you are a downward spiral that is only going to continue to get worse.

So what is the benefit of marriage in Japan?

  • You enter into a relationship of “apartness”
  • There exist no laws to ensure parental rights
  • A failed marriage means the abduction and abuse of any children
  • There is no social structure to encourage that couple act maturely to resolve issues; for example, couples in trouble seeking marriage counseling is viewed negatively.

So, again, what is the benefit of marriage in Japan?

Japan continues to lament its social issues, but uses tatemae to allow itself to not look inward; to not be introspective regarding the need for value changes in its society. Japan repeatedly denies the need to create laws to protect even basic human-rights.


  • “…it was repeatedly regretted that observations from several earlier country reviews of Japan had not had any effect and that Experts were making the same recommendations again. Sometimes, [discussing human rights with Japan] seemed to be a dialogue of the deaf.”
  • “There was no use in simply telling the Committee in what way they were doing things and then going back to their country and continuing to do things as before instead of discussing the implementation of the provisions of the Covenant.”
  • “An Expert was concerned about a lack of understanding of the Covenant by the Japanese delegation…. It was all about justifying the national legislation.”

Basically, the UN Experts questioned whether Japan even had an understanding of what “human rights” actually were.

According to the UN, in the ten years since the previous human rights review, Japan had done little meaningful to address any of the human-rights issues discussed in the past.

I have personally lived, worked and traveled to over 15 countries. Japan seemed to have *the* most fundamentally flawed sense of what a healthy marriage should be. Other countries, the US included, struggle to achieve the ideal… but Japan is stuck still trying to figure out what that ideal is — too mired in the blind belief of the “uniqueness of Japan” to be willing to take a closer look at their values; Psychology having long since determined that heathy marriages involve togetherness, maturity and compromise — which seems to be the opposite of the day to day reality in Japan.

This entry was posted in Child Abduction in Japan, Human Rights, Marriage and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Look at the Social-Marital Issues in Japan

  1. Dustin says:

    Great post, Patrick, and great insights. I have some of my own thoughts that expand on what you said.

    The separation of gender roles in marriage isn’t really traditional, but something that occurred after the war. I think now, three generations later, we are seeing the unintended consequences, where children are raised almost entirely by their mothers and their dad is simply a man who sleeps in their home. I think another culprit is the school system which dictates every waking moment of a child’s life, leaving them with little chances to interact outside a supervised environment and develop interpersonal skills needed for a healthy relationship.

    I agree with the U.N. report that Japan is seemingly uninterested in human rights. But I think there is an underlying logical fallacy on the part of the U.N. and the West that assumes Japan actually wants to have the kind of society imagined in the European Enlightenment. Individual rights are pretty much the antithesis of everything Japanese. Japan is an extreme case, but this same sentiment can be found all throughout Asia and Russia, from the Middle East all the way to Japan. It may be surprising to us that given Democracy and left on their own, many Asian countries would democratically elect an oppressive ruler. I think a lot of people in the foreign policy circle would do well to take this view into consideration.

    By the way, I’ve seen the statistics you quoted above and I’ve always wondered why there was such a huge discrepancy between the percentages of unmarried men and unmarried women between 18 to 34 without a girlfriend or boyfriend. The common explanation is that women are dating older men. While large age differences in couples is more socially acceptable in Japan, I don’t think the number of women dating older men would account for the discrepancy, since the average age difference between partners in marriages in Japan is actually lower than in the U.S. (1.7 years and 3.5 years, respectively). What’s your take?

    • pmcpike says:

      Hi Dustin,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree completely, I should have said “traditional”. As you note, there is a lot of post-war revisionism on what is “truth”, “history” and “tradition”.

      To your point about the education system in Japan, I’d add two thoughts: They also seem to discourage actually “thinking” and analyzing, and instead just teach brute-force information and memorization. They also, teach a lot of revisionism and sense of nationalism that seems akin to brain-washing.

      As for the “discrepancy between the percentages of unmarried men and unmarried women between 18 to 34 without a girlfriend or boyfriend.” Not knowing the details of how the study was conducted I can only take a stab…

      But I think that there are two factors to explain this:

      1) Given the realities of marriage in Japan, adultery seems to be the national pastime. Many of the “women with boyfriends” in the above mentioned study, could fall into this category — dating with married men. These men having been social adept enough to find a marital mate in the first place, only to find that they are ultimately shut out of any physical companionship at home; especially after children enter the picture. Given my personal experience, I had questioned many of my Japanese co-workers and business associates (both males and females), they all seemed to indicate that this was unfortunately quite common in Japan. This is of course anecdotal, but for me it was adequate to support my personal observations.

      2) This study is just covering dating, whereas the marital age differences you mention are actually marriage. So I’m not sure that they need to closely correlate. It would be interesting to see a study of how long the average, modern (18-34yr) Japanese couple dated before marriage, and how much they dated other people prior to marrying their spouse.

      By the way: I was just trying to remember a Japanese saying that my coworkers used to say, by way of explaining to me the “post-marriage-attitudes” in Japan (something about not needing to put effort into something already done), and stumbled across this:

      Adultery in Japan – Sun 2011/10/02

      A survey shows the following results of [Japanese] married men and women who want to have hanky panky with somebody other than their partner.

      Married men who want to be unfaithful – 58%
      Unmarried men who want to be unfaithful – 41%
      Married women who want to be unfaithful – 23%
      Unmarried women who want to be unfaithful – 19%

      And as for those who actually went ahead…
      Married men who have been unfaithful to their partner – 27%
      Unmarried men who have been unfaithful to their partner- 21%
      Married women have been unfaithful to their partner – 13%
      Unmarried women who have been unfaithful to their partner – 18%

  2. Bruce says:

    Hi. Great website and information. I myself am the parent of a daughter who was taken to Japan by her mother. I actually didnt know about this issue until recently or how widespread it was. Your website has a lot of good information. and its good to know i’m not alone. Can you email me so I can ask you more about your personal experiences? Thanks and never give up!

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