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Culture

What is Cheating Culture in Japan Really Like?

What is the cheating culture in Japan really like? Let’s explore the truth and history of relationships, dating and sex in Japan.

By 6 min read

For people in many cultures, cheating on a partner signifies the ultimate betrayal. However, a lot of online content has made it easy to be convinced that cheating is common in Japan. But what is the cheating culture in Japan really like, and how does cheating compare to those of other countries?

Before diving in, two terms are used in Japanese to refer to different types of cheating. The word uwaki (浮気) refers to situations like drunken mistakes or cheating as a quick way to end a relationship. The second word, furin (不倫), refers to an extramarital affair. Based on the language, it is already apparent that uwaki, or “floating spirit,” is not always treated as a big deal.

On the other hand, it seems that furin, which can best be translated as “adultery” or “immorality,” is taken very seriously. However, this has not always been the case.

History of Cheating Culture in Japan

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Geisha were high-class entertainers of men.

In many cultures, cheating on a partner is a serious crime. However, historically in Japan, marriages served to form alliances between families and secure the production of heirs. Romantic love played no role, with one proverb stating, “Those who come together in passion stay together in tears.” Instead, desires for passion and romance were typically satisfied outside one’s marriage, a common practice for both men and women.

In a patriarchal culture, there have always been more opportunities for men to cheat than women. For centuries, concubines and geisha, a word that literally means “artist” and describes traditional female performing artists, catered to wealthy men and held a respectable position in society. Even lower-class prostitutes did not receive as much stigma as they would in other cultures.

In the 20th century, perspectives shifted. Cheating came to be seen as common and inevitable husband behavior. Men worked to earn money for their families, while women were expected to stay home with their children. The reasoning was that the men deserved to relieve their stress however they saw fit, and yet a woman who cheated was considered to be disrespecting her husband and children.

Hostess Clubs and Sex Work

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Kabukicho is Tokyo’s red-light district.

Japan’s nightlife culture is more secretive today, but the attitudes are similar as long ago. Activities that many cultures would consider cheating are not deemed as such in Japan. These activities are not only semi-legal but prevalent in larger Japanese cities.

After work, groups of businessmen often frequent various establishments catering to them. The tame options are kyabakura, or hostess clubs, “girls bars,” and “snack bars,” where female workers provide male patrons with drinks and flirty conversation. The same is true of host clubs catering to female customers. Other businesses, such as pink salons, soaplands and “delivery health,” offer more direct sexual services, even though prostitution is illegal in Japan.

Japanese law defines prostitution as sexual intercourse with a stranger, so these places find loopholes, such as giving the customer and sex worker time to “become acquainted” before having sex. Other private services, some that cater to women as well, are also becoming more popular, offering boyfriend or girlfriend experiences.

Because these are paid services that involve no emotional attachment, they are generally not considered cheating by some people in Japan.

Most People Consider it Cheating

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Women stand outside a girls bar in Japan.

Cheating is still considered morally unacceptable to many Japanese people. In a study by the Pew Research Centre, 69% of people in Japan said infidelity is morally unacceptable.

This is higher than that of a few countries, Germany and India for example, but lower than that of most other countries surveyed. The same study also showed that 12% of people in Japan said that cheating was morally acceptable, which was also higher than most other countries surveyed.

Still, the majority of Japanese people consider cheating immoral, at least of the extramarital variety. Japan’s laws reflect this. Extramarital relationships are considered a violation of a marriage contract, and spouses can even sue their husband or wife’s lover for adultery.

Such relationships also tend to cause scandal for well-known people. For example, the recent Miss Japan beauty pageant winner returned her crown after it was revealed that she was in a relationship with a married man.

How Often Do People Cheat in Japan?

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Street interviews asking people how often they cheat have become popular online,

It’s apparent that, like people in many other countries, most Japanese people consider infidelity to be a serious offense. But how often do Japanese people cheat?

One study found that just under 20% of married people in Japan admitted to cheating on a partner, though there is quite a gender gap: 40% of married men and less than 20% of married women admitted to having extramarital affairs. In another poll, about 28% of men in general and about 22% of women have cheated on a partner.

In comparison, a Pew Research Study and an Institute for Families Study found that 19% of British people and about 16% of Americans (also with a large gender gap) admitted to having cheated on a spouse.

What’s the Difference?

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Many couples in Japan consider cheating a necessity to continue a marriage,

Given the similar rates of infidelity, what else is different? Some major differences are the reasons for marriage and responses to cheating. To many in Japan, marriage is still a social contract, and people are expected to marry by their early thirties. Additionally, many people in Japan tend to stay married, whether or not their partner cheats. Though hard to measure, Japan’s divorce rate is slightly lower than many Western countries and its neighbor China.

One crucial element of Japanese culture is the desire to maintain peace, which has resulted in gaman culture, referring to the Japanese word for “endurance.” This general sentiment is behind many of Japan’s issues, such as people dealing with long overtime hours. It can also explain why people tend to stay in their marriages, even if a partner cheats or the marriage becomes sexless.

Married couples tend to stay married even in these situations to not disturb the peace and to keep the family unit together. This can be practical, though, as the laws do not yet permit joint custody of children for divorced couples.

Another attitude stemming from gaman culture is the idea that things are shoganai—a prevalent phrase in Japanese: “It can’t be helped.”

Although not always, Japanese people are generally uncomfortable sharing true emotions and with intimacy and confrontation. Such moments may disturb the peace. Thus, many believe it is inevitable and can’t be helped if their marriage becomes sexless or if their partner cheats.

Conclusion

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Communication is key to a healthy relationship anywhere.

There’s little data evidence to suggest cheating is more prevalent in Japan than in other countries. Attitudes toward the uwaki variety of cheating may be different. Still, Japanese beliefs about extramarital affairs are comparable to many other countries. The major differences lie in what is difficult to measure. Namely, the history and culture surrounding relationships, marriage and communication in general.

Time and time again, studies show that communication is the key to maintaining healthy relationships. And Japan is certainly not the only country where people tend to have communication issues in their relationships.

Perhaps relationships in Japan would be more peaceful if more emphasis was put on honest and effective communication. As in what one wants and expects in a relationship and when there is dissatisfaction. Then, perhaps many would feel more peace in their relationships than when arbitrarily “keeping the peace.”

What surprised you about this topic? What are the attitudes around cheating where you come from? Let us know in the comments!

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