SEXING UP Sexless JAPAN: fact-checking another salacious story about Weird Japan

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

Hi Gabby,

Thanks for delivering this article on time, and thanks for covering Japan from Thailand, which is 7 hours away.

It’s an enthralling topic, based on cherry-picked anecdotes and the conclusive, scientific findings of your former ESL students, a dominatrix, and a government official worried that Japanese “might perish into extinction.” And it has the word sex in it. As you know, SEX gets search results on Google, and we’re happy to throw away 170 years of journalism for that. 

It’s now 3:30 am. I’ll work on this for about 30 minutes between stories about other “looming catastrophes” such as nuclear meltdowns, typhoons, mudslides and earthquakes. My questions are in ((brackets)).

Also, you claim, in your salacious FCCJ story about the backlash against your salacious Guardian story, that you’ve won “numerous” journalism awards.


Could you tell me which prestigious awards you’ve won? I could find only one award (for your discovery that some African women are Big Mommas). Your name, which starts with the letters “a” and “b”, is at the top of the list of 155 nominees for the Orwell journalism prize. Does this mean you came in second after murdered correspondent Marie Colvin?

I hope you’re doing well, and I look forward to seeing you next time in Bangkok (but purely in a friendly, professional, platonic, non-sexual way.)

Thanks again,

The Copy Desk


by Gabby Haywords, Bangkok-based Japan correspondent for The Observer —

((Firstly, we previously ran a number of “No sex please, we’re Japanese” stories, such as this one by Roland Kelts in 2011, “Japan leads the way in sexless love”: He mentions those “hikikomori” cave dwellers and “grass-eating” Japanese males who don’t simultaneously have a girlfriend in Tokyo and a wife in NYC. Something wrong with them, apparently.)

SOAPLAND, JAPAN —  Ai Aoyama is a sex and relationship counsellor who works out of her narrow three-storey home on a Tokyo back street. Her first name means “love” in Japanese, and is a keepsake from her earlier days as a professional dominatrix. Back then, about 15 years ago, she was Queen Ai, or Queen Love, and she did “all the usual things” like tying people up and dripping hot wax on their nipples.

((Is she a LICENSED sex and relationship counsellor — WAIT A MINUTE. I remember her. I used to paint her naked body at Mysterio in Roppongi circa 1994. She asked me to drip candle wax on her belly button, and then tried to charge me 50,000 yen for that. She promised a Bangkok rate then hit me up in Swiss Francs. You sure she’s a “credible” and “authoritative” source?))

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

Her work today, she says, is far more challenging. Aoyama, 52, is trying to cure what Japan‘s media calls sekkusu shinai shokogun, or “celibacy syndrome”.

(((which Japan media? I took a quick search and found nothing. Could you provide links to multiple Japan media that aren’t fictional tabloids?))

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Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex.

((Hmmm. Find this hard to believe. Can’t be bothered with sex? Or “can’t be bothered to answer your silly survey” or “can’t afford it”, perhaps? Fear of HIV, unwanted pregnancy? And is “dating” how Japanese hook up in their culture? Don’t they still have matchmakers and yubi-sumo?))

For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe.

((Catastrophe? On par with, say, the March 11, 2011 tsunami or 1995 Kobe quake? Thousands dead from lack of sex in Japan? Maybe a national “problem” not catastrophe?))


Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060.

((How reliable is that projection? What do Japanese babies think? I imagine Britons wouldn’t like being told their population will shrink by a third in their lifetimes. Let’s be sure of this fact before publishing it.))

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Aoyama believes the country is experiencing “a flight from human intimacy” – and it’s partly the government’s fault.

((People are blaming the government for not having sex? Have they ever been to Thailand, Brazil, Africa or other places with bad governments?))

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

The sign outside her building says “Clinic”. She greets me in yoga pants and fluffy animal slippers, cradling a Pekingese dog whom she introduces as Marilyn Monroe.

((WAIT A MINUTE. Is this a trashy “comedy relief” story for Goya Magazine or serious journalism for The Observer? She calls her “knocking shop” a “clinic”? She’s wearing fluffy animal slippers, and has a dog named Marilyn Monroe, and she’s the lead authoritative source in our story for millions of readers?))


In her business pamphlet, she offers up the gloriously random confidence that she visited North Korea in the 1990s and squeezed the testicles of a top army general.

((OK, I’m sorry, but we might have to cut this from the article. Did you try asking the top North Korean army general to confirm his side of the story? Did she really squeeze his testicles, or was it his sphincter? Please verify.))

It doesn’t say whether she was invited there specifically for that purpose, but the message to her clients is clear: she doesn’t judge.

((She doesn’t judge, but she claims that it’s the government’s fault for lack of sex? That sounds like she’s judging the government, comprised of thousands of Japanese, for causing an epidemic of DSB: Dangerous Sperm Build-up.))

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

Inside, she takes me upstairs to her “relaxation room” – a bedroom with no furniture except a double futon.

((I recall being in that “relaxation room”. It’s a dive. No furniture! What kind of “clinic” is that. Whilst telling me to “relax”, she inserted various steely, spikey and rubbery objects into me — against my wishes — and then demanded payment in Chinese FECs: Foreign Exchange Certificates.))

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

“It will be quiet in here,” she says. Aoyama’s first task with most of her clients is encouraging them “to stop apologising for their own physical existence”.

((OK, I see where you are going with this story. You’re exploring whether Japanese actually physically exist. Perhaps that is a better angle)).

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all.

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

((OK, assuming those stats are accurate — doubt it — maybe people don’t “date” in Japan in UK sense of word. Don’t they go in massive groups to karaoke bars, get drunk together, vomit in unison and collapse into orgies? Don’t they form two rugby squads (one guys, another girls) and then tackle each other at Shibuya scramble crossing?))


There are no figures for same-sex relationships. Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better.

((This is a rather large generalization to say 126 million people separate “love and sex”. You absolutely sure we should publish this? Doesn’t this insult an entire nation of 126 million people?))

A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact”. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

((How can we be sure that the men and women in this survey weren’t being coquettish or deceptive? Is it a cultural factor? For example, Arctic men brag about having sex, when they aren’t having it, while Antarctic males say they never have sex, though they do. I’m not sure we can base an entire story around flimsy data that might not reflect reality based on what people say about their private lives, which is impossible to verify as accurate.))

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

Many people who seek her out, says Aoyama, are deeply confused.

((Well, I suppose you would HAVE TO BE confused to seek advice from a charlatan in a “clinic” with no furniture. But does this mean that Japanese are sexless?))

“Some want a partner, some prefer being single, but few relate to normal love and marriage.”

((What does she mean by “normal love and marriage”. Is love and marriage ever normal, anywhere in the world?))


However, the pressure to conform to Japan’s anachronistic family model of salaryman husband and stay-at-home wife remains. “People don’t know where to turn. They’re coming to me because they think that, by wanting something different, there’s something wrong with them.” Official alarmism doesn’t help. Fewer babies were born here in 2012 than any year on record. (This was also the year, as the number of elderly people shoots up, that adult incontinence pants outsold baby nappies in Japan for the first time.) Kunio Kitamura, head of the JFPA, claims the demographic crisis is so serious that Japan “might eventually perish into extinction”.


((OK, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to delete this article. We’ll pay you a kill-fee, since you have worked hard for us in the past. But really. We have the head of the JFPA, whose data forms the basis of the story, saying that Japanese are going the way of the Dodo bird and uncontacted Amazonian tribes who now read The Guardian online. I’m sorry but this Kitamura source clearly loses all credibility with a statement like that. I’m very sorry indeed that we cannot run this article as planned, and I do thank you for your efforts.))

Japan’s under-40s won’t go forth and multiply out of duty, as postwar generations did.

((OMG. You are suggesting that Japanese had sex and babies “out of duty” to the Emperor, and not for some carnal pleasure and love-based passion? I’m beginning to reconsider our offer of a kill-fee. Sorry.))

The country is undergoing major social transition after 20 years of economic stagnation. It is also battling against the effects on its already nuclear-destruction-scarred psyche of 2011’s earthquake, tsunami and radioactive meltdown.

((Japan has a nuclear-destruction-scarred psyche? First of all, a double hyphen isn’t Guardian writing. Secondly, you have verifiable evidence of this claim? Aren’t Japanese suddenly upbeat about Abenomix and the Olympix?))

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There is no going back. “Both men and women say to me they don’t see the point of love. They don’t believe it can lead anywhere,” says Aoyama. “Relationships have become too hard.” Marriage has become a minefield of unattractive choices.

((Marriage is a “minefield”. You mean like Cambodia’s minefields. Have Japanese lost their legs due to marriage? Is “minefield” accurate?))

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

Japanese men have become less career-driven, and less solvent, as lifetime job security has waned. Japanese women have become more independent and ambitious. Yet conservative attitudes in the home and workplace persist.

((Are you saying that Japanese people have one mind, one mentality at work, and another completely opposite mind and mentality at home? Are they all schizophrenic over there on that narrow island?))

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work.

((Punishing corporate world? Any evidence to support this claim? I thought young Japanese are distraught because they can’t get jobs in the corporate world like their parents? Are you sure it’s “punishing” in the corporate world, or is it more punishing to NOT have a job in a corporation?))

Cohabiting or unmarried parenthood is still unusual, dogged by bureaucratic disapproval. Aoyama says the sexes, especially in Japan’s giant cities, are “spiralling away from each other”.

((How does Aoyama know this, if she’s spending her time tying up clients and inserting rubbery objects into them in her “clinic”. She has access to the private lives of 125 million people?))


Lacking long-term shared goals, many are turning to what she terms “Pot Noodle love” – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality “girlfriends”, anime cartoons.

((So, based on this logic, people having casual sex are “spiralling” away from each other. Isn’t that hard to do? Don’t you have to gravitate TOWARD each other for instant gratification?))

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

Or else they’re opting out altogether and replacing love and sex with other urban pastimes. Some of Aoyama’s clients are among the small minority who have taken social withdrawal to a pathological extreme. They are recovering hikikomori (“shut-ins” or recluses) taking the first steps to rejoining the outside world, otaku (geeks), and long-term parasaito shingurus (parasite singles) who have reached their mid-30s without managing to move out of home. (Of the estimated 13 million unmarried people in Japan who currently live with their parents, around three million are over the age of 35.) “A few people can’t relate to the opposite sex physically or in any other way. They flinch if I touch them,” she says. “Most are men, but I’m starting to see more women.”

((Ahh, there’s the rub. “They flinch if I touch them.” I too remember flinching when she touched me with those hot candle-waxed hands as she inserted various objects into my orifices. And most of her “patients” are men, not women? This sounds fishy. You sure this isn’t a cover for some sort of prostitution?))

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

Aoyama cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers.

((This is hearsay. We would need to hear this from the so-called “virgin” directly. Can’t run it. It’s gossip. Besides, what is a Power Ranger?))

The Tokyo Vices of a Reporter in Japan

“I use therapies, such as yoga and hypnosis, to relax him and help him to understand the way that real human bodies work.”

((And, once he understands how “real human bodies work”, what happens next? Let me guess. Dr. Aoyama gently strokes him, to free up the kundalinis from his corleones, and then, suddenly, oops, he springs a leak — and, KACHING, she rings up the bill: 50,000 yen, thanks for your efforts.))

Sometimes, for an extra fee, she gets naked with her male clients – “strictly no intercourse” – to physically guide them around the female form.

((That’s what they all say. “OK, take off your clothes, I’m going to show you how ‘real human bodies work’, but ‘strictly no intercourse’. Isn’t this called “teasing” or nemawashii (根回し) in Japanese? You sure there’s no ‘sharing of milkshakes” at this clinic? This is your authoritative source for a story insulting an entire nation?))

Keen to see her nation thrive, she likens her role in these cases to that of the Edo period courtesans, or oiran, who used to initiate samurai sons into the art of erotic pleasure.

((OH, I see, this is all JAPANESE TRADITION. She’s initiating virgins into erotic pleasure, but no sex allowed at her “clinic”. It’s all TRADITION in this ancient land. Hmmmmm))

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Aversion to marriage and intimacy in modern life is not unique to Japan. Nor is growing preoccupation with digital technology. But what endless Japanese committees have failed to grasp when they stew over the country’s procreation-shy youth is that, thanks to official shortsightedness, the decision to stay single often makes perfect sense. This is true for both sexes, but it’s especially true for women. “Marriage is a woman’s grave,” goes an old Japanese saying that refers to wives being ignored in favour of mistresses. For Japanese women today, marriage is the grave of their hard-won careers


((Are you absolutely sure about this “old Japanese saying”? If you get this wrong,  our Japanese readers will tear you apart and indeed throw you into a “woman’s grave”. Please cite sources. Thanks.))

I meet Eri Tomita, 32, over Saturday morning coffee in the smart Tokyo district of Ebisu. Tomita has a job she loves in the human resources department of a French-owned bank. A fluent French speaker with two university degrees, she avoids romantic attachments so she can focus on work. “A boyfriend proposed to me three years ago. I turned him down when I realised I cared more about my job. After that, I lost interest in dating. It became awkward when the question of the future came up.”

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((No offense to Ms. Tomita, but is it possible that she is seeking a promotion, or angling to catch a wealthy executive of this French-owned bank, by claiming publicly to have interest only in her work, not men? How trustworthy is this source? How can she prove what she says? How can we prove that she speaks for 60 million other women in Japan?))

Tomita says a woman’s chances of promotion in Japan stop dead as soon as she marries. “The bosses assume you will get pregnant.” Once a woman does have a child, she adds, the long, inflexible hours become unmanageable. “You have to resign. You end up being a housewife with no independent income. It’s not an option for women like me.”

((what about cabinet ministers, MPs, lawyers, broadcasters, other women with successful careers?))

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Around 70% of Japanese women leave their jobs after their first child. The World Economic Forum consistently ranks Japan as one of the world’s worst nations for gender equality at work. Social attitudes don’t help. Married working women are sometimes demonised as oniyome, or “devil wives”.

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((OK, I’m really very sorry. I’m really going to have to move onto other stories now. It’s our company policy not to insult readers by calling them “devil wives”. Even if you could prove that this is true, such language is rather “Inappropriate” (copyright Debito Arudou) for our newspaper. We could also call them “bitches” or “puta” or “butona” or “ho’s” or “ii dawk” or  “water buffalos” or any other derogatory term, but that’s not journalism. So, I’m sorry. Please don’t take it personally, and do endeavor to sending us future pitches. Thanks again for your efforts.))

((PS … by the way, can you ask her for my money back?))

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((Oh, and how much does she charge these days?))