Have you seen the Netflix series called “My Husband Won’t Fit”? A happy Japanese couple’s marriage slowly decays because of their troubled sex life.
After numerous failed attempts at having intercourse, Kenichi begins frequenting a soapland. He purposefully leaves his point card (might as well get a discount) where his wife Kumiko can easily find it. Kumiko follows him to the massage parlor and from afar bows deeply, reluctantly accepting the fact that they are providing Kenichi a need that she herself is incapable of fulfilling.
Both Kumiko and Kenichi refuse to talk about the subject, not wanting to burden the other with their sexual troubles. Kenichi continues frequenting the soapland, telling his masseuse sex is purely physical and has nothing to do with love. Meanwhile, Kumiko falls into a deep depression, meeting random men at love hotels, going through the motions of adultery while deeply frustrated she fails to make love to Kenichi, the only one who she ever truly felt a connection to.
Infidelity in America
Kumiko’s reluctant acceptance of her husband’s actions as necessary, as well as Kenichi’s reasoning that sex and love are not connected, struck me as quite foreign.
I confess to being a millennial conditioned by Hollywood’s romanticization of marriage and family life. Ironically, the USA also has the world’s third-highest divorce rate, according to a U.N. study.
A professor at the University of Utah found that over the last 30 years, the number of Americans who have had extramarital sex has held steady at 16%. However, he found cheating was significantly higher in married Americans over 55, at 20%, compared to 14% of those under the age of 55.
This only seems to highlight the transition from a culture dominated by men to a surge of feminism and trend toward gender equality. As far as adultery is concerned, Dr. Sweeny, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Louisville, found that while men have historically held mistresses, many states had (as of 2013, 18 states still do have) strict infidelity laws, often prejudiced against women.
In 2020, if your partner found out you were frequenting a massage parlor to treat more than stiff shoulders, in most cases, having it swept under the rug is not a likely outcome.
Of course “My Husband Won’t Fit” is just a fictional drama, but does Kumiko and Kenichi’s relationship resonate with Japanese?
Overtime at Kyabakura
I was watching the Netflix series with my Japanese friend and asked her if Kumiko’s reaction made any sense to her. This is what she said:
"I don't care if my boyfriend goes to a soapland as long as I don't know about it. It’s not cheating, it’s just what Japanese guys do."
Japanese woman, 29, Osaka
These sentiments were echoed by another Japanese woman I asked:
"I’ve told my boyfriend not to play around with shiroto 素人, (respectable women; i.e. not a prostitute or hostess). It’s okay if he goes to a soapland. I think cheating is when you get emotionally attached. Paying for sex from a professional is just a service. But I know I’m a bit lenient in my thinking."
Risako, 26, Kyoto
Considering that many businessmen in Japan, and other Asian countries too, frequent hostess clubs with their clients to seal a deal, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that some Japanese women think this way. These women are paid to drink alcohol and sing karaoke with their clients, and in some cases even perform sexual acts, albeit illegally.
Unlike in the United States, where strippers and prostitutes are generally looked down upon, hostesses tend to be more respected, with some even appearing on Japanese variety TV shows.
How much do the Japanese cheat?
In the YouTube video below by Asian Boss, posted in May 2016, Japanese people were asked to share their thoughts about cheating.
The interviewees believed men were unfaithful about as often as women.
In a survey conducted by Rize Clinic, a chain of hair removal salons, in October 2018, 531 men and women between the ages of 20-49 were asked about their experiences with adultery.
Although according to the survey men were found as likely to cheat as women, the numbers were nowhere near as high as some of the Asian Boss respondents had estimated. Married men were more than twice as likely to cheat as married men, 38.5% to 18.1% respectively. Unmarried women were more likely to cheat on their boyfriends, with rates spiking as they reached their 40s.
And even though the survey revealed that married women who cheated were more interested in sex (27.6%) than appeasing their loneliness (26%), several respondents in the video felt that it's men who mostly cheat to satisfy a physical urge, while women are more emotionally invested and perhaps already looking for an end to their current relationship. This led to some of the men’s conclusion that women who cheat are worse.
Similar to the people I spoke with, it appears many Japanese find prostitution to be more forgivable as it is a service paid for and lacking any emotional attachment.
In the end, opinions vary. Everyone has their own idea of where cheating begins and how to handle a partner who has cheated on them. And as for Kumiko and Kenichi, I suppose their unique solution and views on sex and love aren’t so strange after all.
Read more stories from grape Japan.
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