Letters from Japan: “Breakdowns Between Couples”

Ask Hilary: Questions From Readers Answered

By Hilary Keyes
October 22, 2021
Ask Hilary

Savvy Tokyo's resident "Love in Japan" columnist, Hilary Keyes, answers anonymous questions from readers on everything from dating in Japan to women’s health issues. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Email it to askhilary@savvytokyo.com.

Dear Hilary,

I think my Japanese partner is trying to ghost me. We can’t have a proper conversation about anything without them disappearing or leaving me on read, sometimes for days at a time. I can’t figure out what to do. 

– Read Receipts

Dear Read Receipts,

Has this been going on for some time? Do they chronically have issues with communicating, even in person? 

If not, then it could simply be a case of them being too busy with life or work, and not having the emotional capacity to reply in a timely fashion. Give them space and they will likely come back once things settle down in their lives again.

On the other hand, if they “leave you on read” for days at a time and otherwise don’t communicate with you, then this doesn’t sound like a good fit. If they are essentially “ghosting” you as you said, then they may not be as invested in the relationship as you are. You deserve to be with someone that wants to be with you in return, so you may want to consider moving on.

Dear Hilary,

My partner and I have been together for five years, no kids and have gone from having sex one to three times a week when we were dating to only on special occasions and even that’s hit or miss. Plus, he has trouble getting it up now, when he didn’t use to. Is this a common issue with Japanese men in their 30s? 

– Sexless

Dear Sexless,

According to a study conducted in 2000, a third of Japanese men suffer from erectile dysfunction, while a later study conducted in 2013 concluded that Japanese men suffer the highest rate of erectile dysfunction in the world (42.6%).

While it’s natural for your sex lives to change over time, this sounds like a drastic change for a five-year span. You may want to have him speak with a doctor about this, in fact. Erectile dysfunction can be a symptom of vascular or metabolic problems as well as endocrine disorders, or it can be caused by certain medications and, of course, stress and other lifestyle-related issues.

…a third of Japanese men suffer from erectile dysfunction…

If it’s not medical in nature though, then you and your husband will need to sit down together and discuss the physical side of your relationship. It could be a combination of stress and a misunderstanding of each other’s needs that has led to this development. Perhaps there’s something in your sex life itself that you need to talk about in order to change the situation going forward.

Dear Hilary,

My Japanese boyfriend and I want to get married, but with the pandemic and everything it feels like it’s too much. My family isn’t willing to travel until that’s all over, and he’s in low contact with his, so he doesn’t even know if he would invite them if we had one. We’re so stressed out about the idea of a wedding we’ve even started fighting with each other. 


Dear Affianced,

Congratulations on your engagement. I don’t think you need to be stressed out about whether to have a wedding or not at the moment, to be honest. Set aside the idea of a wedding and all the planning that entails. What you and your fiance need to focus on is what life will be like after the ceremony. If you and your boyfriend are serious about marrying one another and are prepared for what being married means, then the ceremony itself, while a special occasion, isn’t very important in the grand scheme of things.

…focus on what life will be like after the ceremony.

Technically speaking, you can get married at your local ward office and then have a ceremony even years in the future if you like. There’s no rule that states you’re only legally married if you have a ceremony, after all. In fact, this is an option a lot of couples in Japan go with, strictly because they want to save up for a full ceremony, or because they want to spare themselves the stress.

Dear Hilary,

My Japanese husband and I want to have children, and we started trying right away when we got married. I’ve been checked out and have zero health concerns, but my husband says it has to be my fault because he doesn’t have any “bedroom trouble.” What should I do? 

No Babies Yet

Dear No Babies Yet,

I assume that by “bedroom trouble” you mean erectile dysfunction, which naturally is only a part of overall male fertility.

According to several studies in recent years, the overall quality of Japanese men’s sperm has been dropping, and within given sperm samples, roughly one-third of men had a sperm concentration of less than 40 million per millimeter and of that amount, only about 10% were “normal” sperm. Basically, even without erectile dysfunction, many men are “shooting blanks” and cannot fertilize their partner without medical intervention.

If having children (biologically yours and your husband’s) is not something you’re willing to compromise on, then you may have to put your foot down and take him to the doctor’s office. However, if you are not prepared or interested in having the kind of argument this will entail, then your options are limited. You can either keep trying and hope for the best, look into adoption (check out these articles for more on that), or, if you are adamant about having children, you may have to consider divorce and remarrying someone who is as interested in having them as you are.

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