It has been said that there are more words for rice in Japanese than for love and that the Japanese language has no equivalent of "I love you." One market researcher told the New York Times, "Traditionally Japan is an unromantic country, and people don't express love’so they buy expensive presents. That's an exaggeration, but you get the point."

Love has traditionally been regarded as disruptive to social harmony and in the past was sometimes more likely to occur between a prostitute and her customer than between husband and wife. Japanese literature has more stories about love between unmarried couples than married ones. There are also lots of double suicide stories involving geishas and their lovers.

When asked why Japanese don’t really express their love verbally a Japanese teacher wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Well, we would not say such a thing because it is something we should feel intuitively rather than express verbally. Once we say it, it sounds rather cheap.”

But despite this Japanese television dramas are full couples confessing their love. They often feature a male and female who are infatuated with each other, but nothing romantically happens until one confesses his or her love for the other. It also happens in real life. In one famous incident a member of a baseball team than won a big game climbed a pole and expressed his love for a particular women. The woman played along but later politely rebuffed him, when attention was not focused on them.

In a study on jealousy, Japanese men ranked the least jealous and Brazilian men ranked as the most. In a study on friendship Japanese ranked their “best friend” as being closer to them than “a lover.” A study of women in Europe, Japan and the Philippines asked them to fill out forms that measured their experiences of passionate love. Women from all three places said they felt love with the same level of intensity.

General Concepts of Sexuality and Love in Japan

Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: The Shinto religion recognizes neither good nor evil, so the concept of sin and personal guilt so commonly associated with sex in Western cultures does not exist in the Japanese tradition. The persistence of fertility festivals echoes the acceptance of sex and romance as a natural component of everyday life. Rooted in folk religions and primitive animism, these festivals are celebrated by revelers wearing traditional masks representing the more frankly sexual and comical denizens of Shinto myth and carrying oversized papier-mâché phalli and vulva through the streets (Bornoff 1991, 14-15, 89-90). [Source: Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 1997 ++]

Apart from the persistent traditional culture of Japanese sexuality, it is true that Japan has also experienced a rapid modernization, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. As in other societies, modernization in Japan has brought a series of changes in the daily life and lifestyles and hence in human behavior. In general, technological development has resulted in a significant decrease in the amount of physical labor and inconvenient living circumstances. Development of scientific knowledge, along with popularization of education, brought more literacy and freer communications among the common people. The power of the patriarchal structure that originally gave an eccentric, unbalanced character to the family organization decreases as modernization proceeds. In this manner, communication within the family is being ignored. Modern Japanese family life has come to the point where many parents are not taking care of the children and the children are not establishing their self-identity. On the other hand, with only one or two children, parents, and particularly mothers, may be overly protective to the point of rendering their offspring indecisive and inadequate in their interpersonal relationships. ++

Such changes also cause significant shifts in the way human sexuality is experienced in modern Japan, including the sexual consciousness and sexual behaviors among the people. The impact of the scientific development invited marked progress in the knowledge of biology and genetics. This in turn stimulated the development of sexology. For example, much of the mystery in childbirth, especially the superstitions that there are certain relationships between the behavior of the parents in the past and the physical nature of the newborn, has gradually disappeared. The promotion of science education in public schools has helped this tendency. ++

The next event in this line was the development of sexology and knowledge about sexuality, such as the separation of reproduction and other sexual behaviors, family planning, emancipation from traditional sex roles, and subsequently a more liberal attitude regarding sexual activities. Promotion of family planning after the war years played a decisive role in decreasing the yoke of the women in Japan. At some times, abortion was the most frequently used method of family planning, resulting in certain after effects on women’s health. In these societal trends, religion no longer played a strong role in controlling the code of ethics, because of the allergic reaction to the national control of religion during the dark days of World War II. However, at the same time, modern Japanese have often lost self-identity in terms of development of moral judgment and values. ++

The premodern Japanese had no choice but to accept and follow the lifestyles, behavior patterns, and basic philosophy of life of their parents or leaders in the society. Role models and lifestyle patterns were rather easily found among the family members, as long as one did not attempt to find something new in life. Modern Japanese people, confronted with an explosively large amount of information pouring into their brains, have had to learn how to sort and select this information before they can apply it to actual daily living. It is quite true that during the economic postwar prosperity period, Japan’s economic growth almost became the standard of values for society, inviting severe criticism from people in other parts of the world. ++

Education in information selection systems or value systems - moral education, particularly in relation to sexual activities - has become a major necessity in formal and informal education. Likewise, education in sexual behavior, not in terms of instruction in a behavioral code but in terms of providing understanding of the stages of psychosexual development, will benefit the development of each individual’s sexuality. Likewise, sexuality education is expected to enhance education for parenting. All of these needs share a common base as consequences of modernization. The current national Course of Study of the Ministry of Education does not include education for either value systems or for establishment of self- and sexual identity. Perhaps these aspects of education belong to the realm of family education. Unfortunately, in con temporary Japan, the national administration of public education is so well developed that the general public has almost forgotten the responsibility of family education. This is causing some serious social problems, particularly when parents expect the public schools to assume complete responsibility for teaching all the code of ethics, including sexual behaviors. ++

Japanese Ideas About Love as Expressed in Japanese Romance Novels

Kate Elwood wrote in The Daily Yomiuri: It is said that the Meiji novelist Soseki Natsume (1867-1916) told his students the proper way to translate "I love you" into Japanese was "Tsuki ga kirei desu ne" (The moon is beautiful tonight). The remark ascribed to Soseki points to the wide divergence in ways of giving voice to matters of the heart, and the potentially daunting task for both translators and prospective cross-cultural couples in making sense of amorous dynamics. [Source: Kate Elwood, to The Daily Yomiuri, July 30, 2012]

Chieko Mulhern, a scholar of Japanese literature, and Janet Shibamoto Smith, a linguistic anthropologist, have analyzed differences between Harlequin romance novels and Japanese home-grown stories of a similar ilk. As Mulhern points out, Harlequin romances, which entered the Japanese market in 1979, were extremely popular right from the start. By 1985, close to 2,000 Western romances had been translated into Japanese. In 1982, Sanrio created its own "New Romance" line and sought original manuscripts from Japanese fans. Mulhern emphasizes that these indigenous works "blossomed out of Western seeds" and were by and large uninfluenced by Japanese literary conventions. And yet, they were not exactly replicas of the Western model. Mulhern compared the 26 New Romances that had been published by Sanrio up until 1988 with their Western counterparts and found intriguing divergences.

Particularly interesting is the downgrading of the importance of the heroine's isolation, often a key facet of Western romances. While in the latter the heroines are often thrust into a cold, uncaring world as a result of the death of a parent, in almost half of the domestically produced tales of love that Mulhern examined both parents are alive and on good terms with the female protagonist. Moreover, in almost a third of the novels the heroine's mother serves as a devoted and supportive confidante. Similarly, while the Harlequin heroines are typically lacking in close friends, reinforcing their emotional dependence on the main male character, in more than half of the Sanrio novels the heroines have at least one good friend.

Mulhern's analysis further points to a stronger sense of self-esteem among the home-grown heroines. Unlike in the Western romances in which as a rule the female character defines her worth in terms of her relationship with a man until she is forced to reconsider following a distressing event, in the Sanrio novels the women are well aware of their own value, and derive satisfaction and confidence from their work, which often involves foreign travel. They seek a fulfilling romantic relationship, but it is not the be-all and end-all matter that it is for the heroines in the corresponding Western novels.

Shibamoto Smith made a similar comparison of romantic novels written by Japanese authors and Harlequin romances translated into Japanese, focusing particularly on one novel from each genre. Her findings make plain some other interesting disparities in the heroines' paths to ultimate happiness with their very own Mr. Right. One difference relates to the inevitable obstacle to the relationship, which provides much of the impetus for the plot. Shibamoto Smith observes that in the novels by Japanese writers, romantic impediments are usually not related to a potential partner's personal traits, such as infidelity or indifference, but rather concern his family or other uchi ("in-group") circumstances. On the other hand, in the Harlequin romances, the barrier to love typically takes the form of a conflict between the two lovebirds rather than some kind of external setback. Because of this, the burgeoning love between the two often suffices to eradicate the hindrance to the relationship.

Another difference found by Shibamoto Smith relates to descriptions of how those pierced by Cupid's arrow feel and how their love is manifested. In the Harlequin novels, the characters undergo a tremendous amount of physical reactions as a result of their attraction--they have difficulty breathing; their hearts throb; blood boils; bodies melt, tremble violently, and burn; and faces are flushed.

Not a lot of this stuff happens in the novels by Japanese writers. The characters do tremble, although not violently, and there is a bit of blushing. Conversely, these heroines' hearts are "tickled," and they sweetly lean against their lovers or cling to them, sometimes desperately. Additionally, while the Harlequin characters look intensely at each other, bite their lips, and so on, the Japan-created protagonists mostly look away from each other at crucial moments.

Science of Love Popular among Female Students

Ayako Nishidoji wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The "study of love," which attempts to objectively and scientifically analyze romance and teach it as an academic subject, has recently become a hot topic. The popular new field also aims to improve people's communication skills with the opposite sex. [Source: Ayako Nishidoji, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 27, 2012]

During a "Mate Selection Theories" lecture at Waseda University, Prof. Tomonori Morikawa presents detailed strategies for dating. "When you ask someone out, say, for example, 'Which do you prefer, a French restaurant in Nishi-Azabu or Italian in Daikanyama?' If you only give two positive options, it's hard for the person to say no." He also explains, "The sensation a couple feels when riding a roller coaster together on a date is due to an increase in tension and heart rate, which tend to be misinterpreted as the 'heart thump' caused by love.”

Morikawa began giving his love lectures in 2008, and his class continues to attract many students. This academic year, about 850 students registered for the course. He screened them to select about 240 for the class, which has about 80 percent female students. Though Morikawa is an expert in politics, he has taken up the study of love to examine the attraction process between males and females. He analyzes people's criteria for selecting a partner, consulting leading theories from the fields of biology, psychology and economics, all because he is concerned about the low birthrate and today's trend of people staying single throughout their lives.

He teaches students the keys to success in romance. After the class ended in July, some students wrote comments on their final exams such as "I have a boyfriend now" or "I could finally end a painful relationship.”

One municipality is taking action to counter the falling birthrate by advocating the study of love. a facility run by a public benefit corporation on behalf of the Hyogo prefectural government, invited Morikawa to speak at an event for singles two years ago.

Views on Love Relationships in Japan

Ayako Nishidoji wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Morikawa thinks a person's employment status is one of the most influential factors in finding a mate. If one partner in a relationship does not have a stable source of income, it is difficult to seriously pursue dating or marriage. He also feels his class has become so popular because "female students are intent on making the most of the few chances they have to meet the right person." [Source: Ayako Nishidoji, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 27, 2012]

"The young generation doesn't have strong communication skills. So it's not enough to simply create an opportunity for them to meet and expect them to take the initiative of asking someone on a date and falling in love naturally," Chizuko Fujimoto, a sectional chief at the Hyogo Deai Support Center, told the Yomiuri Shimbun. "I hope they can improve their conversation skills by learning about the differences between genders and how to confidently present themselves.”

Mao Saito, an associate professor at Ritsumeikan University's department of Social Science, has a different approach to the study of love. A few times a year, she holds an off-site meeting in which students from her seminar mostly serve as discussion leaders in a "love café." Through their discussions on various topics, including "cell phones and love" and "long-distance relationships," Saito says the meeting is designed to evaluate the relationships of the participants. The meeting often takes place at high schools or as part of events held by municipalities in the Kansai region.

Saito says, "The young generation always feels peer pressure to have a boyfriend or girlfriend and be like everyone around them." As a result, they tend to place more importance on finding someone than having a quality relationship. During one talk at the "cafe," a female high school student realized she was forcing herself to find time to see her boyfriend every day just so he would not resent her. Saito said the student has now talked with her boyfriend and they agreed to respect each other's individual lives and allow time to see other friends.

"Young people tend to mistake their partners' controlling behavior for love. Accepting such extreme restrictions could lead to a situation of psychological or physical abuse in a relationship," Saito warned. "Many people don't take love issues seriously because they think it's just a matter of emotions. But I hope more people will start to objectively study love.”

Displays of Affection in Japan

Asian couples don't usually express affection towards each other in public. Public displays of affection between members of the opposite sex’such as kissing, hugging and holding hands — are considered rude. Even families rarely touch, hug or display physical affection in public. Most school children have said they have never seen their parents kiss.

Holding hands and hugging among members of the same sex is perfectly acceptable although this practice is less common in Japan than other Asian countries. It is not unusual for a pair of women to walk down the street holding hands or for men to embrace one another and arm.

It has traditionally been considered taboo to touch the nape of a girl's neck. After World War II, kissing wasn't allowed in Japanese films. The first celluloid kiss took place in 1946 and the actors that did it were so nervous about it they put a piece of gauze between their lips.

Japanese couples are starting to kiss more in public. Young people can be seen embracing in the parks and wives sometimes kiss their husbands goodbye at train stations. One Japanese baseball team even offered reduced rate tickets to anyone who was willing to kiss outside the box office.

The Japanese word used by the older generation to describe a kiss literally translates to "approach the lips." Most young people say "kee-su," the Japanese pronunciation of the English word "kiss," or "choo" or "choo-choo," the sound a kiss makes to Japanese ears.

See People, Marriage, Dating,

Sentiments About Kissing in Public in Japan

But not everybody is happy about the trend towards more public displays of affection. "Kissing in public — it's ugly!" a social critic complained in a popular magazine. "these people never give a thought to how others feel, the people who have to see them do it." A housewife echoed these sentiments in the Yomiuri Shimbun: "These young people have lost their sense of shame. Without shame, there is no sense of restraint. If we lose that, we're no different from animals."

A Japanese educator told the Washington Post, "kissing in public is less shocking nowadays than it would have been, say, 40 years ago. But it's still not accepted. There's a view that this is a sign of weakness. People see young people who do it as weak."

In a survey of 400 men, 71 percent of them said they never had kissed a woman in a public place. Of those who said yes more than half said they were embarrassed when they did it. A 27-year-old career woman told the Washington Post that kissing on a street corner seemed to be "a natural beautiful thing" but when asked if she had ever done it she replied: "No comment."

Breaking Up Services in Japan

“Wakaresaseya”, literally “breaker-uppers,” are specialists in breaking up relationship, particularly between husbands and mistresses, and getting rid of unwanted lovers and spouses. Operated in a gray area between legality and illegality, they generally charge between $5,000 and $20,000 per job, with some complex jobs costing $150,000, and rely on unlicensed agents to do the dirty work. Thee are several dozens firms, most of them in Tokyo and Osaka, that do the jobs and the earn ten of millions of dollars a year. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2003]

Many of the cases are aimed at getting rid of a mistress of putting pressure on a husband through entrapment. In a typical case an agent for the wakaresaseya meets “the target” by chance at a bar and strikes up a conservation with him. Before long they are in bed together, with either video or audio tape recording it all. The tapes are then used to blackmail the husband to give up the affair or are shown to the mistress.

Wakaresaseya companies claim they have a 95 percent success rate. Other techniques employed include threatening to disclose embarrassing financial or legal information to employers or parents, giving targets embarrassing sexually-transmitted diseases, drugging them and putting them in compromising situations, imposing the targets with massive debts or simply buying them off.

Many of the agents are wannabe actors or professional that want to add some excitement to their life. They are trained in martial arts, role playing and the limits of the law. Good agents are patient, calm under pressure and think on their feet and improvise quickly

Image Sources: 1) Amazon, 2), 6). 9) 10), 13), Japan Visitor, 3) Tokyo Pictures, 4), 8) 14, Hector Garcia, 5) Ray Kinnane. 7) British Museum. 11), 12) Photomann
Hentai Wiki Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2014

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.