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Exploring Japan’s Sexual Revolution: History, Challenges, and Ongoing Debates

Japan’s sexual revolution in the post-World War II period was a pivotal moment in the country’s history. It was marked by changing attitudes towards sex and sexuality, as well as increased access to birth control and other reproductive technologies. This era was characterized by a rejection of traditional values and the rise of the youth culture, leading to a proliferation of new sexual practices, including premarital sex, cohabitation, and homosexuality, which were previously taboo.

This article will delve into the key drivers and controversies surrounding Japan’s sexual revolution, exploring its historical context, changing attitudes towards sex and sexuality, and its impact on modern-day Japan.

Japan's Sexual Revolution
Heian pleasures: A scene from the chapter “Takekawa” on an illustrated handscroll of “Tale of Genji” made in about 1130 and stored in Tokugawa Museum, Nagoya. | PUBLIC DOMAIN

Historical Context

Japan’s sexual revolution was part of a broader social and cultural shift that occurred during the 1960s and 1970s. This era was characterized by a rejection of traditional values and the rise of youth culture, which sought greater freedom and self-expression. It was also a period of rapid economic growth and modernization, which led to increased urbanization and exposure to Western ideas and values.

During this time, Japan’s population was also undergoing significant demographic changes. The post-war baby boom resulted in a youth bulge, with a large cohort of young people coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s. This generation was more educated, affluent, and cosmopolitan than their parents, and they had access to new technologies and media that allowed them to explore new ideas and lifestyles.

A group of the Miyuke-zuku, a youth sub-culture movement that emerged around Ginza’s Miyuke Street in the 1960s.

Changing Attitudes towards Sex and Sexuality

One of the key drivers of Japan’s sexual revolution was changing attitudes towards sex and sexuality. Traditional Japanese culture was deeply conservative, with strict social norms and gender roles that emphasized modesty, propriety, and family values. Sex outside of marriage was stigmatized, and homosexuality was illegal.

Vintage Japanese sex guide for youngsters from 1960s Japan | Via tokyokinky.com

However, the rise of the youth culture challenged these norms and values, advocating for greater freedom and autonomy in personal relationships. Young people began to experiment with new sexual practices and attitudes, such as premarital sex, cohabitation, and homosexuality, which were previously taboo.

Sex in Japanese Cinema of the 60s and 70s

This shift in attitudes towards sex and sexuality was reflected in popular culture, with a wave of movies, books, and music that explored themes of sexual liberation and identity. For example, the movie “In the Realm of the Senses” (1976) was a controversial portrayal of a passionate and destructive sexual relationship between a man and a woman. The novel “Kazoku Hakkei” (Eight Views of the Family, 1972) depicted a dysfunctional family in which the mother had an affair with her daughter’s boyfriend.

In the Realm of the Senses poster | Via imdb.com

These works challenged traditional gender roles and family structures, and they played a key role in shaping the popular imagination of the era. They also reflected the growing sense of disillusionment and alienation among young people, who felt that traditional social institutions and values were inadequate to meet their needs and desires.

Increased Access to Birth Control and Reproductive Technologies

Another important factor in Japan’s sexual revolution was increased access to birth control and other reproductive technologies. Prior to the 1960s, birth control was limited and difficult to obtain. However, the introduction of the birth control pill and other forms of contraception in the 1960s and 1970s made it easier for women to control their fertility and plan their families.

This had significant implications for gender relations and women’s empowerment. Women were able to pursue education and careers without the fear of unwanted pregnancies, and they had greater control over their bodies and their sexual lives. This helped to fuel the growing movement for women’s rights and gender equality in Japan.

Feminist movement in Japan in the 20th century

The increased availability of reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and artificial insemination also contributed to changes in attitudes towards family formation and child-rearing. These technologies allowed couples to have children without traditional marriage or heterosexual relationships, challenging the idea of the nuclear family as the only acceptable form of family structure.

 Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Controversies and Challenges

While the sexual revolution in Japan brought about significant changes in attitudes towards sex and sexuality, it was not without its controversies and challenges. One of the key concerns was the potential negative consequences of greater sexual freedom, particularly in relation to the spread of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.

The Japanese government was slow to respond to these issues, and it was not until the 1980s that the government began to take action to address the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. However, despite these efforts, the rate of sexually transmitted infections in Japan remains high, particularly among young people.

Another contentious issue was the proliferation of pornography and prostitution during the sexual revolution. While these industries had existed in Japan for centuries, the rise of the youth culture and changing attitudes towards sex and sexuality led to a greater acceptance and normalization of these practices.

This led to concerns about the exploitation of women and children in these industries, as well as the impact of pornography on young people’s attitudes towards sex and relationships. The Japanese government has since introduced laws and regulations to address these issues, but they continue to be a source of controversy and debate.

Other Challenges and Debates Arising from Japan’s Sexual Revolution

Japan’s sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s brought about significant changes in attitudes towards sex and sexuality, leading to greater freedom and openness in many areas of Japanese society.

However, these changes have also given rise to new challenges and debates, particularly in the areas of LGBTQ+ rights, aging population, MeToo movement, and gender inequality.

LGBTQ+ Rights in Japan

Despite the changes in attitudes towards sex and sexuality during the sexual revolution, the LGBTQ+ community in Japan still faces significant discrimination and lack of legal protections. Same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan, and there are no laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This has led to a lack of visibility and representation for LGBTQ+ individuals in Japan, and has contributed to high rates of suicide and mental health issues among this population. However, there have been recent efforts to promote greater understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals in Japan, including the opening of Japan’s first LGBTQ+ center in Tokyo in 2019.

Participants March during the Tokyo Rainbow Parade. On October 22, hundreds of activist groups throughout the world will gather to mark the 8th annual International Day for Trans Depathologization. Despite progress, governments around the world, including the Japanese government, propagate medical and policy paradigms that deem trans people “mentally ill.” ©2015 Reuters/Thomas Peter

Aging Population in Japan

The decline in Japan’s birth rate, which was in part a result of the changes brought about by the sexual revolution, has led to an aging population and significant challenges for Japan’s future. With a shrinking workforce and a rapidly aging population, Japan’s economy and social welfare system are under strain. The government has introduced policies aimed at encouraging childbirth and supporting families, including subsidies for childcare and family leave, but these efforts have had limited success. There are ongoing debates about the best ways to address this issue, including the role of immigration in Japan’s future.

Population pyramid of Japan from 2020 to projections up to 2100 | Via Wikipedia Commons

MeToo Movement in Japan

The MeToo movement, which began in the United States in 2017, has also had an impact in Japan. The movement has brought attention to issues of sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct in Japan, particularly in the entertainment industry. High-profile cases involving prominent figures in the industry have led to increased awareness and activism around these issues, and have contributed to a broader conversation about the treatment of women in Japanese society. However, the movement has also faced resistance and backlash, particularly from those who feel that it is a Western import that does not apply to Japanese culture.

Here’s how #MeToo morphed into #WeToo in victim-blaming Japan | Photo via @bpolitics

Gender Inequality in Japan

Despite the gains made during the sexual revolution in terms of greater freedom and equality for women, gender inequality remains a significant issue in Japan. Women continue to face discrimination and barriers to advancement in the workplace and other areas of society, and traditional gender roles and expectations persist in many areas of life. The #KuToo movement, which advocates for greater freedom and equality for women in the workplace, is one example of the ongoing struggle for gender equality in Japan. The movement focuses on issues such as dress codes and expectations around high heels, which many women feel are unfair and discriminatory. However, the movement has faced criticism and resistance from some in Japanese society, who argue that it is unnecessary or counterproductive.

Conclusion

Japan’s sexual revolution during the 1960s and 1970s was a transformative period in the country’s history, marked by changing attitudes towards sex and sexuality, increased access to birth control and reproductive technologies, and the rise of youth culture. It challenged traditional values and social norms, and paved the way for greater gender equality and women’s empowerment.

However, it was not without its controversies and challenges, and the impact of the sexual revolution on modern-day Japan continues to be debated. Nonetheless, it remains an important chapter in Japan’s history, and a reflection of the ongoing struggle for social and cultural change in the country.

If you are interested in learning more about Japan’s sexual revolution and its impact on modern-day Japan, there are many resources available, including books, articles, and documentaries. By exploring this topic, we can gain a better understanding of Japan’s social and cultural history, as well as the ongoing challenges and opportunities facing the country today.

Noah

You see, my love for Japan is not only based on personal experience; it's based on a deep admiration for Japanese culture, history, and traditions. Thank you, Japan, for being a constant source of inspiration, joy, and wonder in my life. I may never be able to express my love for Japan in person, but I hope that through my blog and my writing, I can share a small piece of my admiration and devotion with the world.

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