Society and Identity
“Young adults who don’t engage in love-relationships” (Ren’ai shinai wakamonotachi) (Ushikubo Megumi 2015) is one prominent example of recent publications on sexuality in Japan. Drawing on statistical data as well as on interviews, the author argues that young adults are increasingly considering intimate relationships as tiring and stressful (mendokusai), making them more prone to renounce them. In the context of significant changes in marriage behavior, a changing gender order and the government’s worries about the declining birthrate, this argumentation earned considerable attention in the public and political discourse in Japan and abroad. This discourse is juxtaposed with another strand of discourse propagating sexual activity, well-being or happiness: Examples here being magazines or tv shows, featuring the love- and sex-life of individuals, as well as various how-to-manuals or self-help books. Here, sexual well-being is considered to be essential for (young) people and their lives. However, despite the immense media coverage, there is still a lack of thorough sociological research on sexuality.
Against this background the panel presents first findings of a new research project, aiming to provide academic and context-sensitive insights into and spotlights on the topic by addressing the following questions: How and why did the corresponding discourses evolve, how are they (possibly) reflected in individual narratives and how do they potentially shape individuals sexuality in Japan? How can we theoretically frame the topics and which methods would be suitable for further investigation?
The papers apply a sociological perspective, yet with different methodological approaches. A further interdisciplinary angel will be provided through a discussant from cultural studies. The presentations address the following topics: Drawing on interviews with Japanese married men and women, the first talk analyzes narratives of marital sexlessness. It discusses how marital sexlessness defines marital satisfaction and how individuals cope with the situation. Methodological considerations as well as the questions of “How and where to talk and ‘do’ sexuality” are the focus of the second paper. Interviews with young Japanese adults reveal individual and (sometimes) creative ways to cope with a (supposed) lack of corresponding opportunities and spaces. Drawing on various survey data and on qualitative interviews with Japanese students, the third talk discusses a sexual ‘polarization’ and 'inactivation' as well as underlying socio-economic causes in Japan. Finally, the forth presentation provides historical depth to today’s discourses on sexuality by tracing the discourses several cohorts of women have been exposed to in women’s magazines over the last decades.