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Kissing in Japan

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One of the most striking things in Japan is that you never see anyone kissing in public.  In France, people kiss all the time in the street -- to such a point that Joni Mitchell once wrote and sang a song entitled "In France they kiss on main street".

As we continue to explore the phenomenon of Japan's low birth rate, one question we must address is whether the low birth rate is due to a cultural aversion to kissing. 

According to an international survey reported on Japanese television, Japanese married couples come in second last out of the ten reported nations in terms of daily kissing rates.  Not surprisingly, France tops the list with 6.92 kisses a day, followed by Germany with 5.97 and Australia at 5.91.  Japan wins 9th place with only 0.56 kisses on average per day, only beating Korea which managed the paltry 0.25 kisses a day. 

As you could imagine, Japanese men protest that there are many other ways of showing affection and appreciation for one's wife.  But it also came to light that Japan has the highest number of roboits per capita.  And not only that, the Sega toys company has apparently created a kissing robot!

This is not however a frivolous subject.  So, we must think about the socio-anthropological reasons why Japan is a low kissing nation.  First, it is clear that the hot, humid summers do not lend themselves to physical contact.  Second, the Japanese are a race that has always been obsessed with cleanliness, and kissing has got to be one of the dirtiest habits around.  Is it thanks to its non-kissing culture that Japan has the world's highest life expectancy?  Third, Japan's food has some of the strangest flavours of any cuisine, such that the resultant bad breath is a big kissing "put-off".  A good example is "natto", a traditional breakfast food, which is made from fermented soybeans, and has a very strong smell and flavour, and a slippery texture.  Fourth, Japanese men are among the world's biggest smokers, and kissing a smoker is simply disgusting.  And lastly, Japanese girls invest massively in make-up, and kissing is surely the quickest way on earth to destroy the hours of work that go into beautiful make-up.

Some historical research on this topic also reveals that until recent times Japan may not have had a word for kissing -- a sure-fire indicator that kissing, to the extent that it now exists, is a recent cultural phenomenon.  And apparently, public kissing was outlawed in 1920, only to be re-legalised with the post-war American occupation in 1945.  It is also perhaps relevant that there is no physical contact in Japanese greetings, just bowing. 

You may ask does it matter whether the Japanese kiss or not?  If the Japanese wish to increase their birth rate, it may well indeed matter.  As the old song goes, "It started with a kiss" -- or in Japan's case, it did it not get started, because there was no kiss.

Japan is very much a government led society.  As NGOs have very little power or influence, it is unlikely that a spontaneous "public hugging" custom develop, as was the case in Australia a few years ago. 

But, the Japanese government is indeed very worried about the falling birthrate.  So, now could indeed be the moment to launch a "Japan: the kissing nation" initiative!